This is the second part of a record of my time and mind at Tsurunoyu, an onsen (hot springs inn) in Akita, in Japan. I lived there for two weeks in January 2002. (part 1)|
day 8 - cheap smelly water? (Monday, 21 January)The weather warms. Wonderful? Wrong.
Four feet of snow after two days of pissing rain. Strong wind, iced surfaces, freezing rain; it's what my Mom would term "the pits."
Watching water gush sideways out of a drainpipe. Watching a large passenger bus blown sliding sideways across an icy mountain parking lot. Watching the driver of that bus come over to close up the bus waiting station, meaning I have to wait outside. Watching the proprietess of Tsurunoyu pull up in her car, barely escape the parking lot, drive me five minutes, then turn around to deposit me back in the parking lot, in a 4 wheel drive vehicle. That immediately becomes stuck. The young driver heads off with his cape to the wind as a shroud, sliding over the ice, and I sit in the warmed car too heavy with equipment to fulfill it's sporty promise. The proprietess returns, and a bulldozer is called, and we are extracted to drive mostly sliding diagonally over iced mountain roads. "Watch out walking tomorrow," notes Sato-san, "Day after rain like this, there's a strong risk of avalanches."
All this adventure came at the end of a rather downpressed day in town, watching as my little dream sailboat was thrown between two large rocks - "timing" and "lack of timing."
Over the weekend a number of the folks who work here discovered that I would be homeless after this coming weekend. So Ito-san volunteered to call Mizusawa onsen and see if their jisui was open (a do-it-yourself food-free room on the cheap). They had something so Tanaka-san this morning drove me there to see the facility. It was what I remembered from my web search; as modern and sterile as this place is old and rustic. Tanaka-san I couldn't tell his level of investment in the project, but he seemed to want me to like this potential new home. "Look! It has a TV! And all the cooking appliances, electric, not gas!" The room overlooked a parking lot adjacent to another parking lot. The baths themselves were each sex-segregated, each sex having one indoor and one outdoor bath. Build into the building, probably drilled out of the ground; not serendipitous little sulfur bubbles arising amidst a puddle shaped piles of rocks.
At the risk of being ungrateful and inflexible, I noted with admiration the price (3600, everything included), the cheaper beer (by at least 50yen), the TV (which would not help). But I love gas stoves! I want to see flame applied to food dammit. I'm quickly becoming an onsen snob, curmudgeon. That's if I take myself too seriously. So during the rainy morning, after a surprised Tanaka-san agreed that I could work alone at a payphone in the train station for six or eight hours, I wondered if I shouldn't pick up and leave. "Well yes, the onsens are wonderful, but I have pressing business in Tokyo." The thing is, when it's pissing rain and you have a large suitcase and a project inciting itchy fingers, you wonder, where would I go? Back to the now-predictable Tokyo routine? Pissing rain there too, living in Shitamachi, maybe now with the courage to cook, broadband Internet providing so many distractions per day, regular marvellous sex, and potential friends and steady professional work? No siree - how about I go live in Samurai World! A town just down the tracks. Well, then I need to find an apartment, a cheap place to live. Well if you want a cheap place to live, why not just pick the onsen dammit? It's not about charm, it's about having brainspace to work, and the hot baths to soak your overworked arms afterwards, yeah?
But I thrive on beauty and what is life but a search and perch on beauty? So I remember another "writerly" trip I tried, to Ireland - I lived in a small cottage by the sea and read constantly and then after two weeks I hit the road and spent two weeks accumulating experiences and memories that would leave me less of a rube afterwards. Now should I hit the road again to see something of Japan I haven't?
I have this book to write, and I'm not packed to travel like that. I have everything I need to venture out into northern Japan except fewer possessions. Too much long underwear. Two pairs of pants. Boxer shorts. Things I bought for the cold and I don't use sitting around in a ukata, Japanese old-fashioned robe sort of garment, maybe with some long underwear on.
anyway, I realize again, as I'm holding my breath in to make my stomach hurt to accentuate my discomfort and insecurity and rootlessness feeling, I realize that as ever I've put myself in the place of reconsidering my life. I have a few deadlines; the next largest one is to return to the United States in early March (though my visa ends in late February) for an Internet conference where I expect to see wonderful people and feel slightly on edge since I imagine then I won't know what I'm going to do afterwards either. I have some writing assignments, but so far I've been able to dispatch them from payphones. An open road, as ever, is a wild challenge. And to be in the moment is the largest challenge of all.
So after the adventure of returning home tonight, I find myself spellcasting - wishing that the water I hear pouring outside the windows would continue, and mount, and freeze, trapping me here with whatever random group of visitors was spending their Monday at this inn, so we might have to stay here until March, making due on the cookies and bacon that I bought last time, until provisions can be brought way up into these mountains. I am in a place I like and I would like the choice to leave to be removed. Of course I don't have a choice to leave, I just don't have anywhere to go. YET!
So the only planning I am equipped to do today is to say, perhaps to mediocre spas. Perhaps to cheap smelly water. I bought cake for my friends who have helped me get this far, and they can eat the cake and I will wonder what I am to do.
Here's a poem to think on:
The birds have vanished into the sky,
I am pretty sure it is Li Po but don't have a definite identification. Another great book of poetry for your situation is Han Shan's Cold Mountain Poems.
Word count: 15667. I think I got this habit of word counting from National Novel Writing Month that some friends participated in. Did they finish? How many words is enough? Anything to get you through it.
Tanaka-san interrupts me on my computer asking if I've eaten. Why yes I have. Well have you drank. Why yes, I was just drinking alone. So I join him in the lounge, where cigarettes and beer are vended, and hot water sits steaming in a large kettle over a wood burning stove. As we ate candied peanuts and rank our respective Japanese liquors (me, Akita sake, him shochu and lemon sour), staff members took their turns coming and talking about their work. Ito-san never ceases to please me. Her wrinkled face belies a wily spirit. She's become fond of saying hello or good evening to me punctuated by raising her arms and legs in a sort of puppet dance. And I parrot her and we stand in the hallways, or smoking lounge, and laugh. Motegi was tired and went to bed, so Ito-san was solo tonight. And tired. Her small frame might have been more bent than usual. I gave her a piece of cake, strawberry, bought from a women who used an abacus to miscount the amount due and then might have given me back in change double what I gave her to pay for the cake in the first place. I lost track of the transactions in the foreign language and replaced knowledge with dumb smiling. Ito-san ate her cake; Tanaka-san passed. We talked about Mizusawa onsen, which I saw this morning. I expressed my preference for natural (shizen) surroundings and bathing, honestly. With friends honesty would seem to afford the most respect. I didn't have the language to follow it up to say "thanks anyways" without it turning into a long linguistic affair of contorted proportions, I imagined. So I gave them my attention and told them it was my intention to spend the weekends travelling in Akita and take each week staying at the Jisui here. Why not?
So Sato-san left. And a dental surgeon came, with enough English to be dangerous and a nicely shaped small brown bottle of Suntory whiskey. He drank and interjected slow halting questions and comments in a foreign tongue. Other staff members quizzed me on my lodgings and my denki jisho (pocket dictionary). We talked about fish (I ate buri tonight) and the weather (supposed to be as shitty tomorrow). They retired to bed. The dental surgeons head began to bob increasingly. Somehow the subject of the bootleg sake I'd been given came up. I brought out the swollen white plastic container of Japanese moonshine and Tanaka-san and another young staffer with a dark blue smock and a white towel wrapped around his long hair tried to describe in words what it was. Finally they arrived at a combination of an X formed with the wrists (a common Japanese gesture for "don't" or "shouldn't" or "can't") and wrists clasped together in parallel (fairly universal for "police'a gonna get ya'"). Illegal sake. Homebrew. Bad for you. Fermenting. Hah. I thought it just tasted strong.
Then Sato-san the proprietor of this joint enters (it was his son who spun his wheels with me earlier). He admits he doesn't readily like the stuff. Maybe we just drink it for flavor, we agree. Tanaka-san gets up to make a phone call and retire for the evening. Sato-san loads cigarettes into the cigarette machine. The dental surgeon tries to make a point about danger and travel and law and Hawaii, the only place in the United States he's been. After he finishes a semi-comprehensible string of English and mostly misunderstood Japanese, I comment on the articles I've been reading about Hawaii wanting to lure foreign visitors. We argue about this without understanding each other as his eyes focus and unfocus on the wall behind me, his head sinking towards his arms and then popping back up, dropping his cigarette between us and picking it up again. I wonder: I have been in this state. Did I want people to humor me and continue talking to me while I suppressed the urge to throw up on their lap? Or maybe he was just acting thoroughly drunk, as Japanese seem to be want to do and I have to develop more patience for. I thanked Sato-senior for his son's honorable conduct that day. The dental surgeon stepped in to make a point about something having to do with our relationship. He paused for a pregnant twenty-seven seconds, after two words in English like, "I think ..........................." and then blurted out a bunch of Japanese. I got as much as, "komaru," a word I've now heard a few times and must remember. As I was trying to put together what he might have meant by "kometa," I realized he might have been inadvertently commenting on his having put out his cigarette in my sake cup. I bid all goodnight and retired to my room to editorialize on them.
Midnight in the baths. Four men huddle under the cold rain. Two steal the space under the wood frame twig awning. Two float near the hot sulfur spout. I lazily swim near them, joining them where the tiny hot sulfur jets up from the bottom of the pebble puddle. We take turns dipping our feet into the hot spout, floating there naked. I'm used to the first four or five rounds of questions - where are you from is first. How long are you here is next. How old are you. What's your job. Are you married. I usually respond in kind along the way.
These were two drunk housing-resellers from Iwate. They knew a bit of English and some American culture. The older one said he'd been to Hawaii. What did you do there? Resort, swimming, strip, gun shooting. They asked me, how are Japanese girls? Lacking words to be precise about the sort of broad love I feel for most all women; while wanting to describe what is particularly delicious about the deferent defiance of Japanese ladies I've know, I said, I like their voice, a not-so-subtle reference to noises made during sex. I've found ladies in Japan make noises different seeming than American ladies; more "vulnerated" if that's a word. They did a little bit of imitation, I matched them and raised them a few octaves. They responded by imitating American ladies, what they thought - "oh yeah baby, give it to me, uh uh" in throaty tones. I said, "eigo eiga mita?" (eigo - english, eiga - movie, mita - watched). The younger one replied, "yes, love story."
They started to sing the American national anthem in bold tones; I asked what the Japanese national anthem was. They started to sing some dour notes, laughing. I said maybe Ayumi should make a new Japanese national anthem. They laughed.
What's the most popular spectator sport in America? Do Japanese like Mexican food? These are the perplexing issues we raised that I carried back to my warm bed and waiting computer.
day 9 - (Tuesday, 22 January)Sheets of white again outside my window, defying predictions from the smoking lounge last night.
I have a pain in my throat like I breathed through my mouth last night sleeping. I believe my dreams revolved around a band called the White Stripes; I joined some kind of artist community they were running in Philadelphia out of a hot dog stand. i ended up arguing about technology and media presentation with a young woman as we walked about; occasionally Martin joined us. I proposed we promote their upcoming event by having men and men and women and women kiss ostentatiously in public places while young people in suits hand out flyers to anyone who was watching.
back asleep, I jump awake - the sound of glass bottles poured into a bag down the hall sounds like a lady exhaling in my ear
all my body hurts; my cheeks hurt from holding in my teeth, my head moves and hurts when i don't move. I've getting all strange signals, like my bodymind saying, yes, as we were saying before about the girl but there wasn't any girl I'm just laying here i have a days worth of half dreams to write down when i try to stay awake my mind lingers on ugly violence and shock. all that i have to do is get up and piss and i will feel the same. i want someone to feel my head so they can assure me that I'm fevered.
I dreamt of unrequited love between computer processors; that felt nice like it was proper language.
the continuous dream I have is as a lady I am charged with some part of the complex business of putting together a thick cotton jacket making company, using this building. Each time in this dream I manage to put together a marvellous pure white functional jacket, and then some men come and tangle it all up with color and straps. I have this dream up and down again.
in my dreams,
my piss was brown the first time
day 10 - (Wednesday, 23 January)The worst of it has subsided. I am no longer laying fetal hoping to stop shivering. Instead now I am sweating a lot. Outside my window is the most serious snowfall I've seen in some time. They sky, the snow, the trees, they're all the same color. I can hear construction vehicles moving things about.
This is the worst I've been sick in many years. It came on me sudden. I'm glad I had a bed to lay in, a pot to piss in, and Motegi-san checked up on me a bit. I had her feel my head last night; she said "atsui!" which I had suspected. I have no advil, no thermometer and no appointments. Except tomorrow I had planned to go back into the city to check my email; I won't have much to send.
My body aches all over from being in bed too long and from being fevered and from being confused all the time; this is exactly the sort of state that a bath should be good for, yes? Easing the tension and pain out of joints and muscles? But the idea of moving that far and subjecting myself to heat or cold is terrifying. I don't want to eat; to think of all that food I bought is to want to throw up.
There were times yesterday when I clenched my hands together and I just started the physical gesture of sobbing. The pain was so bad and relentless and I could do nothing. Sleeping, some wind-blown ice or snow slams against the boards in front of my window, jarring me awake and leaving me to wonder if I would soon be cut to ribbons by falling glass. Whenever anyone walks in this building, I hear it; the proper guests who are staying upstairs tromp around ceaselessly it seems, while I lay here wishing only for the relative painlessness of sleep to retake me.
Motegi visits, she says around 40 centimeters of snow has fallen on her car today. I am too pained to be very lively, mostly I just want to stay still. She plays me "Let It Be" by the Beatles, and asks me to translate. I say, "Don't control things." I try a few times to impress upon her the totality of my physical discomfort, in hopes that she has been harboring some painkillers somewhere. But she is happy to flip through some of my English language books and keep my prone self company.
She leaves, I drift off. Awake and read through Silk and Straw. Wonderful book, makes me realize I'm a pussy laying here in pain because I don't have a job or a family that demands that I put my boots on and shovel the shit anyhow.
"I never had time to be ill. No one unhealthy could have stood these trips: it would've killed them. Fishermen seemed almost to belong to a different race from townspeople. We all had powerful muscles, huge hands and feet, and dark, weather-beaten faces. Fishing folk hardly ever got sick. Even in winter I never wore more than a pair of thin cotton shorts. And we never wore shoes, either: both farmers and fishermen went barefoot all the year round. It was only after the war that country people started wearing shoes, and I reckon it's one of the reasons why they're so feeble these days."
And it makes me wonder further what I should do with myself after this week; Tokyo looms large as the nearest possible home and recovery point. And I think, maybe I should buckle down and try to get some more articles rolling in; here I am in friggin' Japan and my professional writing is limited largely to technology. I can't tell whether my web site is a sort of debilitating crutch that will keep me from ever making a seriously strong living as a professional writer, or whether my web site somehow is the core of my professional writing. There's little money in it lord!
Ito-san and another gentleman employee stop in to see how I am; the gentleman brings me some caramels that I can suck to sooth my throat. Ito san and I do a little bit of the good morning, good evening dance. She asks me to guess how old she is; I say 67. She says exactly right. Huh?
Back in my room, reading again, I can finally sit up and entertain myself on the computer. The young man who lives next door to me brings me some sliced Kiwi fruit and two eighths of an orange. From "Itoi-san" who turns out to be from Yokote, just like this young man. And now I wonder, should I venture to travel within that circle of friends I made on my second night here?
I promised myself that the next time I had to take a shit, I was going to use a traditional Japanese squat toilet, not the uber-comfortable heated toilet seats they have here. Of course now I'm shivering and aching, and feeling like I might fall in. Still it's a worthy test and perhaps there's something easier, primal about squatting just so.
I gave it a whirl, perched over my feces, hoping my sickly loose stool wouldn't splash my socks. It didn't; I survived; I would do it again.
day 11 - (Thursday, 24 January)Today, after I tested myself and I came though strong enough, it seemed, I travelled into town by bus, eyes half closed, the now familiar routine, take a ticket for zone four, wait, don't use your mobile phone on board (sneak short mail to Ayako), from the first stop to the last stop, 580 yen. Walk across the street from the bus terminal to the train station, use the free Internet connection and a web-based ssh client, check my email, delete the hundreds of spam. Take my laptop into the waiting room, which is non-smoking thank the little gods strewn all about Japan, dialup, and download the rest of my mail. And send the twenty-some-odd messages I've composed in the meantime.
That was all predictable. My neck hurt pretty bitterly whenever I stopped to move. And if I stood up I was in danger of completing a full interpretive dance involving intimacy with the floor, a broken computer and a gashed open head.
Finally picking my head up from recently announced immediately pending editorial deadlines that will invariably bring me back out of heaven and back into town tomorrow, I thought I might finally be able to eat properly. Typically accustomed to ordering and eating the largest meatiest dish on the menu and still having room for the cooling food on the plates of friends, I was a little chagrined to sit in a traditional Japanese restaurant, crosslegged on a pillow on a straw mat, next to a kerosene heater that became increasingly less welcome in my life as lunch wore on, and speak with the waitress thus: "Hello, excuse me, I have been sick this week. My stomach is weak. Yes, it hurts a little bit. And so I would like some soup please. Maybe with some noodles. But no meat please." Any sort of dietary twist in that conversation was offset by some later marvelling that I was able to relax and express that much in a foreign tongue to very kind receptive people who understood me and asked me if chicken was okay and then brought me a big heaping bowl of Nabe, the traditional stew of Akita as served with sticks of miso-smeared roasted rice paste (kiritampo) in it, and greens, and mushrooms, and little bits of floating chicken. I avoided the chicken and ate much of the rest, savouring the heavy meaty broth and the fortifying Akita rice concoction. I ordered it without the usual set, seeing as I didn't plan to eat anything that wasn't floating; I mostly wanted to drink my food. Still they snuck in a small cup of chawanmushi, a warm eggy custard with chicken broth, typically hosting scallops, shrimp, chicken bits, mushrooms and the inevitable Japanese pickled vegetable matter. I ate them all down and I felt strong to be able to fill myself somewhat again. I thanked them and I was honored to see that they had trimmed their price on the nabe set from 1200 to 500. Momoya in Tazawako; if the nice ladies at the tourism office in town tell you they don't serve Nabe they're wrong!
Translating A Symbiotic Plant Community
I was working steadily before lunch when one of these green-smock ladies charged with organizing excursions into this part of Japan visited me in the train station pay phone room to ask if I might help her ensure that some sign translations were accurate for English speakers. "Check for bad english please." They're making some bilingual road signs for major attractions in the area.
The first three were "so-and-so's Poem Stone" - I said, you know we don't have poem stones in the United States that I know of, but that's about how you would describe it. Here in Japan about every three and a half days you run across some large piece of rock that's been smoothed out and it's had some famous verse carved into it. My reading skill is nowhere near strong enough to decipher these; often the characters are original, as the famous old writer composed their poem. Some of these are tourist attractions, as I would guess that particular poet visited that spot, or maybe they chiseled out their words themselves. Anyhow, "So-and-So's poem stone" sounded fine to me.
"Kappa monster lake side" was a bit confusing but easy to figure out: something of the Loch Ness Monster here, the Kappa monster was sighted in olden days from this particular side of the lake. I said "Kappa Monster Lake View" might be better but it's so hard to nail down "The Famous Place From Where Some People Said They Saw This Particular Kappa Monster A Long Time Ago" into roadsign length.
Symbiotic Plant Community was the real highlight. Rivaling The Owl Zoo and Hanging Floral Garden two-in-one attraction I saw near Mount Fuji, this is a group of trees, where, I was lead to believe, you can see many species of tree grafted onto a single tree. So it's a tree where one limb is cherry blossom, one limb is oak, one limb is pine. They didn't have any pictures. We struggled over this one for some time. She said a Canadian English teacher who lives in the area suggested community as a translation for the word they were using after "symbiotic tree." I looked up the word online, I found "all of creation, the mass of humanity." Jesus. Put that on a roadsign. With "Symbiotic" and "Tree" and then expect English speaking drivers to put out the fire that's just started in their pants. A Japanese friend of hers who spoke some English had suggested Colony. I was searching online, and she brought me a pamphlet for the witchhazel habitat, or something like that; another local plant attraction. "Habitat" seemed to be the most appropriate description; if you can describe severely mutant tree hiking place from the road appropriately. Habitat seemed more scientific and less poetic, and that seemed right to me. I marvelled at the whole process; she thanked me and later when I was working she brought me two oranges.
Now in my room, laptop, article writing. I received email from my editor at TheFeature: "Pleeeeeease make sure you have it to me before the weekend, just in case something needs to be clarified/revised." I emailed him back letting him know that I had been laid flat for two days and was still recovering and dammit I plan to get him at least a nearly final draft of this thing by the weekend anyhow. That magazine has paid for most of my life lately and I owe it to them to be on time. "Results not excuses" Dreuth and Pakos used to say in the sixth grade.
So I sit here procrastinating, writing about my recent life, listening to Busta Rhymes Woo Hah drum and bass remix on my laptop. Just when I start to feel like a thoroughly modern writer strayed gloriously far from his proper context, I remember all the "Cold Mountain that Howard has been sending me and all the nowness of my stimulation fades and I remember how quiet the forest and someday I'll die and I'll be glad that I saw both!
It's nice to have these urban distractions pulling me away from this cold heart of beauty; it makes my time here dying and thus more precious. When I was writhing in bed, I wanted no part of nothing. Now a warm bath would sooth up these sore shoulders and my aching neck just write. Write!
Stronger now, I see no reason not to use the old-fashioned squat toilet again. I learned a few things things using those toilets, all the while I nearly shat on the floor.
Now nearly midnight, I've been working since six steadily. Reading PowerPoint presentations about location-based marketing services for mobile phones in this setting is slightly stupid. Another present arrived, again from Itoi-san, some salmon steaming in aluminum foil with mushrooms and rice, next to some sweet-sauced sweet potatoes. I was in the midst of a work binge, unlikely to eat. It was a fresh, healthy, hot light meal - a marvellous present. I plot daily how I might repay this man. I'm thinking that nothing less than a personal presentation of something will do. So I will be heading for Yokote.
Part of my time tonight, besides drafting my article and taking these notes has been filled with correspondence. My outbox is 14 messages, averaging about 4k (I've been trimming excessive trailing reply threads in outgoing email to conserve bandwidth). Part of my correspondence is with my good friend and old lover Amy. Last year I promised her a trip to Thailand if she would stay longer than three months. She managed to make it there this January, and she'll be staying on until April. She is stimulated by Thailand, though she has an extensive network of her Mom's side of the family there so her visit to a foreign country is far different from mine. It's fun to read her reports and I'd like to visit her. I might have to leave Japan in February to renew my visa; maybe if I can find a cheap ticket to Bangkok for a few days I will visit her. Some more tropical conditions after the fiercely cold climes of Akita.
The first massively multiplayer role-playing game for a mobile phone was released a year ago tomorrow in Japan. That's a major milestone in the evolution of gaming models and platforms I figure, or at least a notable hiccup. And yet I haven't been able to find a single article in English describing what it's like to play the damn thing. So now I have played it, I have interviewed the developers and now I'm writing it up for Wireless Gaming Review.
I could just keep writing and writing and writing. My ass hurts my neck hurts I remember I was just recently sick and I plan to wake up in 7 hours. I should go bathe; again today.
Chasing the Dragon
A friend went to study abroad in Sri Lanka and reported he spent much of his time burning little pieces of tin foil with opium on top, and sucking the resulting smoke through a straw. This he called "chasing the dragon."
Tonight I took my camera with me and I sat amidst the rising steam and falling snow waiting for the others to leave so I might take some pictures of the grand bath of this captivating hot springs as I have seen it in the deep winter nights. Recording on digital media the water, kerosene lamp light, steam, snow that was floating around me seemed deliberately difficult. And the spring kept saying, "I'll give you a great photo, just lower your camera into the water." I crouched around snapping repeatedly, never expecting to have this chance again. I sat on a stone that was as hot as a hot hot plate and scalded my ass. Before I started I nearly stumbled over one Japanese gentleman lingering by the side of the pool, as I didn't have my glasses or contact lenses on. I'm not sure I got dukey out of it, but I did get that kind of photography out of the way so tomorrow night I can go and just sit there with my senses. And my camera just in case. Trying to capture this feeling hanging in the air is what I call Chasing the Dragon.
On my way out of the staging area/changing room I placed my camera between my thin light blue cotton under-robe and the heavy duty dark blue cotton over-robe. The camera promptly fell out my armpit and I saw it dashed against the rocks except that the ends of my sleeves are sewn up, so the camera was caught there, dangling near my wrist. And there I let it sit as I prowled around the other baths. It seemed to me that perhaps the handiest place to carry many things would be in the ends of your sleeves. I wonder if this was the intent or use of this?
And as I closed the door behind me at the Jisui, finished photographing for the night, ready to warm my toes and type before bed, I wondered what it would be to share this thought with my grandfather. You see, Grampa, they have these old-fashioned clothes in Japan where you can carry stuff in your sleeves! He'd wince up his eyes, shake his head a bit and pronounce, "Why Justin you ol' bugger you" as he smacked me on the knee. I miss him; I'm glad I got to see a lot of him while he was kickin'.
One of the less fun things I have done in Akita: clean feces out of my long underwear using dishsoap under a small trickle of icy water. Clean twice, rinse twice, hands still hurt. Under the fingernails especially - sustained pain.
day 12 - (Friday, 25 January)I want to have some familiarity with the world's most widespread languages that use non-English alphabets - Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, perhaps what's spoken widely in India. I tried to study Arabic in Egypt when I was in high school, travel there solo wasn't happening. I've picked up some Japanese now, it's serving me professionally to be able to talk with mobile phone providers and video game makers.
Still I could stay here the rest of my life to learn to talk to these folks and to learn to read the language. I'm mentally beginning to plan to learn Chinese. I think I will give until end of June straight Japan and Japanese, and then I will switch. Maybe I will take a summer Chinese course at Berkeley again, to come full circle.
If I learn Chinese I will be learning in some slight way to read serious Japanese.
I sight a slightly Duncan-esque character boarding the bus at kogen onsen; tennis shoes and no socks (ankles and pant legs snow encrusted) hands white from cold standing outside, wearing a misshapen green down jacked, floppy hood pulled down over his face. He boards, takes his seat, tries to stuff a backpack about twice as tall as the narrow ledge into the small stowage space unsuccessfully. Then he sits down, removes his hood, and pulls on a white knit skullcap that has some kind of random rust-colored markings on it. If he's paranoid maybe he thinks I'm sitting over here writing a report on him.
As I do with nearly any new idea, I compose a few new emails on the subject. But these emails I'm idling for another day; I want to turn this Chinese idea over in my mind alone for a little bit.
I think what I am looking for is some serious direction of study. I could just as easily choose bronzework or scrollmaking or a law degree. I feel as though perhaps this point in my life is to travel in Asia as a sort of graduate education in this part of the world.
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" played by a music box.
famous ban building
I came to this building with an aspiration to work hard and serious. Instead, I saw two foreigners and started talking. One was an architecture journalist from Berlin, the other an architecture curator with MOMA in NYC. Both were travelling from Osaka even further north in Akita today to visit buildings by this particular architect Shigeru Ban (that's maybe like travelling from Charleston to Boston by fast rail in one day). They didn't even know of the heavenly hotsprings, I didn't realize I was standing in an architectural pilgrimage point.
They came to take a picture of the neat little slats that can cover the windows leading into the video viewing room. And the steel "swords" not i-beams - about the most minimal use of metal allowable in a Japan Railways shinkansen terminal (they don't allow plain wooden buildings). And wood used through as fireproofing.
I had noticed the exposed plywood on the ceiling as I approached the station for the third time, I said, that's sort of cheap looking, unfinished like. Then after a bit, I thought about it and decided plain plywood is better looking than dropped ceiling tiles.
During lunchtime the video viewing room hosts snoozing and dining Japanese workers and old folks from around town who prefer this warm lounge to the bitter cold. This place has a six foot television showing scenes of nature with babbling brook sound effects or bouncy windam hill type music.
And there's a kids' area, with native plant and animal info, and a dam diorama that might light up and move after you watch some ten minute animated video but I only had the patience to sit through one of the possible five videos and the diorama slept. Two little dragon babies, a boy and a girl, wondered why their bodies were changing. That's because the water has changed - the Ph balance is different now. So the humans built a dam to change the water flow. Humanizing the construction industry for the little ones.
I was typing as people slept in the video room. One of the sleeping ladies awoke, and asked me,"do you eat rice?" She offered me a rice ball. I accepted quickly; I hadn't eaten yet. It was delicious, with a full wet sour pickled Japanese plum waiting in the center.
jesus I want to use the word bailiwicks in an article.
Back from town, from work. On my way in, at the last minute a flurry of short mails with Ayako to confirm for tomorrow. Magoroku; I'm glad she's found us somewhere to stay towards the older end of things. Marvellous!
[Exerpted to showshoe]
Motegi-sama calls me from my room as I have written that much
I ate and carried on a bit with the drunk man. She warned him not to make me drink and so he poured me another beer. She brought me some tea. I explained to the folks that I had been living in the jisui and she had been my neighbor and then became my friend, and then my teacher, and then my nurse, and now she's like my mom. Motegi-san would occasionally walk through, hear something they said and stand and repeat it for me very slowly. Then I would say something and she would repeat it for them. Then she would leave and we would go on talking. It was very funny. I did everything to humour her as she was brilliant to bring me into that situation to fill my belly and keep me from being alone.
One of the guest ladies, with a very wonderfully playful, mellifluous way of speaking pointed out that her son was the same age as I am, so she might be my Mom too. Folks were very affectionate. The slight combativeness typical of drunken interactions didn't last long; he retreated. The others soon departed and I was left with a part of folks exactly my age. We had a marvellous chat for another hour or more. He had been to Canada to live for eight months; enough to cement solid English in a seemingly well-lubricated brain. He spoke fluidly, except that Motegi would catch him and scold him telling him that I was to practice Japanese only while I was here. I said she was kibishii; I get more a chance to practice my Japanese than he gets to practice his English I imagine - he works as some sort of public official in Sendai so his work doesn't require it. (I had to ask them to repeat where they lived a few times, but then it hit me - the best 'deck in Neuromancer was partially named after that city in Japan. Perhaps the eighth largest they agreed.) They met in high school in a class and didn't see each other for eight years. Then they met at a reunion, found they were both living in Tokyo, started dating eight months ago. Now she visits him more often in Sendai than he visits her living with her parents in Saitama; they go to onsen together all the time. A regular thing. He lives alone, that must be part of it; his family hails from Nagoya.
She works at a large insurance agency. How are things? Well, she said, we were just asked to start photocopying on both sides of the paper. And, the lights are now all turned off at 9pm. Our bonuses have shrunk. What would you like to do if you didn't have a job? Have children, she replied. Ahh, so des ka. Do you have a father yet? They laughed, he said something along the lines of "kami-sama dake shitte iru" echoing what I'd said about my future after I travel to the states in March.
All the while I snuck bowls of nabe from the idle pot next to me. Motegi cleaned up all the room for another round of guests, but left this pot for me. He drank an enormous amount of hot tea. She adjusted her Tsurunoyu Yukata to cover her cold toes. He was given a small ukata only and was often adjusting it to stay warm. I felt bad for their shivering and eating could go on forever (being a itinerant/nomad makes you want to eat all you can when you can)
We kids retreated back to the dorm, and I invited them to my room for a second so I could give them a card. After some dictionary/device show and tell, we broke. I called Ayako on suspicion that she might not have shoes for Akita. After seeing her always shoed in heels of some sort, under pants belled out at the bottom, at this last minute I realized she might not be able to walk. And this onsen she confirmed us at today you can not drive to; you must walk. She said, yes, but Justin are you okay? I didn't take the time to tell her I'd done over five or six hours of hiking through snow paths and drifts with snowshoes and with straight boots I just said I was fine. She said she might be late and she would see what she could get. It was after 10pm she was set to leave ten hours later!
I joined them at the baths. He was drinking a beer from a bucket typically used to rinse oneself down; it was filled instead with snow and it floated in the onsen with his beer, idly about until he wanted a drink. His lady was quiet a bit, tired, and retired early. He and I talked, some of Vienna, he enjoyed visiting, Canada. He learned about urban planning with a focus in disaster prevention in graduate school. Kobe looms large there. Over 6000 people died in that earthquake, but those were old buildings. Standards are higher now; more advanced.
They both observed that their favourite bath was "geto," something like that (harder to forget than most shared nihongo) in southern Iwate. A river/onsen. They pointed out that while the architecture of Tsurunoyu is fantastic it is not completely rare; there are other old onsen. But the white waters here are rare. This I did not know. Later with Tanaka-san, as he lay under his covers on his futon, a jury-rigged duct running heat from his heater into his bedding, he pointed out that these are known as the milk-colored waters. Like breast milk, you know? He sat up and pantomimed squeezing his tits.
Earlier I had seen him reading the newspaper in the tabako room so I joined him there with my Aquarius-brand sport water and media equipment (in Japan: dictionary, notebook, pen). Motegi didn't come home; I felt maybe I'd slighted her as she'd said something about spring and later, and perhaps I was supposed to meet her there? But I couldn't find her and I went to bed after stepping on and snapping a pair of nice ear-snuggling Sony headphones I've had since 1991.