Monday, August 31, 2009

Diplomacy and Public Diplomacy

Taking a deep breath. A few gems of wisdom gleaned from the week's reading. Thanks Starr Report.

On Diplomacy, of which The Oxford English Dictionary gives credit for its first usage in the modern sense to my alma mater. Thanks Edmund Burke.

"Above all else, diplomacy is a system of communications between strangers."
-James Der Derian, "Diplomacy" in The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World

"An ambassador is an honest man who is sent to lie abroad for the good of his country."
-Sir Henry Wotton, Ambassador of the Court of King James

"Honesty is the best policy...a lie always leaves in its wake a drop of poison."
-Francois de Callieres (d'accord:P)

"Diplomacy is the art of saying nothing very carefully."
-Los Angeles Times Editorial

"[Diplomacy is] the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you find a rock."
-Will Rogers

"Diplomacy without power is like an orchestra without a score."
-Frederick the Great

"When power and diplomacy fall out of kilter, diplomacy tends toward coercion, propaganda, and intervention. The dialogue of diplomacy then carries the threat of war rather than the promise of peace."
-James Der Derian


On Public Diplomacy, of which my current university constructs and redefines daily. Thanks USC.

"Public Diplomacy is the…projection in the international arena of the values and ideas of the public… The aim of the practice of public diplomacy is not to convince but to communicate, not to declare but to listen. Public diplomacy seeks to build a sphere in which diverse voices can be heard in spite of their various origins, distinct values, and often contradictory interests."
-Prof. Manuel Castells, Wallis Annenberg Chair Professor of Communication Technology and Society at USC

Meanwhile, change has come to Japan. I wonder if Obama, Japan cast its vote in the same resounding way for the DPJ. The mandarin dinosaurs of the LDP ran their party and country aground one too many times (See under: the PRI of Mexico). Amazing how under-covered the election of the world's second largest economy can be. Ian Baruma of the Guardian made a great point:
The world, fixated on China's rise, was slow to pay attention to this seismic shift in the politics of the globe's second largest economy. Japanese politics has a dull image in the world's press. Most editors, when they cover Japan at all, prefer stories about the zaniness of its popular youth culture, or the wilder shores of Japanese sex.


Be on the lookout for better Japan cultural diplomacy in the future to make the country more visible on the global horizon.

Last note on a great comment by Peru's President Alan Garcia to Hugo Chavez:
Mr. Chávez had previously described the [U.S.-Colombia] accord as a step toward war and had said it involved American designs on Venezuelan oil. He has been threatening to break off diplomatic relations with Colombia.

President Alan García of Peru, who has warm relations with the United States, took a shot at Mr. Chávez, noting Venezuela’s continued willingness to export oil to the United States.

“Man, why are they going to dominate the petroleum if you already sell it all to the United States?” Mr. García said. The remark drew laughter, though not from Mr. Chávez.

Thanks Pres. Garcia for putting that buffoon in his place. Thanks Daniel Drezner for bringing it to my attention.

And while I'm focused down south, an interesting article about the African diaspora in Argentina. Thanks GlobalPost.

Disco in Boru

The latest video from my friend Dani Disco in Boru (Bolivia/Peru)

Horrorscope

My horoscope today:
Communication issues abound. Try not to add to the confusion. It is better not to answer at all then give the wrong information.

A little too apt.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Japanese Cultural Diplo

As Japan goes to the polls today, an issue far closer to my heart: Japanese Cultural Diplomacy. Manga Diplo and otherwise.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Scenes from the Apocalypse

As I was walking to the bus, I looked out into the horizon, and saw the most ominous smoke clouds in the distance that are courtesy of the fires blazing in the hills. I literally stopped in my tracks, as it looked like a mushroom cloud rising above LA.

Meanwhile, later in the evening, I spied the fires again in the hills as I was driving through Echo Park with my friend Jon. In a strange fashion, it reminded me of Kyoto and the bonfires that lit up the mountainside. This morning, there is the hint of smoke in the air.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The week that sure was

As the sun sets fiery orange on my neighbors window between the palm trees, I am left coming to grips with the crazy week that was. Busy, busy. Sweet slumber has not returned, and its due to a few factors. Jetlag on the one, but nerves and poor fengshui has contributed. Running ragged trying to get the photo show done, but it's gonna be good. It takes a little pd to do a pd photo show, but I'm getting there.



I had a wednesday class with Prof. Lamy. Malley from Lions to Lambs. An intro to Foreign Policy analysis. Good class, but I'm leaning towards a Theories of Diplomacy class. Always tough to choose.

Thursday had a Pub D Africa class. I was dreaming up all sorts of interesting Africa pub d case studies. Apartheid South Africa PD, how they tried to reach out beyond the cordon sanitaire that was wrapped around them. Maybe on Nigieria's attempt to rebrand itself, especially through Nollywood. I'm leaning toward a case study on Somaliland pd, the one part of Somalia that works well. I added a few ideas to the course focus, including adding a look at Cuba's role in Africa (once a major player in Africa) and India's relationship with the continent, in its former diaspora there, and its current involvement.

Friday was a quilombo (see under: balagan). Lack of sleep has me frazzled. I had a zipcar meltdown over the fact that first I couldn't get the car key to start the car (twist the wheel) and then the car itself (hold down on the break, the battery isn't dead). Made me ten minutes late to my morning meeting, who was 25 minutes late. Not sure if he got pulled into a meeting as I was late, but I wasn't happy. In and out burger restored a little wa (harmony). A return to Prof. Wiseman's class, for a seminar on diplomacy and schools of diplomatic thought. Defining diplomacy on multiple levels, I think I will enjoy it. Back to the lab for some QT with old friends. Good friends, who I really missed over the summer. I rarely hold onto people in my wanderings, but I have missed my pub d peeps something fierce.

A few things forgotten over the week that was: a) If I had received Hugo Chavez' speech without his name on it, I would have loved it. Social justice, too bad the messenger is a bombastic buffoon. An ad-hominem attack on the messenger. b) I found Carlos Gardel in Los Angeles.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Onion PD

As always, the nation's finest news source covers the best public diplomacy: Socialites Without Borders.

Vlugvoos, the Starr Report and the return of Che Pablo

The title above, which is an Afrikaaner word for jet lag- to have been made spongy, perished or rotten by flight. Baie danke, Harper's and Breyten Breytenbach for the enlightenment. I luv Harper's for teaching me such things as the percentage change in profits of the top ten insurance companies (+428); the number of Little Tike Cozy Coupes sold in America last year (457,000) and the percent that this exceeds the sales of the top automobile model (5 percent); that amphibians prefer to mate under the full moon.

I'm starting to think it isn't jet lag, but rather stress over finishing my photo exhibit. I'm getting there, but it doesn't make me worry any less.

School has started and I luv it. I had my first day back at school yesterday. I had hoped to get a good night's rest, but alas the jetlag kept me up until 3am. I set 3 alarms to wake me in morning, and it was the third that did the trick. I had my Pub D Latin America class at 9am with Prof. Pam Starr. She had come highly recommended by a few of my friends who became her class groupies (Starrlets). I was also told be sure to bring your "A" game to class because she pushes her students hard, but in a positive manner. Sure enough, we received an email a few weeks back with a set of readings and polls to examine so we could hit the first day running. We had some interesting pre-class readings that consisted of a Peter Hakim piece from Foreign Affairs, “Is Washington Losing Latin America?,” plus speeches by Chavez and Obama and a variety of polls (Pew 2007, 2009 and Latinobarometro) All of this was to lay out the dichotomy between Guantanamo and Bolivar.

We received an intro into the class, with Prof. Starr making it clear that the class was not a US foreign policy in Latin America course, but rather an examination of the public diplomacy of a variety of actors (state and nonstate) in the region and those with interests in the region. We would be examining the PD of the great powers like the US, middle powers like Canada, and regional powers like Mexico and Brazil, among the rest of the actors. Prof. Starr made a point that the perspective on regional heavyweights like Mexico can shift the perspective, ie Guatemala looks at Mexico in a similar fashion the Mexico looks at its bigger neighbor to the north. She also made a good point that for weaker states, PD is vital- the weaker you are, the more you need to rely on public diplomacy. Also that the same pd tools create different outcomes in different places- this can be due in part to different cultures. She made a quote that I really liked, stating, "culture is a consequence of shared historical perspective."

We shifted the discussion to the symbol and the reality of the general in his labyrinth, the Liberator Simon Bolivar and what he was attempting to achieve some few centuries prior. He felt that the liberated Latin American states would be too weak on their own in the face of imperialist powers (at the time Spain and Britain), and would need to band together in an alliance. His exercise in unity sadly did not pan out.

I would love to go through all we discussed in class, as it was a fascinating discussion but I haven't the time (unless the jetlag gets really, really bad). To summarize, Latin Americans have been surprisingly socialized to like the market economy- although there are still many who don't. They also generally dislike intervention into their own affairs, be it from the gringo neighbor to the north or even Chavez and his grandstanding "Bolivarian revolution."

Meanwhile, Peter Hakim laid out (in 2006) some structural points of why the US-Latin America relationship wouldn't improve over the next few years- over issues like farm subsidies and trade barriers, immigration and developmental aid. None of these structural facts have changed, but the Pew polls indicate a dramatic shift in attitudes in Latin America towards the US. What changed? President Barrack Obama and a change in American Public Diplomacy towards the region. A public diplomacy message by the US that there must be a better partnership and better communications- a message of respect and recognition that we have been arrogant in the past, but now we are going to listen and work with you on issues that are important not just to us, but to you as well.

One such way, Prof. Starr, pointed out was President Obama hosting Pres. Lula of Brazil as the first Latin American leader to the White House (Mexico's Calderon met when Obama was Pres-elect). The symbolism was that the US was bestowing its respect on the regional power, giving deference to Brazil almost as an equal but definitely as a respected partner.

The discussion ended on Prof. Starr pointing out some perceptions and historical facts. 1) In the 19th century, the US jumped past Latin America in growth and development; 2) Up until lately, Latin America had a hard time getting democracy right; 3) There have been many times that the US has been arrogant towards Latin America; 4) Latin America's historical memory is more profound. The weaker party remembers history more clearly than the strong; the weak remembers slights more clearly than the strong and perceives slights more readily.

By no means is this the full discussion, and some of what is summarized lacks the proper context of the discussion, but it was interesting and I thought worth sharing. I hope that is enough of a caveat so that no attribution should be made.

My class on Latin America gave me the inspiration to stave off a midday jetlag nap and bike down to the Argentine Catalina's Market in Los Feliz. I had a nice long bike ride through Central America and Korea, until I reached Argentina. I was welcomed with some delicious empanadas, the best I have had since I got back north. I wandered in and out of Argentine dreams and memories as I picked up a kilo of mate, alfajores, dulce de leche, chimichuri sauce and a giant bottle of Paso de los Toros pomelo soda. I eyed the matambre and other assorted Argentine delicacies that wouldn't keep well in my bike ride back. What I wouldn't give for a cafe cortado at El Gato Negro on Corrientes, with the smell of spices wafting in the air.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cricket Diplomacy; Cow Diplomacy; Moroccan Reggae Diplomacy

How I burn the jetlag midnight oil. Now that I'm home, I am getting a chance to post old info sent my way.

Check out this great BBC short on the NYPD's Cricket Diplomacy. Thanks Tarun.

Check out this great piece on the gift of cows from the Masai in wake of 9/11. Thanks Daysha. It's a long piece but it's cute.

Check out this great piece on Moroccan Reggae. Thanks Baba.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

7-11, Dodge Ball and Dan Quisenberry

Around 11pm Japanese time I finally fell asleep. Great, except it was 7am in LA and I had pulled an unfortunate allnighter. I woke up around noon and bumped into a new roommate Andrea. We have two Andreas, two Has and one twin, not to mention one Ha's mother staying here for a month. And then there were thirteen.

Anywho, Andrea asked if I needed anything, to which I replied, "sure, do you have any bath salts or bubble bath?" She said hold on ten minutes, cause she was in the middle of something. A few minutes later, I heard an angry male voice, then an angry female voice. Unpleasant words and shuffling outside the door. I waited until the dust cleared before I popped my head out, and found Danny in the kitchen. Apparently, he got caught in the crossfire and had to be the fly on the wall of what seemed like an angry breakup.

About half-an-hour later, Danny and I were still in the kitchen when Andrea re-appeared. In a very terse voice, she asked me: "I'm going to Target, do you want bath salts or oils?" I replied that there was no need for her to get me anything, as there it was only a question if she had some and I might borrow some. In a stern voice that sounded not to be trifled with, she asked, "which will it be?" Gulp, salts, please and thanks. So begins a new year of communal living on Portland Street.

Anyway, Danny and I left to play dodge ball. He just started in a league on the westside. We hopped in his car, which he warned me would smell because he had left a protein shake in it, which putrefied in the sun. Last time I went out with Danny, the odor in the car had been from a banana he left to cook in his car. See under: the milk mobile of Bloemfontein.

On the way we stopped at 7-11. I'm not in Japan anymore. It was a dimly-lit, shady place with shady people hanging out. There was no onigiri, just greasy big bites. No sake, just slurpies. The Japanese 7-11s are utterly pristine and welcoming, this was the polar opposite.

We arrived to the hipster dodgeball set, where tattooed and pierced kids hurled bouncy red balls at each other. Dan Quisenberry ran the show and delivered a submarine shot, and there were assorted characters like Jesus, and a fellow who hurled it behind-the-back or a spin-twist toss. It was a lot of fun, it was a good workout. My shoulder died early and my tosses became pretty ineffectual, which often got me out early. But it was a lot of fun, and a good welcome back to LA to put a smile back on my mug.

Zombie World Order

Since I feel like one this unslept morning (or afternoon in Nipon), check out this article by Daniel Drezner on IR theory related to zombies.

Speaking of zombies, a great piece on the overblown nature of American declinism by Josef Joffe of Die Ziet in the NY Times.

Even more pics up (jetlag, I hate you!)

Bah, it's now 5:15am, and I am still up. I was so tired, then it kicked over into a Japanese day. Enjoy the pics.

End of Tokyo and Hakodate


Hakodate Market


Hakodate Night


Hakodate night fair


Onuma National Park (Hakodate)


Hakodate from above


To Nagano (past Tokyo Tower)


Tour of Obuse


Obuse vistas


Ride to Nagano (the Japanese Alps)


Matushiro and Nagano

Groundhog Day home

I woke up on friday August 21st at 7am on a tatami mat for what would be a long journey home. We packed up, had a wake for a goodbye with crying and hugging, etc. I refrained from singing "you'll never see your friends again." We took a bus to Osaka, about an hour and a half away. Everyone was sleeping on the ride there. I woke up from my nap to an unconscious bus as we drove through the sprawling city.

A point of note about Japan- it seems very futuristic, for 1988. Once upon a time, it may have been very cutting edge in architecture, gadgets and gizmos, but years of financial malaise cut into its newness dynamic.

Anywho, we checked in and waited for the first leg of the trip to Tokyo. An uneventful flight of sleep and chatting with my friend Emily. She is going home to do her laundry before she returns to Japan to study for the year.

I woke up as we landed at Narita airport outside Tokyo, and I did a little duty-free shopping. I couldn't figure out why the woman at the counter kept asking my final destination and if I was transferring flights, so I just said "Seattle" to shut her up. After I bought a few bottles of sake, I found out why she was asking. Some friends pointed out that I couldn't take the bottles with me through security as I switched from international to domestic since you can't have liquids on a flight. Ugh. Fine, I would simply pack the bottles into my bag after arrival to Seattle and before I switched flights.

The flight back was uneventful. I sat next to a Canadian woman with her family who had also attended USC for grad school (Fight on, eh?). I arrived exhausted to Seattle on Friday August 21st at 8:55am on friday morning, before when I had left Japan. Ah, the joys of crossing the international date line and going back in time. I grabbed my dilapidated bag, my poor daypack that is officially dead. After more than a decade, it is ready to be retired. The bag I bought on clearance before leaving to Israel in 1998 has been a faithful companion around the globe, and I shall miss it on future adventures.

Thankfully I had no problems with customs and the sake. My underage friend David had his sake bottle confiscated by customs, who weren't willing to accept that the bottle was a gift. He was told the offense would go on his "permanent record," but somehow I think that is doubtful.

I said goodbye to the rest of the group, and napped in a nook in an airport gate. I was amazed with my return to the Land of Girth and Goof. Such rotund white people sillily chatting away in the bouncy English. After the demure Japanese stacato, the English language seemed like an invasion in my head. I grabbed some wonderful Ivar's fish and chips before an leaving Seattle.

From Seattle to San Jose, then San Jose to LA with a raucous crowd at the back of the place. Some girls partying it up in LA, then Vegas, and a loquacious Indo-Fijian named Ann next to me, who chatted up an Indian-American law student named Neil and me. We descended into the sunburnt LA haze, and I couldn't have been less underwhelmed with ha-shiva, the return. Oy, what a difference a year makes. But my friends Kenya and Mark where there to scoop me and take me for Indian food at my friend Gopaul's corner cafe. I went to bed early, ending a never-ending August 21st.

Meanwhile, something about my return always heralds the theft of lawn furniture. When I was returning from my Beijing to Cairo trek, I was dreaming about laying in my parents' hammock in the backyard- too bad it was stolen that morning. Savages. Now, alas as I was thinking about sitting in the rocking chair on my frontporch in Lalaland, some hoodlums have absconded with both the rocking chair AND the front porch bench. That takes some major chutzpah and effort to steal a front porch rocking chair and wood bench. Savages.

New pics up.

It's nearly 3am LA time, which is like 7pm in Japan. Jetlag sucks. However, it is good for uploading pics. Check 'em out:

Meiji Shrine (Tokyo)


End of Tokyo and Hakodate


Hakodate Market


Hakodate Night


Hakodate night fair


Onuma National Park (Hakodate)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What the World Costs- Japan

80 yen($.85): vending machine coffee
100 yen ($1.06): 180ml of sake in a juice box; onigiri rice ball at 7-11
105 yen ($1.12): 1 piece of salmon sashimi from conveyor in Kyoto
110 yen ($1.17): cold boss coffee in a can; cold cinnamon cappuccino in a can
120 yen ($1.28): sangubayshi to shinjuku station on Odayku commuter train
158 yen ($1.68): 200 ml of sake in a glass tennis cannister
160 yen ($1.70): tamago on conveyor belt sushi
190 yen ($2.02): Shinjuku to Shinagawa sardine train on JR Tamanote line
200 yen ($2.13): bowl of fat udon noodles at Hakodate University cafeteria
210 yen ($2.24): 220 mL Asahi beer from vending machine
220 yen ($2.35): piece salmon sushi from sushi conveyor in Tokyo; bus ticket in Kyoto
250 yen ($2.63): 2 stop metro ride
270 yen ($2.87): chestnut icecream; 220ml can of Asahi beer at 7-11
400 yen ($4.26): red bean paste crepe in harajuku; shinagawa to Keihan airport metro
420 yen ($4/47): 4 plates of conveyor sushi in Kyoto
480 yen ($5.16): 4 piece german-style japanese kuchen cake (incredible!)
500 yen ($5.32): draft beer of Sapporo; black and tan beer in Lost in Translation bar
550 yen ($5.85): glass of sho-chu on the rocks; black beer in Mt. Hakodate lounge overlooking the city
580 yen ($6.17): black and tan at lost in translation bar
600 yen ($6.38): entrance to Kyoto temple of 1,000 Buddhist statues
620 yen ($6.60): Tamago Double Mac, fries and a coke at McDonald`s
770 yen ($8.19): entrance to Kyoto observatory tower
880 yen ($9.36): roundtrip cable car up Mt. Hakodate (group price)
1,200 yen ($12.77): 1 hour at at anime cafe including cute rabit cake and surcharge for cutesy animaid blessing the food
2,500 yen ($26.60): all you can drink plus food in Ropongi; dorm bed in Kyoto Hostel
28,200 yen ($3,000): JASC Conference- Arigato Gozimashta to USC!

Friday, August 21, 2009

10 Things I will/won`t miss about Japan

10 Things I will miss about Japan:
10) Miso soup for breakfast
9) Rice (Eat more rice, bitch)
8) Vending machines everywhere, including beer vending machines
7) Manju at rest stops
6) The convenience of the convenie (the ubiquitous convenience stores, 7-11 is king)
5) JASC
4) Deciding between an auto toilet with a warm seat or a squatter
3) Sake in a box, ganpei!
2) The silence of the sleeping metro cars
1) Cheap conveyor sushi

10 Things I won`t miss about Japan:
10) Fish for breakfast
9) Windbag presentations
8) Windbag forums
7) The ubiquitous Hello Kitty and other evil anime characters
6) The aggrandized business card ritual
5) JASC
4) Cars driving on the left side
3) `Thank you for that enlightening presentation`
2) Squid products
1) Formalities

Owari (The End)

So ends the Tales of a Wandering Nin-Jew. My time in Jew-pan has passed, and I leave with many more questions than answers. I have much, much more to see, but I got a good taste. As always, you get what you pay for. My constraints were based on the nature of my trip- I was fooling myself to think it would be like one of my backpacking adventures. But it has been fun, nonetheless.

We finally had a free day today- I made the most of it. I hopped the bus to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I arrived too late to get on the 10am tour, but signed up for the 2pm tour. With my place assured, I hopped a few buses to get to Sanjusangen-do, a Buddhist temple home to a thousand bodhisatva statues. Silence and incense filled the hall as golden-copper cypress statues of sloe-eyed figurines with multitudes of arms stood in enlightenment. There were wild-eyed black demon statues warring with black brahmin statues bathed in fire and dragons. Various crystal-eyed figurines filled the silent hall- all quiet except for the sounds of yen alms dropping in the wooden grates. It was impressive.

I walked through town, down to the observation point of Kyoto Tower. I took in the view of the city, then hopped a few more buses to eventually arrive back at the Kyoto Imperial Palace for my tour. The English tour, with its preponderance of Europeans toured the Chrysanthemum throne`s old stomping grounds. We walked through beautiful gardens and past vermilion halls (the orange-red to keep away the evil spirits.

I took the a few more buses back towards where I was supposed to meet the group, but got sidetracked at a golden temple called Kinkakuji. It was stunning, and reminded me of Amritsar. The gaudy, golden temple reflected into the lake surrounding it, and was made more impressive by the cypress trees surrounding it. Worth being late.

We had dinner, then a final reflection. The mic ended on me and I had to give the final reflection. I mentioned how pleased I was observing how much progress so many had made- probably in stark contrast to my own regression during the time. Anyway, my time (and internet access) is soon ending. I wish I was as passionate about the program as others, but I am simply a little too old for it. I have had the life-changing trip and long, drawn out goodbye a few times too many to be anything other than dispassionate. But I did really enjoy the JASC cultural exchange, Japanese experience and time with Japadeles, along with the various adventures. And I feel I had a positive influence on a number of the delegates, and helped change their perspectives. So it ends, so it goes. Journey on.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Erections, Matcha and Nijo

While I debated staying off the reservation, I did indeed return to the group as we were leaving the Ritz for a new hostel and I needed to move my stuff. We spent the morning having new Executive Committee (EC) elections. Funny how the word changes when there are issues with l/r. So there will be a new Mickey Mouse to run the show. While I have sometimes been critical of Mickey, but they worked hard and earned my respect along the way.

After the elections, we to a tea ceremony demonstration. We learned all the steps for a proper Japanese tea ceremony and how to prepare matcha, the bitter powdered green tea. The steps are intricate, and involve beating the tea with a bamboo whisk. The frothy outcome is strong but good. I had a second bowl, I liked it so much. The ceremony and its intricacies were pretty fascinating.

After the tea, I bolted from the group to hit up Nijo Castle

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ronin

I finally was able to break free for a little respite. Free to swim around in my own head and examine Japan from my own perspective. It took a while, and I will explain.

We had been working on the final forum project for the last few days. It was a little tricky because I stopped caring about food security a while back. I didn`t think our proposal would feed one more starving mouth so I checked out. I phoned it in and helped out with the final project as minimally as I could. Meanwhile, I was nominated, among the multitude, for the next year`s executive committee- somehow I feel in jest. I crossed out my name and left my Sherman statement: "If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve."

The alarm clock symphony woke me up early amid a cacophony of morning music. We headed down to the Kyoto convention hall for a little `hurry up and wait.` Everyone was stressing out, and I was muttering `why so serious` in my best joker voice. We had our day o` final forum, with all the pomp and circumstance therein. We finished up with our RT and all the others, and I ducked out while the groups held forum. I found an ancient temple dating back to the 13th century and wandered through the pine temples. The sun set in exuberant glory and resembled an apricot apotheosis.

We had a final forum reception with ganpei all around and a continual lovely spread. I might have been focused on food security, but the prospect of me going hungry was nil.

I finally was given a free night away from the group and relished it. I checked in to a hostel near the Nijo castle and spent the evening swimming in my own thoughts. It`s nice to finally have a little free time to reflect on the curiosity that is Japan. After I ducked away and checked in, I headed out on the metro. I soaked in the solitude and the silence amid the noise of the night commuters chatting away. My favorite, favorite moments are when I am the only the foreigner on a train and the car is a symphony of unitelligible sounds of people chatting away. Silence amid sound.

I hopped off at Karasuma and wandered my way into an evening fair, complete with bars and pricey red lights beyond my budget. I wandered down to the river where couples sat under the moonless night, drinking beer and chatting. As Alison Krause sings:
As I went down to the river to pray, studying about that good ol` way. Who should wear the starry crown, good Lord, show me the way.
From stilts above, Japanese yuppies peered down over the river bachanalia. I found some Greeks bearing gifts and made my way about the evening area. I missed the last bus, so I walked back- stopping at the convenies (convenience stores) for cheap beers that beat an expensive cab ride. I considered borrowing a bike- stealing but returning in the morning, but my conscience held me back, so I I walked back a good hour across town, trying to put the experience of Japan in perspective. All I can say is that it is nice to have a Japanese experience unmediated, and I will have to return someday to get a full flavor. Going ronin is nice, and I need more free time to examine this enigmatic place. Hopefully the next few days will offer as much.

Parker Peter-San

So there are a ridiculous amount of spiders here in Japan. The webs are huge, and they are all over the place. Soon I will put up a picture I took of a frog caught in a spider`s web. I bring all this up because when we were at Monju, I saw an absolutely ginormous spider in its web. I figured a giant spider plus nuclear radiation equals spidey sense. I debated trying to get the sucker to bite me so that I could be on my way to my career as friendly neighborhood. It could work- we are both photojournalists, and we both have a thing for Mary Jane. I will keep you all posted on my webslinging endeavors.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Is Kyoto Burning?, The Monjuhatten Project & Obama

After a long day of roundtable time before our Final Forum, I finally broke free for Kyoto holiday- the Gozan no Okuribi, the Mountain Bonfire Festival. Basically, they carve out giant kangi (characters) in the mountain, then fill up the characters with fire. I hopped a bus away from the hostel for a little solitude sanity, and got off when I saw big groups of people standing around facing the mountains. I grabbed a box of sake and watched as the fires began. Without a great view, I decided to maneuver, so I went into an apartment building and walked up to the very top. There I had a fantastic view of the fire show, and set my camera up for some great pics. I saw the kangi character meaning `big` and another one in the distance that looked kinda like a giant squid on fire. After the fire show, I wandered back for some wonderful kaiten (conveyor) sushi of various tuna, salmon and other fishy pieces for cheap. Also a really good one with beef and egg wrapped in seaweed on rice. Yum.

This morning, we woke up early and drove out to the Monju Nuclear Reactor. I slept on the bus, and woke up to the surreal scene of the azure Sea of Japan to my left, with beaches below and a nuclear reactor in the distance. We arrived to the plant and first watched a few videos about nuclear power and the Monju plant. As you can imagine, the video was surreal as well. Muzak and images of happy people and nature scenes. There was a gravely voice-over of a fellow who sounded like he had a lung cancer voice box. The plant itself had been constructed for almost a decade, but was active for less than a year before it had a major sodium leak and fire in 1995. It has been shutdown since, but is trying to re-open. We saw videos with cute Japanime characters showing our friend Plutonium, as well as the various pr moves the plant was conducting with the locals.

Afterwards we had a tour around the plant, learning about the core and how sodium works. The little Pluto character was pasted all over, too bizarre. Alas, we found no Japanese Homers working at the plant. But we did see how sodium burns, and got to cut it with aI cleaver.

After lunch, we had a lecture from a JAEA fellow and a scientist, plus some presentations from JASCers, then a panel about Nuclear power and weaponry and its discontents. We left the plant and drove through fields of rice paddies that reached up to the maple mountains, until we reached Obama. Yes, there is really a place called Obama. Before the pres, it was most famous for its chopstick factory, which makes something like 80 percent of chopsticks in Japan. It is also home to the world`s largest pair of chopsticks. We were greeted at Obama City Hall by the Mayor of Obama. I snapped pictures of the Obama city workers in `I [heart] Obama` t-shirts. Hai, watashira dekaimas- Yes, we can.

In other news, it appears Japan has broken out of its economic malaise. Arigato gozimashta, Otosa (TY, Abba)

And another article in the GlobalPost about questions regarding the Japan-US Relationship.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Anti-Yaskuni

With a little time to kill, I headed downstairs at the Ritz to visit the Kyoto Museum for World Peace, which is located in our building. As always, there was a little confusion. I first went to the second floor, where I had seen signs for the musuem but I was sent to the basement to get a ticket. In the basement, there was an actual ticket booth and the museum itself. Admission was 400 yen (~$4), but free for Ritsumeikan University students. I showed my student ID, and was told it would be 400 yen. So I changed my answer and said I was a Ritz student on exchange, then played dumb. That got me in for free.

The museum was very interesting. It was the exact opposite from Yaskuni Shrine regarding Japan's role in WWII. First, they refer to the period as "The Fifteen-Year War." Rather than obfuscating history and downplaying events, the museum tackles the issues of Japanese militarism head-on. It discusses the militarization of society by the Japanese government and how it affected daily life. It also displayed the privations faced by Japanese society due to the war. The exhibit also looked at the role of the university during the war. More importantly, the musuem examined Japan's conduct throughout Asia (in China, Korea and Southeast Asia) during the war, taking an open and honest look at what transpired. Nice to see such a forthcoming account of what actually took place, in stark contrast to the downplaying at Yaskuni.

By-the-way, my dear sister Ellen, your birthday no longer has to be a day of infamy. My little sis is born on December 7, and I always liked to give her grief about the aforementioned infamy of her birthday. However, in Japan, the Pearl Harbor attack is noted as December 8, the following day as it was in Japan.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Protocols of the Elders of Kyoto

We left Nagano early in the morning and made our way south to Kyoto. The 8 hour ride was beautiful. I never expected Japan to be so utterly majestic. The horizon hangs wide and low, and the mountains abut the low-lying clouds. We stopped a few times, and I grabbed sesame balls and manju goodies. One of the manju was wrapped in waht looked like a leaf- I thought it to be like paan until I tried to eat the leaf and found out it was synthetic. Finally we arrived to Kyoto, and are staying at the Ritz- the Ritzumeikan University dorms. The dorm is super nutso over rules. No drinks, no hanging out in the common areas, curfew at 10pm.

Yesterday we went to see a Noh play It's kinda like Japanese opera, with a much flatter tone than opera. The head of the theater spoke to us about the history of Noh, and its details. He also mentioned that there is a noh caste system. The children of noh actors must become noh actors, the children of noh musicians become noh musicians- no room to move up or out. That brought a question from me about if he would accept if his son had wanted to be a noh musician rather than an actor. He said it simply wasn't done like that. We then saw a play that was very interesting and beautiful. The opera was on such a different octave but still beautiful.

As we were leaving, I got an earful. The hostility in my tone (perceived or real) brought ire from a group leader- so I spent the afternoon wandering on my own pondering my Japanese existence. Shiva the destroyer was probably never meant for the orderly world of Japan. But some alone time did me well, and brought a sincere apology as I realized the inappropriateness of my question/tone. My appology was greeted with acceptance.

My evening ended sitting at the conveyor belt sushi joint near the Ritz. It was a joy. With a little help from the patron next to me, I ordered sushi on an interactive menu, and waited for the conveyor to bring it along. It would beep as it got close. I munched down tuna, salmon and other assorted pieces of delicious fish, and dropped the plates down a shoot (4 plates of sushi, 12 pieces and 4 rolls, cost 420 yen, about $4). I love the intricacies of Japan, it is such a fascinating place- the conveyor brought the smile back to my mug.

There was some questions about "Mickey Mouse." Mickey Mouse was the name I gave for the executive committee of college kids running the show. Most of the mouseketeers are pretty cool and we have gotten along well- some I have butted heads with a bit. To be sure, part of this is probably my own fault as I should have seen this coming. I hate authority, abhor group travel and am way too independent for an organized trip. Also a little too much of an academic snob to take the academic side of the conference seriously. My individuality clashes with the group mentality of Japan or Japanese-focused Americans. Yet I have found it all to be good, and have made peace with Mickey and the group nature. Sure, I would love more free time and independent experience, but this was the opportunity I had. The group itself has been great, and I love getting to push undergradies in the Tao of Paul- to travel the world freely and independently in search of cultural experiences and adventures. Also, the interaction with the Japanese delegation has been so much fun. They are really a great bunch, and I will enjoy returning to visit.

The experience has given me a glance into Japan and I have found Japan to be so fascinating. Japan reminds me of the BASF commercial. The slogan was, "We don't make a lot of the products you buy, we make a lot of the products you buy better." Speaking in pop anthropology, Japan doesn't seem to innovate so much as it borrows and vastly improves. We had a speaker note that Japan always borrowed culture- before it adopted Western culture, Japan looked to Chinese culture for inspiration. The best example is the german kuchen bun that I had, which was better than any I could have found in Germany.

Another thing I have noticed here is that the Japanese have the most beautiful dogs. All the dogs are purebred, and groomed to perfection. I have seen so many beautiful canines of the highest pedigree. Enough pop anthro and random thoughts, I need to get back to work. Tonight is a bonfire festival in Kyoto and the city will be ablaze.

Rost in Transration cont.

Conclusion from a speech at the Nagano branding forum:
"I would like to keep delivering information with the eyes from the bottom like an insect and the eyes from the sky like a bird."


Meanwhile, Coca-Cola's slogan here is: "Refreashing and Uplifting"

The Japanese Alps

Continuing where I left off. After the JA meeting, we took the train back towards Nagano, with the Alps holding clouds above and the view from the train leaving me in a state of bliss. We got off at the Zenkoji Temple, a giant Buddhist temple complex. The scene was beautiful, with red and white paper lanterns adorning trees. Strings of the lanterns filled the sky, as I walked in silence through incense-filled temple. I left the group and was free to wander on my own. I found some blissful solitude as I snapped pictures of the grounds filled with giant stone lanterns. I walked out of the temple and into a street fair kicking off. Stoplights were winking like jaundiced eyes as the street fair filled with people. Adorable children in kimonos walked about, as I beamed with joy. Street fair performances commenced as little girls in camo danced to hip-hop beats, while a troop of Japanese banjo players plucked in unison the melodies of an older Japan.

I took it in, until I needed a break and stopped at McDonalds for dinner. Call me a Philistine, but I needed something other than fish, noodles and rice. Anyway, I had a tamago double mac, an egg-covered double burger with a pepper sauce. Mmmm...Die-eiske, I'm lovin' it.

Yesterday, we had a long forum about branding Nagano- that only touched on the subject. It was kind of interesting, the governor of Nagano spoke about how Nagano tries to brand itself through its agriculture and its mountain scenery and alps-like qualities. Another speaker, a professor spoke about the crisis in governance in
Japan, and how more Japanese people think that government needs to take care of its citizens- yet they are supremely unhappy with their political leadership. Maybe the next elections will shake things up a bit. He also spoke of his days studying in the 60s at Berkeley, and the cries of "power to the people." He noted that his Asian friends adopted the slogan as "power to the chopsticks." There was another speaker from Axhum to discuss the concept of branding. Later they reconvened for a panel discussion, which included one of our members- a girl named Nakuno. She brought up a great point about trying to brand a region through its agriculture is futile in the age of globalization when all products can be found all over.

After the forum, we hopped on the bus to go camping in the mountains surrounding Nagano. We arrived and got a soccer game going. At play in the fields of the lord, as we were playing on a field overlooking the majestic maple-covered mountains, with clouds nestled in. The game turned into "Play misty for me" as a cloud settled on our field. We literally got lost in the fog, it was if we had to play by sonar. People would scream "Marco- Polo" as they came down the opaque field.

After the game, we had a cookout and taught the Japadeles about the joys of smores. Smores made for great American culinary diplomacy as they are such the quintessential American food (White, Black and Brown all melted together into sweet, gooey satisfaction). That was also the night I shaved my cabeza, save a brief spell of a fro-hawk. Since it was raining, I skipped out on the camping and slept in the hall nearby.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jesus to Buddha

The mayor of Obuse would say I looked like Jesus. "Jesus-san," he would chuckle. Now I am shorn of my curls and look like Buddha.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Switzerland of Japan

We left the gem of Obuse, and I was left with questions about the lovely town such as why exactly it is afluent as it is. Their main industry is agriculture such as chestnuts and peaches, which really doesn`t explain why it is as well off as it is. I have a hypothesis or two about the Japanese Wysteria Lane- like that Obuse is really the heroin capital of Japan. Or perhaps that they traffic human organs, which would explain why they were feeding me so well and playing games with my liver. However, I didn`t wake up with a large scar down my side, so I think that rules out the kidney trade. Maybe it is just a really nice and hospitable town that I really enjoyed.

We sadly left Obuse for Nagano down the road. The ride was beautiful, as clouds sat heavy over the mountain range, and we drove past fields of rice paddies. It was an "oh my god" beautiful ride as I admired the maple-covered mountains that were crowned with fluffy white clouds. We arrived to Matsushiro and toured around an old samurai training ground. We then walked to the Matsushiro tunnels, which were tunnels carved under the mountain to hold the Imperial family and military high command for the impending American invasion. The place was dynamited tunnels, and worked on with considerable Korean slave labor. As we walked through it, we had tours in different spots from local high school kids. When we were asked if we had any questions, I asked if the Korean workers ever received any reparations. This brought a confused answer from the kiddies, so the teacher piped up that I had the wrong impression, and it wasn`t like a Nazi concentration camp. Right, I`m sure the slave laborers slept on beds of rice and were given kimchi three times a day.

We left the underground facilities and return to the old samurai barracks to hold discussion with local highschool and college kids. My friend Toru and I led a discussion on historical memory and educating peace. I discussed my work at Seeds of Peace, and we broached the idea of a regional camp like this for Chinese, Koreans and Japanese. We also discussed about how WWII is taught in Japanese schools, and if there was a victimhood associated with WWII because of the atomic bombing of Japan.

After the forum, we left for downtown Nagano, with a beautiful drive in as the sun was setting and the mountains surrounding the city were turning purple with grey clouds interspersed. We arrived to Nagano, had dinner on top of a dorm that overlooked the city, then checked in to our Holiday Inn for Some welcomed luxury that has been nice. I wandered around the city for a bit, going in and out of smokey pachinko parlors, trying to figure out how the game really worked and trying not to make the ultimate gaijin mistake of knocking the ball-bearing containers over.

The following morning, we woke up early and my RT Food Security group took the morning train out of Nagano to an organic farm outside the city. We met with the farmer, Shibamoto-san, who promptly put us to work picking little tomatoes. We were supposed to pick them with the stems intact, if they came off we were free to eat the delicious little suckers. I fully enjoyed the picking role, and I pulled tomatoes off the vine as little baby frogs hopped below. The ones that were rotten I tossed at my group. It reminded me of my old days playing tomato baseball in the backyard with my brother. I also harked back to the time Evan Fisteir pressured me into having a tomato fight with my mom's harvest- being a semi-unwilling participant, I still got grounded. We picked in the morning sun, filling baskets with the little red bounty. Then Mr. Shibamoto returned and discussed his business with us. We heard about his decision to start the organic farm, and his main market being Tokyo not the local area. We chatted for a while, then we were off. I gave him a USC button as a thanks for the fun morning of manual labor.

After lunch of cold ramen noodles, seaweed, ginger and sesame dressing, we heading back to Obuse to speak with the JA- the Central Union of Agri Coops about Japan's agricultural situation. While it was a little interesting, it was hot and we were in the mid-afternoon doldrums and I was falling asleep. To keep myself from falling asleep, I went about pricking myself with a toothpick to stay afloat. Yes, I was jabbing myself with a sharpened wooden spike to keep from dozing off in the mid-afternoon heat. I was also munching peaches put in front of us to try to keep the blood sugar up.

Never enough time to finish the posts. I will finish the days later.

New Pics Finally Up!

Seattle


Seattle Sunsets


Seattle (Pike`s Place Market)


Tokyo


Tokyo From Above


Akhibara (Tokyo)


Yakuska Naval Base

Monday, August 10, 2009

Obese in Obuse

We arrived to Obuse, a small town where we are having a host stay. We were welcomed by the mayor of Obuse, who is my host stay father. He spoke to us about the importance of small towns in Japan, and then we went on a walking tour of the city. Just as we left, the rain started to come down, but we continued our tour under umbrella cover. Obuse has roughly 12,000 inhabitants. It is very quaint place, with traditional styles of architecture mixed into to modernity. The city is famous for its chestnuts, and the spiky, green balls are everywhere. The streets are paved in chestnut wood, and they even make chestnut ice cream (which is delicious).

The city was lovely, it has lots of open gardens- gardens that are connected to people's homes but are welcome for visiting. We ducked in and out of traditional Japanese gardens with flowing streams, rock formations, lights and traditional lamp structures. We also visited a museum to Hokuskai who is famous for the iconic image below:



There was a fascinating explanation of how the image was constructed, and all the layering that goes into the print. It was layered eleven times to get the colors correctly in place. There was also an interesting exhibit displaying famous prints, alongside the actual location where they were inspired by.

We continued our tour and I made a "henna gaijin" (crazy foreigner) miscue. As we were walking out of a garden, I finished a bottle of water. I saw a bucket of plastic bottles to be recycled, so I took the label off the bottle and put it in the bin. Yuna- a japadele told me that it was someone's private residence, not a public place. But I replied that it was a basket of recycled bottles, why should it matter that I put another bottle that was exactly the same in with it? Apparently, putting your garbage in someone else's garbage bin is a big no-no here. Hmmm...not nearly as bad as the shiva incident, but a bit of a reminder that as fascinating as I find Japan, it probably isn't a place for me. A culture so steeped in rules and formality is probably the last place I should end up- even if I find it so utterly interesting. There is a saying in Shogun:
The law can be without reason, but there cannot be reason without law.


Anyway, we finished our lovely tour of the lovely city and met our host families. I am staying with two other Japadeles, Hideya the chairman of the Japan side of the conference and Toynpe. Our host mother didn`t speak any english, but we got on well immediately. She remarked to the other host mothers that I was always smiling. We went back to their beautiful house with an incredible garden. The house was an interesting mix of tradition and modern. Paper walls and a flat screen tv. We chatted for a bit, then were off to a lavish reception.

The town through a welcome reception for us that included some 10 course or so, and tons of sake. There were dishes upon dishes of terriyaki beef, oysters in half-shell and other assorted delicacies. After the lavish feast, we returned home and ate lushious peaches with tiny trident forks. Peaches are another of Obuse`s delicacies, and they were "oh my god" juicy. I mentioned that I loved manju, and to my luck, my host mother runs a confectionary business. She gave us a tour of her lab, then gave us the most wonderful concotions of red bean paste pudding and homemade manju. Spoiled rotten, I am. I spent the night drinking beer with the mayor and chatting through interpretations. It reminded me a lot of my trip to South Africa with Rotary, with the opportunity to stay in people`s home and booze it up into the late hours, talking about the tidbits of life.

I awoke, showered sitting on a bucket (which is better than showering from one, which I did in India) and feasted some more on a huge breakfast on sweet eggs, fish, rice and yogurt covered in peaches. Unfortunately, it was pouring, but that didn`t deter us from going on a walking tour of the city. We wandered past orchards of apples, peaches, grapes and chestnuts. We stopped at beautiful gardens and spoke to the owners of the houses about their inspirations for their lovely gardens. The rain poured down, but it wasn`t too bad under umbrella cover. One of the more interesting sites was a series of spider webs, and a frog that had gotten itself ensnared in the web. We finished our tour back in town at a Sake factory, where they gave us a taste of all the sakes from light to dark and even milk white. Then they really spoiled us, giving us two special reserve bottles to try. One bottle was 30 years old, the other was worth $1,500. They were both incredible. In my henna gaijin moment of the day, as I was pouring the super expensive bottle, a little sake dribbled out the bottle. Wasted drops probably worth $50. Not wanting it to go to waste, I tried to scoop it up with my fingers. It wasn`t Paul in his best form.

After the tour, we returned for another lavish feast of eggplant salad, and chilled noodles served in long bamboo tubes. After lunch, we were free and I wandered around the city, in and out of little shops and sake factories. After free time, we had a long forum about Obuse. It was a little longer than necessary, I was sold on the greatness of the city without 2.5 hours of discussing it. The forum ended and I encountered the most incredible sunset. The sun`s rays were peering through the cloud-covered mountains. The horizon was golden, punctuated with cotton clouds draping the mountains. Purple and grey haze mixed with a golden glow over the majestic ridges. It reminded me of the Valley of Desolation, it was that incredible.

We were then off to another banquet, of whole grilled fish, eggplant and other assorted delicacies. More sake and more chatting. There was a dragon show for us, of traditional dancers moving about in a dragon mask. We returned home to celebrate Tanype's birthday, and I got to be a fly on a Japanese wall as everyone chatted and drank sake and beer. I got an occasional translation, including of one fellow talking about how Japan would conquer the world. I remarked that they had tried that once and it didn't work out so well.

The night wound on and I played American public diplomacy ambassador. Someone asked if America was "the best," I replied that America wasn't the best but was "better" than many other places. I remarked that while Japan is brilliant, it only has one way of thinking whereas America's pluralism lets it draw from many different ways of thought. I continued that Japan's formality and traditions means that there is not the same freedom of getting ahead. America's diversity makes it great, and that while it may not be "the best," it offered the opportunity to be better to more people.

This whole home stay has reminded me of my joys of the Rotary South Africa trip, the amazing hospitality we received, the best of the locations delivered to us and the wonderful nights spent boozing and chatting with warm host families. The radiant sunset I described above reminded me of the immaculate Valley of Desolation sunset I saw in SA. Meanwhile, the mayor was an enabler like the role my dear Tati Jerry once played. Perhaps also because of Dark Star Safari, that SA is weighing heavy on my mind.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Star Fort Hako

Coming to you live from a fantastic feast in the little town of Obuse. We are being hosted and feted as kings. The chrysanthemum throne never had it so good. But I am getting ahead of myself. (actually as I finish this blog, I am past the original opening)

Saturday was spent amidst a little confusion. We were supposed to go to an air show, but it got canceled on account of bad weather. We had a lot of RT time, first doing research then a joint session with another group. My food security group was joined by a group dealing with public vs. individual rights. We convened in the giant star-shaped Goryokaku fort in the heart of Hakodate. The french-built fort was under reconstruction, so we sat in the grass outside for a brief meeting. After the meeting, we went up the giant lookout tower for a view of the star from above and the city that was shrouded in mist. Clouds were rolling through the city, and enveloping parts in white, while other parts were perfectly clear. A beautiful site was Mt. Hakodate peeking out from the clouds below.

After, my friend Marie and I went to the old European side of town to explore the old British Consulate and the public hall. Running short on time, we hopped a cab to the old section and wandered around the European style churches and houses. The old British consulate was interesting for the history it offered. It was a little strange to see a british-style house and tea room in the middle of Japan. The museum discussed the coming of the British consulate and talked about the days when Hakodate (Hakodadi to the gaijin) was famous for the glimpse it offered to the previously-closed world of Japan. We also visited the beautiful European-style yellow and sky blue public hall, which looked like something straight out of baroque France.

We were warned not to be late to dinner, but site-seeing took a little too long. When we arrived 20 minutes late, we got chewed out by Mickey Mouse. I took the admonishing in stride, pointing out that we were late because we were out seeing cultural sites and other groups had gone to see it while we were working. No bother, just let it roll like water off a squid's back.

We left Hakodate early the next morning. We flew back in to the sweltering Tokyo, and got on a bus towards Nagano. The bus was pimped out, with neon lights lining the interior and even chandelier disco lights above. The ride was fantastic, through the Tokyo metropolis and past the Eiffel-esque Tokyo Tower. Everyone on the bus went to sleep, but I sat and read Dark Star Safari and enjoyed the scenery. The take-away line from the book is:
Really, there was no deadlier combination than bookworm and megalomaniac. It was, for example, the crazed condition of many novelists and travelers.


So true. The ride took a turn for the majestic, as we rode past verdant mountains covered in green trees and wrapped in grey clouds. As Josh Ritter sings, "The clouds clung to mountains without strings." The clouds hung over valleys of lush green farmland, and terraced plots. It reminded me a bit of the ride from Cusco towards Machu Picchu. We stopped at a rest station that was packed with delicacies, and I got to munch down a French pan-aux-raisin and a sweet potato and red bean paste manju. Yum.

I`m having trouble getting enough chance to finish, I will post this and get to the rest later.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Rost in Transration cont

Signs found around town:

Harajuku St: "No Smorking"

Superhotel Hakodate: "We will refuse going to guests rooms other than those who stay in and out hard. Please acknowledge it."

Dutifully acknowledged, domo.

Turning the corner, turning the page

"Well the first days are the hardest days, don`t you worry anymore."
The Grateful Dead, "Uncle John`s Band"

Things seem to have taken a turn for the better. I think it helps being in the smaller city of Hakodate and not the hot Tokyo metropolis. Probably cause there is far less for me to want to run off and explore, so I go with the flow a little better. I also think that Mickey Mouse has chilled out. We have hit the halfway point, and people have a better understanding of each other.

Two days ago, we had a long day at Hakodate University. First RT time, then a forum about the US-Japan relationship and Japanese defense. The forum featured a journalist/professor and a major-general in the JSDF. The forum was a little long, but interesting. The prof was a bit of a windbag (I wonder how you say that in Japanese) but some interesting points were raised. He basically called the Japan-America relationship into question, saying the "special alliance" was bollocks. I have heard those sentiments a few times, and I`m not exactly sure what I make of it.

First, there is a buzz word quality behind "special relationships" considering that a lot of countries have it. Britain points to its "historic special relationship" with America, while Israel speaks of its "unbreakable ties." Meanwhile, Germany highlights its special relationship, as does Saudi Arabia. With all these special relationships, how special can they be? Meanwhile, I am curious where the doubting comes from. I am old enough to remember when Japan held that bogeyman place that China occupies today. I remember the animosity towards Japan in the late 80s and early 90s as it seemed they were buying everything up- concurrently, many were studying Japanese business practices and language as a means to interact in the Japan-dominated world. The relationship seems pretty stable today, but perhaps the angst comes from a Japanese feeling of neglect or fear of displacement by China as the premier partner in the region. I think the sentiment is rather overblown.

Anywho, we switched to a lavish hotel in the middle of Hakodate, and things chilled out considerably. We had the closest thing to a free day yesterday, a day at the Onuma National park. I led a special topics session on "backpacking 101," which basically involved us talking about traveling as we crossed over old Japanese footbridges and walked past pools of waterlillies. We had a free afternoon in the park, so a few of us went for lunch at a restaurant nearby. We had huge bowls of ramen- yes, same-same but different. Ramen is a local delicacy here, and we got giant bowls of spicy miso ramen. I asked for it as its hotest, and it came swimming in red chili oil but didn`t faze me. We hung out drinking microbrew beer in the lazy afternoon heat.

We returned back for a reception marking the halfway point at a nice french/russian restaurant in town. I got bored the shmoozing, so I disappeared to take some pictures of the giant pagoda in town and the Russian orthodox church with its white onion bulbs. I figured I wouldn`t be missed, but there was an attempt to get a group picture so I returned to a waiting group. Simply put, I am what I am.

We left the reception for a crazy night on a booze cruise of sorts. We rented out a tram car to booze it up around town. The tram car was decked out in blinking blue christmas lights and came complete with karoke and a keg. We cruned out tunes while we rode the rails around town. Since we were riding on the normal tracks, we would stop past people waiting at the stations, I can only imagine there thoughts on what was going on inside. At one point, a girl named Victoria was doing Nine Inch Nails "I want to f-ck you like an animal" while the Japadeles were doing thrusts with the chorus, then we looked out and saw a bunch of wide-eyed old ladies peering in. I lost my karoke virginity, took a page out of "Can`t Hardly Wait" and did a screaming rendition of GNR`s "Welcome to the Jungle."  The raucus affair moved from tram to the beach where we grabbed some more drinks and lit off sparklers into the waves. Futsu Kayoi- Japanese for hangover, if only a mild one and a bit of contenment as how things have turned.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

deuce redux

I usually don`t address secondary topics in my blog, and especially not twice in the same day. However, like the Jeffersons, we have moved on up and are now staying at Superhotel Hokaido. In the somewhat tiny rooms, there are the special Japanese toilets that have seat warmers! There are other assorted features like sprays too. So looking forward to a test drive.

PS: Speaking of bullshit, a good article on Japan`s elections.

Turkish-Japanese relations cont.

At a reception at Hokaido University, where apparently they only have turkish toilets for the bathrooms. Now, I have used turkish toilets many times, but this was definitely the first time I dropped a deuce in a squat toilet while wearing a suit and tie. Just thought you would like to know.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Squidology, Che-san and Fat Man

I remain trapped as a hostage of a conference that has delusions of academic grandeur when all I want to do is see Japan. Mickey Mouse is frustrated with me too, and has started singing, "Throw the Rockower down the well so our JASC people can be free." But with that said, I am getting through it and enjoying it, even if it wasn`t what I expected.

Yesterday we woke up superearly to head down to the Hakodate fish market. We walked through the various tanks of living fish, as well as dead ones packed in ice, awaiting shipment. There were huge dead tunas- sushi to be, as well as giant tanks of squid, Hakodate's main claim to fame. The best part was witnessing the live fish auction. The auctioneer barked out in Japanese staccato as merchants grunted at pesce prices. The morning sky over the harbor was silver as the fish scales, with sliver of apricot hinting through. After our market tour, we walked through the vending area, past black squid ink ice cream stands, giant monster crustaceans and round, ripe melons. Looking at the king crabs, the octopus and squids, it is easy to see how sailors thought there were giant monsters in the depths.

After our tour, we settled in for some breakfast of morning seafood. Assorted mariscos I couldn`t eat, so I got a big side of the best sashimi tuna ever, over a bowl of rice with large caviar eggs. Yum. A little more market time after breakfast, wandering through halls of seafood and melons, lit up with single lights that looked like a school of bulbs.

We then headed on to Hakodate Future University for a 2-hour lecture on squidology (!). I read Dark Star to stay awake, although my interest was piqued occasionally by the discussion of squid mating. We saw various diagrams of squid porn that resembled those t-shirts of various animals engaged in different position. Apparently, squids also engage in "sneaker sex," where the male dresses up like the female so he can get close to her, then he pounces. Another time that had me cracking up was a close-up shot of a squid, which looked very similiar to female anatomy. I wonder if lonely sailors ever had their way with poor squidies. The lecture ended with a hysterical movie made in Hakodate. See below:



Anywho, after our lecture, we visited a base of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Unfortunately, my dreams of battalions of samurai was not the case. But we were welcomed with uniforms to wear, and in the fatigues combined with my scruff, I looked like Che Guevara. The JSDF gave us some drills, which were rather interesting given we were being yelled at in Japanese. After the drills were done, the JSDF soldiers did a huge squid dance, it was as bizare as it sounds. We received a tour of the base, then hung out with the soldiers to eat MREs, surprisingly not bad.

We returned back to our lodge, and then went on to Mt. Hakodate for a cable car ride up the mountain. We got up top and were greeted with a stunning view of the narrow-waisted city squeezed in on both sides by the Tsugaru Straits. The view, considered the best in Japan, was stunning. We watched as the lights of the city came on and the white phantom squid trawlers combed the depths. These ships were bright incadescent lights in the purple dark seas, it was beautiful. Unfortunately, the place was packed with tourists, many parts there were 3 and 4 deep lines to get to the rails. I hoisted myself up on some railings by climbing up the structural supports and managed to get some good shots. Later, I had a beer with a JASCer Tony in the lounge that overlooked the city.

This morning marks the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, so we watched the memorial ceremony on tv. We had a very moving moment of silence, all the delegation stood in attention in silence. I closed my eyes, and the sound of loud bells of remembrance punctuated my silence.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

JASCing off

We left Tokyo in the sardine cans that are the morning commute on the Tokyo metro. It was packed, with pushers squeezing in the last few. We arrived to the airport and hung out until our flight, using up the last of our metro money on snacks. I had possibly one of the greatest sweets ever, German-style kuchen cake that was rotating on a rotisserie. Four tiny pieces for 480\ ($4.80) and worth every buttery yennie. We arrived to the northern island of Hokkaido, to the city of Hakodate. It was far cooler and more comfortable than Tokyo.

We checked in to a nice little place, ditching our shoes at the front and settled in. Yet another round table session, then we were off to the town for a festival celebrating 150 years since the opening of Hakodate to the west. First off, apparently the local delicacy of Hakodate is bukake, as stated by the flyer "Romantic Hakodate." Some laugh, others need an explanation that they won`t get here. The local cuisine is squid, so maybe the aforementioned thingy has something to do with ink. I mentioned the bukake delicacy to my friend Katie, who said、”oh, maybe I will get that tonight for dinner." Good luck with that. Another friend Rachel asked if it came with mayonaise.

Anywho, the local fair was a blast. Carnivals are carnivals the world over, just sometimes with strange varieties. I wandered around the stalls, taking pictures of the grilling squids, pig fat and other assorted delicacies. Women dressed in colorful kimonos wandered around, smiling and staring at the henna gaijin. I squid danced with a float, then wandered around snapping fotos and eating strange meats on a stick, a fishy-shaped pancake-like sandwich with eggs and cabbage inside. The fishies molds stared back with cracked eggs before they were closed up in a mold to cook over a light flame. Another treat was a whole spiraled deepfried potato. A food I didn`t get, but made me think about pub d was a station with doner kebab. Turkish public diplomacy on a spit. There were a bunch of Turkish restaurants in Tokyo, and I had doner in Vietnam previously. Turkey could take a page (menu) from Thailand and do doner diplomacy.

Meanwhile, I wandered around past the kimono-clad, the short-skirted and the big-haired punks. The irony of a festival celebrating the opening up of the city was the coca-cola draped red lanterns offering welcome to the fair. The festival got even stranger as the squid dance went on in full force, with dudes in sumo loin cloths running around mostly naked. Too strange. Off to the squid market tomorrow.

Monday, August 03, 2009

International House of Japancakes

Yesterday was spent in a round table meeting, then we had a "special topics" session of various games that Japanese and American kids play. Musical chairs, bang and a version of red rover in Japan called "daruma."

After, a group of us hopped a cab to Yaskuni shrine- the controversial memorial to Japanese military history including commemoration of Japanese war dead that includes something like 20 class A war criminals. The museum was interesting, if utterly surreal. It went through some fascinating samurai history, along with some beautiful warrior armor and swords. Also some really interesting history on the Russo-Japanese war. It got a little off-kilter around the retelling of WWII. Things were either utterly sanitized or glossed-over. The Rape of Nanking was completely underplayed, the Japanese occupation of Manchuko was played off as a peaceful endeavor. Meanwhile, the Japanese attack on the US at Pearl Harbor sounded like Japan was sending the planes over as a display of friendship until the arrogant Americans refused their friendship, leaving Japan no choice but to bomb. And the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagaski had such minor discussions that it was almost treated as minor events. A strange white-washing indeed.

I wandered around a bit, then came back to meet an old friend Leila Ali. She went to Burke with me, I hadn't seen her since her graduation party in 1998. She has been living here in Japan for the last five years, and is a tv celeb on Japanese tv, among other endeavors. We walked through Yoyogi Koen (figures I would live in an area called "koen"), a nice park in the area. We headed off to the gaudy Harajuku, home of youth fashion like no other. Kids in costumes walked about past costume stores. We wandered around the back alleys and into a fun restaurant for some okonomiyaki and monjayaki, delicious Japanese-style savory pancakes cooked on a griddle at the table. You actually have to cook it yourself, although the waitress helps. We had a beef, leek and onion okonomiyaki and a beef and baby star manjayai, which were delicious. It was washed down with some sho-chu, a delicious liquor made from potatoes or wheat. After dinner, Leila and I wandered through the neighborhood and on to the Pink Cow, an expat joint. The evening was a blast, and wonderful to catch up with an old friend. She had changed considerably since high school, and had really blossomed into a boisterous soul. We talked about the past and future, and had a grand time of it.

This morning I woke up at 5am to head over to Meiji Shrine with my friend Xiao- a Fujianese girl on my program. The complex was beautiful, a real location of peace and zen in the bustling city. The air was quiet and the smell of the forest permeated. It restored my wa (harmony) and was a nice side trip. The day was filled with lots of talky-talky events that were not so memorable, but I ended the evening out for my first taste of Japanese sushi with my friends Katy and Wrenn. The sushi was even more incredible than expected. We had sushi from a restaurant where it came by conveyor. The texture of the sushi was unlike anything i had ever tried. It was so fresh and delicious, and pretty cheap too. Katie and I walked around town, and had a few sho-chu at a bar out of Lost in Translation.

Now I am packing up to leave Tokyo for Hakkodate in the north, on the island of Hokkaido. I am sad to leave Tokyo because I feel I haven't really seen it. Too much time was spent in talky talky events, and I missed real cultural opportunities in the city for things that are easily forgotten. I made the best of it, and did as much as I could, but it is still a disappointment that more couldn't have been seen. Journey on.