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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Tears of a clown....

Well, the whole silver hair thing hasn't really gone as planned.

We went back to mega-mall Apita to the salon "Largé" (that's French for "Large"...), a new salon owned by one of Yu-chan's friends, Shimizu. Nice fella and a capable stylist, I like the cut portion of my "cut and color". But the color... well, let me just say I'm feeling a little bit country, a little bit drop-and-roll and run away yelping into the shadows. Halfway between a rodeo clown and a wash and set little old lady. My request for silver has resulted in hair that is, in fact, PURPLE.

Judge for yourself, here is the before:

Tears of a clown

and here is the after:

Tears of a clown

I believe a follow-up appointment will need to be made. To see more of this sorry mess, click here.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving was a huge success.





I'm thinking the turkey made out better than I did.... To see more click here.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

My freak flag

This coming week, most likely on Tuesday, I'll be dying my hair SILVER.

Because I can.

Stay tuned, I'll be posting pictures.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Now hear this!

OK, I'm gonna keep this one fairly short as I'm exhausted...

We went shopping today for over 4 hours (!!!). Now, if you know me, you might realize I'm not a very hardy shopper, I start fading around the 2 hour mark. In these go-go consumer times of ours, I realize this to be a grave personal failing. Some people get museum fatigue, I get mall fatigue.

But today, we got up at the crack of dawn (well, 8 a.m., close enough) to go to the grand opening of "Apita", part of a chain of Japanese mega-malls. It's located out on Rte. 41 between here (Takayama) and the next town over, Furukawa.

Mad crowded, crazy enthusiasm, bargains in the offing. Generally nice place, good one stop shopping designed to drain the life out of the downtowns of both nearby cities. We'll probably be going back.

Now, if you've been to Takashimaya on 5th Ave. in NYC, you may have concluded that shopping in Japan is all about elegance, style and a kind of restrained servitude. Somewhere on the scale of commerce between aromatherapy massage and a private tea tasting. If so, you would be wrong. For one thing, Takashimiya here is basically a JC Penney's. And it's kind of hard to maintain a decorous atmosphere when you're hawking chicken wings next to foot baths next to mink stoles. Malls (and big department stores) here aren't the obsessively planned theme experiences like back in the States. They're more like a village market brought inside. There's no departments (ladies fashions, men's outerwear, sporting goods, etc.) per se, it's just a bunch of smaller stores under one roof without the benefit of walls or (clear) signage to separate them. So it can be a little confusing, and LOUD.....

Enthusiasm here, certainly in assisting you with your shopping, comes very brightly lit and at TOP VOLUME. Store announcements are fine through the PA system, but when they can be delivered at floor level through a bullhorn, well that's even better. So, the store greeters can really get the message out. Now, I just figured out how to post audio files (that I recorded on my wonder device, AKA cell phone) so to hear what I'm talking about (you might want to turn your speakers down first)

then click

But even without the assistance of a bullhorn it can get pretty loud. It's important to greet all your customers, even when they're already inside the store and shopping for, say meats or veggies. So each employee in each department will greet you (and you and you and you...) in turn. And compete with each other for your attentions.

To hear a rolling "
irashaiiiii", click here.

So, I'm gonna lie down now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

More, with the food...

goma on toast, originally uploaded by mckibillo.


Yeah, but, but look at this stuff. Black as tar, but tasty as pie, it's sesame cream. Looks like industrial epoxy, but spreads like butter and smells slightly of dark coffee. Who knew something pitch black could be so tasty. I'm declaring it the new peanut butter.

So, we'll be doing Thanksgiving, but delayed until the weekend. Invited a bunch of Yu-chan and Yumi-chan's friends over, they'll be about 10 folks in total. We had to order the turkey from some outfit called the Foreign Buyer's Club. Seems turkey's aren't all that common here. Or cranberry sauce from the can... the only way to go, sliced and quivering on a plate.

Well, if we can't get everything we need, at least they'll be enough sesame cream for everyone.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

While we're on the subject of food...

Damn, it's expensive here!

I mean, even Miyuki has been shocked. You would think NYC prices could inure you to any kind of sticker shock, but gotdamm! $3 for a head of lettuce! Iceberg, even. Of course, the prices for some veggies are a little inflated as of late, due to all the typhoons Japan has been smacked with this Fall. That, and a policy of limiting the importation of produce, combine to make a crazy situation.

But even for staples it's crazy expensive. Spices for example:

Roughly speaking 100 yen = 1 dollar, so you are looking at $5.75 bottle of rosemary (tucked in between the parsley and the "Salad Elegance".... don't know, don't ask).

Of course, on the other hand, the quality of all the food here is consistently high. Everything just tastes better... grapes are juicier, eggs richer, meat more tender. The Japanese seem obsessed with the quality and authenticity of their foodstuffs. Hell, some growers here sign their fruits and vegetables. Countless hours of TV are devoted to food... cooking it, eating it, shopping for it. Pretty much any hour of the day you can tune in to watch somebody cooing with delight over some tasty morsel.

It's often commented on that the Japanese don't have religion. I mean, sure there's temples and shrines everywhere, Buddhist and Shinto rituals accompany births, deaths, marriages, etc. It's ingrained in the daily texture of life, but very few people claim to believe. But the Japanese DO have religion... they've replaced God with food. Food here is all about questions of origins (which is why most food is not imported, as well as to protect Japanese farmers) and is invested with ALL kinds of transcedent values of vitality and health.

So, yeah, it's tasty, but it comes at a price.

Monday, November 22, 2004


Man, last night was wild.... I'm still feeling the effects. That's what comes from being too "polite" (stay with me, I'll explain).

Yesterday, all four of us, me, Miyuki, her brother Yuichiro and Yumi (Yu-chan's wife) went to this guys house for dinner.


This is Fisuko-san, his wife Michiko-san is Yumi-chan's weaving teacher (weaving, like on a loom... hey, winters are long here).
Fisuko-san is a Sumi-e (ink painting) artist, full time and apparently, quite successful. His odd self-appointed moniker comes from the fact that Fisuko-san paints fish quite well, and lots of them. The guy is simply amazing, watching him paint is like being with David Blaine as he's doing his "in close" magic. It IS a magic trick... you watch paint something and can still have no idea of how he actually did it. Of how this image, from a few strokes, just jumps out of paper. He even keeps up this kind of patter through the process, leading you along. Also, he's been doing it for so long (around 40 years) he can conjure these images up from memory alone. It's just cool to watch. Even now, today, sober and in pain, I'm still looking at the ones he gave to us with a kind of awe.

But to get to their place we drive way out of town, turn onto a dirt road, go past the lumber mill and finally arrive. Beautiful house, great interior. Lovely freaky contradictions..... a shelf full of custom made buck knives, art all over the place, a wood burning stove and a traditional Japanese hearth (an irori) set into the floor, and the biggest most beautiful Panasonic flat screen TV I have ever seen. Kind of like this one. But in a gleaming white frame.

Ah, but main event, the meal. It was a feast, tasty and never ending. And quite exotic. We had a stew of wild mushrooms (that Fisuko-san picked from around his property) with wild pig meat. An appetizer of spicy shredded daikon with trout eggs and a kind of black mushroom. We had expensive sashimi with homemade wasabi and karasumi, a type of
dried fish cake, and oyster tonkatsu. A clear soup of clams and yuzu, a kind of Japanese citrus fruit... But the real kicker was a salad of cucumbers, daikon and deer SASHIMI(!). That's raw deer, if you didn't know. I can't really speak to the flavor much, as it was surprisingly mild, but I was so compelled to eat the stuff merely because of the concept of such a thing. I was eating Bambi, uncooked. Wild, man....

But Fisuko-san had been ill recently and forbidden by Michiko-san from drinking. But last night, because of company, he was given a day pass. He must have been ill for a while because it seemed he had a lot of catching up to do. And very eager to share a his agenda with me. The program consisting of big tall glasses of sochu. Several actually. As I wasn't driving and I'm ALWAYS a very polite guest, I felt obliged to comply...

good manners hurt.

Friday, November 19, 2004

This guy has the right idea...

Straight male seeks Bush supporter for fair, physical fight - m4m

Thursday, November 18, 2004

I think I will be ill....

Chinese soy sauce from human hair
leaves fatal aftertaste in Japan
MDN: WaiWai

da' champ

da' champ, originally uploaded by mckibillo.

I've mentioned before about how small our car is, haven't I? Look at the little guy... looks almost shy, scared by the bigger cars. It's OK Champ, no Hummer's gonna ride up over you here.

Besides, you could probably just scoot under it while it's turning, looking for a gas station.

Kamoshika sighting

view from our

Today the weather was beautiful, the skies clear and pleasantly scented with the ubiquitous smell of wood smoke (lot's of trees being processed into lumber around here, because of all the.... well, trees). So we decided to take Tito for a little stroll up the "hill" at the end of the block. We like taking him up there 'cause there's a little park up top, usually sparsely attended and we can let the little freak off the leash for a bit of catch and manic pee marking. I qualify the "hill" because it's more like a mini-mountain. You know how in Japanese landscape painting there are often these seemingly improbable scenes of little cartoon mountains mushrooming up out of flat plains? Well, during my first trip here I was shocked to find myself facing landscapes that looked exactly like those paintings.... these sharp, volcanic little mountains just erupting up between convenience store and pachinko palaces.

So it's a nice stroll up; there's a winding road that runs up it, but it's faster to take the little trails and switchbacks
that it's riddled with. And today we found this:

journey to beyond the tunnel

It's like a little hobbit tunnel!

But the real surprise was when we went through and disturbed this guy's lunch:

kamoshika cap

I know it doesn't look like much, some bad bigfoot footage, but it's from my cellphone's movie function. What we
actually disturbed was a "kamoshika":


which is some scary looking wooly deer-goat-antelope thing, but from a middle distance looks like a way too placid wolf or big ass dog. I'm just glad Tito is too tuned into peeing on the entire world to have taken notice of his guy, before I could chase him with my little cell phone in hand, muttering, "oh shit, oh shit, can I google this?"

So, Takayama... beautiful, AND filled with wooly deer-cows.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Local talent

Walked into a local gallery the other day and saw this, and several other pieces, on display. This is not a print, these are made by cut paper. The work is amazing. Really nice graphic density overall and a tight attention to detail. The proprietor of the gallery is also the creator, and when we exclaimed on how great we thought his pieces were, his response was something like, "oh thanks, but it's no big deal. It's just like being a butcher or baker..."

uhmm, nu-uh, not!

You can see more of his work here and here.

Shizuku Matsuri

shizuku collage
This past weekend there was another matsuri (festival) in town, the Shizuku matsuri. This was one was a bit different from the traditional Spring and Fall matsuri, which are quite beautiful but if the Fall one that just passed is any indication, a bit less lively. For one thing, this one involves drinking. So already we're off to a good start. It's also a completely modern invention. This year was only the second time the matsuri has been held. It's the offspring of the collaboration between a local sake brewery and a city sponsored youth center. Rice is collectively grown and tended year round by the youth, harvested and then given to the brewery for distilling. The result is a one time batch of festival hootch that is given away to anyone with a dixie cup. There was also a bunch of food booths, as well as the prerequisite pre-teen dancing group doing the g-rated hip-hop ho and pimp dance routine.

But the party really started when the taiko drumming got going. I have got to try me some of that. I don't think that I could be nearly as impressive as this dude:
I very much doubt that I would look as good wearing, basically, a hand towel. He's from a group called, Dossin, that also has a number of very attractive female members. I mean, how sexy is a woman rythmically beating a huge drum, sweating and grunting. How about 2, synchronized.... you can check out the group here.

Bill and Ted
On the other hand, I might fare slightly better than Mr. Look on the right. He seems to be having a most truly excellent adventure.

But really, how great is it that this festival, which is centered
basically around drinking, got it's genesis from a civic sponsored program. It reflects a much more relaxed and elightened atitude than what I fear could be found in the scenic mountains, of say, a Red state.

Monday, November 15, 2004

new kicks

new shoes
Originally uploaded by mckibillo.

check my new shoes... I bought them in Yokohama. They make me want to disco dance. In the woods, naked. Well, but wearing the shoes of course. Yeah.

Joy realized....

mos burgers
mos burgers
Originally uploaded by mckibillo.

When god made Burgers, this is what he had in mind:
A) Spicy Cheese Burger (with chili and Jalapeno peppers)
B) Fish Burger with cheese
C) Mustard Chicken Sandwich

The most amazing thing about Mos Burger...? The burgers actually look like the product photos. That, and the table service. The burgers are brought to you.

Here are the results:
Mos Burger Joy
More Joy
More joy....

Saturday, November 13, 2004


Over this weekend I'm gonna try and post some shots of the house, how we're living and all. But I've been distracted by the aesthetic considerations of this site. "Bloggers" a good start, but I wanted to tweak some of the visual aspects of this thing. So, I've been diving in to the code a bit. It's fun.

Tomorrow we're heading to Toyama for a little shopping. It's 2 hours away by car... (jeez, we are IN the country). But I can get this there:

It's a Mos Burger, spicy cheeseburger. Mos Burger is indeed a tasty burger. You don't know, you really just don't know. Joy.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The clown never looked this good....

Before I forget, just wanted to post this. Ronald McDonald never looked this good back in Brooklyn. Click here to see the TV ad. Go to the bottom left and click on the size you prefer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Here we go...

Of course, I should have started this a long time ago.

I should have started this earlier.

Of course.

Like everything, always playing catch up. But, really what's blogging, or any kind of journal keeping anyway but a game of catch up (and this first entry is a bit of a doozy, go lot's of catching up to do....)

I thought about trying to set it up before the move, but with so many things pending it just didn't seem feasible. In hindsight, probably could have done it. Lots of dead time when moving house. Scads of "in -between" bits, between this part of life and the next.

So... here we are in Japan.

The first bit of weirdness wasn't in the arrival but rather in the trip itself. Not that anything unexpected happened during the flight. There's only so many ways that can go after all, the worst of course necessarily precluding this entry from happening.

Nothing quite so dramatic as that, JAL is a fine airline and a good one to use when on a 14 hour flight. Hot towels being served in economy class rates highly in my book.

It was just weird being on a one way flight.

But now we're here, been here for a little over a month now. In this charming city, Takayama, in the high mountains of Japan. It's called "Little Kyoto", because of it's preserved historical district and scenic beauty. It's a stunner:

View of Takayama
A view of the city from a park on the hill right behind our house.

street scene

lil' flowers

lanterns at night
A few shots of the Fall festival that was going on when we first arrived.

To view more, click here.

But we've been busy since we got here, we're just starting to get away from living out of boxes. We bought a car, a brand new one thank you very much. Really need one up here, it's country living friends, no car = no transport.


happy driver
It's a Daihatsu Mira, but we call him "Champ" (he's definitely a boy car). This little guy is amazing (and I assure you, it's TINY! you could probably fit one in the backseat of a Ford Explorer), we traveled over 500 miles on 12 gallons of gas. The fuel efficiency of this thing is insane. However, yes, at times, it does feel a little like I'm driving a souped up golf cart.

But then again, lot's of other folks here are driving equally small, if not smaller vehicles. Actually, the "road ecology" here in Japan is much more varied than back in the States. You've got tiny little clown cars like ours cruising alongside behemoth tankers as well as what I used to think of as "normal" sized vehicles. Now when I see something like a Ford Taurus, I think, "my God, that's freakin' huge!" Honestly I don't see how the bigger cars negotiate these narrow tight streets. Imagine having to drive down a bowling alley lane and you'll have some idea of what I'm talking about. Oh yeah, and do it on the left side because it's like British driving rules and the tiny little street you're on is 2 way.

But, now here's a reason to love driving here:

a very polite gas pump
See the little shelf between the 2 pump handles? That's a little cup holder for your gas tank lid. So you don't have to balance it on the roof of your car. How nice is that.

And I bought a cell phone. But to call it merely a cell phone doesn't do this hand-held marvel justice.

It's the W21SA by Sanyo. I took most of these pictures with it. But, oh man, this baby does much more than that. But more on that later.

In fact, more on all this later. I'm pooped.