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Sunday, January 30, 2005


Sorry for being gone for a bit, but I cite one word and one numeral in my defence... Halo2.

In the meantime here's an interesting article from the NYTimes online (free registration required, but hey, it's worth it) about young Japanese in NYC, and why they're leaving Japan for the Big Apple. Wait a minute, maybe I'm all turned around on this thing...!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Read him

go here, read Deconstructing Harry. This guy is brilliant. Prince Harry, Hitler and Disney all in one coherent blog of wow.

Solid Citizen

Just a big sloppy cyber kiss to Candicissima, a solid citizen. She's the new tenant in our old apartment on St. John's Pl.

She took the time to track me down to let me know that various important looking bits of mail, from the IRS among others, were piling up in our old mailbox. And she's gonna forward the stuff to us.

Thanks Candice.
I now place you in the list of permanent links on the right side of the page.... so expect your page count to increase by, like, 6 hits. On a good day. Out of the maybe 10 people that read this one. Maybe.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Home project

I realized that a while ago, a couple of months actually, I promised that I would post some photos of how we're living. Well here they are for your delectation.

the kura
When we first moved here we had thought about living in the kura, which is a small detached 2 story building that serves as a storage shed. Miyuki and Tito are posing in front of it in the photo above. "Storage shed" makes it sound crappy but actually it's a rather sweet space, like a mini loft, but done up with thick earthen walls and ceramic roof tiles. It just proved way too pricey to fix up for domestic living though. But I'm hoping to use it as a studio when it warms up in the Spring. So instead we opted to turn what had been in use as the laundry room into our bedroom.

Our bedroom was the laundry room
Here's a before.... dig that wood paneling baby.

Painting, kinda digging the pinstripes
During... pinstripping is cool right?

After... our lil' den of domestic bliss.

Kitty likes it.

To see more shots of our boho pad and process click

Thursday, January 27, 2005

On the other hand....

I just discovered that I can watch PBS's Frontline over the web in streaming video. Oh, wondrous world.

FRONTLINE: watch online | PBS

Uh oh

My copy of Halo 2 (finally!) has arrived... this is bad, I might be gone for a while. Pray for me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

When pigs fly

Is about the same time that our beloved mutt Tito will. In the meantime he falls REALLY well. We took the lil' genius to the hill behind the house for a winter stroll and after a vigorous round of "chase the snowball" decided it was time to head back. We diverged on our methods of return... Me and Miyuki opted for the road, Tito decided to try his flying skills from the embankment next to the road.

wonder dog... not
Here is the happy "before" dog.

wonder dog leap
Here's the projected flight path.

wonder dog... not
Luckily, here's the only damage he sustained, a little scrape to the chin. Dumb dog could've snapped his legs like twigs. Sheesh!


Some stuff I've been looking at

syjuco: projects: comparative morphologies

"What looks like vintage natural history studies turns out to be, on closer inspection, images of computer and technological cords and peripherals, each slightly manipulated to take on organic characteristics--a fused or sprouting growth from a stem, a viral infection, or a radial symmetry."

Some nice art here. If you're in NYC, she's in a show now at the Whitney until March 27th.

Showing with her is Walton Ford (image above), an amazing painter.

This is by the Australian artist Patricia Piccinini, who had a show in Tokyo before we arrived here. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see something by her soon. You can see more of her work here. The work is all about the intersection of nature and technology and questioning the "natural". Good stuff.

Tags: |

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Are these people insane!?!

MSNBC - Will Spongebob make you gay?

I think we made the right choice.....

in leaving for a while.

Yahoo! News - Survey Finds Church-Going Americans Less Tolerant

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Takayama Readymades


Seems like the good folk of Takayama had ol' Marcel beaten by a couple of hundred years.

Way before Duchamp and his crew of Dadaists picked up on re-contextualization as a form of artistic authorship, people here were practicing something called kazarimono. It's another New Year's tradition (New Year's here lasts, like, 2 months) wherein household objects are displayed in front windows as objet d'art. But now because of changing architectural tastes (not everyone has the same kind of front window anymore...) it's held in the city cultural center.

Every year there's a couple of themes to interpret. Awards are given out in various categories. This year it's "bird" and "walking". So in the photos above, going clockwise, we have a woodpecker composed from wood planes, a digital thermometer standing in as a dove and lastly, a chicken, implied by wooden pegs, walking towards a bowl. These are not the award winners, they just struck my fancy. Next year the themes are "dog" and "smile"; we'll definitely be entering.

Civic sponsored Surrealism... that rates pretty highly in my book.

And the new magic word is....


Friday, January 21, 2005

JibJab on the second term of the Monkey King

If you haven't done so already, click here (Flash required) for a chuckle.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Little white hats

So the other day we had to go to the doctors to get some prescriptions refilled. Frankly it was something that I had been avoiding. You see...

Japan is a culture of formalized ritual in almost every aspect of daily life. Every exchange with a store clerk (for example) is an exercise in negotiating through a series of culturally pre-scripted phrases, questions and answers. This formalizing impulse is evident even in the way your change is counted out and handed back to you. As a result, in the best light, it lends even the most mundane exchange here a sense of grace and fluid motion. Every action can seem thoroughly thought out and considered. However, from a not so flattering viewpoint, it can make everything and everyone seem quite robotic. Robotic, not in any sense of efficient behavior, but in a rigid adherence to process. A process that can sometimes add what seems to be a superfluous layer of interaction. So I figured with a doctor, probably only more so.

Man, was I wrong. First off, healthcare here is nationalized, all you need is proof of residency and your in. You can pick any doctor you want, walk in without an appointment, fill out some minimal paperwork and, if it's not too busy, sail on in to see the doc. No ridiculous, pointless procedure of sending you first to an examination room, leaving you to leaf through a 6 month old copy of "Redbook", where you wait to be graced by the appearance of El Doctore. I always hated that process, I liken it to being "softened" up prior to an interrogation.

But what I most found refreshing was the no nonsense, straight forward attitude of the staff. Not cold or unfriendly, but surprisingly free of the hidebound behavior you can sometimes encounter when you're just trying to pay for your KFC 3 piece set, dammit. When the time came to write out the prescription, the doctor, in trying to find the best price and availability of the medicine, had the staff calling local pharmacies to find the best deal. There was a relaxed, yet efficient atmosphere to the place that made me feel at ease.

I also liked the fact that the nurses wore little old-timey white caps. I wasn't sure if they were gonna administer a blood test or spank me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A bit chilly?

I take it it's been a bit brisk in NYC of late.

But you want to know what really cold is? Really cold is when, in preparing to brush your teeth, you first soak your toothbrush and toothpaste in a glass of hot water before applying paste to brush and then to teeth. The reason, to prevent your gums from painfully retracting from your teeth and shrivelling into 2 thin blue lines of tissue, quivering with cold.

OK, so I'm exaggerating on the gums actually shrinking, but not on the extreme pain of near frozen toothpaste. And on my current workaround.
I really wish the Japanese believed in central heating.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Next up... Iran!

From the same team of geniuses, fresh from establishing the flourishing bedrock of peace and stability that is post-Saddam Iraq, comes your next well planned military intervention.... Iran!

At least according to Seymour Hersh in this New Yorker article (Seymour Hersh is the journalist who broke the Abu Graihb prison torture story). He goes into some detail on how Rusmfeld, having survived Bush's cabinet re-shuffling stronger than ever, is consolidating intelligence and covert activites under the Pentagon, shutting out the CIA and any kind of Congressional oversight. Creating what one Pentagon adviser in the article refers to as "a global free-fire zone.”

One of the more frightening aspects of the new policy:

"U.S. military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists. This could potentially involve organizing and carrying out combat operations, or even terrorist activities."

So, we'll be creating terrorist's in order to fight terrorists.....

Also....."The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls “action teams” in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. “Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?” the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. “We founded them and we financed them,” he said. “The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren’t going to tell Congress about it.” A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon’s commando capabilities, said, “We’re going to be riding with the bad boys.”

So would that make us the good old boys or the bad ones?

BTW, the photo above comes from this site
(all praise be to google image), which has an interesting collection of billboards from Iran... the next leg of the Axis of Evil to be bombed straight.

Borg anyone?

A micromachine that walks using muscles that it grew for itself has been developed in a US laboratory. -found on the New Scientist

Monday, January 17, 2005

Some of the wackiness you crave

A few shots from our recent trip to the capital (Tokyo)... lest you forget the oddness of living here. For those of you who are bandwidth challenged, sorry for the load times.

don't be mischievous
"This is an emergency button. If you use mischievously you will be punished according to Japanese law." So don't be a noodnick!

big sale on kicks
Because you can never have enough.

local hero
Dude's been tearing it up around Shinjuku for years apparently. Even had his own brief bit of fame on the TV. Where will you go now fierce tiger clown, where? Perhaps you can team up with Gloomy....

Hi there Gloomy!
Say hi to Gloomy, the lovable psychotic bear with happy gobs of gore on his claws! Comes with his own branded line of accessories for every age.

White Trash Charms Japan
I've always suspected as much.

cop in a box
Cop in a box.... she looks so forlorn, yes?

Photo frenzy....

Well flickr appears to be nominally functionally so here's some of those dontoyaki shots I promised:

burn! burn!
Dontoyaki, and it's time for a pile of New Years charms to burn...burn! burn!

burnin' daruma
Somebody's tossed a daruma, and burning it no less.

suh-weet amazake
Nothing like a little amazake (hot sweet thick sake, kind of like hot oatmeal toddy) to finish it off.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Meanwhile, back in Japan...

Today is dontoyaki, which is basically "day to burn all your New Years wreath's". We had Champ kitted out in a charming little number affixed to the front grill. Should've snapped a shot before we burned it but, ah well. The idea is to take this years wreaths, burn 'em, drink a little amazake against the cold and pick up a fortune for the New Year.

I have photos to post but Flickr's gone all wonky... hopefully later today. Now I have to get back to work... with this warm sake rolling around inside me... whee!

Titan is like "creme brulee"

...and apparently orange creme brulee at that, under tangerine skies.

But the photo above is amazing... that looks like a coastline.

Also, the Huygens probe is equipped with microphones and recorded this on it's way down. What you're hearing is the sound of wind on another world (!). The place has a sky. Granted, it'd flash freeze your lungs into powder the second you breathed it (it's -290° F), but still it's an atmosphere.

The ESA (the European Space agency is responsible for Huygens) has also released this audio track of radar data of the descent converted to an audio signal... it's funny how it makes interstellar travel sound like the soundtrack from an 8bit game console.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Huygens has landed

This is a European Space Agency image from the ESA's webside taken on Friday Jan. 14, 2005, after the Huygens space probe beamed data including this image back to earth through its Cassini mothership orbiting Saturn's moon Titan. This is one of the first raw images returned by the ESA Huygens probe during its successful descent. It was taken from an altitude of 16.2 kilometers (about 10 miles) with a resolution of approximately 40 meters (about 131 feet) per pixel. It apparently shows short, stubby drainage channels leading to a shoreline. (AP Photo/European Space Agency/NASA

"Clearly there is liquid matter flowing on the surface of Titan," said scientist Marty Tomasko of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, which made the probe's camera...
"There aren't too many planets with liquid," Tomasko said. "There's Earth, and now there's Titan." -from Yahoo News

Good article showing how the probe descended through Titan's atmosphere can be found here in this BBC article (scroll to the bottom to see the animation).

I'm sorry, but I just find this all to be super cool.

"We have heard the baby cry"

Signals from the Huygens probe, which has begun its descent to the surface of Saturn's moon Titan, reached Earth on Friday morning. At 1038 GMT scientists at the European Space Agency's mission control in Darmstadt, Germany learned that a radio telescope has received a carrier signal from the probe, arriving at the huge and enigmatic satellite.

It means that the probe must have survived its punishing entry into Titan's atmosphere, and successfully deployed its parachutes. "We have heard the baby cry," says Jean-Pierre Lebreton, Huygens mission manager. "We know the probe is alive, entry was successful, and we're under the parachute."

from The New Scientist

Friday, January 14, 2005

I'm all a'twitter

New Scientist Breaking News - Huygens prepares to drop in on Titan

What can I say, I'm truly a geek.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Bigger than Evita?


Miyuki's star is rising, well in Argentina at least.

Some of you may remember the above design from Miyuki's 31st birthday, when we celebrated the occasion with a bowling party at the Port Authority bus terminal in NYC. It was fun and surprisingly (and for me at least, a bit disappointingly) un-sleazy. Well, now my honey's grinning visage will soon be gracing the sweaty chests of club kids all up and down Buenos Aires.

I was contacted a few weeks ago by a fellow named Martin from Argentina who runs a small fashion label called Tercerojo that caters to the club scene. Seems he ran across my mckibillo website and liked what he saw. But in lieu of cash (the Argentine peso not being exactly the best cash investment these days) we're doing a barter, he gets one time printing rights and we get a bundle of cool shirts, including the "Miyuki Masters" when it's printed. Seems like a fair trade... I never would have gotten around to doing it myself and we both dig the idea of Miyuki's mug bouncing around the streets of another continent.

Man, this guy really gets around

yup, Craig's list has made it to Tokyo.

Anyone interested in galactic flights?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Winter Soundtrack

hauling snow

So it snows in Takayama.. A lot! Today it was scheduled to snow around 80 centimeters, or about 31 inches. It wasn't quite that much, but it probably dumped a foot and a half. On top of the foot that was laid down yesterday. Yeah, it's bad, but around here it's not that bad, no cause for alarm. And no cause for snowplows either. The major roads are plowed of course, but the local streets and sidewalks? Please handle that yourselves thank you very much. It's all very collective and jolly, basically the street is your driveway and everyone else's as well (Miyuki points to this sense of "ownership" as to why streets in Japan are so clean, but I think it runs deeper than that...).

to the river

What it involves is pushing all the snow into big piles, scooping it up into wheelbarrows and hauling it to the river for dumping. Well, that's around here at least, I don't know what we'd do without a handy river close-by. Gigantic snow buddhas?

wheelbarrow at the river

But like a lot of things here in Takayama, winter comes with it's own little jingle which you can hear by clicking here.

But what you're hearing (you clicked, right?) is not some PSA exhorting people to maintain snow free streets, rather, it's the siren call of the kerosene vending truck. You see, even with all this snow around, folks here eschew the comforts of central heating for the dubious pleasures of kerosene and electric heaters, electrified warming rugs, kotastu (which is basically a low table with a blanket fringe and embedded heating coil) or any other number of provisional (well, to me at least) solutions. One thing that continues to baffle me is why the Japanese, who have brought us such high tech gizmos as AIBO and ASIMO, the jogging robot, haven't yet embraced the simplicity of CENTRAL HEATING (!). It probably has something to do with the attitude towards housing here in general (bad) but that is the subject for a much longer, and bitchier, post. But for now, just sing along with the kerosene man.

Some good news

Thanks to Gordon for alerting me to this, I had actually forgotten about it... But I won a Merit award at SPD (the Society for Publication Designers) for single story illustration. It's for a series of illos I did for Popular Science in their "100th anniversary of flight" issue. The story I is illustrated is about how airlines are constantly testing the limits of their customer's comfort, patience, basic needs, etc. The conciet is to posit the passengers as "lab rats" in a giant experiment, or in the case of my illo's, one passeneger as our unlucky fellow. Here's a scan of the page from the awards book that Gordon graciously scanned for me.


I illustrated about 7 pages in total. It was a fun assignment and it never sucks to get the recognition of ones peers.

But with more in the non-Japan related posting, if you want to remember what the future used to look like, go here. It's all in Italian, so go for the pretty pictures not the text. To advance through the pages just click then "next pagina" link at the bottom of each page.

...damn! i just tried the site and it looks like I'm not the only one digging it.....the site has exceeding it's bandwith limit, too popular. hmmm, well I would suggest trying again in a few days. It's really well worth it.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Back at last

to the land of the ice and the snow....

Back in the mountain bosom of Takayama, back to broadband, beds and not getting blasted every day.

Just a quick recap of some of the more enjoyable bits of our Tokyo jaunt...

We got a little culture in at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which has an excellent permanent exhibit of life in Japan during the Edo period, which was roughly 200 years ago and an important era in Japanese history. It was fascinating to see the historical underpinnings of what, at first glance, had seemed to be some baffling cultural constructs of life in modern Japan. Highly recommended viewing.

Also, they had a temporary exhibition of the work (above) of Shigeru Mizuki. He's a manga artist here, whose kind of a national treasure. His most famous stories are ghost stories, but not really scary stuff. Think "Peanuts", but featuring the dead.

Afterwards, We had some fine, tasty chanko-nabe, which is Sumo food.

Blah, blah then lot's of shopping, then home... I'm tired, I'll report some more interesting stuff tomorrow.

But before I go, found this little tidbit today over at the New Scientist, "Rats can tell the difference between Dutch and Japanese". Which I find to be rather humbling...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The madness continues

Ouch.... the New Year hurts.

The last few days have been just bananas. We started off the week with Jeremy and Kotoko in Kamakura (and of course, Genya... thanks folks!) for 2 days of excessive drinking and eating at the Hachimon shrine.

Yesterday we went to Satakoh's for a caligraphy and drinking party that went for 12 hours.

And today we're headed to Yokohama for the ramen museum which is really more a ramen mall where you can eat all the displays.

So life is good. Pictures and more when I get back on a speedy connection.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

No bang bang

Last night, after a fine holiday dinner of lasagna and wine with Miyuki and her parents, in a contemplative mood, the talk turned to politics, or more specifically, the differences between Japanese and American cultural priorities. As is the case with most thoughtful, non-nationalistic folk, each delegation generally disparaged their own country and found reasons to promote the other. Now, I'm still on the fence about Japan or more accurately, I'm still treating it like a curio held at arm's length. I feel that I just don't understand the place well enough yet to come to many hard and fast conclusions. So far, I find myself perpetually interested and I'd like to keep it that way. Things are very different here and it would be very easy to dismiss certain aspects of the culture out of hand; to reflexively fall back on cultural prejudices you didn't know you had.

But I've been in a foul mood lately about the state of America and as many of you know, it was one of the prime reasons for us to get out of Dodge. To reiterate what tweaks me so much: primarily the re-election of the monkey king spurned on not so much by approval of his performance but rather, fear of the world at large; the growing gap between rich and poor; the increasing crassness and acquisitiveness of most popular culture (the "Simple Life 2"(!) anyone?); the complete disregard for the environment and how owning an oversized "sport" "utility" vehicle is directly related to it's increasing degradation.... I could go on.... and on.

But I got an unexpected gift from Miyuki during our conversation. In discussing the differences between American and Japanese culture it has often been noted that America is a culture of guilt and punishment and that the Japanese one is a culture of shame, where social pressures act as a corrective. The idea is that in America people follow the rules because to not do so could mean dire consequences and that laws are passed to restrict people from doing what they would naturally do, given the chance. And in Japan it's the same, except that many times there seems to be a certain laxness or delay in enforcement, to allow the offending party, pressured by a sense of shame, the chance to come correct, save face and maintain social harmony. However, if there's no law or shame against doing a certain thing, well then, all bets are off (ie: soiled panty vending machine's).

So, last night in the middle of me bad mouthing my Homeland, Miyuki brought up a startling fact (for me, at least)... that I don't and most of the people we know back in America never owned a gun. Seems a simple enough observation, until you realize that many, many, many people, living in a country where it's legal to own one, have also decided not to. We are infamous as a nation of gun nuts (with quite a bit of justification) but the amazing thing, at least from a Japanese perspective, is that we ALL don't own one. If it's legal, well then, there must be no shame in it , and why not own one? I'm not saying that Miyuki is advocating gun ownership, far from it, what I am saying is that I never realized how many MORE sane thoughtful folk must live in America than I had given credit to.

Also, that I hope the Japanese never change their minds about the social value (or lack) of personal firearms. Because that could prove to be quite scary indeed.

Saturday, January 01, 2005


Happy New Year!

We're in the midst of it... it's gonna go all week long. Just a short note.

Started off yesterday in Asakusa, the old town of Tokyo, a fabulous, shabby, slightly derelict sort of place that used to be the old entertainment area. It's where Hanayashiki (shown above, but not in my photo.... damn dail-up) is located, Tokyo's version of Coney Island... in the same kind of neighborhood. Love the place.

We hooked up with Ryujin and Sono who live in the neighborhoood, Satokoh, and Satokoh's daughter, Chako, for Chinese food and Shokoshu, a dark Chinese sake that tastes a bit like sherry.

But it was snowing. Snow in Tokyo is very unusual... so we hightailed it back to Satokoh's house in Kita Kamakura for a traditional celebration of soba and sake with the family. Then around midnight me and Miyuki went to the Enkakuji temple and hiked up the hill to watch a shinto priest gong a big ass bronze bell, but not for the requisite 100 strikes. New Years eve here is really nice, very family and community based and actually rather quiet.

But now for the rest of the week, let the drinking and feasting commence.