30 December 2007

Flyin' birds down south tour, Day 7

I don't know what happened to the good weather, but now it is snowing.

29 December 2007

Flyin' birds down south tour, Day 7

My father-in-law is tending a rice paddy at the top of the world. We got in the car and drove up for about 10 minutes. It is carved into the side of a mountain with no people living above it. It is an incredible place. I forgot my camera so the cell phone will have to suffice for now:

27 December 2007

Flyin' birds down south tour, Day 5: The in-laws

We have arrived in Yoko's father's hometown, a quaint, small town in the middle of nowhere. This leg of the trip has been good so far, although the trip in was a little bit too much fast driving, winding roads, and screaming baby for me. I am alive, everyone else is alive. More when I can get the blog fixed.

26 December 2007

Flyin’ birds down south tour, Day 3: Hiroshima

We made the trip up from Fukuoka today and are now in Hiroshima City with Yoko’s dad. This is our third hotel room in three days, but we have managed better than expected. Having Yoko’s dad around is great–I really enjoy his company and he seems to be enjoying the baby’s. We ate Spanish food and drank, drank, drank to our hearts desire while talking about Marx and China.

The atomic bomb dome site is one of those places that I think all Americans should see. That might be a little dramatic, but its true. The use of the atomic bomb at the end of WWII highlighted one of the most subtly evil philosophies that is in the American ethos; that is, doing evil is acceptable if it is done to avoid more evil. You all know the argument about the bomb: American politicians decided to use the bomb to avoid greater loss of life that they felt would be inevitable if there was an invasion of Japan. Basically, we did the Japanese a favor.

This philosophy has never quite made sense to me. I guess it can sort be understood through twisted Christian theology in which one person suffers unjustly to save others. If not, I’m sure that someone will correct me. I can just imagine one of those Huckabee Republicans making that argument…

We went at dusk and I took some very good pictures that I will post some time. Tomorrow is on to Kochi and the in-laws house. More from there, I’m sure.

25 December 2007

Flyin' Birds Down South Tour, Day 2

I am now back in the land of my Japanese birth: Fukuoka. So many thoughts about so many things after the jump. For those of you only interested in the quickie and no self-introspection (which will probably also contain some 'bad' words and negative thoughts about organized religion), here is the only thing that matters. It is December 25th, and we have the window of the hotel room open to let in a bit of a breeze.

I am back in Fukuoka where I first came to Japan as an (depending on who is asking) English teacher or missionary. I believed in a lot of things when I came to Japan, and my first year in Fukuoka pretty much changed everything. So my return here, I expected, would be bittersweet. I had selfish objectives for returning, namely that I wanted everyone to tell me I had lost weight and my Japanese was very good because, let's face it, when I lived here I was fat and I spoke sloppy Japanese. My less selfish objective was that I wanted to speak to some of the people at the church who had really taken care of me while I was here without having to talk through a translator and maybe be able to thank them for everything.

Unfortunately, most of the people I was really close to have either left or were out of town this week, so the only people I ended up seeing were some of the church folks that I only knew a little bit. They did, however, all say what I wanted them to say and they were all much more interesting now that I can talk to them directly. We went out to lunch with the pastor from the church, who is quite possibly the sweetest man on the face of the earth, and had a very sweet conversation in which I was able to say, in some small way, thank you. So those goals were achieved.

We also had the goal of going out to the beach where I want my ashes tossed out when I die. I realize that this is a stupid and morbid thing for a 25 year old to think about, but I do think about it. This beach is where I used to study Japanese and walk and think about God. One time, I even waded into the water, up to my waist. I wanted to show Yoko, so we rented a car for a ridiculous amount of money and went out there for about five minutes. But it was completely worth it.

We also drove around where I used to live. I felt like I was looking for something, some sort of feeling that never quite came. It was weird how I remembered all the streets. I couldn't explain how to get there or where to turn or whatever, but I just knew when we were there. I think I was hoping for a nostalgic feeling, but all I really felt was a sense of familiarity with everything.

I have wondered, to Yoko, why is it that I ever left here? I know the answer, but its harder to understand now that I'm back. The black cloud that followed me around here lifted when I left for Niigata, but now that I am back, I feel like this is where I have belonged all along. Of all the cities in the world I have been to and the limited number I have lived in, Fukuoka is the best. It is beautiful. The people are polite, but not too polite. The sun is out in the winter and so are the people. You can eat ramen on the street and see plays. You have the mountains and the sea. It's all here.

I think we are all, to some extent, ruled by two things: our expectations and our disappointments. All of this is tied into these things: what I wanted, what I got, what I regret, what I don't. I don't regret leaving Fukuoka--now I have a wife and baby, Japanese ability, a much better developed sense of self, a masters degree, and twenty less pounds of body weight. But I regret leaving Fukuoka. And everything that I left to achieve has disappointed me in one way or another.

I finally realize that's it is that way with everything I have ever experienced in life. And it will be that way with everything I experience in the future.

Anyway, it's good to be back.

23 December 2007

Calls it

Just as I predicted, it is now a mere 12 hours before our flight leaves for the ‘Flyin’ Birds Down South’ tour, and we have, predictably, done very little to prepare. My wife is now in the kitchen, getting some kind of food to eat for dinner, but there seems to be little sign of packing. I’m not really one to talk, although I did manage to, after wasting about half the day on YouTube, apply for a part-time job in January and February that may allay all my traveling expenses to Laos and Spain next year.

I also managed to make my iTunes library very, very respectable. All the songs have a tag. All the songs have artwork. They look good. Real good.My wife got me the new record (‘orbital period’) from my favorite Japanese band, BUMP OF CHICKEN. Oh, it’s good. They are sort of like the Japanese U2, only less preachy. They are also coming to Niigata City on April 12th, and maybe, just maybe, Yoko and I will go together to enjoy our first area rock show, sans the baby. This would be magnificent.

I was hoping to write a long post recapping this year, and all its ups and downs, and I still might given that I will be killing time at the in-laws. First born babies, revolutions in Dhaka, and cups of coffee. Maybe I will wax sentimental, but until then, I’m sure I should be helping Yoko pack.

20 December 2007

The waiting is over

Listen up, all of you interested in the mundane details of my life. Some updating is coming down:
  • Me, the wife, and the baby are moving to Shibata on February 23rd and 24th or March 2nd and 3rd, it appears. This is about a month sooner than we thought, but the apartment is open, so we can go, save some money and start settling down before we both go back to work.
  • I have a new iPod. It's black, and it has changed my life.
  • I will be in Laos/ Thailand from March 19th to the 25th, give or take a day.
  • We are leaving on our 'Flyin' Birds Down South' Tour on Monday and will be gone until January 3rd. I will be bored a large portion of the time, so please look forward to a lot of pictures of me, alone in the mountains of Kochi Prefecture, looking for the world between worlds, made famous in Haruki Murakami's 'Kafka on the Shore'.
  • We let the baby into the kitchen.
All this means that my hours, days, weeks of waiting, waiting, waiting for something to happen are just about over.

On the new iPods, you can use the fascinating 'cover flow' feature, which is awesome, unless about 30% of your MP3's are from obscure places, labels or bands. Then you just get the annoying music note mark. So I spent the last couple of days getting my I-tunes library in shape. I scoured the web, built my own icons for some, and figured everything out. The result is a very, very respectable collection.

18 December 2007

Been around the world and I, I, I–I can’t find my baby

I spent yesterday writing and rewriting and reading and watching the baby crawl around the kitchen. Hopefully I will finish my revisions sometime today, but there’s not telling, really.

I’m obsessed with cause and effect. I think about it all the time. Today, one of the teachers at school asked a class of students who are obviously not interested in the class, who have never in the 30 plus times we’ve had class asked a question, ‘Don’t you have any questions?’ ::long pause:: ‘Mr. Watanabe, don’t you have any questions?’ ::Mr. Watanabe mumbles something:: ‘Okay then. Let’s move on.’

Now, why in the world does this teacher insist on asking the students to do something that they obviously are not trained to, interested in, or able to do? Then don’t ask questions in class–even I can see that its not an essential part of Japanese high school class culture. But the teacher continues to ask, continues to treat the class without seeming to consider what the effect of his teaching style is.

Maybe its one of those mysterious Japanese things that I’m not supposed to get because I’m a foreigner, but I don’t think so. I suspect the teacher thinks they should ask questions so he encourages them to do so. But his way of encouraging does not get the effect he wants. If he really wanted the effect, he has to change his cause. But he never does.

This sounds familiar. Doing something half-assed not because you really want to do it, but because you think it should be done. Form over substance will get you these sorts of results, I think. And I’m pretty frustrated with it.

17 December 2007

Hold it right there, Mr. Big Head

My excitement about getting my first major publication was dulled by a note from the chief editor of the journal who wrote back to me yesterday to say, basically, I disagree with the reviewers and although your article is still provisionally accepted, there are about 150 changes I want you to make. 145 of these changes are tiny, five of them are going to take some time. I hope we can get something we mutually agree upon by the end of this week. If not, it won’t come out until April. That’s fine though. A pain in the ass, but fine — he is right on about 149 of his comments.

15 December 2007


My first major journal publication!
It is a pleasure to provisionally accept your manuscript entitled ""but sorry about my blabbing": A CASE STUDY IN BLOG DISCOURSE" for publication in the Journal of Computer- Mediated Communication... I would like to publish this mansucript in my upcoming January 2008 issue of JCMC.

13 December 2007

Kanji of the year

The winner is 偽 or 'false'. Basically, there has been a lot of problems with this in 2007. Next year the Kanji should be 大場馬.

I didn’t do it

Yoko and I watched the most compelling Japanese film about the justice system in this country. It centers around a guy who gets falsely accused of feeling a lady up on the train. Given that the Japanese system has basically no due process, the guy is kept in prison, lied to by the police, and repeatedly pressured to plead guilty. He insists on taking the case to trial, has all sorts of evidence that the police acted inappropriately, on his own finds a witness from the train who says he is innocent… and is found guilty and has to go to jail. It’s such a great film in that sense. They build it all up, you’re waiting for the innocent verdict, and nothing. The film ends with an image of the prison.

Well, the story is mostly compelling because it is based on a true story. The conviction rate in Japan is 99.9%. There are no juries and the judge works (it seems) closely with the police. The police do what they want, say what they want, make the evidence they want. And the courts are useless for protecting the wrongly convicted.

A friend of mine was stopped coming out of a 7-11 last week by a woman asking him where he was from and what he was doing. She disappeared for a second, and then he found himself surrounded by eight men in dark suits asking him where he was from and what he was doing. They asked if he spoke Japanese and he said no, and they continued to question him in Japanese. When they tried to put him into a car, he protested and finally someone told him that they were the police. Apparently something had happened with a high school student–they didn’t tell him what–and the criminal had brown hair, a black jacket, and ‘a strange voice’. So they found the foreigner. He finally was able to convince them that he hadn’t done anything and they let him go. But what if he hadn’t? Or if he had misunderstood the Japanese. He could be in jail without a charge and I wouldn’t know it.

This happened to a Chinese student at the university. The head of the department accused her of stealing something. She was held in prison for 30 days without being charged. They looked for evidence for 30 days, found nothing, and released her, having ruined her life.

There is some positive change on the horizon as they will be introducing the jury system in 2009, I think. We’ll see if that changes how things are done.

I appreciate the US justice system a little more these days. There are parts of it that are unfair and we are doing the same sort of things to ‘terrorist’ suspects, but at least when it comes to crime in the States, you are innocent until proven guilty. And reasonable doubt means something. It’s like OJ. Yeah, OJ killed those people, but the police planted evidence on him. And that is a no-no. I would rather have a killer free on the streets from lack of evidence than have a person wrongly imprisoned.

10 December 2007

Obama, Huckabee, and don't get AIDS next year

Just watched the Oprah/ Obama thing from the weekend. It was pretty hot if you didn't see it. I like how the NY Times contrasted it with Chelsea Clinton coming out for her mom. Yeah, Chelsea Clinton. She really fires up a crowd. And, as I suspect, she like everyone else under the age of 45 probably supports Obama.

That is, of course, unless you believe in Jesus, in which case you have to vote for Mike Huckabee, regardless of whether you also believe that gays and other people with AIDS should not be locked up together in some Flew of the Cuckoo's Nest madhouse. God, I hope the GOP runs Huckabee. Or Gulliani. Or Romney. Any of them would be great. Thompson too. The only person that might have a snowballs chance in hell (idiom) against Obama would be McCain, but he doesn't hate immigrants enough, nor does he want to attach live wires to the balls of terrorists. This, apparently, is pretty un-American.

08 December 2007

Daddy at home

With Yoko at the dentist, I am at home, playing daddy at home for the morning. So far, I've completed some important tasks:
  • Baked bread
  • Burned a bunch of incense
  • Cleaned mold off of the window
  • Tired to put baby down for a nap
  • Baby-proofed bookshelf
  • Did laundry
  • Played with baby
Now, I am blogging and the baby is sitting next to me on the floor complaining. Now that she is starting to crawl, everything is a threat and she is quickly bored. Today, toys will not sate her — only sitting in my lap. Ah, yes. The apple. I think I've bought myself about five minutes. No, no, that didn't work. She keeps dropping it. And coughing and — ugh, hold on. ::ten minutes elapse::

There are several things we should all thank our parents for. The ability to dress ourselves and the ability to use the toilet are at the top of that list. Think of how horrible you life would be if you never mastered those skills. I'll tell you, it'd be horrible. You always hear people thanking their parents for teaching them to be strong or to love people or whatever. I'm thankful that I know how to put my socks on. And not slap people in the face when I'm excited.

The dentistry in Japan is awful. Just awful. They continue to destroy my wife's teeth and take our money. I've been pretty pissed the last couple of days about the whole thing. I'll try not to bring it up here.

My application date for choice number one for doing my PhD is due 14 days earlier than I thought. This is good news. It means less waiting. This could be the apex (the beginning of the Stephen Epoch) of everything I've worked for.

06 December 2007

Led Zeppelin

I have one memory of Led Zeppelin playing on an awards show in the mid-90s. I remember seeing it and thinking, that was so heavy. It was the heaviest thing I had ever heard. Now, older, colder, and more worldly, it sounds less hard than I remember, but still pretty fucking hard.

05 December 2007

Obama is a liar

I mean, he wrote an essay about how he wanted to be President in KINDERGARTEN! I mean, doesn't this make sense to anyone else?! This guy is FULL of bullshit. Here's Obama ten years ago:
‘[Obama] said no -- at some point he'd like to run for the U.S. Senate. And then he said, 'Possibly even run for president at some point.'
And the asshole in kindergarten:
Iis Darmawan, 63, Obama's kindergarten teacher, remembers him as an exceptionally tall and curly haired child who quickly picked up the local language and had sharp math skills. He wrote an essay titled, 'I Want To Become President,' the teacher said.
God, this guy is so SLICK! It's like, everything he says is just a joke. He's been tall, curly headed, and LYING since he was five. That's it. It's over. I'm supporting Clinton.

The rock music of the rocks

I rented some CD's:
"Reasonable Doubt" Jay-Z
"Blood on the Tracks" Bob Dylan
"Blonde on Blonde" Bob Dylan
"All That You Can't Leave Behind" U2
"Let It Be" The Beatles
"Hard Day's Night" The Beatles
"Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols" Sex Pistols
I'm embarrassed by the U2 record, but I was feeling a bit nostalgic, brought on as it is by a dream. I think my nostalgia is sated, however. So far, my favorite is Blonde on Blonde. I think there is time for that to change. "Reasonable Doubt" is okay. Not quite "Blueprint", but it's okay.

03 December 2007

Ideas are good virtues

Kinda makes you want to do research with kids:
E: What sort of thing is time?
C: It’s something that you can’t see. Like my mom gets up in the
morning and she just knows what time it is. And she looks at the clock, something like that.
E: What is an idea?
C: It’s something that you think or that you know. It’s kinda like a virus, but it’s not bad. It’s good.
The children were invited to participate in a storytelling game, and introduced to two puppets (Elmo and Cookie Monster) that would help them answer questions. The experimenter ran three test trials to show how the puppets would help; these trials also served as a screening task. In the test trial, the experimenter presented the child with a solid-colored ball and asked the puppets the color of the ball. Each puppet produced a different color label (The ball is red vs. The ball is green), and one of the labels matched the color of the ball. The child was then asked to choose the puppet with the correct answer. The task was repeated three times with differently colored balls, and children who chose the puppet with the correct label at least twice continued the study. Only two 4-year-old children failed the task. Data were gathered from two more children—one per language—to replace these two children.
From "Metaphors We Move By: Children’s Developing Understanding of Metaphorical Motion in Typologically Distinct Languages" in Metaphor and Symbol 22 (2), by Seyda Özçalkan


This is the Krispy Kreme on the South Terrace of Shinjuku.

This is the wait time to get in.
I asked my wife to explain. She couldn't.

01 December 2007

Father-in-law saves lives of daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter

You might remember our earlier mentioned epic road trip that was to take part at the end of December. This road trip, although certainly epic, was looking to be difficult. Very difficult. Being optimistic and more importantly cheap, I was thinking it was going to be okay, but a phone conversation between my father-in-law and wife last night ended with the exchange of some flight coupons that will make flying to Fukuoka and Kochi (Yoko’s hometown) 50% less than it would without the coupons. This is saving our lives because from instead of traveling for 24 hours, we only have to travel 2 hours.

So we’ll have a new kind of epic. A two hour epic.