Today I’m housesitting at my sister’s, so I took the chance to watch her TV, since I haven’t got one at my place. Decided to watch some Japanese TV since she has cable. I realized I could barely pay attention to the plot. I also can’t finish reading “Wagahai wa Neko desu”. I started it in Japan, and since I got back I can’t read more than five pages of it. I also don’t study the language anymore, even though I promised I would keep on trying.

I realized today that doing these things triggers a flood of memories about Japan, and I also remember that I’m not there anymore and won’t be going back anytime in the foreseeable future. The memories, they’re wonderful but the wistfulness I feel… well, an English word is lacking, and I think the Portuguese term “saudade” fits best for what I’m feeling.

Today while shopping at Max Value, I found something I found eye catching. On the clearance shelf in the liquor section there was a small bottle of whisky marked down to 500 yen (around five bucks). Above the garish markdown label was the English phrase “17 years”.

Now I’ve only had serious whisky one other time in my life. One of those ones aged in sherry casks and a bit cloyingly sweet (relatively speaking) after a successful thesis defense. On seeing this little bottle, I figured it was worth the cost and picked it up.

The name is “Hibiki”, and it’s a 17 year old blend, but usually costs more than single malts (the distinction between blends and single malts and geographic distinctions is about the limit of my whiskey knowledge).

Here’s a website with a bit more information by people who actually know their stuff about such matters.

When poured, it about only amounts to a finger and a half’s worth of alcohol. The bottle is pretty damn small, with the bottom looking a bit more volumous than it actually is. No matter, still a good deal.

The bouquet is amazing. If I was blindfolded, I would have guessed it was a Sercial Madeira with interesting hints of wood. I don’t see the floralness, it’s closer to candied fruits to me. The taste is slightly sweet on the tongue, but given my inexperience with whisky, I don’t know how it relates among other whiskys in that regard. Other than an initial toffee and fruit burst at the beginning, the taste is really woody, with the nose and finish being long and creamy. For some reason it’s evocative of hot cocoa in a roughly hewn Oregon wood cabin. I simply can’t describe the complexiety of the finish with any justice. You’d have to give it a shot yourself.

All in all, highly recommended.

Pics forthcoming when I actually get around to loading them. Yeah, I know, I’m lazy.

I don’t usually go back and read what I write, which is prehaps a bad idea for someone who usually does his blogging at various levels of intoxication. You see, sobriety is for the editing process. No, I’m not an alcoholic. At most I drink a couple nights a week, which is pretty sparse considering the standards around here.

I’m struck by how damn sentimental I am when I’m drunk. A sentimental drunk is as bad as an angry drunk. Also, I’m not remembering what I’m writing about. That’s even more troublesome. I used to pride myself on recall. I guess I’m getting old. It hit me today when I found I couldn’t remember the capital of Niger, despite getting third place at my junior high in the Geography Bee. I could have gone to state if I remembered what body of water the Danube empties into and location of Java on a blank map.

Oh well. I’m going to be more careful now. Also to come: Pictures of me. Reports on Ise and watching an old man die next to me on a follow-up visit to the doctor.

Okay, so I haven’t finished my story yet. I haven’t even really begun to tell it, as is quite plain to see. Let me state just one thing: I am arriving closer and closer to doing so, telling it all in full. I promise. I’m not the writer of the Lotus Sutra (sorry, this is the most obscure joke in the world, but it had to be said. More on that later).

So, what’s my excuse for not writing this time? Well, work, still. And actually getting out and taking pictures and seeing things, even if in a narrow area.

Finally, there are the vexations.

 The realization that I’ve been here a month and my spoken Japanese has barely improved at all, and my reading none what-so-ever. The office business involving myself is mostly conducted in English, except for the business meetings. 

The lack of people around who play Go. I’ve looked long and hard and asked all the clients that come to the office if they play or know someone who plays. In all I found one person who says their brother-in-law who lives the next town over plays it casually and one student who says that he plays Shogi instead. I’m considering learning that just to keep my wits up. I don’t think I’m going to be able to break into the Intermediate Kyu levels of Go before I get back home. I could play online, but the majority of online players are higher ranked than me and I think that a board loaded with 10 handicap stones is a vastly different game from two fairly evenly matched players.

Finally there is the lack of serious written output of any kind. It’s rather difficult. I have had some success. I’ve found that for some reason I write better seated on the floor than at a table or desk. That revelation just hit me today. It improves my concentration and flow. Better posture perhaps. I need to experiment more. In any case, I recieved an e-mail today. One of my ex-colleagues invited me to submit a paper for a book. I’m seriously considering it. I’m beginning to realize how hamstrung my academic career was by my personal life at the time. I could have gotten articles published and gone to conferences and be going onwards to the Ivies as my former fellows have. It was just other things just kept on happening. A lack of personal security will lead to a lack of security in one’s own work. Mind you, I’m not regretting withdrawing from the academic world, at least, not yet. Still, upon retrospection I’m less critical than I was before.

But, I digress, I will try to show more diligence in not letting my mind shrivel despite the burden of a Japanese-style workload. So, for today, I will take these vexations as a month spent in cultivation of what things may come.

For part of today (including as I write this) I have listened to Satie’s Vexations. While no Gymnopedies, it’s definitely good for contemplation of vexing matters. It’s a couple of bars of music repeated 840 times. It’s said to induce a trancelike state upon those who attempt to play it for at least a portion of the 28 hour length. Oddly lilting and slightly atonal, despite hearing numerous repetions of it, I couldn’t really hum it on cue.

For those of you who hate weird not-easily accessible stuff on general principle, just avoid it, mkay? Not like Satie was anything like the attention whore concept artists of today. I must do a post on real eccentricity versus the cultivated crap that passes for it today.

Also for your perusal, here’s a link to an addicting vocabulary game. I was able to hit level 43 in a couple of minutes, but it took me about 30-45 minutes before I could break into level 50 and even then I would drop to a 48-49 pretty quickly. God knows how people can hit level 60 on the thing.

So until the next time, Light a Peace and I’m out, 840 time over.

Y’know in further thoughts, a confusing dull thing done mindlessly 840 times over with no change is a lot like how things are done here in Japan oft times.

So it’s been just over a month since I’ve come to Japan. It seems like a hell of a lot longer than that, you know? So let’s start from the beginning, not the absolute beginning, but one arbitrarily chosen for dramatic reasons.

So the day I fly out I didn’t finish packing until the last minute. In retrospect I should have packed a hell of a lot less, as I’ve used only about half of what I brought up here with me. After hastily shoving things willy-nilly into crevices and crannies (ruining the complex sequence of space saving and suit preserving folds I had made) I was out the door and in the car to the airport. While riding I continued my process of haphazardly getting my affairs into order, starting by canceling my cellphone and ensconcing all my bank information someplace I have yet to uncover. All the rushing proved unecessary after arriving at the airport and somehow making it through security and the departures gate with 2.5 hours to spare. Lacking internet access (I wasn’t going to pay, that’s for sure) and with annoying Hawaiian musak for those who simply can’t stand the short bursts of silence between jet engines whining and half-garbled announcements, I decided to hit Starbucks and play Go on my laptop to while away time. Reading wasn’t an option, really. Too scattered.

As I waited and played some bouts (poorly, as always), I watched as my fellow passengers filtered in. All in all they were returning tourists, looking as pleased as one could possibly be about returning to the stifling heat and grinding jobs they left behind. I noticed that in the holding pen area (why it was necessary to keep us all passengers in a pen I do not know), Duty free store clerks were flogging merchandise from the wings, more than that, people were buying in droves. I guess last minute omiyage (obligatory gifts to coworkers, family members and supervisors demanded by cultural tradition here) are better than nothing at all.

That brings to mind another important note. If you’re one of those people who consistently can’t make the luggage weight and size restrictions, fly JAL. I was allowed a 40 pound carry-on and two checked luggage items at 70 lbs. max. Everyone else I met when arriving in Japan had much smaller limits imposed on them.

So after watching the festival of knick-knacks, high end booze and American cigarettes fly off the toted shelves, I decided it was time to enter the holding pen. It was packed, and I seemed to be the only gaijin on the flight so far. Not surprising, as most gaijin fly in to Kansai or Narita and transfer, Honolulu just is lucky to have direct flights straight to Chubu. Due to this fact I got my first full blown experience with the gaijin effect. It was at a level that was pretty slight, one that I’m completely immune to now. Let me put it this way, it’s when someone who clearly isn’t Japanese walks into a packed area where there are many Japanese. There’s a slight rippling like a pebble thrown into a pond, as the crowd realizes an outsider has come in, and then adjusts itself. The first time is pretty chilling what with the seat shifting and averted eyes, but I’ve come to realize it isn’t so much hostility as just awkwardness that passes quickly as you go about your business without any further ado. Still, the first time, it seems pretty damn off-putting and I sat by a older gentleman with a distinguished moustache who didn’t seem too affected by it, as he was chatting away on his cell phone and with his travel partner in Japanese. Later when he took out his paperwork, I noticed he had an American passport. Well that explained that.

So when we finally enter the plane, I’m struck by the differences from American airlines in general and what JAL puts into the air. First off, everything is slightly smaller and more cramped than in an average American airline. I have difficulty seeing how someone weighing more than 200 pounds or over 6’2″ could fit into the seats. I’m just a smidge under the six foot mark at 5’11.7″ and my knees were rubbing against the back of the chair in front of me if I slouched even a little. Thank God I didn’t need to leave some momentos behind during the flight, otherwise I’d have to sit on the can with my knees pinned against door.

Also different are the stewardesses (no, I refuse to call them flight attendants, these were definately stewardesses). They had immaculate uniforms on, complete with kerchiefs and perfectly placed little caps. While they weren’t all gorgeous, they definately weren’t bad to look at, and even the older ones had kept themselves well. While I wondered at the time how they managed to keep smiles on the entire flight, I would come to know the exact means of how one is able to do that, as I have to do it myself.

As I sat and observed, I noticed that from the nametags, the majority of them weren’t Japanese, especially the younger ones. They seemed to be Taiwanese or SE Asian, though all with particularly “Japanese” features. Interestingly enough, they seemed to partially change uniforms every time drinks and food were served, and then back again for the regular parts of the flight. Those girls were on full hustle mode the entire flight, with only short breaks of sitting down. Again, I now know what it means to work like that, in my own special way. 

Even more weirdly there was an inflight shopping channel on the radio and commercials on the inflight TV. There literally was a Duty Free cart for people to order even more shit on the way home. Considering how we were flaqued at the airport by the duty frees, I was amazed to see people actually buying even more stuff to take home.

Speaking of the airplane radio, it was much worse than normal. There were several channels of unlistenable American pop music and even more unlistenable Japanese pop music. Add to that the shopping channel, and the NHK news channel (It’s like the MacNeil-Lehrer New Hour, only with less color) and all there was for me to listen to was the classical channel, and the Enka (think Japanese Standards) channel. Annoying thing is, they only had one hour of music for each, on an eight hour flight. There was also the movies to watch, and I actually submitted myself to watching some of it when I could no longer read, the “Spyderwyck Chronicles” was a decent enough kid’s movie, but “27 Dresses” was a cinematic abortion. In choosing between being forced to watch Katherine Heigl flounce about and having a glass catheter shoved into my urethra, I’d choose the catheter.

The in-flight magazine was okay, and they served yuzu (Japanese citron) juice during the flight. It was great, but ironically I’ve not been able to find yuzu juice in any store since I’ve been here. The food was excellent, and if you’re a drinker, then you’ll love Japanese airlines. Free beer with meals if you so desire. The guy sitting next to me had about three, and this little petite lady a row over somehow managed to pack away six of them during the entire flight with no effect. The meals were Japanese, some tofu dish and Japanese curry. It was also the best damn food I’ve ever had on an airplane.

Some interesting behavior noted: Japanese seem to use the bathroom all at once on airplanes. After meals, it seemed half the plane was lined up to use the can, whereas for most of the flight the bathrooms were empty. You’d think that someone would figure out that going right before the meal is served would save them the discomfort, but then as one watches Japanese, they seem to really be into doing things in unison. Another thing: They’re good catnappers. In America, I’m a pro at catching 40 winks in odd places and times, but here I’m a rank amateur. I can’t sleep on planes, but my two seat-mates were happily unconscious except during feeding and drinking time upon which they awoke without any bidding.

Much more was noted and happened while on the flight, but time and space constrict. Lord knows I could go on forever, but I’m well over a thousand words, it’s late and my neighbors are annoyed by my typing (more on that later). The next episode has us landing at Chubu and navigating our way to Nagoya.

lights a cigarette and cues theme music for the night: a duet between a shamisen and an oscilliscope hooked up to a sound generator with synthesized jet noises and garbled airport transmissions punctuating