Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Osaka Castle

There's a beautiful ride right near my place around the grounds of Osaka Castle. The Castle is situated on a peak and the surrounding park is large, so I had seen it in the distance a number of times as I made excursions near my place.

Last night, I went for a ride around it with a guy named Vince, who I met when I first got here. At night, there are relatively few people around and you can ride fast through the corridors of the massive walls, over the moats, and eventually into the inner sanctuary. The castle itself is lit up like a massive beacon. As we charged in, I imagined a samurai army swarming the grounds, scaling the walls over the fallen bodies of their underlings.

As is the case with many Japanese Castles, however, the main tower of Osaka-jo (大阪城) is a reconstruction. The modern structure was opened to the public in 1997 and replaced an earlier reconstruction that was destroyed by Allied bombs during the Second World War. What remained of the original tower was destroyed during the Meji Restoration, when the grounds were turned into an army barracks. The current reconstruction is conveniently outfitted with an elevator, which you see in the foreground of this picture.

Today, Ken and I went up to the northern part of town to meet with Takanori, a specialist in Indian mathematics who was a Ph.D. student in the States with Alex. Takanori and I will meet once a week to read some texts, so we had a preliminary discussion of how to proceed. Since the Kansai region has one of the biggest concentrations of specialists in the history of Indian mathematics in the world, Ken was adamant that I should study Sanskrit with Takanori and begin to read Indian texts as soon as possible. At length, however, it was agreed that Takanori and I would read Arabic on Monday, and Ken and I would read Greek on Wednesday. We then all read a few theorems of the Spherics.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Settling in...

My map book has already been a huge success. Yesterday, I was able to flawlessly pull off a full day of excursions on the JR rail system, and today I immediately found a nearby Seattle's Best from a list I had saved on my computer. The fact that there is almost no Romaji also forces me to stay in the Kanji head space, which is good.

Ken and I have started reading Theodosius's Spherics. Since I have neither books nor internet in my place, I am not able to fully prepare my reading of the text before I go to our weekly meeting. In fact, the first few times, I was simply reading the Greek on the spot when we met. Since the text begins with simple mathematics and the Greek throughout is in the standard mathematical idiom, this has so far presented no problem. Nevertheless, this evening I'll prepare a bit for tomorrow's meeting.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Without internet access at home, just doing basic navigation to places I need to get to, but don't yet know, has risen to a new level of difficulty. For those who do not know, a Japanese address is based on an entirely different system than a western address. Whereas a western city is known by neighborhoods, streets and intersections a Japanese city is divided into large wards (ku, 区), smaller townships (usually machi or chou, 町), numbered sections (chome, 丁目), numbered zones (literally cardinal number, ban, 番) and finally buildings.

In a North American city, a street is a street by virtue of the fact that you can drive a car on it. In a Japanese city, there are many different kinds of streets. Some streets are strictly for walking, some for walking and riding, some for driving and possibly riding, and some freeways that are only for cars. (There are also other venues for walking and riding that are not technically streets at all.) In Osaka, a good half of the streets were never meant for automobiles. The only thing that unifies all of these different transportation spaces is the fact that they are not buildings. (In fact, however, there are some streets, roadways and train tracks on top of, or underneath, buildings.) Only the larger thoroughfares and freeways even have names. Many of the the streets are so small only two or three people could walk abreast.

A Japanese address scopes in from the more general to the more particular, instead of beginning with a specific place and then stating where that is. So, it states the prefecture, the city, the ward, the township, the numbered section and zone and finally the building. The arrangement of the numbered sections and zones is not perfectly predictable, so that even people who live or work in a specific chome will not necessarily know where another block-sized zone is within the same chome. Because of the syntax of a Japanese question, whenever I ask for help with directions at a convenience store or post office, they always know what I want before I even finish the question. They take out a map and study it for a few moments before turning it around showing me the location of the ban or building I'm looking for.

I have a bilingual map of the Kansai region with pretty good coverage of Osaka, but it's not nearly detailed enough to find anything in a reasonable amount of time. Today, I bought a Japanese map with full detail but all in Kanji. Fortunately, the pronunciation of place names is also difficult for Japanese people, so there is furigana above many of the Kanji. I plan to put this map to much use.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


My furniture arrived this morning and I'm starting to get settled, but my lack of internet access is hugely frustrating. I found a long list of supposedly free wi-fi sites in Osaka, but almost all of them are either defunct or actually unavailable.

At this point, the only place that I am sure has free wi-fi is Seattle's Best and there are relatively few of them in the city. Today, I spent almost an hour looking for one that was supposedly near me before giving up and going to one that I knew in my old neighborhood.

The amount of memorization I'm doing, along with the stress of two moves in a month and trying to get a bit of writing done each day has caused my brain to go into overdrive. I feel a constant pressure in my head, such as I usually feel only after a long day of productive work. My thoughts are hyperactive at night in a way that I have not experienced in years. I've become absent-minded - getting off the elevator on the wrong floor, taking the subway one stop too far.

At least, however, I now have a desk in my apartment, so that I no longer need to type with my laptop actually in my lap.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New place

I finally moved into a normal apartment. It's much bigger than the old place and cheaper, but was empty, so I had to fully furnish it. The heat is back in full force, so the last two days have been pretty intense.

I spent all day yesterday carting stuff back and forth on the subway, dealing with the gas, electricity and water companies, registering with the local ward office, and dealing with various other logistical technicalities. Of course, there was much paperwork, and two parking stickers for my bikes.

Some things are very simple, but others are needlessly complicated. For my electricity, I simply turned on the meter outside my apartment, filled in a pre-paid postcard with my address and bank info and put it in a nearby post box. The'll just take the money out of my account each month. My internet, however, is going to take two to three weeks to get going - once I have all the forms properly submitted, which I have not yet been able to do. And this despite the fact that my place is already set up for optical fiber.

The expenses involved in my move have also been strangely lopsided. I was able to buy all the big items I needed from two girls who are moving back to the States for so cheap that it cost me nearly as much to have them moved to my new place as it cost me to buy them. For my mattress, I decided to go Japanese style and get one that can be folded up and put away, but I insisted on getting a double (140 cm wide). This is very nearly the largest mattress that can be purchased here and buying it meant paying more for my mattress than for my refrigerator, washing machine and sofa combined.

The two movers who picked up the furniture were quite efficient and I never had the slightest inkling that they might break anything. They had these huge, padded sleeves that they pulled over everything. They then packed it into parceled sections in a large truck. I paid for two parcels.

The new neighborhood I'm in is more central, but also more working class. The level of racism is also a bit more intense. Everywhere I go, shopkeepers at the smaller places will follow me around. At first, I thought they were just trying to be helpful, but the way they follow my every move makes it clear they think I'm likely to try to steal something at the slightest opportunity. Today when I was looking for some things for my new place, three proprietors made sure I knew I wasn't welcome by trying to block my entry and asking me what I was looking for. Nevertheless, they were too polite to actually kick me out or to prevent me from entering when I walked directly toward them. At first, I thought it might be amusing to walk around and ask them how much things were, but that got old pretty fast.

View Larger Map

Here's a map of my new place. The large site just to the east of me is Osaka Castle. I haven't had a chance to check it out, but I've heard there's some good rides around it. I'm now in "Central Ward" (Chuo-ku , 中央区).

Monday, September 17, 2007


This will probably be the first of many posts on this topic. In a beginners class for Japanese they start by teaching you the standard polite forms of verbs, which is fine if you want to say something polite to someone, but doesn't always help if you need to know what people are saying to you. In fact, the only people who use this polite language with me are some women and people working in shops and restaurants. In some cases, service workers will use even more obsequious forms that I do not fully understand.

Today, I was looking for a nearby post office (yuubinkyoku, 郵便局) and decided to just ride around and ask people and see where that got me. I asked all kinds of different people. At first, it was almost impossible for me to tell what the old men were saying to me. Eventually, I realized this was because they were using the plain verb forms, which I still do not know very well. According to my textbooks, the direct use of this form is reserved for friends, family and one's social inferiors - such as children. In fact, however, this form is in fairly common use. Most of the men seemed annoyed at my presence and two simply dismissed me with a waive of their hand and the exclamation that they did not know or care. The younger people and women, on the other hand, were generally polite and helpful. Or at least, I thought they were. Nevertheless, I was not able to find a post office in this way.

On three different occasions, I was sure I was told to go forward three lights and take a left. But there were always further instructions, such as go down, or up or around. I spent almost 45 minutes doing this before I decided to just go to a post office that was not that near, but was at least known to me.

The vast majority of mobile communication here is done via email sent to and from one's cell. I've taking to writing bits of these in Japanese. This is actually much simpler than it sounds because the phone has all kinds of auto-complete features built into it. So for example, if I can only remember the first few syllables of a verb form, the phone will offer me a list in which I can easily see the form I want. It also has Kanji conversion, so again it's usually enough just remember the first few syllables, or to just hunt around for a bit until I see the right character. The only draw back to this is that people will generally respond to Japanese in Japanese. On the one hand, they always correct my Japanese, which is helpful, but this and the rest of their response is usually full of a bunch of Kanji that I don't know.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


A few weeks ago, I met a guy named Kazuya in a cafe who told me about some drop-in Japanese classes that he teaches as a volunteer in a suburb up north. So today, I gave him a call and got directions to the class. I was feeling a little drowsy when I was on my way to the train, so I decided to stop for an energy drink.

In every convenience store, there's a large rack of energy drinks and jellies. I thought I'd try one of the brightly colored jellies that comes in a foil pack. I scanned the ingredients a bit quickly, but I saw that there was some caffeine and a bunch of vitamins in one of the orange ones, so I figured I give it a try. On the short train ride up, I started to feel a bit funny, so I took another look at the ingredients. Somehow, I had failed to notice that there was a big whack of nikachin (ニカチン) in the drink. As I haven't had a cigarette, or presumably any other nicotine, in over seven years, you can only imagine the effect. Luck ally, it wore off pretty quick.

The class was in the Bible Gospel Church. There were actually a bunch of different classes for people learning both Japanese and English. I was in the beginners group, which was taught by a woman named Yoshimura, who had studied English at UBC for 8 months. One of the two other students had done his undergrad at SFU. The class was all in Japanese and on some grammar I hadn't seen before, but I still learned a lot.

It's still hot enough in Osaka for a daily ice cream, but most of the stuff here is the soft kind. The best I've found is all imported. These are the biggest Häagen-Dazs containers they sell at my local supermarket.

Mini bike mania

Check these minis...

All the cool kids in Osaka have one.

Friday, September 14, 2007


A lot of the food here is great, but I miss some of the foods from home. I finished the cookies Aiyana gave me a few days ago and I have the feeling that's going to be the last really good hippy food I have for a while. I haven't eaten a real green salad since I got here.

On the other hand, I've had some really good stuff that I probably never would have tried otherwise. For example, at dinner the other night, we finished with a simple bowl of white rice served with a plate of various pickled vegetables. All of the really good food that I've had has been prepared for me, or recommended to me. My policy of trying some new unknown thing each time I go to the grocery store, however, has yet to pay off. This is, I suppose, not terribly surprising. The one thing I will say is that the convenience stores here actually have some edible food in them - along with socks, underwear, pantyhose and colored shirts.

Today, I found a little taco place on one of the side streets near my apartment run by a hipster named Taku.

I ordered a taco made of minced pork and beef, because those were the only two Kanji that I knew for sure - and I was suspicious of the shrimp taco.

It was pretty good and reminded me of home. There was a lot of other delicious looking things on the menu, so I'm sure I'll be back. Now, I'm going to head to check out a hipster bar I noticed in the same area.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New shoes

After work I rode down to Amemura (short for American Village, アメリカ村), because this is where a lot of hipsters hang out and I figured I could pick up some Vans. For some reason, I had my heart set on Vans, but it turns out I should have bought them back in Vancouver, because they're an exotic import here and fairly expensive.

Amemura is a crazy scene on the weekends but it was tame when I was there this time. There were some people shopping and kids practicing rope dance. Some of the guys were throwing down break moves inside the ropes, but I didn't catch any of those.

There are shoe shops everywhere but they're segregated according to dress or casual, black or white culture (which is odd, considering that there are no black or white people here), by age, by gender, and by a number of other fashion points that were too subtle for me to discern. Since I was looking for Vans, I was only in the casual shops, which were basically unisex - although heavily slanted towards men, since most Japanese women wear high-heels.

Here are some shots from a few of the shops.

I guess they have more or less the same shoes here as they have in North America, the difference is that colors and styles that would be considered outrageous in North America are perfectly standard here.

This goes for other things as well. In the Adidas store, a dude was rocking a bright, shining purple hoodie with baby blue and lime green stripes. I decided on the spot that I wanted one but it was 15,000円 - and this was probably a deal. The other day I saw a zip-up that I wanted with a fly little bird on the zipper pull and criss-crossing dark blue and green stripes. It was 22,300円. My budget for clothes is definitely going to have to be scaled up here.

This shot is taken from a shop that only carries shoes for kids. I know I would have been stoked with some of those when I was that size.

In the end, I wasn't able to find the Vans I wanted in Amemura. Luckily, I found some in a little boutique on one of the side tiny streets up near where I live. That's right, I bought my Vans in a boutique - and I paid boutique prices for them.

Here I am demonstrating questionable taste by wearing them inside.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lunch in Kyoto

In the morning I finished one of the reviews that I set aside to write in this period before my books come. I will reread it a couple more times before sending it off to the editor. For lunch Ken and I went up to Kyoto to see a former student of his who recently had a new baby.

We then proceeded to eat a leisurely lunch followed by an extravagant chocolate cake that Ken had brought with him. The food was quite good and there were again some specialty dishes, including tofu that had been frozen and then reheated. This gives the tofu a soggy texture that allows it to hold liquid. It was served in a thin sauce that dripped out of it every time I picked it up with my chopsticks.

In the evening, I went down to a bookstore in Hommachi (本町) that has a good selection of books for people studying Japanese as second language. The bookstore is called Bonjin-sha (凡人社), which caused a chuckle when it was being discussed, because although bonjin means "common people" it apparently has the connotation of "mediocre people." I picked up a kanji workbook and a systematic grammar that had been suggested to me.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Another long monday

I began the day with an ice coffee, toast and boiled egg at my local kissaten (喫茶店, a traditional coffee shop that usually serves some free food with the 400 円 coffee in the morning). Then I met Ken at Nakazaki-chou Station (中崎町駅) and we set off on another grueling day of errands and bureaucratic bullshit. It was still all so new to me that I was able to be amused by most of it. Ken on the other hand, could hardly contain himself on a number of occasions.

The first order of business was to look at an apartment that we had decided would be the best bet. Ken was determined that I should avoid many of the unnecessary expenses involved in renting through an agent, a private owner or a Gaijin rental service. This was a real sticking point for him. He had humored me by letting me look at some of these places, and then taking me through detailed calculations of the costs, proving that these places were much more expensive once these added expenses were divided by 12 or even 24 months. My agreement with his general position was solidified by the fact that they were all basically dumps.

By renting directly from a corporation that owns many apartment complexes throughout the city, I would save on agency fees and other customary expenses. The only drawback would be that I would have to fully furnish the place, including a refrigerator, gas range, washing machine and other items that are typically included in a North American rental. Again, Ken rightly pointed out that all these expenses would be absorbed in a 12 month period.

We looked at the place and, to Ken's obvious satisfaction, it was far better than anything else I had seen. Thus began the process of actually drawing up the contract.

We went to the main office where they proceeded to ask us for far more documentation than I had brought, and this despite the fact that I had tried to anticipate such an eventuality. Since we had to go out to the university anyway, we decided to see if we couldn't get, or fabricate, the necessary documents when we were out there and return to the office again at the end of the day.

At the university, we were again involved in a endless stream of paperwork, only some of which had to to with my arrival. We went from one office to the next, while Ken filled out forms and repeatedly entered his stamp (inkan, 印鑑) into various ledgers. At one point, as he was for the third time that day, filling out a form in duplicate, he wryly pointed out that, given the circumstances, it was a wonder Japanese scholars got any work done at all at this time of year.

The one good thing about our trip to the University was that I was able to pick up an electronic dictionary (denshi-jishou, 電子辞書), paid for by my research grant. I had originally believed that if I bought items over 10,000 円 they would be retained by the university after I left, but it turns out I had misread the conditions and I am allowed to keep any items up to 100,000 円. Now this is much more agreeable, so I purchased a hi-end Japanese-English denshi-jishou for 34,000 円. It contains the full text of 35(!) dictionaries, including things that would come in handy anywhere, like the Advanced Learner's OED, and strange ones like the Oxford Guide to British and American Culture, which has slang in it that I've never heard and which I frankly doubt anyone ever really used (for example, "go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut"). The user's manual is all in Japanese, of course, so I imagine it will be some time before I've even scratched the surface of this thing.

Finally, we returned to the office of the rental apartment and managed to satisfy them regarding the documents. We completed the contract in short order and I settled out the amount owing in cash, of course.

Here, however, we ran into another snag that caused Ken to nearly lose his composure. My rent is to be paid electronically by automatic deduction from my bank account, however, my bank is not included in the long list of banks from which the rental corporation accepts electronic funds transfer. When we were outside, Ken informed me that this is probably because Shinsei Bank was rescued from bankruptcy by a buy-out of foreign capital and is consequently, in the eyes of many, not really a Japanese bank anymore. What makes this situation even more absurd is that for the second month's rent, they will send me a form that I can take to Shinsei Bank and pay electronically, but they claim to be unable to continue to do this for subsequent months. Ken decided that the best way to deal with this would be to open a second bank account at a second bank. I couldn't really believe that this was the simplest solution, but Ken was adamant. For now, I think it's best to take his advice in such matters.

Many of the transactions throughout the day generated what I regard as a staggering amount of paperwork. The purchase of my denshi-jishou produced six full-sized sheets of paper - two were signed and stamped by both Ken and the clerk, one of which was retained and the other of which was our copy. The other four copies seemed excessive to me, but when I asked Ken about it, he didn't think anything was amiss and supposed that they might come in handy. What is more, apparently these are only temporary receipts, when my grant arrives, sometime in the next month, six more forms will be made out, this time in my name.

Below, you see the paperwork I received from the rental office. (It may be hard to see from the photo, but three of these forms have other, smaller forms stapled to them) Half of the documents are informational brochures and so forth, but the other half are my originals of various contracts and agreements, not all of which I fully understand, but which I, nevertheless, filled in and signed. Naturally, the rental office retains duplicates of these, which I also filled in and signed.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Today the sun came out but the humidity didn't subside much, so it was unbelievably hot and muggy. It was too hot to ride, so I spent most of the day doing housework, writing and studying Japanese.

When I went out to a nearby stationary store in the middle of the day, the heat immediately forced me back inside. I picked up some pens and the paper that school children use to practice their Kanji. The pens come in many sizes but they go down to very fine tips so that one can fit the Kanji into normal lined paper. That's still a bit too advanced for me.

Since I didn't do much of interest, I'll just post some pictures of two of the Canals near my place. Osaka is built on a delta, so there are canals and rivers throughout the city.


I spent most of the day riding around the city, to get a better sense of the overall layout. When I was downtown, I saw some right-wing Japanese nationalists demonstrating in front of the US Consulate.

They were surrounded by police - presumably to make sure they remained peaceful, as there were only a few other people watching them out of curiosity. There were about seven guys and a woman, all wearing black military dress.

One guy was making a speech on a big hand-held loudspeaker. I couldn't understand much of it, but I could hear lots of mentions of "American," the "United States," and "English." Whatever, he was saying, he was definitely saying it about me. Nevertheless, everyone was quite civil as I wandered around taking pictures. And this wasn't just because the police far outnumbered the demonstrators - you can see how polite they were by the fact that they stood outside the little chain drawn across the steps of the Consulate.

Although such extremism is, naturally, in the minority in Japan, nationalism is often, as in the States, an important component of a successful political career.

It is worth noting that, in comparison with Nuremburg, there were relatively few convictions in the Tokyo trials. There were only two executions, and a number of those convicted were subsequently released and went back to their political careers. Moreover, the supreme ruler of the Japanese state, whose official stamp appears on all the battle orders in what was called the Great War of East Asia, was never even brought to trial. Despite having steered his country into the worst disaster of its history, Hirohito was not only able to maintain the imperial institution, but also remained himself in the imperial seat. For obvious reasons, it has never been a crime in Japan to deny the war crimes perpetuated during his reign.

Friday, September 7, 2007


My bank card arrived yesterday, by registered mail, and it is, indeed, quite dreamy. I took a picture of it, but the color just doesn't come through. Today, my security card came, so I could log into my account and activate the purple card.

The security for my online account is much greater than that at any of the banks I have used in North America. In the first place, you enter any information through key-buttons in the browser, as opposed to the keyboard. I suppose the mapping between these key-buttons and the information is then randomized or encrypted, so as to prevent people from simply sniffing the keystrokes.

Secondly, you are issued a security card that comes in a separate delivery by registered mail. The security card must itself be activated by keying in the requisite numbers through the browser. Then, every time you log into the account you are asked to enter random values found on the card.

As you can see from the picture, each of three slots is selected from an array of 50 cells, each of which can be either an letter of the Roman alphabet or a digit of the Hindu-Arabic number system. There are repeats on my card, so that gives 36^3 = 46,656 possibilities. But you effectively only have one shot at guessing the right one of these, since a different three cells are required each time. A cryptologist would probably try to determine the algorithm used to generate the array, but clearly the weakest link in the chain is the human owner of the cards.

Once I had everything set up, I now had an account that showed a balance of 0円, so I took some of my cash with me down to a local machine to deposit it. Despite the fact that Japan is obscenely safe - and I've taken to free-locking my bike everywhere and for long periods of time - I still didn't feel comfortable carrying all that cash on me.

The machines for my bank, Shinsei Ginkou (新生銀行), are bi-lingual, so it was all fairly trivial. I just put the cash in the slot and the machine counted it up. If you don't like the count you can just tell the machine to give you the money back. After I had deposited the cash I had brought, I tested the machine by putting in 23,000円, alternating 10,000 notes (万円) and 1,000 notes (千円). Naturally, the machine tallied it up with no problem, but I asked for the cash back anyways.

At around 7:30, I went over to Ken's place to help him move some furniture. He didn't mention anything about dinner when he asked me to come, so I had eaten already. It was a bad idea, however, because after we rearranged his office, we sat down for a five course meal. I tried not to eat that much but it was so delicious, I could barely move by the time I was ready to ride home. Luckily, Osaka - despite its name - is flat.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Kobe's Chinatown

After finishing what I regarded as a sufficient amount of work to be on schedule for some up-coming deadlines, I decided to try to find the Chinatown in Kobe. I had heard this was the only real Chinatown around, although there are Chinese shops scattered here and there.

When I was in Vancouver, I had had a prescription for a Chinese herbal remedy filled at one of the many herbalists shops in the Chinatown near my place. The script had about 15 different components, the most conspicuous of which was large dried insects. A single dose required a paper lunch bag full of ingredients, took over an hour to prepare and tasted vile. Nevertheless, it quickly cured the eczema that I had had for years and which no dermatologist had been able to do anything about. Since I moved here, the eczema has started to come back - presumably, because it's a stress related condition - so I decided it was time to drink some more bug juice.

This would be my first time by myself on a train system other than the subway. There is a cluster of four or five train stations, run by various companies, in the Umeda area near me, and one of them, the Hanshin Umeda Station (阪神梅田駅), runs a train that stops right near the Kobe Chinatown. The largest three of these stations are actually on different corners of a giant intersection, but it's not simply a matter of walking across the street from one to another. They are connected by a maze of pedestrian overpasses and underground malls. Once I found the right station, getting the right train was easy. The train to Kobe was about 35 min and cost 310 円.

I was able to find the Chinatown by asking some girls for directions. They seemed to be immensely amused that I was looking for it.

When I got there, it was a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping for something like the Chinatown in Vancouver, Toronto, or New York, with groceries, bakeries, meat shops and full herbalists. Instead, it's very commercialized and much closer to the Chinatown in San Fransisco. Mostly just tourists shops with trinkets, some tea-shops, booze shops, a few markets and a single herbalist.

When I handed her the brown wax paper on which the characters of the recipe had been scrawled, the pharmacist immediately started shaking her head. She put little circles by five of the ingredients and I managed to understand that she didn't have these ones. I asked where I could get them and she told me no where nearby. She asked to see my hand, tongue and if I had the eczema anywhere other than on my hand. She then went and got a box of prepared medication and explained that it had a large number of the ingredients in my script as well as a few others. I wonder if it has the bugs. I bought 7 days worth of the medication from her as she suggested, but she also insisted that I have one day's worth on the spot, free of charge. She also made me a photocopy of a page from a book in Japanese that discussed the medication I bought. It remains to be seen whether it will be as potent as the bug juice.

The whole transaction in the herbalist's was so time consuming and confusing that I managed to leave with neither my pen nor cellphone. When I came back, she was out on the street and started waiving them at me as soon as I came into view.

In the lower left of this picture you can see a small stand that serves Turkish ice cream. The ice cream has a thick, stringy texture and the guy who runs the shop constantly churns it with long steel poles that have little shovel-like ends. He makes a show of lifting up long ropes of the ice cream with the poles.

After I retrieved my cellphone, I decided to get some ice cream. The proprietor is a big white dude and he has a trick he likes to play with his customers. He puts about half a scoop of ice cream on the cone with the pole so that the cone sticks to the pole. Then he makes some funny noises and reaches the pole down to the customer, as though offering the cone. When the customer reaches up, he exclaims "Ah, ha!" and twirls the pole so that the cone flips away and the customer grabs at the air. He does this a few times with each customer.

I stood in front of the shop and watched him do this with two customers in a row, so when it was my turn and he stuck the pole out at me, I just chucked weakly and didn't bother to take my hands out of my pockets. Despite the fact that he saw me standing there in front of him the whole time, he was incredulous and tried to get me to grab at the cone three or four times. Eventually, he filled the cone and handed it to me, still clearly annoyed.

The ice cream was quite good - not at all too sweet and with a slight taste of yogurt.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Cold milk

When I specified that wanted my milk cold, it was served on ice. I was dubious at first, but it was so good, I immediately ordered another. The green-tea muffin, by comparison, was only so-so.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Back up to pressure...

I finally found some decent bike shops. Getting directions here is nearly impossible given the language barrier and my unfamiliarity with the address system. Over the past days, I had chased down a few guys I saw on track bikes, but was never able to get any useful information by this means. Although, as I mentioned, one of them did draw some frustratingly large circles on my map, I didn't find anything when I rode around in the circles.

Luckily, however, I ran across this website that has the locations of a bunch of shops, two of which turned out to be right around the corner from me.

Neither of them specializes in track bikes but they both have lots of stuff that would have to be special ordered in North America. Via Cycles Village has a whole wall of colorful tires and some beautiful steel-lugged Italian frames in the 30,000円 range.

Gyro is a small, crowded shop with a glass case of rare parts and a jar on the counter full of bags of spoke nipples in about 12 different colors.

At Via Cycles, I bought a floor pump, so that don't have keep riding on the squishy 60 psi I was getting with the hand pump I carry in my bag.

I spent most of the day working in cafes, because there isn't desk in my apartment and typing at the coffee table is annoying. Finding a place with wi-fi was actually non-trivial.

Ken had told me that Seattle's Best has free wi-fi, so I went to their Japanese website and found one near me. I did this by plugging the addresses into Google Maps, which helped me determine the one nearest to me (大阪市北区芝田1丁目8−1) but gave me only a vague idea of where the shop actually was. (Go ahead, give it a try.)

Once I got to the general area, I started asking around but this was useless, because - as I found out when I finally found the place and read the sign (シアトルズベストコーヒー) - "Seattle's" is pronounced Shiatoruzu, and the chain is such a new arrival that no one has heard of it anyway. In desperation, I finally took out my laptop, got some dude's attention, pointed at the address and asked, "where is this?" Since this is one of the few things I am able to say perfectly, he just glanced at the screen, pointed to a nearby building and said "over there," which, luckily, is one of the few things I can also understand perfectly. Sure enough, it was in a sort of mall complex under that building.

Monday, September 3, 2007


Today was brutal. It was already hot when I met Ken at the nearest subway station at 8:30 and the heat and humidity seemed to get continuously worse as we ran errands all day. We dealt with the bank and the cell phone company in cool, air-conditioned offices, but most of the day was spent crisscrossing the campus of the University, filling out detailed forms and talking endlessly with scrupulous bureaucrats to find out what forms we had to use, how many copies they wanted and if they had English copies of the forms I actually had to sign. At the university, only individual work spaces were air-conditioned and the heat was oppressive as we went from office to office.

As an example of the elevated state of the bureaucracy, in order to get a library card I have to be accepted by the University as a "Visiting Research Scholar." As I understand it this is a mere formality, nevertheless, a recommendation must be must be made by the Dean to a full meeting of the faculty which will next convene in half a month's time. In order to receive the Dean's recommendation, we submitted a 10 page application, including a pledge by myself to uphold the confidentiality of certain unspecified materials that was written in a peculiar Legalese and must have been translated from Japanese Legalese. (Although, in due respect to good English prose, I will mention that it made better sense than some English Legalese I have read that was written by English speaking lawyers trained in English speaking schools of law.)

There were only two moments of excitement throughout the day. One was when I was choosing a new cell phone. All of the top-of-the-line models had features that I either didn't want or couldn't use, such as an over-sized screen for watching TV, a 5.5 megapixel camera, or a 10 gig hard drive for music that, unfortunately, only syncs with PCs. I picked out a terminal that - although modest by local standards - is pretty fly with a charcoal gray exterior and bright, metallic salmon inside the clamshell.

The other great thing was picking out the color of my bank card. They seemed to have anticipated how enjoyable this would be, because they had a large binder with 32 brightly colored cards all with amusing names - just in case you couldn't get a proper appreciation of the hue and saturation from the pictures in the brochure. Even the computer screen where you filled in the details of your account had a special drop-down menu specifically for choosing the color of the card. The choice was not easy as there were 4 or 5 colors that were really outrageous. Nevertheless, I settled on one called "Dreamy Purple." I'll admit the name also played a role in my deliberations.

Apparently, all banking is done by way of the card so that I can't even make an initial deposit before my card arrives in a week's time. So for now, I will have to keep my "settling-in" allowance - less my first month's rent, and other start-up costs - in cash in my apartment.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

My first apartment

Today was fairly uneventful - just some work and errands - so I'll say a bit about my apartment. If you cut and past my address (大阪市北区中崎1−2−6) into Google Maps, you can see my building (エスリード東梅田, Esuriido Hagashi-Umeda) by scaling to the second bar from the top. If you set the map to the "hybrid" setting by clicking the button in the upper right, the building will be conspicuous, because it's large for the area. (At the time of writing, Sep. 2 2007, the satellite image on Google Maps is out of date. The vacant lots to the left of my apartment building have now been "developed" into a strange roadway that I'll write about at somepoint.)

It's impossible from these photos to appreciate how tiny the apartment really is, because I can't ever get far enough away to take in the whole scene.

There are two "rooms" separated by a door that breaks up the space. The first room is really a hallway, along which all of the utilities are clustered.

The front door opens into a lowered area for leaving one's shoes, on the right of which is a washing machine behind a sliding door while on the left is a cupboard that serves as my pantry.

Once the raised flooring begins, there are four more stations that face each other in pairs across the hall. A little burner and sink faces the toilet closet, while the washroom sink faces a shower room.

The shower room has a bath in it, but the floor is water-proof and has a drain in the middle of it. Moreover, the door to the room is really a shower door, so you can just walk in there naked and get water all over the place. It's brilliant. (That little screen is a TV. I was hoping it was a screen for the intercom - you know, just in case I wanted to see who was at the front door while I was taking a bath.)

At the end of the hall there is a little step down into the other room that serves as a living and bedroom. (That screen on the phone is the actual intercom screen.)

Although the place is small, it's also very efficient. Notice how the lowest shelf for the dishes doubles as a drying rack.

Also, even though the suite has a washer, there is no dryer, since the clothes can be dried by hanging.

The door between the two rooms means that I can keep the room I'm writing in cool, but when I go into the kitchen to refill my glass of cold barley tea (mugi cha, 麦茶), I step into a stifling heat.

The appliances are generally useful and they motivate me to learn some household Kanji, but it's slow going. Take this rice cooker. The top button reads 予約, yoyaku, which mean "reservation." I have no idea what it means in this context. It just causes numbers to cycle from 1 through 14. The red light can show up in three settings. The first of which is 白米 (hakumai, "white rice"). I knew what that one meant because I knew each of the Kanji individually, but I had to look up the reading. (Theoretically, it might also have meant "white America," or "white American" since 米国, beikoku, means the US and 米人, beijin, is a somewhat old fashioned word for "American" - but I suppose we can rule these out based on context.)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Back to work... I guess

I woke up this morning around 8:30, which is early for me, if I'm not using an alarm clock. I puttered around the tiny apartment - did my laundry and cleaned up a bit.

Then I went to a nearby cafe to drink coffee and work on a book review. It was the first real work I've done in over a month, what with vacations and the move. It felt pretty good to get back to writing. I drank a few ice coffees and decided that the ice coffee here is generally better than the hot coffee. I stayed there until about 3 and then wound back through the covered arcades and narrow shopping streets that run along an elevated train track a few hundred meters to the west of my place.

The basic transportation layout of Osaka is to have a few large streets for cars, under which the subways generally run, interspersed with narrow streets and covered arcades, which are often only accessible by bicycle and on foot. The majority of residences are in huge apartment complexes that span a number of blocks.

When I got home I fixed a slow flat and then headed out to meet Ken for dinner at his place. On the way, I stopped to get a pair of jeans.

The place I went to had a western theme and was playing American music, but I had to use the little Japanese I know to communicate with them about the pants.

The woman who what helping me noticed that I had rolled up the bottom of the jeans and sent them out to be hemmed as a matter of course. It took us both some fumbling with words for me to find out what had happened and how long the hemming would take. In about 10 minutes, I was on my and there was no extra charge for the sewing.

I met Ken at the station near his place and we rode back to the apartment with his son, who is still using training wheels. We had a great meal, the main course of which was made with some of the pasta Ken had brought back from his recent trip to Italy.

I wish I had gotten some photos of the view from his apartment. It overlooks a sea of apartment complexes which surround a small prison.

After dinner, I picked up my bike from level 5 of the bicycle parking garage and headed home.

Now, after more than an hour of studying Japanese cell phone plans, calculator close to hand, I'm ready for bed and only marginally closer to having selected my plan.