In Kiribati, it’s already my birthday. Here in Tokyo, I’ve got to wait another three hours. Were I still in New Haven or Toledo, it’d be 17 hours. Back in Dallas or Rayne, it’s 18. Wherever you are, I’m getting old.
As a kid, of course, 18 was the goal age; that was the drinking age in Louisiana back then. Then Connecticut drinking laws intervened, and 21 became the marker to match. Now 26 shoves itself in my face. I’ve long postulated — and will now, for the next 730 days, defend to the death — the idea that 27 is the peak human age. Why? Because that’s when, statistically, baseball players peak: they still have all their physical skills, but they’ve also got the mental maturity for greatness. But that still gives me only two years to win a couple Pulitzers, become a rock star, and bring peace to the Middle East.
Then today, in a discussion session at the FPC, I learned from the wonderfully named Teddy Jimbo that businesses in Japan have something called the Rule of 38. You see, until age 38, you’re giving more to your employer than you’re getting — working long hours, often for little money, trying to climb that infernal ladder. But once you hit that magic number, the poles flip, your production drops, and you start earning more than you’re actually worth. (This is the excuse Japanese companies use to defend never hiring older workers — they figure they’d be paying for their senescence without having gotten the benefits of those early go-get-em years.) So maybe I’ve got a little time before my uphill climb turns into a downhill slide after all.
(And in case you’re wondering, there were only two 27-year-olds on the two World Series rosters. The Yankees had superstar shortstop Derek Jeter; the Diamondbacks could offer only mediocre backup first-baseman Erubial Durazo. How’d they do? The overrated Jeter had 62 postseason at-bats, but was horrible: only four RBI, an anemic .226 average, and a .275 on-base percentage. Noble Durazo, in contrast, used his 15 at-bats wisely: three RBI, a solid .333 average, and a .455 OBP. No wonder good triumphed over evil in the end.)


Just got a spam (“amazing new income opportunity!”) from My first thought at seeing that address: Of course! I can’t believe it’s taken this long for Microsoft and Playboy to launch a joint venture!

sunday in tokyo

There’s something oddly comforting about watching the World Series from your Tokyo hotel room. (Even more so when the Yankees lose.)
It’s Sunday, and I’ve devoted the day to doing as little as possible. It’s a lofty goal, but so far I’m doing a good job of achieving it. Yesterday was something of a washout, literally and figuratively: the rains started coming down in earnest mid-afternoon, which sent me and some of my colleagues scurrying for cover and, later, for the hotel. (Not before my leather jacket got soaked, alas. Any advice for dealing with sopping wet leather?)
Before the rain, we went to Meiji Shrine, a Shinto affair dedicated to Emperor Meiji (and Empress Shoken) after their deaths in the 1910s. (Although, like everything else in Tokyo, it was blown to bits during dainiji sekai taisen; it was rebuilt in 1958.) Saturday was ol’ Meiji’s 149th birthday, the Autumn Grand Festival, and Culture Day, a Japanese national holiday, so the place was packed. There were hundreds of little kids decked out in elaborate kimonos or traditional samurai outfits, their beaming parents walking beside them. (Kimono fact of the day: they can’t be cleaned by any traditional method. If a kimono becomes stained, it is taken apart, thread by thread, cleaned, then completely rewoven. It was a sloppy day, so I fear some serious unsewing was going on last night.)
Culture Day at Meiji Shrine means lots of yabusame (archery on horseback) and martial arts demonstrations. It also meant bumping into none other than Sakurako Tsuchiya, the sake brewer from a few days ago. She was selling her wares to the crowds. (Bonus Sakurako fact: she got a master’s in computer programming before becoming the country’s most celebrated sake brewer! Could she get any better?)

tokyo fun

If I’m going to pay $42 for dinner, I expect something more than a crappy buffet. And when there’s dessert — and at that price, damn it, there will be dessert — it shouldn’t be grey. This city is outrageously expensive; thank heavens I’m not picking up most of the tabs.

the diff’rent strokes

Life imitating crabwalk:
October 18, 2001, at “I’m also rooting for a long and productive career for these guys [New York band the Strokes], because that increases the likelihood there’ll someday be a cover band called the Diff’rent Strokes.”
November 2, 2001, at pitchfork’s music news column: “NME reported earlier this week that, with the insane hype following the band around the UK (it’s worse there than here, believe us), the Strokes have already inspired a cover band. Going by the downright shameful moniker of Diff’rent Strokes, the band apparently recreates all the 11 songs from Is This It (12, if you include “New York City Cops”) using a Casio-style keyboard. But Diff’rent Strokes are no run-of-the-mill Bjorn Again — they’ve got a record deal! The incredibly prestigious UK label Guided Missile (anyone? anyone?) will, according to a post to their webboard, release their debut album on December 3rd. Yay.”
I hope this will teach you all to listen to what I say very carefully. I can see the future. (And also, my apologies for the Internet-wide electron shortage, no doubt caused by the epic-poem length of my last post.)

still more japan

I’m of questionable consciousness right now — 8 p.m. has felt like 2 a.m. all week, and it’s 11:30 p.m. now — but I feel so guilty about not posting for two straight days that I’ll write anyway. (Plus, I’m on my again-functioning laptop, so I don’t have to do the touchtype-bob-and-weave on a Japanese keyboard. Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to put the @ where the ] should be [unshifted, even!], or the apostrophe at shift-7?)
Thursday morning: A visit to Osaka Castle, a “centuries-old” building that, like many “ancient” Japanese structures, has been rebuilt so many times that it’s tough to call it old. (Earthquakes and American bombing runs have eliminated most of the really old stuff over the years.) The castle’s interior is modern and pretty well done; my favorite part was a series of holograms telling the story of Toyotomi Hideyoshi‘s ascent to power. Really sophisticated holograms, but they were being projected into these little shoebox dioramas that looked like something a third grader might put together. (Plus, I couldn’t look at them without thinking: “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.“)
Thursday afternoon: Drove to Kyoto, where we met with fellow journalists from the Kyoto Shimbun newspaper. When we met the three reporters we’d be talking with, I realized one reason I, as a rule, like reporters: we’re easy to pick out of a crowd. Put these three guys in a police lineup, and I could peg them not only as reporters, but as specific types of reporters. The guy in the suede jacket with the shaggy hair: theater critic. The rolled-up sleeves, intense look, tiny cell phone: financial reporter. The guy with the conservative suit, the earnest do-gooder look: city hall reporter. All nice folks. Actually, everyone I’ve met in the last week would fall in that “nice folks” category. There’s something to be said for a country where that’s the case.
Then it was off to Kiyomizu Temple, where three mini-waterfalls dispense water that will make you brilliant, handsome, or long-living, depending which one you drink. I drank none, which I suppose makes me dumb, ugly, and ready to keel over at any moment.
Did you know that in Japanese hotel rooms, instead of Gideon bibles, you get a book called The Teaching of Buddha? Did you also know that air conditioning here is more like, um, air suggestion? Climate hinting instead of climate control? I called the front desk at 1 a.m. when it was sweltering hot to ask if there was anything unusual I needed to do to get the AC to work properly. “Open a window,” came the reply.
Friday morning: Kyoto was the only major Japanese city that didn’t get turned to rubble by American bombs in World War II, and as a result it has more real historic sites than anywhere else in the country. (If you ever want your faith in the punitive power of American military might strengthened, just come to Tokyo and search for anything pre-1945. When we feel like unleashing hell, by gum, we do quite a job.) Kyoto was also Japan’s capital for 1,000 years — 72 emperors worth, plus a whole bunch of shoguns — and the result is old building overload. 1,600 Buddhist temples! 400 Shinto shrines!
It’s also the most popular tourist destination in Japan. (Actually, it was until two years ago, when horror of horrors, Tokyo Disneyworld passed it.) This fact, like many others, came from our tour guide, a compact little woman whose name I never got but who brought us from temple to temple to temple today with a Mussolini-like efficiency. Things I learned:
– Some Buddhist temples are in such need of cash for repairs that they’re converting upper floors to condos. Yep, condos. (Wonder if late-night chant sessions downstairs hurt those property values.)
– Shinto has a god of divorce; pray to him/her/it when that bad relationship just won’t end.
– Being called Benton-san is pretty damned cool. (Actually, I learned this on Day 1, at the airport.)
– The Japanese love Thomas Edison, because he once endorsed the use of Kyoto bamboo in building construction. The Japanese also love Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and sing it en masse every winter.
– The geisha industry is dying out because Japanese businessmen don’t have expense accounts like they used to. The average age of a Kyoto geisha: 62.
– Events marked on your itinerary as “kimono fashion show” are invariably less interesting than they seem, involving in this case five young models on the catwalk and eight bored tourists forming their “audience.”
After a while, Buddhist temples do start to blend together, like cathedral fatigue in Europe. But three buildings were quite nice. The Golden Pavilion was lovely (and swamped, like all of these places, by schoolchildren — Japanese schools seem to be on permanent field trips, judging by the presence of the wee ones everywhere you turn). It looks nice and ancient until you learn the whole place was built in 1958, eight years after a crazed apprentice monk took a torch to the original. When I heard that, I thought that’d make for a great opening scene for a book or a movie; as the link above shows, my brilliant idea has already been taken.
Nijo Castle was pretty amazing; it’s where the shoguns held court for centuries. The floors were specially rigged with springs that squeak when walked on, to warn the shogun of any approaching assassins. Unlike most old buildings, it’s actually the same structure that was built four hundred years ago — same wooden floors, same paintings on the walls, same everything. It’s also the place where the Meiji Restoration took place and the shogun transfered power back to the emperor in 1868; being five feet from the spot where the transfer took place was, to use inappropriate language, very cool. (Call me weird, but the fact that we had to take off our shoes in the building also made it seem strangely intimate — only my socks were between me and the floorboards the shogun once walked!)
Okay, I’m clearly getting delirious — I’ll shut up soon.
Finally, we went to Sanjusangendo Temple, which is the longest wooden structure in the world and is filled with more than 1,000 golden Buddhas. Quite overwhelming, really — it’s hard to describe, but that’s a lotta Buddha.
A couple of final highlights from Kyoto (which I highly recommend, by the way — it’s my favorite part of the trip so far): Kyoto Station, the train station downtown, is architecturally amazing. I have a very limited architectural vocabulary even when fully conscious — I usually start off saying something about how a building “creates interesting negative space” or some such nonsense, before descending into “it’s neat” — so I won’t try to tell you why, but poke around some photos of the concourse to see for yourself. (They