This was the first day that I felt even minimally OK physically-- that is, my back still hurts and I can't walk a block or up a flight of stairs at a normal walking pace without getting short of breath and coughing for ten minutes-- so what I mean is, this is the first time since I got here that I've even felt more-or-less all right when I'm sitting still.

Leaving first thing tomorrow. Goddammit.

Um, you can still comment, as "first thing" is liable to translate into "after checking my email and LJ.

Today I went shopping, the perfect activity as I could stand in one place as much as I liked and drift about slowly when I was moving. I went to Nakano broadway, a giganto shopping mall mostly devoted to anime memorabilia but also selling T-shirts emblazoned with amusingly fractured English. (No doubt just like the ridiculous kanji emblazoned on the shirts of people who have no idea they're walking around in a shirt that says something like "Dragon happiness pleases all customers." I'd already bought one that read,

The falling out of lovers is the
of love.

Proof wins over argument.

(The last line is repeated mirror-imaged and upside down beneath it.) It took me two weeks to figure out that "Rene Wing" is not a proper name. I'd decided that he made black and white indie films in which aimless people drift through sorrowful cityscapes. Possibly the unacknowledged bastard of Isadora Wing's second husband, Bennett Wing, by some French woman.

The shirts I bought today were sort of like that, but I'm not wearing them so I forget exactly what they say. One's for me (it has a gnomic phrase about Los Angeles), one's for my Dad (it has a long message about world peace, then concludes with something like "Cute girl is hopefulness," only funnier than that, and one's for [ profile] tweedkitten, who also got a pair of panties. (The first time I've ever bought underwear for anyone other than myself.) They have an amusing message, but not "cupcake."

I also acquired a silver-colored Trading Arts Ed Elric with blade-arm-- REALLY COOL-looking-- a cheapo figure of Misato from a vending machine, non-trading arts Hughes (at a phone!), non-trading arts Al (finally!), non trading arts Riza Hawkeye, two chibi Hawkeyes (will trade one), two chibi Scars (will trade one), also from vending machines, Asuka in her Eva suit (I have a mostly hate-hate relationship with that anime, but I like the characters and I guess it sort of got under my skin, because I kept feeding hundred yen coins into the Eva vending machine, and some gifts. I saw something which immediately made me think, "OMG [ profile] rushthatspeaks would love these!" So I bought them. Tell me if you already have them or not, because if you do I'd be perfectly willing to keep them for myself: a set of small plastic Hikaru no Go figures-- Hikaru, Sai, Akira, um... a schoolgirl, a guy in traditional Japanese dress, and a boy with brown hair.

To my regret, I saw virtually no plushies of any kind and no merchandise from a bunch of my favorite shows. However, my desire to have an enormous collection of Fullmetal Alchemist figurines and teeny plastic models of food has been largely satisfied. At least until they bring out Trading Arts 3.

Last night I had one of my best times since I got here, dinner at the house of the friend of a friend of my traveling companions, with them and her utterly adorable bouncy genki tomboy seven-year-old manga fan daughter. We had to go way out into the boonies of southern suburban Tokyo, but it was so worth it. We had requested "a simple dinner-- don't put yourself out," which, as I expected, was interpreted as "serve a banquet of simple, home-style dishes and break out the alcohol."

We had niku jaga (usually a stew, but in this case, just the boiled contents but not the liquid), tonkatsu (fried pork) on skewers with onions, green beans with bacon, minced chicken-and-onion patties, and finished with rice with nori (dried seaweed), salmon, and salmon eggs. The alcohol included the best sake I've had yet, Tateyama, which was smooth as water and did not give me a hangover, even though I had quite a bit of that plus a glass each of two Japanese beers, Yebisu and Kirin. Rice crackers, garlic-roasted pistachios (from the guests), goldfish crackers, and crispy pea-pods were the with-the-drinks snacks, and strawberry and whipped cream cake (also from the guests-- my pick) was for dessert.

When I was taken upstairs to see the daughter's bedroom and manga, she showed me her two favorite flufy stuffed animals, with names that I forget the exact words for but were basically Blackie and Whitie. They looked mostly like bunnies, but could have been lambs, so I said, "Are those rabbits (usagi?)" At least, that's what I meant to say. What actually emerged from my mouth, thanks to the sake and all, was "Are those eels (unagi?)" She just about busted a gut.

The day before that, my last in Kyoto, I walked down the Philosopher's Path, a woodsy path along a canal, with cherry petals falling about me, to two of my favorite temples, Nennaji and Engakuji. I think they're both more spectacular in the fall, but there were flowers blooming and a small waterfall I hadn't noticed before, if it's not a seasonal thing. It was sunny and beautiful and the first time I'd made it more than four blocks out of the hotel. And then I had to catch a train to Tokyo.

I meant to have some sort of conclusion here, but my time is running out for the session and I have none. I guess it hasn't been a very conclusive trip.
Literally. Me, next year, my tax guy, my taxes-- it's a date. (The only one I'm sure of having next year.) I've been sick with something or other virtually the entire time, and since there's been no improvement with whatever horrible virus I have right now after a week of mostly lurking in my hotel room and only emerging for food, I have a feeling I'm not going to be better till I get back. Possibly some time after I get back. I suspect a particularly nasty form of bronchitis.

Yesterday I made it two blocks out of the hotel, to an Edo-period house called "The Sumiya House" which is all wood and the only surviving building of its kind-- a high-class entertainment facility for geisha and samurai and really successful merchants. I got sucked into being part of a tour conducted entirely in Japanese, which mostly sounded like this: "...Five hundred seventy years... Edo... three hundred forty-six years... Tokugawa... geisha... Sumiya.... Two hundred ninety years... samurai... three things... Genpei... Sumiya... One piece of wood... Five hundred forty years... Sumiya... pine tree... up to two hundred years... sakura."

Every now and then the guide would say something utterly incomprehensible, and the ladies I was with would all gasp and exclaim, "Wow! Incredible! Fantastic! I never knew that before!"

At the first of two lovely indoor gardens, I was trying so hard not to have a coughing fit that my eyes watered. I think the lady beside me thought I was overcome by the beauty of the sakura and the pine tree, which might or might not have been up to two hundred years old.

The other garden was meant to be viewed from a room which had a painting of Fuji-san. Here occurred the only times when the guide got the women to exclaim "Wow! Amazing!" that I understood: A beam along the ceiling consists of a single piece of wood. A piece of the floor and a pillar are made of pine from a single tree and each are in one piece. And (this one made me gasp) if you sit on the right place on the floor beside the Fuji painting and look out into the garden, a rock appears exactly the shape of Fuji-san. If you stand up, it just looks like a rock.

Also, there was a sword rack (I could read that kanji) and the guide did a little mime of guests leaving their swords. I think, but I'm not positive, that he said that the staff member who took the sword attached a little tag to it with the name of the owner, and put another tag in a drawer so the swords could be matched with their owners later.

That was all I could manage for the day. After that I retreated to the hotel room to continue my routine of lying in bed with a box of tissues and my laptop (the hotel has wireless). Unfortunately, I'm not up to the level of sustained concentration it would take to write something more complex than little journal entries, so the particular tax write-off this trip will be is going to be "Trip undertaken for business purposes (ie, Anime Expo, writing research; failed due to filer's illness; no income generated.)
I am now in the Sanki ryokan, in a part of Kyoto quite near the last place I was staying at but with a far more "old town" atmosphere. Ryokans tend to have extremely steep stairs, often partially spiraling, and very narrow hallways with multiple sharp turns. I suppose disabled people had to be carried up and down the stairs if that's typical for old-style Japanese houses, or else mostly kept to their rooms. There's no way you could get a wheelchair up those stairs, or navigate them on crutches.

The halls are wooden but the rooms have tatami mats, and you take off your shoes at the front door and switch them for slippers, then take off your slippers before entering the rooms. My room is a six-tatami-mat room-- seriously, that's how room size is counted-- which I would call moderate-sized to smallish by American standards, but ever so much nicer than anything you'd get for 44 dollars a night in any part of the US I've ever visited. The closets are roomy, but one is entirely filled with spare bedding.

The doors are like shoji screens, but frosted sliding glass. There's a small TV and telephone, a table with cushions to sit on, a futon, a small watercolor of a waterfall, two unusual framed pictures of multicolored cranes (symbolizing happiness, someone told me) against a black background-- I think they're cloth, not painted-- and a large frame wall scroll with calligraphy I can't read. I have been asking people to read kanji for me, but unfortunately most of the time I can't understand their explanations.

Kanji are the two thousand or so pictographs borrowed from the Chinese. Correct me if I'm wrong, but each has a Chinese and a Japanese pronunciation, and you're generally supposed to know which is which from context-- there's no hard-and-fast rules. And by pronunciation, I mean that, say, the kanji for mountain can be read as "san" or "yama" and the kanji for big can be read as "dai" or "o." So if the name of a mountain or a person's name is written as "Big Mountain," you just have to know if it's pronounced Daisan or Osan or Daiyama or Oyama. There are also two fifty-symbol syllabic alphabets, katakana (mostly but not always used for words borrowed from other languages) and hiragana (mostly but not entirely for words of Japanese origin. Plus words are not separated in sentences-- you're just supposed to know where they begin and end.

This sometimes seems like a plot to drive foreigners insane and make them skulk around alleys muttering about the impossibility of ever understanding Japan or Japanese people unless you're Japanese. I think the difficulty of the written language has a lot to do with how frequently people say that-- it rubs your foreignness in your face. Whereas when foreigners experience culture clashes in India, where far more people speak English far more fluently and where the written alphabet is fairly easy to learn, foreigners don't tend to feel, as they do about Japan, that there is a secret system that the natives know but won't tell. Instead, they frequently think that there's no system and that the country and its inhabitants are inherently beyond human understanding.

Whereas I think that everything has an explanation of some sort which probably does not involve a culture-wide conspiracy, but that sometimes things don't make obvious sense because of language barriers, cultural barriers, because the person you're talking to is a prankster or a lunatic, or something like that. Today, for instance, my cold came very close to convincing an innocent Japanese lady that foreigners are insane, or at least that I was.

A ryokan is not the greatest place to lie abed all day in-- the owners want to come in and fold up your bed and put it in the closet-- so I ventured outside with the intention of drinking coffee until they were done, then returning and unfolding it. But there was no nearby coffee shop, so I wandered about very slowly, admiring the old-style wooden houses with their tiled roofs and pots of flowers put out for spring. There's a magnificent old gate near the ryokan-- it looks just like a temple gate, and I suspect is all that remains of some old temple-- so I had no fear of wandering down alleyways, figuring that all I had to do was say "Which way is the gate/the OLD gate?" to get pointed back in the right direction.

(The word for gate is mon. I know this because of Fullmetal Alchemist. If you watch the entire series subtitled, you too will know how to say gate in Japanese by the time you're through.)

(I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but most of these little streets have neither names nor numbers, so you have to navigate by landmarks and ferociously detailed maps.)

Finally I located a coffee shop, and had a cup of coffee and a slice of sponge cake layered with green tea-flavored mousse and fresh whipped cream. It was an odd little shop, with gourmet pastries clearly made elsewhere, a juice bar, and three tables with chairs set into the floor with round steel plaques and supported by a single black pillar; the seats were battered squares of white plastic, and the backs were steel bars bent into half-circles. I'm probably not describing them well, but they looked quite strange, like a mutant diner set. On the juice bar was a minimalist ikebana of an orange sunflower, a green sprig taller than the flower, and a single blade of long grass that curled round to almost meet the table top. I'm certain that the elderly man puttering about the shop did it himself. Across from the tables was a baby grand piano, covered in cloth and not looking much used, and atop it was a large stuffed Winnie the Pooh and two motorcycle helmets.

I do not have an explanation for that, but I'm sure that one does exist.

Refreshed, I returned to poking through the alleys. While admiring the trio of tiny shrines set among the spring flowers and sakura trees in one, a woman hopped off and parked her bicycle right in front of me. She had an adorable teeny weeny fluffy snowball Pomeranian entirely filling a basket between the handlebars, and attached to the dog's topknot was a little blue dangle charm like people put on their cellphones.

"That's a very cute dog," I remarked to the woman.

She stared at me like I was completely nuts, then said, "It's all right! Really, it's all right."

I stared at her like she was completely nuts. Then, remembering that my cold has been tampering with my speaking voice, I enunciated more carefully, "Cuuuute!"

"Oh!" said the lady. "Yes, he's cute. Um, thank you!"

Cute: Kawaii

Scary: Kowaii

After having some ramen at a greasy spoon (I ordered off the hiragana menu on the wall and ignored the few kanji, but I don't think I missed much since what I got was what everyone was having) I got suckered into buying more randomly boxed action figures at a 7-11, since the choices on the back of the box looked so bizarre. I have now looked up the name of the show or whatever it's for "Otoko no tashinami" but only found references to the figures, so am totally unenlightened.

They're sort of like Edward Hopper meets one of those futuristic movies where everyone wears jumpsuits. In one of them, a man in an orange jumpsuit appears to be puking into a toilet, and a man in a yellow jumpsuit is bending over him from behind to either comfort or molest him. In the other, a woman in a dress is passed out on a sofa, and the yellow jumpsuit guy is holding out a glass with either a hangover remedy or more Rohypnol.

Um... what the hell... can someone enlighten me? Are these from a show? Are they supposed to be Rorshach tests? And what does the title mean?

The truth is out there. And I hope it's on LJ.
I just arrived in Kyoto, where the sakura, defying all tradition, is still blooming. Whee! Sorry for everyone who`s sick of hearing about it, though.

Yesterday when I arrived at ryokan near Yanaka, I discovered that it was run by three completely batty old ladies, as ryokans seem wont to be. After twenty minutes of them babbling hysterically at me in Japanese and ignoring everything I was saying (and I am POSITIVE that I was explaining things correctly) I had to call the New Koyo and get the desk clerk to translate. So I left a note for Don and Greg, the friends I was to meet there, and went out, having explained to the batty ladies that my two friends would be arriving shortly. I returned to find the batty ladies babbling hysterically at Don and Greg, who both had virtual neon signs over their heads reading `When is Rachel going to get here.?`

I convinced the ladies we should be allowed into our rooms, and then we went for dinner in an izakaya. Great food; very smoky; a raucous party of salarymen and one office lady next to us got more drunk than I@ve seen since college. One guy was leaning on a post for support. Two others had to walk each other out. One guy had his pants completely unzipped! Thank God they have public transportation in Japan.

The next night we went out with a friend of a friend of Don`s and three of her girlfriends. More great food, and great company. The main friend, Yayoi, explained that she had called the ryokan to try to confirm our dinner meeting but the `strange obaasans` (aunties, I think) kept demanding that she refer to us by our room numbers,which of course she didn:t know, rather than names. This mornign one of the obaasans greeted me (in Japanese) with `Good morning, number eight.`
Yesterday I went to one of my favorite places in Japan, Kita-Kamakura. It's one stop north of the more famous temple town of Kamakura, but gets fewer tourists and so has a far more mellow atmosphere and no tourist-trap tacky souvenier stands. There's a main road lined with temples, old-fashioned tiled-roof houses with traditional Japanese gardens, a little brook, and a handful of shops. You can walk down the road into Kamakura, visiting temples as you go. I had intended to do just that, but the first Zen temple I visited, Enrakuji (the first kanji is the one for "en" or "yen"-- easy to recognize) was so big and so lovely and had such a peaceful atmosphere that by the time I left, it was night and time to go back to Tokyo.

I had been to Enrakuji before, on my first trip to Japan. There were monks practicing kyudo (Japanese archery, and a form of "moving meditaton") in the garden. I didn't see those monks, but I did see their targets stashed away for the day. Kyudo is a type of kata, or set form: there is a correct way to pick up the bow, to lift the bow, to draw back the arrow, to stand and to shoot. Doing that correctly is more important than hitting the target.

I think that a lot of the old arts of Japan are based around kata of various kinds, and there are still a few hold-overs. The tea ceremony is a form of kata: it's making tea, then drinking it and eating little dumplings and admiring the tea bowls, but there is a proper way to do every single thing that you do once you enter the tea house. You can think of it as slavery to an arbitrary set of rules, or as a sophisticated art/performance form, or as a communal activity, or as a way of making yourself pay attention to each moment at a level that we just don't do in ordinary life. And within that set form is individual expression, beyond just levels of perfection and technical expertise.

To put it in terms that I, at least, am more familiar with, martial arts have kata: set forms in which a single person performs techniques against an imaginary opponent or opponents. They are the same moves in the same order with a set rhythm, but even among people at the same skill level with similar body types, the katas do not look exactly the same. My Bassai Dai is not Don's Bassai Dai is not Jackie's Bassai Dai.

Even now, to write Japanese correctly, you have to make the strokes in the correct order and starting from the correct side; you can't just draw the shapes, the way in English it doesn't matter how you draw the letters as long as they look the way the letters should look. In Japanese writing, the process is as important, or more important, than the product. Also, if you use the wrong stroke order, even if it looks right to you, people who can write correctly will be able to see that just copied the image of the letter rather than really writing it.

I climbed a trail at Enrakuji up a hill, passing a hollowed bamboo cup holding rain water, a mossy statue of Buddha with bees buzzing around it, and another, tiny statue with a bamboo cup holding a single red flower. At the top of the trail was a man playing a flute, and a monk in robes, and two women in kimono, and a handful of visitors. Next thing I knew, I was being seated for an impromptu tea ceremony overlooking a view of the entire temple complex and a snow white cherry tree. The tea was matcha, whipped bright green tea in a red bowl, and atop the bean paste bun was a preserved cherry blossom.
Yesterday I went to the used book district of Jinbocho and poked around an entire street of used bookshops, most of them packed so closely with tottering dusty stacks that I had to turn sideways to squeeze between them. Most of them, unfortunately, in Japanese, although there were a lot of old-- very old, like from the 30s and 40s-- English magazines with covers about the new sensation the Beatles, or Grace Kelly, or Winston Churchill. I eventually found an English bookshop and bought a few hard-to-find children's books, which I will eventually have to ship back along with a lot of other stuff to avoid hauling it all around.

At the very end of the street I saw a huge torii, and walking toward it I discovered that Jinbocho adjoins the Imperial Gardens. There was a moat lines with-- of course-- exquisite blooming cherry trees, the branches sweeping low to almost touch the still green water. People were holding their cell phones up to the branches as if serving as operators for the trees' messages. What they were actually doing, I should explain, was taking photographs-- the cell phones are also cameras. So I followed the cherry trees along the river until my feet wore out and it got too dark to see them except as floating ghosts, and then I took a subway back. I have gotten much more confident about wandering around Tokyo randomly now that I can read-- there's always a subway station somewhere nearby, and in fact I have yet to get seriously lost.

While switching subways I wandered through the kimono department of a department store, and ogled kimonos priced between five thousand and eighty thousand dollars-- the latter displayed in a small traditional teahouse. The shopkeepers called wlecomes to me, and I really wished I knew how to say "I'm just looking, and don't worry, I will not try to touch." I caught sight of myself in the mirror-- parka tied around my waist, windblown hair with bits of straw in it from where I'd snoozed in the park, shirt with soy sauce stains-- and felt a more thorough ragamuffin than ever.

I am really looking forward to the flea market on Sunday, when I will obtain a lovely kimono jacket or two for myself, at one percent of the original price.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Apr. 6th, 2005 09:53 am)
I spent yesterday in Shinjuku park under the cherry trees with a bento box lunch with at least twenty separate elements, many mysterious and few downright weird, a soda, a strawberry-blueberry shortcake (Western and particularly French pastries are done wonderfully in Japan), and Pawn in Frankincense, along with what seemed like half of Tokyo. But the park is big, so it wasn't unpleasantly crowded, just filled with a sense of communal happiness. A bunch of kids were hurling bits of rice crackers and popcorn at some very overfed koi and turtles, with their parents hanging on to the backs of their shirts to make sure they didn't tip into the pond.

Spoilers for first two-thirds of Pawn in Frankincense

Read more... )
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Apr. 5th, 2005 08:42 am)
While returning from the clinic (back problem acting up), which was right at the base of Tokyo Tower, I saw a sign pointing to a train station and began following it rather than retracing my steps to the subway. I never did find the train station and had to take a different subway back, but I did walk smack into a beautiful temple which I'd never heard of-- Zojoji, I think-- which was having some kind of celebration. All the rows and rows of gray granite Jizo statues with their little red cloth bibs and hats had been given mutlicolored pinwheels, spinning in the chilly breeze. Even the statue of Kannon (the Merciful Goddess) had a pinwheel. The gray stone tombs, of Tokugawa-era people if I understood the Japanese-speaking guide correctly, had bunches of fresh flowers. Stands were set up with people selling bento boxes and takoyaki (octopus balls) and knickknacks, and tables for people to sit around and eat and look at the cherry trees, which were blooming like flurries of snow frozen in mid-air.

I have been doing an accidental tour of all the sites featured in X/1999-- Tokyo Tower, the Yamanote Line (the Palm of Buddha), the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, and my trip to Tokyo Big Site for the anime fair, via the entirely automated elevated train, passed under Rainbow Bridge. Also, while at a park I saw a gnarled old tree that looked exactly like the Sakurazukamori's deadly cherry tree, although I think it was actually another species. But lo, the cherries which bloomed around it were bright pink with their victims' blood! Or, you know, maybe just of the bright pink variety.

I have been browsing manga, which sometimes has English titles, subtitles, or blurbs. Thus I have been made aware of "Deadly Machine of Snipe," which is about a sniper, and "Jesus," which is about a bishonen assassin named Jesus. The back cover helpfully explains that although he is named Jesus, he is actually a deadly machine of snipe-- no, sorry, those are not actually the same books. He's just an ordinary deadly bishonen assassin who happens to be named Jesus.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Apr. 1st, 2005 04:34 pm)
Learning to read hiragana has paid off. I was able to read the labels on food in the 7-11, and so realized that one of the six types of hot buns was filled with sweet black bean paste. Delicious! Pretending that I was a totally ignorant foreigner who had no clue that it's declasse to eat and walk, I inhaled it on the way to the train station. Due to jet lag I was able to leave early, allowing the usual hour to get lost in Tokyo. But between having been here twice before and now being able to read a bit, I did not get lost and ended up whiling away an hour in a coffee shop when I arrived before the Anime Fair opened. The way to get there, incidentally, turned out to be a new elevated train line past a giant ferris wheel and along the bay.

Though the fair was lots of fun, I don't think it would have been a worthwhile business trip if I hadn't been in Japan already. If I'd been there as a delegate from a big company, I could have set up meetings in advance, but it turned out to be quite difficult, if not impossible, to schmooze on the fly. I may have found some good artists, but I'm hoping the pickings will be better tomorrow, when it's open to the public. It did not help that I discovered that I grabbed the wrong business cards, and my company on them is my utterly non-entertainment-related day job company. I had no idea what to say when a guy from Studio Pierrot started asking about it, and I think he thought I was an imposter.

Also, everyone but me was in a formal suit-- well, everyone but the people in giant anime animal suits, one of whom wandered over and attempted to interact with me in a horrifyingly adorable manner. I did duck into a bathroom and put on some lipstick in the hope of looking more respectable, but I think that just made me look like a ragamuffin with lipstick. I was reminded of the conversation I had with my friend Halle a while back, when I asked her if she thought that if I ever became moderately famous I might be regarded as a rumpled sex symbol, like Neil Gaiman. Halle, who is the most loyal person in the universe, responded "Absolutely!" Beat. "And you're not rumpled."

However, considering that on my last business trip, the one where I went to New York in October to meet my publisher and arrived without a jacket, my cell phone, enough money to pay my cab fare, or an ATM card that worked in NYC ATMs, but with two bottles of red nail polish, I think I'm doing OK.

I did get in to see a screening of "Yakitate" in Japanese without subtitles. A small boy, who looked six but might have been supposed to be older, meets a baker whose dream is to be the best baker in Japan. The boy turns out to have an incredible natural gift for bread-making. When he kneads dough, his hands glow gold. He bakes bread for his grandfather which is so wonderful that the old man imagines himself the Pope and surfing on a giant slice of toast. Then the boy joins a baking school where everyone is ten years older than him and he's mocked but he will persevere!

At least, I think that's what happened. It was pretty funny, and I enjoyed it. I could have seen a screening of "Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo," but [ profile] rushthatspeaks had warned me that it was the worst anime ever made and about intelligent nose hair, so I didn't.

After the bread show, I went to Ueno Park in the hope of seeing cherry blossoms, but all but a few trees were bare. Full bloom was supposed to be April 3, but I guess the trees jumped the gun. So I did not get to have a tragic love meeting beneath the trees, as would have been traditional, or even get drunk and have a picnic, which is also traditional. So I kept walking until I found a lake, and saw that the weeping willows are also lovely in spring.
... but I haven't had time to do anything yet other than check in to my hotel, and am going to bed after finishing this email, so I'm just writing to let everyone know that I arrived safely.

The flight was uneventful except that my overhead light didn't work. When I informed the stewardess of this, she informed me that the lights had been wired backward so that if I wanted to turn mine on, I would have to ask the person two rows ahead of me to hit his button. And, indeed, I saw then that every time I'd been turning mine on and off, trying to get it to work, I'd been flashing the person two rows behind me. I think they should have made an announcement to this effect, because lights were flashing on and off the whole trip as people tried to figure this out, and finally the stewardesses went around taping emergency crash pamphlets over everyone's lights. (I know this sounds like something that would happen on Air India, but it was actually Northwestern.)

Other than that the only moment of note was when the woman sitting next to me asked me in Japanese if I spoke Japanese. At least, that's what I thought she said, and so I replied that I spoke a little and had been studying it by myself. Five minutes after she giggled and turned away, I realized that what she had actually said was "Are you going to Japan for work or on vacation?"

I seem to have made it in time for the cherry blossoms; the streets are decked about with celebratory pink plastic blooms. Last year it was celebratory red maple leaves. I wonder if there's any time when they're not putting up seasonal decorations.


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