Saturday, February 28, 2004


This one is just for Mr. Schrock.

Pas d'armure 

Tonight I did some very light dinner MP3Jing with Midori at the Pink Cow's new location in Aoyama. It was really a blast! She did a kind of moody, beat-oriented electronica set, working in something by Hypo at one point. I mostly played French hip-hop, which was really funny because as soon as I started my set, I noticed that a group of French people had just been seated right in front of me! One among them, a rail-thin, Gapish, twentysomething with a thin, frizzy afro asked me who it was I was playing after he couldn't identify a particular track. I told him it was TTC, a pretty cool group now in Paris. He said that he was French, and that he had never heard of them. I told him that I wasn't French, and that I had. I don't think he followed my logic is has pink cow is stuck on you. (Hi, Roddy!) I think that I'll try and do the same thing again soon with her at some of my other favorite spots around town. Will keep you posted.

Friday, February 27, 2004

The boys are back in town! 

Drinks with Tadashi Usami, Roddy Schrock and Hideki on Thursday night in Shinjuku at a place that was very 'bubble jidai' if you know what i mean. We had a good time chatting about various things. Here are some of the topics that were brought up: California, cheap colleges vs expensive ones, having no memory of THE infamous CalArts Halloween Party, Rem Koolhaas, music and music critics, Japanese food, 'on za raisu', painters and musicians, Feldman's relationship to Webern, Roland Barthes' drawings, OSC, women.

Thursday, February 26, 2004


この間、カフカの最大傑作「城」を読み終えた。未完成の作品ながら、意味深長である。 しかし、彼の作品を丁寧に読まないと、「カフカ的」という言葉を使う権利は全くないなあと気づいた。 なぜかと聞かれたら、カフカの胸に疑心暗鬼を生じさせたのは、やっぱり簡潔に要約することの出来ない「現代生活の慌ただしさ」じゃないかと答える。 だからこそ、カフカ作品の登場人物を理解したいならば、熟読して、「鵺的存在」の些細な事まで非理知的に経験して、段々と身に付けるしかない。 これが読者にとっては、実存主義の文学の最大の命令かもしれない。 因みに、現実についての隠喩と言えば、ラテン語の諺「IN VINO VERITAS」(酒に事実あり)がある。 意味の通りで、飲まないと実際に何も分からないから、私見では出来るだけ、ぐいぐい飲んだ方がいい。 ところで、付き合う程度の酒をよく飲む日本人には非常に分かり易い考えだと思う。 でも、他方では「一杯は人酒を飲む、二杯酒酒を飲む、三杯酒人を飲む」という日本語の諺もあるらしい。 なるほど。 じゃあ、挑戦するなら、きつい現実に飲まれないように。 失敗したら、迎え酒は翌日に。

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Deep Thoughts 

If o.blatt (Keiko Uenishi) and o.lamm had a child, would it be called o.blamm? Or perhaps au.lait? Sorry for this o.blique posting today...I've just been thinking about Japan and France today, so I suppose this HAD to happen.

Saturday, February 21, 2004


...are a few of the words that O'lamm has chosen to use in the titles of some of his posting on his blog for the month of Feb. HAPPINESS is also another word that he used, but I wonder just how much of that there is...Are you OK, O'lamm?

Friday, February 20, 2004

These things happen... 

I hadn't seen Roddy in I guess half a year or so. Last time that was in Tokyo to do a show with Momus and Digiki. Anyway, he had just arrived in Tokyo, and so we met in Nakameguro for coffee this afternoon. I was a little groggy after sleeping off a hangover, but I was able to arrive at Giggle Cafe without being too late. After drinking espresso we decided to cafe hop over to another place, one of my favorites, and one whose name I won't give here. Why? Well, to quote the disclaimer that appears in every Lonely Planet Guidebook...

'Although inclusion in a guidebook usually implies a recommendation, we cannot list every good place. Exclusion does not necessarily imply criticism. In fact there are a number of reasons why we might exclude a place - sometimes it is simply inappropriate to encourage an influx of travellers.'

I wish more bloggers would understand the importance of this idea.

Anyway, after settling in with fresh cups of coffee, we really got to down to business. Here is a (non-exhaustive...see above quote) list, in more or less chronologial order, of the things we mused over:

Friendster, worldwide pedagogical dispositions in computer music, the nature of collaborations and the art of saying NO, pornography in America, Europe and Japan with a special focus on 'mosaics' in Japanese AV, Derrida, the origins of, and variations in musical minimialism, the music of Ryoji Ikeda as perceived in LA, Paris, Tokyo and The Hague, collecting vs curating as an ideological basis for living, Momus - 'special' topics, Tujiko Noriko, 'cozy' cafes in Amsterdam and Tokyo, spirituality in the work of Bill Viola, ramen as hiphop, friendship...

Mr. Schrock will be in Japan until the beginning of next month, and although he has a busy schedule ahead of him, I hope to take up as much of his time as possible. Already I envy his presence in Tokyo, since he is having tasty ramen with a friend as I sit here in my tasteless studio typing this entry.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004



Something interesting just happened, and I wonder if anyone else out there noticed. Even the most cursory of glances at the mass media will reveal that the story of the day (actually, this is the story of the day before yesterday, mind you, since after tomorrow it won't matter anymore), is that Yoshinoya's cash cow has gone the way of the dodo.


Anyone who has spent any time in Asia will be quick to point out that outside of a few young, trendly, self-Westernizing circles, the majority of the population gets by -- and has gotten by for thousands of years -- quite well omnivorously (although granted that in Japan's case, in historical terms, this diet was mainly comprised of fish, rice, and vegetables until 1868. But as in all endeavors, the Japanese have, in a little over 100 years, made a clear display of their assimilative prowess with the perfecting of beef. As is commonly known, Kobe beef, famous for its tenderness and unique beer-fed flavor, fetches the highest prices in the world. So much so, in fact, that words like vegan don't really have much practical meaning here. By way of an example, in preparation for an upcoming trip, this writer has recently read in the Lonely Planet guide to China that the only sure-fire way to communicate this kind of concept to some rual Chinese is to tell them that you are Buddhist. Interesting.

Well, in any event, anyone who isn't 'green' and is pinching pennies -- or yen as the case may be -- in Japan, this dish, the much vaunted beef bowl, is the veritable manna from heaven. Or was, until recently. In economic terms, the following figures (culled from the Yoshinoya webpage) speak for themselves: 牛丼 (並盛)280円 @ 660kcal, (大盛)440円 @ 750kcal, and (特盛)540円 @ 940kcal. Quite a bargin! But the only problem is that the beef bowl was destined to leave a bad taste in Japan's mouth, since the beef it was made from originated not just any heaven, but the carnivore's heaven, also sometimes known as America. Where's the beef? Indeed...

And why was this a problem? Well, let's just say that meat exported to Japan from the American beef industry set its own infamously low standards, resulting in a series of health scares since the 80s, and an ongoing public outcry that has only continued to fade from the ears of policymakers. This is in a sense inevitable, due to the beef lobby, and the international dietary war of attrition that is being slowly won by Mc Donald's, its victory being due in part to burgeoning 'food fashion' in developing countries, and in part to the sheer pervasiveness of the establishment both geographically and culturally.


But it looks like the Japanese were listening, and have answered what was originally a very American problem with stiff, sweeping legal actions. Prime Minister Koizumi has gone on record recently saying that in effect, Japanese public health concerns come first, economic considerations second. How dare he! Koizumi, proving that he is at times worth his political mettle, backed up this statement with a total ban on imported American beef, sending the American beef industry, which counts Japan among its top export values, into a stampeed.

Other similar companies such as Matsuya have been less drastically effected, since they relied on beef from not only America, but also a number of other countries, including mainly Australia. However, with no legal recourse, and bearing the brand of the bullish American beef industry, Yoshinoya had no choice but to take the bull by the horns, and effectively put the once mighty beef bowl out to pasture. The company estimates that by Feb. 11th, the final bowl of bovine tastiness will be served up some where in Japan, thus putting an end to a once great tradition. Or perhaps not...


My friends know that I am an omnivore, but at the same time, I do tend to balk at a regular diet of red meat. In any event, I've done my share of reading into the whole 'meat issue' especially as it relates to American culture. My mixed feelings, which I won't go into here, are probably a result of having read books like Golden Arches East in which socioeconomic/anthropological studies of a handful of Asian countries show some rather unexpected -- a layperson such as myself would even go so far as to say positive -- effects that Ronald and friends have on Asian culture. A brief sampling of which would have to include providing 'spatial/temporal relief' for cramped Tokyoites. In summary, Americans spend very little time in McDonald's. They are in and out as soon as possible. The teenage denizens of Tokyo (these statements are more true of Tokyo in the 80s and 90s than they would be today) tend to really spend a lot of time in McDonald's, ordering a light snack and then chewing the cud with their friends until the cows come home. As a result, the precious turnover rate and the resultant profits, which is so vital to American based Mickey D's, aren't seen in Japan. Naturally they are made up in other ways, but the important thing to observe here is that the youth have found a way to unconsciously sabotage the intensions of a multi-million dollar food industry juggernaut. Mind you that almost all of these seemingly positive effects were not picked up on the hamburger giants R&D radar, a fact which, taken in isolation, is perversly enjoyable.

So probably for these reasons and a few others, I don't really view a place like Yoshinoya in black or white terms. On the one hand, yes, I'll be the first to admit that it is dirt cheep. On the other hand, yes it is probably really not that healthy for you. But there may be other hidden aspects to the whole phenomenon. Anyway, with all this in mind, I decided to go down to ground zero of the beef controvery and just have a bowl for myself, to see what all the fuss was about. It was about 1 A.M. in Meguro, and I walked over to the store just across from the station. Of course there was a queue, but not because of innumerable like-minded cultural trainspotters such as myself. Granted, there were a few, but mostly, these folks were here to take advantage of the last chance to taste what was obviously a staple for countless students, office workers, daysleepers, and so on. The 'other' category was out in full force!


But a funny thing happened on my way to the bottom of a beef bowl. A pasty-faced man in his late 30s with an unkempt ponytail and all, the kind that you might see hanging out in 秋葉 waiting to get the signature of his favorite starlet (you know the type), who had been waiting patiently in the takeout line to place his order for what couldn't have been more than 5 minutes, was given the tragic news by an overly apologetic Yoshinoya employee that their stock of beef had run out at this location, that that they wouldn't be able to take his order. The man became even more pale, eventually turning a shade of grey-brown-red (actually, about the same colour as the meat in the beef bowl that I was scarfing down) and became very still and quiet for a few moments.

The onlooking line of famished customers behind him passed through consecutive stages of blind irritation, realization of the actual gravity of the situation, and sudden fear leading to a guarded retreat. All this as the now purple-faced, quite thoroughly unsatisfied customer, who had been simmering, now boiled over. He grabbed the nearest thing he could lay his grubby hands on, which in this case was the condiment tray, and threw it for all he was worth across the room and against the sliding glass door outside of which, a small crowd of gawkers was gathering. He then began to curse like a sailor, of course in Japanese.

I should say at this point that when Japanese people snap, I've observed that they snap in harder and more freaky ways than Americans (baseball bat bludgeoning on the playground, home alone starvation, multiple hacking wounds with a machete, etc.), this due in part to the fact that they don't have guns, and the would be trigger finger finds other, less detached, more visceral ways of letting off some steam. So knowing all of this, I at this point slowly reached into my pocket and poised my thumb over the one-touch button that I had pre-progammed ages ago, to be ready dial up the police instantly, just in case I ever needed it. Luckily, I wound up not having to make that call, and run the risk of getting some really nasty soy-sauce stains on my clothing thanks to a volley of condiments from a madman.


Anyway, yes I do realize that I've still left an ellipsis dangling, but don't have a cow, man! What I was going to say is that the beef bowl lives on -- and this is where things really get exciting for me -- in America. Yes, I'm talking about the beef bowl meme. Take a quick peek at the Yoshinoya USA webpage to see what I'm talking about. This company isn't dying out, in fact, it seems to be undergoing expansion! Yes, the fact that Yoshinoya plans to open to 1000 restaurants in the States does come as a bit of a shock. The menu and how it differs in choice, price, quality, etc. from the stores in Japan is worth an essay in itself, but in the interest of time, I'll just have to let the following speak for me: Teriyaki Chicken Bowl, Kids Meals, Clam Chowder, Cheesecake (shall I go on?). As the webpage proffers, this is indeed the 'Taste of the Orient in the West!' And how would that be complete without most stores offering a 'drive-through option for your convenience'...You tell me!


But don't get me wrong, I'm not 'anti' any of this. In fact, I say the more the better! Bring it on! My attitude regarding all of this probably has something to do with what Nick was saying here. And I'm sure he for one can appreciate the fact that suddenly a dish that has been served up in Japan with pride for around 100 years has now been transplanted and radically mutated almost beyond recognition. But to up the meme splicing ante, there have already been reports of Japanese tourists in America planning as part of their itineraries trips to the Yoshinoya branches in NYC and LA. Even people who, self-admittedly, would 'have never touched a bowl of the stuff' over in Japan seem drawn to it now in its 米国 incarnation.


But it probably has more to do with my time (about one year, on and off) that I spent in that LA. Note: If my friend Steven Yi were editing this, I'm sure he'd change that to 'My time in Sing Sing' or something to that effect. Days, weeks, months on end trying to deal with the culture shock (I'm still not over it, actually), running around with my Japanese and Korean friends trying to find good ramen. Endless miles clocked on endless freeways. Of course it was never my car! Late night conversations that I didn't even pretend to understand in ハングル in the heart of K-Town at a 'natives only' 韓国風の居酒屋, drinking that Jinro & Juice. These places make their own rules, I was often reminded.

My friend BJ (don't laugh, it was his nickname), the animation major from Seoul who showed me the ropes, would often say that being in K-Town means not leaving America for a while. Last call? Pshaw! Smoking laws? まさか!BJ was eventually drafted in the the Korean military. At least he was beautiful when ducking the American laws. My other friends...Hiroshi the film student from, you guessed it, Hiroshima, and Aki and Eki who thanks to their mixed parentages doubled up on J and K culture. The precious anxiety of my other friends when they came from out of town to visit...Anyway, 'my' LA was never the 'white' LA (thank God), and this was partly by choice. I don't regret this one bit, and now that I'll probably never go back there, I find myself missing the surreal feelings that I felt while exploring 'yellow' LA in all of its polymorphic entrenchment. It was in my eyes an ad hoc cultural situation...not so much a parody as a healthy critique of the 'purer' cultures of Japan or Korea. None of my friends were looking for a perfect re-creation of their motherlands. Far from it!


Thankfully, this provided much needed multi-cultural ballast to the creeping, insidious, quasi-imperialistic attitudes that were observed all to readily in Japanese tourists exploring places like Little Tokyo. Granted, not all of them, but the ones who were obvious were so obviously, and so obliviously so. I could read it intimated on their faces, as clearly as if they had shouted it from the top of the Hollywood sign. 'What on earth happened to our culture?!?' Which was the wrong question in the first place if they were still able to ask it, impervious to the realities of that city. These people would never read Citizen 13660 by Mine Okubo. Nor would they ever visit the JANM. It was all too 'fallen' for them. Fallen? From where is what I often wondered. From Grace? That cold, marble pedestal of ossification? (Thanks, Walter!) Not debasement, but transformation -- and often of the spirit -- THE only prerequisite for survival in the animal kingdom or the human one. A human animal.


[Cue sappy ending theme] So that little beef bowl is out there somewhere, somewhere on the sunny West Coast. Somewhere in soon to be even more towering NYC. It is also somewhere in my mind. But it isn't in Japan anymore. I still am, though. So, I'll follow its trail, track it down, and eat it again. This will be a pleasure. I'll probably not be able to think about anything other than this cheap, fleshy treat as it goes down, which I guess in once sense won't differ all that much from the thoughts of my unsuspecting neighbors. However, what thoughts occur to me during the consumption of my dessert of Caramel Flan I'll not be so quick to share.

Monday, February 16, 2004


Rereading 'Kitchen' by B. Yoshimoto today. This time however, I'm reading it in the vernacular. Much easier than I thought it would be, and this for two reasons: her writing style is simple and unaffected, and my Japanese is too.

What's up next? Plans to read Aldous Huxley's Heaven and Hell...in Yoruba.

Sunday, February 15, 2004


Seeing what Roddy recently posted on his webpage about President Bush got me to thinking. These days, in the Japanese media, there is a lot daily coverage about the upcoming American elections. The reason why this is so would necessitate a totally seperate entry in itself, so let me just say for now that Japan still thinks it needs America. (By the way, it is correct in thinking this.) Anyway, since there is a lot of wrangling currently going on over the integrity of the military service records of the various candidates, the Japanese media finds itself being asked to explain a sudden, searing question by politically astute viewers: Why is this kind of thing even important to Americans in the first place? So far, I've seen several different responses proffered by various Japanese critics of international politics here, but basically they all boil down to the same thing, which is that, since America is a country with a recent history of international aggression and a disproportionately high rate of domestic violence, Americans tend to see a candidate that has actively served in his country's military as having simply more relevance than a candidate who hasn't. Again, remember that these comments are coming from Japanese intellectuals trying their best to explain the what and why behind Americans thinking about their choices for President. Once of the things that's so striking about this is that the Japanese, acting out of a genuine desire to comprehend the American political mind, are led to make such inquiries, which must seem from the eyes of any 'normal' American to border on the naive. To them, such issues are a matter of course, and to question their primacy smacks of anti-patriotism, which in this day and age is the worst kind of heresy that one can commit. And the Japanese may in fact be naive, but it might just be their saving grace, since such questions can engender a sudden and total reversal in the current dialectical direction of political thought. As one commentator recently put it: 'But shouldn't a country, if for no other reason than that it suffers almost inescapably from violence itself, and that it, through this selfsame violence inflicts suffering on so many, consider paramount among the various candidates for the Presidency not the individual who will tend, because of a previous familiarity with violence, to act in accord with (if not escalate) the current situation, but rather, someone who will, due to a total lack of this same kind of experience, tend to choose the diametrically opposite path of peace?' OK, I have a confession to make, these are my own thoughts, but even so, they still seem no less provocative. If Gandhi were on the ballot this year, I'd vote for him. Ballots not bullets...

Thursday, February 12, 2004


Disclaimer: It was my intention to post the following to Momus' webpage as a comment to his new essay on Freeter and linglei, but due to its excessive length, a posting error kept occuring. Therefore, I'll just post it up on this page in the hopes that he eventually stumbles across it.



Robert here. Just wanted to say thanks for giving us another peak inside your brain, which I had been wanting to pick for a while, especially regarding this particular topic. Ever consider getting a plastic, see-thru cranium installed to make it easier for us? Anyway, Roddy pointed me in the direction of that more positive soudning article in the Times with this recent posting on his webpage just the other day.

Reading over this and also your post here reminded me of one thing that I'd like to tell of Japan's naysayers: If we could find someone who had never heard of Japan, and let them spend a day in Tokyo, there are two things that they would NEVER guess about the country.

1) That Japan was on the losing side of the world's biggest war just 59 years ago.

2) That Japan was in the 'throes' of an economic depression.

I should also say here just for the record that I often hear young expatriates here in Tokyo explaining the Japanese 'furiitaa' phenomenon in terms roughly equating it with the American 'slacker' movement (and to some degree the 'indie' movement as it was bastardized by American mainstream culture) of the early 90s. While this comparison is perhaps useful for getting a novice to such issues roughly in the conceptual ballpark, the problem is that in the long run, this probably does more to hurt than to help, especially if facets beyond the economic are considered.

Granted that in sheer economic terms, the comparison is certainly not untenable, especially regarding the part-time job situation and the much prophesied 'impending doom' of the Japanese social welfare system. But, and I think that your posting gives appropriate stress to this point, what is happening now in Japan is, among some demographics here, a genuine QUALITY OF LIFE movement here, which is very, very different that what I saw going on in America in the 90s. The Japanese may enjoy a monopoly on logevity, but it would be meaningless without living life to the fullest.

If my memory serves me, all that was 'slacker' culture in America smacked of a valetudinarian resignation in my opinion, and honestly it was too 'heavy' for me to participate in with a clear conscious while I was living there. (I spent my early to mid-twenties in Athens, Georgia.) Let's not be too quick to forget that, for better or for worse, the watchword for most of the 20 somethings in America in the early 90s was 'angst'. In Japan (or in Tokyo at least) we'd have to say that the watchword of at least a part of the 'furiitaa' scent might in fact be 'iyashi-ke' (which contains the following meanings: recuperative, therapeutic, etc.).

This is because although the economic reality (i.e. working a part-time job to make ends meet) might LOOK the same as it did in America in the 90s (I don't know what it is like today, since I've spent more time here than over there), the difference is that in Japan, it has no attendant lifestyle hardwired into it. Actually, if anything, these 'laterally mobile' (as far as I know, I've just coined this term in the sense in which I use it here) lifestyles are perhaps, if we MUST compare them to American culture, are more ideologically akin to the 'hippie' movement of the 60s, but again, it is probably best not to stretch things too far.

That's because there is a weightlessness in terms of exactly what kind of lifestyles are being carried out on their 100,000-150,000 yen/month, two-part-time-job-working budgets. Granted this isn't living on easy street, especially in Japan, and it does bring with it some severe economic barriers, but then again, if you DON'T NEED A CAR this makes things different. Also, if your country is still pretty much one of the safest ones on Earth, and you don't have to worry about getting shot, stabbed, beat-up, or whatever, and then not being able to pay the hospital bill because you couldn't afford privatized health insurance. So I guess these thing do make their relative disposable income seem a little more 'disposable.'

So sure, you get kids here who are working at 7-11 (they aren't going to get robbed while working this job), who are also moonlighting at some izakaya (a Japanese pub, remember, no fear of drunk driving since they took the train or biked to work), but they are light years away from their American counterparts. These Japanese kids are more worried about giving the interiors of their apartments a makeover, or themselves, either in physical terms (i.e. their wardrobes) or even in spiritual terms (i.e. 'slow life'). And why shouldn't they? Theirs is not the kind of nihilistic existence that was romanticized in Western films like 'Trainspotting' or the hyper-consumerism that was excoriated in movies Fight Club at all. I quote at length from both scripts to illustrate my point:


Trainspotting - Rention's voice over from the opening sequence of Trainspotting

'Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family, Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing sprit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing you last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life. I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you've got heroin? People think it's all about misery and desperation and death and all that shite, which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn't do it. After all, we're not fucking stupid. At least, we're not that fucking stupid. Take the best orgasm you ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you're still nowhere near it. When you're on junk you have only one worry: scoring. When you're off it you are suddenly obliged to worry about all sorts of other shite. Got no money: can't get pished. Got money: drinking too much. Can't get a bird: no chance of a ride. Got a bird: too much hassle. You have to worry about bills, about food, about some football team that never fucking winds, about human relationships and all the things that really don't matter when you've got a sincere and truthful junk habit.'


Fight Club - Jack is telephone shopping while sitting on the toilet

Jack reacts to being put on hold.


Jack sits on the toilet. He digs through a magazine rack. IKEA
catalogues, Pottery Barn catalogues and more of the kind. Jack opens
an IKEA catalog and flips through it.

I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct. If I saw something
like the clever Njurunda coffee tables in the shape of a lime green Yin
and an orange Yang --

Move in on PHOTO of the tables. CUT TO:


Completely EMPTY.

I had to have it.

The Njurunda tables APPEAR.


The Haparanda sofa group ...


The sofa group APPEARS.

... with the orange slip covers by Erika Pekkari. The Johanneshov
armchair in the Strinne green stripe pattern.

The armchair APPEARS.

PG 11

The Rislampa/Har lamps from wire and environmentally-friendly
unbleached paper.

The lamp APPEARS.

The Vild hall clock of galvanized steel.

The clock APPEARS.

The Klipsk shelving unit.

The shelving unit APPEARS.


Jack flips the page of the catalogue to reveal a full-page photo of an
entire kitchen and dining room set.

I would flip and wonder, "What kind of dining room set *defines* me as
a person?"

Jack drops the catalog down, open to this spread. PAN OVER to the
magazine stack -- there's an old, tattered PLAYBOY.

It used to be Playboys; now -- IKEA.


-- Looking exactly like the photo in the catalogue. Jack walks in with
the cordless phone still glued to his ear.

I want to transfer my balance to get a lower interest rate.

Jack looks over the whole kitchen, dining room, and the living room

The things you own, they end up owning you.


What we see here is nothing more than a kind of acute neurosis (one character in Trainspotting even goes by the name of 'SICK BOY'), and for a Westerner, a very problematic one in psycho-materialist terms. Remember, there are only unfortunately only so many dollars being spent in good taste in America, and I'd wager that a good many of them are pink. Outside of this group, it actually isn't easy for Americans to become like this, since this kind of existence is, on the whole, aberrant in that country.

In contrast, what is happening here in Tokyo is reincarnation of a very different, very intense, very fragile aestheticism, which is rooted in the ancient kinds of aestheticisms that have led Japanese people to become meticulous gardeners, tea-masters, and organizers of other minute forms such as the haiku, in previous centuries. I think it also goes a long way to explain why the spirit of 'curatorialism' is so strong in Tokyo in its 'select shops' and cafes.

Yes, these are new, capitalist-driven forms, but their essence is most assuredly Japanese. These older forms, their energies, proved in the end far more enduring than anyone was willing to admit. They have taken on new hosts and actualize themselves from generation to generation. The current, much misrepresented one, is being contained under the rubric 'furiitaa.' The fact that 'the world's biggest gaijin linglei freeter' one birthday boy, who anyone will tell you was probably a 'geiko' in his previous incarnation, counts himself among their numbers, will no doubt impart a sorely need lucidity on the whole situation. Mankind thanks you, Nick!



P.S. Happy birthday to you!

Tuesday, February 10, 2004


Henceforth, let it be known that on Mon, Feb. the 9th 2004, Robert K. Duckworth had confered upon him the highly coveted Medal from Mankind for his selfless journalistic efforts in laptop music as illustrated in his recent transcription/translation of the now infamous Tujiko Noriko RADIO broadcast. The award ceremony took place in cyberspace, between Berlin's Karl Marx allie and Tokyo's Nakameguro. Presenting the award was none other than Momus, he himself a previous recipient of this award for his stunning essays on (among other things) Japanese culture. Speaking on behalf of humanity itself, Mr. Currie uttered the following accolades. "By the way, that Tujiko Noriko interview translation is a service to mankind. Mankind thanks you, Duckworth!" Mr. Duckworth's subsequent acceptance speech was unfortunately incomprehensible due the 一杯機嫌 he was enjoying as a result of having imbibed a wee bit too much absinthe. After the debacle, Jean Snow was seen helping the man of the hour into a taxi for a descreet getaway.


Well, I couldn't wait any longer, and I haven't been impatient, but nobody seemed all that interested in publishing my unofficial English translation of Tujiko Noriko's 'radio' program found on her webpage. (The Japanese transcription is below that.) Perhaps I didn't shop it around to the right people? Oh, well. So here's the whole thing just for you, for free. Drop me a line if you enjoyed reading it.
TUJIKO NORIKO RADIO (English version)

Good morning/evening everybody! Tsujiko Noriko here. I make songs but I also sing and stuff too. So, I’m always alone in my room, plugging away at songs, taking drags on my cigarette, sipping beer and eating [Japanese] pickles while pecking away at my computer. When my friends see me like that, they always tease me, saying things like, “Tsujiko, you’re such a total geezer!” Let’s see...I like doughnuts and I’m also into Porsches. (laughs) So, about my songs...Oh yeah, I made an album and one of the tracks is about Porsches, so check it out OK? I’ll play that one now.

OK. Next is “White Film.” On this one, I was thinking about the day that I came across this fine, young guy. And then, I was reflecting on the beauty of youth (laughs) when I made it. I just kind of slapped it together with some sounds. Then my friend Hironobu Sasaki got in there and did a really detailed mix and kind of tinkered with the sounds. He really had a big hand in putting this one together, so thanks to him the track has a pretty good vibe and is kind of popular. My friends and I are really into it too. Well, just give it a listen OK?

Here’s “Bebe.” This one’s kind of long. My stuff always turns out on the girlie side, but I really like more macho-sounding music with a driving beat like hip-hop or some other kind of crazy stuff. But for some reason I just can’t make that kind of music, so I thought that I’d try and do a track that could break out in rhythm. As far as the content goes...people like like Mie Nakao, and Ms. Ito...Midori was it? Oh right, her name’s Yukari! Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent here, but a friend of mine told me about that song “Konichiwa Akachan” [“Hello baby” in the Japanese, a popular song which celebrates motherhood]: you guys know it’s not being played at all these days? They say it’s not very PC if you play it because people who can’t have children are gonna feel offended. So I (laughs) didn’t know about that and I was...er, singing it. Well, when I made my song, I didn’t have a clue about the “konichiwa akachan” thing. Anyway, I was pretty surprised (laughs)! Oh, and I’m also totally clueless when it comes to French. My French it so strange! If a French person hears it, they’ll probably be like “What the hell are you taking about?!?” When it comes to French like that, I can speak a little bit: basic, greeting-level stuff. Well, please give it a listen...and try not to get angry. “Bebe.”

OK. Well, now I’m chatting with a rather cute individual who happens to be here at the moment. Anyway, I’m gonna make a song called “Father,” or actually “The father who never comes home” and I think my dad’ll get pissed-off again. Next up is one titled “Tokyo.” It’s a pretty common title, so actually I don’t really even like it myself. Ummm...I often think things like, “Man, Tokyo is so filthy!” but at the same time it’s so dirty that it’s beautiful, or something like that. It’s a “so wack that it’s totally cool” kind of thing, you know? Well, I kind of fell in love with Tokyo and wrote and sang this one.

Actually, I was living in Osaka, I was also born there, but about 6 years ago, when I was 18 -- I’m 24 years old now (laughs) -- I moved to Tokyo. Recently it’s like I’ve gotten tired of Tokyo. What I’m saying is that I want to live in a different city with my significant other. Now I’m living in a place which is, even for a filthy city like Tokyo, pretty filthy. But it’s also so filthy that I’m into it. I’m living in Ikebukuro. [Ikebukuro is a large, somewhat seedy city in the Tokyo metropolitan area with a thriving red-light district.] From the station it’s around a 10 min. walk through a residential area, but there are a lot of apartments and condos too. So anyway, since I’m a girl, during that 10 min. walk not that many people try and talk to me, but when my male friends visit me here, the street girls are like [Tsujiko here is impersonating a foreign accent in Japanese], “Hey there!” What else was it? Oh yeah, “Massage! Wanna massage?” (big laughter) and stuff like that. What else were they saying? I forgot! But it looks like the people who pass by them are always getting propositioned, one right after another. And then...well you can always see like 10 of those girls standing around. But you know, there are a few that you’d think were Japanese. Yeah, well...that kind of thing. Oh, and the supermarket’s open really late here. Like until 5 AM. That’s pretty cool. Well, whatever. OK, here’s filthy Tokyo for you...

I started thinking that this summer I’d get into surfing, because one of my new friends -- I wonder, was it last year or two years ago that we met -- went abroad to study surfing [Japan has many surfing aficionados, but poor waves], but I guess he didn’t really get much studying done, huh? I’m not sure. Anyway, it looks like my friend was doing a lot of surfing abroad, and I guess he’s still going surfing in Chiba Prefecture or somewhere. So I was thinking that I’d go too, but...So the next one’s called “Mannequin Surfer.” It’s about surfing. Surfing and a mannequin. (laughs) That pretty much sums it up! (laughs) I’m really into this one. Yeah, I guess I like the lyrics. I’ve got a mannequin-heart. (laughs) What the hell am I saying?!? (big laughter) Weird! Anyway, this one has an icy feel and I think it’s cool to listen to it in the summer. Check it out!

So now I’ll play “Marble Waltz”. On this one, I was really going on no sleep, and on top of that I was drinking -- it kind of wrote itself when I wasn’t looking. Yeah, this one’s pretty cool. Oh, so my mom hates my music. She’s always saying things like, “Oh, Noriko! What’s with these dark songs?” There was something else too, “Make it sound more like Misia or Utada Hikaru or...” No wait! That wasn’t it! It was Ayumi Hamazaki! “Make it more like Ayumi’s music!” she would say. She never gives me one single word of praise, and actually that’s a pretty big letdown. So I wonder if I can get my mom Chieko to listen to this one that I sort of made. Mommy, please listen!

OK, this is the last one. This one is...umm...you know how at the beginning I was talking about how I liked doughnuts and Porsches and stuff, right? Well this one’s called “Porsche” but it’s not that great! (laughs) I just slapped that title on it! Recently, I went riding for the first time in a Porsche with the top down, and it was such a rush! They’re so cool, right!? I wonder if any dumb-ass college chicks will get pissed off if they hear this? Some people might even think of me as a dumb college girl too. Anyway, I love cool stuff. Yeah, this one was actually titled “Konchusaishu” [“insect collecting” in the Japanese] at first. (laughs)

So on this one, I was really going flat-out right from the start. It was the same with the lyrics too: green bugs, swallowtail butterflies, and lots of other insects show up in this song. It seemed like a really fun song, but then when I really thought it over, I was like, “Huh, guess this one isn’t so great after all!.” So I kind of choked. Then I was really trying to polish it up and rework it. So I was watching F1 racing on TV; I’m really into F1. The cars just thunder by! So I heard from a friend of mine -- this really made an impression -- that since the F-1 cars are racing pedal to the metal, after the race they can’t really run anymore. Well I mean, of course they can still run, but they’re kind of “spent” after that: just a burnt-out hulk. When I heard that I thought, “Wow, cool!” There I was flooring it, making “Konchusaishu” (laughs) and then before I knew it, it was going in file 13. Well, that kind of reminded me of the Porsche thing. It’s a beautiful song. When I made it, I thought, “Let’s burn some rubber!” Well, that’s it. Bye!

Translation: Robert Duckworth (Winter, 2003). Posted here with absolutely no permission at all.


はい。次は「White Film」。これはですね、世にも美しいね男の人を発見しまして、ある日(笑)。ほんで、ほんで、ほんで、その美青年を思いつつ(笑)、作りました。ほんでね、この曲はね、私自分でパーっと曲を作って音も適当








Transcription: Robert Duckworth (Winter, 2003). Posted here with absolutely no permission at all.


The Tokyo 'shitamachi' (the old downtown) has been enjoying a renaissance for quite some time now. This isn't the first one, and I'm sure it isn't the last, but it does differ from the previous ones in some interesting ways. Some among my demographic (late 20s-mid 30s, expatriate, Tokyoite) are making it a point to position themselves in an interesting relation to this phenomenon. Naturally, individual strategies are as varied as the diversity implied by this somewhat open-ended group, but general patterns do in fact persist.

For some, this simply means saying 'to hell with it!' Of course, they are rebelling against being bamboozled (yes, 'coolness' does continue to exert its own, insidious pressure well after high school graduation, especially here in Tokyo) into wanting to live in some hyper-chic, super-exorbitant place like Daikanyama, Nakameguro (take me for example), Shimokitazawa. And as for those who utter such things? Speaking in terms of demographics, and considering Japan's current population curves, perhaps they are Japan's last, best, hope for the future...


Setting up their living spaces/ateliers in the 'shitamachi' in places like Ryogoku (a computer music-making friend from France has done this), Yanaka, or Iriya (just like my artist friend P. from NYC has done), they get by...

In any event, the livability, not to mention the affordable nature of these places is just one small part of the draw. Among this same demographic, where aesthetic inclinations sometimes eclipse often the most pressing of economic considerations, there is a healthy spirit of experimental disrespect, or perhaps disrespectful experimentality...anyway, to put it more accurately, there is a 'reverse-engineered' respect for older 'shitamachi' lifestyles and their attendant material goods which simply would not have been possible with previous generations. All of this is of course in the spirit of my favorite quote by Whitman, which I refer to whenever possible.

They are not interested in anachronism for its own sake (as many people who view Japan from the outside seem to be), but we have found the 'shitamachi' a welcome, warm, almost edifying humanitarian foil to the often over-stylized world of select shop-influenced inner-Tokyo (the triangular stretch of land between Shibuya, Ebisu and Nakame), where you pay top dollar to have everything decided for you, the hyper-consumer, well in advance. Where all is tame, and there are no unsightly surprises, which is, depending on your disposition, either the darkest, demon-dwelt depths of the inferno, or the upper echelon of seraphim-graced heaven. (Are these alliterations or kennings or neither? I forget...) For one among you, it is simultaneously both, and to this beautiful paradox of a man my attention will again turn momentarily.

The 'furoshiki' provides another interesting example. 50 years ago it was used because it was traditional. 25 year ago it began to be discarded because it WAS traditional. 5 years ago eco-aware kids realized that way beyond the tradition, there was a very 'green' reason for using this 'quaint' recyclable gift wrappping cloth.

The concept of 'suro raifu' provides another interesting example. In the case of 'suro raifu' we can find twin points of origin in the 'Chuo-sen culture' (between Nakano and Kichijoji on the Chuo-Line) and also in the Shitamachi. Tokyoites are well known as hyper-speed tribes. Now with they are finally beginning to diversity, and will probably become more and more well known for their 'hyper-sleep' tendencies from here on out.

At this point, I should make mention of the fact that I have often heard Tokyo and its outlying areas (Saitama, Yokohama, western Tokyo) compared to Manhattan and its nearby boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, and so on), but this belies the subtle nature of the actual situation. Architecturally and ideologically speaking, the complexity of the question of the Japanese analog to the Manhattan/boroughs relationship predictably takes its own unique 'Tokyoesque' form, deserving an answer up to par. Up until the early 80s, you could still probably find some low rent 'pockets' on the island of Manhattan. In today's NYC, where more or less simple bipolar relationships are to be found (Uptown/Downtown, Manhattan/other), in Tokyo what has been unfolding in recent years could be described without understatement as polymorphous. Reasons for this can be summarized in a word, but before letting the cat out of the bag, a brief anecdote is in order.


Momus has remarked to me in private on several different occasions (publicly, this thought is implied in his copious pennings on his self-proclaimed 'spiritual homeland') that when he finds himself in conversation with Tokyoites well versed in the English language and its various, related cultural accretions, one concept that he finds suspiciously eluding their minds is (and now here we come to the word) spontaneity. Yes, psychologically speaking, in terms of actual personalities, I cannot hope but to agree with Momus' keen sentiments, which have slowly formed over a decade of meticulously exploring this ever-shifting, elusive city of modern day sliding panels and 'borrowed' scenery.

The Japanese are nothing if not punctilious, and yet curiously, in the case of something like city-planning, what reigns supreme in the Land of the Rising Sun is not 'Wa' but sheer chaos. (Turnabout being fair play, I'll give the Romanized Japanese for chaos here: 'muchitsusho' or just 'kaosu' whose English etymology intimates spells out its own pathetic, microcosmic tragedy.) Naturally Nick would object that I'm giving his ideas an unfair gloss, and to a certain extent, perhaps I am. But since I'm quite confident that after the transgression, I can always beg for his forgiveness by falling back on that old crutch, namely, that I'm saying what I'm saying just for the sake of argument. It's at least better than taking about the weather.

[The following comment (recently received by email) by Momus has been interpolated by the author on 2004.02.10. The author thanks Mr. Currie for his eternal willingness to chew the intellectual cud (actually, 'shoot the intellectual shit' has a nice ring to it as well), and to forgive the gap of a decade or more in sheer experience that for better or for worse results in such poorly formed ideas as these.]

I'm liking this Tokyo Fucking City essay too... on the question of
chaos / spontaneity, though, I wouldn't elide those so easily as you
do. I think what's key to Tokyo is the idea of 'hidden order'. The way
the centre of the city -- the imperial palace -- is hidden, the way
nobody knows how the streets work, the way all the subway lines have
different guages, the way the power and phone lines are strung up in
the air... all testify to the fact that there is a 'neat chaos', a
chaos that someone, somewhere understands. They testify -- like the
confusion of different scripts in written Japanese -- to a love of
complexity for its own sake, and in the end I think we can trace this
back to a certain shinto acceptance of multiplicity. There is a god in
everything, and if we look at it from the right angle we will
understand and accept it on its own terms. The snail-like street
layout, the tangled wires, everything will make sense on its own terms,
to the people who love it. There is no room here for 'bringing in a
consultant' or 'organisational streamlining' as we would do in the
west, with our complete lack of understanding for the otaku love that
the white-gloved station master has for his station and trains, and our
tendency to find symmetrical grids preferable to more complex
organisations of things.

- Momus

[Main text continues]


Spontanious, spontanious, spontanious...architecture?!? Architectural spontaneity? Could the reason why Tokyoites are so fastidious be due to this very fact? Men have been trying since time immemorial to square the circle, even if only in their minds. That awards for most insane, and most gridded city of the century both go to LA surely doesn't exactly undermine the postulation, does it? That Kyoto is gridded and by most accounts somewhat refined probably does, but I won't play devil's advocate here. Of course, if I did, I'd probably say that Western grids and Eastern grids (Kyoto's city grid is modeled after a Chinese gridded city) are, in philosophical terms, of altogether different ilks, since the line of thinking that led men to place their faith in Cartesian coordinates also led them to withdraw said faith from their own God. The Chinese, on the other hand, have, up until recently in the rich history of that empire, been led not to place their faith in men who are not willing to place their faith in their own God. But now that we all agree on the divinity of future Sino-American economic ventures, how the tables will turn!

Well for the time being, New York is oil and water, Tokyo is creamer in hot coffee...(Note to self: Remember how much more interesting that metaphor was for self 10 years ago than now.) In the mandelbrot-esqueness that is the zoning situation here, it isn't impossible to consider finding a reasonable place in an unreasonable town. Of course it all depends on who you know...


Anyway, it would be remiss of me not to tip my cap to Barthes for his groundbreaking thought is this area. His Empire of Signs is perhaps the high-water mark in the area of 'classical' East/West cultural interpenetration. Need I remind everyone that the aesthetics of excessive sublimities that Barthes proffers simply isn't practical anymore for those of us in the modern world. This 'high-water mark' translates in modern terms into something more akin to a half-way point in one particular cultural ebb and flow in the long history of Japan. One that may be seen as being bookended by two areas of American militarism: Perry's black ships in 1853, and one hundred years later with General Marshall with Marshal Plan which won a Nobel Prize in 1953.

Granted that while on the one hand, the 1970 publication date of the french version of 'The Empire of Signs' cleanly escapes the confines of these bookends, one must remain mindful that, if we were forced to choose, it would have to be said that Barthes' focus, while at times it does widen to include antibellum images, remains fixed on a Japan of a somewhat earlier era. Ideas like 'camp' (Hi, Susan!), recyclable culture, currationalism, and so on were quite far from dear Roland's mind at the time of this pennings. This being as it should have been, since these forms were not to come into being until decades later. They nevertheless present themselves to us as formidable phenomenon to be pondered.

Even before Roland got here, Isabella Bird had (page #1 | page # 2) ventured forth where no man (or woman) had gone before, plunging headfirst into an very different Japan, and with her own very different observations. Of course, I'm sure she didn't have to worry about paying the rent. I wonder who Roland was crashing with here anyway?


So where were we? Oh yes...BANG, BANG!!! One bang to open Japan to America, one (actually two: Nagasaki and Hiroshima) bigger bang to close it off from being influenced by any country other than the conquering one. Cultural back channels (e.g. Europe and Asia) still existed, but the reality of their relatively sluggish 'bandwidth' as compared to the main lines rendered them, in practical terms, impotent. Thankfully this second bang also seems to have marked a maddening, near-exponential acceleration into a 21st century Japan, which is just getting over acting as if it were suffering from a kind of binge-surge syndrome, finds itself a country that has cast off many of its formerly self-/imposed cultural shackles. Japan is really just now 'finding itself' again for the first time in a long time. But the situation is fragile. Who knows if it will get banged again by American sometime in the near future.

Spontanious, spontanious, spontanious...Sadly, this spirit of self-rediscovery is not pervasive, and in the relm of political ideologies, Japan still may be seen to be suffering from a slave mentality. Iraq is the latest example of this. Incidentally, and I write this with the full knowledge that I am opening myself to the objection of 'attempted political fashion' (like attempted murder), if we are to believe what Camus writes in 'The Fall' perhaps only men who no longer need slaves are truly free.' WOW! Perhaps the best line I've read all week. Reasoning inductively here allows us to form the general principle that America is therefore not free, since it cannot seem to evolve past the master servant co-dependencies that it mostly acts out through the United Nations - a kind of meta-version of what Camus was taking about. That why Germany and France have come out the whole Iraq-thing looking as good as they do. Although I think that the same conclusion may be reached from different lines of thought, I find this one extremely novel, and thus worthy of mention.

Ahem...but now we've come far afield. Too far, in fact, for me to recover with grace.


Well this certainly was a lot of bullshit to go through just to introduce a link.

Go here to get some interesting info on the shitamachi boom and some specific out of the way places to visit. Their Feb. 14th edition will feature one of my favorite places...Shinjuku 2 chome.

Book mobile 

Now reading the following:
Bill Viola's Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House
Philosophy of Science by Samir Okasha

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Kafka and Camus 

Kafka says in his notes that 'Only our concept of time leads us to call the Last Judegement by that name. In fact, it's a court in standing session.'

Idris Parry comments on this in his Introduction to the Penguin edition of 'The Castle' saying 'In other words, it's taking place now all the time. Kafka might also have said (but did not) that it is only our concept of time which makes us think of the expulsion of Paradise as a kind of 'first judgement'. It is another court in standing session, which his central character faces every day, waking into the strange country of dream, at the same time both familiar and foreign.

It was interesting to note that Camus also has something along these same lines to say in 'The Fall' where he writes 'Don't wait for the Last Judgement. It takes place everyday.'

I haven't been able to shake this connection from my mind this week.

Sunday, February 1, 2004

I am Nick's ____ . 

It's very simple, Jean. You are my other eye, and Robert is my other... (tries to think of an equally important defective organ)...
- Nick (a.k.a. Momus)

CANDLES BURN. Jack is reading MAGAZINES. Rain DRIPS from the ceiling. No furniture. THOUSANDS OF MAGAZINES. Tyler passes by Jack, on a bicycle.

Hey, man, what are you reading?

Listen to this. It's an article written in first person. "I am Jack's medulla oblongata, without me Jack could not regulate his heart rate, blood pressure or breathing!" There's a whole series of these! "I am Jill's nipples". "I am Jack's Colon."

Tyler is still on the bicycle.

Yeah, I get cancer, I kill Jack.

Tyler hits something and falls down.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?