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January 2004

two religious experiences

January 31, 2004

God in a can
Jesus theme restaurant

I found God in a coffee can in a vending machine in southern Osaka. So that’s where He’s been all this time.

What a peculiar fellow!

We also walked past a Christ-themed restaurant. Or rather a restaurant whose aesthetic seems to be a Japanese take on Catholicism at its most gothic and florid. A slogan in the window informs passers-by that:

“The shiny golden altar in our shop is real, and it was used at the church in Europe. Please enjoy our perfect situation, service, dishes and music. We are imagining like a church. It is a perfect space for adult. Please enjoy your time.”

After I’d picked my jaw off the ground and put it back in place, I was surprised to realise that I was actually offended. Not that I’m a Christian, and I’m still less of a Catholic, but I think it was the amount of disrespect involved in treating a religion as just another source of inspiration for interior design (although now I think about it, I wonder if that isn’t exactly how a lot of Westerners see, say, Zen Buddhism…) The sheer wrongness of it reminded me of the time a friend (Dave) went to Florida and saw an adventure playground based on the sinking of the Titanic. Although obviously, that’s much, much wronger.

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powers i have recently acquired

January 26, 2004

A few years ago I had a daydream that one day I would be a walking sampler, able to capture anything I saw or any sound I heard and preserve it in some crisp, permanent form forever. I realised the other day that I’m now at least part of the way there. On my arrival in Tokyo I bought a small digital camera which I now carry with me at virtually all times, and whose photos decorate this page. It’s small and silver, and takes very good pictures with a minimum of effort and the bag I always carry with me has a pocket that is just the right size for it. This means that, given enough time to take my camera out of my bag and turn it on, I can catch anything I see and store it in the form of five million lush, crisply-coloured little pixels.

If I don’t have time to take out the camera and turn it on, my japanese mobile phone is always in my pocket and always on, and can also take photos and films. They’re much worse quality than my camera, but they’re ok, and the ability to immediately email them to anyone makes me feel like a time traveller in possession of a technology that there’s no way I could explain to the authorities if they ever caught me.

The third and last device I carry with me I bought in Osaka. It’s a tiny, silent black case, with a glowing blue screen, into which I can place 20 gigabytes of the world for safekeeping. It’s the same sort of thing as one of these ‘iPods’ that seem to be all the rage these days – in that it has a headphone-socket, and the main use thing it’s intended for is to be used as a 21st century walkman. However, it’s better than an iPod, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has a built-in microphone, which takes me another step towards being a human sampler: I can now, at any time, start recording and – if I feel like it – continue recording until the moon falls out of the sky. Power Extreme! Secondly, it plays music in “Ogg Vorbis” format.

“Ogg” is an alternative to mp3, and it is better for two reasons – firstly, it sounds much better than mp3. I don’t know anything about the technologies involved, but I find that mp3s sound funny, and slightly unpleasant, to me, whereas I am really pressed to hear any difference between an ogg file and the original cd, even though the ogg file is the same size as an mp3. The second reason why Ogg is better than mp3 is political: mp3 is a patented technology, whereas Ogg is developed by the Xiph Foundation, who are a non-profit corporation whose aim is to protect “the foundations of Internet multimedia from control by private interests”, by providing patent-free alternatives to things like mp3. Personally, I think that is a very, very good idea, so I would probably have still gone for an ogg player even if it didn’t also sound better than mp3.

Finally, another thing that counts as a plus for me is that my Pod thing is one of the few of it’s type that isn’t made by an American corporation. It’s made by a Korean company called iRiver. This means that in buying it I didn’t do anything to help the economy of a country that seems to me, under its present government at least, to be a pretty large threat to any kind of positive future for the world…

Apart from wanting to be a human sampler, a big part of why I bought the thing was because I’ve been really missing both my walkman and my dictaphone – before I got the iRiver thing, I could only listen to music in my house (I bought my predecessor’s hi-fi off him), but listening to music while you do the washing-up is not the same as listening to music while walking the mean, rain-drenched streets like some kind of private eye. But now I realise that on my small island I almost never walk further than about one song’s length (I live about five minutes away from school). Piss.

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osaka sex shop window

January 23, 2004

For the last two nights in Osaka, Alex and I stayed in a nice little hotel right in central Osaka, with traditional-style Japanese tatami rooms. When we arrived, it turned out to be right in a red-light district. The street outside had a weird, otherworldly feel to it – bizarre signs everywhere and strange ‘information booths’ that, while it wasn’t exactly clear what they were selling, were clearly not there to help lost tourists… A man stood in the street outside a bar in a long, pristine white jacket with the word “crutch” printed all over it in a bold, black, sans-serif typeface. We passed a car park that contained the largest collection of expensive cars with blacked-out windows that I’ve ever seen – a reminder of the fact that the Yakuza probably have a hand in most of the businesses in this part of town… Just along the road from our hotel, I took a photo of the window of a sex shop, which I have put here, partly so that no-one is shocked or embarrassed at having a picture of a sex shop window suddenly and unexpectedly pop up on their screen, but mainly because it is the details that make it interesting, so for it to be worth seeing, it needs to be bigger than the standard-size photos that I use on this page. Please don’t look at it if you are likely to be offended by the contents of a sex-shop window, which contains, among other things, a small picture of a naked lady, some moons and planets, and a porcelain dog.

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January 13, 2004

I just won 1.3kg of prawns at bingo. After the bingo, everybody danced about, taking it in turns to dance with a tray balanced on their head. On the tray was:

  • a sculpture of a tortoise with no head, with a cork stopping its neck.
  • a large golden origami crane
  • a pile of salt
  • a satsuma
  • half an apple
  • a pine branch

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a capsule hotel

January 8, 2004


The first night of this year, I slept in a capsule hotel. And – contrary to my expectations – they’re not bad! A Japanese friend once told me that you shouldn’t go to capsule hotels because ‘only strange businessmen stay in them’, and it did sound like a recipe for a night of unsettling half-formed dreams about being trapped in a box by a man with a thin moustache and strange, black eyes like weird oily marbles. But in fact, it’s really a bit like a youth hostel, albeit a youth hostel where you sleep in a small compartment. The capsules are stacked along the walls of a dormitory, which means that while you are in a communal space of sorts, you’re also separate enough to be able to ignore people walking about or coughing. Each capsule has a roller blind that comes down over the entrance, which means that while you’re in your own space, it still has the air-flow and acoustics of a larger place, so it doesn’t feel claustrophobic (as it would if there was a door you closed behind you).

The capsules are quite well-appointed, as three-foot high box-shaped living-spaces go, with a radio, a TV, and a little shelf on top of the radio to put things on (you put your bags / coat in a locker outside the dorm room).

The other thing that surprised me was the 1970s feel of the whole place. I now realise that capsule hotels were a 1970s idea, but for some reason I was expecting something more 21st century. Instead, the place really had the feel of the dormitory of a spacecraft constructed in the early seventies. Especially at night, when the main light was very low, and lights glowed by the entrance of each capsule. I also seem to remember a low background hum, like the throb of distant engines, but maybe my memory has added that detail retrospectively…

Capsule hotels are also very, very cheap: one night (including breakfast) cost a little over 2000 yen – which is about 12 pounds sterling – even though the hotel was right in the middle of Osaka.

Another TV advert: a naked woman stands caressing a long, nicely-planed plank of wood. I am beginning to wonder whether I actually see the same things everyone else sees when I watch TV …

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osaka and kyoto

January 5, 2004


Well, Happy New Year. Let’s hope 2004 turns out better than 2003 for all involved…

At the stroke of midnight (PST), I was with Alex, frantically trying to pay for a coffee and ice-cream in a late-night café in Osaka, in an attempt to get out in time for the countdown. Having got outside to find not very much happening (lots of people milling about smiling, but none of the fireworks or shouting or kissing or anything that makes Edinburgh exciting at New Year), we went back inside and ended up chatting to three very nice young women until the early hours.

I arrived in Osaka and met up with Alex in the late afternoon of New Year’s Eve, and returned to Okinawa on Sunday the 4th. In the intervening period we went to temples and gardens in Kyoto, up a skyscraper in Osaka, met a strange old man who claimed to be a professor of comparative linguistics and who got us to spend twenty minutes correcting a draft of his ‘dictionary’ while standing in the draughty entrance to a railway station, met a young Japanese man selling takoyaki (barbecued octopus) who when at high-school had done an exchange with a school on one of the Outer Hebrides. We stayed in a capsule hotel, a very creepy house in Kyoto, and a nice traditional Japanese-style hotel which turned out to be right in the middle of Osaka’s red-light district. We also saw a Jesus Christ theme restaurant and managed to very nearly run out of money completely. Since I went to a lot of places and took a lot of pictures, I will put them up one or two at a time, as I get the time and inclination…

Another piece of bizarre Japanese television, seen as I was writing this – a woman, lost in the woods, comes into a clearing and screams in terror at what she suddenly finds herself confronted with: a large tree, whose trunk is covered with unrealistic plastic arses…

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