Posts Tagged 'ogawa'

Behold Omitama

I learned that Ogawa-machi, Japan, the small bucolic town I lived in for two years in the mid-90s is no more. It was more of a collection of rice fields punctuated by the odd house and/or strip of vending machines. There was all of two convenience marts there when I moved there and three when I left. The whole place smelled like onions and, being poor and rural, was a hotbed for the uyoku. There was a strip of businesses down two intersecting streets — most of which were mom and pop stores that eyed me suspiciously on the rare times popped in. To be fair, there were two notable things about Ogawa: a natto museum, which illustrated the history and many varieties of natto in flashy multi-media displays (though sadly, the gift shop didn’t sell T-shirts); and Hyakuri air base, where on a few occasions I went to teach English.

So what happened to Ogawa? It was absorbed into a new franken-berg, combining adjacent towns, Minori-machi and Tamari-mura. Behold, Omitama City. If your Japanese is rusty, the English version can be seen here. Here’s a map of it in relation to the rest of Ibaraki prefecture.

Why the switch? It seems that they are converting Hyakuri from being a strictly military base into the rather unimaginatively titled Ibaraki Airport. The idea is that it will be Tokyo’s third string air hub after Narita and Haneda with domestic flights to places like Naha, Sapporo and Fukuoka. Whether this will work or not, who knows. But the sleepy backwater where I lived is going to quickly change.

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Tokyo — You Can’t Go Home Again

Omotesando circa 1974I’m in Tokyo now watching a TV show with some Japanese starlet in Peruvian jungle suffering through a meal of turtle penis.

Every time I go to Tokyo there is some new building or development being thrown up. The other day I dropped by Roppongi Hills — a shiny new complex with a huge movie theater, a sundry of overpriced shops and an impressive collection of bad public art. This being summer vacation, the place was packed with family’s and young couples snapping photos with their cell phones left and right. The place looked like it would be more a home in West LA and I soon left feeling like I had seen the place before. Instead I sought out some of the bars where I danced all night in when I lived in Ibaraki eight years ago. My favorite bar had since been turned into a Starbucks. Tokyo has been wrecked and built up so many times, and each new building is more ridiculous and inhuman that the last, giving the place increasingly a feel of a dystopian sci-fi flick, that part of me simply wants to say: build more. Make Tokyo more gigantic and bizarre. But then yesterday, while R and I were looking for an over-priced macrobiotic restaurant along Omotesanto — Tokyo’s answer to the Champs Elysee — we noticed that the famed Dojunkai Apartment complex had been demolished. The Dojunkai apartments was one of first examples of Bauhaus architecture in Japan which somehow survived the 1923 Kanto earthquake and US Air force in 1945. They were elegant and gave the whole area a certain charm. In its place I sure they’re going to throw up some shiny glass box featuring another fuckin’ Starbucks.

Speaking of times gone by, the other day I ventured up to Ibaraki for the day. I first went to Tsuchiura, located on the far finger of Lake Kasumigaura. It was where my friend Ted lived and where I frequently went to escape from the tedium of Ogawa machi — small farming berg where I was placed. The place was more depressing than when I visited two years ago. The shopping mall where Ted and I bought used CDs and drank beer was a ghost town and all of the old department stores have gone belly up. There is a new department store monstrosity that opened up about five years back across from the train station. My friend Yuki predicted that it would go belly up too in a couple of years. Yuki and I spent most of the day catching up over okonomiyaki at one of the few stores still open in that shopping mall.

I told her about working at BIG and R and we talked about our mutual distaste for George W. Bush. She told me about her dumb job and her cat Godzilla who is getting on in years. We gossiped about mutual friends. One is working in a wedding salon as a hairdresser and another has expanded to an alarming girth. Yuki also told me about a dream she had in which she was along with Ted helping me move from my apartment in LA, which was literally on the beach. When the moving guys showed up they brought out a vast array of exotic vacuum machines to clean my house. I was apparently wildly fascinated by them and kept pestering the moving guys with questions. Eventually, they mentioned that they had a vacuum cleaner shaped like a dog. After repeatedly pleading with them, they grudgingly brought the thing out of their van. It was only a beat up plastic toy dog and clearly in no way a vacuum cleaner. I was very disappointed. It was good talking to Yuki. The more my Japanese improves the more I realize that I actually have something to talk about with her, which I’ve sadly learned isn’t always the case.

Speaking of that, for dinner I jogged up to Mito where I briefly saw Ikuko, an ex-girlfriend of mine. I met her at the used-clothing shop she opened up two years ago. The store itself is roughly the size of my bathroom in LA but the location was pretty good and her wares were cool if pricey. She introduced me to her ferret-faced boyfriend who scowled at me for twenty minutes as she closed up shop and then hopped in his Jeep Cherokee and left. We ate dinner at a Thai restaurant that her brother opened, talked about old times and R and ferret-face, and then I grabbed the last train back to Tokyo, which for some reason is at the appalling early time of 9:30pm. On the way back, the train stopped for an hour at the station closest to Ogawa-machi. Something was messed up because of the heavy rain and freakishly cold weather the area is experiencing. Across from me sat a young mother who passed the time staring into her cell phone and whacking her spastic child who was terrorizing the train car.

Anyway, it’s only a few days before my grudging return to the US of A whereupon I’m going to have to find a job fast or move into a cardboard box.

Kumamoto –the Yamaga Shoot

It’s Monday and I’m not at work. Today is a holiday in honor of the ocean. In America, all our holidays are either political or religious — we honor dead presidents, dead soldiers, and the all-but-dead labor movement. In Japan, they natural cycles of life such as a holiday for the spring equinox, the autumn equinox and old people.

Well itâs still raining here. Like a bad case of the clap or the Strom Thurmond, the rainy season just won’t die. This weekend we’ve been drenched with such a massive amount of rain that the train system was shut down and 16 people died south of here from a freak mudslide. It’s probably too soon to start gathering pairs of animals in a houseboat but it feels like that time is near. One of joys of rainy season is the fact that mold seems to grow on every flat surface. There’s a corner in the tatami room I’m living in that seems to grow little civilizations of mold every two or three days, only to fall to the apocalypse of a damp rag and the Japanese equivalent of Windex.

I learned this week that I am susceptible to “Kourabyou” or AC Sickness. Electricity being insanely expensive and all here, they have these little tiny air con units that only outfitted to cool a single room and they are only used a few hours a day when the heat becomes so unbearably awful that everyone threatens to dissolve into great puddles of sweat. The problem is that these little AC things are great breeding grounds for all sorts of nasties and when the units are turned on these little nasties get spewed out into the air. Because of Ma Sumi’s mostly macrobiotic home cookin’ and a regular regime of nose washing (warm tea, add a pinch salt, then snort the concoct up your nose like you were Margot Kidder in a 1970s beach party), I’ve been remarkably free of allergies in spite of the presence of an emotionally needy dog named Hachi. That was until this week when while plowing through Pynchon at work, I started feeling all dizzy and phlegmy. Later while driving out to location scout in Yamaga with Horita-san, I complained that I felt like crap. He casually mentioned that everyone who sat at my desk developed some form of “Kourabyou.” The building manager is not especially fussy about duct cleanliness and my desk in fact directly faces the main vent. When I mentioned my problem to R’s mom, who is a fellow sufferer, she immediately made a big steaming macrobiotic potion of daikon radish and ginger — which tastes about as good as it sounds — and an extra round of nose washing. For now, it seems to be doing the trick.

On Tuesday, R and I had a rather ludicrous argument about post-structural theory. I accused her of not understanding Barthesian theory; she argued that I was not articulating myself clearly (a fair complaint, but you try to discuss Barthes in Japanese) and that I was a big poophead. We’ve more or less resolved the Barthesian theory issue, but the poophead issue remains a topic of debate.

But the big news of the week was that I directed with relative success that promo bit for the resort town of Yamaga. While the budget for this shoot was small and the crew limited to the staff of BIG, this marks the first time that I shot in a location where I wasn’t looking over my shoulder for the police. In fact, at one point I had the banners of a famous local kabuki house rearranged and the street in front wetted down by a band of city officials.

My big concern was whether or not Oshima, my producer for the shoot and a native of Yamaga, could cough up a cute girl. Yamaga was famous for its monochromatic traditional architecture and its touro festival featuring young maidens sporting pink kimonos and gold colored paper lanterns atop their heads. Horita-san said that the promo bit should be like an exotic fantasy directed towards the jaded city-folk of Fukuoka. Right, I thought, I’ll contrast the recto-linear lines of the architecture with the curvy pinkness of the touro maidens, culminating with a reasonably attractive lass flashing an enigmatic smile at the camera. Early this week, Oshima told me that the city government couldn’t find any cute girls with their own head lanterns, but they did find three who were “kinda ugly.” Christ, I thought, there has to be one or two girls per generation born with the gift of beauty in the town. My mind raced back to a painful conversation at the town hall in Ogawa-machi some nine years ago with a pair of civil servants who sat near my desk. They pointed out one woman after the next who worked at the city hall who they at one point or another had boinked. Most had crooked gold teeth, weather-beaten skin and that unfortunate frizzy hair-do that women pushing 40 inevitably get in some countries. If guys like that are calling the only three touro maidens available in the whole friggin’ town “kinda ugly”, I’m screwed. Fortunately, the guys at the Yamaga city hall not only proved to be harsh judges of beauty — the three women looked just fine — but they managed to dredge up a real babe for the close up.

Up until four or so in the afternoon, things were going swimmingly, most of my storyboard was shot, and Oshima came through with the touro maidens. Then disaster struck. We were shooting in a public hot spa of sorts where you can wile away the time soaking your feet in spring water. We had set up the camera just the way I liked it, when about two dozen Chinese tourists came in and camped out. In spite of the camera, the lights, and me glowering at them, the group ignored us and had a grand old time. While I would have been happy to forcibly remove them from the site, Horita seemed inclined to wait them out. Then the camera crapped out.

And then it rained. Hard. Since the touro lanterns are made of paper, shooting seemed impossible. Things worked out fine in the end. We gave up on the foot spa place when the Chinese tourists started breaking out picnic lunches, and went to the next location. We dug up a substitute camera and a stunt touro that could brave the rain. I saw the footage on Friday and it looks all pretty good. The stuff we shot in the rain looks great. Now I’ve got to edit it all.


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