Beautiful World [A Trip to Japan]

Yasukuni Shrine

Tokyo, Yasukuni Shrine

> What was the original objective?
> Where did I go?
> What did I find in Japan?
> What did I find having traveled?
–> What is the value in travel?
–> Planning and Decisions
–> Where can information be found?
–> What does having information mean?
> References and Other Rulesets


What was the original objective?

The main thing I wanted to see was how the Japanese use their land. I’ve heard and seen a lot of things about Japanese zoning, public transportation, and how everything was walkable and human-scaled, and that’s what I wanted to see for myself.

Other than that, what I wanted changed wildly as planning progressed.

The original suggestion was to go on a bus tour. I outright rejected this idea. Bus tour? In Japan? Why not stop only in expat enclaves while we’re at it?

I’ve never had a good experience with group guided tours. Granted, all (2) of them have been Chinese bus tours in America, but even theoretically removing all the Chinese and American parts I don’t like the idea of being corralled into certain timeframes on someone else’s schedule. What if I like this place more than that other place less? What if I don’t care about shopping for hours on end at globalized fashion chains so you can get your commission money because the type of people that would sign up for such tours are mentally lazy and financially stupid? What if I don’t want to have “how many minutes did someone else say I have left again” lurking in the back of my head? Which I don’t. I’ve had 12 years of that already thank you. I think 20% of my life expectancy is enough of that.

Tourist attractions are not specifically interesting, i.e., “a lot of people have been here and want to come here” is not a good reason to care, but everything is even more uninteresting if I don’t expend mental energy to obtain it. As far as I’m concerned, Times Square is a place on on a bus. Times Square is not a place in New York, or, if it is, New York isn’t a place in reality. Guided tours are like dreams – after unending nothing, that is to say, going past places you don’t spend a moment thinking about, places you have heard of will magically and suddenly appear in front of you. Then it will disappear, for another indeterminate length of time lots of nothing will happen again, and then another thing will appear. Rinse and repeat. It will not have value when it appears, it will not have value when it goes away; the only difference is someone else stopped the passage of space for a few minutes so you can take some pictures.

I wanted Japan to feel real.

So planning it myself it was. Well, myself and my sister. My mom would be travelling with us too, but she had little input on planning, outside of some travel agent she regularly used to book tickets and hotels, and saying how long she was willing to go. Which was important.

Time was the greatest limiter – or rather, the greatest organizer. We started off with a self-guided tour template of 1 week, suggesting Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto. The plane tickets we had went the opposite direction, but in any case, Hakone was fairly quickly cut out, as there was only one or two things theoretically interesting in Hakone, and the big one – a traditional inn and various traditional things – seemed rather expensive. Things were first blocked out in 2~4 hour chunks with ideas from tourism sites. At some point after deciding on hotels, we detailed it further, adding more major and minor places, finding what bus numbers or train lines and transfers would be taken between points (and tallying up their fares), getting a list of potential places to eat we were certain had english menus, and eventually, discovering Google has something currently called MyMaps (probably because Maps and Earth are now integrated), specified the exact routes to walk the whole way, planned down to the minute. It was no longer “Kyoto” and “Tokyo”, but “these specific places in this specific order in this specific route in Kyoto and Tokyo”.

The number of places I wanted to specifically go were not many. Honnoji was conveniently placed so I wanted to go there for the memes. Akihabara because I’m a weeb. Other than that, it was more important that I saw at least one item of each type: big train station, varied land usage, walking around places places that were popular for non-tourist (i.e. local economic) reasons… I think that was it. If the trip length was longer and I was alone I’d probably spend most of my time in those, maybe some no-name cities and villages, but since I wasn’t, I settled for a small potential set of suburb-y places and routes close to Kyoto, taking the same importance in the schedule as the big-name attractions.

That was the original idea.


Where did I go?

I planned for a lot, but got to probably less than half of it.

As sorted by names of major places. Days 1-3 in Kyoto, 4-6 in Tokyo; 2018 Nov 16 ~ 22.

1 Honnoji
Nishiki Market
Potoncho Area
(nothing)
2 Potoncho Area
Keage Incline
Eikando
Gion/Higashiyama
Tadasu no Mori
Nijo Castle
Arashiyama
Randen Rail
Potoncho (ltd)
Keage Incline
Gion/Higashiyama
Yasaka
Honnoji
Nishiki Market
3 Nara
Kyoto Station
Fushimi-Inari
Yasaka
Toufukuji
Mukaijima
Arashiyama (ltd)
Randen Rail (ltd)
Fushimi-Inari
Kyoto Station (ltd)
4 Shinkansen
Asakusa
Akihabara
Tokyo Tower
Shinkansen
Asakusa
Akihabara (ltd)
5 Kyu-Furukawa
Rikugien
Ichigaya
Yasukuni
Imperial Gardens
Tokyo Station
Odaiba
Akihabara (ltd)
Yasukuni
Imperial Gardens (ltd)
Tokyo Station (ltd)
Odaiba
Tokyo Tower
6 Atago
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Shinjuku Station
Some Cat Cafe
Harajuku/Takeshita
Shibuya
Shibuya (ltd)
Akihabara (ltd)

Planned routes: [1][2][3][4][5][6]
Actual routes: [1][2][3][4][5][6]

There were a few problems executing the plan.

  • The first day was plagued with problems, one being upon landing in Osaka I’d been awake for about 30 hours. The other one was enough to give me what I think people call a breakdown, which I’ll get to later, but it was solved and after a night of sleep everything was okay.
  • About halfway through the second day, my feet started hurting. Near the start of the third day, they started killing me. The other three days were the same way: about one hour of alright walking, then death. This pain was probably also a big factor in the significant decrease in the number of pictures I took. In total I took 1728. Of those, 656 were taken after the third day – 38% of the total, or, 68% less than the other half (technically more, since the first day didn’t start until noon, and that was before landing. 152 were before reaching the hotel). 68% reduction in interest is probably an accurate number. 68% reduction is probably also accurate about my walking speed.
  • I didn’t plan for eating time.
  • Or shopping time. I think it should be called “browsing” time, because that’s the real problem.
  • Or time to take pictures.
  • Because it bears reiterating: how much my feet were killing me. If you are looking to visit Japan, and are also an overweight American who doesn’t walk as a fact of life, this will probably be your biggest problem. Forget about saving up money for a trip. Get fit first. Or you’re going to waste a lot of time.

I’ve uploaded 562 of the pictures I took [1][2][3][4][5] including 92 panoramics. I’ve also uploaded 19 videos, including 30 min of Shinkansen through Nagoya.

Other than one image at the top and one at the bottom, they will not be found in this post. This post is not about “travel” in the current standard meaning. I’m not particularly interested in “travel”, it’s merely something that had to be done to achieve the objective.

I don’t have any real “travel” things to say about Japan – except about Gion, which was amazing, and about Odaiba, which was not. I stayed at Kyoto Rich in Kyoto and Mitsui Garden Shiodome in Tokyo. The former felt cheap, but it was cheap, and its location was good. The latter did not feel cheap, was cheap, at its location was similarly central. And the 72-hour Tokyo Subway Ticket (Metro and Toei) was a real moneymaker: put 1500Y in, got 2610Y out. Probably would’ve been more if my feet didn’t hurt. The pictures too were not about “travel”. I have put some comments on them to help illustrate their meaning, which is the important part.

— Having finished now, “comments” is no longer an appropriate description. This was supposed to be the “main post”, but I suppose, just like Japan itself, I spent more length visiting ideas that “don’t matter”. The words in the final album alone are more than what I wrote here. Maybe I’ll put them in their own post one day. For now, they rely on the pictures to convey their premises. It’s related, but probably not the same topic. If you read both, which comes first is probably not important, but it’d be best to leave the final section of this post for last.

This post is (was) the attempt to capture the larger ideas.


What did I find in Japan?

Beauty.

Everywhere.

It is beautiful everywhere.

I had originally dropped into a bunch of places on Google streetview to try and find specific sites that were interesting and pretty, like here’s a shrine or park, look at how it’s surrounded by modern buildings, and planned to walk 137 meters from the station and then turn left. But I didn’t need to follow my planned points and path to see it. It simply presented itself to me. Now, if I wanted to see specific points, then of course I would still need to obey the laws of physics in order to arrive within visual range.

But beauty? In Japan, you don’t need to obey the laws of physics to find beauty.

It was because beauty was everywhere that I was able to make myself put one foot in front of the next to continue moving from point not-hotel to point not-hotel twelve hours a day. It was because beauty was everywhere (and because my feet were killing me) that I forgot to eat (until my feet were killing me enough that I decided that I’d pay to sit down, and paying to sit at certain places just happened to come with complimentary food). It was like magic… except it wasn’t magic, because the materials and designs were obviously human. Man made this. Man made Japan. Specifically, Japanese Man made Japan. Are the Japanese magical beings? I was told that visiting Japan would make me realize that it’s not anime fantasy land. And it’s true – but only about the anime part.

How did they make everything so beautiful?

I have some guesses, a few of which I’ll name, but I don’t think any of them are sufficient – supposing a place fulfills all the requirements I specify to the letter, it’s probably still going to be ugly. It might be pretty to someone else, I suppose. Do you find those european replica towns in China beautiful? Is a zoo is a budget safari? Would you visit a ski slope if it was in a hotel? You can say yes, but I won’t.

A magical place naturally implies a magical cause: it sounds magical, but I think the best answer to say Japan is beautiful because of the Japanese. If some country and Japan switched populations, I imagine it’d start looking like Japan in less than 20 years, and feeling like Japan in less than 2. It at least seems to be plausible. Put Brits in Africa, you get a Britain (Rhodesia). Put Japanese in an American car factory, you get Japanese cars (NUMMI).

But back to Japan. And the longer, more incomplete answers.

The term I’m familiar with is “human scale”. I think this name is the right idea for a label from the American standpoint, but I’m going to be talking back and forth between the denotative “human scale” and the more important thing I feel the phrase stands for.

Japan isn’t beautiful because it’s “both traditional and modern”, it’s beautiful because everything is in its proper size and place. Things aren’t big or new or whatever just because they can be, they are whatever size and form serves their purpose. This takes any number of forms, the most famous of which is that traditional-and-modern thing, the slightly less famous being narrow buildings and narrow streets. But it’s everywhere.

“Convenience store” in America means “the thing next to the gas station that sells “edible” industrial waste”. In Japan I felt they were competing with Walmart Supercenters in variety, with Starbucks in frequency, and… I don’t think there’s an equivalent concept in America for their slot in quality. There were a lot of things they sold for next to a dollar / ~100Y, but to say Lawson or FamilyMart are part “dollar store” would be a grave insult. They served a variety of needs at a convenient price and place. They slotted in where they could; a Lawson here could be twice as large as the Lawson there. And this concept just fractally repeats all the way up and all the way down.

In Kyoto I saw a number of buildings that had bridges across little creeks. Creeks whose width was maybe one american car length. And these bridges were super simple. They weren’t some over-engineered “This passes Safety and Environmental standards and was made by an Equal-Opportunity company that Supports Womens Rights” thing. It was “My property can only be accessed by crossing this creek. So I need a bridge. To cross this creek”. I’m pretty sure more than a few of those bridges would not survive a car load in an earthquake, but who cares? And so bridges appeared. One of the things I ended up taking a lot of pictures of were parking lots. I hate cars, and I hate parking lots, but I had to appreciate how even parking lots had their place: Is your empty spot big enough for two cars? Put a sign with a light on it and lay down those contraptions, you’re open for business. Is it not big enough for two cars? Put a vending machine on it. Is it bigger than two cars? Construction will be here tomorrow to make something, if not a shop or other business, then a manned parking lot, or a parking tower.

Just to give some idea on sizes, here are the numbers I was able to measure. I probably should’ve measured more, but like with the pictures, these were dependent on what I found different enough to notice at the time, and by the fact it was a handheld tape measure (and by the pain in my feet).

6″ – steps height (probably in Kiyomizu-Gojo station)
8′ – ceiling (probably also in Kiyomizu-Gojo station)
6’6″ – ceiling height low end (?)
31.5″ – door width (probably hotel room)
73.5″ – door height

100″ – bridge single lane width (across the river from Kiyomizu-Gojo station)
218″ – double lane street width (across the river from Kiyomizu-Gojo station)
34″ – handrail height (probably the barriers on the street west of Shijo bridge)
15.5″ – vehicle limiter (i don’t know the proper names for these: they’re the interlaced barriers that indicate only pedestrians are allowed. this was at Potoncho Park. the measurement is the width between barriers.)
46″ – bridge guardrail height (probably Sanjo)
7″ – old step height (leading away from Keage incline)
5’4″ – hello kitty store entrance covers (Higashiyama)

46.5″ – pedestrian path width on a bridge (next to Toufukiji station)
7.75″ – new step height (unnamed park on Kamo River)
5’3″ – bottom of train rings height (the things you hold onto)
7′ – small inari gates inner height (at Fushimi-Inari)

21.5″ – shinkansen legroom (this measurement is from the edge of my seat at seat level to the back of the seat in front at the same level. it is not the same number as the number you see on airlines, which measures the distance between the same points on two chairs.)
7′ – metro-shimbashi station ceiling height

5′ – imperial palace wall, single block height

9.75″ – step length (no idea)
7′ – tunnel height (no idea)

81″x48″ – bed size (the length at the first hotel was shorter)

Next to everything was human sized.

I remember hearing some complaint once about how portion sizes for Japanese food are small. I didn’t feel this way (but I also don’t get Big Gulps). Granted, I ate mostly like a commoner, but given commoner food, I felt it was too large for a meal when I did ask for bigger portions. I ate slightly more expensive than commoner twice, once for something like 2200 and the other for… 2800? And it was like they stopped adding volume at the correct point and then just changed out the remaining cost for better materials. Which seems like the right approach. You can’t eat more than a certain amount anyways (Japan does have buffets, but all prices come with time limits). My favorite meals were about 100 – convenience store onigiris, rice balls wrapped in seaweed with a few flavory goodies inside. They fit in the palm of my hand. Turns out that’s about how much I need to not feel hungry. And I’m an overweight American, so it’s probably a meal for a human at a proper size.

The few things in Japan I didn’t like were all because they were improperly sized.

– There’s a stretch of about 300 meters between the Hijiri and Shohei bridges, north of the Kanda river and east of JR-Akihabara Station, that I felt bad walking up.

I think it’s because it’s a single row of short and narrow not particularly impressive buildings, on a road with a narrower than average sidewalk (and fairly wide bushes), backdropped/shadowed by a wide skyscraper.

– The entirety of Odaiba.

The whole place felt like it was designed by an American. Wide roads, giant parking lots, and the only streets in Japan I found trash on.

I had gotten off at the Fune-no-Kagakukan stop for the Sora Yori memes, then after seeing the ship walked to Diver City. That first ~200m walk was terrible. Nothing but a wall of bush on my right, and a road and elevated busway on my left (Yurikamome is not a train). It had its separated pedestrian and cycleways, but I didn’t care. No one was there, and nothing was interesting. Still better than a walk in American suburbia, but that’s not a very high standard. Then I crossed the street and walked another ~550m, most of it next to a parking lot. A giant, American-sized parking lot. That I couldn’t cut through because they were walled because free parking doesn’t exist in Japan. Which is fine enough I suppose, it’s not like it would’ve been better if I could.

Diver City was just a mall. Like, an American mall. The spacings and everything. The arcade level was not worth coming here instead of Akihabara (unless you choose a hotel here, which I don’t recommend), though it was interesting seeing random candy bars and food in UFO machines I suppose. There’s a giant Gundam outside and a level of the building just for gundam inside, but I don’t particularly care for gundams. Other than that it’s a mall. Clothes and more clothes everywhere. Maybe it’s good clothes? Even if I was interested in clothes, I can’t imagine I’d do it here.

The one good thing here was the karaage. I didn’t know it was possible that fried chicken could be fit for human consumption, but there go the Japanese, proving me wrong again, by turning every conceivable thing into a delicacy.

Except, apparently, Odaiba. This place sucks. Skyscrapers and landscrapers and trash on wide empty streets: everything you could possibly want to piss a pedestrian off. It really is as if it was designed by an American. There’s even a replica Statue of Liberty.

God bless America. I mean, Odaiba.

– Arashiyama. But this one’s probably fixable by not going there early Sunday afternoon.

“Crowded” means different things to different people, two common ones are lack of personal space and people getting in pictures. I didn’t mind these so I thought crowding was alright, but it turns out it isn’t – depending on what the place is. It’s a matter of having the appropriate people density. Higashiyama being crowded was fine. Arashiyama’s bridge being crowded, not so much. The Grand Staircase at Kyoto Station felt a lot more comfortable during the best thing I’ve seen in a very long time, than the same place the next morning before anyone had woken up. Taking Tokyo trains during off hours was alright, but seeing how many people can really fit into a single car during the morning rush hour without any particular discomfort? That was beautiful. Not the kind of beautiful you can take a picture of. Not that it’s not allowed; you simply won’t be able to do it.

– Kansai and Narita airports. I mean, they’re not the worst (hi Houston). Given that even the Japanese don’t have likable airports, it could be that it’s just impossible to make such things. But, for sake of completeness, I mention that here. You do need to follow the laws of physics to at least escape the airport before you can find beauty.

Everything else was properly sized. And because everything was properly sized, everything could be integrated and arranged into a social order.

Order: that was my feeling in Japan.

Beauty is order, order beauty, that is all I know on this earth, and all I need to know.

Most things (outside of the anime girls) weren’t particularly pretty. But they didn’t have to be. Most were probably ugly things if looked at alone, but they fit in with everything else, at their proper size, with proper boundaries – if I had to tally up all my pictures by type, gates would rank at the top – and the rest was taken care of… by everyone and everything else doing the same thing. Almost none of it was done for artistic reasons, too, There were some potted plants and a shrine here and the very occasional anime girl there, but most of it was just economic (i.e. making money) usage of space. An advertisement. A restaurant menu. A door. A vending machine. A coin locker. A parked bike. A parked car. I think it’s appropriate to call this beautiful in the usual sense of the word, but also because I think it’s a beautiful sounding word to apply to the concept that english doesn’t have a word for, the opposite of “boring” (“interesting” has been compromised), which is almost always the real problem with “ugly” buildings. I don’t think I ever saw anything one would normally call “art” on any building. I did see anime girls, but they were there because they were advertisements in Akihabara, not because it was an art piece. Not because the building was too big and they needed to put something else on it to make it less ugly. Buildings were just the size they needed to be.

Granted, I didn’t go into any skyscraper districts. But if you aren’t up to speed yet: Japan isn’t made of skyscraper districts. It’s not “overpopulated” or “hyperdense”. It’s pretty easy, or maybe more accurately, you have to put some effort in to get specifically to the skyscraper districts or other boring places. I think Akihabara has quite a few buildings that would classify as skyscrapers, but I never noticed such a fact while I was walking around in it. There was simply an endless variety of shapes and sizes everywhere I could possibly imagine to look – both in weeb heaven land, and (nearly) everywhere else.

I wonder if order is the way to build a beautiful city. It at least seems to be the case.

I find Las Vegas and Dubai ugly. Places like these are terrible because there’s only one strip where all the interest is, it’s all at the wrong size and frequency, and the moment you step out of that it’s a wasteland. I don’t care how fancy your light shows are, I don’t care about five stars this or millions of people have been to that, give me some lively streets with real people where I can wander around – again for the slow: that means on foot – stop at any time, any random place, and still be able to see nice things, and maybe, even get nice food. All the interesting non-point places I’ve found in Japan are also strips: Nishiki Market, Akihabara, etc. Suppose none of these compare, and Vegas or Dubai are better. The problem is, around Vegas and Dubai, are… Vegas and Dubai.

Around Nishiki is Kyoto, and around Akihabara is Tokyo.

It’s like buying a home. You’re not buying “a” ‘house’: you’re buying the neighborhood, you’re buying the city, you’re buying the local politics and economy. Now, given that, is it more important that beauty is on your house? Or is it more important beauty is on all that other stuff? Model it as a woman: big tits, or manages everything about home life well?

In America, it’s the former.

Americans have some pretty funny ideas, which I’ve ranted on at length before so I don’t intend to retread everything, but I’ll note a few things just to provide contrast.

Using the big keywords I’ve said here it’s very easy to journalist your way into a negative summary of Japan fitting into existing American ideas. If there’s parking lots everywhere and everything takes every possible open space at every size, then it must be extremely crowded, we’re America we have a lot of space, we don’t need to do that. If everyone follows everyone else and makes buildings that are somewhat boring and don’t stick out too much, then it must be because everyone is a drone, we’re America land of the free, we’re individuals we won’t do that. And so on and so on. I will respond to just these two, and indicate a pattern between them. I will also suggest that this pattern is the American mindset, and a countering pattern that appears to me to be the mindset of the Japanese.

“Japan is small and America has a lot of space.”

“[A]s if all the acreage in, say, Wyoming makes an ounce of a difference to people trying to live and work in, say, Boston. Or for that matter, all the acreage in WESTERN MASS vis-a-vis the people trying to live and work in Boston.”

That America the nation-state has political boundaries that are large is utterly inconsequential to land usage of cities. There’s a joke around political circles that Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country. This is alluding to the idea that outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia is a big country with next to no one in it. It’s a true idea. It’s also true of every country on the planet except for Singapore, the Vatican, Monaco, Lichtenstein, depending on your definitions Macau and Hong Kong, and a few other city-states I might have forgotten about. Think about any “crowded” country in your mind, go look at it on google maps, you have free satellite view of anywhere on the planet (did I mention it’s free?), no excuses (if you haven’t looked around Las Vegas or Dubai before, now would be the time to do that too). You’ll find there’s a lot of space everywhere, and most cities aren’t that crowded outside of a small area. India, it’s a whole lot of farmland. Bangladesh, same thing. China, China doesn’t even exist outside its eastern plain. And what is America? America is Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington, Miami, Atlanta, and Houston. Add or change the list if you like. That’s 10 items. Suppose I was wrong by half there’s 20. 20 cities. Over a lot of space. You know what that makes America?

That’s right: A corncob stand masquerading as a country.

If we’re looking at just the cities, everything is too large. American highways are too large. American suburbs are too large. American houses are too large. Big Gulps are too large. Everything is too large – or nonexistent, because it’s “go big or go home”, and “or” means both. So we get 1) really big things, and 2) nothing. Strip malls, parking lots, skyscrapers. Endless fields of single-family homes. Nothing larger, nothing smaller. Everyone has to get in their car to go to the Supercenter. No, that’s not entirely correct: they go to the parking lot at the Supercenter. Not a Japanese parking lot. An American parking lot. From one vast desert to the next.

Japanese cities are interesting from large scale to small. In Japanese art, anime, and movies, they straight up lift scenes and places from real life Japan. And why not? This also explains how this place churns out so much good art. The modernists on staring into blank pages being inspirational were wrong; you need to have seen something to draw it. So if you’re constantly surrounded in beauty, it’s going to be much easier to create it. Or just copy. And why not?

American cities are the interior of one car and the rear end of the next.

That’s what’s shown and that’s what’s remembered, because that’s more real and more beautiful than what is actually out there.

The other argument is that “America is sparsely populated”. Which in context of the other one makes it hard to keep a straight face. I understand why these lines are said: it’s status signalling. Americans all learned in elementary school the narrative of Manifest Destiny: America the Beautiful for Spacious Skies something Amber Waves of Grain or other. Which is fine and all, if you realize that’s what you’re doing. But those ideas are why America is actually for Spacious Cars and Black Plains of Boring, why your commute is 90-120 minutes a day one way, and why it’s not even constantly moving at any predictable speed: First, build big and far apart because there’s a lot of space. Second, say any suggested improvements can’t work because everything is too spread out. Then, say things don’t have to be close together because there’s a lot of space…

Ideas have consequences. If you think Las Vegas / Dubai is the correct model, one where people go from oasis (home) to desert (everything else) to oasis (supercenter), that’s fine.

I don’t think anyone who’s thought it through actually agrees with that.

“Japanese are mindless collectivists and Americans are innovative individualists.”

One of the big narratives about Japan is it’s always pushing the state-of-the-art on automation.

This was one that I found to be completely wrong. Beyond a doubt. Whether Japanese universities and companies at the top when sorted by automation is completely inconsequential. I’m commenting on daily life and culture as I was able to see it on the streets, and my thrust is we know for sure that’s the real Japan, and whatever things up in the clouds they’re doing, it’s based on and a result of the stuff right in front of us. People have a tendency to map what they know onto what they don’t know, they hear Japan makes the highest tech, that must mean the rest of it is also higher-tech, and this isn’t helped by journalists or their imitators. “Japan is super automated” in the American understanding is not just false, but wrong, actively wrong, like you have to make up shit and enthusiastically remove what’s in front of your face in order for the image to be true.

Rather than pushing automation, what I saw suggested Japan actively attempts to stick a person into every possible place where there might be public conflict. So many that it’s as if they only stopped sticking more people in places because they couldn’t find more people.

I was in Akihabara and noticed there were four cops standing around, hmm wonder what they’re doing, but wasn’t particularly interested so I was going to walk past – but then they stopped me. And everyone else. All four of them got in some formation.

Then a car appears out of nowhere, disappears onto the street. They all say something, bow, step aside, and pedestrian traffic resumed.

I should’ve went into the store and bought something right there. That was a show.

It was the entrance to a parking lot in the middle of a big building, Yodobaishi Camera (sells discount electronics). Maybe those four had some other purpose too but their main job, as far as I could tell, was just to prevent people from getting hit. Four men. I’m going to say it again because it was just so amazing to me: Four men. Four men, hired for purpose of making sure no one got hit. That was in the late afternoon so there were a lot more people, but you can drop into google maps and see for yourself what it looks like in the middle of the day. They’re still there. Three rather than four, but still there. Standing at attention.

There’s probably a better way to phrase it than “Japan is designed around paying attention”. Both automation and attention at least in their Japanese and American iterations both could easily be said to represent the other way. In a sense, the pedestrians’ and driver’s collision detection is “automated” by those men. In another sense, if the men were removed, then the parking entrance would be designed around “attention” because if you don’t pay it, you’re screwed. It is my intuition and choice to map the Japanese way onto “attention” and the American way onto “automation”. There is an upper limit on what you can pay attention to, so you have to pick and choose what’s important to you. Detailed in obverse: what do you want other people to pay attention to with regards to you?

A matter of what decisions are important: Do you want drivers to have to stop and wait for an indeterminate period of time before they can enter/exit your building, and pedestrians to watch out so they don’t get maimed? Or do you want to put uniformed people there to take care of that decision they don’t care for, for them, and bow after their task is complete?

I can tell you I wouldn’t have applauded for a convex mirror.

Not that there weren’t any convex mirrors. There were. And those too were in much higher frequency than I expected. Mirrors, signs, attendants, so many things were everywhere for the purpose of ensuring quick and clean expected results for the public in such excessive amounts I was beginning to suspect the Japanese Department of Transportation must be the most powerful arm of the government. Then I noticed another extension: convenience stores. Can you imagine one of those giant waist-sized copy machines? In a convenience store? Well they had it. Unmanned. Right next to the porn mags and microwavable meals. Which they will ask you if you want it microwaved for you. They had that right there too.

And everywhere I looked the principle continued. I haven’t seen the Energizer bunny in twenty years, and now I know where he went. He’s here. Running Japan.

Even the famous meal ticket machines struck me in the same way. After seeing a few, it was obvious its primary purpose was a matter of removing potential money conflicts. The cook/waiter doesn’t need to handle the money, only the meal. And if money can neither be swiped by the employee nor argued with by the customer, then you don’t need a manager on site – or if there is one, his meaning is different.

The American idea of automation, on the other hand, is specifically about reducing the number of people. Nevermind whether the public is satisfied with it, just reduce the number of people. The current popular example is self-checkout machines. No one likes them. No one. You are going to get “Unexpected item in the bagging area. Please remove item”, and you are going to stand and wait for the single employee assigned there to get to you, after he gets through the other five machines having the same problem. But it’s good, because it’s automated. Self-driving cars are killing people, and we’re “debating ethics” like “should a car kill pedestrians or its passengers”, rather than suing the company, or banning the technology, or reducing their maximum speed, or hitting the brakes. Or going back to drivers. It’s good, because it’s automated. The real problem is that the technology is just a little imperfect today. This is the future. This is the march towards enlightenment.

The reason why I map the American way onto “automation” is because I doubt Americans think. Thinking itself is treated as a sin. Americans mechanically seek automation because they mentally seek the reduction of syllogisms to points. Preferably, to a single objective point: one True narrative to rule to them all. Are the Japanese “collectivist”? Perhaps. But if I were to choose either Americans or the Japanese to call “automatons”, the Japanese would not be it.

In writing this I had to stop for two days because a neighbor’s dog was yelping at a rate of about once a second for a length of six hours and driving me insane. When I try to talk to them, they pretend they’re not home. When I talk to the police, they tell me a complaint is not real until I get five neighboring homeowner signatures. When I talk to my family, they tell me people have a right to raise dogs. These answers – don’t change the fact that there’s sound pollution emanating from that dog, and it’s been happening for the past five years. When I look at what others have said about similar situations, people have responded from “just live with it”, to “throw poisoned meat over the fence”, to “send endless legal paperwork at them”, to “spend tens of thousands of dollars to soundproof your room”, to “buy super bright lights and a big amplifier and send it right back at em”.

In short, they said: “You go do something about it”.

Or as I phrased it last time: “Fuck you, got mine”.

I even read one comment saying something like this was a good thing:

“I’m surrounded by neighbors with barking dogs and the sound of gunshots. I’ve never been a big fan of the wanna-be dictators that live in cities so it actually brings pleasure to my ears to hear the report of liberty ringing through the woods and my fellow freedom loving country dwellers don’t mind it either.”

Maybe I didn’t go into the Japanese countryside enough, but it was quiet. That stereotype was on the money. Everywhere I went was quiet. People were quiet. Cars were quiet. Toilets flushing were quiet. Even those hot air driers you stick your hands in were quiet. The loudest things were trains (if you weren’t inside them) (correction: arcades were the loudest), but both rails and highways had sound walls on them. Anywhere they were close to housing, soundwalls. Miles and miles and miles of soundwalls and more soundwalls. It is difficult to imagine a Japanese neighborhood ever having a noise problem, first because probably no one makes much noise to begin with, and if they did, they’d be cooperative and come to some agreement, and if they weren’t, the cops would come and help work something out. “Help” not being sarcastic. Cops are everywhere in Japan, by the way. And these aren’t American cops. There’s no equivalent American concept for them. I would maybe compare them to class leaders, but that only makes sense if you’re a weeb; class leader also has no equivalent American concept. I would also maybe compare them to having a big brother, but “Big Brother” also has absolutely nothing to do with how Japanese police integrate into their social fabric. I would know. I saw people casually walk up to talk to Japanese cops. And Japanese cops casually walked up to talk to me. (That story is in the panoramics.)

The Japanese actually have a social fabric. That doesn’t exist in America, because regardless of how many “community center”s you build, everyone’s attitude is “fuck you, got mine”. No matter what kinds of things I or the police can do about that neighbor’s dog, it’s their dog. That’s not a statement of legal rights, that’s a statement of ontology. A court order means nothing if that person doesn’t care to do it. The law doesn’t protect people, people protect the law. The Japanese people protect the law. The American people say “fuck you, got mine”.

Ideas have consequences. Everyone knows America makes crap cars, and that’s because everyone making those cars only pays attention to their own little bubble and exercises whatever arbitrary authority over others the piece of paper says they have, fuck if there’s consequences, “fuck you, got mine”. Change the approach, change the consequences.

Earlier I talked about a Japanese car factory in America – it was new Toyota management over what a recently closed GM plant manned by, as the union phrased it, “the worst workforce in the automobile industry”. The day it re-opened, the world’s best cars were coming down the line. And it wasn’t because of some fancy automation. Take it from the workers themselves. Turns out you need people to make cars, and human relationship structures are also a technology. One of the things they did was instantly reduce total man-hours to produce a car by half. They achieved this because Japanese managers decided the line will be stopped any time anyone – any line worker – thinks there’s a problem. Turns out stopping the line for something minor when it appears is cheaper than finding out after the fact and having to undo, and then redo, everything that’s piled on top later.

Just like how it’s cheaper for a neighborhood for an owner to pay attention and train their dog than a neighbor buy soundproofing materials, or big speakers and bright lights. “You can’t say that, that’s their dog!” Yes. It is their dog. That’s the point.

Japanese pay attention to their place in the social fabric to achieve desired consequences.
Americans talk about freedom and innovation.

Japanese make cars people want.
Americans talk about how scrappy tinkerers in Stanford garages made DARPA self-driving cars.

People tour Japanese tourist attractions, cities, suburbs, and charming rural villages.

People tour American tourist attractions, not the cities, definitely not the suburbs, and not rural villages, not because they’re not charming, but because they don’t exist.

Ideas have consequences. Change the approach, change the consequences.

Perhaps the overarching idea is manners.

There was a lot of manners everywhere. The most obvious ones being bowing and uniforms, some less obvious ones being quietness and a certain simplicity and cleanliness in dress, and not obvious at all if you don’t understand the language, how many politeness suffixes there are on every word public attendants say. Somewhere along the way occurred to me it wasn’t a coincidence that Japan is both a land of politeness and a land of proper and beautiful walls and gates. Walls and gates… are just the building versions of manners. Or more illustriously:

Manners are just the human behavior version of walls and gates.

When you encounter a building or a person, you basically have no idea what’s going on inside it. If that building is properly defined though, with a slight bit of flourish on its entrance, you’ll feel it’s slightly more important – because it shows it understands its borders with its neighbors, and that it treats the people who enter it with respect. If a person is properly defined, with a slight bit of flourish where it’s important, say, a clean blue suit, with white-gloved hands, then you’re more likely to go to such a stranger to ask for help, and, finishing with a bow, feel slightly better going off about your day.

Whatever is going on inside your house or your head, how you present is how others will treat you and interact with you. How you present yourself is what your “manners” are.

A lot of American political activism, downstream of which is the general culture, has the central idea of “Don’t judge me by my looks”. Well what else are you giving people to judge you on? They’re not going to read your book. “You can’t judge me” Sure I can. I have to know how to interact with you. “You don’t know anything about me” I know at least that your gate is ugly and your walls are crumbling. There’s certain types of things I can reasonably be sure are true from those facts, just as sure as I can be that a tree fallen in a forest at some point made a sound. “I’m trying to raise awareness” Yeah. You’re doing that alright.

“I do what I want!”

Does such an idea lead to a better world? Ideas have consequences.

The American phrasing for Japanese dress code is “conservative”, and in terms of the physical references, it’s pretty accurate. In Tokyo it was more or less a sea of black suits. In Kyoto there were quite a number of kimonos instead. But “conservative” (in Americanese) more generally means “old fashioned”, as in “done because it’s always been done this way”, and I’m not sure that’s so true. It may be true at the individual scale, like parents telling kids what to do, but I doubt that’s what’s happening on a broader scale. I don’t think it’s the general principle. It does not seem to be possible to build and maintain society so beautiful and so clean and so peaceful with just the idea, “because it’s always been done this way”.

Proper manners have an importance for the person doing it. The act of performing a ritual reinforces its mental importance. I once had, and this is not normal, a co-worker who made sure to say “good morning”, every day, to everyone, the first time he saw them that day. I didn’t understand it then, even when reciprocating the gesture, even when he left and it didn’t happen anymore. I lacked (the ability to construct) a frame of reference on what a world built on that principle would mean. But now I have an idea. “In Japan not saying grace before eating something is considered the absolute pits of rudeness and sure sign of retarded manners.” It’s technically not ‘grace’ because it’s not the Christian God, it’s saying thanks to the people who worked to prepare the food. But technically, that’s as unheard as praying to a god, because most of the people who prepared that food aren’t around, and actually no one is around if you’re eating alone and the waiter has left the table. Yet it happens. Not because of materialism vs spiritualism, but because the act of doing it reinforces its mental importance.

What would it mean if everyone and everyones’ behaviors had proper boundaries? What would it mean if everyone’s interactions with each other were properly defined? What would it mean if people paid attention to others, and saw that everyone has their share in shaping what the world will look like?

What would such a world look like?

Japan gave me some ideas.

No, that’s not accurate.

A week in Japan induced me to ask, “What would such a world look like?”.


What did I find having travelled?

What is the value in travel?

I believe it is to adjust your senses.

I consider this the first real time I’ve been to another place. In all the other times, it was basically a dream. I had no say in anything, and nothing affected me. The only decisions available were to follow or not follow the tour group (whether this be a Chinese bus tour or family), to get on or not get on the vehicle in time, and to wake up or not wake up on time. In travel as well as other domains, I’ve found where you make decisions is where you pay attention is what becomes important is what you remember. This time, it was somewhere I wanted to go. Nevermind that “it’s the land of trains and anime!!!” isn’t a very good reason, it’s my reason, which means it’s better than someone else’s reason. That’s how decisions work. So I wanted to make all the decisions I could come up with.

At the beginning I said my interest was “how the Japanese use their land”, but what I really wanted to see was how they live. To fully see how another people live is probably an impossible task, though you can presumably get pretty close by speaking their language and working in their economy for a few decades. Short of such an intensive and extensive ethnography, I was content to wander about the places just slightly more mundane than specifically designed tourist attractions. I have a few opinions on the tourist attractions, which I list in the albums, but most of them were not particularly here nor there.

In the end, the parts of Japan I enjoyed the most were watching people do things and inspecting places designed for more reasons than just mine. How do these foreign people live their daily lives? Well, here’s at least how they live some of their public parts of it.

Planning and Decisions

The most important purpose the tourist attractions served was anchoring during the planning phase – which turned out to be fairly different from what I imagined before I did it, and doing it showed me why it is travel agents and tour guides exist. That stuff takes time. A lot of time. I can understand why some people don’t want to do it (though I think it also entirely defeats the purpose of travel). There were some decisions too, though not so much on decisions between tourist attractions. It’s comparing this (web)page to that (web)page: hard enough telling which part is better even with detailed specsheets, telling worthiness of tourist attractions based off of fuzzy language written by people you don’t know is intractable. Hiring people who have (ostensibly) been to places – tour guides and travel agents – would have a much better idea. (No surprise, those types are the ones writing these (web)pages.) Taking it a step further, such people would have been much more important before the internet. In such times, where else would you get a map? How would you read the signs? I imagine if I had unlimited money and power, a personal travel guide would be ideal. Someone who knows all the stuff, but is at my beck and call rather than the other way around.

The other decision was only slightly less intractable: how much resolution should the planning have? “Kyoto then Tokyo” was obviously not good enough, but where should the detail stop? I imagine this one isn’t as difficult if you’ve travelled before and have a sense for this sort of thing, but I hadn’t a clue. It might also be something approaching personality: I hate not having any ideas, so I planned things down to the minute and meter – not so much so there was a plan to follow to the letter, but to have a letter to return to in case things go wrong. This cost a lot more time, but I felt better having done it.

When did I stop? When I burned out.

That being said, a lot of planning ended up being next to superfluous. Like looking for restaurants: I was worried about places not having english menus, but this is basically not a concern. They’re fairly common. Some will even indicate it on a sign outside. At first I was using japan-guide.com and similar, but they all listed the super high class exorbitant stuff which I didn’t care for. Then I used tabelog, something the Japanese actually use, but it turns out it’s not particularly important to the Japanese whether a place does or doesn’t have an english menu, so they don’t go and mark that detail on a review site. Then by the time I got there, I magically found myself magically okay with places not having english. I wasn’t a food tourist. I had some plans to be one, but because beauty was everywhere, lines at a lot of places were long, and my feet hurt, I skipped meals or ate at convenience (stores).

This extremely detailed planning, or rather, the expectation of having an extremely detailed plan, ran into two major problems:

  • I didn’t have a specific spot to get a SIM card.
  • “Don’t travel with family”.

These appeared at the same time at the very beginning after something like 16 hours of plane and transfer and 30 hours of being awake, which gave me what I think people called a breakdown.

The former was an oversight based on how exceedingly simple and cheap it was to do in Hong Kong. A little 7-11 or something right at the exit of customs had SIM cards for like 10 USD for 7D unlimited calls/text/data. I was caught by surprise at KIX when mom said “don’t get it here, it’s cheaper in the city”. So I’m like, okay mom. Of course, it wasn’t okay. Because now you don’t know where to go to get a SIM card. They aren’t just lying around on the streets “in the city”. We take the limo bus to Kyoto station, and wander around the south side until we find some convenience-looking stores, one (or two?) of which had english instructions on laminated sheets on their SIM cards for sale. They were something like 4500Y minimum for 30D, 1.5GB data, no calls no text. Which seemed like a bad joke. Then we take a taxi to our hotel, except the taxi didn’t drop us off at the literal doorstep, I don’t have a map because I was expecting to have google the whole time, and neither of them have maps of sufficient size or detail either, so we walk around like headless chickens for an hour until one stranger responded to mom’s asking random people for directions with a google maps search and tells us we had walked in the wrong direction. Turns out the taxi dropped us off about 300m from the hotel, and we had extended that distance by about 200m. Somewhere along those 500m we stop by a FamilyMart, which may or may not have had a SIM card. I say “may or may not” because there were definitely things labelled “phone”, but none of them had instructions were in english – which is pretty important to someone who can only read english (“I know my kana and a few kanji” = “can only read english”). I was delirious at this point, but my sister saved the day by searching up “kyoto sim card” or something on google using the hotel wifi, said we could get it at a BIC Camera next to Kyoto Station, and so that’s where we went and that’s what we got. Or rather, that’s what I got. Apparently neither of them found such a thing was all that important. I was ready to shell out the 4500 at that point, but BIC Camera had the same offering for 2000, so 2000 it was. Looking it up now, apparently KIX has SIM cards for around 4000. In retrospect, I should’ve just paid the 2000 extra and gotten that half a day of time back. 20 USD for a few hours of time and peace of mind? Next you’ll tell me you have a deal for self enlightenment.

(There’s a lot of signs saying “free wifi” everywhere, but I don’t trust such things (in America), one because it’s unreliable reception, two because my main usage would be GPS which means moving around. My sister said she had success with ward/station wifi in Kyoto and Nara, but in every Tokyo attempt they required at least an email, and her yahoo email gave some consistent error message. Free wifi on the limo bus also required some similar details. On the same topic: the SIM card asked for passport details.)

“Don’t travel with family” I’ve heard now and again, so it seems to be some sort of idiom. Having done it now I have some ideas as to why it is. It doesn’t have to be true, but some things will make it more true than not. I think it comes down again to decisions, but since I’ve been talking about decisions a lot already I’ll use a slightly different angle.

The problem with travelling with family is the former is unknown unknowns and the latter is set knowns. Under normal conditions, when this or that happens, this or that person takes care of this or that part. In travel, any number of things can change, most importantly the things you didn’t even consider, and it’s now unclear who can do or who is responsible for what. When mom contradicts me, usually she knows both what I want and what she’s talking about. But generally she only deals with and I only consult her on certain things. SIM card acquirement methods in foreign countries not being one of them. And if it’s on a tight timeline even the decision of whether to stay in this area for a little longer or not can be a strain. Everyone has different interests, and different ways to approach unknowns – how do you deal with those differences in your family? What that dynamic is determines how much you will enjoy what level of travelling with them, or any arbitrary thing with any arbitrary group. Between getting off the limo bus and getting the SIM card four hours later I blamed mom in a variety of colorful ways for preventing us from having a navi, and somewhere in there she said “You could’ve not listened to me”. Which at the time just made my mouth even more colorful. But finally getting sleep after 40 hours of being awake, and then running into coordination problems again that first real day, I decided to do just that afterwards. Our interests didn’t correspond to begin with. She found Gion “boring, when are we going to see the actual stuff” when I found every step I took there much more interesting than the “actual stuff” we later arrived at. She later spent an hour in a Shinjuku cat cafe. I was happily wandering my way from Shinsen to Shibuya doing “nothing”. Does everything need to happen together with family? Is it a magic word? Good fences (and good gates and good manners) make good neighbors; everyone prefers cubicles over open offices; rooms have walls for a reason. I never had trouble with family on all those other trips because I knew who was in charge and I was fully satisfied – or at least, not unsatisfied enough to conceptualize it – being pulled along doing whatever it was the others were doing. This time, that was not the case.

Next time I go somewhere I’m going to print out some maps beforehand. Yes it’s more convenient if everything is on the phone, even more convenient if it’s on the cloud, but I think having a lower level tech backup is good (google does not offer downloadable/offline maps in Japan). Having thought about it beforehand is also a type of backup, and regardless of how superfluous a lot of it turned out, I’m glad I did that: “you fall to the level of your training”. I was able to quickly rearrange the order of things because I didn’t need to look details up again, which would’ve taken longer because mobile is not the same as a desktop. And of course, I had an idea on what places of interest existed. No tourist booklet could have given me ideas on the visual value of what this or that non-tourist area would be.

I think I’d like a lower level backup of everything, but that’s probably not feasible at some point. The lower level of GPS is just asking for directions. Rather than cross-referencing three paper schedules you should just take a taxi, which mom is fond of, but actively exited my considerations. Similarly, there’s an upper limit to how many and what kinds of decisions you can make. Taking a train is more real than taking a taxi, but only in that 1) regular people use trains more than taxis and 2) trains have stations, which in Japan are absolutely charming. The actual ride of a train and taxi have basically the same decision weight.

Unless you take a taxi that drops you off somewhere you didn’t tell it to.

Where can information be found?

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems like the internet has severely warped my understanding of where things can be found. I thought I had understood the concept with regards to driving and GPS – I look at the map beforehand, and I try to achieve what I visualize in my mind, only consulting the phone if I start doubting the correlation between what I see and that image. It was obvious to me that following a disembodied voice by the nose that only tells you what to do 15 or 30 seconds ahead of time would paint a similarly disintegrated world. But the problem was much bigger than that.

In Kyoto Station there was a visitor information center or some similar name. Mom wanted to go take a look and pick up some brochures and booklets, so I follow her in, but I was thinking: gee, what a fancy and pointless display. It’s not like people are going to come here and then plan their trip.

And then I thought – where else would they put it?

How much sooner could the City of Kyoto and the Japan National Tourism Organization get that information sooner into the hands of those who would be interested, by what methods could they have done it, and in what forms could it possibly take?

Sure it’d be better if you knew beforehand, but that’s not what visitor centers are for. If you’re looking for information beforehand, maybe the Japanese Embassy in your country has something. But you’d still have to travel to the Embassy, which they probably don’t have in your specific city (I don’t know anything about embassies). Other than that, where would it be? Who would spend their time and/or land providing such a service? And it is a service. We refer to searching on the internet as “looking up”, as if the man in the sky himself is handing us an apple – and that’s exactly right. What’s not right is thinking that’s how information works. The Google god hands you an apple, but that’s dependent on what Google will give you, and there are things it won’t, either because it chooses not to, or because it doesn’t have it (or because it’s on page 10 and you don’t look past page 2). You can use japan-guide.com or anywhere else, but their information is also limited. Their scope is not infinite, and the real thing is. An obvious limit: how are these sites funded? They are funded somehow. Perhaps that’s why all the restaurants in the first place I looked were of the exorbitant type?

One of the reasons I told myself I didn’t like American cities is because it’s not clear where anything is. Everything is too spread out, everything’s spread out, if a place doesn’t have one of those hundred-foot-tall towers with a huge logo on it, you won’t know it’s there. And in a sense that’s true. Tokyo was marvelous with sticking huge maps (with english!!) on what seemed like every other street corner (infinite budget: how do you do that for cars?). But it’s still not holy revelation when everything is close together. You still have to find one and walk to it.

There’s always some work/cost involved.

And there’s always the possibility that amount is too high.

This other example is even sillier than the last one: I started with the idea that I could shop around to save money on souvenirs. Now, this wasn’t entirely untrue, but it was false. How much could you possibly save? These sorts of things are usually discussed between the sellers beforehand, and even if the cost was a big difference, you are probably not going to be the one to exploit it. There were differences, but I don’t think I saw any more than 300Y difference for the same >2500Y item in the same district. And if it’s not in the same district, or if the more recent district simply doesn’t have the thing you wanted: are you going to go all the way back to the other one? Is this what you want to be spending your time on? How many days are you here? Oh yeah, remember this is all while your feet hurt.

Related is the concept of a “tourist trap”. At least in Japan, I feel a more appropriate wording is “tourist nest”. Here is an area where you can see what you came to see, buy things you’d expected to buy, and there’s plenty of things in english and people who can speak english. Sure there’s some other district where you can get things for cheaper, or see something interesting that most people don’t see. But there will be less english. And the people there won’t be prepared to handle you. Imagine being randomly placed in an airport with no signs and no maps, no attendants and no telephone booths. With videogames as a metaphor instead: imagine no minimap. In the same sense, it’s like being deployed at an embassy or a(n American) military base. Yeah you’re in another country. But your actions mean very different things when you’re inside versus when you’re out. Or in a much darker sense, human trafficking. You’re in a foreign country, but no one knows you, you can’t communicate with anyone, and you have no papers. After escaping, finding your way to the nearest “tourist trap” is probably your best bet. But how will you know where that is? In a much more mundane example, suppose you live near a big city and some friends visit you and ask you to show them around or introduce them to some famous places. If you didn’t have the internet and weren’t a tour guide or taxi driver by profession: how would you do that?

The difference in mapping of what physically exists versus what goes on in people’s heads is significant. And it seems like the difference is getting larger – that or something related, like peoples’ ability to cross or even recognize that gap is rapidly diminishing.

What does having information mean?

When the printing press was first being deployed the majority of production went towards novels, and the criticisms were that people would not be able to distinguish between fiction and reality. There’s the famous story about a radio reading of a book that made people believe aliens really had landed on earth. More recently, video games are said to cause violence in children, and porn to cause a variety of changes in relationships between women and men.

I think all of them are right. Not in their specific claims, but in their general direction.

The principle is whatever you train for is whatever you will expect. Training in “the real world” is not an exception, as there’s quite a few “the real world”s out there, and they’re all wildly different from each other.

The more specific principle is man-made environments are very low on dimensions. If it’s text, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, you are taking in information from a single type, literally one font, it’s linear, and it’s uninterrupted. Spend a lot of time reading text, and you’ll start thinking the world comes in one type, operates linearly, and will be forever continuous. If it’s a videogame there’s a few more parts to it, but you’re still looking at a rectangle of light, and probably using a standardized interface with limited inputs. If it’s a job, again, there’s just a few more parts to it. Major difference from the other two being you have to leave your house.

There are so many more information types in the world.

That there’s probably more types than any one can ever directly handle is only a vaguely important revelation. The more important one is there’s some arrangement of types that probably works a lot better for you than whatever you have now. This is the real reason why it’s said there are things you can’t learn from schools and books, not because they’re not discussed thoroughly in schools and books (though there’s that too), but because the types they use aren’t designed to be compatible with you.

Perhaps there’s someone that could gain a substantial understanding of Japan based off of going to tourist attractions. I doubt it. Perhaps there’s someone that could gain it off of going to museums. This requires being able to read Japanese, but it’s more plausible. I needed to wander the streets I picked out myself off random google maps streetview drops. I should have done that even more; I gained next to nothing going to the actual attractions.

But no one was going to tell me about that.

No one could have imagined to tell me about that.


References and Other Rulesets

I

“Training deals not with an object but with the human spirit and human emotions.”

The Tao of Jeet Kune Do
Bruce Lee

“I don’t care where you read it. I don’t care who said it. Even if I said it. If it doesn’t fit with what you believe and your common sense, then it is not so.”

The Buddha
as relayed by Richard Hamming

II

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

John Keats

“You can get away with staggering amounts of ugliness in a city as long as it is held to a human scale and balanced with the sacred.”

Wrath of Gnon

“The wasted space (and its contribution to overall impoverishment) in our stagnant cities is definitely on my mind a lot–but it’s not surprising that high real estate costs in other cities haven’t changed things for them, mainly because they’re just too far away to benefit from places which are still thriving–they only *work* when they have functional economies of their own.

It’s like that tedious cliche about “why do Americans need to build dense when we have S P A C E” as if all the acreage in, say, Wyoming makes an ounce of a difference to people trying to live and work in, say, Boston.

Or for that matter, all the acreage in WESTERN MASS vis-a-vis the people trying to live and work in Boston.”

Alex Forrest

“Mechanical innovations, including mechanized cities, can add to our experience and stimulate our perceptive capacities, but they do not eradicate the mechanisms of human physiology.

The proper size of a bedroom has not changed in thousands of years.

Neither has the proper size of a door nor the proper size of a community. If cities have become immense, so much more is the need for subdividing them into comprehensible sections. Transportation systems may render the outlying parts of the city more accessible, but communities must remain individual entities whose size and appearance are comprehensible. The physical fact of scale must also be visually apparent. When these principles are violated the results are cities without human form, cities without sympathy, cities without pride. Worse still are the effects on the spirit and human sensitivities of its people.”

Paul D. Spreiregen
Wrath of Gnon

“The immersive ugliness of our everyday environments in America is entropy made visible. We can’t overestimate the amount of despair that we are generating with places like this. And mostly, I want to persuade you that we have to do better, if we’re going to continue the project of civilization in America. By the way, this [smiley face on a water tower] doesn’t help. Nobody’s having a better day down here, because of that.

There are a lot of ways you can describe this. I like to call it “the national automobile slum”. You can call it suburban sprawl. I think it’s appropriate to call it the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. […]

The salient problem about this for us is that these are places that are not worth caring about.

[…] The public realm has to inform us not only where we are geographically, but where we are in our culture. Where we’ve come from, what kind of people we are, and by doing that, it needs to afford us a glimpse of where we’re going, in order to allow us to dwell in a hopeful present. If there is one catastrophe about the places we’ve built, the human environments we’ve made for ourselves in the last 50 years, it is that it has deprived us of the ability to live in a hopeful present.

The environments we are living in, more typically, are like these. This happens to be the asteroid belt of architectural garbage two miles north of my town […] If you stand on the apron of the Wal-Mart over here, and try to look at the Target store over there, you can’t see it because of the curvature of the Earth.

That’s nature’s way of telling you that you’re doing a poor job of defining space. Consequently, these will be places that nobody wants to be in. These will be places that are not worth caring about.

We have about 38,000 places that are not worth caring about in the United States today. When we have enough of them, we’re going to have a nation that’s not worth defending.”

How Bad Architecture Wrecked Cities
James Howard Kunstler

“America’s the best, if you really treasure your freedom, you’ll put up with 60 minutes every day each way to go 20 miles, a distance which might as well be in the middle of nowhere because it’s all single family detached residential around here. Stop complaining already. Everyone else has to deal with it too. If you don’t like it why don’t you leave? I just suck it up like a real man. I’m proud of my country. I don’t like it either,

but look at me,

I don’t complain.

This attitude is why I hate Americans. “My country, right or wrong” – except worse, because it’s not about foreign vs domestic, it’s about “Fuck you, got mine“. There’s no reasoning going on, there’s no considering of alternatives, there’s no constant seeking for improvement, it’s “eh, who cares, fuck you, got mine”. American gamers say those who are better than them “have no life”, and say those who are worse than them “casuals”. Americans who are more successful than them are “lucky or “talented”, but when they taste success themselves it’s because they have “passion” and achieved it through “hard work”. It’s so prevalent everywhere it’s would almost be funny, except they get really serious when the shit hits the fan and still refuse to believe that any of this is related.

People want housing to be close to jobs and shopping. Higher population density means more people are closer to the same amount of things. Metro systems, which have guaranteed right-of-way on their rails, connect speedily and reliably even more people to the same amount of things. This speed simultaneously connects those people to more areas than before, meaning there’s more areas competing with each other, driving the price down of, among other things, rent. All of these things are objectively desirable. All of these things are required in an ideal city.

But the people don’t care. And the city planners don’t care. The public transportation workers don’t care. The public transportation leaders don’t care. No one cares, until it looks like it might be time for them to get their cut. Then it’s not in my backyard, not my job, sorry the project was more complicated than expected, it’ll cost twice as much and take three times as long, man that janitor worked really hard this year, he deserves a raise. And then it’s back to not caring. Maybe once every five years we’ll do a week’s worth of work. Maybe once every four years they’ll pay attention. And we’re the world police superpower anyways, it’s always going to be better to live here. If those slanty eyed chinks start getting uppity we’ll just nuke them. Time for a nap.”

BART, Americans, and Attitudes, vs The East
Korezaan Su

“In most North American communities, police takes the curious form of clearly identified vehicles basically prowling the streets in search of violations (most often traffic violations). The analogy of police being predators hunting for prey is a bit too easy to make. This doesn’t help police-community relations at all, because the isolation of private vehicles means that police will rarely be in contact with the community except when intervening, so police may come to see the community they’re policing (especially if they don’t live in it) as made up of only two types of people: law violators/criminals and victims begging for help. That’s not a great way to develop a great relationship: “that community is full of criminals and people who flout the law all the time and hate us, but when they’re in trouble, suddenly it’s ‘please mr policeman, save us!!!'”.

[…] The reason for this type of policing is easy enough to understand. With people dispersed everywhere over a large area, how can a few dozen policemen provide effective surveillance if they’re not constantly on the move, at a speed that allows them to cover enough ground. This is a model that is also needlessly applied to dense neighborhoods which could have an alternative mode of policing.

Another unpleasant result of this is that policemen develop severe windshield perspective syndrome, since they spend their jobs at the wheel, they adopt the point of view of drivers, being more lax towards casual traffic violations by drivers and more likely to enforce jaywalking fines or the like on pedestrians and cyclists (and also, disrespecting bike lanes).

And what alternative mode is there? Well, again, Japan shows an interesting contrast.”

Police box: policing a walkable city
Urban kchoze

“Why are you going that far to obey the law when that law can neither judge a criminal nor protect people?”

“The law doesn’t protect people. People protect the law.

People have always detested evil and sought out a righteous way of living. Their feelings… The accumulation of those peoples’ feelings are the law. They’re neither the provisions nor the system. They’re the fragile and irreplacable feelings that everyone carries in their hearts. Compared to the power of anger or hatred, they are something that can quite easily break down. People have prayed for a better world throughout time.

In order for those prayers to continue to hold meaning, we have to try our best to protect it to the very end.”

Kogami Shinya, Tsunemori Akane
Psycho-Pass

“They spent about two weeks, and they worked in a Toyota plant.”

“Hooked up at the hip with a counterpart in the Corolla plant, someone who did the exact same job you’d be doing back in Fremont.”

“And they start to do the job, and they were pretty proud, because they were building cars back in the United States. And they wanted to show they could do it within the time allotted, and they would usually get behind, and they would struggle, and they would try to catch up. And at some point, somebody would come over and say, do you want me to help?

And that was a revelation, because nobody in the GM plant would ever ask to help. They would come and yell at you because you got behind.”

“Really, we wanted to give them a chance to see and experience a different way of doing things. We wanted them to see the culture there, the way people worked together to solve problems.”

“Then, the biggest surprise was if, when they had those problems, afterwards, somebody would come up to them and say, what are your ideas for improvement so we don’t have that problem again?

They couldn’t believe that responsiveness. I can’t remember any time in my working life where anybody asked for my ideas to solve the problem. And they literally want to know. And when I tell them, they listen, and then suddenly they disappear, and somebody comes back with the tool that I just described. It’s built, and they say try this.”

Jeffrey Liker, John Shook
This American Life #561: NUMMI 2015

“Just because something is on the internet does not mean it’s a “public space”.”

“Yeah so what? We need to make sure large companies aren’t able to control who can go where and do what. You can’t kill somebody just for being in your house. So obviously there’s a line that needs drawing.”

“You’re forgetting that another entity could provide the well for the other demographic, seeing as there’s money to be made there.”

“It’s an example of there being limited availability in resources. In the example of the water, there’s no time to wait for the market to dig another well to save the person. Any excuse can be made, but the end result is the person dies, not that property rights have been saved. The same thing is happening with social media. […] If it’s the greater races at stake. The future of civilization at stake. Then there’s no length we shouldn’t go to to save it. Property becomes less important. It’s a hierarchy of needs for civilization to survive.

[…] The entire premise is virtual or not, private or not, when something dominates how we live our lives, we need to look at how we can update those areas to reflect our values. Those values conflict with private property every day and we have to make hard decisions. Private property is an ideal just like freedom of speech, belief, etc. […] Property rights are incredibly important, but there are times they hinder civilization. If it allows us to get run over and civilization destroyed, and property rights destroyed as a result, then they weren’t very good ideals. This is why libertarians have mostly become fascists of some sort. At least until we get control of things like borders and universities.”

“There is no comparison between forcing a company to manage it’s website a certain way and border control.”

“It’s not a comparison. It’s about taking every ground we can to support the existence of civilization. Property rights are good at that, but only to a point. We also need to think in terms of collective property rights.

We can’t just wait until something reaches our doorstep. Collective power always has and always will matter.”

Arman, Unknown

“When was the first time you ever pulled an andon cord?”

“1984.”

“Where did you do it?”

“In Japan.”

“Were you at all nervous, because you’d been taught for so many years never to stop the line?”

“Yeah. And it was really exciting.”

“What got me was the fact that they had a cross bolt, and they stopped the line to repair it […] which is take the bolt out, ream the hole, put the bolt back in, instead of sending it on and putting all the other junk on top of it so you have to take it off and repair it. And whoever puts it back isn’t skilled in putting trim back, so they’re going to mess up. That impression, I said, gee, that makes sense. Fix it now so you don’t have to go through all this stuff.

That’s when it dawned on me that we can do it.

One bolt.

One bolt changed my attitude.”

Frank Langfitt, Earl Ferguson, Rick Madrid
This American Life #561: NUMMI 2015

“To grasp the essence of a political culture that does not recognise the possibility of transcendental truths demands an unusual intellectual effort for Westerners, an effort that is rarely made even in serious assessments of Japan. The occidental intellectual and moral traditions are so deeply rooted in assumptions of the universal validity of certain beliefs that the possibility of a culture existing without such assumptions is hardly ever contemplated. Western child-rearing practice inculcates suppositions that implicitly confirm the existence of an ultimate logic controlling the universe independently of the desires and caprices of human beings. This outlook, constantly reaffirmed in later life, inclines Westerners to take for granted that all advanced civilisations develop concepts of universal validity, and they are therefore not prompted to examine the effects of their absence.”

The Enigma of Japanese Power
Karel van Wolferen

“Centralization leads to complexity, complexity leads to crisis, attempts to fix the crisis have, because of complexity, unintended consequences, which escalate into further crisis, leading to further centralization, Hence Soviet Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Venezuela, and now America.

This is the crisis of socialism, explained in “I pencil”, which makes the point that no one actually knows how to make a pencil, hence socialist production of pencils will fail.

In order to manage complexity, you need walls, so that one man can make decisions without having his decisions mucked up by another man’s decisions. Hence, private property and local authority, the authority of the father, the authority the business owner, the authority of the CEO. And, not so long ago, the authority of the local aristocrat, who tended to be a high officer in the local militia, a major employer and landowner, and related by blood or marriage to most of the other high officers in the local militia.

Ideally all the consequences of a decision should be contained within those walls. Of course they never are, but if you try to manage all the externalities, things very quickly slide of control. Every attempt to manage the externalities has unexpected consequences, and attempts to deal with the unexpected consequences have additional unexpected consequences, because trying to control matters that have externalities connects everything to everything else, resulting in a tangle beyond human comprehension.”

Throne, Altar, and Freehold
Jim’s Blog

“The emperor listened intently to Zhang’s tales of exotic plants and animals, including horses that sweated blood. Most intriguing were the reports of nations that dwelled in fortified cities. They were said to be adept at commerce but “poor in the use of arms and afraid of battle” – standard characteristics of the walled and civilized. Zhang described “large countries, full of rare things, with populations living in fixed abodes and given to occupations somewhat identical to those of the Chinese people.”

People who lived like the Chinese? Now that was welcome news. In a flash, China’s alleged isolation was swept away. The Chinese had retreated behind walls only because they knew the world to be hostile and barbarian. Now they knew otherwise. Wu sent great expeditionary forces to open a lifeline to the newly discovered brethren in the fraternity of wall builders. At the time, only massive armies dared cross the terrain of the Huns, so Wu endeavored to make the route safe for travelers. He ordered the construction of a new wall – the reed-and-dirt wall discovered by Stein – to defend China’s thin link to the civilizations of Central Asia and beyond.”

Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick
David Frye
Wrath of Gnon

“Entrances have everything to do with what we feel about what we are entering. All buildings until the birth of modern architecture knew this, and you can see it in church doors, temple gates, shop entrances, and cottage doorsteps. Now the doors of a modern building are likely to be a continuation of the same hostile slab of glass or steel that makes the rest of the building sterile and aloof. There will be no place to rest for a moment, inside or out, and no shelf to rest a burden on, and no decorative details to declare, “This is not just any place you are entering, but this honorable place.” I believe even criminals feel different about the judges they encounter inside an old courthouse than inside a new one.

My wife and I walked under the Gates and beneath the curtains. Thousands of others were doing the same. Many of them no doubt made the same journey daily, scarcely thinking of it. Certainly our walk was enriched by trees, grass, shrubbery, ponds, views. But now the Gates, by framing those sights, gave them a new aspect and importance. Not “grass on a hill,” but this view of a grass hill. Not a pond, but look at the pond. A frame of any sort values what it encloses. And as we walked, we felt subtly ceremonial. We were not walking, but walking through the gates. People walked a little more slowly, and sometimes had little smiles, and talked less on their cell phones, and perhaps felt more there.”

Roger Ebert
Wrath of Gnon

“In Japan not saying grace before eating something is considered the absolute pits of rudeness and sure sign of retarded manners.”

Wrath of Gnon

“The essentials of speaking are in not speaking at all. If you think that you can finish something without speaking, finish it without saying a single word. If there is something that cannot be accomplished without speaking, one should speak with few words, in a way that will accord well with reason.”

Hagakure
Yamamoto Tsunetomo

“Footnote: Some people whose parents didn’t love them enough to teach manners, has objected to this thread thinking it is about style because I mention the International Style in the opening. Note the capitals. It is not aesthetics, it is an actual thing.”

Wrath of Gnon

“The Japanese have understood that what people are largely pursuing in the workplace is not so much money as the respect of the people around them, and therefore maintain a sophisticated – indeed, bizarrely over-elaborate to the Western eye – economy of respect in addition to the economy of money. They have understood that a large part of what money-seeking individuals really want is just to spend that money on purchasing social respect, though status display or whatever, so it is far more efficient to allocate respect directly.

Did you really think people as obviously intelligent as the Japanese were doing all those odd-looking bows for nothing? Sure, these behaviors are derived from tradition, but there’s a reason they kept these traditions and the West hasn’t. Interestingly, this understanding on their part of the need for unapologetic status differentials contradicts the emphasis in Western socialism on a culture of equality.

It also follows that if society is to maintain status differentials without suffering withdrawal of social cooperation due to the resulting resentment of low-status individuals, society must contain these status differentials within strong overarching sentiments of social unity.

Naturally, the Japanese are famous for this, too. It all fits.”

Japan, Refutation of Neoliberalism
Robert Locke

III

“I’ll go ahead and download it.”

“Why don’t you buy paper books? E-books lack character.”

“Is that right?”

“Books are not something that you just read words in. They’re also a tool to adjust your senses.

“Adjust?”

“When I’m not feeling well, there are times that I can’t take in what I read. When that happens, I try to think about what could be hindering my reading. There are also books that I can take in smoothly even when I’m not feeling well. I try to think why.

It might be something like mental tuning.

What’s important when you tune is the feeling of the paper you’re touching with your fingers, and the momentary stimulation your brain receives when you turn the page.”

“I feel kinda discouraged. When I talk to you, I feel like I’ve been missing out on something all my life.”

“You’re reading into it too much.”

Choe Guseong, Makishima Shougo
Psycho-Pass

“McLuhan provides a definition of hypnosis as: “one sense at a time.” Print is a uniform and repeatable commodity that creates a hypnotic superstition of the book as independent of and uncontaminated by human agency.”

Zero HP Lovecraft

“Philosophy appears to be expansionist. It needs to learn to stop.

China has to reboot every ten generations, but since the Chinese aren’t expansionist, they don’t overreach nearly to the extent that philosophical civilization has been prone to. The reboots succeed.

[…] Aristotle taught Alexander, and then Alexander decided he needed the entire known world. Then Rome did the same thing. And England. And America. Philosophy’s thing is kind of getting the one right answer to all the questions. When Christianity absorbed this, they decided that, since they had the one right answer, everyone needed to know it.”

Alrenous

“the Chinese, their colossal national self-regard notwithstanding, have no faith in the permanence of their political arrangements. All Chinese people, including the rulers, have internalized the dynastic cycle.”

“I wonder how much of it is genetic and how much of it is word of mouth.

When I hear others talk about the cultural revolution and the opium wars it’s always in terms like “China Was Absolutely Ravaged”.

When my dad mentions it instead it’s “Oh Yeah That Was A Thing Too”.”

Spandrell, Korezaan Su

“[O]ne trait of Asians I really like, is just how cynical and goal-oriented they are. To a large extent, discussing politics is just not done at all in Asia, unless you happen to work in politics or the media. That was boring, but also refreshing, coming from a European environment where everybody feels they must have a strong opinion on everything, from the price of bread to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any abstract discussion of politics or philosophy in Asia is usually derided as a sophomoric attempt at showing off. Try to talk about anything not involving immediate money or gossip and you’ll soon get interrupted. “So what?”, “Your point?”, “What’s it to you?”. A common Japanese quip when you use some uncommon word is, 言いたいだけでしょ“you just want to say that word”, implying your vanity makes you feel good at using weird words that make you feel superior or high-status, but they’ve got you all figured out.

And they’re right. It got me thinking. What’s the point of all those conversations which don’t concern personal, immediate interests? It didn’t take long from that realization to finding signalling theory, and suddenly it all made sense.

Note that most of what we call Asian “philosophy” is also very down-to-earth, preoccupied with how to run a government, or how to live a good and content life. That’s just how the people are, and I still believe that they are genetically incapable of caring about metaphysics and the pointless abstraction it so often encourages.”

Spandrell

“A good player tries to read out such tactical problems in his head before he puts the stones on the board. He looks before he leaps. Frequently he does not leap at all; many of the sequences his reading uncovers are stored away for future reference, and in the end never carried out. This is especially true in a professional game, where the two hundred or so moves played are only the visible part of an iceberg of implied threats and possibilities, most of which stays submerged. You may try to approach the game at that level, or you may, like most of us, think your way from one move to the next as you play along, but in either case it is your reading ability more than anything else that determines your rank.”

Tesuji
James Davies

“I think talent is the ability to take chances, and the calm to learn from your mistakes. Skill is second to that. I’ve seen plenty others with much more skill miss great opportunities because of extreme self-consciousness or some mistaken sense of discretion.”

Sugie Shigeru
Shirobako

“Why… Why did you do such a reckless thing?!”
“This is about finding the truth behind people’s deaths! If we want to uncover such a thing, naturally we must risk our own lives!”

Tsunemori Akane, Kogami Shinya
Psycho-Pass

“There are things I just can’t do.”
“Because you never try.”
“I do the things I can as best I can.”
“And so you never accomplish anything new.”

Phosphophyllite, Antarcticite
Land of the Lustrous

“A trap is for fish: when you’ve got the fish, you can forget the trap. A snare is for rabbits: when you’ve got the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words are for meaning: when you’ve got the meaning, you can forget the words.

Where can I find someone who’s forgotten words so I can have a word with him?”

Zhuangzi

Electone Super Live

Kyoto Station, Grand Ampitheatre

this exists solely because facebook seems to default to the final image of a post for its preview image. apparently you can control it by setting a html meta property, but that's not allowed in free wordpress. what is allowed though is putting down images in html and then setting them to not show up. so this technically is the last image - as far as facebook is concerned.

One thought on “Beautiful World [A Trip to Japan]

  1. Pingback: Japan’s Karaage and Anime Industrial Policy – All Else Is Halation

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