The design bug seems to have hit me as of late. Click on the PDF link below to take a look at the tail livery for “Petrel Air,” a fictional airline I dreamt up this night.
Monthly Archives: August 2008
I’ve been tinkering around with Adobe In-Design long enough to know just how incredible a program it is. Over that span, I have collected a number of design ideas and strategies–some of which I came to discover on my own, but most of which originated from outside sources. The “Best Kept Secrets” project is my way of sharing that knowledge with other designers. Click on the PDF link below to take a look at my very first edition.
[The first paragraph of this piece was written in the Canton's namesake, Chiyoda of Tokyo.]
Mention the name “Chiyoda” to anyone from Denver, and they’ll strike up a glowing conversation about its designer stores and development-rich avenues. Say the same thing to an Albeitian, however, and their response might be less than positive.
“I wish we could just pick the thing up with a helicopter and carry it off to a city that actually wants it. It would look great in Manhattan, or just about anywhere in Los Angeles.”
“You can just smell the jewelry. It’s repulsive. I wouldn’t touch the place with a 10 foot 24 karat, emerald-embossed, cologne-soaked pole.”
“What was that you said? I think you said, ‘football.’ That’s fine. I’d love to talk about football.”
Indeed, Chiyoda—the side of Albeit that fashion designers and celebrities know—has never been quite as popular as the other 10 Cantons. Just where did this Northwest district go wrong? Well, Albeit residents say, it was developed by a very prestigious design company that had gotten its bearings working on hotels in the Middle East. That alone was enough to make poeple wary. Worse yet, the developers gave luxury stores a subsidy on their rent in order to attract the “right kind of people” to Chiyoda.
The biggest blow came when the Globe, in one of its most famous sprees of investigative journalism, revealed that the developers were planning to build a barrier on the eastern side of the city. Why? To make sure that Graupel, then a crime-rich spot, would not leak vagrants into its rarefied borders. The red-faced management team pulled the plans, but Albeit had already made up its mind: this was not, by any means, a welcome part of the city. The only Canton in Northwest had, either from the Chiyoda Wall or the store subsidies, become the most-despised part of all of Albeit.
“Well, it’s honestly not part of the city, as I see it. I’d rather have the dunes to the south be a Canton than that consumer sinkhole,” one smoke-draped Slat resident expressed. “I mean, good heavens! They have an entire street—an avenue—for handbag shopping. Who does that? Who dedicates a street to handbags?”
“And the worst, really,” a woman said through a Noulevac window, “is that they act like they’re the better part of the city. I was just there the other day—wasn’t my choice, but they’re the only spot to get a TV repaired these days—and I hear a woman saying, ‘We’re the core of the city now, you know.’ Why, I wanted to go up to her and say, ‘Core? You’re a bloated Canton on the Northwest corner.”
Indeed, it can be hard to get a sense of the Canton through the less-than-objective mouths of Albeit proper. Perhaps the only thing to do is visit Chiyoda; to decide, amidst the supposedly obnoxious citizens and the supposedly snotty storefronts, if the Canton really is to be shunned.
On the outside, Chiyoda is not an ugly place. Wide, tree-stuffed avenues and sidewalks make up the core of the road network, eschewing frenzied intersections and mind-numbing road networks for a simpler pattern. Though Albeitians decry the Canton as a cookie-cutter development, it’s hard to overlook the colored bricks in the sidewalk, or the brick pedestrian bridges unique to the city. From an architectural standpoint, the Canton lives up to Albeit’s traditions of creativity.
“We’re not evil. We’re not obsessed with money,” a purse-less Chiyoda woman says. She points to the sidewalk. “See? We like art. We like aesthetics. We’re with Albeit on that one.”
Nor does Chiyoda seem to fit the picture of materialism and indifference from the inside. Next to a jewelry importer, there sits a teddy-bear store that regularly donates toys to a thrift store in Graupel. Children with smoothies can be seen running and laughing in front of a financial institution. Residents of Pacfyst might be surprised to know that Chiyoda, too has a block devoted to charities and social services. The department stores are visible, but their presence is not an overpowering one.
“I’ll take some friends from Graupel shopping, and they’ll be like, ‘Wow, that’s not the kind of store you see in Chiyoda.’ But I always try to explain to them that it is. We might have a little more money than the rest of the city, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be compassionate. It doesn’t mean we don’t eat hot dogs, or buy toys for our kids. There are playgrounds here, too.”
Granted, there are still divisions between Chiyoda and its neighboring Cantons—Chiyoda Wall or not. There is not as big an emphasis on creativity here, if only because those who are have since relocated. Very few secret societies have caught on. Neighbors rarely communicate, but not out of a secretive or mysterious streak; they simply have little interest in what those living alongside them are doing. Indeed, many who move here acknowledge that Chiyoda is lacking in some of the themes—independence, originality and mystery—that the city is known for.
Of course, there is some hypocrisy in the “mainlanders’” efforts to debase the Northwest Canton. Albeit has always claimed itself free from the exclusiveness and pompousness of other cities, yet the degrading of Chiyoda would say otherwise.
“How many times do I get someone on the Aluminum Line who says to me, ‘Unlike you people, we don’t judge someone by the clothes on their back?’ And how many times do I reply, ‘Aren’t you judging me by the Canton I come from?’” I love this city—I really do—but the people don’t realize how bigoted they can be.”
The exchange of words between Albeitians and Chiyodians is sure to continue, no matter what plans the developers have in mind. One will always be the cosmopolitan trash heap of fashion stars and business owners; the other will be the defender of originality and free living.
That, at least, is how the divide stands in the eyes of most Albeitians. But it would do the city well to peer out from their apartments and realize that there is no wall between one Canton and the other; that the barrier is purely mental.
Despite their differences in lifestyle, bank accounts and values, it’s not out of the question that Albeit can learn to embrace its purse-toting neighbor. Until then, the crosstalk with Albeit’s wealthiest Canton will continue.
[I felt a little guilty about playing flight simulator instead of writing fiction. I finally opted to make use of some of the terminology I had learned--while writing, of course.]
“You’re a little off your assigned heading.” He tapped the indicator with a blunt index finger. “Turn 5 degrees south at a 10 degree bank to line up with the VOR. I’ll watch the altimeter for you.”
Rob nodded and tugged on the yoke. He pressed his right sleeve to his hip in hopes of masking the Italy-shaped sweat stain below his shoulder.
“Make your turn a little steeper. A little steeper.” John held out his hand. “Stop there. Start to roll out. It looks like you forgot to set your heading bug.”
The stain began to widen into Florida. He gave as delicate a tug as possible, yet the nose still jerked to the left—as if he had yanked the thing. The hallmark turn of the trainee.
“We’re on heading one-six. The VOR is only a few miles ahead. Note the crosswind blowing from the East. Apply rudder as needed.”
If only his colleagues at the firm were a little more like John, Rob thought. The man’s resolve was as firm as the landing gear on the Skyhawk.
“It’s a nice day up here, isn’t it?” the student asked.
“We could be in a blizzard with fifty foot visibility, and it would still be a nice day. If I’m offered the chance to get up here with a student, I’ll take it.”
And yet, so astute. So analytical. If instructing began to get a little old, John Everett was welcome to take up a position at the firm. He could deal in aviation lawsuits, Rob thought. Any sort of lawsuit, for that matter.
“You’re beginning to veer off course again. Let’s keep the Skyhawk at 16. You have…” John checked his four-dial watch. “Eighty seconds of IFR flight until the VOR, if the DME is correct. That’s IAD in front of us.”
Rob set the heading bug in order and tapped the yoke to the left. This turn wasn’t quite as bad, but he managed to bump the rudder pedal with his left foot and slide past his assigned course.
“There’s no reason to be nervous. Focus on making small corrections. Your indicator needle is your guide until you get to the Martinsburg VOR.” John reached to his left. “I’ll get out the charts. In the meantime, keep the number 116.3 in your head.”
A few online reviews criticized this instructor, saying he was too methodical and unanimated. That was exactly why he paid the extra money to get in the cockpit with him. Rob’s personality was on the dry side, but it felt refreshing compared to some of the monkeys he had dealt with. One ex-instructor even bought helium balloons along for his checkride. Disgusting.
“That’s the station below you. Tune in 116.3 and make a twenty-degree turn to line up with Casanova. Watch as the indicator needle reads “to” instead of “from.” That indicates that you’re on track with the next VOR.”
The stains had begun to recede. It was hard to feel nervous with Rob in the cockpit.
“Let’s update your flight log, at any rate.” The instructor reached in a compartment by the throttle. “68 hours in 57 days. You’ve spent nearly three days in the cockpit.”
“Not much compared to you,” Rob said. He watched the indicator needle with a hawk’s stare. If it dared twitch to one side, he wouldn’t hesitate to grab the yoke and set it right. A solid approach could pay dividends when it came to his IFR checkride.
“You might not believe this, John, but I’m not on a first-name basis with any other student. Most people only stay with me through basic instrument training.”
The indicator needle drifted right. He waited to hear John’s finger tap the panel, but heard nothing.
“Perhaps it’s because of that, Rob, that so few people know why I fly in the first place. Why I’ll give trainees free hours and delay landings as long as possible.”
He turned to face his instructor. John had his eyes on the ceiling of the cockpit. It was a rare moment when he took them off the instrument panel, let alone the view outside.
“At the very least, I suppose I can share that reason with you.”
“Are we nearing the VOR?”
“That’s right, yes. You will know we are over it when the panel switches over to ‘To.’”
“And what is the frequency for our next VOR?”
“Don’t worry about that yet.”
Rob blinked, wondering if he had imagined that last sentence. In his two weeks of IFR practice, John had always been quick to give the exact frequency once they passed over the station. “Don’t worry about that yet” was not part of his regular vocabulary.
“Few people ever did know what aviation meant to me.” He had not yet looked down from the ceiling. “You’ve been with me enough to become a member of that small crowd. It always has relieved me to share the story.”
Rob had been so distracted by the instructor’s last few words that the stall buzzer sounded. The plane had gone off into a climb on its own.
“Bring the yoke down. You’re fine.” John looked out the window and nodded at something. “You’re fine.”
Neither said anything as the Cessna went past the VOR. The indicator needle wobbled from side to side like a pendulum in an earthquake.
“Planes are simple things to control, Rob. You move your hands one way, and the plane banks left. Tap the pedal with your right foot, and you’re ready to deal with a crosswind. When you’re in the mood to climb, you need only pull back. Landing is a simple matter of lining up the undercarriage with the centerline.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“No, you wouldn’t, because your career and love life so far have been one perfect approach after another. That’s why I need to tell you my experience. It is the only way for you to understand.”
The Appalachian mountains glared at him from the right. He had never flown so close to the ridge, what with turbulence and the danger of engine failure.
“Did I ever tell you about my days at the Air Force Academy?”
“You got your bearings in a Cessna and practiced with a few carrier jets,” I said.
“No. Those were my days above the academy. Thousands of feet above, if the instructor would let me.” John let out something between a relaxed breath and a sigh. “My sophomore year, the inspector found five bottles of alcohol in my room and a bong filled to the brim. I was on a flight back to Philadelphia the next day, bags, notebooks and all.”
Had he not, Rob thought, told him seconds ago to “Tune 116.3 and make a twenty-degree turn to line up with Casanova?” What had happened to the man?
“To think that, at one point, I found those carrier jets so hard to maneuver. I had a yoke. I had pedals. I had enough dials and switches to fill, well, a fighter cockpit. If only life itself came with the same controls. Perhaps I would have been able to avert that tailspin.”
Rob’s eyes were aimed at the controls, but all his attention was on the instructor to his right: the instructor whom, just minutes ago, he had understood so well.
“I left that school with more determination than I had entering it. Just five years after the discharge, I was on the flight deck of an MD-11 with an ATP license in hand. A beautiful machine. So simple to control, and that was why I loved to enter it.”
“You piloted an MD-11 in your twenties?”
“It was a new airline that didn’t take in much, and I was a new pilot who didn’t ask for much. A winning combination in the industry. They used me for regional flights, but I deadheaded just about everywhere. Leipzig, Lima, London, La Paz, Lisbon… and that’s just the L’s.”
John laughed, a sound rarely heard in the Skyhawk’s cabin. By now, Rob was deeply distressed. He jammed the rudder pedal down in hopes of getting the instructor’s attention.
“You wonder why I didn’t stay with the airline. Well, there was a flight attendant in the jump seat next to me. Danita Montez. We agreed to meet for dinner after touching down, and things took off after that. Within a year, we terminated our jobs with the airline and walked down the aisle.”
Rob looked at the airway chart and dialed in the Martinsburg VOR. Ironic, but this next turn was his steadiest yet.
“With her by my side, I felt as if life really were as easy to control as an airliner. I’d pull up and out of bed, retract my eyes, take on some fuel downstairs and head due east to an instructor’s academy. In the evening, I’d pull back from the couch and descend into the blankets. But there was a failure along the way. Danita said my communications systems broke down. She left the cabin after weeks of sparring over this and that.”
He stopped talking for a few seconds and stared intently at the propeller. Rob prayed for a fuel leak, a stubborn elevator—something to jar the instructor out of his trance and bring back the authoritative old John.
“It seems that planes are the only thing I can control anymore. Any chance I can get to be in one, I’ll take. Any chance to drift 10,000 feet above this world and leave my stress at the airport, I’ll take. It’s life that I’ve become afraid of.” He looked over at Rob with a stare usually reserved for the airspeed indicator and the transponder. “I can only wonder about people like you who live so effortlessly, as if there’s some autopilot switch for money and love that you’re not telling me about. I can only—”
His pupils snapped back to a blip on the dashboard.
“Low voltage light,” John said. “Let’s go through the checklist. Avionics power switch?”
“Off,” Rob said.
“I dealt with the alternator circuit breaker. Turn off the master switch. Both sides.”
He obliged, flipping both with a single finger.
“Avionics power switch, on.”
He looked up at the dashboard. The warning light had gone away.
“I see you’ve dialed in the Martinsburg VOR. That can be the first step in our descent. Once there, we’ll be heading south towards KJYO—runway 17, preferably. Prepare to dial in 122.6 for the Leesburg radio.”
The student pilot turned the knobs in silence. The instructor pulled out a few more charts and traced a pair of airways with his finger.
It was as if that low voltage light had bought John Everett back to health. He was silent for the rest of the flight, save for the occasional “turn left on heading zero-nine-five” or “increase bank angle to 15 degrees and lower flaps to 10.”
They touched down at the airfield five minutes behind schedule. The instructor apologized and said that he would manage the post-flight checklist.
“You showed plenty of improvement today, Rob.” Spoken in his trademark monotone. “Excellent work with the control surface.”
“It would have been impossible without your help,” he replied, willing to pretend John had guided him throughout.
The instructor took of his glasses and shrugged. “It’s a mere matter of control.”
The plane was parked mere yards from his Audi. As Rob slipped into the driver’s seat, he could hear someone starting up the Cessna engine and mumbling, “It’s a mere matter of control.”
Video commentary for the “Japan O Files”
To see how I produced these videos out of raw footage, try visiting the guide I made: http://schreibendepot.wordpress.com/2008/08/17/craft-a-movie-out-of-memories/ .
When it comes to the land of the rising sun, some things can only be explained in the form of a picture or video sample. And yet, there are overarching themes to the country that need text, not just visual media, to explain. The following is meant to be an accompaniment for my 35-minute “Japan O Files” video, covering and explaining the things that mere video footage cannot.
Quick chapter reference guide (The links next to each chapter go to the separate Youtube videos of each; the times to the right of each title correspond to the point at which that chapter begins in the full video at the bottom of the page)
Chapter One: “Cutesy Japan” (Starts at 0 minutes and 29 seconds in the full video) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3N89ApQ8Cs
Chapter Two: “Scenery and Nature” (Begins at 6 minutes and 29 seconds) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds9_ERrQPzM
Chapter Three: “Japanese English” (Begins at 10:14) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkSmiRDsHmw
Chapter Five: “Buildings and Vistas” (Begins at 16:01) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5Tkol7Bg6M
Chapter 6: “Other” (Begins at 22:14) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCveB4eg3o0
Chapter 7: “Transit” (Begins at 24:31) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf8_XEkXkI0
Chapter 8: “Shops” (Begins at 28:07) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvFBYPnirLQ
Chapter 9: “Crowds and People” (Begins at 31:56) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lk1WpSbnLyU
Chapter One: “Cutesy Japan” (Starts at 0 minutes and 29 seconds in the video)
If I were asked to describe the country in one sentence, I would say that Japan is the cutest industrial power in the world. This land might have a bigger economy than both Germany and China, but step into Tokyo or Kyoto and the first thing you notice are the cartoons. I’m not just talking about children’s advertisements or video game pictures, but little animals on customs forms, happy dogs on the back of buses and smiley pins on policemen’s lapels. Subway stations in the nation’s capital are flooded with the Suica Penguin and the Pasmo Robot, both of whom seem to be mascots for credit card companies. Hello Kitty, once just an innocent cartoon figure, now adorns intercontinental jets.
In a post 9/11 era where everyone seems to be turning more serious by the day, Japan is refreshing in the sense that they don’t seem to be aware of these sober times. Commercials for cars look more like children’s programming than adult marketing. (As for the children’s programming? Watch the video and see.) How wonderful it is to step into a land where even the crossing lights seem to be in a good mood, playing out little tunes as you walk by!
And yet, one wonders if this visual cheer is only on the surface. Japan as a populace is known for self-dissatisfaction and underlying depression. The country’s suicide rate ranks 10th out of 100, approximately twice that of Germany and the United States. Certainly, if this populace does have a downward outlook on life, it doesn’t show on the outside.
Chapter Two: “Scenery and Nature” (Begins at 6 minutes and 29 seconds)
No country is without a beautiful vista or a national landmark, however small it may be. The difference with Japan is that natural beauty seems to lie around every street corner, just beyond every railroad, just up past every summit.
The traditionalist nature-seekers are welcome to spend their time in Japan climbing up mountains and fording streams. Such effort is unnecessary, however, where even a clustered park in Tokyo can make one feel like they’re hundreds of miles from human development. The trick to Japan’s aesthetic beauty is that its development seems to coincide with its natural surroundings; instead of blotting out trees and streams, like so many American developers do, the Japanese are world-renowned for building in harmony with nature. The country’s Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines offer excellent examples of this. If you see temples in this chapter and nature scenes in the temples chapter, it’s only because the two tended to go together.
And if the Japanese can live peacefully with nature, it’s more surprising yet that nature can get along so well with the Japanese. There exists a herd of deer in Nara (Japan’s oldest capital) that walks fearlessly among human bystanders, seeking out snacks from tourists and locals alike. Rooks in Tokyo squawk just feet away from photographers. Carp and turtles swim as fast as they can to anyone walking alongside the lake, knowing (as the deer do) that tourists will be more than happy to feed them. The relationship between humans and nature, thus, is anything but one-sided.
Chapter Three: “Japanese English” (Begins at 10:14)
If fiction writing or journalism doesn’t work out, I may as well move to Tokyo and offer my skills as a “regional copy editor.” My job would be simple: businesses would show me their attempts to translate Japanese into English, and I would help them along as they went.
Of course, that might take some of the fun out of visiting Japan. Where else but the land of the rising sun can you dine at “Freshness Burger” and spray your head with “Grossy Hair?” Indeed, there are times when mistaken translations can become true poetry. My favorite English line of all could be seen on a sign in a Tokyo park: walkers were instructed to clean up after their dogs so that “troubles should not hang to the other.” A close second was a sign in a sushi bar that read, “Articles on the menu do not usually hear a take-out.” (Considering that Japanese food is sometimes served alive, this could be taken literally.)
If the state of the English language here was less than superb, I can’t help but wonder what Japanese tourists must experience going into the United States. Something tells me that the Asian tourists I see in Washington are laughing behind their back.
Chapter Five: “Buildings and Vistas” (Begins at 16:01)
Nowhere in Japan was the division between old and new embodied more than in the country’s architecture. The contrast between old feudal buildings and shiny new office skyscrapers was sharp, to say the least. It felt a little strange seeing business complexes grow behind the Imperial Palace park and observing the Kyoto skyline in the background of a Shinto shrine, as if these were sights that shouldn’t have been within a hundred miles of one another.
One thing holds constant for almost all buildings in the country, though: their quality of design. If I were impressed by gold-plated temples and elegantly patterned shrines, I was even more so by the gravity-defying curves and facets of some of Tokyo’s newest skyscrapers. The master craftsmen of the Edo Period, needless to say, taught the coming generations well.
Equally impressive are the vistas I had the chance to see from skyscrapers and mountainous vantage points. Three cities are depicted in this chapter: the clean skylines of Osaka, the varied landscape of Kyoto and the metropolitan explosion of Tokyo. Day or night, near or far, high or low, each city is its own work of art when viewed from above.
Chapter 6: “Other” (Begins at 22:14)
Japan is not a city that can be categorized easily, which is why this “Other” category exists. This short, yet telling chapter includes a few odds and ends that truly could not have fit anywhere else.
Chapter 7: “Transit” (Begins at 24:31)
Japan is a land that never stops moving. Well before sunrise, when I peeked open the blinds to take a look at early-morning Tokyo, I could see cars shooting down the elevated freeway and pedestrians milling about below.
With that in mind, the question is: how does the country move? Two forms of transportation come to mind, and neither of them involve automobiles.
First and foremost: rail travel. Japan’s love affair with trains shows no sign of slowing down, especially with the rise in gas prices and increased metropolitan congestion. There is enough rail in the country to go back and forth between New York and San Francisco almost seven times. On these tracks run bullet trains, subway trains, monorails, rubber-wheeled trains—just about every form of guided transit one could imagine. If Tokyo’s streets do not seem as congested as the sidewalks, it’s because plenty of citizens get by without ever stepping into their own car. They have the subway lines to get around.
In the video chapter, you’ll see clips from a speeding Shinkansen (Bullet train) and footage of Shinjuku station, a fifty-exit subway stop that’s the largest of its kind in the world. You’ll also see a strange conductor who, for reasons unknown, kept pointing with an outstretched arm at the track ahead of him. Watch the video and come up with your own explanation.
You’ll have to crane your neck to see the second form of transit. Japan, small a country as it is, has a robust domestic airline industry. Airlines JAL and ANA have little trouble finding customers for even the shortest trips; therefore, they regularly send out fully loaded 747s on trips that, in America, would be serviced by miniscule jets. It may be cheaper to take the train, but the businesspeople who stuff themselves into the smallest of seats for an hour-long trip don’t seem to mind. More than one city in Japan will have both an international and a regional airport to handle all the traffic.
Is all this to say that nobody drives cars or motorcycles around in Japan? The Hummer limo visible near the beginning of the chapter should be proof otherwise. All that I can say is that Japan, a country handcrafted for public transportation, seems to have it down to a fine science.
Chapter 8: “Shops” (Begins at 28:07)
Sure, Japan has its foreign department stores and American fast food depots. (Not that I bothered to take much footage of either.) What most countries don’t have are nests of plastic food shops, where a restaurant-quality artificial lobster markets for $440, or a sprawling fish market that covers the space of three football fields. I would gladly spend my day at either instead of Macy’s.
During the course of my short trip, I saw a mix of foreign and traditional products; fancy and down-to-earth; Western-inspired and Eastern-inspired. Some of the items looked familiar, though I had never seen crabs walking around in a plastic container or sushi chugging along on a conveyer belt. It goes without saying that most of the items in shops were neither purely Western nor Eastern, but a delicate mix between the two. I can think of no better example than the “Ebi (shrimp) Filet” I had at McDonald’s.
Cultural interaction can be a wonderful thing, but it was saddening to see just how Westernized many of the shopping districts had become. Very few clothing stores even had Japanese characters on their storefronts. Profits might be everything in the retail business, but the income made by throwing away one’s own cultural identity comes at a cost.
Chapter 9: “Crowds and People” (Begins at 31:56)
During the course of my final edits to the video, I had to decide whether to put the shots of crowds or those of individual Japanese first. A tough decision, given that Tokyo and its neighboring cities are famous for their pedestrian crush. Amazing as the shots of crosswalks and sidewalks were, I opted to lead with my clips of street performers, musicians and karate students. They ended up making the bigger impression.
So much of the world knows Japan for its stuffed subway cars and suffocating walkways. The country, as a result, is perceived as a dense state without any flavor; a land where there’s not enough room for any sort of individuality. Yet the more I panned my camera around in search of crowds, the more it alighted on groups of pro bono musicians and animated youth. The types of people rarely mentioned in conversation about the land of the rising sun.
I let the individual precede the masses if only to counter that time-honored stereotype about Japan: that the country is too cramped for anyone to grow their own personality. I saw enough charisma in Japan that it made me, a blond-haired, blue-eyed American in a Broncos jersey, look nondescript as a result. Only the tip of that personality iceberg is captured in this video, but it might just be enough to make someone reconsider the people of this far eastern country.
Despite my prejudices and my assumptions, I came to realize that the populace of Japan is just as spirited, lively and unique as that of any nation, if not more so. I hope that the video reveals as much.
For the full “Japan O Files” video, which has all the chapters together, please visit http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5507708617438509548&hl=en
Loathe flying? Repack.
Sorry, baseball: America’s new national pastime is a game called “Hate air travel.” It starts when you wait in a check-in line for forty minutes and ends when your carrier accidentally sends your bags to Kuwait. The sport can be played at every major city and with any team you wish, though American and Delta are especially fun. Better yet, attendance is on the rise.
There’s no shortage of reasons to despise your time in the sky. From the little things (shoddy peanuts and the wait for the bathroom) to the big ones (cancellations and overbookings), flight has turned into a test of wills as much as a test of gravity. The average tourist has no control over the flight attendants’ snack offerings nor the bowels of their fellow passengers, but there is one novel approach they can take to make for a better flight.
No checked baggage.
At this point, most readers would laugh and stop reading. What kind of freak manages to pack everything they need into a little duffel bag or a purse? And yet, should travelers swallow their pride and play a game of Tetris with their available carry-on space, they’ll find much less to hate about the “friendly skies—” and more money in their pocket.
First, I may as well elaborate on what the word carry-on really means. Travelers who bring all their luggage on board aren’t just limited to a little tote or a purse. United allows 2,772 cubic inches of space for just one item, or 9″ x 14″ x 22″ . That limit, largely consistent across the country’s major carriers, is generous enough for actual pieces of luggage to come on board. (Baggage companies have designed models just small enough to fit into these restrictions.) The good news doesn’t stop there, though. In addition to that one luggage piece, fliers are permitted some sort of “personal item.” Depending on your level of imagination, this item could be anything from a purse to a large-sized bag or backpack.
In short, it’s not impossible to pack everything into your carry-on. You may not be able to take 13 pairs of heels and a dozen dresses on your way to Vegas, but the essentials will certainly fit.
Now that the issue of size has been packed away, it’s time to go over the great benefits of leaving the checked baggage at home. We’ll go from the front door to the hotel door, covering every positive along the way.
Wake up with your carry-on luggage at the door. The taxi driver won’t be able to charge as much for the extra bags you carry, seeing as you only have two small items. Unless you’re a brick salesman, the walk into the airport should not put a strain on your back.
It only gets better, though. Go through the doors and walk right past the hour-long check-in line. Because you’re not putting any bags on the conveyor belt (or paying for the service), you can bypass the queue and head over to an electronic kiosk, where a confirmation number or credit card swipe will be enough to print out your tickets. The time saved will also give you more opportunity to shop or sleep beforehand.
Onto the plane itself. This is the one point in your travels where checked baggage can seem like a wise decision, but you have little to worry about. Make sure to beard the plane early so that you have ample room in the overhead compartment. (That would be the place to stow your main piece of luggage.) Your personal item, as the cheery flight attendants will remind you, should go under the seat in front.
On to the landing. The minute you walk out of the plane, you’re free to exit the airport. No baggage claims. No need to scream at the representative whose airline popped the zipper off your luggage or simply lost track of it. If you’re heading through customs, you not only bypass that baggage claim but save time on inspection. (Even the slowest TSA authorities can’t spend too long looking through your purse.) Once exiting the airport, the same savings apply for taxi fees.
When you add all this together, you can expect savings of one to two hours and ten to twenty dollars. There’s also the security of having your bags right at your side when checked luggage is out of reach, out of sight. Carry-on luggage is even good for the environment; the decreased load you put on the plane means less gas needed to set your plane down at the destination. Best of all, you might not hate air travel so much when check-in lines and luggage carousels aren’t part of your trip.
Perhaps this strategy won’t work for you for vacations longer than a week, or even three days. This is understandable, though I’ve pulled off the feat for a 28-day trip. (Key word: washing machine.) Nevertheless, give the idea a try. You might just find yourself becoming a smarter—and happier—traveler in the long run.
Craft a Movie out of Memories
(In short: this guide shows you how to take a large, unedited video file, cut it into clips and arrange those clips by category. It’s geared towards those who have plenty of tapes or DVDs of their own filming, but don’t know quite what to do with them.)
To see the short video series which I created using the following method, visit http://schreibendepot.wordpress.com/2008/08/23/jofvc/ .
I would take an educated guess and say that 70 percent of American families have some sort of video recording device that they bring along on vacations and use around the home. Of those, I’d say that 70 percent do next to nothing with the stacks of tape that they create.
Capturing video is easy enough; taking those hour-long movies of beach trips and birthday parties to the next level is not. I used to be content to leave my recordings sitting on a shelf or compressed into DVDs, telling myself, “I’ll come back to them, some day.” I never did, of course. Watching uncut, unedited video is a little like poking around in a landfill for diamonds. You have to sit through a lot of lackluster footage before getting to the actual memories.
The good news in all of this is that editing and saving your movies onto a computer is rather simple, if a little time-consuming. The following is a general guide for creating a structured, abridged tape out of an hour’s worth of raw footage.
Step 1: Connect camera to computer
This first task gets easier every year as camcorders turn more and more computer friendly. If you’re using an analog VCR (in other words, one that does not use digital tapes), you’ll need to get some sort of adapter. Otherwise, the following instructions should be more or less comprehensive:
Hard disk cameras—since your video is already saved into an internal hard drive, you should have no trouble getting your precious memories onto your computer. A USB connector or Firewire cable should do the job.
Digital video cameras—this is the category that my camcorder falls into. If your computer supports Firewire, consider buying a linking cable for fast, simple data transfer. Otherwise, a USB port or an SD card (should there be a slot in your devices) should function just as well.
DVD video cameras—if your machine saves video directly onto a DVD, you’ve either got the easiest setup or the hardest. It all depends on whether your computer has a functioning DVD reader, which would allow it to save the data on your disk to your hard drive. If not, check your instruction manual to see if the information can be transferred by means of a cable. Consider purchasing an external or internal DVD drive for your machine; their simplification of the uploading process more than makes up for the cost.
Step 2: Import the video
In any case, you’ll want to import your tape, DVD or digital media into some sort of program. Most amateur filmographers (like me) will find Windows Movie Maker to be an acceptable entry level program; it should have come installed with your computer. (Mac users, I hear, will be pleasantly surprised by iMovie.)
Since I’m one of the brainwashed millions who uses Microsoft, I’ll supply the directions for uploading a video to Movie Maker. Once you’ve gone into your Programs > Accessories folder and started up the software, go to File > Import or locate the prompt at the left of the window. If your camera is turned on, set to playback mode and successfully connected, you should see your device listed as a source for imported footage. Follow the wizard until your video has been saved onto the program.
(I’ve circled the Windows Movie Maker “import from Digital Video Camera” prompt in red on the neighboring picture. This will probably be the easiest way to import footage.)
Step 3: Beginning the editing process
In the interests of length, I’m not going to list directions for cutting, splicing and merging video. Those are skills that you should spend a little time with the software to master. Instead, I’m going to provide a brief template for sorting out your video. Feel free to follow these directions as liberally as you wish.
First, you’ll want to think about the categories your footage might comprise. I’m coming back from Tokyo as I write this, armed with a few hours of film. My categories included things like “People/Crowds,” “Shops,” “Temples,” “Nature” and “Cutesy Japan.”
Once you have a list, go to your movie editing program and create a title clip for each category. (Windows Movie Maker users: See Tools > Titles and Credits.) Label each with its corresponding category name so that, when the clip is played, the category appears as the title.
This seems like a nice touch for the audience, but it’s even more beneficial for you. These little clips will act as “video bookends” with which you can sort all of your footage.
Step 4: The sorting begins
(Note: if any of the following confuses you (I got a little mixed up just reading over it), see the caption for the picture at the bottom of this step. It offers a visual representation of what I’m trying to say.)
Here’s where the steps begin to get a little more concrete. You have your title clips that display the various categories of your film, along with the raw footage itself. The following step is both the simplest and the longest: chop! Split your continuous film into a series of small clips, each of which corresponds with one of the categories. If there’s filler in between (e.g. you adjusting the camera or your son videotaping a block of wood), delete it. Condense the unabridged movie into a series of little clips, thus making the movie denser and easier to sort.
Now take each piece of film and drag it to the immediate right of its corresponding category title. (This is done, not surprisingly, by clicking and dragging things around on the “Timeline” near the bottom of the screen, assuming that you’re using Movie Maker.) Continue this process until every single clip on the timeline has been positioned right of the category that it falls into. This is what I mean by “sorting.”
(The picture near this text should make things a little clearer. I’ve circled what I mean by a “category title” or a “title clip” in black; it’s also circled in green on the timeline. Next to that green circle are the clips which correspond with that category (e.g. my temple clips), which are circled in yellow. Note how they’re just to the right of the title. You can also see how all the clips on the timeline are divided up and sorted.)
Step 5: Your choice!
There are a few roads you can take from here. The first, and simplest, would be to save the movie as is. Your final product would be a nice sequence of title clips and their corresponding themes, all in order.
That’s just the tip of the prodigal iceberg, though. You could copy and paste every category’s worth of clips into its own separate movie, then save all the movies individually. You could outright delete an entire category if it seems bland or miniscule compared to the others. If you know your way around your video editing program, why not create a table of contents at the beginning that lists the start time in the video for each category, thereby allowing the audience to…
There really isn’t any way to go wrong. After all, you’ve already taken a clump of video camera footage and turned it into a categorized, abridged, digitized production. In today’s world of shoot-and-forget filming, that’s a giant step to take.
[Written on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Having spent the first year of my life in Japan and the next sixteen in the United States, it's hard for me to tell whether I am now the furthest from or the closest I have ever been to home.]
It would be presumptuous of me to think that, after four days in Tokyo, I could write accurately about the nature of the city. It simply doesn’t work for one to fly 7,000 miles, take a few walks around the place and think himself an expert. Yet this metropolis is one that inspires people to tell about it, even if they’ve lived through too few earthquakes and squeezed into too few subway cars to really get a sense of it. Consider the following not as a comprehensive analysis, but as the hurried thoughts of a wide-eyed foreigner.
Tokyo makes an effective argument against the myth that this world is “small”—both in the geographic and cultural sense. There is nothing petit about Tokyo. New York has taller skyscrapers, perhaps, but Tokyo has 400 square miles—by my estimate—of hard-packed urban development. Shinjuku station, the most crowded subway hub in the world, has over 50 exits. There is a pedestrian crossing here so large that a nearby building has a television on its façade, broadcasting the foot traffic. The fish market alone is larger than the “downtown” areas of many cities.
But Tokyo also denounces the small world myth in the sense that the city may as well be on another planet. This is a city where even the cashiers bow at you; where policemen and custom officials wear cartoon mascots on their sleeves; where “Love 3″ is a hot-selling video game; where men can be seen wearing schoolgirl uniforms; where fancy restaurants serve dinner live and twitching; where run-of-the-mill toilets spray your bottom and where fancy ones flush; where 6 million vending machines (an actual figure) will deposit anything from coffee to iPod accessories. There are those cities where you can look around you, smile and proclaim: “You know, these people might not speak our languages, but they really are just like us.” That’s certainly not the case with Tokyo, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And it is the people, not the skyscrapers, not the technology, not the food, that make Tokyo a place worth seeing. It took some time for me to realize this; at first, my neck was craned looking for monuments, museums and other tourist attractions. The real attraction was all around me.
Imagine all of the citizens of Canada packed into the corner of an island, and you’ve got a sense of the population of Tokyo. It does not do justice to the city merely to say, “this place is crowded.” Tokyo is not just crowded. Tokyo is squeezed to the point where that prodigal can of sardines would seem roomy in comparison. The subway lines hire “pushers” to help the rush hour crowd get through the doors and onto the train. Come rush hour, the sidewalks turn into a bobbing array of black heads and white shirts. Denver and Chicago have room to expand, but Tokyo, with the bay on one side and farmers with protected land on the other, can only grow inward. The city has its cases of sprawl, but the houses are packed neatly together without a hint of wasted space.
These tens of millions of people have a funny way of keeping in touch. Tokyo is a city connected, from the rat’s nests of wires linking house to house to the subway lines sewn through downtown; from the futuristic cell phones pressed against every other ear to the traditions of family support that keep even the busiest households together. It must be hard to find any quiet time alone, though I’m sure the Japanese try.
Not that the capital of Japan has forgotten its roots as the feudal hub of Japan. The imperial Palace is the city’s centerpiece, with cool parks and a swan-inhabited moat. In paying homage to their ancestors in urban shrines, the Japanese pay homage to the days when their ancestors walked the streets as feudal heads and spiritual authorities, not just businesspeople and construction workers. One would imagine that Tokyo embodies a conflict between the traditional and the modern, between the palace grounds and the skyscrapers that neighbor it. Instead, I saw both halves of the city reflected in one another. Office workers and schoolchildren visit the shrines and cross the Imperial moat. Likewise, there is a trace of national pride and ambition in the political centers of old that match the modern atmosphere of the city. Tokyo’s success, I feel, resides in its ability to adapt to—no, invent the new while retaining its heritage and traditions. All while featuring cute, friendly cartoons on store windows and advertisements.
The future may not be as kind to the city. With the economy slumping worldwide and Japan’s birthrate expected to plummet, Tokyo may find its status slipping as economic centers in China, India and Singapore forge ahead. For now, at least, the city is enjoying life at the top of the population and economic charts. Better yet, it seems to be enjoying life in general—cramped and hurried though that life may be.
“Phrazzeled”: A game idea
The wonderful thing about the English language is that just about any phrase or expression can have multiple meanings behind it. Some definitions for a phrase might be obvious; others could take a little thinking to arrive at. “Phrazzeled” invites players to try their hand at matching given definitions with a hard-to-guess phrase.
The game’s idea is simple enough. Participants are each given two or more definitions for a certain phrase. Their job is to think hard about each one and try to come up with that phrase first, resulting in a point or more for them. The tougher the definitions are, the more points they receive.
For the game to work best, it is suggested that the players take turns reading out the definitions to the other contestants and listening for the correct answer.
Example phrases and definitions:
Definition 1: A steeple top in Alabama
Definition 2: What Australian astronomers see
Phrase: Southern Cross
D1: Used to make a “Bingo”
D2: Shirts, shorts and such
P: Textiles (Text Tiles for D1)
D1: Comes before touchdown
D2: A pyrotechnic touching down
P: Landing Flare
D1: Starts with a bang; ends with the tape
D2: When two rails merge
P: Track meet
Why Christianity isn’t Conformity
I do not trust in my own righteousness; only that God is righteous, and I hope to conform to His will—not that of the world.
Ever since the beginning of the modern age, Christianity and nonconformity have been seen as polar opposites—schools of thought that are about as compatible as oil and water. We grow up with that image of the authoritarian, submission-minded church and the scattered rebels attempting to defy it. I’ve always found it a little funny. For me, to be a Christian is to be a nonconformist in every sense of the word.
What does it mean to conform, first? Instead of consulting my nonexistent copy of Webster’s dictionary, I’ll offer a definition of my own. To be a conformist is to model one’s own desires, opinions and interests after those of the society around oneself. Such a person sees this world and decides that his or her neighbors are the ones to follow, regardless of the size of the neighborhood. If wealth is valued, they pursue money; if sex and drugs are held in high esteem, they’ll go racing after them. The rudder of personal preference is lifted, allowing one to float along the current of the mainstream.
At a shallow glance, one might mistake the Christian tradition as being conformist. Don’t followers of Jesus adhere to some sort of creed or dogma that prevents personal choice and standardizes believers? The key word in my above definition is “society.” In a technical sense, conformity is also a part of the Christian tradition; its followers are expected to put God’s will over their own. The irony is that such “conformism” actually makes Christians rebels in the context of everyday life. Allow me to explain.
I live in a world that teaches me to love money. The school I learn at, the commercials I watch, the people I listen to teach me that wealth is something to revere and seek. And yet, God tells me something drastically different. When the “rich man” in the Bible asks Jesus what he needs to do to earn eternal life, he receives a response so fearsome that he runs away: “Give up everything you have and follow me.” The Son of God goes on to send shivers through Jerusalem by expressing that a camel will have an easier time getting through a needle than a wealthy person will getting into the kingdom of Heaven. This is a religion that teaches against the desperate search for money; a way of living that frowns upon the lavish and the shallow.
Those same schools and commercials I mentioned earlier teach one more important message: You should do whatever it takes to get ahead of the pack. Don’t worry about the homeless man on the curb or those strange children in the Red Cross pamphlets. This is your life; live it for yourself. And yet, what does Jesus say when asked what the most important commands are? Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. The words sound sweet and docile until one contrasts them to the conformist’s favorite saying: love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Being a true rebel has nothing to do with skateboarding in the mall or buying drugs across the border. It’s simply about putting God and others before oneself, an action that cuts across the grain of society like nothing else.
I could talk at length about Christian nonconformists: the martyrs of old, fed to lions because they wouldn’t worship the Roman emperor; or the Weisserose, an anti-Nazi group whose members were punished—beheaded, even—for putting Christ above Hitler. There is no limit to stories, either in the past or the present, of people whose obedience to God makes them rebels to the world at large. Such tales continue to be written today.
There will always be that group of people that perceives church bells as instruments of authority and restriction. The best I can do is live my life in a manner so different from society’s expectations that such people will ask where I get my nonconformist streak from.
My answer may surprise them.