3 September, 2005

Look at these nice comfy chairs they have set up in the Osaka subway. Every bit as soft as they look.

Bicycles, people, and lights. Another Saturday night in the Dotonbori district.

They really like the show "24" over here.

Like, a lot. I backed out of the store very slowly.

This is the great little octopus roll stand that everyone lines up for.

And those are the rolls cooking with some spare octopus parts on the side.

This was one of those weird things you just happen to stumble upon. A clown beating a drum while a strange and haunting melody plays. And everyone knows exactly what that means.

Why, a multistory restaurant with a different theme on every floor! What else could a clown banging a drum possibly mean?

Some of the sample dishes of a local restaurant. This is how many foreigners place orders - by simply pointing at pictures on menus. In serious cases, customers have been known to lead waiters out onto the street to point at exactly what they want.

Yet more octopus imagery.

I think I found the inspiration for Meatwad! Or maybe it's the other way around?

This, believe it or not, is the entryway for the local police precinct. Not a very busy place.

Nice to see a reference to New York even if it really has nothing to do with the place.

These guys were kind of creepy. Statues outside a hotel. Probably friends of the clown.

I call it Machines in Red.

A rock band performs in the corridor of an indoor mall.

And what a following they're developing in this venue.

There was actually someone else doing the same thing a few feet down although they seem to have been between sets at this point.

3 September, 2005

Day 49. I think I have it all figured out. Yeah, Japan is expensive as hell. But it really doesn't have to be. You just need to be a little bit creative. And learn from the many mistakes you'll make.

Like when I first arrived in this microscopic hotel room that didn't do much at all to help me feel like I was off a boat. (The landsickness seems to be abating thankfully.) I succumbed to thirst and decided to actually pay the exorbitant cost of a bottle of water from the minibar, just to avoid having to do any work at all. I mean the equivalent of four dollars for a bottle is highway robbery. But, like I said, I succumbed. I pulled the bottle cap (which was all you could see in this refrigerator that had no room for anything of your own) and almost as soon as I started to pull the bottle out, the bottle simply ended. The smallest bottle I think I've ever seen! Maybe enough for one or two gulps. It was really quite hilarious. So at that point I knew I was in the land of the absurd and I had better start realizing it. I haven't been ripped off since.

Today I didn't spend more than $10 total on food. Mostly this was because I was frightfully busy working on the issue and radio shows but it proved to me that it's definitely possible to survive here without spending a great deal of money. I'm shelling out about $50 a night for this room which is pretty damn good for a city like Osaka. It's tiny, sure, but there's a whole city out there to stretch my legs in so it's not that big a deal. The point is, you shouldn't be put off by stories of how expensive everything is. This is a great place and people should do what they can to see it.

I wish I had had more opportunity to investigate it further. Actually, Osaka was originally just a stopping point on the way to Tokyo; I don't think I was even planning on spending a night here. But I'm glad I was able to see what little of it I did. If nothing else, it will take some of the culture shock out of being in Tokyo.

Like I said, I spent much of the day holed up doing work (we do have a new issue coming out after all) and early in the evening I recorded next week's edition of "Off The Wall." And throughout it all I kept switching on BBC World to see the latest from home. Finally some supplies have reached New Orleans. But so much of the damage has already been done. The whole thing is still so unbelievable.

Who wants to guess what the title of the movie will be? Escape From New Orleans? Katrina: Harbinger of Death? The Forgotten Ones? Trent Lott's House: The Rebuilding Begins? I'm sure we can come up with quite a list. I just hope every penny made from the future blockbusters and TV movies goes towards the victims and rebuilding the city. The shock on the faces of the commentators on both BBC and NHK was very evident. How the infrastructure was neglected, the people not evacuated, the supplies not moved in, and control not established seemed to stun the entire world. I'm not sure how it's playing out back home but I really hope people are outraged. Some friends I talk to in the States make a point of not watching or reading the news and I think my patience has about run out with them. This is shit that affects everybody and you had damn well better be paying attention or it's just going to keep getting worse. Neglect festers and a single voice can start a chant. I'm sick of people giving up and accepting things they shouldn't. If there was ever a wakeup call, I can't imagine a louder one than this.

What also floors me is how Bush seems to continue not to get it. I see him making jokes and congratulating people like it's some kind of statue dedication. And in the papers I get I read how he didn't realize the magnitude of the situation right away. How in God's name does the person leading our country not see the magnitude that anyone with a TV set or access to the Internet can perceive in a manner of moments?

I really don't mean to be spending my time focused on this. It's just that I'm not used to seeing a city destroyed and people needlessly dying by the thousands so close to home. And probably the worst thing anyone could do is not react in some way. But more important than talk is of course reaching out and helping. I hear conflicting things from people who are there: donate money; don't donate money, send supplies instead; donate housing; come down and help out; stay away; etc. I don't really know what the best thing to do at this point is and that in itself angers me. I do know that donating anything through Pat Robertson, as FEMA is now suggesting, is an extremely bad idea. And if I had to guess, I would say that having people there to help is more important than anything since the rescue workers can only be stretched so thinly. I only hope there's some sort of organization now in place that can direct such people. Imagine the difference that could have made at the outset.

I was determined to head back down to the lively part of town for at least part of the evening, it being my last night in Osaka after all. I really wanted to try the octopus dumplings that were being sold out of a cart that attracted a huge line of people. Six for 300 yen - that's under $3 for something incredibly satisfying. That is, if you don't mind eating octopus. I do suggest trying it though. You may become hooked. I almost went back for another six but was able to contain myself.

I wandered through a huge CD/DVD shop (always dangerous for me since I tend to buy all sorts of strange stuff) but again managed to suppress the urges to spend. It was kind of a challenge now to get by without draining my funds, as everyone predicted would happen in Japan. Besides, this is good training for Tokyo.

I was struck with the fun everyone seemed to be having in the heat and humidity, occasionally broken by wafts of freezing air from a store with mega air conditioning. Inside an enclosed shopping area, a rock and roll band was playing to a crowd of teenaged girls who were jumping up and down Beatles-style. I couldn't tell if it was something officially sanctioned or just set up on the spot. But either way it was cool.

This leads me to give some advice to those of you with a decent band who can't seem to get any attention. Come to Asia. Take a few months and just play at all sorts of small venues, whether they be in Osaka, Beijing, or Siberia. You will develop such a fanatical following for the simple reason that not many people from overseas bother to do this. You will be amazed at the loyalty you get. Of course you do have to be good. And there's no guarantee this devoted fan base will spill over back home or that you'll make money, if that's what's important to you. But at least you'll feel like a rock star.

Tomorrow I'll head down to the Shin-Osaka station and figure out how to get on the bullet train. I read that it's pretty simple and that trains leave every 15 minutes so I'm not going to worry about doing that today. I will however worry about waking up by noon and getting checked out of this cubicle in time.