Ootama Walking Trail mini-adventure! [with video]

January 28, 2007

I arose suddenly and just in time this morning to see nothing but blue sky and the chance to still get out of the city, as I am often wont to do. So I hustled and got my gear together, packed a lunch and was out the door to ride the Chuo line far to the northwest to Kori station. As expected, when I arrived there no staff, no maps, just my feeble 2-sentence description of the hike taken from a hiking website to guide me. There was a giant map outside the station only in Japanese which I photographed extensively with my phone as a resource which proved no use.

…I crossed one of what would be many bridges over the Tama River, the same river I play ultimate frisbee next to every Sunday far, far away in Futakotamagawa. I then realized thanks to another sign that my day would be spent on the Ootama Walking Trail.

…Then the path began diverging without adequate signage and believing a hike up a small mountain was part of the guide I had with me from the website, I made for the closest mountain, but that would have been a disaster. As it was, I only wasted like 20 minutes thanks greatly to running into a very helpful and friendly ojisan who busted out his real maps and showed me I didn’t want to keep on the path I was going. … He went on his way and I respectfully waited a little bit so he could hike on alone as our path was now the same. I actually met him again later and he again showed me the lay of the land and I thought then I could not make it to Okutama station as the plan in my pocket suggested.

…The gorge was deep here and I spotted from high up a cement bridge a small, very rickety looking bamboo and plywood bridge. … If it were of a really dangerous height, then I really would have panicked and thought twice about taking another step.

…After playing on that bridge, I made my way up river a bit and found a good spot amongst very large boulders and other rock out croppings to eat lunch at. I spent a long time here, and thought it would be my final destination, until I crossed yet another bridge and found the proper Ootama trail again and saw that at most Okutama station was an hour’s walk away. … Still, it was nice to finish out the hike and I discovered that near Okutama there’s quite a few other trails I can explore in the future, so I definitely be back in that area soon.

…The highlight of the whole trip was perhaps listening to Bob on the empty train car back from Okutama station….the Sun had set, but there was still light above the mountain skyline, and Bob was pouring it out.

BLOOD DIAMOND [2006] review

January 28, 2007

I have bought a diamond in my life.

…BLOOD DIAMOND is a powerful movie that made me ponder what costs the diamond I bought way back in 1992 might have really of cost. Long before seeing this movie, I knew that diamonds were connected to great violence. And even longer before that, I had taken one of the vows that Buddhist monks do, to not wear adornments. Thomas Merton brought to my attention the “fear of buying anything, for lack of knowing what injury it may have caused another.”

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BABEL [2006] review

January 26, 2007

I have lived abroad now for 6.5 years. I have lived in places where there is essentially no English spoken and I do not speak the native language, yet occasionally need to communicate something important. This produces a feeling of a certain kind of helplessness you can’t know if you’ve never been somewhere that you can’t use your native language to communicate. You feel like you have no arms, no legs, like you are invisible. So when Alejandro González Iñárritu mutes the sound to show us what it’s like for a teenage deaf-mute Japanese girl, or when he shows us Brad Pitt frantically trying to save his wife’s life, one can get a sense of the frustration, of the unbeleivable frustration when people cannot even understand the words coming out of your mouth.

BABEL inter-cuts three storylines that have varying degrees of interconnectedness. Yes, this kind of storytelling device has been done many times in films past. BABEL does not do it more cleverly or even as cleverly as most, but makes up for it in the richness of each storyline, especially the ones following Chieko, a deaf-mute girl who cannot express herself in so many ways about very important things to her and the one following Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in Morocco. I did not find myself caring much about the two American children on a journey with the Mexican nanny into Mexico. In fact, I’d like to have seen that storyline greatly reduced, as the movie does run long.

Rinko Kikuchi, who plays Chieko, is note perfect in her performance. From my personal experience here, the brief glimpses into Tokyo life are quite accurate, although one establishing shot did not coordinate with the playground water fountain scene.

BABEL does seem a bit overly emotional most of the time, and most of the movie is spent watching characters in despair with little levity in between, but the emotional ride is a satisfying one, albeit not groundbreakingly so.

Wii unboxing!!!

January 21, 2007

Well, after much thinking, deliberating, and hesitating, I finally decided to just pay a premium and order a Nintendo Wii from a reseller on Amazon.com. It’s been totally worth it from the first second I held it in my hands. I met Curt out in Sagami Ono who generously let me use his APO to have the Wii delivered too. Once back in Shinjuku I met Mike for the official, sacred and reverential unboxing of the Wii which we recorded on video below. … Although it was fairly simple to setup, it took a long time as we very carefully and extremely accurately mounted the Wii sensor bar on my Aquos. Once that was down, the Wii had no trouble connecting to my wireless network and updating itself. The Wiimote I bought in Tokyo synced flawlessly with it, and then we were in business. We began with a little Wii Sports Tennis action then went on to bowling and finished with an intense boxing session.

…Mike as well for a little more Wii Sports action, which I mostly observed as I ate dinner. Mike in the meantime had bought a second nunchuck allowing us to go head-to-head in boxing.

…Then finally tonight was the first official Wii party with Mike again, Brady, Wendi and her British gal pal, Jen. This is totally what the Wii was made for, groups of people having major laughs and fun playing Wii Sports to various levels of success. I think it’s fair to say a great time was had by all. The Aquos and Wii were large financial expenditures, but they are already totally worth it. I’m sure tonight will be just the first of many, many Wii parties.

A SCANNER DARKLY [2006] review

January 14, 2007

I continue to get caught up on movies from 2006. Tonight it was A SCANNER DARKLY, but perhaps my favorite director, Richard Linklater, for sure my favorite personal director. I guess overall I’d have to go with Hitchcock. Yet, SCANNER was the first Linklater movie i ever saw that I did not like, and not until the last third of the movie did it even salvage itself at all. I even contemplated stopping the movie!

I do not like movies about drugs. Can’t stand them actually. Who wants to see that? I was hoping this movie wouldn’t be too much into the drug scene, but it was. And somehow Woody Harrelson has become the scariest person on the planet over the past 5 years.

Keanu and Winona are two of my favorite actors, so at least I got to hear their voices and through rotoscoping see Winona’s breeests again. And the twists that came out in the story at the end of the film added something, although I think most viewers wouldn’t be surprised by all of them.

UNITED 93 [2006] review

January 8, 2007

Paul Greengrass has written and directed UNITED 93 with respect and honor. No manipulation, no heavy-handedness, nothing like that when it could have been so easy to do. … I was not living in the U.S. on September 11, 2001 and had not been for over 15 months, so I felt and still feel a certain disconnect from those events. It was actually quite a miracle that on TV I saw the events take place in New York virtually from the beginning. I very rarely was around a TV at that time, living a nomadic existence between various friends apartments in South Korea. I don’t remember exactly, but I found CNN and saw the first tower just after it was struck, that’s when I tuned in. … While watching CNN’s coverage for that split second I said to myself, “is that another plane?” The huge explosion in the second tower confirmed it was and I was, like everyone else, totally shocked.

UNITED 93 showed what I already knew, that the Americans aboard that flight died with honor, they did not sit idly by, they represented. The Men who rushed the hijackers, even being able to gain access to the cockpit no less, died with honor, as any Man would want to.

…Greengrass I thought did very well in the final minutes of the film cutting back and forth to people praying to their respective god. Does one god want the death of other people? Does the other god not want to protect the other people?

…Many times a military commander asked when they could get the rules of engagement for being able to take down a commercial airliner, and how hard can it be to reach the president on this? Finally, in a one-sided conversation with the president, the necessary RoE was still not given. We know initially why it was so hard to reach the president, he was still talking to elementary school children for the first seven minutes after the initial plane hit the World Trade Center.

One technical quibble with the film, why did the oxygen masks never come out of the ceiling??

Walking the Rainbow Bridge

January 8, 2007

Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan — Today was the last day of my 11-day vacation, and when I woke up I had no specific plans in particular, just some very tentative ones. So as usual by noontime I found myself with no plans, but a strong desire not to waste my final day of vacation and to get outside. I initially thought I’d go somewhere I’ve already been, maybe Hibiya Park, but I happened on to the fact that one can walk across the Rainbow Bridge and instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do, as it is one of Tokyo’s most famous landmarks and I’ve only ever seen it from a distance. It’s also in Odaiba, another famous area I’ve never been too, so I was pretty stoked.

After a Yamanote line journey, I took the Yurikamome line for the first time, a small train, only about 4 cars that weaves freely through a myriad of skyscrapers and office buildings, a most scenic journey. Getting off at the foot of the north side of the Rainbow Bridge, I easily found an access point. … This place seemed hardly open, devoid of people save for one mean leaning over himself on a bench. … I don’t know why, but it felt like I was sneaking onto the bridge, like I wasn’t supposed to. I always expect to have to get permission from someone or at least past some ticket window or gate, but here it was an empty building full of stuff I could have easily liberated. I took an elevator 7 floors up to the protected walkway that runs parallel to both the street for cars and in the center of both streets the tracks for the Yurikamome train that I had just hopped off of.

…The walkway for people was quite nice, although most of the time cars fly at you head-on, on your left if you take the south-side walkway as I did. However, there were a couple of points protected from the street that arch out and are relatively peaceful. I lingered at one taking photos and thinking to myself, “it’s a damn fine winter day.”

…I spent a good 45 minutes walking the length of the bridge including pauses to take in the great views in the northwest and southwest directions. … From this high point I scouted the path I wanted to take once back on the ground, which would lead me along a “beach” waterfront area ending at a deserted expanse of park and very wide sidewalk.

I realized that even after more than 3.5 years living in Tokyo, there are still plenty of great places I’ve yet to visit. I spent the whole afternoon in silence taking in views both high and low purposefully walking to where I felt offered the most solace on my last day of winter vacation, a day well spent.

PAN'S LABYRINTH [2006] review

January 7, 2007

One can tend to forget how dark fairy tales really are. Guillermo del Toro reminds us in PAN’S LABYRINTH, a dark green, earthy fairy tale of presuming Spanish origin, as the movie is entirely in Spanish (and a bit of Fairy). The fantasy world of a young girl is juxtaposed with the harsh adult world of soldiers and rebels fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

Yet the fantasy scenes made me feel less comfortable. When the movie cut back to the “real world” I would always feel a sense of relief. For in the latter world I knew the dangers and the worst that could happen, such as having your face smashed in, getting shot in the back, or being sent to bed with no supper! The fantasy world scenes in PAN’S LABYRINTH were all unknown to me, perhaps slightly reminiscent of tales I’ve heard, but I could not beforehand guess the dangers the movie’s young heroine would find herself in.

One may be accustomed to fairy tales having, well, fairy tale endings. I will of course not reveal the ending, but like I first said, one tends to forget how dark fairy tales really are.

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