A walk through my old neighborhood in the area around Ebisu revealed:

The bakery and cafe that I used to go to at least once a week was no longer the same place – it was renovated. It is still a bakery, but has too much furniture, and the inside has become darker. What used to be seating space with floor-to-ceiling windows has become a serving counter, with reduced seating, and doesn’t feel as open.

The curry place that I used to go to is no longer in business. It was run by an art dealer who had books and parts of his wares on display. Even the door is a wooden door from Morocco.

It was a weekday afternoon. Office hours, but there were still a lot of people on the street. I remembered what my roommate from Australia said at the hostel – there are so many people just walking around, alone. They do not look like they are on the way someplace. They do not look like they are buying anything. They are just walking around, and they are not smiling. They don’t look happy.

“Go to the country-side.” I told him. “Tokyo is its own thing. The countryside is different.”

Sunset in Ebisu garden place, I stood on the second-floor terrace looking west to the sun, bright orange against a cloudless sky. I became aware of someone standing behind me. It was a man of about 60 in an Ebisu garden place uniform. he was sweeping, but had stopeed to look at the sunset, too. In a sea of buildings wrought by man, the sun is a reminder of the vastness of space and time.

I went to the top of the Ebisu Garden Place Tower, and found that the chairs that were on the 38th floor, where one could sit, read, or take a nap, are gone. One less place to take repose. But, I had my view of the city to the west, and of the sunset.



Observed and Overheard

Observed: After an Aikido demonstration, he bowed to his uke, then bowed to the front. This was customary. Then, he paused, and bowed to the audience, which struck me as  original.

“When standing under a low bridge, standing tall only causes you to hit your head.”
(compare with Japanese: 出る釘が打たれる。 The nail that sticks out gets struck.)

“That people are forgetting to speak Taiwanese is too bad, but this is the direction of history. I have friends who don’t speak Taiwanese. It’s not practical for us in a group to speak Taiwanese and then translate so that he can understand. Language is just a means. What’s important is understanding.”


I think I can keep going if I lose myself in this foolishness.
It’s not foolishness. It’s a dream.
Some might say it’s naiveté.
Work toward your dreams. Without them, what do you really have? What other people think is their business.
Don’t you think it’s naive?
Such a statement is not in my vocabulary.

我有障碍… 只是,我還在學。
I am handicapped… Well, it’s only that I’m still learning.

In Focus

We had a teacher visit from Japan with two students, to teach an Aikido seminar. During the seminar, I was doing freestyle with the bigger one. I’m about 60kg, so he must have been about 90kg, a former sumo wrestler, I heard.

The teacher walked by when it was my turn to throw. “You’re being nice.” She observed. “You should throw harder.”

“Harder?” I asked. I did a series of three iriminage techniques on my partner, at growing intensity.

“Yes, that’s better.” said the teacher.

Turnabout is fair play, so when it was my partner’s turn to throw me, he threw hard, too. Aikido has ancient jujitsu roots, but the techniques have been de-lethalized just enough that they can be done at full speed for practice. For a few minutes, I felt myself acutely alive. When I was slammed into the ground, I rolled out of the fall to attack again. When he attacked, I broke his balance, led him along, then slammed him into the ground. Everything curiously in focus. I can play the experience back in slow motion.

Over a decade of training. Freestyle practice brought into focus by the intensity of training with an unpredictable and skilled attacker. Aikido is many things. It is aerobic exercise. It is postural improvement. It is a bone-strengthener. It is good for metabolism. It is a way to meet people. But it is also the joy of finding a compatible partner and slamming each other into the ground until you each are panting and sweaty, and bow to each other saying “thank you for this experience.”


Reasons to live in a city as opposed to the country. Walking distance to work or school, plentiful transport links, more diversions for leisure (parks, libraries, concert halls, bars, restaurants); a wider selection of goods; food stalls with cheap, good food; access to markets.

All of this is mitigated by building codes that specify minimum house size, a lack of public transport and the resulting traffic and parking lot sprawl, zoning laws that keep businesses and homes separate, and a permit and finance regime that works for chain stores and against independent stores.

Los Angeles is more expensive than Tokyo, and not as fun.

Degrees of Freedom

Today at practice we did pair work with wooden swords. It occurred to me that under normal circumstances, both parties fear death, and this limits the choice of possible movements. If it is possible to strike a fatal blow, but doing so opens one up for a simultaneous fatal blow, one will still not do it. Unless one does not fear death. The one who does not fear death is less restricted.

In the time of Caesar, the warriors of Gaul were willing to burn their cities so that Caesar would not have them. Given the choice of surrender or death, many chose to fight to the death, perhaps better to kill more Romans so that other Gallic tribes would have a chance. One tribe, the Aedui, had a long-standing peace with Rome. Caesar used their capitol, Noviodunum, as a granary and weapons store from which to launch his campaigns to incorporate Gaul into the Empire. By standards of the time, Noviodunum would have been a modern city, complete with political and civic institutions modeled on Rome. To preserve Gallic freedom, the Aedui joined the Gallic coalition against Caesar, and carried away all the all the grain they could, threw the rest in to the river, then evacuated and burned Noviodunum so that the Romans could not have it.

Degrees of freedom emerge from lack of fear, and this is present in circumstances that don’t necessarily involve life or death: whistle-blowers that end their careers in order to satisfy their sense of justice, politicians that negotiate compromises that will cause them to lose their jobs. Where this involves a statement of some kind, it makes the person more trustworthy – the messenger, by putting something at risk, must necessarily believe in the importance of his message.

Unfortunately, this is one of the seductions of IS and suicide bombing, though these are now subject to “reverse attacks” by people who bear-hug suicide bombers to prevent them from detonating explosives in a populated area.

I am looking forward to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s upcoming book Skin in the Game, which is supposed to have related discussion.

Gilan to Taipei via Sãtiau Kak

Set out at Gi-Lan at about 10:30am, rounded the cape at Sãtiau-Gak lighthouse, passed Hok-Liong beach, went through the Ping-Siang tunnel, then passed through Ping-khe and Chhim-khenn. Personal record: >100km. Weather generally good, but there were three surprise downpours before i rounded the cape. The owner of the B&B I stayed at had given me some rainwear, which I was thankful for, but it was a bit of a hassle to pack and unpack. next time – maybe wear quick-drying clothing, and it wont matter if I get wet.

Everything from Gi-lan up to the Peng-Siang tunnel was relatively peaceful, with wide shoulders or dedicated bike lanes. There were scenic stops, but the nature of cycling is that the countryside rolls by at a scenic pace, from ibises on the fields to fishermen on the sandy beach, to huge rolling waves crashing into rock strata. Downpours aside, there were occaisional light showers that did not block outbthe sun, and I was happy for these, as they cooled me off.

At about 2, I stipped for lunch at 品逸屋, which boasted locally caught seafood. I had 鰾, which I thought was a type of fish, but I learned is the air bladder of a fish. It was cooked in a good sauce of celery, chilis, leeks, and touban sauce. I will try to make this. I scarfed it down with three bowls of rice. The proprietress asked me when i paid – did you eat your fill? Yes, I told her simply.

I could have had a fourth, but I didnt want to become sluggish.

Ping-khe to Chhim-khenn was dangerous. Visibility limited by curves. Traffic flowing but heavy. Narrow shoulder. Jockeyed for position with cars. Reminds me of highway 17 to Santa Cruz, but here the tighter curves limit the speed of traffic. On the balance, more dangerous, as people take mire risks. At first, I stayed close to the shoulder, but took to occupying the entire lane when I found I was just as fast as the cars, especially as I could corner faster. Any distance that opened up on a straight stretch, I could gain back on cornering.

I got passed by two ambulances, and saw two accidents on the stretch from Ping-khe to Chhim-khenn alone. Emerging from Chhim-khenn, I got passed by another ambulance.

It was my second time riding that stretch. The first time, I saw a car marked off by police tape, with its front end wrapped around a telephone pole. There was a spider web cracking of the windshield on the driver’s side which must have been made my the driver’s head.

Arrived home about 5. After that adventure, it is a privelege to be able to fix up a dinner with stuff in the fridge and not to have to go out.