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    Earthquakes in Japan (Part Infinity)

    Posted by Sean at 14:37, May 7th, 2008

    Earthquakes centered in Tochigi Prefecture a few hours ago: estimated 6.7 M on the modified Richter scale, and a weak 5 on the JMA scale (which measures surface vibrations) in parts of Tochigi and Ibaraki. According to my buddy, they were perceptible in Tokyo. I haven’t seen any reports of damage, but a weak 5, while not as bad as things could be, can cause real problems in craggy, cliffy rural areas with a lot of elderly people. There’s an English translation of the JMA scale here. A weak 5 isn’t strong enough to knock down buildings that are up to code in areas that are prepared for earthquakes, but it’s strong enough to be scary and make it difficult to move.

    New York update: food, clothing, and shelter

    Posted by Sean at 07:29, April 29th, 2008

    There’s a favorite story on my mother’s side of the family: My great-grandmother’s sister came from Poland for a visit in the 1950s, and seeing the variety of goods in a typical neighborhood grocery store, she burst into tears.

    Japan is a first-world country, so it’s certainly not the case that I’ve become unused to variety. But of course, the brands are different, the diet is different, what appeals to people is different, the cumulative effect of surveying the aisles is different. Coming back to New York means readjusting my eye and palate to New York food sources. We were going to order from Fresh Direct, but last night we passed D’Ag’s on the way home, so we stopped in. I’m afraid I kind of embarrassed my friend by giggling at everything, but I couldn’t help myself.

    It wasn’t the type and distribution of products. Even from only coming home twice a year for the last decade, I’m still used to that. It also wasn’t that anything and everything comes in 50-gallon-drum size, which wouldn’t fit through the door of most Tokyo houses. I’m used to that, too. What got me was the evolution in some specific familiar stuff. The most improbable brands have gone upscale.

    Cheer’s curvy new bottles look as if they were inspired by ewers from Pottery Barn; I half expected each one to come with a little basin in matching plastic. For detergent containers, they looked invitingly touchable, almost ergonomic. (And, unsurprisingly, they’re clearly aimed at the lady of the house, with filigree patterns in the background on each label.)


    There are formulations for the stuff inside that I hadn’t seen before, too. One is supposedly targeted at dark colors. (The brand concept was developed by “strategy and design teams fully immersed in darkness.” Is that the most fabulous thing ever, or what? And I like the way “Cheer Dark” sounds like Near Dark , the Kathryn Bigelow vampire movie that reunited many of the most memorable cast members from Aliens .)

    I was utterly bewildered by a product called True Fit:

    Nothing can ruin laundry day like finding a favorite shirt has stretched to the point of no return. Help clothes keep their shape with Cheer® 2X Compacted True Fit™.

    Love your clothes. Treat them right.

    Personally, my solution to clothes that could get stretched out of shape is either to take them to a proper cleaner’s or to use a mesh bag in the washing machine, but I love the idea that there’s a detergent out there that’s specifically formulated for them.

    Also, Dietz & Watson? I grew up not far from Philadelphia, and to me, Dietz & Watson means hot dogs and kielbasa. But not anymore. The company introduces itself on its website with this VERY WRONG sentence:

    Welcome to Dietz & Watson, home to the World’s Best Meat Delicacies and Artisan Cheeses.

    Or maybe it’s not so wrong. Dietz & Watson was always a local, family-owned company that emphasized homely production values. It’s just that it used to be assumed that those values appealed to local just-folks types; now, rebranded as “artisanal,” they’ve moved up in the world.

    I love the disdain that drips from every phrase on this page about condiments:

    The World’s Best Meat Delicacies and Artisan Cheese deserve better than that “same old yellow or spicy mustard, horseradish without a kick or sour pickles without a snap”. So we created our Deli Complements™ with just that intention, to complement our meats and cheeses with enhanced flavor profiles to satisfy today’s adult taste expectations.

    Enhanced flavor profiles! For a range that includes something called “Sandwich Spread.” I love it! What next–small-batch Cheez Whiz in earthenware jugs stopped with natural corks? (And psssst! Kudos to your marketing people for choosing the right spelling of complements for this context. Now they just need to tell your webmaster to fix the filename for the image. And guys, this is America: the period goes inside the quotation marks.)


    Also, check out the gigantic sandwiches featured on the “Healthier Lifestyle” page.

    Sorry. The Dietz & Watson thing really amused me.


    It’s been rainy for the last few days, and one of the things I always notice about being back from Tokyo is how much better New York looks in the rain. The grey weather can still be depressing, but there’s something about the presence of organic-feeling brick surfaces sprinkled through the built environment that makes it feel less off-putting. The relentless onslaught of steel/glass/concrete/tile in Tokyo can really drag you down. And sidewalks in the City are so wide that you can actually navigate down them with an open umbrella without maiming anyone.


    Posted by Sean at 04:49, April 23rd, 2008

    Thanks to everyone who wished me a good trip. The flight was uneventful, and here I am in New York.

    Jet lag. Luckily for me, Atsushi’s going-away present was two sets of DVDs–the first and last series of「古畑任三郎」, the Japanese detective show modeled on Columbo that we used to watch together. I’m through six episodes already!

    [Added on 29 April: Since I was talking about product design in the next post, I might mention that 「古畑任三郎」has some of the coolest titles I’ve ever seen. The Japanese are known for their sleek design, but to a degree that’s because what we see in the West is selected by other Western visitors, who bring back the most striking artifacts. Lots of graphic and industrial design in Japan is as clunky and unprepossessing as it is anywhere else. That’s especially true where words are concerned. Print media, web pages, and movie credits often have cutesy visual themes and are crammed with text. For a culture so renowned for maximizing the impact of spare design, Japan goes in for the clutter an awful lot.

    Fuji TV doesn’t seem to have streaming video of the opening credit sequence up on its page, which is a shame because the music is pretty cool, too. You can still can get a sense of the way it flows by clicking on some of the links:


    If you click around on the site, actually, you may see what I mean by clutter. Even if you can read the Japanese, the page is hard to navigate.]

    Speaking of jet lag, a word to American Airlines: When your flight is landing at JFK at 6 p.m., it’s flat-out cruel to keep the cabin lights off and serve breakfast an hour before beginning descent. I mean, seriously? As if my sense of time weren’t already screwed up enough.

    Eeeeeven told the golden daaaaaffodilllll

    Posted by Sean at 23:06, April 16th, 2008

    Eric doesn’t like being labeled, and not for the usual tiresome I’m-too-free-spirited-to-be-defined reasons:

    While I can say what I think about most things, experience shows that adopting any label invites conformity to it. (Especially criticism from those who claim it.)

    Once you say what you are, some a**hole will come along and say that you’re not, because he is.

    Similarly, once you say what you aren’t, some a**hole will come along and say that you are, because he isn’t.

    It’s convenient that (small-l) “libertarian” suits me fine, because it tends not to set people off. I like “classical liberal,” but (today’s left) liberals often seem to think you’re trying to dress up as one of them while being a closet fascist. (“Yeah, you’re a liberal in the sense that, like, Mill would have meant it,” someone sneered at me once.) And while my positions on many issues align with what we now consider “conservatism,” I’m not fundamentally a conservative. (Well, I am when some gross guy is hitting on me. Then I identify myself as a “conservative” in a clear, forceful tone and mention that I’m a registered Republican. You movement conservatives don’t mind the fib, do you? It’s to the end of preventing casual homosexual intercourse, after all. And I really am a registered Republican.)

    The only problem with calling yourself a libertarian–besides, as Eric alludes to, being invited by supposed fellow travelers to engage in poker-faced debates over the most inane hypothetical situations imaginable–is that a lot of people don’t understand that it doesn’t mean “libertine” or “anarchist.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to explain that no, I don’t think all governing bodies should be dissolved so we can frolic naked in meadows all day and subsist on game and wild berries. In general, though, even those who conclude I’m just a closet right-winger seem to give me a fair hearing without rancor.


    My buddy grabbed my arm the other night and asked whether I’d seen Julie Burchill’s inevitable column about the new Madonna album yet. He summarized it as “If I spent four hours a day at the gym, I’d look better than that bitch!” Not too far wide of the mark:

    Madonna is everywhere, reigning over the just and the unjust, friend and foe alike; loving her or hating her is as futile as loving or hating the rain, wind or snow – it’ll happen anyway.

    If Madonna didn’t devote her life to harassing us, what would she do with herself all day? Remember, this is a woman with so much time on her hands that she can spend four hours a day working out. I know I’m fat, but I have to say that if I spent four hours a day working out, I’d want to look a damn sight hotter than Madonna does; those vile veiny hands, that sad stringy neck – yuck!

    Madonna has the sort of body that tends toward the plump/luscious side; you can see it in her early videos. Endomorphs like that who diet and exercise themselves into having no body fat often end up with skin that has a weird stretched look.

    The rest of the column is the exact same thing Burchill writes whenever a Madonna record comes out, and it’s as funny (and bawdy) as usual.


    Surprise! Hillary Clinton once said something nasty behind closed doors about white, working-class Southerners (via Ann Althouse):

    In January 1995, as the Clintons were licking their wounds from the 1994 congressional elections, a debate emerged at a retreat at Camp David. Should the administration make overtures to working class white southerners who had all but forsaken the Democratic Party? The then-first lady took a less than inclusive approach.

    “Screw ’em,” she told her husband. “You don’t owe them a thing, Bill. They’re doing nothing for you; you don’t have to do anything for them.”

    And since some things never change, Clinton’s spokesman responds with contempt when asked about the authenticity of the quotation:

    A spokesperson for Clinton said the quote was taken out of context and did not reflect her true political philosophy. “This quote differs from the recollection of others who were in the room at the time this comment was allegedly made,” said Jay Carson. “To be clear, that’s not how she felt then and it’s not how she feels now, and the proof is in how she has lived her life, the work she has done and the policies she has pushed and pursued over the last 35 years.”

    Asked to produce a witness who would say that Clinton had been misquoted, Carson wrote: “So, you’ve got two guys we’ve barely heard of remembering a verbatim quote from 13 years ago?… Sounds totally and completely reliable.”

    Remember the Clinton administration, when we were subjected to that kind of smear-and-spin routine almost daily when something or other threatened to blow up in the happy couple’s faces? We could be mere months from going back to it!

    Eric also noticed this story. (He didn’t say much about it, but, then, he had to go to New Jersey, so he had plenty of pain to contend with already.)


    I don’t think this post has enough parentheses.

    Pack it and move it

    Posted by Sean at 08:21, April 13th, 2008

    Does anyone out there know where my evening shirt is?

    Well, what good are you?

    I thought I always kept it inside the dinner jacket on the same hanger, but unless it’s invisible, it’s not there. I hope I didn’t leave it in Atsushi’s closet when I moved out.


    How is it possible for one man to have so many vases? If there were ever any doubt that I’m gay, it’s been dispelled by the four boxes of decorative housewares I’ve just packed. Mind you, they don’t include anything you could eat off or store something in.


    It’s time for me to break a pair of sunglasses. Or maybe lose them. I can feel it. The weather keeps going from sunny to cloudy, so you need them sometimes and then not others. They end up in a pocket or dangling by one slender arm from my bag. I seem to have a thing for dropping them in cabs or putting them down on tables and putting something heavy on them. I school myself resolutely to keep them in their little crush-proof cases, but it never works.


    I’m not entirely sure why, but I have The Descent in the DVD player, and I’m finding it oddly comforting to have it playing while I’m packing. Given the increasing claustrophic-cave-like-ness of my apartment, you’d think it would make me afraid of confronting a throat-biting humanoid in the bathroom or something, but I actually find it rather cozy. And I used to be of those people who were completely unable to handle horror movies. (When I was growing up, all the talk of demons waiting to getcha we got in church affected my over-active imagination a good deal.)

    BTW, if you like suspense and have a strong stomach, The Descent is a great little movie. It’s bloody and seriously scary at times, but you don’t leave it feeling cynically worked over. It’s thoughtful and raises interesting questions without being pretentious, and the cave scenes are very persuasive even though they were all shot on a soundstage. I love hypertrophied old Hollywood glamour-orgy productions as much as the next gay man, but there’s a lot to be said for a movie made by people who relied on ingenuity, skill, and conviction rather than piles of money.

    Abandoned luncheonette

    Posted by Sean at 02:34, April 12th, 2008

    [Added later: Or maybe I should have gone with “Your Imagination” as a title. “Love, Need, and Want You”? Maybe “When Will I See You Again”? “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”? “Hate on Me”?]

    I have a lot of affection for my home state of Pennsylvania. I grew up outside Allentown; my parents had the same house from the time they got married until I’d finished college. Then they moved four miles down the road, where they still are. My father was a plant worker for Bethlehem Steel while I was growing up, so there were a fair share of layoffs and lean years during the ’80s.

    Even though Barack Obama has been trounced already for his remarks about Pennsylvania, let me just add a bit. (Note to Tom Maguire about that headline, though: John Mellencamp is from Indiana. Keep your troglodyte-populated states straight! Then, too, I should be grateful he didn’t quote “Allentown” by Illybay Oeljay, which I have something of a hangup about.) This is where the audio is, apparently, and the key paragraphs are these:

    You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

    And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to do justice to how retarded that is–and I say that as an overeducated, corporate, atheist, homosexual urbanite who’s spent the last dozen years in Tokyo and is now happily returning to New York.

    The anti-trade part I do agree with. I’ve had (mild) arguments with my father over protectionism for the steel industry, which simply gives the shaft to American workers and their families further down the supply chain.

    The rest is ridiculous.

    As far as guns go, my father wasn’t big on hunting, but my uncles and cousins went regularly, and I don’t think they were taking out their job-related frustrations on the deer. Sport hunting is just one of those practices that the working class has in common with the aristocracy, and there are plenty of counties in the northern part of PA that are ideal for it.

    Furthermore, most rural areas are by definition somewhat less densely populated than Hyde Park, Chicago. My mother has two handguns and takes shooting lessons because my father works nights quite a bit. If someone broke into the house, she’d have to fend for herself until the township police arrived. That’s been a fact of life since long before manufacturing jobs started leaving.

    I also think it highly likely that commonwealth history has something to do with attitudes toward guns. In Pennsylvania, at least in eastern Pennsylvania, you spend your childhood taking field trips to Valley Forge and Gettysburg. In the borough where I grew up, there’s a preserved cabin, now nearly three hundred years old, called the Shelter House, where visiting schoolkids are lectured by their elders about the fragile existence of the first settlers as they carved out new lives in unknown territory. The idea that life can be harsh and that you may have to defend yourself violently is not alien to anyone who stays awake through state history classes.

    By the way, you noticed that my hometown is called Emmaus, right? My parents now live in Old Zionsville. The second-largest city in the Lehigh Valley is Bethlehem. There’s a Bethel in Berks County. Down toward Lancaster there’s a town called Smyrna. There’s also this little hamlet in Pennsylvania called Philadelphia–have you heard of it?–the name of which is Greek for “city of brotherly love” and is a place mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

    That’s, you know, in the Bible. Seekers of religious freedom were numerous among Pennsylvania settlers. William Penn was a Quaker whose beliefs had riled his father and the king. In Pennsylvania Dutch country, we’re famous for having Amish communities. Lots of old Moravian and Lutheran churches, too. A combination of religious fervor and tolerance is movingly woven into Pennsylvania history from day one, and people in small towns have been going to church regularly since long before the decline of the rust belt economy. The insinuation that people just kind of started turning to religion to give them a sense of shallow comfort when the layoffs started is deeply offensive. I rejected the theology I’d been brought up with years ago as an accurate explanation for the origins of the universe, but it’s just plain low to take cheap shots against the faithful.

    Things like “antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment” are so vague it’s hard to know what to make of them, but I will say that people tend to associate with those who are like them in New York and San Fracisco as much as they do in Reading. And the small towns have been diversifying, slowly but surely. It takes time for people to get used to one another, and everyone has prejudices that have to be discarded in the face of experience. That’s hardly some sort of distinguishing characteristic of Pennsylvania.

    Eric doesn’t have anything up about this yet, but when he does, it’s sure to be fabulous. In the interim, on a related topic, he’s posted about Mayor Michael Nutter in Philadelphia, who’s had the effrontery to compare himself to the Founding Fathers in signing gun control laws:

    “Almost 232 years ago, a group of concerned Americans took matters in their own hands and did what they needed to do by declaring that the time had come for a change,” Nutter said as he signed the bills in front of a table of confiscated weapons outside the police evidence room in City Hall.

    Jeff at Alphecca has also posted.

    Added on 19 April: Eric has posted.


    Posted by Sean at 03:26, April 7th, 2008

    I would have bought the lime green, Janis, for the wood sprite effect when out gardening. Then, too, if you garden in earnest (and why would you not?), the mud and earth are likely to dull the color in short order.

    I wore a lime-green T-shirt to lunch with Atsushi yesterday. We went to a putatively Moroccan restaurant, which turned out to be a French bistro-ish place (including the ham that came with the asparagus salad) in just about every respect except the figurines of camels and the baskets everywhere. Anyway, the color comes into the story because we both got pea soup–chilled fresh pea soup that looked like bright-green vichyssoise. When it arrived, Atsushi looked from my plate to my shirt to the (green) cushions and said, “You’ve certainly dressed for the place.” Then the waitress came to do something with the cutlery and started giggling. “Same color,” she said in English, looking at my place setting and me.

    Unlike Janis, I can’t wear most V-necks. I’m not worried about bra straps, obviously; it’s just that when you have as much chest hair as I do, a deep V looks sleazy (in gay terms) or just plain wrong.


    Posted by Sean at 09:07, April 4th, 2008

    James Kirchik is hardly a lockstep liberal, but in this post, I think he does actually make a typical liberal mistake in typical liberal fashion. His conclusion is this:

    A top concern for voters in November will be a candidate’s ability to raise American prestige. Rest assured that McCain will do just that.

    Given its origins, the word prestige sounds like a perfect fit for McCain to me. That aside, I think Kirchik is wrong about most voters. Most Americans don’t care what people think in New York and San Francisco, for Pete’s sake, let alone in Paris and Berlin.

    Or that’s not entirely true. As one commenter puts it (nonmilagno posting Apr 2, 2008 – 4:30 pm), “It’s not necessary that Europeans like us. However, it is important that they realise we have common interests.” What worries Americans is not our lack of “prestige” but that we can’t always rely on other Western countries to go to the mat for Western values. I think that if a presidential candidate convincingly demonstrated that he or she could get governments of other democracies to see why the WOT affects them, too, voters would care. But proportion of American voters who are hoping they’ll be able to hold their heads higher among their European and Latin American friends at brunch on Sundays is small and very geographically restricted.

    Kirchik’s argument about whether people care about rebuilding our reputation abroad is wrong on its own terms, but so is his assessment of how our reputation got where it is:

    The truth is that much of contemporary anti-Americanism is a manifestation of disgust with George W. Bush as an individual and will immediately dissipate as soon as a new president — Democrat or Republican — enters the Oval Office in 2009. Yet also keep in mind that a similar degree of anti-American sentiment is inherent and may take a generation to disappear. Yet also keep in mind that a similar degree of anti-American sentiment is inherent and may take a generation to disappear. French anti-Americanism, for instance, springs from economic inferiority and a lost empire, was flaunted as far back as 50 years ago when Charles de Gaulle was president and George W. Bush was but a little boy. Much of South America’s anti-Americanism stems from 19th century American imperialism, something that no American president will be able to change.

    What the next president can do to reverse the popularity deficit is distinguish himself from the current administration’s most unpopular policies. On this score, McCain already has much to his credit. He has long stood out for his proactive stance on global warming, his opposition to coercive interrogation practices of terrorism suspects, and his support for closing the prison on Guantanamo Bay, all things which anger people and governments overseas.

    Given the hedging in that first paragraph, it’s hard to pin down how much anti-Americanism Kirchik expects to disappear magically on Inauguration Day. What proportion is attributable to anti-Bush sentiment? I’d say less than he thinks. Europeans and Asians loved the Clintons–they were lawyers with prestigious educations who talked a lot of big-government theory, which made them easy to identify with for a lot of elites there. And yet there was still plenty of bitching about America. Too prosperous, too confident militarily, too confident culturally, too friendly with Israel. They might like to see us hobble our economy with some drastic policies to combat global warming and stuff, but I don’t think the basic attitude is likely to change soon, no matter who’s president.

    So I don’t think Kirchik’s argument in favor of McCain washes. Virginia Postrel has an intriguing and more convincing analysis of Barack Obama’s glamour in The Atlantic:

    Obama’s glamour gives him a powerful political advantage. But it also poses special problems for the candidate and, if he succeeds, for the country.

    To rely on illusions is to risk disillusionment. If Obama the dream candidate becomes Obama the real president, he’ll be forced to pick sides, make compromises, and turn “hope” and “change” into policies some people like and some people don’t. Or, like the movie star governor of California, he might choose instead to preserve his glamour by letting others set the agenda. Either way, his face won’t make America’s worries disappear, and his cool, polite manner won’t eliminate political disagreements. Some of his supporters will feel disappointed, even betrayed. The result could be a backlash, heightened partisan conflict, and a failed presidency. George W. Bush ran as a uniter, and Jimmy Carter promised national renewal.

    Anne Applebaum wrote a column on a somewhat related issue last year. The headline was “What Presidents Don’t Know,” and her point was that some learning on the job is inevitable. Wonkish expertise and a ten-point plan for everything are less important than a realistic sense of what the candidate is getting into:

    In fact, there may be some sorts of experience that are actually detrimental to a potential president. I worry, for example, about Hillary Clinton’s much-vaunted travels as first lady: She came, she made carefully prepared speeches, she received polite applause. It won’t be like that if she’s president, and I hope she doesn’t think it will be.

    Other kinds of foreign connections could prove useful. Even aside from his specific beliefs, John McCain happens to be particularly good at speaking to (and arguing with) foreign audiences: The director of a German foundation recently complained to me that the U.S. presidential campaign was spoiling his transatlantic conferences because it meant McCain couldn’t attend anymore. Meanwhile, Obama, with his African relatives and Indonesian childhood, would start his presidency riding an enormous wave of international goodwill. His differences from our current president — he’s young, black, with a more complicated background — would win him a lot of points in a lot of places, whether or not he knows the name of the Pakistani president (and whether or not he would bomb that country, as he recently seemed to imply he would).

    I remember vividly when Ann Althouse linked Applebaum’s column. A lot of her commenters seemed to take the above passage as an out-and-out endorsement of Obama–which gave me pause, because I hadn’t. Applebaum seemed to me to be observing two things: that any new president will have expectations and a default way of reacting to new information, and that how other world leaders respond will be an important part of that new information. She appeared to be suggesting that Obama might be able to leverage his initial warm reception; Virginia says that his glamour won’t be enough to save him if he gets into trouble but that he may have a realistic sense of its limits.


    Posted by Sean at 06:04, April 4th, 2008

    That one was probably bigger somewhere, but it was big enough here. We should know in a few minutes.

    Raise the pressure

    Posted by Sean at 09:05, April 2nd, 2008

    On Saturday, I flew into Tokyo as a resident of Japan for the last time. Sometime in the next few weeks, I’ll step out onto my balcony and see this view once more, wish Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown their best, and leave the apartment to the cleaners. Then I’m moving back to New York.


    If you’re a Westerner living in Asia, you have, at any time, at least a half-dozen friends who are trying to decide whether they want to leave or stay. It’s just a topic that comes up a lot. Therefore, I was able to draw on a lot of advice, not all of it solicited. Most of the people whose opinions I valued echoed my Belgian architect friend (whose advice I did solicit, since he has a lot more experience with these things than I have): If you have experience working in Asia, you can always find a way to come back; but the longer you’re away from home, the harder it is to find a way to return.

    So I’m moving back. Taking a bit of a rest, staying with my old roommate in Murray Hill for a while, then getting a new job.

    “Aren’t you afraid it’ll be hard to adjust?” I’ve been asked (and asked and asked). Yeah, sure. I’ve been in Japan my whole adult life. (I don’t consider college and grad school adulthood–not when you’re being funded by Mom and Dad or the Japan Foundation.) But people move to new places all the time. And New York is somewhere I’ve lived before anyway.

    And yet…it’s been a long time since I’ve lived in the States. When I last lived in America, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was still nothing more than a rather bad movie with Kristy Swanson. When the television show debuted and friends started raving about it, we saw it in Japan the way you saw American shows back then: friends sent videotapes.

    I bought a few new CDs on their day of release a week or two after arriving in Japan: Bilingual by the Pet Shop Boys and Nine Objects of Desire by Suzanne Vega.

    I don’t remember which movies I first saw in the theater after coming to Tokyo. I do remember watching Alien Resurrection here when it was released. Japanese audiences are very quiet, so when the Winona Ryder character reappeared after being shot, my spontaneous cry of, “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD AND OUT OF THE PICTURE, YOU ANNOYING B…” could be heard echoing through the theater until my then-boyfriend clapped a hand over my mouth.

    That’s how long I’ve been away. Yes, I see my friends back home at least once a year, and I’m in constant e-mail contact. And there are loads of things that make keeping in touch easier. Everyone has e-mail. (That wasn’t true even in 1996.) You can download just about anything. (When was the last time I had to leave the house without 6000 songs stored on a device the size of a deck of cards? I don’t even remember.) You can torture people with your vacation photos without even having them printed; just create and online album and e-mail the URL to friend and foe alike. But it isn’t the same as being there.

    I’m not focusing on changes in pop culture stuff because I’m unaware that there are more important things in life. It just, when you live far from home and contact friends to find out what’s going on there, they assume you’re watching the news. If someone brings up what Obama just said at a rally the other night, it’s because they want to discuss it, not because they think they’re informing you about something happening at home that you couldn’t have heard about.

    It’s the new movies and music and restaurants and things they tell you about to help you feel caught up. (Books, too, but despite being someone who reads all the time, I generally have a hard time getting into contemporary fiction, so my friends have learned to stop recommending new novels to me.) Even if you find soap-opera-ish dramas tiresome, knowing that a lot of the people you know are watching Ally McBeal or (now) Grey’s Anatomy and gabbing about it at brunch on weekends becomes meaningful. You’re not participating in one another’s daily lives, but you can at least feel secure in the knowledge that you’re not becoming strangers.

    So. Three weeks to settle things here. Then however long it takes to get settled back in at home. I’m looking forward to the culture shock in a way. It would be a bummer if America and New York and I weren’t different after twelve years. And now that Japan seems to be cool again, maybe I can parlay my experience here into a hip, cosmopolitan demeanor that gets the men flocking to me.

    Or maybe I’ll just seem out of it.

    We’ll find out soon enough.