Episode 13: Bound for Mu-Mu Land
First off, that title has nothing whatsoever to do with the contents of
this episode; I'm just hooked on KLF's Justified and Ancient and you'll
win no prizes for guessing what the refrain is.  The KLF 2CD I bought
contains no less than 6 mixes of the track...

Mu-Mu Land aside, some occurrences lately have been straight out of the
Illuminatus! Trilogy.  Like last Saturday, when I was walking in Yoyogi
Park, looking for a bunch of people who where supposed to be
picnicking there.  I never found them, but instead, I ran into a very
familiar looking blonde girl.  I looked at her, puzzled; she looked at
me, equally puzzled; conversation ensued and soon enough it became clear
that I had just run into a person from my university (Helsinki U. of Tech),
my faculty (Electrical Eng.) and my class as well (S III).  In Yoyogi
Park, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan, some 5000 kilometers away from Finland
in a city of 32 million people.  Our class consisting of some 300 people,
we had never exchanged a single word before, but now Riikka & I became
instant friends.  Small world, eh?

This weekend, I was planning to go to an outdoor goa party on the slopes
of Mt. Fuji, but unfortunately the rainy season has set in and the promised
sunny skies turned into cloudy skies and rain.  (In Japan, the rainy
season doesn't really mean non-stop rain, it just means the nearly total
absence of sun since it's always overcast.)  So, I figured, what could
be a better day to do something I'd been thinking about for a long time --
visit Chiba!

Chiba?  Ignored entirely or dismissed as "suburbia" by travel guides, Chiba
is generally regarded as the most boring of the prefectures surrounding Tokyo,
its primary attraction being the forced one of Narita Airport.  But, as
William Gibson fans will know, there is one excellent reason for visiting
Chiba: the "Tokyo-Chiba urban sprawl" is where much of Neuromancer
is set.  So, taking my trusty cyberdeck (alright, a laptop borrowed from
work) with me for the first time, it was time to jack in to the pulse of
Chiba cyberspace.  Here's the diary, written as it happened.

  In Japan, he'd known with a clenched and absolute certainty, he'd find
  his cure. In Chiba. Either in a registered clinic or in the shadowland
  of black medicine. Synonymous with implants, nerve-splicing, and
  microbionics, Chiba was a magnet for the Sprawl's techno-criminal

11:30 At the Tokyo International Forum, perusing the pile of brochures I
just grabbed at the tourist info center.  The biggest, "Chiba Is In Your
Sight Now", immediately grabs my attention with its suggested "Bayside Tour",
which is a "course to enjoy the charm of latest urban sights".
Brilliant!  I am also tempted by the offer of a 40-minute cruise
"into the heart of the industrial port area".  After making use of the
cyberpunkily automated men's convinience room I depart.

  Behind the port lay the city, factory domes dominated by the vast
  cubes of corporate arcologies.  Port and city were divided by a narrow
  borderland of older streets, an area with no official name.  Night City,
  with Ninsei at its heart.

12:30 On the local clunker from Tokyo station to Chiba city.  Tokyo station,
despite its innocent red-brick interior, is a highly cyberpunky and
immensely complex maze of some 50-odd platforms on 5 subterranean and
non-linear levels; this train, on the other hand, is mainly just
East European.  Paint peeling off, rusty bits, painted a sickly
hospital green...  but when zooming through the vast dimly lit tunnels
radiating from Tokyo station the feeling is grimly futuristic.

  Friday night on Ninsei. He passed yakitori stands and massage parlors,
  a franchised coffee shop called Beautiful Girl, the electronic thunder
  of an arcade. He stepped out of the way to let a dark-suited sarariman
  by, spotting the Mitsubishi-Genentech logo tattooed across the back
  of the man's hand...

13:50 After arrival and obtaining a map at the tourist info center in the
station, I quickly headed underground (of course!) to grab some lunch.
According to my booklet, "Chiba cuisine" consists primarily of seafood,
so I ate my lunch at a little chain izakaya.  Quite tasty, if highly
uncyberpunk -- I supposed microwaved pizza or IV-injected saline
solution would've been more appropriate.  At least the shopping center's
basement restaurant floor was nifty; everything was very nicely decorated
except the roof, where all the steel piping and air-con tubes were visible.

After stuffing myself, I atoned for my sins and grabbed extra cyberpunk
points by taking the wonderfully named Chiba Urban Monorail to the
industrial (ooh! ooh!) port area.  A true monorail, the train is
actually suspended upside down from the track above it.  Somewhat
uncomfortable (it sways a lot when turning) and utterly pointless,
but damn, is it cool!  I'm typing this at the Urban Monorail's
Chiba Minato station, now off to explore the futuristic port area...

  Tokyo Bay was a black expanse where gulls wheeled above drifting
  shoals of styrofoam...

14:30 The observation deck of the Chiba Port Tower, set in exceedingly
non-grim surroundings of wide avenues and grassy fields shaded by
trees.  Gibson would roll in his grave if he was dead.  Fortunately,
from a height of 110 meters the surrounding industrial wastelands and
container docks are well visible, at least for a kilometer or two
until they fade off in the smog.  The center of Chiba looks pathetically
diminutive compared to Tokyo, the highest buildings barely 20 stories.
It's raining heavily now.  I happened to arrive at the Tower on some sort
of festival day, there are stalls and tents on a nearby field and entrance
is free, which means a infernal amount of noise as hordes of giddy kids
run and tumble about screaming continuously.  At least there's a
delightfully pathetic display of stuffed fish mounted on sticks in
a simulated ocean environment downstairs; the simulation is needed
since heavily polluted Chiba Bay hasn't sustained anything above
seaweed (or with less than 3 eyes) for quite a while.

The suggested itinerary says I should proceed to the Prefectural
History Museum now, but we're aiming for the future here.  The next
stop, Makuhari New Town, sounds more promising -- I'm not sure if I
care much for the Makuhari Messe convention center, but I simply have
to find out what the Makuhari Techno Garden is.  And there's the
Sharp High-Technology Hall and Fujitsu Doom (did somebody misspell Dome?)
Theatre too.  Ikoo ze!

  Night City was like a deranged experiment in social Darwinism,
  designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the
  fast-forward button.

15:30 So I did go to an outdoor rave after all!  As I was leaving
the Tower, I (once again) heard the unmistakable sound of a bassdrum from the
aforementioned field, so I headed there for a look.  Surprise surprise:
on the stage, a dozen or so lightly spandex-clad girls were performing
synchronized aerobics with the backing of eurodancepop played with
serious wattage.  It was still raining though, so I didn't hang around
very much longer.  I might have donated blood at the Red Cross stand (or a
kidney for even more cyberpunk points), but then I remembered that gaijin
blood is usually dumped in the trash here.  Too bad for them.

An uneventful train ride later, after passing countless cloned cheap-ass
boondock apartments (danshi) with sinister serial numbers stenciled on,
I arrived at Kaihin-Makuhari, a showpiece city much like Tokyo's Odaiba
area.  I immediately headed for the Techno Garden, which turned out to be
an impressive complex of shopping malls, restaurants and office towers;
white tile, glass and polished steel with atmospheric lighting and
realistic plastic plants, with footsteps echoing in the quiet walkways and
aerial bridges.  Very peaceful, elegant and expensive-looking after the
rather scruffy port area.  Cyberpunk?  In a way -- this is how the rich of
Gibson's world live.

  Watches, flic-knives, lighters, pocket VTRs, simstim decks, weighted
  manriki chains, and shuriken...

16:30 At the Sharp High Technology Hall.  Now this is cyberpunk.  Like all
self-respecting Japanese company showcases, it had a revolving/liftable/
vibrating/360-degree movie theater displaying future products tied in
with a silly little story, and this one was about LCD screens.  The single
coolest concept on display: a pen-sized computer, where display is
a flexible LCD screen that rolls out when a button is pressed!
And have I raved about the Zaurus yet?  It's a computer about the size
of an index card, maybe a centimeter thick, that has a SVGA display,
PCMCIA slots, and enough software to do anything you want.  No keyboard
though, just a stylus, but for writing Japanese it's good enough.
And there were truckloads of other futuristic stuff as well.  (Including
cellphones.  Might Nokia's ass have gotten kicked, as usual?)  Grooveah...
and, of course, the building itself is another futuristic masterpiece of
subdued lighting and shades of gray.

  Sammi's was an inflated dome behind a portable warehouse, taut gray
  fabric reinforced with a net of thin steel cables.  The corridor,
  with a door at either end, was a crude airlock preserving the pressure
  differential that supported the dome.  The air was damp and close with
  the smell of sweat and concrete.

17:00 And now the Fujitsu Dome Theater.  I am, again, in luck -- it's
Chiba Citizens' Day and even us non-citizens get tickets for half-price,
in this case 600 yen.  I have a 45-min wait ahead of me and am sorely
tempted to buy a defrosted-on-demand meal from a machine (cyberpunk
or what?), but I decide to stick with a 90-yen cup of Dekavita C,
a perverse concoction of vitamins, artificial flavors and water
recycled from a plutonium reprocessing plant.  Glowing in good health,
I jack in to the Net from the Intaanetto Koonaa, where you can surf or
Nintendo all you want for free.

  None of that prepared him for the arena, the crowd, the tense hush,
  the towering puppets of light beneath the dome.  Concrete sloped away
  in tiers to a kind of central stage, a raised circle ringed with
  a glittering thicket of projection gear.

19:30 Virtual reality that wasn't -- the special IMAX helmet was heavy,
you could see the polygons of the overhead dome in light scenes, and
the 3-D effect didn't work all the time.  And the first feature, the
world's first fully computer-generated film and the world's first IMAX
film, looked like it too.  (Although some of the scenes of zooming
around in molecule lattices were pretty cool.)  Still no match for
Gibson's simstim though...

Anecdote: before the movie started, the 2 Japanese kids sitting next
to me had to go pee-pee and clambered past me with a chorus of
"I'm sorry".  So when they came back and repeated their lines,
it was time to strike back: "Eigo wa joozu nee!"  The kids were in
panic and their parents cracked up.  Revenge is sweet.

Having had my fill of high-tech for the day, it was time to head to
Minami-Funabashi to round out the day with Asia's biggest mall,
the LaLaport featuring 2 dep't stores, 360 shops and an equal number
of restaurants.  Finding one that was good, cheap and without a 2-hour
line in front proved harder though.  I ended up in a noodle shop where
I tried the "katsu-sara teishoku" (cutlet-plate-set-meal), where the
katsu-sara turned out to be a deep-fried pork cutlet with a soy-flavored
omelette around and over it.  Exceedingly tasty, even if my cholesterol
levels did shoot through the roof.

By now it was dark and raining outside, ideal cyberpunk weather, so it
was time to start thinking about returning to the core of the cyberpunk
phenomenon, Tokyo.

  The last Case saw of Chiba were the dark angles of the arcologies.
  Then a mist closed over the black water and the drifting shoals of waste...

20:30 On the local train back, just passing Futamatashinmachi.  Who comes up
with these names?  The view from the departure station over the
industrial Chiba skyline was great, factory pipes outlined in black
and dotted with blinking lights against a dark reddish sky as rain
poured down and formed puddles on the concrete underneath the train
track.  Shibui, if not quite in the way Basho intended it.  When
looking out from the train, the only things visible are scattered
lights and the occasional blazing neon signs of massive industrial
conglomerates.  Just as Gibson predicted, they have taken over.

Tokyo Disneyland goes past, doing its nightly fireworks show too.
Is Disney cyberpunk?  Can an industrial conglomerate devoted to amusing
kiddies and extracting the maximum amount of money from their parents
be called evil -- or has the concept of good already ceased to exist,
as in Gibson's universe?

The proper conclusion for a cyberpunky day would be a cyberpunky night,
preferably in some tiny, seedy Kabukicho techno club where the music is
extreme, the women are dressed in flourescent plastic, and most drinks
contain battery acid.  Unfortunately, I have no information (the
lifeblood and currency of the cyberpunk!) about parties tonight and,
having left the PCMCIA data card at the office, I can't even connect my
cellphone to the cyberdeck and jack in to the Net to access the party
databases.  Two cute kookoosei in full uniform sitting opposite me
can't stop staring at the funny gaijin typing away on his laptop,
sitting on an utterly obscure local train late on a Saturday night.
I should've dressed as a cyberpunk for this exercise, my present
attire of khaki pants and white T-shirt isn't very Gibsonesque.


So here I am back at home, not even retiring to a capsule hotel for the night, but just to a regular apartment.  How boring.  Well, just the same, pretending to be inside a Gibson novel certainly made for a more interesting rainy day than most -- and doing a full day of sightseeing without even catching a glimpse of any shrine, temple or castle made for a refreshing change. Hack on, -j.

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