Episode 19.0: Hedonistic Zen Monk -- Introduction
It took me a while to come up with a good title for this one.
Here's a selection of the rejects:


  The Narrow Information Superhighway to the Deep North
  The Hitchhiker's Guide to Portable Computing
  Banana Tree Man in a Northern Land
  Meditating at 56 kbps
  High-Tech Low-Life
  Boku no Hosomichi
  Yuppie Yamabushi
  Let's Toohoku


But in the end I decided to stick with the objective outlined
way back in Episode 0, namely becoming an unabashedly hedonistic
well-paid Zen monk.


So what is "this one"?  Well, it is -- or at least will be -- the
story of my 9-day extended jaunt through Northern Honshu (known
in Japanese as Toohoku), immortalized by haiku poet Basho's classic
work The Narrow Road to the Deep North.   Those narrow roads
have long since turned into the Toohoku Expressway, so I'm not
going to pretend to be a wandering mendicant monk either.  I will
still have to beg for most of my rides, as I plan on hitchhiking
most of the way, but instead of Basho's brush and self-imposed
17-syllable quota I'll render my impressions with 300,000+ yen's
worth of electronic gear.  (To put that figure into perspective,
it's about 1.5x my monthly salary, and 3x more than my worst-case
estimate for the cost of this trip.)  All in all, I'll be lugging
along the following:


  Panasonic "Let's Note" AL-N4 laptop (Pentium 166, SVGA color LCD,
    3.2 GB HD, 48 MB RAM, etc.)
  Nokia NM206 digital cellphone with PCMCIA data card
  Ricoh DC-3 digital camera with Sony VCT-1MPH monopod


...plus a truckload of cables, adaptors, chargers, etc, because my
gear is just a tad too old to support IR.  Just the same, there
ain't no way in hell I would ever carry gear worth a fraction of
this price on a hitchhiking trip in any other country than Japan.


Anyway, since (at least hopefully) I'll be seeing a lot more of Japan
than I would during a usual workweek, this episode will be split into
lots of little bits, new ones sent out every few days.  I'll also
be carrying a copy of The Narrow Road with me, which means I'll
be inserting snippets from it into the narration every now and then,
also in Japanese (yes, this would be a good time to get your
Japanese fonts set up).  Unfortunately, while the copy I bought
does have the saving graces of being cheap, portable and having the
original Japanese included, the English translations of the haiku
are amazingly insipid.  The translator, Lady Dorothy Britton,
decided that Basho's style would best be imitated by writing all
poems in the 5-7-5 pattern and in rhymed Shakespearean English,
resulting in gems like this one:


  In the hills, 'tis May.
  Bless us, holy shoes, as we
  Go upon our way!


Compare this to the original:


  ĎRɑʂqގr
  natsuyama-ni ashida-o ogamu kadode kana


My entirely literal translation:


  Summer mountain on high clog worshipping main road is it?


And made slightly more comprehensible:


  On a summer mountain, is this the road that venerates
  [En the Ascetic's] footsteps?


I know that translating poetry is a very difficult art (and given
her self-imposed restrictions managing to come up with anything
at all is surprising), but it wouldn't seem unreasonable to expect
that some of the original's flavor be retained.  Anyway,
enough griping, if Lady Dorothy's translations induce the gag
reflex again you'll just have to suffer through my versions instead.
Or better yet, work your way through the original.


As the network connections that I'll be using on the road are
flaky and untested, I'm not entirely sure that I'll be able to
transmit anything on the road; the maximum speed of a poky 9600 bps
on my cellphone alone makes transmitting 150K pictures next to
impossible.  With any luck, I'll get the next episode out on
Sunday -- otherwise, you'll have to wait until August.


Enough for now.  The voyage starts tomorrow.


Forward...
-j.

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