Episode 27: Return to the Source
The last two days passed in a whirlwind of last-minute shopping and packing,
interspersed with farewells and last-minute fulfillments of tiny fantasies.
I purchased a wonderful tiny golden statuette of Jizo (3400 yen) and an
innocuous-looking flower vase that just happens to be a penis (59 yen)
in Asakusa.  I bought the soundtrack to "Happy Mania", Southern All Stars'
(Sazaan-Ooru-Sutaa) single Paradise, so I too can sing along to the lyrics
("I would never, Now-or-Never, Wadi-Wadi, New-Clear U!").  I finally stood in
line for an hour at Shibuya's most popular conveyor belt sushi shop to find
out that for 100 yen a plate it really is absolutely amazing stuff.  (Even
if the mysterious purple-colored raw-squid-tentacles-and-fish-eggs concoction
was the most hideous thing I've ever tasted in Japan, displacing even the
dreaded nattoo.)  I bought a liter of Calpis, squid snacks, some last CDs,
and spent yet another few hours fighting clueless management for getting my
travel arrangements and back payments arranged.  ("Oops, I forgot to book
your N'EX ticket."  "Sorry, we can only pay you in October."  "You'll have to
claim those back in Finland."  "No, we can't advance you 50,000 yen for extra

But the morning came and, effete slob that I am, I took a taxi all the
way to Tokyo station and rode to Narita in the Shinkansen-y comfort of
the N'EX Green Car (no 2nd class seats left).  After some minor hassles
with luggage -- it was close to 20 kg overweight but I bargained the kilos
down to 10, which Nokia will pay for -- it was time to hit the tax-free.
A tip for future generations: Narita tax-free is a rip-off.  Sure, their
prices may be cheaper, but they only sell top-of-the-line stuff with
absolutely nothing less than 1000 yen and few less than 3000.  Choya's
standard umeshu costs 1000 yen/L in a supermarket, but the tax-free had
only the extra-special 12-year-blend at 1900 yen/bottle.  With only 3000
yen left, after much gnashing of teeth I settled for the Choya plus a
pack of 5 Gekkeikan sake-tetrapaks for liquid souvenirs.

I came back on SAS's flight to Copenhagen, which flies directly over
Helsinki, adding another 8 hours to the traveling time as I then had to
backtrack with another flight.  Sitting next to me was a pony-tailed
Australian-type with a Matsuri Productions T-shirt: upon inquiry, he
turned out to be Chris Deckker from the goa trance record label Return to
the Source and the band Medicine Man.  I think I've finally found an idol.
The man gets to travel around the world, going from techno party to
techno party, and he's actually paid -- and paid quite well -- to do it.

J: So where are you going next?
C: I'm not sure.  There's a good party in Paris on Saturday and I might want
   to check it out.  It just depends on what I want to do.
J: <boggle>

But when I wasn't pestering Chris or watching the amazingly bad in-flight
movies, I set my brain to work on tackling Mishima's Forbidden Colors,
which I'd picked up along with this week's Economist to keep me entertained.
Despite reading him for 5+ years now, I'm still not sure just what it is
about Mishima that strikes a chord in me.  His only themes are beauty,
death and homosexuality, explored in endless but repetitive detail.
His characters are depraved borderline psychopaths.  The plots are minute
variations of the same and calling the dialogue "stilted" is more than an
understatement.  Yet as you're reading along, your mind grappling to
understand what on earth is making these people behave the way they do, some
bizarre bit of dialogue jumps out at you:

Subtle evil is more beautiful than coarse goodness, and is therefore moral.

Yet Mishima never gives you the comfort of indicating that he actually
agrees with any of his own characters.  Standing in the sidelines,
the omniscient narrator mocks the pathetic ambitions and shortcomings
of each character in turn.  The novel slowly wends its way, all people
spinning webs of deceit and getting entangled in them, contempt disguised
as love, hate disguised as charity, never being able to extricate themselves.
As always, the novel ends with a death which solves nothing.  Next time I'll
bring along something a little more upbeat...

At 23:00 Finnish time, but 06:00 Japanese time, I landed at Helsinki-Vantaa
International Airport.  I collected my baggage in record time and headed for
the exit.  The sight of my ponytail as I flashed past must have been too
much for the Customs officer, since he stopped me, but upon hearing that I
was coming from the den of vice and depravity known as Tokyo, he grudgingly
let me pass without the rubber glove treatment.  A friend was there to meet
me and we drove home, as I marveled at the emptiness of the roads, the
greenness of the trees, the expanses of FLAT space...  my apartment,
inhabited for 6 months by another friend, looked just the way it did back
in March and even the refridgerator had been stocked.  It felt good to be back!

Chris D. in Copenhagen

Blue skies and fall foliage

Leaf among clover
Amazing things about Finland:

* Oltermanni cheese & cucumber sandwiches with rye bread.  Oishisugiru!!!
* You can actually hear birds singing in the morning.
* High-speed network access and a decent stereo system in my own room.
* Impossible numbers of impossibly tall and impossibly blonde women.
* The smell of wet earth and pine needles after rain.
* The air is clean and the sky is blue.

Bizarre things about Finland:

* No people, no traffic.  At least by Tokyo standards.
* Everything is flat, green and wide open.
* Food is always predictable, recognizable, and flavored solely by salt.

Annoying things about Finland:

* No more "Irasshaimase!" or "Arigatoo gozaimashita!" upon entering/leaving.
  How rude!
* Tax is included in all prices, but your purchases aren't packed in bags;
  you actually have to pay for the damn things.
* There are no vending machines.
* It's cold.

I spent the next day in the Helsinki U. of Tech's toilet -- voluntarily.
It was time for Entropy's "HC/WC" party, so I spent most of the day DJ'ing,
wearing my k-spiffy "Shinsengumi" Japanese happi-coat and talking in
Japanese with an utterly mystified gaggle of salarymen who happened to
walk past.  (See http://www.tky.hut.fi/~entropy/rave/hcwc/ for more.)

But after a week everything is back to normal, almost depressingly so.
The number of people greeting me with "You're back! So how was Japan?"
(needless to say, none of them read J2J) is approaching zero and I'm even
starting to unlearn my habits of apologizing and bowing continuously.
Slowly, ever so slowly, I'm even getting to grips with the fact that the
trip is Over.  Only one more episode to go...


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