Saturday, December 19, 2015

I AM Going to Japan

All right.  It's done.  I bought my airline tickets yesterday.  I am going to Japan.
Here's my itinerary so far...
April 13th - Fly out of LAX to Haneda International Airport.
April 16th and 17th - Attend HalCon (はるコン)in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture.  
April 27th - Fly out of Haneda back to LAX.  
That's it.  
You'll notice a big gap starting the 18th to the 27th, comprising the time period after HalCon, the science fiction convention I'm planning on attending ends, and my flight back to the U.S. takes place.  From the beginning, when considering this trip, I'd been telling myself that it didn't make sense to go halfway across the world to stay only a weekend for the convention, or even a week.  I've not been back to Japan since 2007.  I need to make sure I spend at least a couple of weeks there to see a good piece of it.  
That's what I've been telling myself.  So, when the travel agent told me they had a really holiday sale on a round-trip ticket (I'm about half what I paid in 2007 to go there) for that time period, I booked it.  
Now to plan the rest of the trip.  
First, some caveats to myself.  I am always filled with caveats.  If caveats grew on trees, I would have an orchard the size of the San Joaquin Valley.  
The biggest one I have is to make sure I don't over plan this trip.  There is a lot I would like to see and do.  Way more than can be done in two weeks.  I really ought to hone it down to two or three things that MUST be done and focus on them.  
A good admonishment.  Makes sense.  Sounds like the basis on which to formulate a plan.  
What two or three things MUST I do?  
Well, I have some categories...
Things Left Undone
There are one or two of these.  For instance, when I was in Kyoto in 2007, I went to the Fushimi-Inari Shrine.  This is a shrine that is famous for having a series of torii gates that go from the base of the mountain the shrine sits next to up to the very top.  It's a two hour walk to get to the top.  
When I went to visit the shrine in 2007,  took a wrong turn and got separated from my group.  I missed a presentation of a shrine maiden dance that was being held for the group, and found myself marching toward the top of the mountain passing through those torii gates.  Once I came to realize that they wouldn't have made a tour group climb all this way to see some shrine maidens dance, I made a decision to get to the top of the mountain.  
I didn't make it.  About an hour or so into the climb, I realized that I needed to hurry back in order to be on time for our bus.  This was a disappointment to me.  I told myself that if I ever returned to Japan, I'd come back and finish that climb.  
I guess that time is approaching.  
Baseball would be another thing.  Not so much a thing undone, I went to a Japanese baseball game in 2007 and watched the Bay Stars beat the Giants (Go, Bay Stars!), but it is something I'd like to do again.  Now that I understand the differences between how Japanese and Major League baseball games are experienced, I want to go see some of the famous stadiums in that country.  There's the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, the Nagoya Dome in Nagoya and the Koshien in Osaka.  
Did you know that Babe Ruth played in Koshien Stadium?  Back in the 30's, during a exhibition tour of team made of big league all stars playing Japanese team.  I've heard they have a plaque at the stadium commemorating his visit.  I'd like to see that plaque and have my picture taken in front of it.  
It wouldn't make sense, though, to simply repeat all that I've done before.  
Things I've Not Seen or Done Yet
There's a ton of those.  Famous places that I've heard of.  So far all of my travels have been on Honshu Island, the biggest of Japan's four major islands.  Kyushu has Nagasaki, a name well known around the world.  And Hiroshima, which would be along the way.  I've met several people in my language group that come from Shikoku, the small island tucked in between Kyushu on the west and Honshu to the north and east.  There is a famous pilgrimage on Shikoku, the Shikoku Henro, that takes about 30 to 60 days to visit a string of 88 temples associated with a famous Buddhist monk named Kùkai.  I've seen documentaries about it and have imagined myself taking it one day.  
I don't have two months this time.  Maybe a couple of days...?  To start...?  To finish later, like reaching the top of the Fushimi-Inari shrine...?
This seems really daunting right at this moment.  It reminds me of how I felt when I went to Japan back in 2007.
Prior to that trip, I never thought of myself as someone who "traveled."  I made road trips now and then, to visit my folks back east, or to get to a convention a few hours drive away.  But traveling the world was something other people did.
Leading up to the trip, I began to worry about "what might happen if..."  If I missed my flight...?  If I missed my connection...?  If I lost my passport...?  All of these things can wreck your plans, even more so if you're someplace where you barely speak the language.  
The biggest fear I had, though, was a little different.  What if...  The trip didn't live up to my expectations?  I had built it up so much in my mind, I began to wonder how I would feel if, once I got there, it proved to be not worth the effort I put into getting there. 
That didn't happen.  Not by a long shot.  The trip was such fun, so much better than what I hoped for, that I made a point of going to every WorldCon since then.  Montreal, Melbourne, London...  All places I've been to in the world.  And, the little Japanese I had command of at the time was sufficient to get me to see and experience other things that I remember fondly.  
Once more, I find myself expecting, hoping, for a wonderful experience.  This time I'll be on my own, though.  This time I have a better command of the language (I hope).  But I'm hoping I'm not trying to repeat something that was a one time offering.  
I guess the only way to know for sure is to go there.     

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Influencer of the Year for 2015

This week, Times Magazine announced its "Person of the Year," the individual (or trend, invention, event, etc.) that had, for good or ill, the greatest impact on world events.  They choose German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, for the "array of issues" she faced, such as the European banking crisis, the flood of refugees to Europe and terrorism.  
The selection prompted me to think about my own life, and what has influence me the most over this past year.  And here they are.  
Candidates Erick Melton's Influencer of the Year for 2015 are...
My Sense of Mortality. 
I was originally going to name "Cancer" as the candidate.  My sister and mother had their brushes with it this year.  My sister finally being declared cancer free after two years of surgeries, radiology and chemo-therapy treatments.  There was a nervous time before Thanksgiving when it looked like my mom's kidney cancer had returned.  Her doctors eventually decided that they were seeing scar tissue and fluid leak from her kidney, and not the tumor growing again.
But I decided it wasn't the disease that had influence me this year.  Instead, it was the increased awareness of the limited time any of us have in this world.
It wasn't a paralyzing fear.  My normal routine went on unchanged.  Get up, write, go to work, go to the gym, wash clothes on the weekend, etc.  The times when it would creep into my consciousness most strongly was when I was looking past today or this week.  Planning a trip, for instance, and wondering if I would get news that would make me cancel my plans and rush to someone's bedside.  Or wondering if something might happen to me before I could go.   
None of that happened.  Everything is fine.  For now.  It's that, "for now," that echoes strongly.  Like a voice coming out of a surrounding fog, that has turned a bright, warm and familiar landscape into something dark, cold and distant.  Where the shapes of people and things once close and familiar become ever more distant and harder to see.
I push through this fog when I have to.  The fact that its there is what makes it a candidate on this list.  
My Job.
I won't go into any detail here.  Names can only be changed so much to protect the innocent.  I'll say this...  This year has been tough.  It's left me feeling isolated and incapable at times.  I wonder if my best is good enough.  I wonder if I should be doing things differently, or just doing something different.  
That's it.
This is a positive candidate on my list.  I've talked about this app before in a previous blog.  A pedometer that keeps track of my steps every day, showing me how long and how far I walk, and the approximate number of calories I burn.  
Since I started using it at the end of last year, I've increased my goal to 15,000 steps a day.  I'm less than 200 pounds, and keeping it there.  I've started hiking on weekends.  I feel the desire to do more, take up something like...  Kendo.  Or cycling.  Or lifting weights.  Using the app sparked these changes, and continues to make me want to live healthier and get in better shape.  
It makes me wonder what other apps are out there, where I can keep score and improve my life at the same time.
The current resurgence in my interest in baseball started in 2012, when the previous owner, Frank McCourt, was going through divorce proceedings with his wife, Jaime, who had been named as CEO for the team.  I was a lukewarm fan at best at the time.  I followed the team.  Went to games when I could.  Didn't pay a whole lot of attention beyond that.
That changed when I started reading about what McCourt had done with the team, using it as a credit card to finance his real estate ambitions.  I became really, really, REALLY angry.  It was...  A violation.  That was the best word to describe it.  He had taken something precious, something I didn't realize was that important to me, and was driving it to ruin.  
That anger got me into the sport and the team again.  And this year, my fandom reached new heights.  Every day, I checked the box scores.  I read the scouting and trade reports.  I studied the teams we were facing.  I looked up the rule book on line to make sure I knew all aspects of the game and how it was played.  
When the Mets knocked the Dodgers out in the first round of the playoffs, I was like a nerd, who loved school, being told he had to leave now because it was vacation.  Yeah, there was something like relief.  But I was already wondering when I could get back to school.  
Oh...  And in case any member of Dodger management is reading this...  Kenta Maeda.  Right-hand pitcher.  2.09 ERA.  Winner of the Japanese version of the Cy Young award twice.  He's been posted by his team, the Hiroshima Carp.  Described as a "Greinke-like" pitcher.  You know, like that right-hander we'll be facing when we go to Phoenix.  Take a look.  Hint, hint.  
Going to Japan.
My first visit to Japan was in 2007.  I loved it.  I've thought to myself that "someday" I would go back.  At least four times, I told myself.  Once for each season.  
I thought that "someday" might come in 2017, when a committee formed in Japan to over a bid to bring the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) to Shizuoka, Japan.  The selection was going to be at the WorldCon this year in Spokane.  I make it clear to everyone I knew that I wanted the Japanese bid to win.  
Unfortunately it didn't.  It came in fourth, last amongst the four cities with formal bids.  The only category that did worse was the "Everything Else" collection of write-in bids, "No Selection" and Joke votes.  
So, I'm going.  In 2016.  I'm going to go to the HalCon convention in Numazu, in Shizuoka prefecture.  Then I'm going...  Elsewhere.  Probably Nagasaki, since I've never been there.  Probably Kyoto again, to finish climbing to the top of the Fushimi Inari shrine.  Probably Osaka, to see a game between the Hanshin Tigers against the DNA Baystars from Yokohama (the Japanese team I support) in Koshien Stadium.  
It's become the flip-side to the sense of mortality I described above.  Taking this trip acknowledges that "someday" just doesn't come unless you pick the date and go.  
My Writing
In 2015, I had a story of mine appear in Analog Magazine (Robot Boss, in the March issue).  I also finished a working draft of my novel, Spell of 13 Years, and gave it to a trio of selected alpha readers.  
Other than that, there haven't been many other milestones to name.  It may be the weakest candidate on the list for that reason.  
On the other hand, it is so much a part of my daily routine that not including it as a big influence is akin to not including eating breakfast, or breathing, or sleeping as part of what I do every day.  Out of the three-hundred and sixty-five days there are in a regular calendar year, I probably write on about three-hundred and fifty-five of them.  Usually because I'm traveling someplace, like to a convention I'm going to because of my writing, and sometimes don't get the time to write in the morning I start my journey because my flight is too early.  
It also impacts my outlook.  When I have a good day writing, I just feel better.  I've done what I need to do and can go on to other things, like going to work.  When I don't write, it's like I've home leaving the water running, and I keep asking myself, "Did I forget to do something...?" all day long.  
So, those are my candidates.  If you had to choose, what would be the biggest influence in your life this year?  

Saturday, December 05, 2015

僕の翻訳/My Translation

As I've mentioned before, I am reading the novel, "If Cats Disappeared from the World," by Genki Kawamura.  At this point, I have read up to page 125.  
My way of reading this book is to read two pages at a time, study the kanji on those two pages, and then read the pages again and again until I can read them aloud without forgetting a word with clear understanding.  
Unfortunately, pages 124 and 125 seem to have some subtleties that make me think I'm not quite understanding them correctly.  Therefore, I've decided to translate these two pages here, in my blog, paragraph by paragraph, writing down what is as close to the best translation I can come up with.  
Without any further delay, here is my translation.  Please give me any corrections you think are needed. 
It's been over four years since I last met my dad.  But even with that, I had no doubt that, in that tiny corner of that tiny town, in that tiny shop of his, he continued to repair watches.  
If clocks had been made to vanish from the world, then shops like his were no longer necessary.  That tiny shop.  His work.  Both no longer needed.  When I thought about that, what I had done, a pang could be felt in my chest.
But, were clocks really gone from the world.  I suddenly couldn't believe it.  I looked around me.  My wristwatch that I always wore was certainly gone.  And I couldn't find the small alarm clock that should be in the room.  Like with cell phones the day before, their existence was being diverted from my subconsciousness.  It sure looked like they were gone.
Being thrown into a space where there were no clocks, I noticed that my sense of time had disappeared.  Right now, from how I was feeling, I could tell it was morning.  From the sense that I had more or less overslept, I guessed it was about 11 AM.  But, even though the TV was on, there was no time display, and my cell phone was already gone too.  I really couldn't tell what time it was.
What it the world, though, would you call what I was feeling.  Up until now, the things disappeared from the world were completely different.  Except for what I guess you'd call guilt in regards to my father, there had been no pain, no distress.  Even saying that, there had to be some sort of influences.  Because it could be said that the world moves by time, I tried to expand the range of my imagination.
For sure, the school, big corporations, trains, things like that, would probably be thrown into pandemonium.  Definitely, the world's stock markets would be in a state of panic.  The risk of over boiling your cup of ramen would haunt you (estimating 3 minutes is really hard!) and you couldn't run the 100 meter dash in the Olympics.  And Ultraman, he wouldn't be able to know when he needed to return to outer space (those difficult 3 minutes again!). 
But...  What would it be?  What would you call this influence on a personal level?  It felt like, in some small portion, I could come to think that clocks, and the time attending on them, had entirely no connection to me living alone (with a cat).
"It makes one wonder why something like clocks even exist, huh?"
I put this question to Aloha (the Devil). 
"That's a good question.  But you see, in the first place, before there were clocks, something like time only existed inside human beings."
"Hmm?  What do you mean by that?  I don't get it..." 
I was bewildered by Aloha's unexpected statement.  He continued.  
You see, something like time is a rule humans decided on for their own convenience.