Saturday, October 2, 2010

Only Four Weeks Left

Sadly, there are only twenty seven days left in my trip and I am becoming depressed about leaving Japan. Then I think about the fact that the last day that I've include in my remaining days calculation is all travel and, I'm down to twenty six. Kanashii (sad).

It will be good to get home and see what has changed, to see my kids again, to meet my new dogs (my girl friend is taking the two four year old dogs from her parents ranch to make it easier for her parents) and to see my girlfriend everyday.

I will miss the food here in Japan and the opportunity to see things of interest in Japan. It's amazing how you take things for granted in your home town. Here in Japan if I see something in the paper that looks interesting I go out and see it; at home I know it will always be there so maybe I'll go another day. People should start thinking their own home towns as more of a tourist destination and start seeing the points of interest that are nearby.

I won't miss the bicycles here in Mitaka. As time has gone by I've found them to be more annoying that I thought they would be and the main reason is because they are so quiet. I mentioned this in an earlier post but at this point in my stay I fine that when I walk I have to spent considerable time looking backward to see what's coming from behind and stepping to the side to let oncoming bicycle traffic have the right-of-way.

Most bikes have a bell on them and the riders ring them if you are about to collide with them. In America bikes riders usually indicate which side they will pass you on and they let you know much earlier and by voice. In Mitaka most times they just blow by in silence.

My friend from La Rochelle restaurant was telling me that Mitaka has more bicycles parked near the train station than any other station in Japan. Since I'm walking near the station quite often I am always in the middle of riders coming and going to the station. I am also near the Inokashira park where hundreds if not thousands of bikes are ridden and parked for riders to go to the Kichijoji train station.

He also said that Mitaka has the fewest bicycle accidents of any area in Tokyo and that Kichijoji has the most. I believe him about Kichijoji, when you cross the main streets near the station there is a horrendous mix of bicycles and pedestrians competing for space in the crosswalks and spilling into the roadway where many cars are stuck in the intersection and trying to move out of the way.

I don't blame the riders either because riding the bikes in the vehicle traffic looks more dangerous than mixing wheels and pedestrians on a sidewalk. As I mentioned in a previous post, it's all a matter of a lack of space. The roads are narrow so it's dangerous for bikes to be with cars. To keep the roads as wide as possible street lamps are placed in the sidewalk making them too narrow for anything but single file movement in both directions.

It gets even trickier when it rains and you add umbrellas to the equation. First, two people can't walk side-by-side on these narrow sidewalks at all if they both have umbrellas raised so there's no conversation while you walk. Second, the bicycle riders have umbrellas too. Some have little posts with clamps on their handlebars but most just hold the umbrella with one had and steer with the other. Steering control is more difficult at low speeds and when a rider gets close to a pedestrian with an umbrella the rider has to slow down. The pedestrian in all likelihood is looking down at the sidewalk and not seeing the bicycle approach.

I've seen mothers on bicycles with young children in child seats on the front and back in the rain. They have a post-mounted umbrella on the back seat and hold a large umbrella over the front seat and themselves. I assume they get where they are going and have done it before but it looks dangerous.

At least when they have to use an umbrella they aren't texting and, on days when it doesn't rain they text a lot while riding their bikes.

I will miss the train system. I'm getting to know it a lot better that I did before and I had complete confidence in my ability to get anywhere in Tokyo on the system even then. Now I'm staring to think about which end of the train to get on so I get to the correct exit faster when I get off.

Mitaka is on the Chuuou line so I ride that line almost every time. There are two versions of the Chuuou, one is the local line that stops at every station (it usually has a yellow stripe on the cars) and the other is the Rapid line which skips certain stops along the way (it always has orange stripes). If you are going to one of the stops that are skipped, you ride the Rapid to the nearest station then transfer to the local to make the rest of the trip.

The Chuuou line is always crowded. I very seldom get a seat but I don't mind since it's only a 15 minute ride to Shinjuku Station and it seems everyone transfers at Shinjuku. As usual most of the people sitting are sleeping. I mentioned in an earlier post how the Japanese people supplement their sleep by taking naps on the trains. Some say the young people close their eyes so they don't have to give up their seats to the elderly. I think they actually rest. If you recall, Winston Churchill could take twenty minute power naps and then be good to go for another twenty four hours. He did this through most of WWII.

If Japanese people don't get a seat then the majority of those standing pull out their phones and start to text or read an ebook or play a game or transfer music to their iPods.

Not just the young kids either, the older set is just as active with their phones as the young kids. A few years ago on a trip to Japan with my son we were out touring around Tokyo with my friend from the Keio Plaza Hotel. My son mentioned a Japanese musical group called, Guitar Wolf, and since my friend's son is a guitar player we asked him to ask his son if he knew where to buy the band's CDs. We expected him to ask later that night and get back to us but (we didn't notice) he pulled out his phone and texted his son right then and a few minutes later told us his son had heard of the band but thought they had broken up. I was doubly surprised because my friend used texting and was from my age group but my son thought it was only natural.

Speaking of technology and using the telephones, I've just spent the last three days getting my first book, A Wind In Montana (see link on the right side of the blog page), into ebook format for all ebook formats. Previously my book was available in Kindle format only but via some internet reading I discovered a website called Smashwords. They have a style guide that helps you reformat you manuscript in MSWord so that it will look professional in all ebook formats.

It took me a few tries but I got everything straight and I submitted my book for publication. Smashwords turns it into all the popular ebook formats and then gets it listed in catalogues at all the popular ebook sales sites. The good news is they don't charge you a thing to do it but they make a royalty when copies are sold. The author gets 70 to 80% of the net sale.

So, if you have an ebook reader like the nook from Barnes and Noble, an iPad from Apple, a Sonyreader from Sony or a Kindle from Amazon, you can get my book from Smashwords or any of the sites they distribute to. The paperback version of my book is $17.75 but the ebook version is $4.95 ($4.99 on Sony).

If you don't have an ebook reader you can download a free PC based reader for any one of the formats and then purchase the book or books and read them on your PC.

Some of the new cell phones and most in the future will have the ability to download ebooks as well. There is a link to the Smashwords site on my author page at my publisher's web site,

The large traditional publishing houses are putting all of their new publications into all the ebook formats and they're going back to their old books to make them available in e-formats as well.

Well, it is nice today in Mitaka. I'm going to go dodge bicycles on my way to the park where I plan to get a Macha Softserve Ice Cream Cone and read for a while. My friend and I are supposed to go fishing in Yokohama tomorrow but it's supposed to rain so I may be shut in. I better get out while I can when I don't have to walk with an umbrella.

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