Tiltshift TaxiI’m sitting in one of the two Starbucks near Kudanshita station. Whilst the one outside exit 2 is a place for colleagues to go and chat, this one is definitely for reading and studying. All around me there are salarymen and women buried in their books, some with highlighters in hand, marking passages and copying extracts into notebooks. There’s 22 of us in here. It’s almost silent. My key taps are almost disturbing the peace.
Whilst I’m not a great fan of conformity, at times I’m grateful for it. Especially so on the morning trains. It’s almost unbelievable how silent a packed carriage can be. Hundreds of people wedged in, the only sound is that of silent breathing. You rarely hear a phone ring as everyone conforms to the Manner Mode policy (Mana~ Mode being Japanese for silent mode) – I estimate that I only hear a phone actually ring about once a week on my commute.

I think that whilst the silence is partly the result of conformity / fear of being the nail that sticks up, it is also a manifestation of an individual and collective effort to preserve sanity. Being jammed into a mobile sardine tin with so many people is not natural, and, were the ears to be bombarded with noise, were we to be constantly reminded that we were in this overcrowded tin, I’m sure that for some, claustrophobic panic would not be far off.
However, with silence, no matter how crowded the train, the journey can become the perfect opportunity to take a few minutes to meditate. With or without iPod, if you close your eyes, you could be almost anywhere – including nowhere.

There is one thing that I really do object to though, and that’s those people who deliberately push really hard against you when getting on, when there is blatantly no need to do so. They step on the train, turn around to face the open door, and then push backwards to make space for the 30 other people to get on who aren’t actually there. My impression is that they have a lot of pent-up emotion, and this is one of their few chances to let it out through silent violence.Eric Claption and Jeff Beck

So, I went to see Eric Clapton and Geoff Beck last night. I’ve not listened to Clapton for many years – perhaps since I was a teenager, but with the offer of a half-price ticket and good company at the gig just five minutes from the office, I thought it daft not to go.

Ten minutes into the show I was having a good time, feet tapping, head nodding, charged memories of teenage years coming back to me. Crikey, he really is a great guitarist, I thought.
Being a concert for the ‘mature’ generation (and being in a seated venue, Budokan), most people sat quietly, clapping when prompted to, cheering between songs. There was one man on our row however, who seemed pretty insane. Dressed in a bright white shirt, he spent much of the concert yelling declarations of love at Clapton, and booing when Geoff Beck took the lead. He also played the drums on the rail in front of him, sending vibrations along the entire row. It was quite amusing to watch, although had he been next to me I think I would have pushed him over the edge of the balcony ☺

Following the concert, I made my way to the Ariake Washington Hotel, next to Tokyo Big Site out in Tokyo Bay. *Twinkle* works for an events company that has spent the past six months organsing a three-day nanotechnology conference, and part of the deal has been to stay in a hotel next to the venue during the show.

I’m a big fan of that part of town. Being on one of several relatively new man-made islands, there’s a lot of breathing space around the venue, and some really interesting architecture. The trainspotter in me loves the monorail too. Unfortunately I didn’t get many photos as it was dark when I arrived, and it’s raining this morning. I did however find some prime tiltshift shots – one of which is shown above. I’m quite pleased with my miniature taxi.
It’s been a busy week. I’ve spent much of my spare time trying out different microphones and voice recorders. With the reassigning of the house contract from *Twinkle*s sister to us there’s two month’s deposit to pay, thus not much money for recording equipment, so in the end I decided to work with what I’ve got, and bought the Belkin TuneTalk Stereo – a mic attachment for a video iPod. On the whole it’s very good, but (and this is a BIG but), it does pick up the sound of the iPod’s hard drive whirring into action every 20 seconds in quiet environments. However, when used with an additional external mic (I have a really cute little stereo Sony) it’s fine. My old Video iPod has finally found a new vocation having been almost redundant since my acquisition of an iPhone last September.

The best mobile audio recorder I’ve found yet though is actually the iPhone itself. The sound quality is definitely good enough for my purposes, and having installed Griffin’s excellent iTalk app, transferring files to my computer via wifi is ultra simple, and pretty fast too – thanks to the MacBook’s ability to create it’s own wireless wifi network, I don’t have to be anywhere near an existing network to make the transfer (for some reason this doesn’t work for all apps, e.g. iAnki Server seems to require a standard wifi network). The length of recordings is only limited by iPhone disk space, although in reality it’s actually determined by how much battery life you are prepared to sacrifice! I can see myself getting that 12,000yen battery pack that have in the Apple Store in due course (the name of which I forget).
I’ve also been trying out the new version of Garageband that comes as a part of Apple’s iLife09. I’m really impressed by the new equaliser settings – and the number of loops and effects too (I didn’t realise that these had to be installed separately after installing Garageband from DVD – the download was over 1GB – thank heavens for 30mbps internet connections!).

Anyway, I’d best be off to work. There’s no internet connection here at Starbucks, and as yet I can’t upload via the iPhone’s 3G connection. Yet.

2 Responses

  1. I enjoy reading your observations, Joseph, and seeing Japan through non-American eyes. As an American who travels to London frequently, I immediately notice the lack of noise on the Tube and, generally, on your trains (with some exceptions of course). In fact, I try not to be the loud American and keep my chatting to a minimal level when travelling in UK. How does it feel as a Brit to travel on the NYC subway? (Have you been here?) Are Europeans in general overwhelmed by the noise? Regardless, I think Europeans and Americans alike are stunned by the silence in certain areas of Japan (subway, trains, Starbucks, offices, etc…) I guess there are two sides of the coin: I get tired of the “reserve” of the Brits and the Japanese and see the value in lively convo and buoyant spirit during the commute. On the other hand, there are many times in NYC that you just wish those noisy teenagers would shut up! Just an observation.

    1. Thanks for your comments JC. It’s been about 12 years since I was in the US, and what memories I may have had of riding on the New York subway have been overwritten by movies featuring scenes depicting others riding on the New York subway.

      I know what you mean though. Sometimes I do wish everyone would liven up. I’m reminded of the Paris Metro on which you find all sorts of performers jumping on the trains for a stop or two. I loved that! One thing though is that generally trains in Japan are a lot busier, so a Jazz Quartet would find it hard to make some space to perform!