Starting a long bike trip to Nankoku, where I used to live

Ivy-covered building down by the bay. Years ago we went to a local gym to see a breakdancing competition which two of my middle school kids had joined. Their signature move was putting on a bike helmet, attaching a lit firework to it, and spinning while the firework blows up.

Kochi bay.

Anime Trolley, rainbow bikes.


Random field full of wildflowers.

Slightly out of control here.

Kochi art museum.


Concrete river.

Scratched up flourescent floor.

One-man train, road and canal into the distance, with factories.

Used car salesman's fake license plates - "phone number 879 52 16"


Rice fields of Nankoku.

Highly concretized area.

Tobigaike Middle School, where I spent two years.

The most difficult part of the "no-hands" 15 minute challenge. High road visibility in both directions allows for speeding up / slowing down to avoid cars.

Farmland of eastern Nankoku.

How long would this baked concrete mix last in an apocalyptic scenario? I bet it'd be covered with weeds in 10 years. Eventually, a mudslide/flood/tsunami would cover everything with mud; the road would be there for a really long time, underneath that, until Japan's tectonic plate starts descending and it would be melted. I wonder what kind of fossils would be built up, around it? I never saw much wildlife in Kochi - there are wild boars in the hills, not sure about deer. There are egret-like birds, and frogs everywhere.

I was surprised not to see a baseball team full of sunburned, shaved-headed kids taking grounders and calling out encouragement to each other. Sort of like the hormone/enzyme/protein language of intercellular communication, Japanese baseball teams are constantly shouting out to each other - not for any real purpose (although there are trends within it), but more as a sort of "keepalive" connection. Our brains chatter away constantly, but meditation strives to regulate it; but a Japanese baseball team which isn't making noise doesn't exist.

This middle school once had a warning sign here saying "watch out for strange old men". But it's been replaced by a new, post-tsunami, local altitude sign.

Approaching the house I lived for 3 years. This was a pretty deep ditch, filled with absolutely rushing water, sometimes two or three feet deep.

It's been abandoned. The weeds have taken over the entranceway. It's overgrown, but can it have been abandoned for ten whole years and only look like this? Maybe concrete is harder to colonize than I thought? The house was not in high demand - the former residence of a Kochi historian named "Irimajiri", who popularized Kochi's local hero, Sakamoto Ryoma. I suppose every region will eventually have a hero.

The little shrine across from my house seems abandoned. When was this a thriving area? How was it that these rice farmers had so much creativity? Or was it mostly brought in from elsewhere, and the farmers didn't get the symbolism? Either way, there were probably some raucous nights around this temple in the middle of the rice plains.

Looking out my former front gate. This house was pretty cold - all glass walls in front - when it is 2C outside and there's no insulation or heat, it's cold.

Beer & cigarette machines. Someone's posted a (real?) hand-written note in the upper right saying "wait a second; if you were gonna drink and drive that's just not going to work" - signed, "Ryoma"

Wildflowers on side of the road.

The design of this logo is interesting.

Found faces.

A lot of Kochi looks like this. Before the rice comes up the fields are filled with smooth water.

Found faces, symmetry, dualism.

Billiards Cass St. where Mike & I played quite a bit of pool. This spot is right in the "center" of Nankoku - a ceiling of wires strung overhead, no sidewalks, trolleys & cars racing past. The buildings are built right up to the edge of the road. Not one of the better design elements of Japan.

EE shadow.

The Nankoku government building. It had a distinctive, pleasantly dusty smell, like an old mansion full of relics out of time, like the country mansion in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe". The day we arrived, they sat us in a room on the top floor, on the right. I played a quick game of go over lunch every day, before we were sent out to our schools.

A staircase built into the side of the canal.

I accidentally returned to a place I'd passed by while it'd been under construction, ten years before. This was where my disgust at the out of control construction & control of nature really crystallized - inspired by Alex Kerr's "dogs & demons". And yes, they have done some monstrous things. But at least they haven't done it to their own minds. I didn't notice too many giant new scars on the landscape - and every little bit of natural land is a gift.

Guys, you might have gone a little bit over the top here.

The other intereting bit of Dogs & Demons was about Japan's zoning & materials laws, and how they control how all the buildings looks, and how everything's designed, but are mostly written for the benefit of a few monopolistic companies, or for nobody's benefit at all. There is a tax based on the square footage of a house you build - but only on the first floor. So in all new houses, the second floor is always the same size as the first - it can't come in at all, because you lose the ground square footage you paid for. So that traditional look for a house has a huge extra tax on it, and everything is built extremely small, even when land is available. This little box, a "super house", was plopped down next to a mountain. The way construction materials are regulated, is that they all have a 10+ year approval process, so the only companies introducing any new materials are Japanese, and which already have monopolies, so don't try very hard. It freezes Japan's construction, increases conformity of material, and is just materially bad for the country, since this area has a hard time adopting things invented in the rest of the world. Defense of the policy is tied to safety - but they don't even import from countries which are extremely safe and have comparable climates (northern Japan should copy finland, sweden etc., but doesn't)

I guess the two most important things in life, housing & health, are so valuable, they are relentlessly regulated by governments. And no matter how cheap they may have been "naturally" they end up costing as much as people value them - 50% of your income. A friend of ours in Kochi once built a little second house on his parents property - just some wood for a floor, walls, a sloping roof. It was a really comfortable space, and only cost a few thousand dollars US. It makes you wonder, because the cost of a new "official" house would be 2-300k US. Where is the cost gap coming from, and where's the money going to? Most of the time we're so disconnected from the reality of what can be done.

An incredibly violent poster - a chainsaw with fish hooks, catching a fish,

Who is being eaten by a dinosaur.

The main road into town. Ten years ago coming down this bridge, I was knocked off my bike (not hurt seriously) by a turning car. The slightly bent frame slowly warped my back wheel out of shape over the next few months, until I brought it to a old bearded bear of a bike expert, who pulled the spokes back into shape over the course of an hour, for 5000 yen. The lack of expertise of the ubiquitous bike fixer guys in China was such a shock and disappointment to me. I'd thought their broken fingernails, stained fingers, and short, rough demeanor showed their expertise in the world of machines - but the ones I've met are just careless workmen, brutes, cheats, and incompetent; a worker should never say "it can't be fixed", even from his own perspective; when they install a new part, they crumple up and throw the empty box onto the ground under their own feet.

Reading a book about plant sensation.

The government's border with private life isn't so strongly defined in Japan - for example, everyone has to have a book containing their family history, you can't change your name easily, and governments and publish maps listing the family name of who lives in every piece of land (although this map is mostly commercial stuff)

Nature works at multiple scales - Imagine this is a dinosaur reserve; the bird is 30 feet tall, standing over a roaring waterfall, the little rocky outcrop is covered with dense jungle, full of the calls of parrots and howler monkeys, and the concrete enclosing wall is as tall as a mountain.

I could not resist the internet

The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers - Matsuo Basho

Tape-delayed, information-deprived, we watched a world cup game.

Leaving Kochi by train, heading north, to Okayama, via Awa-Ikeda

Lots of tunnels on this road, man and nature made.

Primeval Japan must have been tough to scrape out a living in.

Many little villages of 20 people are covered up in fog. How many dark things have happened there, memories rotted away in the mist?

A camera glitch created this lake on a white planet.

Reading some PJ Wodehouse. "For Galahad in his day had been a notable lad about town. A beau sabreur of Romano's. A pink 'Un. A Pelican. A crony of Hughie Drummond and Fatty Coleman; a brother-in-arms of the Shifter, the Pitcher, Peter Blobbs and the rest of an interesting but not strait-laced circle"

An industrial area visible from the rail bridge.

Water feature in Okayama.

When I first got to China, I was impressed by what was available, and how cheap it was. But since I've got on taobao (chinese ebay/wal-mart), and have seen a lot of stores over the years, I've realized there's an invisible kind of standardization. Taobao will have hundreds of stores selling fans, for example, but there are only actually 1 or 2 varieties in the same size class. It's not like Japan where there will be literally 50 varieties of the same cheap calculator. There must be some kind of policy in China which guarantees the availability of basic goods, but also discourages innovation within that space. The similarity of a number of items across the country is suspicious - how every Jing Ke Long has the same type of xiang qi boards, or how the crappy metal working tricycles look the same wherever you go. They're providing goods to the people, sure, but there may be a closing effect on the internal market.

More water in okayama. Also, it's raining. Okayama had no hotels available, out of the 5 or so I asked at, on a wednesday afternoon.

Buying a name stamp. Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase, I was surprised to see so many stores selling them.



A Face? Sunbaricar.

Three things on a stick (vs the normal two). This is the type of character experimentation that I want to see more of! Setting things in type, unicode, etc. has been brutal for Chinese characters - all the experimentation, personalization, little jokes, variants, or creation of new, onomotopeaic (what's the written version of that?) characters became impossible.

One's personality is defined more by the things one refuses to do. So, I'm not who I was before - Mister Donuts in Himeji is paradise at 8am. Better donuts, for half the Beijing price. Unlimited good coffee. I could do that every day.

I like the shape of the land in Japan.

Himeji has a lot of statues. Across from this one is a nude saxophone player with a pony-tail.

Riding in circles in a giant open space in Himeji - behind me some middle school boys practice moonwalking.

Found faces on Himeji Castle. Yes, this random castle is more impressively built & restored than every tourist attraction I've seen in China.

I suspect that a civil servant has read the studies showing that even false eyes increases "good" behavior in laboratory settings.

Some evil-looking plants.

A map. Japanese maps do have one insane design element - they don't respect "north is up", or even respect the grid/orthogonal orientation convention. I can see the point of this in some situations, but it's difficult for me to maintain a mental map with this local "up" while constantly remembering that "up" doesn't refer to global north. Not that it matters when you travel by train/plane, though (i.e. it wouldn't be ok to travel by foot, bike, or car between two cities which have different "local north"s)

Some of the patterning is coming dangerously close to continuously varying.

I just like this - overgrown old infrastructure on the left. How much this water suffers to get where it's going!

The trip is ending now. Thanks for reading! My email is & I'd love it if you have any feedback!

Random other pictures follow.


Drips of thicker paint in this character for "water" painted on the road

Japan is really lush.

Found faces

Noise pattern when taking a picture with the lens cap on, in the dark.

Reading "T Rex and the Crater of Doom". It was good - science is a lot of work, and takes a long time.

Reading "From Bauhaus to Our House"

Return to China, get stuck in an elevator for 40 minutes almost immediately.

Good old Chinese telephone pole with wires & surveillance camera.