March 26th, 2007


Rising sun

I think my posts about my time in Japan will go on longer than the holiday itself, there's so many things I want to make a note of. Getting well into the Japanese spirit, I took lots of photos, so I want to wait until my 9 (NINE!) disposable cameras come back from Boots before really getting started, so you won't see much here until Wednesday - almost time to go back to work, so I'll be reliving the holiday in dribs and drabs, which is probably no bad thing.

In the meantime I did take a few pics on my cameraphone before the battery ran out, so here's a taster of what we got up to:

As Martin at work kept rabbiting on about, Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun. He's full of little-known facts like that, it's a rollercoaster ride at the office I can tell you. So here's the sun rising over the Asahi Beer "Golden Turd" in the Asakusa area of Tokyo:

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Here's me and Penny eating kasutera (green tea-flavoured sponge cake) on the top of Mount Inasa, overlooking Nagasaki:

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A row of tumble-driers? Nope, these are all hotel "rooms" at the Capsule Hotel in Asakusa. The furthest-away capsule on the bottom row was where I spent my last night in Tokyo.

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A little something for vanessaw, the main entrance to the Studio Ghibli museum:

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And for pretinama, the Apple Store in Fukuoka-Hakata:

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And that's just the teaser. Be afraid.

Book review: Ghostwritten

While I wait for the photos to be developed so I can write more about Japan, I might as well do brief reviews of the three books I read while I was there. Even though we were busy, we travelled a lot around the country so there was plenty of time to read on trains.

Ever since enjoying Cloud Atlas I've wanted to read David Mitchell's other books, and Ghostwritten was his debut novel. Like his more famous work, this is also a collection of short stories connected in only the loosest ways, while still feeling like they merge into a single story somehow. The structure is less ambitious, with a straightforward geographical leap from story to story, starting (appropriately enough) in Japan and moving up through Asia, Europe and finally to New York in the near future. The connections are also clearer, with a small event in each story having a major effect on the next and giving an overall theme of chance and fate.

The title sometimes takes on literal meaning, one story featuring a ghost, another narrated by one, and a further section (possibly) featuring an artificial intelligence conversing with a radio DJ. For people who've read Cloud Atlas there's also a couple of links to that book, like a mention of one of its narrators as well as a recurrence of the comet-shaped birthmark. And like that novel, it's well-written and enjoyable, with overarching themes that are probably best taken at face value rather than trying to find too much hidden within. Recommended.

Book review: Born on a Blue Day

I hadn't seen the TV documentary about Daniel Tammet, a savant with Asperger's Syndrome, so I came to his memoir Born on a Blue Day simply as something I picked up in a three-for-two offer. Glad I did though, because it's a pretty unique perspective. Savants are rare enough but one who can actually communicate his experience to "normal" people is a one-off. Tammet may have the difficulty with empathy and communication that we associate with autistics but he actively tries to improve his social skills, and has managed to be virtually self-reliant and even have a long-term relationship.

The prose is understandably quite bald, as Tammet has a problem with non-literal language, and he is often distracted by his beloved numbers, leaving the narrative behind to excitedly describe a maths problem he really likes. The fact that his life story is presented in a style that could be seen as bad storytelling only makes the point clearer that we're dealing with someone whose mind works very differently, every bit as much as his descriptions of numbers as flowing shapes and colours, so it never actually does feel like bad storytelling.

Tammet would doubtless be hard work to talk to, but as a narrator he's endearing, and you end up rooting for him when he tries his mental feats like reciting pi or learning Icelandic in a week, and more so as he improves his social abilities, even getting a boyfriend (the fact that he's gay is dealt with in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way - I guess when you're already autistic, epileptic and a savant, there's only so much more of an outsider you can be.) His non-linear style means he leaves important things out - I would have liked to know about when and how he was finally diagnosed with Asperger's - but other than that it's an interesting and involving read, and I'll likely be keeping an eye on his blog.

Book review: Perfume

I've been meaning to read Patrick Suskind's Perfume for a while, partly due to vanessaw's enthusiastic recommendations, and I finished it this afternoon. The recent movie version's been panned and I'm not surprised, I'm not sure who had the idea to film a book that's so concerned with descriptions of smell, something that hasn't yet become possible to film.

The book on the other hand is pretty absorbing, the "monster" at its heart is a darkly fascinating character who experiences the world almost entirely through his sense of smell, while having no scent of his own. This leads him to experiment in the creation of perfumes, to the point of committing murders in his quest for the perfect scent. Set in pre-revolutionary France it's got an atmosphere of its own which draws you in, and especially in its closing chapters has quite a hypnotic effect. A bit of a one-off which makes it worth a look.

You don't have to be dead to work here, but it helps

Five posts in a day? I guess I'm making up for lost time. I did promise Sean I'd talk about this soon, and it does seem to be one of things people are really interested in finding out about. Plus all the photos from it are on my phone so I don't have to wait for the rest to be developed before I can blog about my nights (plural!) in a capsule hotel. Or, as I like to think of it, a morgue you can stay in without necessarily having to die first.

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