UC Berkeley (Nick)



Aug '08 - Jun '10

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    Nick Sowers
    Apr 1, '09 1:40 PM EST

    Moving south...

    View Soundscrapers Location in a larger map

    Arrival at the Kagoshima train station, the threshold to the city. Within the station you are welcomed by shop keepers offering samples of the local specialties. In no rush, I happily sample fish cake with cheese in the middle and then a purple sweet potato mochi. "dozo dozo" If you are on your way out of the city, these items are available in boxes as souvenirs; you can also pick up a bento box for lunch. The bento will be different in every train station as the cuisine in Japan is incredibly diverse. Not having left the station, I almost felt satisfied that I had seen Kagoshima. Or, my appetite was duly whetted.

    I thought of a fun trip you could do: buy a ticket ( any amount will do to get you through the turnstyle). Ride a train without reserved seats (they don't check tickets on those trains) and get off at the next big station. Graze upon the free samples. It's like window-shopping an entire city in one spot. Get back on the train. Repeat. Before the end of the day, return to the station you originated at. Claim that you got hopelessly lost and it took you 10 hours to find the platform, and to your disappointment the train had left. (your Japanese is hopefully better than mine). The unassuming, perfectly polite agent will refund the cost of your ticket. I read in a guidebook that "foreigners are granted a fool's license."

    Speaking of bento boxes, this weekend I attended the Navy Air Facility Atsugi Cherry Blossom Festival, and the funniest thing to me was seeing all the Japanese carting boxes of Anthony's Pizza off the base. The Festival is one of the only times a Japanese citizen can walk on the base (which their government owns and 'leases' to the US Military). It wasn't cheap pizza either at 16 bucks a pop. I think it was a one hour wait in line for the exotic pies. (Japanese pizza is very, very different).I couldn't help but think how this is so Japanese: the boxed up souvenir, to be savored at home as a total experience in itself. God bless greasy cheese pizza. Me, I walked away with a box of girl scout cookies.

    Moving further south...

    Next station: Okinawa. My flight is tomorrow morning, a quick hour and a half and I will have arrived at Japan's Hawaii, the honey-mooner's (shinkon-ryoko) island. When I was on Hawaii six weeks ago I relished in the ubiquity of Asian food. In a somewhat symmetric fashion, the Japanese like to go to Okinawa to soak up a bit of American culture. It is exotic in the same way that Hawaii is to us. Preserving the symmetry for the moment, as Hawaii is the most militarized state in the Union, Okinawa, while only 1% of the land area of Japan, contains 75% of its American bases. Much has been written of this fact and every crime committed by an American GI underscores the discontent of the Okinawan population. Both Hawaii's and Okinawa's economies depend largely upon the military presence.

    I will have to get into the details later, as I explore the island and seek out the intersections between the overlapping military and civilian spaces. For now, I just wanted to announce my plan: to encircle every base on the island by foot. I thought of this after walking around the Atsugi base near Tokyo (see the map below). Then I saw one of Richard Long's circles at a Ando museum, and it clicked: my act of design is the walk itself. Like Long, I too get my ideas and motivation from moving. Perhaps instead of moving stones, I move sound.

    I have 12 days to do it, likely needing to walk about 10-15 miles each day as these bases are huge. I will be scanning the thresholds, where the "American experience" flows out from the bases in the forms and signs we are familiar with back home: fast food, parking lots, suburban houses. I am also looking at the face which Okinawa presents to the base, whether in direct resistance to or by clandestine use of the territory occupied by the American military. Tacit farming is one such example.


    In preparation for the walk, I have stripped down my pack. I shipped home extra clothes and things I collected on my way down from Tokyo. I will only wear the clothes on my back, camouflaging myself in ordinary Okinawan T-shirts as I move along. With a sleeping bag, and a tent yet to be procured, I have ultimate mobility on the island. I will find the bases by GPS, and thus tracing my path (as Cash says, walking the line.)

    Okinawa EquipmentOkinawa Equipment Outline

    1 Nagasaki A-bomb postcards
    2 IBM Lenovo X-61 Tablet computer
    3 Toiletries
    4 Headlamp
    5 USB cable
    6 AA, AAA batteries
    7 Snap-off blade
    8 MUJI scissors
    9 Padlock
    10 Tent rope
    11 San Francisco souvenir shot glasses
    12 Non-loadbearing carabiners
    13 Garmin eTrex Legend C GPS device
    14 Stereo microphones
    15 Sony Hi-MD recorder MZ-M200
    16 MUJI business card case
    17 Pens and pencils
    18 Japanese rental cellphone
    19 Hi-MD disk
    20 Reading for pleasure
    21 Reading not for pleasure
    22 Sketchbook from SPIRAL store, Tokyo
    23 900 yen sleeping bag
    24 German shoulder bag
    25 LC-1 A.L.I.C.E. frame

    It is as though I am setting out for journey for the first time. This is a truth I am coming to realize: I am not on a grand tour. I find it absurd, the idea that you could pack a bag that is fit for the entire year. The trip already has changed as I adapt to each new place. This is a trip made up of many pieces. It is a loose collection of journeys. Maybe later I will figure out how they fit together.

    I recognize the sounds have been lacking recently. It's not though I haven't been recording. I've just been mulling over how to represent the sounds rather than just smashing them together. I think they need something graphic. Perhaps it is a map. The following map I've been thinking about for a while, and I'm just now getting around to making it happen. On my walk around the Navy Air Facility Atsugi, I pressed record every time I heard a jet takeoff. I have about 20 recordings...

    What you see is my GPS track, but what I have yet to do is embed the sounds into the map. For now, you can listen to the terrible rumbling I described last time:

    NAF Atsugi at EveryTrail

    Map created by EveryTrail:GPS Geotagging


    • awesome.

      Apr 1, 09 5:41 pm  · 

      I am sincerely enjoying reading all of these. A sense of excitement wells up in me every time I see your name pop up in the school blog list. Fascinating adventure!

      Apr 1, 09 8:55 pm  · 

      really interesting. i'd like to see what you discover in okinawa, i went to high school on kadena afb.

      Apr 6, 09 2:43 am  · 

      I am glad that you talked about this keen issue.

      Aug 26, 21 8:12 am  · 

      Great article. I do remember "bento box" from my own trip.

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      Feb 23, 23 4:30 am  · 

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