Tokyo Kameido | Marshmallow Supremacy & The Samurai Cafe

This past weekend I sat in a rocking chair and drank whiskey. The room was smoky in a way that I like. And I truly came to appreciate the word senmon (specialty) in Japanese. Not too long ago I was contacted by Johannes who runs a YouTube channel called Japanese Journey. He wanted to do a collab and I was happy to oblige. He creates very well produced videos and even after meeting him for a very short time, I could tell, he shared my same interest in videography. I, in the not too distant past, enjoyed creating neighborhood videos which featured areas of the less explored variety. I thought that for our getting together we could return to that style. After talking a bit with Eiko she suggested we return to where she used to live by a station called Kameido.

She specifically suggested that we visit the Samurai Cafe. I am so happy that she did. We would of course need more to cover and research revealed there a specialty marshmallow shop. The fact that they made a set number of batches for the day, and once sold, they closed down, really appealed to my sense of exclusivity. That—care enough to get it early—or don’t get it at all vibe. Deciding that I would cover the Samurai Cafe and the marshmallow shop, Johannes set his sights on covering the quite beautiful shrine the area was known for as well as a business co-op street. In Japan they’re known as shotengais and created to retain the often ancient mom and pop shop history of certain areas.

First stop was the marshmallow shop. After circling the block it was on, and starting to worry that perhaps it had shut down, we found it, not yet open. You could however, see through a crack in the not quite lifted protective shutter for the building, people working away in preparation. They were at once friendly, and when I waved to them through the crack they waved back and although they were wearing masks I could tell by their eyes that they smiled. That kind of wonderful openness would be the hallmark of this whole outing.

While filming the intro for the video Eiko attempted to elaborate on the kind of feel you could expect in a place like Kameido. She described it as Shitamachi – which in literal translation means under-city. The sounds far more devious than it actually is. More accurately it simply means away from the central core of the city and as a result of that the people on average are more welcoming and open. I found that description particularly interesting as this is more the sort of contrast that you’d expect to hear in comparison of the city and the countryside, but here it is, within the city itself. And after experiencing as much friendly charm as I did I wouldn’t argue with its accuracy.

Case and point, when we went to the Samurai cafe, a place Eiko had not been for five years, one of the serving staff recognized her. Heartwarming stuff. Not to mention that the way that member of staff behaved was the rule not the exception. Everyone was so kind. I cannot emphasize this enough. Naturally as a YouTuber, or maybe not so naturally? I worry about making people I film around feel comfortable and not intruded upon. Samurai Cafe as well as the marshmallow specialty shop made it abundantly apparent that they not only endorsed my filming but that they would love to see the video once it was uploaded. The man working at the till at the marshmallow shop specifically asked for channel and went so far as to ask if he could take a picture of it on my phone so he wouldn’t lose it. If I am making it sound like I would hang out at one of these places much as eat anything, it’s because I would.

That said, the marshmallows were on another level totally earning their description as a specialty shop and Samurai Cafe somehow turned toast lunch items into the most beautifully presented thing I had ever seen. The lunch special at Samurai Cafe was 780 yen. That included a drink and I am not exaggerating when I say this food looked and tasted incredible. Usually when you say the words pizza toast it summons up the image of some cosco slice of oily bread, an impoverished amount of tomato sauce with a suggestion of cheese and at best two or three meager grade F salami or hotdog slices for protein. Samurai’s pizza bread, holy shit! The bread itself, thick and fluffy, the toppings generous and of a high quality. When you peeled away a slice from the main section you got to enjoy watching thick hot melted strands of cheese clinging to the rest, as though from some carefully edited food commercial. Sometimes you have a feeling that a place will be amazing and you are disappointed. Then there are those rare times when your expectations are left in the dust. Samurai Cafe pulled it off with style.

While a video is always satisfying when things go your way of course a little challenge will sweeten the final result. Japanese summer provided that in the form of stifling humidity. When we did finally get to the park at sometime around 2 o’clock the mid-day heat had come on and I began to melt. I have not begun editing but I am pretty sure there is going to be some supremely unflattering sweat to deal with. Such is life though. I am telling myself that it adds character. The lies that I believe are beautiful. Whining aside, the shrine actually was really cool. Sometimes in Japan you get that feeling like you’ve seen one shrine you’ve seen them all. That would be a horrible mistake and you’d miss out on seeing some very cool places if you give in to this way of thinking.

Kameido’s shrine was fantastic. Two red moon bridges were the feature design points. But in addition to those, water features and to bloom next year wisterias added to the scenery. In my research I learned that Kameido, like many places in Japan, is quite seasonally focused. I do think it would be worth coming back to check it out when the season better suited it. But for the time being I was happy with the experience. Finishing my filming at this point I finally had an opportunity to become more photographically focused. I even got a bad-ass #photographer4life shot by laying down on my back and framing these very cool looking cranes hanging from one of the many prayer placard stations found around the shrine.

Final note about this shrine. The pigeons are fucking Nuts. That capital N is to emphasize the degree to which these pigeons have lost their goddamn minds. One landed on Eiko’s head and I was accosted by two others that had come straight out of a come-at-me-bro meme. I swear they were stalking me. I felt at a loss. They were getting crazy close, threateningly so! But what was I gonna do? Punch a pigeon? I was seriously considering it to get these things to leave me alone but then someone of course is gonna see me without context and now I’m the foreigner who punches birds. Canadians have been doing horribly in Japanese media this year and I don’t want to add to the doggy pile so I stowed my rage and opted to flee in terror from these alt-right pigeons, with their extreme beliefs and acts of aggression.

I’ve covered another shotengai in the past and had an incredible time doing so. It was with Victor and Charles from Yummy Japan when they still ran that channel. For that reason I am usually quite optimistic when I check out a new one. I think Johannes did a good job of finding interesting places to go but we had somewhat restricted options in the form of time. It was at that point nearing five-thirty and being on your feet filming all day does, much fun as it is, wears you down some. I say time restrictions not only for the fact that it was later but that for the true specialty of the street, Horumon (guts), you would need to sit down. This did however give me inspiration. Horumon is a Japanese food not for the feint of heart. I’ve overcome most things that might intimidate people when it comes to Japanese cuisine but Horumon has yet eluded my. I think then, what possibly could be better than that for a video idea? You have something extremely exotic that is going to push me far outside my comfort zone. Perfect. That is next up on the list. To Kameido I say in closing. I’ll be back.

 

 

 

 

 

Neuralink Press Release – The Birth Of The Neural Lace

 

Neuralink yesterday had their first major press release. I have followed this company from its inception as of however many years ago. I admit freely that my interest lies less in the benefits that it can bring to people suffering from various mental or physical ailments for which it could be of assistance, and more in the fantasies I have regarding human intelligence in general.

My favourite author is Peter F. Hamilton, a man who with his stories has achieved a wild degree of prescience. His ability to capture not only what impending technologies will look like, but also far more interestingly, their impact on society as a whole, has always fascinated me. When you imbue technology with the humanity which consumes it, how then does it look. I have no doubt he is not the first author to envision a brain machine interface but he is without question one who has explored it with exceeding thoroughness. Not a single one of his sci-fi worlds has indeed existed without one. They are known throughout his writing by many names: ushadow, ebutler, or some other abbreviation.

Regardless of name, they ultimately perform the similar function of elevating their user far beyond what the current human brain is now capable of. I have critically examined why it is that this holds so much interest for me. The concern being that I may be cloaking a very base desire for some new shiny thing in the always attractively deceptive belief that no, this is really loftily pursued hopes and dreams. I do not want to delude myself. And I believe with fair confidence I can say that I have not. We are able to lie to ourselves so convincing at times it is hard to tell what a rationalized limbic indulgence is compared to an aspirational thought. And that we are constantly changing what we truly believe aspirational to be does not make matters any easier to comprehend. The circles I go in sometimes. Regardless, as I say, I am confident.

I want to experience more of life. That is the reason this technology so appeals to me. There is, I think, a mistaken impulse to self-flagellate when we aspire to things beyond our set of readily developable skills. It can be seen as greedy, like the petulant child who is never satisfied with the quite amazing life they have been given by their loving parents. And I would not argue that this does not hold some grain of truth. I do have strengths. I do have skills that I have been able to develop through practice and training. And first and foremost I should be grateful to have even that opportunity: to develop that which comes arguably most naturally to me.

But I would argue that it is only a mistaken sense of self-censorship that requires we stop there. Because I want to know more does not mean that I do not appreciate what I know already. Quite the contrary, I find the more I know, the more I learn, that feeds the part of me which wants to know anything at all, and it is not limited to one topic. All points in my education feel interconnected. I love film, so how do I film? Cameras are used to film, so how do I use a camera? It seems to me the most natural thing in the world that a boundary set around that kind of progress would be incredibly frustrating. I know it is. I experience it frequently.

When I was younger and in high-school I would study math non-stop for hours. I never stopped being anything other than horrible at it. I grew to hate math. But as I got older I realize that was only a result of my experience. Of course there is nothing to hate about math, nothing to explain about how absurd that is, but myself and many others will hate all kinds of inanimate things because of our negative experiences with them. And truly that is a shame. Especially if you are, as I have been able to, look back with clarity. I would happily enjoy math if I could have only digested it better. Math is in so many ways our world, our world made into language. Look no further than video games to confirm this. Games are math. What a thing to hate. You might as well hate breathing.

I am a firm believer that talent is a fabrication of convenience for people who are not willing to practice what they love. Skill is not a mistake and those who achieve it rarely do so through grace. That said, I think it would be foolish to not acknowledge some degree that genetics play in our skill-sets. I, in that sense, have achieved something in the way of a case study, having studied math for impressively excruciating periods of time while still maintaining a mastery best described as hopeless. I must have some genetic pre-set that has helped me to elude success in math because I certainly gave as much time as would be required by brute force to improve and did not.

Could this technology be the answer for people like me who now understand they got off on the wrong foot with subjects like math? Could we now return to them and reconcile that relationship, resurrect from ash that burnt denial to enjoy one more experience that was barred to us prior. I know the technology has a long way to go before granting the sort of neural upgrade I have been witness to in the pages of fiction I so love. But it is coming. For now I am happy to see it at the start. Potential is to me as satisfying as an end result. It has had to be.

 

Autophagy

Autophagy is the natural, regulated, destructive mechanism of the cell that disassembles unnecessary or dysfunctional components.

I’m back. After three years of a writing drought I finally decided to get my lazy ass putting some words on a page. Sitting here smoking a nearly finished vape and tasting the somewhat burnt flavour of an almost finished tank I wonder what took me so long to? I think the answer to this is obvious: it doesn’t matter. What does however, is that for whatever reason, words are appearing in front of me on this computer screen. The topic that has popped into my head relates to balance. Or more specifically, much as I verbalize and think that I strive for it, the truthful acknowledgment is that I mostly hate it.

I hate how stagnant it feels. Proper eating, sleeping, creating, certainly it provides me with a clear mind, but where’s the fun in that? I had a phrase I was fond of saying when I was younger and I find it still suits my thinking now, although I say it less: I feel today, disgustingly sober. I know that sounds dark. It is. I’m a dark person. I say that with some sense of pride as I firmly believe to transcend being an utterly boring individual that a little darkness in our personality—more often a lot—is required. Sheep get slaughtered by wolves and so on. I’ve realized through following this train of thought to it’s conclusion that I cannot embody this state of being constantly for pragmatic reasons. A mind and body given over to the sort of excess I enjoy degrades rapidly.

 

Perhaps the more interesting conclusion I’ve drawn from this realization is that one way or another If I can’t find my way out to some deliciously fun negative extreme, then to get some semblance of that high, I strike out in the other direction. I find life most interesting at each of its poles so to speak. If I can’t sustain destruction, then how about creation. If I’m totally honest with myself I enjoy each equally. I’m the one at the party sadly looking around as the sun comes up, wishing, desperate for a few more minutes of indulgence, a few more breaths taking down that sweet tobacco, before the sun turns me in to stone. And at the other end, the last guy in the gym, staying late at the library to study, cutting that one last calorie out of my diet to reach blissful intermittently fasted autophagy.

Blackboard with the chemical formula of dopamine

I wonder where it comes from? Dopamine, yes that’s the answer. But I wonder what in my history, what in my genetics makes me so prone to suckling at that neurotransmitter’s teat in any way I can? My brain is never satisfied with the volume at ten, it must be set to max. It doesn’t matter the context, that’s essentially what I’m saying. Was it some childhood trauma? Maybe. Or perhaps, I am not so exotic as I imagine myself. This could in fact be something many more experience than I conceive of. Although, I don’t think so. People around me seem far more content with being reasonable. And at last, I wouldn’t change it for the world. For better or worse it is who I am. And when I set my mind to think critically of it, I do achieve unusual things as a result. The question does remain how useful, healthy, or productive those things are? But by god I achieve them, and few others do!