Spike: Some FAQs

A heartfelt thank you for all your kind messages of support; truly I would not have kept writing as long as I have without the encouragement of feedback. Here are my answers to some frequently (or infrequently or only once) asked questions.

 1)    Will Spike remain up for the time being, or do I have to start saving my favorite posts?

That’s an easy one to answer, yes, it stays up. And as WordPress in their munificence charge hardly anything for upkeep (how do they pay their bills?), it will remain up for the foreseeable future—not that there’s such a thing, of course.

 2)    Can’t you turn Spike into a real book, or even an e-book? I’d pay.

That’s also an easy one to answer, no. First, there’s the economics. The last Spike post generated about a thousand hits above the baseline noise over three days. Let’s make a series of what I think are fairly heroic assumptions: that half of all those hitters buy the book, that a publisher is able to drum up interest so that three times that number, 1,500 people, eventually buy the book, and that the book is priced at a hefty $30 or so. That’s $45,000 in gross revenue. Then subtract the cost of printing, especially in the anti-coffee-table book format to which Spike would best be suited, the cost of running down all the dozens of academics, songwriters, and critics, to name but a few, from whom I’ve so liberally quoted, for copyright permission, and numerous other costs that I needn’t detail. It’s never going to be a winning proposition. There’s an even more formidable obstacle, though, one which I simply cannot discuss. Anything permanent, anything with an ISBN, is out of the question.

 3)    What about the pieces you didn’t think were worth salvaging? Where can I find them?

Well, the pieces I thought not worth salvaging really are the scrapings off the bottom of a sad barrel. There are only about a dozen, and they fall into three broad categories: Minispikes about arcane subjects such as the economics of tobacco in Japan, odd assays at macroeconomics, such as the case for a consumption tax hike, and last but by no means least, the Spiked series of venom-laced attacks on ignorant, bloviating hacks (I left one example, the one that I most enjoyed researching and writing, at the table of contents). You can find these pieces, if you must, by clicking randomly on something at the table of contents and following the arrows—Spike as labyrinth, one of my favourite metaphors.

 4)    Will you not keep writing, please?

I would love to set up another blog—“Campaign for a Slow Internet” as a title appeals in its forlorn hopelessness—but I’d find myself muzzled. The itch to write may prove beyond my powers of self-control not to scratch, though. If there is a new blog, I’ll let you know. I will, at some point in the next few months, pen a Spike Preface, explaining the genesis of the blog, taking a gander at the writings of some Eminent Japan Hands (The Two Donalds in particular), and musing over the future of letters in the Age of AGFA—more rambling, in other words.

 5)    Was there ever a definitive answer to what the spike sticking out from the guardrail was for?

(Readers who do not understand to what this question refers, please see “About” on the top bar).
Yes, they serve no purpose whatsoever (a perfect metaphor for Spike): they’re the legacies of accidents in which vehicles collide with the central reservation or side guardrails, popping out the bolts, which then tear metal triangles off the vehicles that have collided with them. I just popped down to see if “my” spike was still there, still overlooked, four years on. It is.

 6)    Could I trouble you for a list of books that should be on our own literary bucket list?

Here are a dozen what I think are relatively overlooked goodies, ancient and modern, in print and very out of print, culled at near-random from the bookcase nearest me:
The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter
Tokyo Style by Kyoichi Tsuzuki
Japan in the Passing Lane: An Insider’s Account of Life in a Japanese Auto Factory by Satoshi Kamata
Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella Bird
Vermillion Sands by J.G. Ballard
Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? And Other Reflections on Being Human by Jesse Bering
The Lost Wolves of Japan by Brett L. Walker
Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain by Stefan Collini (disclosure: a former lecturer of mine)
Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago by Douglas H. Erwin
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow
and of course:
Digby Grand by George John Whyte Melville

 7)    Can I have your car?

No. The rustmobile stays with me.

“Wherever structure is to be conjured from disorder, it must be driven by the generation of greater disorder elsewhere, so that there is a net increase in the disorder of the universe.” The Second Law, in The Laws of Thermodynamics, Peter Atkins

All photos taken in the towns of Furubira and Shakotan on the Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, September 2012. Rust, like death, never sleeps.

Tama no Yu public baths, Furubira

Shinya Sushi, Furubira

 Oasis activity, Furubira

 Hauling fish on cannery row, Furubira

 Warehouse flank, Furubira

Shiny chimney, Furubira

Fashion Shop Umeno, Furubira

All fall down, Furubira

Rust begets rust, Furubira

Rust ghost doorway, Furubira

Gas stand, Furubira

Waiting for the bus, Furubira

Converging, Furubira

White panel in rust, Furubira

Buttresses, Furubira

Cracks, tiles, and string, Furubira

Cracks and a peek, Furubira

Little bluff, Furubira

Fine old house and warehouse complex, Furubira (2)

Fine old house and warehouse complex, Furubira (1)

Doorway, Bikuni port, Shakotan

Squid boat lights and harbour activity, Shakotan

Squid boat and old warehouse, Shakotan

Squid boat lights, Shakotan

Squid boat lights and winches, Shakotan

 No illegal fishing, between Furubira and Shakotan

Seascape around Horonaifu, Shakotan

Waiting for the bus, Shakotan

Cycling marsupials, Shakotan

Rusty corner, Furubira

Ironmonger's, Shakotan

Vote for Hachiro

Superb doorway, Shakotan

Doorway from the side, Shakotan

 Old meets new, Furubira

 Cannery row, Furubira

32 responses to “Spike: Some FAQs

  1. I hope you keep writing.

  2. Spike-san,

    You really misjudge the print thing. It doesn’t cost you a penny to do print on demand. Seriously. I’d gladly email you details. Self-publishing is not vanity publishing. The buyer orders a book and it is printed, on demand. There are no print runs. You could sell a book for $20 and clear at least $5 per copy for yourself. I’ll happily explain it to you or recommend some further reading. Publishing has changed. For the better, for once.

  3. Is $30 really a “hefty” price for a good, well made book? Maybe you’ve been in Japan too long. I regularly pay more for coffee-table-ish books on design, architecture, photography etc.

    I don’t know about the rest of your audience but for a good quality production $100-ish would not be an issue for me. Short-run speciality books are expensive; this fact is neither a surprise nor a deterrent.

    This may all be academic anyway since it seems you have a private reason for not going ahead but don’t get hung up on the $30 figure please.

    • Fair points, thank you. I would love nothing more than to produce a sumptuous Spike square of a coffee table book. Maybe one of these days, when I am no longer shackled to the corporate world…

  4. I’m in for 3 (signed) copies. I’ll stack them along side the Booths.
    Start the presses! Inspire the next !! Bring on the night!!!

    • Ranger,
      Thank you for the kind words.
      Apropos of nothing in particular, except our shared affection for Alan Booth, here are a few tidbits about our hero (perhaps you knew them already). The first comes from a BBC Two documentary series, Japanese Language and People, that dates from, I’d guess, about 1987, which earnestly endeavours to introduce ignorant Brits to the mysterious East and in which there are a few precious glimpses of AB on film:

      So much to savour here, even beyond the hairdos: there’s the chokuyaku subtitle for the elementary school sensei pasting the kanji on the blackboard:
      “This one has become the word mountain.”
      Then there’s the breathless and idiotic narrator, discoursing on ancient China:
      “People were seen as an integral part of the natural environment.”
      She has some astonishing revelations:
      “But you don’t have to master the writing system in order to speak Japanese.”

      The second comes from Donald Richie’s The Japan Journals, 1947-2004, one of the last entries in which reads thus:
      24 JANUARY 2003 A memorial meeting—ten years since Alan Booth died. His wife and daughter have arranged it. The friends gather—Tim [Harris], Stephen [Shaw], and others. It has been a decade—some of those I met at the funeral are now unrecognizable.
      Since the daughter is very young though no longer a child, does not remember much, the meeting is to tell her about her father. I talk about the trip to Yufujin and the hot spring jaunt, leaving out his lusting over a local movie star, and instead remember that he told me that one of his ways out of an unhappy childhood was to go and take a long, hot bath.
      Most of the others are not so temperate, and when people started talking about his arrogance and his bad manners, the memorial became somewhat like the second half of Ikiru. A kind of climax was reached when someone remembered Alan in a coma being visited by Karel [van Wolferen], who murmured that they would meet in again in a better place. At which point the body opened an eye and said, “I certainly hope not.”

      I wonder if AB really was an arse or DK was jealous? Although I respect KvW, that ultimate Parthian shot (ahem) makes me warm to AB even more…

      The third comes from an article in the LA Times in 1990, and begins thus:

      TOKYO — After nearly 11 years of reviewing Japanese films in a weekly column for the Asahi Evening News, critic Alan Booth threw in the towel last December with a one-word verdict on the latest Godzilla movie:
      The rest of the article is less interesting, except for the big miss of how famous Hayao Miyazaki, who had just released Miss Kiki’s Delivery Service, would become. But then who has perfect foresight?
      I’ve been reading a lot of the two Donalds, Richie and Keene, recently, and I’m more convinced than ever that the greatest work (outside of academia) that emerged from the postwar western encounter with Japan was The Roads to Sata.
      There are, the fringes of the Internet hint, many fine articles that AB wrote for the Asahi Evening News in the late eighties and early nineties, one of which finds our hero following western tourists around on a two-hour tour of Tokyo on the top of an open-topped Hato Bus, one which I would love to read. This being expat-Tokyo, I’m only two connections removed from the daughter—should I pursue?

      • I was checking in hoping you’d changed your mind about quitting, and I saw this comment for the first time and wanted to answer that last question – Yes, please! Someone needs to figure out how to make those articles available. It would be such a public service.

  5. I understand the work and time involved in self-publishing. And then there was this: There’s an even more formidable obstacle, though, one which I simply cannot discuss.

    Thanks for the wonderful photographs. I especially loved the blue bricks and the layered boards.

    I hope this finds you in good health paschi-san.
    I too understand time is a resource.

  6. You can’t tell me that the Pachi-Camera won’t continue in action, nor that Pachiguy-san won’t continue to photographatize the ruins of Japan, so do, dear Pachiguy-san, post more photos from time to time as you run across further festering abscesses of decay.

    I still think Taschen might be interested.

    And where book prices are concerned, the volume on the extant buildings designed by Palladio, a Taschen volume, still cost $20-25 five or so years ago as a special concessionary anniversary price. $30 for a book is a trifle these days. Realistically speaking (if such a thing is possible), an e-book format might be a better approach, and that’s something that can be a DIY project.

    Finally, about the bottom of the barrel: your masterly dissections of faux journalism are models of the genre, and should be required reading for journalists everywhere.

  7. Goshu Danji Joe

    After thirty five years of variously, working or studying in, visiting on business or pleasure and just generally pondering, talking, writing and reading about Japan, your essays have given me the most enormous pleasure. I re-read all of your writing but especially enjoyed your essay on Mishima Yukio’s neighbourhood. Listen to those of your readers who can advise you on cost/time-effective publishing. If its a matter of time and money, many of us out here would be absolutely delighted to give you at least, some of our money in return for your very special and authentic pespectives.

  8. Dear Spike,

    Thank you for many hours of entertaining, informative and amusing reading!

    Bob Ruhloff


  9. Thanks again – I look forward to reading that preface when its ready.

    I understand of course that there may be personal issues involved which would prevent you publishing your writings in some form, but I’d echo those above who would be happy to support such a venture (perhaps via something like kickstarter?) if it was simply a matter of funding.

  10. Your biggest fan

    Remembering the false alarm some time ago about the end of Spike, I initially held back from commenting on the recent end of Spike post. Alas, since it seems to be true this time let me add my thanks for all the effort you put into the writing on this blog. I’ve enjoyed all your posts. And I’m now going to go back and read some of my favourites.

  11. ‘Wish I could have delivered that bucket of gin in person. Best wishes. Thank you, Richard.

  12. Where will I go for forlorn vistas of rural and urban decay from now on? Thanks for all great reading and knowledge.

  13. The last couple of months I’ve been looking at hundreds (no exaggeration) of videos relating to the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, and here I am with Pachiguy-san walking off the scene leaving me with no one to turn to for authoritative comment on matters Japanese. The questions I want to ask, but which, alas, are never to be addressed by Pachiguy-san, include:

    1. Why, given that Japan is clearly a country of incredible natural beauty, are Japanese cities so incredibly ugly? Am I right that thinking that Japan has few or no zoning laws, given the mix of residential, commercial, and industrial uses I see in these videos in the cramped confines of seaside towns?

    2. What is the history of the many small fishing ports along the Sanriku coast? Do the origins of these go right back to prehistoric times, as I would guess?

    3. Am I right in thinking that the smaller settlements destroyed by the Tohoku tsunami will probably never be rebuilt?

    4. How many lies a day are emitted by the Japanese power structure with regard to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster?

    I am bereft. Woe is me. Alas!

    [I’m being highly disingenuous in my attempt to lure Pachiguy-san back out into the light.]

    • “Why, given that Japan is clearly a country of incredible natural beauty”

      Is it, really? In all its tetrapodded shoreline, browny-grey beach littered with East Asian plastic detritus, and sugi monoculture glory? It doesn’t have more than a tinge of the epic abundance and fear that I want from nature–the only place I’ve ever seen it has been on the northwest coast of Hokkaido, where the breakers roll in at heights the surfer boys of Tokyo couldn’t handle and a friend, on observing the scenery, said it reminded him of the west coast of Namibia. Now that’s a compliment. Almost everything else has been domesticated. And Japan anyway, even if we go back a thousand years, was only an averagely biodiverse Northern Palearctic ecozone country, with not much more to write home about than the UK.

      “are Japanese cities so incredibly ugly?”

      Isn’t it for more or less the same reason that Taipei, Seoul, Bangkok, and Jakarata, to name but a few, are largely eyesores? They got relatively rich relatively quick, and had to accommodate hugely increasing populations at what was still a relatively low cost. It’s always instructive to go back in time a bit–see if you can find photos on the Interweb of Tokyo in the 1960s or 1970s, it was certainly no picture postcard then. In essence, all the building traditions of East Asian societies had to go through in 50 years (or less) adjustments that basically took two centuries in Europe.

      “Am I right that thinking that Japan has few or no zoning laws”

      No, by my understanding you’re not quite right, but I’m not an expert on the subject by any means—land is certainly assigned agricultural, commercial, industrial, and residential status. It may just be that the industrial and residential, say, are not separated by anything much in particular. Ask an expert…

      “What is the history of the many small fishing ports along the Sanriku coast? Do the origins of these go right back to prehistoric times, as I would guess?”

      Hah, yes probably, but not under the control of the now dominant Yamato, who only pushed up there, ooh somewhere between the 8th and 14th centuries. Before that they were under the control of an obscure people called the Emishi, who may or may not be related to the Ainu of Hokkaido.

      Am I right in thinking that the smaller settlements destroyed by the Tohoku tsunami will probably never be rebuilt?

      Again, I’m not an expert, but if you go down to the level of settlements of tens of houses scattered along the littoral that were badly mauled and where seawalls will be prohibitively expensive, yes, you’re probably right, as far as I can glean from the media. At the municipality level, everyone will survive, but I fear we are going to have many boondoggles built for communities that will suffer even more precipitous rates of population outflow than they were experiencing before the tsunami. Bottom line: very few youngsters want to live in rural Japan, and there’s no government policy in sight that will reverse that.

      How many lies a day are emitted by the Japanese power structure with regard to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster?

      Seventeen. Or wait, is it twenty-four? There really is no way of responding sensibly to that question, but I’ll try. How about, “fewer than you probably think”? The Japanese nuclear power industry is a tale more of incompetence than outright mendacity, IMHO. Although the hierarchies do not help the truth to get out, has it been that different from San Onofre?

  14. I so very much appreciate your scholarship. The way you think, see, present, all compelling. Thanks again for gracing my life with such beauty.

  15. I would echo every heartfelt comment and compliment here.
    Thank you for the table of contents… and everything!

    Oh no…
    Thank you for enriching my life!
    I’m sad.

  16. i like your picture of the building https://spikejapan.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/sea-side-liner.jpg and i have a question that could be interesting for you.
    Can you send me an email?

  17. I still keep returning in the hope that somehow there will be a new post..

  18. Yep. Same here.

  19. A year on, once again I wish there was new content. Take this as a thank you for everything you wrote before.

  20. I think of you often, pachiguy. I hope you are well.

  21. You’re too kind. There’ll be an article in The Guardian by me in the next couple of months, I’ll post the link when it’s published.

  22. Whew. Thanks.
    Stay here Pachiguy. Life would be diminished and stagnant without you (and I actually have a big life).

  23. Can’t wait to read anything else you write!

  24. I’m glad I’m not the only one who keeps coming back here hoping for new content.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s