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Saturday, Jan. 15, 2005


For better or worse: the 400th column

Welcome to the 400th Japan Lite column! If you have been reading this column since 1997, then congratulations on our 400th anniversary. Four hundred weekend dates is longer than most unmarried couples make it. How does it feel to be 400?

I'm just entering my teens compared to writers who have written far more than I have, but there is some satisfaction in knowing that I've made it this far. A column is something that must be produced on a certain day of every week of every year, no matter what else is happening in your life, such as your day job, near-"karoshi" and marital spats. All at once. Luckily, I write a humor column.

How does one measure 400 columns? It depends on how one measures time. You could measure it in years (almost eight), book offers (five -- zero that have reached completion), hate mail (hundreds) or deadlines (400).

Deadlines must be met wherever you happen to be: on vacation, camping in the mountains, or on the high seas. I have dragged my laptop with me to virtually every place I've ever been longer than a few days. But the beauty is that in this modern age one can actually do this, as long as one has a computer and Internet access.

Not that the system is without flaws. In almost eight years, I have missed one deadline: when I sent my column to the wrong e-mail address. Then there are all the near misses, all having to do with the intervention of Mother Nature. Once when I was in Indonesia, a coconut tree fell onto the power lines, rendering the area without electricity or Internet access for 24 hours. There was the time when I was Snowcat skiing in the mountains in New Zealand at a remote lodge accessible only by helicopter. I had checked beforehand to make sure there was Internet access, and they assured me there was. What they didn't tell me was that the phone line was solar-powered. When a snowstorm settled in for the week, I vowed I would always bring a carrier pigeon with me from then on. But I was lucky that time. After trying to send my article by e-mail for three hours to no avail, suddenly the clouds parted, and the sun came out just long enough to get the article sent. Then the clouds closed back in and the snowstorm continued its fury.

Then there was the time I was rescued from a yacht in the Pacific, but I guess that would be considered more life-threatening than column-threatening. I can relate to mothers who sacrifice themselves for their children. I would have done so for my laptop. What ended up saving the laptop was not me, however, but Ziploc bags.

It makes one wonder what in the hell I have been writing about all this time. Well, out of 400 columns, 70 have been about Shiraishi Island, five of those about funerals on the island (out of a possible 160). Six columns were written during a six-week Buddhist pilgrimage around Shikoku, and another six on a sail through the Seto Inland Sea. I've written 10 columns about cats, seven about dogs and 11 about centipedes, roaches, ants, mosquitoes and termites. But only one about parasites.

Although I've dedicated five columns to the art of riding a bicycle in Japan, surprisingly only five columns have focused on being a foreigner in Japan. Twelve columns are about other countries.

Eight columns have explored that unique form of adult entertainment: Japanese English. I've written seven columns on the Japanese education system and one specifically about sleeping in the classroom. Three columns have been about typhoons but four about toilets. One about cat pee. Eighteen columns have been about Japanese, um, food. Three columns were about the gentle bovine and one about my "godpig" Rosie.

While many writers can boast about having written an article in an hour or two in a pinch, alas, it still takes me five to eight hours to write one.

But if someone were to ask me what the key to successful writing is, I'd have to say: chocolate. And waking up early in the morning to write before anything bad has a chance to happen in the day.

Visit Amy's Dollar Bookstore at www.mooooshop.com

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