Thousands of Miles from Home


Fukuoka on a Tuesday is Decadent and Depraved

I found this slipped under my door at the Washington Hotel room 1346 addressed to a certain H.S. Thompson, c/o Raoul Duke:

“Jolted awake from the top of an unmade bed at 8 in the morning as Rahul buttons the high neck collar of his Fukuoka school uniform. Violent flashbacks of hurricane-like winds the night before, recommended Fukuoka microbreweries, and drinking rum at a place called “Beers.” Checking the phone messages and noticing many, I ask Rahul what’s going on with the state of the world. “There was an earthquake; I didn’t know what was going on.” The front desk of the hotel is on the intercom radio, blaring in Japanese. Elevator out of order, I’ll have to use the stairs from the 13th floor. Just like a bad movie.

How did I end up in an unkempt bed clutching a bottle of green tea for dear life, nerves recovering from the shock of being wired to the limit of sensory perception? My eyes focus on the New Testament, found even here in the Washington Hotel, placed by the ever present yet mysteriously shrouded “Gideons.” Who are these hotel-frequenting religious wraiths?

Luke 11:25 “And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order.

This hotel room will not be seeing a state of order within the next few hours, especially following a mind-bending Tuesday night spilling my way down the street with my attorney, Rahul (a large 300-pound Samoan), and Janna (an innocent bystander we dragged along for the evening).

That damn elevator announcement again, broadcast to all rooms by a phantom speaker system embedded in the walls. Half a mind to ride that bastard straight to the bottom and fill the concierge’s face full of mace. At least until he’s “prim and proper” at this hour in the morning.

Rahul washes his face while I lay paralyzed on the bed. More flashbacks; playing guitar with a man from Tehran who has lived in Japan for over 22 years. He studied Psychology at Tehran’s “second strictest university” but now happily runs a hard rock bar called the “Black Shark.” Check my wallet to find a fistful of “Free Charge Passes, open Friday and Saturday, 3:00 AM to late morning.” Love to meet again over whiskey tonics for a nice discussion if I’m not run out of the town by late afternoon. Another swig from the bottle of green tea while the god-damn message blares for a fourth time. I don’t need this sort of interruption anytime before noon. Rahul and I shake hands, and he exits the tousled hotel room. Best of luck at school.

Also in my wallet, the card of Yoichi Takamoto, president and founder of TMSUK, premier robotic design company of Kita-Kyushu. Ah yes, finally uncovering the reason I made the 6 hour road trip to Fukuoka. You can find Takamoto by following the sound of his muffler tip, straight to a kitted Subaru with an obvious pirate theme dominating the interior. He prides himself with the pirate image, expressed through the TMSUK company slogan, “Pirates of Roboticians.”

Simply judging by appearances, Yoichi would strike most as an unconventional inventor. His beard and goatee would be better accustomed to the captain of any scurvy brigadier flying the skull and bones on the high seas. But the pirate façade is not one of laziness; Takamoto has been a busy man, putting 13 robotic models on the production line in the last 10 years. Known as a major celebrity in Kita-Kyushu, Takamoto finds the location an excellent working environment thanks to the local government bill legalizing robots on public streets, a luxury specifically banned in other parts of Japan.

Takamoto got an odd start in the robotic field, originally majoring in Archaeology before eventually switching jobs completely to manufacture conveyor belts used in food production (he holds the patent for the world’s first detachable belt). While contemplating the efficiency of conveyor technology in the home, he made the obvious jump to personal robot appliances for household use.

Takamoto’s first robot, A/ TMSUK-1, strikes the viewer as an oversized Duplo toy. A secretarial robot with large, friendly eyes, it can escort visitors to various locations within a building then return to recharge its battery. Much has changed over the years, and the more recent robotic inventions from TMSUK include a rescue robot, the T-62, capable of lifting small cars and supporting the weight of a falling building. Controlled either remotely or by a human inside the hull of the robot, the T-62 looks a bit like “Short Circuit’s” Johnny 5. Or perhaps his older, bigger brother.

Takamoto’s most recent invention, in conjunction with Sanyo, is the “Roborior.” A house robot that can be controlled by phone, the Roborior can relay video to almost anywhere in the world. Using the phone as a joystick the robot can be guided with directional buttons on the keypad, enabling a traveling Japanese housewife in London to view the status of her Tokyo apartment thousands of miles and one major ocean away. The robot, about the size of a soccer ball, radiates a friendly glow reminiscent of the glow worm, with all the cuteness and appeal of a small pet (which may even invoke a feeling of love). Patented and overpriced love, but love nonetheless, brought to you by a Sanyo/TMSUK partnership.

Slip his business card back into my wallet, and snap back to the reality of the moment. From my 13th floor overlooking the city of Fukuoka, the hotel is racked from an aftershock of the earthquake. Stronger than I expected, but not a rare experience when it comes to Japan. Janna knocks on the door and enters the room while sirens whine in the distance. Good to know she survived the previous night, returning to her room sometime after sleep got the better of me.

A message from Rahul comes over the Mojo wire. All trains in the city have been stopped, massive crowds in the station. Looks like he’ll be taking a bus to school.

Janna returns to her room to pack; we’ll have to rush to catch the continental breakfast. The lifts are working by now, which is good news for all. Descending with my baggage in the elevator, I meet Janna on the bottom floor. From behind her comes Rahul, in school uniform, sweating after a run up 10 flights of stairs (he made it that far when they announced the lifts would begin operating again). He says all the busses have been rerouted to highways only, and perhaps his school has been cancelled. Looks like he will be bumming around with us for the day. Earthquake day. And just another Wednesday morning in Japan.”


  • Well done, Ben.

    By Donna, at 2:08 PM  

  • Loved the Hunter S., especially the "clutching a bottle of green tea..".
    Glad you survived the fishing trip.

    By SLWeiss, at 3:54 PM  

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