Tuesday, November 29, 2005

No dice

I went down to Ebina today, near the naval base in Yamato, to talk to the founder of the school. It was an interesting conversation, but no job offer. We talked for an hour and a half, mainly about Meiji Era (ie, late 19th, early 20th century) literature, as he had written his thesis on the same author I did an independent study of last semester. He recommended I go to New York for my Master's. But no job.

Now that it seems things are pretty much over, I have to say I've learned a lot from this trip. I should have waited, I think, until April when the new school year begins. I was a little too arrogant, I think, thinking that my knowledge of Japanese would land me a job as soon as I got off the plane. Now that I look back I realize I really am at the bottom of the barrel - being able to speak Japanese is fine, but schools don't usually care about that. They want qualifications and certifications. And there really is no chance, I don't think, to get a job in translation unless you have a connection or have a visa through some other means.

I may sign up for some interviews over the next few weeks for the next school year. I may not,I haven't decided. I'm really very disappointed at the moment, though in no way surprised.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Passing seasons

I went yesterday to my old neighborhood, Oji, to take a look at the changing leaves. In particular, I found the vine on the right to be astonishingly beautiful in real life. Unfortunately my camera's flash washed out the intensity of the colors, but hopefully you get some idea of the orderly progression from green to red.

I'm sure that if I go back to look at it again, say next week, it will be gone or all red and I won't find it. I took a picture, but as in this case, a picture often just doesn't convey the true beauty.

That epitomizes the Japanese esthetics of the floating world, where the Buddhist tenet of impermanence becomes not a cause of sorrow but of melancholic joy. I think it is unique as an esthetic, though probably everywhere that peculiar joy of passing beauty is recognized in art and literature.

As I was walking through these trees, I was reminded of words from the Lord of the Rings (which I'm reading again for the 15th or 20th time):

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.
FOTR, "Lothlorien"

There is a mysterious beauty still left in the world, and though terrible things happen, we would be very much mistaken not to take a moment to recognize that beauty.

That is the purpose of the Japanese tradition of cherry-blossom viewing in the spring and Japanese maple viewing in the fall. There are many other celebrations of the changing of the seasons, but these two are perhaps the best known. At these moments, you pause to consider, not the future, not the past, but the present. Not that everyone celebrates them as such, but there are those who do.

I have read before that because the Japanese island is so prone to earthquakes, floods, and typhoons, the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence took hold very strongly. However, in the the Edo period the Buddhist view, that impermanence should be recognized as such and avoided, changed to an appreciation of the intensity of feeling caused by the sorrow of loss and focused on developing this keen sense of sorrow rather than shunning it. You could say it was a justification for the merchants to indulge themselves in the pleasure districts with the passing beauty of young geisha, but that would deny the power of works by Saikaku, Hokusai, Hiroshige, and other authors and artists that followed in their footsteps.

With that, I'll leave you with these pictures. Tomorrow is my interview, so wish me luck! Hopefully this isn't the autumn of my visit to Japan.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Edo museum

Today I went to the Edo Tokyo Museum. The above picture is from the entrance, where you can cross a replica of the Edo-period Nihonbashi. It is the same width as the original, and half the length. Nihonbashi, though now a concrete bridge with nowhere near the glory of the former bridge, is still the point from which milestones are measured.

Even though it is only about a half a mile away from where I'm now staying, today I visited the museum for the first time. It is a pretty amazing place.

Edo is one of my favorite periods - though the shogunate was extremely repressive, it is the period most people think of when they think of Japan - Kabuki, geisha, kimono, samurai all flourished during the period. In addition, Edo was the largest city in the world at the time and still managed a fairly sustainable culture.

In any case, the Edo museum covered nearly every era of Tokyo, from prehistory to the mid 60's (I couldn't find any displays much later than a Subaru made in the 60's).

The most interesting to me is the Edo period, Tokyo under the shoguns. During this period the city grew from a "backwater" (that's what all the historians call it when they talk about Edo in the period before the Tokugawa shoguns) to about a million people. The period during which the samurai went from limitless power then fell to the merchants. During which Basho traveled deep into the north.

This is a model of Nihonbashi at the time. The models were perhaps the best part - they showed a huge area, with a large number of little figures respresenting a cross section of commoners' lives in Edo at the time.

This is the same model, the street leading to Nihonbashi. You can see the amazing number of figures, each detailed and different from the others, lining the streets.

This is a model of the area near where I'm staying, where the museum is located. It is called Ryogoku, and is home to the National Sumo stadium. This is, I believe, from the other side of the Sumida River (not the side I am staying on). I wish there was that kind of boat traffic here today.

Here's a map of the city at the end of the Shogunate. It is a huge map on the floor; you can walk on it and find your favorite areas for comparison to today.

Last, these two are more to show the amount of detail and work that went into the museum. The first is, well, a boat (I didn't check what the significance was!). The next is a scene from a Kabuki play.

The museum is huge, with a number of areas you can't take pictures of. What interested me especially was the block print section, where they show the books designed with images and text to tell a story or portray some news item: these are the precursors of manga, the comic-books here in Japan.

There was also a huge section once Edo became Tokyo, the eastern capital. It was interesting as well, but it is a lot like displays on other countries from the Industrial Revolution to the present, except for one very large difference - WWII is from the axis side. There is very little talk of Japan's part in the war, perhaps because Tokyo isn't Japan. But there was a large display of the damage done to the city by Allied fire bombing. It was horrendous, and unconscionable. Far more damage was done in one raid on Tokyo than in Hiroshima. And most of the casualties were innocents. The Greatest War, huh? (I am not, by the way, condoning in any way the activities of the Japanese).

He stole my line

I was thinking of doing a guide to areas surrounding the stations on the Yamanote line if I were able to stay in Tokyo for longer. I'd use it as a way to maybe get a job as a travel writer or something.

This guy did something very similar, but for the whole railway system! It's very informative, though, and I wish I had it before I came, rather than a couple of weeks before I leave.


Thursday, November 24, 2005


The title means "free time," and I've got a lot of it. So I read.

Here's something I found pretty exciting.

Fuel cell motorcycles

It's not so much the motorcycle part, it's the whole idea of fuel cells. I'm not a fan of the way the highway system cuts apart the ecosystem, but if we're going to keep traveling at high speeds, this seems like the way to go. And they could become a regular thing in the next couple of years!

Strange days

Yesterday was a weird day. I first noticed something was different when I rode the train to a bookstore near the imperial palace - the train's announcements of the stations was uncharacteristically off by one station, and the bookstore, along with an underground passage connected to it, was closed, unannounced. I wandered around for about 15 minutes to make sure I hadn't missed anything, then decided to go to the Shinjuku branch of the bookstore.

This went fine, but, whereas the trains on the eastern side of the city had been eerily empty, Shinjuku station and its surroundings were incredibly packed for a weekday afternoon. I wrote it off as I wasn't sure I had ever been to Shinjuku on a weekday afternoon. Still, the streets, normally packed with cars, were now packed with people (you may be getting the idea it was a holiday, as I did).

I was happy to find my store was open, though extraordinarily packed. I found a book I was looking for, then went to Starbuck's to get a coffee and read the book (I normally hate Starbuck's but it is the best coffee I've found in Japan so far). Again, extremely packed.

I left, then found a Victoria sporting goods store which was having a sale. I decided to go in, as there are few things I like shopping for more than camping equipment.

As I was shopping, I heard Ric Springfield's "I wish I had Jesse's girl," which I found just absolutely hysterical! Here I am, in Japan, shopping for a camp espresso maker, and I hear a song that has tortured me since kindergarten playing on the radio. I couldn't help but laugh, loudly. I hated that I couldn't explain my laughter to the other customers or... someone.

Then, on my way back to my dormitory I found this guy.
This is one of the main thoroughfares in Shinjuku that I mentioned earlier, and by now I knew that something was going on. In any case, he is juggling an axe, a chainsaw and a torch. He was quite a showman.

At the station I found this guy, playing Christmas tunes on a Theremin (is "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" a Christmas tune? Well, anyway, he also played "White Christmas," and his sign says something about Kurisumasu). If you don't know what a Theremin is, it is an electric instrument that uses hand movements to create Star Trek-style eerie, spacey sounds. This guy was pretty good, though he missed a few notes.

I figured out, finally, that yesterday was the Japanese Labor day. So there you go.

Happy Thanksgiving! Nothing's happening here (which is fine with me), but all you Americans, enjoy yourself.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A response!

I just got a(n encouraging) response for the first time!
I had kind of given up hope of finding any work online, but today found a job teaching that really sounds great. It's in Kanagawa, the prefecture south of here - the prefecture where the sister city of Lawrence is, by the way. While not ideal, it's comfortably close to Tokyo - about an hour by train.

In any case, I really poured my heart into my cover letter, tried to make my self sound appealing while being honest to myself about my abilities.

Anyway, I just now received a response (it's 11 pm here) asking me to come see them next week some time. I wonder a little that they've responded, since they seem to need someone soon and it would take some time to process the application for a visa, but at least it's some hope. Finally, after nearly two months of searching, a bite!

Monday, November 21, 2005

I should really hate this place

I should hate Tokyo. It's way too big. Before I came to Japan, I'd thought about working on an organic farm in the middle of nowhere. I was sick of living in the city, sick of grey instead of green. So I still have a hard time understanding why I like a place where so many people live.

Where the "city hall" is one of the largest skyscrapers in the city and one of the best places to take pictures of the city, in addition to being purposefully Gothic:

Where you are being watched all the time:

I should hate Tokyo. But I don't. Honestly, I haven't spent much time in the rural areas of Japan, but for the moment I am pretty happy here in this ridiculous place.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Out in the boonies

Yesterday I took a long train ride, just for kicks, to the "outskirts" of Tokyo, in a place called Minamioosawa (South Big Swamp). I'd hoped to get there a couple of hours before sunset so I called follow a route in my guidebook. Lately though, I've been getting up at noon, and that means I've only got a few hours before the sun goes down. Because of the way this place is laid out, it takes at least an hour to get up, eat, shower, then get out of here; thus, I very rarely get to see much sun.

I ended up waiting too long to leave, spent about a half an hour getting to Shinjuku, on the west side of the city, and then spent another half hour figuring out the train system out into the boonies. Finally, I took about an hour long trip to Minamioosawa. By the time I got there, it was something like 4 (and the sun sets around 4:30). So basically I got there, walked around for a half an hour or so, and turned back. Of the 4 hours I spent on the trip, only that half hour was I outside a train or train station!

It sucked, and I felt robbed. But I was glad to see something new, and while the area wasn't exactly untouched forest, it had its merits. Someday I'll probably make another venture out there, but I will try to get up around 7 am or so...

I thought I could get away from all the pre Christmas silliness here, but I was wrong (I don't really dislike this stuff - though I do hate Christmas music):

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Quiet lately

Sorry for the lack of updates. Honestly, things have been pretty dull, and I've kind of been down. But I've been traveling around, checking out the new neighborhood and watching the leaves change.

It's been a long time since I've watched leaves change. I forgot how fast they come and go. One moment they are green, then all of the sudden they are red or yellow, or purple maybe. Most of the time I've been viewing the leaves at a park nearby, a good place to do some exercise (something I've started doing lately).

It's a huge park, with two parts joined by the large bridge in the second picture.

It's becoming that time of the year again... Christmas is an imported holiday, as you may know, so there's not much point to it other than to consume.

You might notice there are some interesting lights on the ground... those are actually small lights built into the concrete. They change over time into blue, red, purple, and then back again. kind of cool. Cooler than the deer.

Finally, Tokyo tower. I went by there today. I decided not to spend the 8 bucks to ride to the top as it wasn't exactly clear, and I'm cheap. But it is 333 meters, for those interested. A few meters taller than the Eiffel Tower, of which it is obviously an imitation. I didn't think it was very interesting until I saw it up close - it is quite a building.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Last days at "The Prince"

No, not the Tokyo Prince Hotel. The area I'm staying in at the moment is called Oji, "the prince." Even with all that has happened, I'll miss this place. Though I'd never heard of it before I discovered this guest house on the internet, it seems to be one of the greener areas of Tokyo. In fact, I've been to quite a few parks in the neighborhood and they are quite beautiful. I will miss this area, and would consider living here again if it weren't in this crummy, dirty, poorly maintained gaijin house.

Today I wandered west, and while I intended to take a break from creating my Japanese resume (takes a lot of effort!), I ended up spending about 3-4 hours checking out the local sights. I only have one good picture, as it's pretty difficult to get a good picture under the shadow of the trees. There were several waterfalls in this particular park, though this was probably the best.

I did a lot of thinking under the shadow of those trees, and while I don't know what the outcome of those thoughts will be, I feel more relaxed than I have in a while.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Jimbocho, Ueno, and the Last Samurai

Just so you know, Jimbocho, the book district, has nothing to do with The Last Samurai, but I like the district, so I took a picture and thought I should include it.

On the far right are the complete works of Izumi Kyoka. For only 18,000 Yen!

The next couple of photos do have something to do with the movie.

I went to Ueno Park, in northeastern Tokyo, yesterday. Ueno is a symbol of the amibivalence of Japan concerning its modernization and westernization. Under the new Meiji imperial administration in Tokyo, Ueno became the first public park in Japan and it is synonymous with the defeat, in 1868, of the final stand in Tokyo against the restoration of the Emperor to power. And yet, the statue in the picture above, located in Ueno, commemorates these loyalists to the Shogun.

Even more evocative of the lingering misgivings about the destruction of the samurai class and headlong pursuit of Western industry and military strategy is the nearby statue of Saigo Takamori, the figure upon which The Last Samurai is loosely based.

Takamori was, at first, a supporter of the Meiji Restoration, but with the threat of the destruction of the samurai class, Takamori turned against Meiji and was involved in the Satsuma rebellion, depicted in very exaggerated terms in The Last Samurai. He, like the Ken Watanabe character, knew he was overwhelmingly outgunned, but the rebellion, as we see in the movie, made its point. He committed suicide soon after the rebellion failed.

In this society that celebrates the ritual suicide of 47 samurai who avenged their lord and then killed themselves despite a reprieve, the samurai-class opposition to the new emperor romantically embodies the dignified past in Japan. For those tiring of the coorporate cultural here that separates men from their families and is slowly destroying the natural and cultural history of Japan, they represent an escape, an answer sometimes. Most of my male friends worship these figures of what is called the Bakumatsu period or the end of the shogunate. I don't think any of them particularly care for the shogunate; it is the character of these men who fought against the emperor newly restored to power that they are interested in. It is a dignity that the generation before them don't seem to have, working in cubicles for profits rather than on the field of battle for their lord and the title of "samurai" itself.

It is, of course, far more complicated than this. But I have been struck by this interest in the past. I suppose it is like cowboys, but my interest in cowboys didn't last past 10, whereas many of my friends are in their mid-twenties. Ah, well, I'll leave it at that. Maybe some day when I know more I'll return to it.

Just a couple of more pictures that I forgot to add the other day.
The first is the picture of what looks like an apartment complex. I'm guessing it is a capsule hotel, where you can sleep in an 8 by 5 by 5 capsule for very cheap. Very Blade Runner, I thought. Or Terry Gilliam's Brazil. You probably pay extra for the windows - other capsule hotels don't have such luxuries because they are often a place to stay for businessmen on work-related trips.

Last, faces on the sidewalk.

Monday, November 07, 2005

No news is good news

I thought I should tell everyone I haven't heard anything more about Misha. I hope he's being taken care of. I worry about him, but need to get on with my life.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Neighbor problems

The police came for my neighbor today. He had been eating my food, washed the computers (not mine, luckily) with water, and even more than that had soaked floor in his own room in water and seaweed and used his garbage as a toilet.

The whole thing has been a travesty, and it isn't over yet. I guess the cops came for him earlier today. However, the stupid Swedish embassy (he's from Sweden) is actually closed today, which I think is absolutely ridiculous. So the police left him at Ueno station! Unbelievable. The guy has very obvious mental problems, no money and no food, and their solution is to leave him at a fucking train station. Sorry for the language, I haven't slept much and this whole thing has made me really angry.

In fact, I didn't sleep at all last night - both because the guy was running his water all night long and because I drank too much coffee. I finally gave up at 8 this morning and went to Meiji jingu in the hopes that would calm me down. It did, and I actually had a great day despite the fact I was so tired.

When I came home he was gone. The manager said he was going to call the cops today so I expected that. But I had a feeling it wasn't over. Exhausted, I went to sleep.

I woke up a couple of hours ago and heard his distinctive voice in the kitchen. I couldn't believe it, but there he was, back at the computer and back at making weird mixes of my food. Though I don't have any claims on this common room, I felt as though a robber had broken in and was messing with my stuff. I immediately went to see the manager, who was as shocked as I was to hear he was back.

We had the manager's Japanese roommate call the police and once again they came. The police said that since the embassy was closed there wasn't much they could do - understandably they didn't want to arrest a foreign national when no real crime had been committed. What makes me sick is that there is nothing else that can be done - psychiatric hospitals here appear to be reluctant to take foreign patients. But the cops took him again, told us to lock the door and call if he came back again - because, like before they were going to leave him at Ueno station! Absolutely absurd.

It is raining outside and cold, he doesn't have a place to stay and he doesn't have any money and isn't carrying a passport. I don't think he has eaten a real meal in days and, while he is fairly coherent, he is definitely having a psychotic episode. Who wouldn't be frightened and angry in such a case. On top of that, he doesn't speak Japanese.

I don't even want to know why he is here, alone, without any support , when it is quite obvious this is not the first time he has had an episode. I don't want to know how he was able to continue to live in Japan even despite the fact he only has a student's visa and quit his classes after what sounds like a previous episode over a month ago. What I want to know is why there is absolutely no help for someone who is a danger to himself and others on a cold and rainy night. And why the Swedish embassy can't handle an emergency situation on a Sunday. It makes me absolutely furious.

I just want things to return to normal. I've had such a great time here, but this last week, having been sick and with the slowly growing insanity of my neighbor, a cold that is only now getting better and difficulty sleeping, I'm feeling a bit frantic at the moment. I want this guy to be taken care of, not treated like an animal, but I don't want to take responsibility for him myself.

I'm leaving this apartment for the one in Morishita on Friday. Oddly enough, the person who showed me around said there weren't any "strange people" (she said it in Japanese and the word has several meanings - not all of which I'm sure of - but one, I believe, is "crazy"). So that's a comforting thought. But I really want to get back to the job search as soon as possible, as last week was an almost complete wash while I recovered from my cold. Hopefully I'll get a good rest tonight and everything will get taken care of tomorrow.

I wish luck to Misha, where ever he is.


(note: please read the next article, too. Blogger only lets you post 5 images at a time, so I split this into two).

Yesterday and today I ended up in Ginza (Silver Seat - there was a mint here during the Edo era). Ginza was redesigned in the Meiji era to impress the Europeans (I hear, I may be mistaken) and I heard it was very European. Thus, I didn't have much interest in visiting it. However, I went there with my friends after the Halloween bash and really thought it was at pretty interesting place. I decided to go back yesterday, and today, as part of my continuing bridge coverage, I went through it again.

Ginza was, during the real estate boom of the 80's, the most expensive place on earth. They said you could take the most valuable denomination of Japanese paper money, fold it as many times as you could, and you couldn't buy that amount of land in Ginza. The largest denomination is 10,000 yen, about 84 American dollars, and (according to some physics book or something I read a long time ago) the greatest number of times you can fold a piece of paper (or anything) is 9 times, I think (try it - I get stuck at 7 times). You get about a centimeter at 6 times. I don't think 84 bucks would buy you a centimeter's real-estate in any of the downtown areas of any major city in the world, but hey, I could be wrong. A millimeter?

Okay, to the pictures. The first two are of the general Ginza area, the third is the view from a building in Shinbashi (New Bridge), near Ginza, and the last is of a building I thought was interesting near the Rainbow bridge - take a look at the next article if you haven't already. That building says Yokoso at the top on all four sides - Welcome.

Bridges 2

Had a rough day with the neighbor - I may write about it later, but I'd rather share some pictures.

I had a great time wandering the city again, taking pictures of the bridges. I feel much better after a few days of a cold, and it was really nice to enjoy the city again. I wish I had a better camera and some talent, because there are a million pictures to be taken of this city. For now, I hope my 3x zoom digital camera and D in junior high school photography class skills will be enough.

First, we'll start where I left off before. After the arch bridge with the blue lights, there is this, Chuodaibashi (Central Big Bridge).

You can see it in the previous picture of the arched bridge. This is the first bridge after the Sumida River branches off to the west - there is a small island between the two branches, upon which are built the Blade Runner-looking hotels or apartment buildings shown in that previous picture.

Next is the Kachidoshibashi (Victory Cry Bridge). Well, actually, there is a bridge in between these two from which I took this picture, but it is unremarkable. I took several pictures of Kachidoshibashi, and I decided to include these two because on the one hand I like the first best, but the second shows the whole, two-arch span of the bridge.

Many of these pictures were ruined by the clouds that kept obscuring the moon. At first I thought the moon had set faster than I predicted!

Finally, there is the Rainbow bridge, which connects Tokyo to the strange island of Minato Mirai (The Future in the Bay or the Future Bay). This is a sort of amusement park of the future I have yet to visit.

In any case, I wasn't all that impressed by the Rainbow bridge. I'd heard a lot about it, but I think Eidaibashi or Kachidoshibashi are more interesting. The Rainbow bridge is newer and longer, but big deal. Also, it is illuminated by green lights only, so the Rainbow (they use the English word, not the native Japanese word) is really a misnomer. There are a couple of bridges nearby that do have multicolored pillars, and they deserve the title more. Unfortunately they are not illuminated, so I'll have to take a picture during the day some time. Oh, by the way, the lights on the hanging wires (I forgot what they are called and don't feel like looking it up right now) are green. You can't tell because of the long exposure, I guess.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Basho basho

Today I went to look at a new apartment in Morishita ("below the forest"), a place by the Basho museum in eastern Tokyo. If asked what period of time and place I'd like to live in, I'd say wandering Japan in the time of Basho (really Bashou 芭蕉 - he took his name from the banana plants that grew outside his hut, also called basho) , the Japanese haiku poet, travelling with Bashou himself. The Japanese word for "place" is basho, thus my little pun in the title. Not very funny, but whatever.

Having a bit of "buyer's remorse," which is absolutely ridiculous. The new place is actually clean, with nice clean beds, the shower's pipes aren't stopped up, the lounge isn't right next to my head (and thus I won't be woken up at 6 in the morning when my roommate comes in and plays crappy 80's music), and I don't have to deal with a slightly off-kilter Swedish neighbor who believes he took on an entire Zen monastery and beat them all (uh, whatever that means) by somehow treating them to mixture of "alcohol, herbs, and glass" that put them to sleep. I first noticed his oddity when he said he was giving himself electric shocks in order to control the roaches in his room. He's not particularly scary and these things only come up once in a while, but of course I don't particularly enjoy it when they do.

But as the Japanese proverb goes, "if you live somewhere, it's the capital" - in other words, you get used to where you are. I have to admit I like the neighborhood I'm in, with all its little alleys and more "residential" feel.

This is one thing that has really stood out so far in my travels - no matter what has been going on, the new seems like the best, until the day comes to make a commitment - whether it is to leave Tokyo for Osaka, or Osaka for Nara, or Nara for Hiroshima, or Hiroshima for Tokyo again. Well, actually, coming back to Tokyo wasn't so bad, although I ended up in this crappy place (hmm). So what I've come up with is - I constantly crave change, and yet I am afraid to commit to change. Or, more simply (maybe), I'm afraid to commit to anything, and the new thing always seems better because I don't have to commit to where I am. Ah, something like that.

This new place is definitely serendipitous. When I first came to Tokyo, in addition to the many sites listed in my guidebook, I really wanted to visit the Basho museum. I did, along with many other Basho sites in the area. The museum was closed, unfortunately, but I saw the outside garden with its small repository for guests to leave haiku (a common practice). I enjoyed Morishita and thought it would be really nice to live in the area one day, visiting the temple and dropping off a poem now and again.

I decided recently to look for a new place to stay, and remembering this I searched for a place in Morishita. I found one. And you know what? The new apartment is not a train stop away, not a few blocks away, but a few feet (or should I say meters) away from the museum with its garden and poem slot. How do you like that?

PS. I decided to look up the meaning of serendipitous, as I have a tendency to associate two words (like serendipity and synchronicity) and mistake them one for the other. I think serendipitous is more correct, but the main thing is I thought the entry was interesting. From dictionary.com's entry:

Word History: We are indebted to the English author Horace Walpole for the word serendipity, which he coined in one of the 3,000 or more letters on which his literary reputation primarily rests. In a letter of January 28, 1754, Walpole says that “this discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.” Walpole formed the word on an old name for Sri Lanka, Serendip. He explained that this name was part of the title of “a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of....”

Also serendipitous (though less interesting) is that I wrote a paper on Walpole's Castle of Otranto, the first (European) Gothic novel, last semester. Pretty terrible book, but it had some great themes that were explored throughout world literature and it began a new genre that placed intuition higher than reason in response to the industrial revolution.