A Travellerspoint blog

September 2005

UNCOVERED -The worlds biggest coverup. Literally.

Adventures (well, not so much adventures as just wow) in the south of Tokyo bay

It`s all one huge, stupendous and incredible cover up. I have no other explanation. 3 weeks in an area where it should be visible every 2 or 3 days at worse, and not a single sighting. Despite some amazingly clear and beautiful days. Whether it is really a projection (this is Japan, after all), on a elevator, so they can move it back into the ground, a moveable roadshow, or some other trick - if it even exists at all - i am unsure, but one thing i DO know is it sure as heck isn`t where the world thinks it is, and the Japanese say it is.

What am i talking about? This, of course:

http://www.santarosa.edu/foreignlanguages/unique/japan/mt_fuji.jpg

Mt. Fuji-san. The most famous and istantly recognisable symbol of Japan that exists. Or rather, does not exist. And i`m not even the only person to have come to that conclusion. I admit to being impressed by the amount of work which goes into hiding such a blatantly obvious and enourmous structure - that David Copperfield and Paul Daniels are involved, i have no doubt - but the fact remains that it isn`t really where it`s supposed to be, and whilst it may periodiocally be there, they must remove it on a roadshow, or for safe keeping or cleaning on a regular basis...

I love this city. It took me a couple of weeks to get any feeling at all from the country, except curiosity. This is rare for me, as i normally get an idea about a place very very quickly. Moving around so much means you do get very quick, and normally very good - i.e. not indigestion - gut instincts. But i finally knew after taking a wander around Harajuku, Tokyo, on a sunday. And seeing this guy:

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Who was in no way unusual. All the Tokyites come here on a sunday (i didn`t know this in advance, hencewhy it made such an impression) to dress up how they like, in every size shape and form, and an amazing atmosphere. I`m hooked. I just now need to work out how i can conn my Swedish employers and British and American etc customers that they really should let me live and work in Tokyo. Could be a toughie...

But first, a backtrack.

I had intended to spend maybe 5 days-a week around Tokyo, and if you count 23 days as 5 days or a week, I did just that. If somebody had told me a few months (or even days) previously that i would soon be staying with a vegetarian teetotal American girl with a strange name who calls herself "the goddess" and enjoying it imensely, i would have thought they were mad. Admittedly, thats rarely up for debate, but even so. It`s a big stretch. It didn`t happen, of course - i just thought i`d chuck that in for the heck of it.

Strangely, I made it as close to Tokyo as i`d intended on the last day of cheap travel, and without incident, except for an utterly scary and incomprehensible moment when one of the trains was late and we missed a connection. All the Japanese were going mad at the 6 minute delay, as it`s not something they could comprehend. Whilst i`m not still on BRST (British Rail Standard Time), and haven`t been for some time, I still periodically plan on it, expecting at least a few 3 hour delays per day, so wasn`t exactly stressed by 6 minutes. The only real dissapointment was that Mt. Fuji-san was hiding and not going to appear for me as i`d hoped. But i`ve already covered that one, and will come back to it, i`m sure.

I was staying in a place called Chigasaki, near the beach about 30mins South of Yokohama, and a bit under an hour from Tokyo. The vague idea was to use it as a kind of base for the southern part of Tokyo area whilst i got my barings. My first impressions of Chig was that break dancing is back. Oh dear. Assorted kids and youths were practicing their moves on the station concourse, just for the heck of it i think, but very entertaining to the crowd (well, me at least) for the sheer stupidity of it all.

My host in Chigasaki, Soness, was indeed said American girl from the paragraph about teetotal vegetarians, and during my time there i seemed to sadly succumb to vegetarianism, and even more scary, showed at least a vague ability to cook vegetarian food. I need salvation. Please somebody to send me a hundredweight of good steak and maybe some sausages. Two other surfers, a great Irish-French combo of Kevin and Solene were also staying, and I discovered that they seem to have been stalking me the whole way. Not only had they been contacting similar people across Japan and were heading in teh same direction right through Asia, but they had followed me through a chunk of Eastern Europe and all the way across Russia, but they had been on the following weeks boat from Vladivostok - WHICH LEFT, ON TIME AS IT WAS SUPPOSED TO, ON THE MONDAY. NOT THE SUNDAY BEFORE. THE MONDAY. Sorry. - and had actually met a couple of other people on the boat who had missed it the previous week like myself.

Oh well.

Spent most of the week in Chigasaki, mostly milling around and sorting some bits out, and enjoying the beach. Spent one night at a really cool beach beach party, borrowed a bike and spent a happy couple of days just riding around at random, happy to be on a bicycle again after so long, took a day trip to Enoshima, a small island in the bay with a hill to climb and some temples and shrines - that just about covers a description of Japan - where i also amused myself by watching the Japanese navy (either that or the Russians dropping off a hitchhiker) on manoeuvers, some huge falcons and eagles circling around the cliffs, and gawping at some of the largest spiders i have ever seen. One of the most noticeable things about Japan is that all the insects etc are BIG. Spiders are hand sized, bees are hornet sized, butterflies are about the size of a CD case, and caterpillars etc seem to be all at least a foot long.

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Enoshima Island from Chigasaki beach, One of the shrines and it`s guardian, and a view down one of the narrow inlets.

Spent a couple of days down on the wonderfully scenic (and normally with perfect views of Fuji...) Izu peninsula, heading down with Soness one night, a day or so behind Kevin and Solene, and stayed with a wonderfully friendly American, Darryl, who was the only foreigner in his small town, and seemed to spend the entire time we were there either working or playing a chauffeur.

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Oddly designed small fishing boats in Nera harbour (and no, It`s not a perspective view of Oil tankers in the distance) and the view of the village and mountains from the spit across the bay

Izu really is stunning, and definitely a place i want to return for a few days for a bit of trekking at some point, or better still, some cycling, as the hills and hairpins were amazing! Ignoring the discovery and ear bashing i got - after she went home a day early to work - because apparently i hadn`t shut the outside window-doors properly and Nibbles (Soness` cat) had been enjoying herself wandering about outside for a day or two, all was good. Amongst others, had some great - and huge - crab, an astonishingly decent Japanese Pizza and wandered painfully around the "stones of death" (my name for it) circuit of stones designed to do something good to your feet, which went around the circumference of the worlds largest floral clock. This i know because of the Norris McWhirter signed Guinness plaque there. Even good old Norris came here.

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The Worlds largest floral clock, view from Darryl`s balcony (note the flat area on the hills where land and mudslides have wipped out the trees), and an simple warning sign. This is prime Tsunami, Volcano, Earthquake and landslide area, so people always need to be alert

After a quick trip down to Shimoda in the southernmost tip, the place where Commodore Perry and his fleet forced their way into the harbour and "negotiated" with the Japanese to end their isloation from the outside world in the 1870`s, and open up the country - or at least, some ports - for trade, i headed back.

Back in Chigasaki, things started to go a tad skewiff (i love that word, although admittedly i have no idea how the dickens to spell it). I tend to screw up badly in life at east every couple of days, and by my reckoning I had had more or less a solid couple of weeks without incident - baring my wade through Hiroshima - so was well overdue a serious mishap, even taking into account the escaping cat. When i had left for Izu, i only had an hour or so`s notice to get stuff together, do some bits and get to the station (20mins away), so i rode a bike. It was about 11pm, and i figured that parking it with all the other bikes outside a restaurant wold be safe enough, a theory which i was started to doubt as i got off the train to discover no bike in sight.

I`m in allegedly the worlds safest country, and barely a couple of days after being in trouble for trying to get somebody i`d only known a couple of days cat killed, i seem to have lost her bicycle as well.

Ah b*gger.

I had several possible theories (that i`d actually left it somewhere else, although befoerhand i was 100% positive i had left it there; it had been taken away by unknown officials; borrowed by Soness or a friend or moved as part of a practical joke and that like Fuji it never really existed) and though i was 95% sure it had been stole, i spent a good 3 hours trawling the streets and alleyways around the station looking for inspiration in case it had been moved or i had left it somewhere else. Nothing. By this point, it`s 1am, and i figure i need to sheepishly - i am, i admit, good at that - go back and explain that i`d managed to get something stolen in Japan, and enquire what colour bike she would like for a replacement.

Later it, amazingly, transpires that it is unlikely to have been stolen but rather gathered up and removed by the bicycle police (really) allegedly a constant menace and threat in Japan, but one i was entirely unaware of. So the followig day i tramped off in search of the impound lot, and after unsuccessfully trawing through 2 huge bike lots which turned out to be the wrong ones - and having decided to give it up and just buy a new one as the hassle wasn`t really worth it - fell into the right place by accident and found it easily.

For some reason i`m not entirely sure of, i gave them a made up name in cyrillic, an address in a obscure country i have never lived in, the phone number for a pizza delivery company on the Cowley Road and a passport number number taken directly from the title of a Tommy Tutone song (867-5309 Jenny). I really have no idea why, but i did get the bike back without even having to pay a fine, hugely unexpected in a country where EVERYTHING costs money. And then cunningly got stuck trying to work out how to get home again, due to the presence of an uncrossable great big highway.

I also got a probably overdue introduction to the crazy world of Japanese Karaoke as well. As some of you know from sheer horror of experience, i`m not the worlds greatest singer, and don`t tend to get involved in karaoke, rather prefering to sit in the bar and watch, listen and laugh at assorted drunk strangers murdering songs. But in Japan, it`s not like that. Whilst there are a few open places, most Karaoke takes place n karaoke houses, where groups hire individual rooms with a huge tv/song directory, and sing in private. Yup, instead of singing to strangers, only your nearest/dearest and unfortunate friends you`ve pulled along with you get to hear your efforts. The whole concept seemed very strange to me (what`s the point in karaoke if your not singing in public and random strangers cant laugh at your efforts), and also gives you no chance of hiding and ducking out of singing. Oh well, When in Rome - and no, not "the Pronmise" on this occassion - and all that stuff...

Posted by Gelli 04:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Madame Butterfly

Movement at a kings ransom in Southern Japan, and more water

I got the night boat to Hakata (Fukuoka, on Kyushu). I could have got the beetle hydrofoil in 3 hours, but I figured why not take a night boat for 13hours. Actually, it wasn’t 13, as they oddly boarded us at 7pm, but we didn’t leave until 12, and then arrived at 6 but we couldn’t disembark until 8. All I can guess is that immigration at both ends didn’t want to be up late/early. I had made it to Japan.

Depressingly, Alphaville, the Vapours and Aneka all went through my head, along with a chunk of the Japan back catalogue. Why me?! I headed straight down to Nagasaki (and by half way there had the Malcom McLaren song going round in my head, hence the title) where my Canadian friend lives. Some of you know her, and some know of her, but she has asked to remain strictly anonymous. So I will use an alias for her. I considered Tetsuji, but decided upon Derek. I haven’t seen Derek for a couple of years and it was great to catch up again after all this time.

My first impressions of Japan were odd. Most places I get a good gut feel for quite quickly and it rarely turns out to be wrong, but Japan I got nothing. Intriguing, yes, and I’m looking forward to seeing allot more of it, but no real first impression. The only things I noticed quickly, were contrasts to Korea. Whilst not huge numbers, I saw a few foreigners in Nagasaki, but they didn’t acknowledge each other in public, and I have yet to have a Japanese person come up to me in street and start talking, which happened to us a good few times in Busan. And the general standard of English was extremely poor. For a country which has been teaching everybody English at school for many years, I was amazed at just how few people spoke any English at all, let alone more than a few basic words.

I spent a week or so in Nagasaki, just relaxing, catching up on things, doing not allot and wandering around. It was somewhat hot (mid 30’s average), and didn’t really cool down at night either. Nagasaki is an interesting and pleasant place. Big enough to have everything you need, but small enough not to overwhelm, and a mix of cultures and histories. As well as the obvious fact it was the (unintended − that ‘honour’ was supposed to go to Kokura, now part of Kitakyushu a couple of hours North) site of the second atomic bomb, for over 200 years under the Japanese isolation period, small international settlements of Dutch and Portuguese in Nagasaki were the countries only contact with the rest world, and it was one of the first places to be opened up properly.

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I indulged in my crazy mountain climbing fetish, by going up a couple of the hills around the city in 100% humidity and 38degree heat as has become a norm. I really shouldnt be as stupid as i am regarding climbing things in the peak heat parts of the day, but i never claimed to be intelligent, and have a stubborn streak which i seem to play to. We spent a morning wandering around the A bomb centre and Peace Park, which is depressing but required. The scariest thing for me was the counters for all of the Nuclear tests and explosions that have occured - the 2 Japanese being the only ones to have been used in anger, but over 1000 tests. And the fact that any number of nukes have been lost accidentally and remain unaccounted for.

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Panorama view of Nagaski

I finally decided to get off my arse and head north.

Whilst i have a rail pass i can use, it was still early september and Seishun Kippu time. Every holiday, there is a special ticket in Japan, where you by 5 days travel for 11000 yen (about gbp 55gbp). Or a tenner a day to travel anywhere in Japan. Its a huge discount and makes a big saving, although the twist is that you can only use local trains. Meaning things take time. I planned to use my 5 days up in getting to Tokyo over a week (saving me about 30000 yen in travel) and seeing some bits along the way.

I first headed to Hagi, on the NW coast of Honshu, the main Island. It was a place i pced more or less at radom, and because i couldn't really turn down the opportunity to visit a Romanian legend. Oddly, my random choice turned out well. Hagi is a cool little historical city, which used to once be the japanese capital, and is surrounded on 3 sides by mountains, and the 4th by the Sea of Japan, and has several local volcanoes. It was mostly raining, but sht happens.

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The following day i headed back to the south coast to Hiroshima and spent a couple of days there. Hiroshima is quite a pleasant place, and felt completely different to Nagasaki. One of the main things that i wanted to see nearby, Miyajima, (a floating shrine and island) had to be dropped due to the weather which added a slight twist to my day. Again i trawled around the Peace Park and museum, and looked at the slightly different take on the tragic events to Nagasaki. I was interested to see that successive mayors of the city have written to the relevant world leader expressing their "dissapointment" at every nuclear test since, and copies of the letters were attached to a wall for reading.

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When i came out from the musuem, with no let up in rain, i started to feel that something wasn"t quite right. For a weekday afternoon, there was a distinct lack of people wandering around, and by the time i reached the main shopping area, i knew something was up. A large majority of the shops were shuttered over, and those that weren't seemed in the process of shutting up. And all had nice Japanese printed ntices stuck to them which i couldn't read. Except for something about the date and 16:00. It was about 16:30

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It`s not always quite this empty...

After pondering this a while, i started to realise that i could be in trouble. There was not a single tram in sight, and at the bus station i discovered that the previously bustling centre was utterly deserted, with not even empty buses in sight. As i came out, and stood in the p1ssing rain pondering my next move, i got picked up by a TV cameraman, who decided to shoot pictres of me standing there getting pissed on which continued my odd trend of appearing on live media on this trip. I discovered that they had shut down the city due to a typhoon, which although not due to go directly overhead (Kyushu got mashed, as did the Western edge of Honshu including Hagi) was close enough for the govt to close up out of basic cautiousness - no idea if thats a really a word, but i like it, so there. And in fairness, in the aftermath of Katrina and the US, a bit of caution and pre evacuation is no bad thing. Except that i was in the centre of Hiroshima, and my accoodation wasn't.

There was only one option, and off i walked. Or rather, waded. A nice 6km splash took me home, and after being utterly drenched after the first 4seconds, the rain was of no great consequence. It wasn't particularly windy and the rain was warm, and as i do actually like rain, i didn't mind too much. Until i started walking uphill through torents of decending water. The hostel staff laughed when i trudged inlike a drowned rat, the only person in Japan who doesnt use an umbrella, and proceeded to wring several litres of water out of my socks.

My shoes were still trying to dry off 10 days later.

I continued my trek up towards Tokyo stopping off in Kurashiki (which has a wonderful little canal district which is rightly raved about, but takes barely 10mins to walk through and then leaves you wondering what to do next), where i combined my accom search with my hill fetish and stayed in a hostel on top of a large hill which you walk through a large cemetery to get to. Kurashiki is also notable for it's Danish theme park, a combination of a Tivoli recreation and chunks of Kobenhavn. It promised an authentic Danish experience, but as it was all shut, I can only assume that it was designed as an authentic Sunday...

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Kurashiki canal area

I spent a bit of time wandering around neighbouring Okayama, home of one of Japan's "big 3 gardens" (everything in Japan is rated) which turned out to be mainly a large grass lawn, which whilst a novelty in Japan wasn't hugely excting to me, and then on to Himeji, home to one of the few authentic castles (i.e. not rebuilt with concrete) left in Japan, and then to Osaka, where i was hosted by a great Kiwi couple, Kent and Amanda, yet more amazing CSers.

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Himeji Castle

I didn't actually see much of Osaka, as i only had a couple of days left to get up to Tokyo on the cheap, but went out instead to Nara, another old capital nearby. I loved Nara. 2000 odd deer wandering without fear around a huge park area which is stuffed with assorted temples and shrines including 8 World Heritage sites and the worlds largest wooden building, which also contains the worlds largest stone Buddha statue. It is an amazing area to just wander around for a day or so, and thats more or less just what i did! Pictures probably work better than words, but i finally felt as though i was getting a bit of an idea about Japan. If anybody happens to be in Japan, go to Nara, thats all i can say.

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Assorted images from Nara, including the worlds largest wooden building, and worlds largest Stone Buddha

With the exception if a great Korean dinner and the bonus of it being 180yen beer night (every 9th of the month, randomly, and a twwo thirds price saving), i did nothing else in Osaka as i had to hurry onwards on the last day of my cheapy ticket. And thus, i tried to go onto Tokyo. But that can come later. And will.

But first, and altogether now "...When your big in japan, tonight Big in japan, be tight, big in japan where the eastern sea’s so blue Big in japan, alright, pay, then I’ll sleep by your side,
Things are easy when you’re big in japan, when you’re big in japan..."

I hate my head sometimes!

Posted by Gelli 21:56 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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