March 17, 2005

Japan trip (pt. 1)

A bit late, but better late than never...

A quick journal of my trip so far:

(Times are as per locality)

5 March:

13:10 Depart from JHB

About a 12 hour flight on which I did not sleep and watched many movies...

07:00 Arrive in Hong Kong

On my first day there, I found my hostel first, dumped all my luggage and started walking.
walk walk walk...

I tried to stay awake until 11pm and got to bed pretty exhausted.

I stayed in Hong Kong for three days, seeing many cool sights and also taking the time to buy a good digital camera (About R5k)

Also saw and met some cool Tai-Chi people, and suffered no jet-lag.

8 March:
11:20 Fly to Tokyo.

Arrived at Narita airport, picked up my JR Pass, caught a train, then a bullet train, then another train, and finally a local rapid train.

I spend the first two days just eating sushi and planning my next few days...

20:00 Finally arrived at my destination... Hozumi. I was picked up at the train station by a friend of Charisse and Jason's called Sumire.

10 March:
I took some trains to Takayama, a city pretty high up and surrounded by mountains... absolutely lovely. Walking into an antique shop I found a nice go table (Goban). Saw many cool temples and shrines. Higher up the mountains I had to trudge through snow... it being only the second time in my life that I have actually seen snow (this time it was just lying there though...)

My path led me up some pretty deserted trails in the mountains (lots of snow... sometimes sunk in up to my knees!) Emerging from a trail there was a welcome restaurant. At this point I should mention that practically no-one speaks English, and that there are none or very few signs in English... this is a Japanese only country... monolinguility? in extreme! I ordered some ramen (yummy!) and some unrefined sake (woot!). After eating I had to rush back to the station to be able to catch my train, as I was not keeping track of time. Fortunately this was not a problem. (The morning train I had missed, but this is really not a big problem since most trains were free for me and they tend to run often...)

The most beautiful part of this day-trip I would say was the trip there and back... an expensive (free for me) train through some stunning mountain passes.

11 March:
Today I visited Nagoya (the closest largish city). This was the first time I got an idea of the sheer scope and popularity of Manga (Japanese comics). 6 floors of comics did the trick. 4 floors of those were purely porn (the Japanese culture is strange... they censor only the genitals... they seem more critical of images than thoughts and meanings. So these comics are pretty damn explicit. An entire floor dedicated to female lesbian porn! (And I don't mean male-centric lesbian porn, guys!) There were also some other stores with more than just manga... they had cels and figurines and some Anime...

Anime here seems to be scarcer... also without ANY English whatsoever... so nothing I can really buy. The most I could buy were figurines and cells.

Manga is sold EVERYWHERE... in every 7eleven (seven11?), on every station platform and in every street. They get Anime for free on TV, so it's not as big. (For us in SA it is all we really see...)

Hmm... perhaps I should make some things clear about their culture...

Pachinco centres... these seem to be popular as well... kinda quasi-legal gambling (a recent thing). These parlours have a huge number of metal ball-based machines sticking out like sore thumbs all over the place and basically just making a lot of noise. I really pity the people in these places.

Cell-phones. Japanese cell phone networks are TOTALLY incompatible with the rest of the world... they are also way, way ahead of us. The cameras in these phones are 2Megapixel and up... they all get upgraded CONSTANTLY. About half the people I see who aren't otherwise occupied are always busy on their phones... I've even heard of girls text-ing away on two phones AT THE SAME TIME!

Also, second-hand does not exist... people just don't really buy second had stuff... so it's pretty cheap!

You only get antiques and recycled goods.

Anyway... back to Nagoya... only Charisse and I went, and met a friend of theirs names Kobus (a SA ex-RAU student basically doing a thesis... quite an interesting chap.). Charisse had to leave early, so Kobus took us around some shops and later left me to my own devices.

(He also helped me buy a Japanese/English translator... quite an amazing little device really...)

After wandering around a bit more in the rain, I decided to call it quits and go home. I took a subway train to the main Nagoya station, and instead of going home I decided to check out an electronics store close to the station first... wow! (this was not an exceptional store either!) It was about 7 floors of electronics!

I did not stay long, and left for Nagoya station again after which I went home to Hozumi.

12 March:

Today I drove to an interesting place... got a good idea of the traffic here. I went to visit a place called
'The Site of Reversible Destiny'
Which was an exercise in architecture and geometry and how it can confuse the senses... look it up on the net!

Nothing much else done... only a cool party in the evening.
This part ended at a Karaoke bar... I was pretty amazed at the selection available... even had some Nine Inch Nails... but I refrained from doing these. -grin-

One of the guys there even did the Cowboy Bebop theme song (just for me -grin-). A cool thing is that he (Hideki Kudomi) was a character designer on the 'Real Myst' game! His business card looks sooo cool!
:)

13-16 March:

I decided to tour a little... first I went to Kyoto. There I visited some temples and castles and shrines and basically just walked and walked and walked. I stayed for two nights there. I also tracked down and found a Go salon... had a quick game or two (or three).

Then I left for Osaka... here I just experience the city some... nothing really special... like Tokyo (which I'm still to visit) just less so. (Still quite impressive and intimidating)

I only stayed here for one night (uncomfortably) in a capsule hotel (missed the 'Love Hotel' experience!). It's really just a little capsude (with lights, TV, clock).

The next day I decided I had had enough of Osaka, and on a whim decided to visit Hiroshima. Well... It was a wise thing to do. It was awesome! It was also pretty warm... I only needed a T-shirt!

Hiroshima was the bomb, Baby!
;)
It was also quite toasty... -grin-

-cough-

Anyway... city is of great cultural and historical significance... it symbolises one of the greatest lows of the USA. Quite a moving moment to have been to ground zero (IQ).

Having had enough of this... I head back to Hozumi (Read: Home)

17 March: (Today)

Wrote this blog and did some future (financial) planning.

I'm going to buy the Goban tomorrow and investigate ways of getting it back to ZA. I've also booked for my stay in Tokyo (4500 yen per night) and needed to borrow some cash from Jason.

Ah, yes... Japan does not DO credit cards... Hmm... there are *some* vendors in Tokyo, but in general they seem like a pretty isolated country.

They have all the big brand stores here... much more quality stuff than SA could ever have, yet they are missing something. They seem more concerned with images and appearances than in quality and meaning... at least that is the modern youth's view.

They are more first world than I have even seen in Europe, yet I feel it is a step back, somehow... I sound like I am contradicting my own words, yet this is how I can best describe Japan.

Anyway... off I am.