Well, over the past two days I've said goodbye to Tomoko, spent the night in
Hakata and traveled to Tokyo via shinkansen. This is my last night in Japan. It
feels bittersweet, I really am ready to get home and eat a nice big rack of
ribs from Chilis, but there are some things about Japan that I will miss:
1) The predictability of the people
All Japanese people seem to act according to the same set of guidelines. Japanese people seem to understand the concept of maintaining ones personal space. Most walk with heads tilted down slightly, arms in close and talk with soft voices if they talk at all; they want to avoid trespassing on communal space as much as possible., This makes walking through a crowded street or train station not as bad as it would be in America where everyone seems to take up more space and talk loudly. In Japan finding peace amongst large masses of people is easy.
2) The transportation system
The rail system here is so badass. All of the 7 different trains I have been on here have arrived and left the stations down to the minute. I think you could literally set your watch to them. Traveling half-way across Japan is no problem, its a straight shot. The shinkansen(bullet train) I rode here took 6 hours to cover the distance Amtrak covered in 24 hours in America. These trains haul ass and don't dick around, they even have food carts that roll by every 30min.
In Japan there are uniforms for everything from garbage men to kiosk merchants to construction workers to school children. They all look like US army dress uniforms, very special. Its badass, just seeing these uniforms shows how much pride and importance is placed on every job.
Plus I have a kinda fetish for women in dress skirt uniform type things. On a side note: I wish I took more pictures of the women in uniforms, but I never got around to it.
4) The high happy energy level of the people
Anyone who works with the public always smiles and speaks in entergetic tones. Everything is very light and upbeat. I have never seen any yelling or fighting, its always happy energy time here.
I realize that all this happiness is just a facade in order to keep things working smoothly, but its still refreshing when compared to the drab, indifferent or angry energy typical of American interaction.
5) Vending machines
Ah, the vending machine. Wherever you are, your not far from one. This makes long distance travel by foot very convienent. You will find vending machines in the oddest places: at an intersection in a rural town surrounded by rice patties on all 4 sides, in the middle of a rough looking neighborhood in the hills of Nagasaki. In America you have to find a vending machine, in Japan the vending machine finds you.
6) The mysteriousness of simple daily events
The language barrier makes everything seem mysterious. I found myself wondering what people were talking about, or what the shopkeeper was saying when I bought stuff. Its like a dream that you can't grasp entirely, this gives even the smallest event an exciting mysteriousness. In America things are too real.
7) Being able to walk anywhere/everywhere
I love the sidewalks. Everyone walking everywhere, friendly vending machines to keep you going. You can literally walk from one side of the city to the other with great ease, I love walking and being outdoors like this, everything is a good hike. This is due to the cramped roadways of Japan, $1000 dollar inspection every 2 years, $500+ to get a drivers license and lack of parking spaces. In America the prevalence of cars has made walking difficult in all but the largest metropoliten areas.
She was more of a girlfriend than I have had in a long long time. We went so many places together, we became very close. We spent 8 days no more than a few feet apart from each other. In addition, we were intellectually compatible, I miss that kind of female companionship, it makes life seem not so serious.
And of course there are some things about Japan I will not miss:
1) Language barrier
Sometimes not being to understand people or order food is frustrating. If you can't read kanji there are a lot of restaurants you cannot order from without getting help. Its kind of like being a child again, unable to read, unable to speak; but without being ignorent of this fact.
2) Being a foreigner
Japan likes to keep tabs on its foreigners, hotels will ask you where your coming from and going to along with a bunch of other questions. Shopkeepers and police will tend to watch you with a wary eye, with 99% of the population of pure Japanese blood you will stick out like a sore thumb. Even with mastery of the language I would think it impossible to truly blend in. In America the population is made up of so many different races and backgrounds, fitting in is easy.
Well, thats about all I have about Japan. This has been an excellent experience in terms of adventure, hardship and human interaction. Now I can truly appreciate America as a place where I fit in and I will always carry with me a piece of the Japanese style of life that Yumiko and Tomoko showed me.
Wow, so im in a Nagasaki youth hostel now. Its kinda like a really cheap hotel
except there are two roommates and the space is very small. Tomoko suggested it
and I agreed. The place seems like it is an individuals house converted. The
owner is a wierd looking old guy, its cool though, nice and cheap, roughing it.
Tomorrow I will spend the night in a nice hotel in Hakata after Tomiko and
I've grown kinda attached to her, shes a really cool person. Very feminine and nice, very outgoing, innocent and giving of herself. Women like that are very rare in America. I think its more of a cultural issue than an individual personality issue. Really though, I'm surprised shes stuck with me for this long, shes gotten me through many situations that are hard for a foreigner with limited japanese language ability. Tomorrow, I need to get her a parting gift of some sort, I don't think I have expressed my gratitude towards her enough.
If this were America and a girl treated me this way, we would be "going out/paired off" for sure. But here everything isn't so clear, so many customs and ways I am not familiar with.
Today, after a 2 hour train ride from Sasebo we went wondering around Nagasaki, saw some museums and old Dutch trading posts. Apparently, this trade thing is very important, this is one of the ports Japan left open a hundred years ago in order to trade with the rest of the world. Its a pretty good idea actually, to limit foreign access to just a handful of ports on a single island in order to keep the people of pure blood. The indians in america should have done the same thing, but unfortunatly foreigners got to them before they really had time to build cities and protect their land. Oh well.
On another note, they have a China Town here and I ate Chinese food. Chinese food in Japan, its just as much a novelty to the Japanese as it is to Americans. A unique experience indeed.
After a few hours of wondering, we got lost in a residential neighborhood. Its crazy living conditions. These small ass houses a good climb away from the nearest street. But then again, cars here are a luxury not a necessity. So you just walk around everywhere. But there were these old people living up there, it must be a hell of a climb for them. Actually, Im surprised anyone can live happily here, its so crowded and inconvienent, no real space to move about, but I suppose one gets used to it after a while.
Im starting to miss america, its so big, so much space and of course being able to communicate fluently. But here all transactions follow strict rules, all stores operate the same way, the words, everything its all scripted. So if you really understand these rules you can move about quite easily, but since I dont know these rules is relatively hard to exist. Oh well, home is just three days away.
Man, im wore the fuck out.
This morning we cleared the grass from a rice patty. With every step you sink ankle deep in mud. So it wasn't simply a matter of pulling the grass out, it was also a matter of keeping balance and endurence to keep un-burying yourself from the mud. Rice patty work is hard shit.
Right now its about 2pm, at 3pm we start work again. A farmers life is a very hard life. 10 hours a day 6 days a week. You either get really strong and deal with it or your body gives up and no farming for you.
Yumiko is strong as hell. She has been doing this for 10 years and she is 53 years old. She is really short, but very stout, kind of like a wrestler. Me and Tomoko get all tired and stuff, she just keeps on working full speed.
Yesterday, Yumiko told me about why she farms up here, "because its important". Her son and daughter moved to the big city after college to get those high paying office type jobs, she says "this is not important, nature is important". She believes very much in organic farming, its pretty cool to meet someone with that kind of resolve.
Japanese people have been farming up in this mountain for 1000 years. But now there are only 30 farmers on it and many of them only farm part time. The draws of the city are too much for them. The city life is so much easier. Food is so much better. But in the city your body tends to grow weak, only out here in the fresh air, food directly from the earth and hard work does your body grow strong.
Tomorrow I leave here and head into Nagasaki for some sightseeing. I will miss this hard farming lifestyle, but at the same time I miss the comforts of the city. I hope that as I grow older I will not forget these hardships.
Wow, im back on my laptop after a 10 day hiatus. My battery ran out and I was
trying to find a way to get the power plug into the Japanese two hole socket,
finally today I bent the ground part of the plug out of the way and it fits
perfectly. However, the transformer says to only use plugs with a ground, so
hopefully it won't explode or anything.
Ah, I can hardly remember where I left off, so much has happened. I will try to give a basic overview:
7/15 - Hung out in my hotel room, man TV here is wierd. Everything seems very hyper and there are lots of cartoonish type things on. If you sped up that Teletubbies show about 10x you can get the basic idea of what Japanese television is like.
This evening I had Japanese pizza it was wierd. Very thin crust and it was topped with shrimp, scallops and some wierd veggestables. Very odd.
7/16 - Went on tour of Tokyo. Tokyo tower, Emperors garden, Pearl shop, Tokyo bay boat, Shinto temple, Buddist temple and a bunch of other stuff. The tour guide was this really exccentric old Japanese guy. He laughed after every sentence, not a fake laugh either, im talking full on belly laugh. It was cool.
But, when we got to some shrine he told us about how the USA firebombed it and some people died, he smiled and said it with the same comical air he said everything else with. But it was a very serious matter. He told of how his parents trained him to kill US solders with a piece of bamboo in order to protect Japan during WW2 and how now he views war as only bad no matter what the cause. War only creates more war. Its a self serving cycle, pacissivism is the only way to create peace. I agree with him, killing only pisses off other people and makes them kill too.
With that the tour ended and we were dropped off at our hotels. As a parting gift he taught us how to make samurai oragami hats with newspapers. An intresting day to say the least.
7/17 - Whoa, strange day. Hopped on the Shinkansen: Nozomi from Tokyo to Hakata, about 2000 miles. This sucker hauled ass, we got up to 300km/h.
At Hakata I got on the train for Sasebo, then the bus-rail for Senryugataki. It was wierd, the efficiency of transportation and English steadily decreased over the various trains and bottomed out on the bus-rail. Basically, it was a tour bus with train wheels on a single track. It was hilarious, it even had a diesel engine and everything. Everything was in Japanese, so of course I missed my stop. I talked to the driver in broken Japanese and he got me on the right train and told me when to get off. Japanese people are very helpful, they think nothing of helping strangers/foreigners.
At Senryugataki I realized I had forgotten the phone number of my host at Sasebo. It was very late, but I caught the last train back to Sasebo and ended up finding a hotel and spending the night there.
7/18 - In the morning I caught the train back to Senryugataki and called my host. She got a taxi to pick me up and he drove me way up in the mountains to the farm. A very small place with a great view. No air conditioning or TV, but its all good.
7/19 - My host Hayashi-san is very nice. I have been doing lots of work around here. cutting down fields of grass to plant crops on, watering plants in a greenhouse. Its kind of hot and humid, but good work. My roommate is a 27 year old Japanese dude. Hes pretty hyper. Always running around and talking fast, trying to teach me some Japanese. He bought beer for us so after work we hang out and speak in broken English.
All the animals here are starving, we feed chickens scraps from our meals and the dogs and cats have to kill small animals for food. It is quite a drastic change from other places in Japan, it is very un-modern.
7/20 - Fujita-san left and I hear that my next roommate will be a girl. This should be intresting.
7/21 - The girl came, her name is Tomoko, she is attractive, although a bit underweight by American standards. She is very nice. Tomorrow is our day off, she was going to the island of Hirado for sightseeing and invited me to come along. I've decided to go as well.
Its kind of wierd, living here with her, its just me and her in this house. We sleep in the same room. Its kind of like a girlfriend I suppose.
7/22 - We went to Hirado, it is a pretty cool port town. It is where the first non-Japanese landed. It was also one of the only ports Japan left open for foreign traders a few hundred years ago.
We saw lots of museums and castles, Tomoko acted as a translator sometimes, she allowed me to overcome the language barrier and smoothly move about the city and also read museum text. It was very nice.
Her English isn't so good so often we had to use my dictionary to understand each other.
For lunch we went to a good seafood restaurant. The menu was entirely in Japanese so she ordered for me. It was a famous Hirado food: sea bream over rice. It rocked. It had a lot of flavor in comparison to the past few days of bland Japanese dishes (mostly made with vegetables grown on our farm).
7/23 - More work. Nothing too out of the ordinary.
For dinner I cooked spagetti and Tomoko made the sauce. Its kinda wierd, it seems like something husband and wife might do, but I will just chalk it up to Japanese custom.
That spagetti kicked ass, reminded me of food at home. When I get home Im gonna seriously hook up with hamburgers, pizza and ribs.
Ok, your caught up, now on to todays stuff:
Ah, more work. Man, im pretty tired. For dinner Yumiko (Hayashi-san) made us some curry over rice. It was good, it had lots of flavor. Almost like a mexican dish.
I washed my clothes today, Japanese washing machines are wierd, they have lots of buttons: water temperature, water height, time, how many times you want to change the water and a bunch of other buttons I dont understand.
Ah this mountain air kicks ass. You lay down and boom your out. Its very easy to sleep, but strangely I've been waking up at 6am every day feeling fully rested.
Yumiko suggested that since Tomoko and I were leaving her farm on the same day that we go sightseeing in Nagasaki first. I think it will kick ass. Its still a few days away, but Im ready.
Man, its really going to suck not having Tomoko around to deal with people for me when we part ways in a few days. I still don't understand how to interact with people when buying stuff. They say a few words I don't understand and then a number, I pay and leave. Then they say more stuff as Im leaving. I will watch Tomoko closely in Nagasaki to get it down right.
Ah, im gonna go pass out now.
Ah, so I went and got set up with a travel group for tomorrow. It was pretty
easy. I'm starting to realize that when you do transactions its customary to
offer and recieve money with both hands and lower your head slightly when you
do so. Also, lots of nodding takes place when talking to someone, its kind of
After that, I walked over to the train station, its friggin huge. Like an airport. Hundreds and hundreds of people walking around. I'd say about 90% had suits on. But today they didn't seem as rushed. It was around 2pm Tokyo time, so maybe that has something to do with it.
Then I walked a few blocks down the sidewalk of a busy street. Tall buildings everywhere. It seemed like the skyscrapers were business oriented, yet on the ground level there were many small shops, restaurants and vending machines. Everything seemed very small and close together, its easy to feel claustrophobic here.
When I got back to the hotel I was thirsty, so I hit some of the buttons on the vending machines on my floor. I thought the green can indicated something like mountain dew. But it burned my hand when I grabbed it, it was in fact hot green tea.
Manhole covers are very colorful and have cartoon firefighters. In fact everything seems to have cartoons on it, from hotel emergency procedure guides to store signs.
A lot of stores have glass walls, it makes everything seem very expensive somehow.
Not everyone passes on the left side as the cars do, walking takes much focus and consentration.
Green colors = tea. Cans out of vending machines can be hot.
Relax and go with the flow instead of panicing about all the people around.
You have to have a patient mind to enjoy Tokyo.
When entering doors, etc. its customary for men to go first. Women will usually wait for you to go.
Do not go outside during rush hour unless you like dodging people at a high rate of speed.
I'm gonna go play with the vending machines to see if I can get a cold beverage.
Wow, just wow.
Right now I am in my hotel room the morning after arriving in Japan. Yesterday, all kinds of stuff happened:
Good god the plane trip was long. 12 hours. It totally fried my brain. I started noticing all these wierd things, like the person in front of me kept falling asleep and hanging her head out into the isle, so when the food cart came by the stewardesses had to move it out of the way. But that was just the beginning. All kinds of thoughts and ideas, stuff like that, it seemed like eternity.
When we arrived in Japan the first thing I noticed was the smell. Its very unique, like some kind of fresh plant. It smells good. Next, it feels just like Dallas outside, a little warm mixed with humidity. But not too bad.
I want to describe every experience I had since coming here, because every one of them was just so, well, foreign. I could honestly fill a book with my experiences, but Ill just hit the high points.
While getting in line for the immigration counter the line handler runs up and opens a space in the line for me. First, it was wierd that there is a guy whose job is solely to maintain the line. Second, it was wierd how he ran up and opened it.
After that, I went to change money and get my luggage through customs. People here act very differently. They move so fast when performing their jobs, its like the US only sped up a few times.
After getting some yen it was time to get to my hotel. I found the ticket counter, the guy said something in Japanese, I couldn't understand it. So I just said "Shinagawa" (my destination) and handed him a 1,000 yen note. He gave me change and a ticket. Then I walked through the ticket gates into the station. It was pretty crazy, I had no idea where my train was because the ticket was in Japanese so I just wondered onto the nearest train. After a few moments I decpihered the ticket and decided I was on the wrong train, so I crossed the station and hopped on the right one. One attendent inside said something and twirled his hands in a helicopter like motion. Another attendent said "Top next". I figured out that the wanted me off so they could clean the train before I got on.
After a while, the doors opened again and I got on. It was dark so I could only see neon lights and houses. The wierdest thing was a vending machine in what appeared to be a residential ally.
Finally, I got off at my stop and began walking to the hotel. There were so many people in the station and they were all hauling ass, I mean like dead out sprinting. It was fucking crazy, I had to haul ass to just to avoid being hit. It it was something like the millineum falcon going through that asteroid field in Empire Strikes Back.
Finally, I reached my hotel, which looks something like an outdoor shopping mall, checked in and found my room. After spending 20 minutes to figure out how to use the toilet I passed out.
A few observations:
I haven't found too many people that appear American or English. This must be a popular hotel for the locals. Its a little wierd.
Few people speak English. When I say something I am either met with a blank stare or broken English. Communication takes place mostly through body language. But, today I'm gonna try out some of my Japanese. I think this is the best way to go. If I ever came here again, I would like to have many Japanese classes.
Japanese toilets are scary.
Customer service is much better over here than in the US.
People move very fast here.
So now today. First thing, I need to get some food, I have some free breakfast passes, just need to find where the restaurants are. Next, I'm gonna see if I can find a tour group to join. I don't think I'm ready to explore solo quite yet.
So I'm stuck in DFW airport. The generator in one of the engines of my plane
blew out, it didn't cause any trauma, the engine simply shut down just before
takeoff, good thing that didn't happen in the sky. ETA is 3 hours past what it
Its kind of ironic. I spent an extra few hundered so I could fly in the big bad Boeing 777 with no layovers. Well, I guess this qualifies as a layover.
However, this shouldnt really cause any major problems, just a minor inconvinence. Still, it is unnerving for things like this to happen to seemingly invincible flying metal tubes.
Alright, I finally got all my shit together. Tomorrow I leave for Japan.
I dunno if I will be able to update from over there, so this might be my last entry for a while.
I would sum up my feelings towards it something like jumping off a cliff. Anxiety mixed with fear. I started going over a bunch of stuff today and there are a lot of facts working against me, the greatist being that the airport is 7 hours away by train from where I will be staying when I leave Tokyo. But its all good, im ready.
Yea, so Japan is coming up pretty fast. This time next week I will no longer be
Its kinda weird imagining what it will be like. Here I am able to freely communicate with the people around me, over there I will seldom have that luxury. Over here I might feel like an isolated unit sometimes, over there I will actually be an isolated unit with only basic ability to interact with its surroundings. It will be an interesting experience I am sure. Hopefully, it will give me new ways to view life or even new tools to use in life.
Damn, I need some more creative ammo. I’m going creatively dry here, I suppose this occurs naturally within an unchanging environment (my house). I will get this ammo by seeking new things outside my house, Japan will load me up I hope.
I have a few ideas churning around for a sci-fi short story. Just need to link all the little ideas into a coherent whole.
Yea, these final days before Japan are like the checklists the space shuttles go through:
- Japanese language study books……….check
- Massive anime watching to get used to Japanese language……check
- Sampling of Japanese beers (get really drunk)…………………check
- Phone numbers of host family……………………………check
- Airplane tickets………………………………….check
- Hotel reservations…………………………..check
- Battle plan……………………………check
- Backup battle plan…………………..check
- "Sword" to cut through fear of the unknown.......check
- Travelers checks…………….no
- New glasses…………………no
- Big ass luggage bag…………no
Yea, something like that. I’m mentally ready at least!
Yea so I finally got some... well, not really. Unless porn counts?
Sex is too overrated, fuck it! (not another person, sex itsself)
Its not just like you can just go and get sex as if it were some kind of supermarket item, theres a lot of other crap that comes with it. I'd rather just have fun with my fishing pole, occasionally catching a fish instead of throwing a net out and getting a bunch of other crap mixed in with the fish. That net will pick up all kinds of shit at random. You could get old shoes, seaweed, killer shark that comes on board and kills everyone or even a fish so big that the ship becomes damaged and sinks into the depths of the ocean.