Saturday, June 05, 2010


Japan has been totally awesome for me.  I hadn`t been to Japan before and had always wanted to go. This trip existed solely because Ducky, a former student of ours, found me online just before I went to the Philippines and had invited me over. Lord knows I couldn`t afford to visit Japan on my own right now. So I found a cheap flight over and the rest is an amazing memory....
I wasn't sure what to expect and upon arrival Ducky established a "no choice" policy. He and his wife Nozomi had actually taken a week off from work and had planned out the whole thing, so I was just to sit back and enjoy ride, doing whatever came up and eating whatever was put in front of me. No choice. But in a very good way. Ducky has not changed at all. He's still the crazy maniac that he was before and it was such a strange feeling suddenly reminiscing back to 1996 and the Dollarton house. So much has happened since then. What was also a little weird was Japaneseness seemed like home also and the whole thing brought back memories of my youth. The Japanese accent is still so familiar to me though for some reason the Japanese don't look "Japanese" as I remember them.
Japan was surprisingly normal to me. It felt like home. Maybe it was also the change to non-tropical vegetation on the hills as well. And it was cold! Ducky was laughing at me for being cold in temps in the low 20s. I think that the country is great but being the element of chaos that I am, there is no way I could live there for long. Everyone is so formal and polite at the shops and restaurants. Way too much attention to form and ceremony with so many thank yous and goodbyes at every shop and restaurant you enter. It is also so quiet on the street most of the time. No honking and people outdoors running around, laughing, etc. But the biggest overall surprise was the fact that somehow in the last 2 weeks with Taiwan and especially Japan I seem to have gained about 7Kg! Perfect! I knew the food was better but hadn't realized how much of it I'd been eating.
Ducky lives in Wakayama, which is about a 1 hour drive south of Osaka. On my first full day we did a day trip up to Kyoto, the most famous tourist city in the area. It's an hour north of Osaka so we had a bit of a drive ahead of us. Unfortunately the Japanese put up a lot of walls beside their highways so I wasn't able to really get much of a view or any photos along the way. Osaka is massive. Flying into Kansai airport (which is built specifically out in the bay) you can get a perfect look at just how huge and industrially developed the whole area is. It all blends into the nearby towns and cities and in a way comes across as just a huge gray mass encircling the coast.
Kyoto was interesting. Lots of traditional architecture and some old temples, shrines and things. Of course the gardens are nice too but I am a couple months too late for the cherry blossoms. It was a nice half-day trip. We then had dinner in central Osaka. Wow busy place. I can only describe the local fashion as "freak show". Definitely a very different look from what I'm used to.
The next day we started on a 3 day/2 night road trip to the south in a more rural, provincial area. The first day we drove down to Shirahama. It's known as a local tour area famous for its white sand beach. The funny thing is that the historical beach has long washed away and the current beach is actually made of sand imported from Australia. The day was cloudy and cold and the water colder but somehow Ducky got me in for a swim. It helped that there was one of many hot springs in the area just beside the beach to jump into to warm up again. The Japanese love their hot springs and the hot public baths. That night I went to a public bath for the first time (and more were to follow on later days). It's not really my kind of thing but definitely a cultural experience and for sure the cleanest I've been the last 5 years.
The following day we made it down to the southern tip of Honshu (the main big island of Japan) and over to Taiji, which is the historical whaling centre of Japan. Visited the museum there which had a couple dolphin and whale shows, models, and whaling exhibits. Always interesting to get the story from the other side and whaling is certainly an unpopular livelihood these days. We stayed in a Japanese-style hotel that night which meant futons and public baths and cool traditional robes to wear while hanging out in the hotel.
The following day we retraced our route along the coast to Shirahama for some more swimming and then home. There are a lot of dive shops in the area and although it is not tropical it seems like it could be really nice diving anyway because the water is amazingly clear and clean.
The following days we spent in the Wakayama area, visiting the local castle, the electronics shops, hot springs, eating, etc.
It's interesting to get as look at Japan in a non-touristy area and I only saw other foreigners when I was in Kyoto and Osaka. Wakayama didn't seem to have any. I know the sushi in Vancouver is great but Japan blew me away. I ate way to much of it as well as other local dishes and the quality of the fish is unparalleled.
Probably the craziest high technology here is in the bathroom. It is actually possible to go to the bathroom completely hands-free. Automatic sensors will even lift the seat for you... But despite all the technology everywhere everyone seems to be riding ancient-style bicycles. There are battery enhanced ones that apparently make it a lot easier to pedal too but it just seems somehow wrong that everyone is using this big old framed bikes.
They really have to use their space efficiently so houses are small and the roads and lanes in residential neighbourhoods are less than 2 cars wide. It seems like every usable space is used for something and I was blown away by all the tiny rice plots in what amounted to peoples' backyards in the villages we passed. I always think of rice fields as being big flat fields outside a village or terraced up and down mountains but here they were squeezed in between the street and a couple of homes. ANd where rice wouldn't do you'd also see a vegetable patch.
I was very sad to leave Japan and for sure I'll have to go back there again someday too. The final demonstration of just how polite and disciplined the Japanese are came as we were exiting the plane on our arrival in Australia. It always seems like mass chaos on planes when they arrive as everyone fights to get off first and grab their bags from overhead. But at the back of the plane with me was a large highschool group of 50 or so kids all sitting quietly and waiting while everyone else got off. I just can't imagine that really happening elsewhere...
I am now in Brisbane at Ben's place.


At 11:36 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow man, awesome Blog. I read about Taiwan too. I want to go back to Japan! Honestly, it sounds like you had a really great time with Ducky, I'm jealous.


At 3:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm jealous too!!!. I really want to go to Japan. I'd love to see Ducky again too. I remember so well our 6 week camping trip to florida with him, I'm so glad to hear that he is the same fun character.

Maggie the mom


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