Monday, May 25, 2009
By this I do not mean that every chump flying back home after a week at Antalya or Canary Islands is going to return to his office next Monday with a halo of enlightenment around his persona, unless this halo can be thought to consist of acquired-through-pain knowledge on airport limitations on allowed amounts of checked-in spirits, peeling skin and stories of haggling with the natives in Finnish, of bad service in restaurants and of diarrhea.
When you travel around, you assume the role of an observer (whether you choose to observe the bottom of a liquor bottle or something else). Indulging in this observatory behavior you start accumulating a crust of sorts that slowly penetrates into your head, if left untouched. People on short holidays and business trips tend to wash this crust away quickly upon returning to their place of residence, unless they overdose and make their stay in an ebola-ridden shantytown in the middle of a war zone or something, in which case the experience can sink in like a knife to the back. When you stay away for long enough, experiencing all sorts of things, you start to realize that it isn't just kids, whose personalities are shaped by the shit they must go through while growing up: an old dog can learn new tricks and acquire all-new phobias, too!
It's like a smoker's cough or that sexy voice whisky can allegedly give you over time.
Now, I've been on this particular journey for a while now. Things have been seeping in, and as I recently had a wee holiday in Japan from New Zealand, it could be said that I was engaged in a double-barreled observatory mode. Now that I'm back in Christchurch, thinking back on it, it feels like I'm watching someone through a keyhole fully well realizing that space has been warped, and it is myself that I am watching. The Watchman is watching the Watchman: I'd make a bloody excellent vigilante Justice Inducer.
Ooh, I'm going to save that name for later use. Justice Inducer. Fuck yea. :)
Anyway, traveling around like this, it really helps you to start seeing your own life in a whole bunch of contexts, the roadmap of your life, as blurry as it is -- for I am not that kind of vigilante -- suddenly forking like crazy, paths that before seemed ridiculous to even consider suddenly becoming quite plausible, even desirable.
There's a lot of text to be written on that topic, for sure.
I might do it later. It might even turn out to be interesting reading.
But now: weather.
I've so far had two umbrellas torn to pieces by the random gusts of wind here. It pours rain completely randomly; one minute there's no cloud in the sky and the temperature climbs quickly close to 15 degrees. Then, not five minutes later, it gets dark all of sudden, temperature plummets down to 2 degrees and the rain starts. I've seen it even rain upwards, like the water suddenly decided that it hadn't been such a good idea to rain down on a place like this after all.
With the rather sizable body of water 5km away from me (Pacific) the weather changes so quickly that it's absolutely no use, trying to prepare for one type, you will always end up either soaked or sweaty.
This rainbow, it vanished in seconds. It almost looked like it was being torn apart, like my umbrellas. I don't think that's supposed to be possible.
Cold weather means more meat is needed. I like these stone grill restaurants, where you can cook your own meat at your table. Quite cheap too, compared to Finland.
This advertisement at a bus stop makes me smile every time I walk by it. "Kids grow up, adopt a dog." Funnily enough, it's paid for by the Greyhounds as Pets association. Well, I agree with them 100%.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Came back home from the movie theater just now. (Angels&Demons, I'd give this piece of pop corn entertainment 3 stars and a quarter. It managed to do away with most of the bullshit moments of the book and the pace was quite relentless)
Got soaked to the bone on the way home. hasn't been raining quite like this before. *This* is New Zealand winter? Are you fucking kidding me?
Also, finally reacted to all the email I've been receiving from some of you, my dear readers, and enabled anonymous commenting, meaning that now anyone of you can spam my posts with your porn links and whatgives.
Also, began writing fiction again. :) Been away from that side of my life for way too long.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
My hotel was a bona fide businessman hotel close to the Hiroshima main train station, run by a disturbingly old couple, who spent most of their time fighting with each other. Now, when I made the reservation online earlier, the website promised that the hotel would have an internet connection for its customers, but when I asked about it from the old lady, she simply pointed at the ancient fax machine on the counter.
Fantastic, off the grid for two days, however was I going to pull through...
In Asia – and particularly in Japan – I have witnessed many old people with what I'd like to call a collapsed spine (who knows, could even be the official term). They are tiny old things, bent over to the shape of the letter 'U', making them seem like shaky wind-up dolls, muttering their way around the undergrowth of the urban jungle, scavenging for who knows what to have escaped death for so long.
The old lady running the salaryman hotel I was to stay in, she had a habit of constantly apologizing for everything, bowing down each time, making it seem like her head was constantly positioned right below her ass, making me hope that she had enough fibers in her diet. It was a tough job getting past her and into the elevator, as I felt like I should answer for each of her apologies and bows like a good boy that I am. When I finally got to the 5th floor, where my room was, I noticed that she must have been the only person taking care of things, as everything in the place was tip-top below my waist level, which was probably about the limit of her reach, and above that... well, looking on top of an air conditioning unit, I found a mummy of... something. Decided to not be too curious, while I'd be staying in that place.
Also, being a businessman hotel, the place was full of ashtrays in every conceivable location, except for the ofuro room, and even there, peeking through the window next to the large bath tub, I could see the ground littered with cigarette butts. How is it that the people in this country manage to live so long? Everyone lies their age?
One would expect a city that was nuked to stay nuked, not to come back for seconds.
But Hiroshima is a right tough bastard of a city.
After it was leveled in August 6, 1945, they said that not even grass would grow there for the next 75 years or so. And still they started rebuilding the place immediately! It was only later that they realized that all the green stuff actually made a pretty quick recovery throughout the area.
What would they have done, if it hadn't?
Tough bastards, like I said.
Due to a slight case of having being blown to teeny-weeny pieces 64 years ago the current city is rather modern compared to most other places I've seen in Japan. Buildings look nicer, streets are more organized, everything is cleaner. I could list quite a few places in Finland that could use a similar treatment.
I wandered around the city, until I found myself at the Hiroshima Castle site. It's a free-for-all park now, about 1km from the ground zero, with several ruins of old buildings and some suspicious-looking trees that carry the sign “A-Bombed Tree” together with the distance to the blast. The bark of those trees tends to be a tad scarred on one side. They re-built the castle, too, but I wasn't too interested in it apart from snapping a couple of photos. Seen plenty of them in Japan already. In fact, I've seen one in every single city I've visited so far.
Walking towards the ground zero, I found some more nuked trees, a stadium, a fancy shopping mall and... the A-Bomb Dome, the symbol of the whole mess, standing almost directly below the point where the bomb was detonated. It, and some other ferroconcrete buildings close by had managed to keep their unvaporized parts standing, partially due to having been right below the blast and therefore having avoided some of the shock wave. The Dome is now – yet another – Unesco World Heritage site, and the locals are making sure that it keeps its looks, all the way down to the bricks and other construction material spread around it, when most of the building collapsed into a semi-molten heap.
There's a free wi-fi available in the memorial park, by the way, the signs informing about it also mentioning that one shouldn't really sleep in the park.
Why the fuck would anyone want to?
There are memorials aplenty around the dome. I checked them out, keeping an eye on the rain clouds above, and headed for the two museums in the park. Interesting, educational places, not holding back on the grimy details – indeed, often re-enacting them to the detail with wax dolls – and cheap, too. One was free to enter (for some reason it was almost empty. I suppose the backbaggers I saw swarming the park around weren't exactly the cultural types) and the other (more gory one, packed with people) cost only 40 cents. Funny thing was that in both these places – again – no one had anything against people taking photos. Digging it.
A watch, stopped at the time of the explosion, quarter past eight in the morning.
A tricycle and a helmet. The tricycle belonged to a kid, who was riding it at the time of the explosion. Badly burned, the child died shortly after, and the father buried the tricycle together with the corpse in his backyard(IIRC). Dug up later, it was placed in the museum together with a sign telling the story.
Glass jars, molten into a kind of honeycomb.
Origami cranes. Fold 1000 of them and it is said that your wish will come true. The girl who made these, Sadako Sasaki, didn't get hers though, as she died in 1955 from leukemia at the age of 12, having been only a mile away from the explosion, when it occurred.
In the evening I met with Ryoko, a local whom I had already met in Kyoto. She took me to try some of the local cuisines and get drunk. Really, you can't find the best foods in these foreign places without some inside help. I shall be forever grateful to her. :) (I think I actually prefer Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki to Osaka-style, it was really lovely.)
Day 2, I hopped on the train and went to visit an island called Miyajima, one of the must-see historical temples in the area and in the whole of Japan.
Coming to see the place, one should really time one's arrival correctly. During the high water the red temple and the huge torii gate in front of it stand completely in water, making it a very beautiful sight indeed, with the green mountains towering in the background. During the low water the place is just a low building complex hugging the wet sand of the beach. You can actually see the correct time by checking the rivers in Hiroshima, as during the low tide they are reduced to tiny little streams, leaving the many boats in them lying on the bottom like shipwrecks.
I arrived to Miyajima, when the waterline was just receding. The temple was already clear of water with only the torii gate still submerged. It was a pretty place though, and I finally bought me a tanuki statue. :) I think it will be very happy indeed, when I place it into my living room's liquor cabinet back home.
The torii gate in the beginning.
Half an hour later.
From the temple.
And later still, as I was on the ferry, heading back to the mainland.
As the water receded, many interesting things were revealed, like different types of crabs, sea shells and jelly-fish.
Tanuki with a cigarette in his mouth. :)
Also, deer, again. This time there weren't any deer cakes to be given, but the animals didn't mind, if nothing else, they seemed even more aggressive than the ones in Nara. I was eating a deep-fried fish stick with bacon wrapped around it (a type of kushiyaki), and one of the beasts was relentlessly trying to take it from me, rubbing its antlers to my kidneys, whenever I dared to turn away from it, much to the amusement of the other tourists.
Found a beautiful garden in a tea room in Miyajima. Almost makes me wish I had a backyard to rape into something similar.
In the evening I – once again – met with Ryoko, got fed and got drunk. Good times.
Time to head back to the other side of the equator and see if the winter had arrived there yet.
Took the 7am shinkansen back to Osaka and had no choice but to sit in the single smoking car of the train. Businessmen surrounded me, there was a constant statue of smoke rising from the other side of every single seat in front of me. Thinking of it still makes me cough... In Osaka I headed directly to the airport and had barely enough time to complete the suddenly very complicated check-in procedures. People are really panicking over the damn Mexican influenza. On TV in Japan, most of the news were about it. I actually came to Japan and passed through the Auckland airport on the same day that the influenza arrived there, landing several people in quarantine. One day later, and my slight cough would probably have caused some ripples in the customs.
A good, memorable trip.
So long and thanks for all the sushi.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Osaka is a funny city. It's said to be the commercial capital of Japan and it shows: even the population of the city blooms by more than a million, come day time, from the nightly 2.6 million permanent residents.
First 2 nights I stayed in a hotel right next to Shin-Imamiya railway/subway station, waiting for my local friends to get their holiday gear on so I could crash at their place. I didn't really have a good idea about the general layout of the city at that point, but still my inner radar managed to walk me directly into Shinsekai and vicinity of Tsutenkaku Tower. Very interesting place once the sun sets. It's only later that I learned it is the de facto stay-out-if-you-are-a-lonely-woman area in the city, the closest thing to a bad neighborhood the city has. On the hindsight it was kinda clear, considering the nature of many of the little shops there. I did snap a nice photo there, as a mother and her young son were buying coffee from a vending machine, right next to them a life-size poster of a naked chick with an expression like someone was jamming a telephone pole up her nether-regions (this being Japan, they might just have been doing exactly that). Sorry, not going to post the photo here, I have a nice-guy reputation to uphold. :)
Many Billikens around the city.
If this was China, I'd be suspecting something, but I guess ol'Tommy-Lee is actually getting paid for this.
The hotel I stayed in was a capsule hotel, by the way. However, as I couldn't fit into the little plastic coffins – being an adult-sized adult and all – they gave me a regular room (with a private bathroom/shower) for the same price instead. 17 euros a night in a private room of a downtown hotel is a pretty good deal in Osaka.
Had a long walk around the area at 7am in the morning, slurping on 40-cent vending machine coffee. Shinsekai be swarming homeless people, many of them from other parts of Japan, having escaped the shame of being poor and homeless under the noses of people who might have known them in their previous lives. These people weren't like the suburban riverside hobos with their home theaters and whatnot, nonono, these are almost proper homeless. They both looked and smelled like shit. From the early morning they wander around the streets in small packs or – being of self-employed persuasion – sell porno on the sidewalks, apparently mostly to old dudes, who stop to discuss the minute details of the going exchange rate between squeaking girls on DVD/CD/VHS and cold, hard yen, whenever they spot a sufficiently large pair of J-boobies. Japanese guys can be almost as hopeless in this regard as their American counterparts. It's funny how some of the homeless approached me, as I was lurching by, and started speaking to me in very much passable English. When you fall in a country without a safety net, you fall for a long time, and when you finally hit the bottom, it hurts. A lot of the homeless seemed to buddy up with each other, keeping company, helping the sick ones and so forth. Didn't see the Hobo Hills I witnessed in Paris, though, where on cold nights one stays warm any which way one can, and if one doesn't have matches to set one's buddies on fire with, at least one can still take in some of their rather aromatic body heat. The more the merrier.
Internet access in Japan is quite nice and in a whole lot of places completely free – no complains there, surprise, surprise. In New Zealand I'm already used to there being only one 1MB line connecting the country to the rest of the planet, which results in connectivity being sold by megabytes at prices that make harvesting organs from playground children for extra cash seem only mildly objectionable.
Found my way into Dōtonbori later that afternoon. Namba-Dōtonbori-Nipponbashi area could be said to form the southern center of the city, Umeda parts being the northern capital. Dōtonbori's surroundings are probably the biggest collection of shopping streets I've ever seen, some of them covered, some not, split by a river and spotted by local landmarks and tiny restaurants.
It was horribly crowded. Golden Week really is a special time to be snooping around Japan, and not necessarily in a good way.
Next to Namba Station, a rather large arcade.
The games within are interesting even from a professional point of view. Here's a neat little interface combining Magic The Gathering style card play with RFID chips for interactive gameplay and all sorts of cool effects. Who needs imagination? :) (Yea, that guy wearing a coffee filter is playing the role of a football manager. I guess in the west you need to wallow disturbingly deep into the world of tabletop RPGs to find anything comparable.)
How about this, then? They are sitting in their fancy chairs, betting on a virtual horse race that plays out just as slowly as a real horse race. Some of them seem to spend their entire days in this way, judging by the amount of cans and cigarettes they are packing.
As I've hinted before, I do not have to do my clothes shopping in the children's department, which enabled me to view the vistas over the churning black seas of thick Asian hair. There really wasn't any end to either the shops or the people, no matter how far I walked. I actually made it through a 500-meter stretch of shops selling almost purely kitchen items. And cakes in the shape of boobies. Either the Japanese mothers don't breast-feed their spawn, or they breast-feed them for too long. Shopping-wise, there was no entering the shops with their narrow corridors, unless I was prepared to inflict some serious damage on the little people. Luckily I got plenty opportunities to strengthen the Japanese economy later. Buying loads of useless junk has never been my thing, but there it just seemed like the proper thing to do.
Funny noodle shop. Buy a food stamp outside from the vending machine and get the food inside. Did they get sued by a mute person in the past or something? Why not just directly order from the cook dude, who would be filling your order anyway?
Also in Dōtonbori, I saw a tall, blond guy approaching me at one point, his head hovering a good stretch above the crowd. Now that there was a Scandinavian dude, if I had ever seen one, I thought. Yep, that be exactly what I told myself, might have even said it aloud, since everyone was staring at me even more than they usually did. When the guy finally passed me, I heard him talking to his family trailing him in Finnish. We are so easy to spot, aren't we...
Dōtonbori's famous mechanical crab. It moves around rather clumsily, but apparently has been hanging there since who-knows-when.
The shops in the area sell this and that, and if you want to find anything in the city, Dōtonbori is a good place to start your search in. Visiting a well-known shop for very random items indeed, called Don Quixote, I got some cheap laughs from articles such as things sporting pictures of Obama with the “Yes We Can” slogan, right next to them rubber negro masks for proper fans, and next to those huge afro wigs. This is Japan, racism is part of the deal, accept it or stay the hell away.
Don Quixote shop along the canal and a ferris wheel thing. Not in operation these days.
Me halutaan olla neekereitä, halutaan olla...
Met my friends on the third day in town and moved to their nice little apartment in a very nice suburb filled with parks and that stuff you get, where you don't have huge crowds, breathing space. The building was a bit old and I needed some serious dodging to avoid damaging the concrete with my skull, but the apartment itself was very charming with its tiny tatami rooms, sliding doors and an ofuro the size of a bucket. I do think that in Finland a 4-room apartment of barely 50 square meters would get people scratching their heads, though.
Now that I got me some guides, my sightseeing picked up pace once more. Returned to Dōtonbori and Nipponbashi, and found out that I had missed almost all the rocks that the video game, manga and anime otakus of the country shun away from the sunshine under. Lovely places with many an interesting objects for sale and equally many man-children, whose primary hobby seemed to be whacking off to action figures. I did my best to find something to buy, but failed rather miserably, mostly because all the manga/anime titles I recognize were the ones from 10-20 years ago.
Also visited more temples and stuff. The monk taking care of this one seemed to be living very comfortably indeed. I'd love to some day get a house that nice... (not in the pic)
On the next day I met another blast from the past, as I was re-acquainted with Chie, a comrade-in-arms from the days in Beijing. This lovely, lovely lady never ceases to amaze me with just how similar both our personalities and interests are(undoubtably to the horror of anyone who knows me well). Together we made it to Umeda, the northern central city of Osaka, talking mostly of video games, anime and Yoko Kanno's music after briefly recapping the year since I last said bye-bye to her in Wudaokou, Beijing. In Umeda we elevated ourselves to the top of the Umeda Sky Building. As a popular date destination it was swamped with wedding-related commercialism, but we were there for the fantastic 360-degree view, honestly.
Later on, games shopping, arcades touring, expensive ice cream bars, late-night dining in 40th floor restaurants with panoramic views and other general mucking-about, as well as cooking dinner and getting jolly drunk in the aforementioned mini-family-apartment. The stuff of holidays, my friends. Really a lovely week. :)
UFO-Catcher. You control the grappling arm and try to pick up prices. Very difficult, because the arm is flimsy as hell.
Sometimes the prices were a bit... strange, like toasters. Here's one with salami sausages.
Ingredients: Rice... and stuff.
Making Okonomiyaki with the troops.
Before ending my holiday I still had time for a quick two-day tour in Hiroshima, where I did all sorts of not-exactly-respectful things around the numerous memorials around the city. That's for the next entry, though, this one already reads like half a novel...
Nozomi-Shinkansen, fastest choo-choo in Japan.
Monday, May 4, 2009
1) Matsuo Basho (松尾芭蕉, 1644-1694)
A wandering dude and Japan's most famous haiku poet. Visiting his birth place and reading up on him, I started feeling something of a kinship with him. :)
His most famous haiku:
- an old pond
- a frog jumps in
- the sound of water
- or perhaps in my case, more suitable would be:
on a journey, ailing
my dreams roam around
over a withered moor
2) Hattori Hanzo and his jolly ninjas.
This becomes evident right after you lay your eyes on the local train that takes you to the town.
There are ninjas (kinda) lounging about everywhere around the station and the town.
Even on top of cars. Oh, how their flipping-out amuses me to no end, the silly masters-of-disguise!The kids in IgaUeno start their hard-as-nails ninja training from early age.The moat of IgaUeno castle.
And the castle itself. Hattori Hanzo used to rule here with an iron-clawed fist.Even in the castle, ninjas, everywhere. All doomed, doomed I tell you...Masks in a museum. Creepy, but very nice.
Next up, Osaka.