Japan, June 19, 2000
One more beer and I'll go to Japan myself!
Yep, I'm in Japan. I know, I know, I was only supposed to go to Korea,
then head back to China, but like so many adventures in life, I was talked
into going during an all night bar-hop. I was in Seoul, wondering what to
do with the second week in that country when I was already bored by the
sad nightlife and haunted by death thoughts, when the idea was slipped
into my head.
It all started innocently enough, chatting with two guys who work in Japan, and then it grew as I ran into more and more expats with great Japanese adventures. Finally, after hearing too good to be true rumors about the price and speed of Jap life, I went looking for sober info from a guidebook. That done, I'm now in Kanazawa, Japan.
I'm here looking for some order in Japan. I was expecting a land of Zen gardens, but instead all I've seen is industrial chaos or suburban sprawl. Surprisingly underwhelming. Hiroshima, my first stop after the ferry from Korea, was odd. I went there mainly for the A-bomb museum (great for my death thoughts), that was laid out with expected perfection, but the rest of the city was shocking.
Very angular, very industrial, very tree-less. Even Hong Kong, in all its concrete vertical glory feels greener. I would've though that with a clean slate after the bomb, the Japanese would've made it more flowing. Instead, it is an industrialist's dream and my nightmare.
I fled Hiroshima for this more orderly green enclave in the north. Kanazawa is home to one of Japan's three best gardens: Kenroku-en. Built to encompass the six attributes of Chinese garden perfection (seclusion, spaciousness, artificiality, antiquity, water, and vistas) it is a clean meditation point for me to take time to try and resolve my death fears. That is if I can only get past the suburban sprawl around the gardens and the megaphone-equipped tour guides in the park.
Outside of this little slice of heaven, the only other source of peace in Japan is the rail network. With a Japan Rail Pass ($300 for a week!), I get unlimited rides on the world famous bullet trains.
They're not as fast as the French TGV, but unlike its cousin, the Japanese train is way more orderly and expensive. With lines on the platform showing exactly where the doors will open, and the Japanese tendency to follow rules to the letter, stops are momentary, and the train is moving before you even get a seat.
And the trains do move! You can travel the length of Japan's main island in less than a day, allowing me to see glimpses of several cities while I cross the country. I particularly enjoy the whoosh and jolt to the left when we pass another train.
Yes, jolt to the left, for the Japanese, like the English, drive on the left side of the road. This was surprising for me since we occupied the country after WWII and you'd think MacArthur would've changed that foolishness right away.
Well he didn't and because of that, once off the trains I had one hell of time trying not to get run over when I looked the wrong way crossing the street. Makes me wonder how the Japanese live so long!
It has to have something to do with the food. Maybe raw seafood is good for you. The raw baby glow-in-the-dark squid I ate sure was tasty with a beer, and I've eaten my share of raw fish. Surprisingly, there are Western restaurants everywhere, with spaghetti something of a Japanese favorite. Even with the Western restaurants, there are few fat people in Japan.
Unlike China, it's not cuz of the high degree of manual labor in daily life. No, although Japan is super automated, the kids stay slim since food portions are tiny and prices high in the restaurants. After China and Korea, I'm constantly hungry here, for my budget can't afford too many $10 plates of 1/2 Western portion spaghetti and $5 beers!