Letter from Japan
Stranger than fiction in Japan - personal observations.
August 20 2002
Finally found a computer that would open my disk of addresses, so ....here's the letter I promised.
I've been here a few weeks now, Honshu and Shikoku Islands, and it's been wonderful. I've got a really good guide in Miyuki; a bit too good at times, she's running me ragged! It seems her Japanese side has taken over since her return home and everything has to be seen and now I'm beginning to long for a bit of freedom from all the fantasy stuff that the natives live for. @émé é"ééëéé @é"é...é...éé"@é"é@ééé"é"é...é'@ééé"éë Please excuse any Japanese characters that sneak in; I am having real trouble with this keyboard and I have spent ages typing only to lose it all again when the ol 'puter decides to 'turn Japanese' and I can do nothing to change it back.
Please understand that what I am about to write should not be taken as a criticism of the Japanese or their culture; it's just an observation during a short stay and meant to be taken lightly and in humour. You may go to Japan yourself and have a totally different experience. I will go back again and, I'm sure, see it in a different light as I intend to walk a lot and sleep outside under the stars on my next trip.
Since my first hitch-hiking trips away from Ireland many years ago I have travelled and walked the world over from Europe to North Africa and the Middle East, hiked the Americas north and south and roughed it thru Afghanistan, India, the Himalayas and the Far East. Avoiding the tourist traps and just travelling to 'look' (and delight) at the people/cultures. "Always a traveller - never a tourist" - that's me, and I was one of the first through the Berlin Wall after a couple of days waiting for someone to make a crack big enough for me to squeeze through. I wanted to be among the first to see the 'time warp' that was Eastern Europe before it was changed forever by the 'invasion' of the West (western tourists, that is!). I had squeezed thru the crack in the wall that day and as I made a across the no-mans-land I nearly froze when I heard the shout 'Halt' but kept running low and reached some parked cars where I squatted for a while with my head down and my pulse racing mostly for fear of my mother reading in the paper 'The last man to get shot crossing the Berlin wall' - 'An Irishman, running in the wrong direction!' I soon found the metro and keeping a low profile (as they say) made way to the Polish consulate to get the important Polish visa. Lots more to write about (if ever I find the time) of my personal experiences in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania.
everything here in Japan is perfect but it occurred to me that there is very little appreciation of anything natural; everything has to be fiddled with in some way or other to make it more 'acceptable' to humans which of course then means that any natural/wild essence is gone. Try telling that to the Japanese and they just do not understand: NATURAL IS NOT GOOD. However, the scenery is just incredible and if you appreciate mountains and forests there are more than enough of them. I expected big concrete cities but the mountains seem to have won the battle against the houses and suburbs in spite of the 130 million (?) population. The natural beauty is astounding. A trip to the Island of Miyajima in the Inland Sea is worth a few days to take it all in, it's regarded as one of the three main attractions in Japan. The shrines, temples and pagodas are just wonderful and the 'floating' Torii Gate is something you will never forget.
The children make up for what the adults lack in imagination and they are just beautiful! I've learned most of my words from them as their accents are easier to understand. Travelling with a guitar brings a lot of attention and the children are spellbound whenever I play. One little boy of about 5 came and sat next to me on a train and just said nothing while he snuggled in close pushing crisps and sweets at me and never smiling at all. His mother came and apologised and asked him "What are you doing?" and he told her "I'm trying to make friends with this American." Another kid kept running over and shouting into my face "I'm Sorry, I'm Sorry, I'm Sorry!" He must have repeated it a thousand times to the embarrassment of his parents who could not stop him and eventually just grabbed him and carried him upside-down to the next car still screaming his two words of English.
My host is almost paranoid that I might break the law - even failing what I call the 'shoe ceremony' is punishable by death or at least by the coldness that only the Japanese know how to show when you have evoked displeasure. This can be done just by you being YOU - in Japan it is not socially wise to be different or 'cute' in any way. Some houses have more than five different sets of slip-ons for it's different rooms and on one occasion I rushed in (excitedly) with my (god forbid) OUTDOOR shoes on and the shrieks of protest and disgust were so deafening you'd have thought I'd strode in with a dead horse over my shoulder!
One day I saw a really cool movie poster blowing along the street in the wind and when I was spotted trying to fold it up to keep I was castigated for my lack of respect and made to stick it back on the wall, not in case someone reported me but because it was "not the thing to do". But then there is the contradiction that EVERYONE breaks the law on the freeway, the speed limit is 80klms but traffic