?

Log in

Previous 10 | Next 10

29th Oct, 2006

japan

So this is a short post from Chigasaki City!

Which is where I am, staying with a friend of a friend of the family who met my father perhaps twice and insisted that I come and visit.

I wrote another couple of posts on my palm yesterday, and if I can find some wireless before I get home I'll post them, but I think I'll relax and assume that if I don't find any I'll just post them when I get home. Think of it as the postcards arriving after a person returns home.

There is actually wireless in the house where I'm staying, but I haven't managed to connect with it. This house is crazily gadgety! There's a portable GPS navigation system in the car, security cameras and a security system in the house, two laptops, two copy machines, a fax machine, satellite television, cell phones (one was given to me within minutes of my arrival, so I could contact them if we got separated), a complicated japanese toilet with built-in bidet and heated seat, an enormous sony flatscreen television with a complicated remote that flips open like a cell phone... it's just startlingly high tech.

It amuses me to think about my parents' home in contrast, with its old computer still on dial-up (and at 33.6, at that) and wood heat. I wonder if this has something to do with two different legacies from the war times.

Matsui was telling me yesterday that he was in grade one in 1945, which is when Japan lost the second world war, and they lost absolutely everything. He didn't have any textbooks or pencils or chalk or anything for school. He still went to school every day, and when it rained the teacher would paint the letters on the chalkboard with a brush and rainwater and tell them to learn quickly before the characters faded. Technology in Japan is sort of like a triumph over that defeat, maybe.

High technology is everywhere and ubiquitous in Japan, and it is both very functional and incredibly well-maintained. Everything just bloody works. It makes Canada feel remarkably haphazard, actually.

My father, who also lived through World War II, and was born in the middle of the Great Depression before it (1935) has as his life philosophy moderation and conservation in all things, including perhaps technology use. I suspect that being on the so-called winning side of WWII didn't have as much of a social impact on a prairie boy in Canada as it might have elsewhere. The biggest change was that his father returned home.

I'm not a cultural anthropologist, so what do I know? Still... it's interesting to think about.

I woke up this morning to find that they had decided to plan the rest of my trip for me and make reservations at hotels and everything. This was nice, but... distressing. How to get out of that without causing offence?

I'm negotiating my way through as diplomatically as I can, and have managed to get the right plans for the night of the 30th (and they were very helpful with translating the website of the hotel for me). Unfortunately, I've already been forced to lie to get out of staying in an expensive Yokohama hotel for my last night in Japan (something I have absolutely no interest in doing). They would not take any other answer than yes, so finally I said I was meeting a friend in Tokyo for that night and perhaps staying at their house or at a hotel with them. Well, it's a possibility I suppose, though not a very likely one.

It's all meant kindly, I know, but I'm perhaps stupidly and certainly stubbornly determined to do my own thing, anyway.

I'll write more soon!

27th Oct, 2006

japan

(no subject)

So, I'm writing this from a coffee bar in Ahakibara, which is the electronics district. anna_would would be in heaven wandering down the back streets. I'm certain they have absolutely everything you'd need to build a theremin.

My hot chocolate is excellent. I'm told the coffee is spectacular as well. Every morning that I have breakfast with other people I get to sit surrounded by people exclaiming over the coffee and how really wonderful it is.

There seems to be wifi here, but it's all on secured networks. I'll be getting wireless later tonight so I can send this and my last entry along.

Yesterday we took the bullet train to Kyoto. As I mentioned, gosh, that bullet train is fast. It was a two and a half hour journey that simply flew past. I'm sure my tendency to nap after getting up at 5:30 had sometthing to do with it.

In Kyoto we filled our day entirely too much. We split the larger group up into two groups and everyone was told they weren't allowed to go off by themselves in Kyoto. I have to admit I had a couple of brattish moments in which I felt like muttering to myself about being allowed to go off by myself in England at the age of 12 with my sister, and then being forced to trail around like a sheep with a group at the age of 27 in Japan, but that is yet another one of the hazards of travelling with a group. When travelling with a group you end up gaining far less confidence in yourself in interacting with the place you've travelled to, in my opinion.

I feel really pretty confident in getting around in the cities in Japan. My extremely limited Japanese helps with the basics of getting people on your side by being polite, I have a very helpful phrase book put out by the Japanese National Tourist Organization which has helpful things in Japanese that you can point to to get your point across, and if all else fails and you get lost, you can always hail a cab and tell them to take you back to some central location. It's a little more expensive than the bus, but hardly catastrophic.

It's not like India, where there's a similar though not as extreme language barrier (many people speak at bit of english), but where you don't really want to trust the cab drivers or rickshaw drivers because they will take advantage of your ignorance and lostness and try to get a commission by taking you to expensive shops instead of home.

But again, oh well. So we went many many places, including two zen gardens, the golden pavillion (a zen temple covered in gold leaf) and a very large temple on the side of a mountain, which I didn't go in.

I don't really know what to write about the day, actually. It was so hurried we never really got to sit down and enjoy any of the places we were in, and I felt like a complete chump rushing through a zen garden. What's the bloody point of that? How completely non-zen!

It was nice to see the bamboo forests up by the second zen garden. It was mossy and green and lovely, and certainly the setting was beautiful, though you could tell it would be better in the midst of a season, rather than on the cusp of a season change. It wasn't quite as lush as it would be in the summer time, but the leaves hadn't changed enough to make it beautiful in an autumnal way, so it just looked sort of sparse and scruffy.

We did catch sight of a geisha exiting a cab and then scurrying up an alley. Everyone else rushed to get pictures, but I didn't bother. It's all very well to point out that geishas aren't prostitutes, I get that, but they are almost entirely a luxury item for men, without an analogous population of people for women, and I'm uncomfortable with this, and with the fetishization of geishas and japanese women and girls in general.

Most of the young japanese women are about my height, with the men a little taller, but in Kyoto we ran into many older people of both genders who were incredibly small people. Most of them barely came up to my shoulder. It really is interesting to experience the dimorphism in person. It's difficult to imagine otherwise. That must have been some change in diet...

On the train home I was sitting in a row of three seats, in the window seat, with a spare seat between me and the older businessman on the aisle. The conductor came into the car escorting and incredibly drunk older businessman and plopped him into the seat next to me. Wonderful. He reeked of drink and his movements were large and sloppy. He kept trying to talk to me in Japanese and I tried to explain that I didn't speak japanese, but he wouldn't leave me alone, wouldn't stop talking loudly at me and wouldn't stop infringing on my space, so eventually I just ignored him until he became especially insistent and then told him "ii-eh" firmly, which hopefully he understood to mean as "no". The man on the aisle looked uncomfortable, and the woman across the aisle looked up startled at one point during the tirade and gave me a look of, I think, sympathy.

One of the black belts further up the car looked back at me and asked in sign if I was okay. I figured I only had ten minutes left before our stop and so far he hadn't done anything completely unacceptable, so I nodded. He continued to be irritating for another couple of minutes, and I wasn't sure if he wasn't telling me what a bitch I was at one point, or something like that, because he sounded rather aggressive and the man on the aisle told him something firmly which made him shut up for a minute.

Finally another of the group further up motioned that there was a spare seat up there, so I gathered my things and pushed past the drunken man, and then past the man on the aisle (to whom I apologized twice, who then apologized to me) and out into the freedom of not being randomly touched and berated by a drunken idiot.

Blah.

During the day when we went to the large temple on the hill, I decided not to go in because my feet were killing me and it was a further long walk up the hill, so I and another woman with a seriously sprained ankle went slowly window-shopping instead.

All of the shops on the street sold ceramics and pottery and I discovered that I have almost atrociously expensive taste in pottery, apparently. *grins*

"Oooooooh! That! I like that!... Hmmm... %2,105,000.... never mind." (That's in the neighbourhood of $21,050 CAD or slightly less)

So, Dad, I saw some incredibly beautiful things that I would have loved to get you, and which you would have loved, because they were an incredible blue, but I just didn't want to spend that kind of money on a single piece of pottery, so...

We stopped for an ice cream cone at a store where we actually had to call out and bang on the wall to interrupt the proprietor who was doing carpentry upstairs. He had the coooooolest ice cream machine. I want one! He was advertising about seven flavours of ice cream, but the machine was tiny so I wasn't sure how that would work. When we ordered he pulled a small cup of ice cream out of a deep freeze and put it in the machine, and then the machine squeezed it out through an aperture in the bottom of the cup in a traditional soft-serve way, although it was definitely hard ice cream really. It was a sweetly efficient system, though the disposability of the cups was problematic in the long term, but I wonder if you could re-use them in some way.

This morning I decided I would spend the day doing my own thing, at my own pace. I would listen to my body and rest often (it never feels like I can really do that when I'm travelling with the mob) and do exactly what I wanted to do. So I got up, went and had breakfast (curried pork on rice; have I mentioned how much I'm loving the food?) and then got on the train, thinking I'd probably head out to the ginza or somewhere else.

Once I was on the train I made the decision to get off at Ahakibara and look for cool electronics things for zargon. I bought myself a cheap watch. It's on a carabiner and shaped like a turtle. You pull two of the legs back and the shell opens to show you the watch face. The first one I bought fell apart in my hand when I opened the package, so I took it back and without a quibble they gave me another one.

I wandered for quite a while and then decided to get back on the train and keep on going, but then decided I needed to sit for a little and found this little cafe and... here I am!

More later!
japan

On the train to Kyoto, Oct. 25

So here I am on the bullet train to Kyoto. Gosh, these trains sure do fly. They're slanted on the corners to keep them on the rails.

We're just starting to leave the city of Tokyo and get out to some farmland. I can see the mountains and from the shape of them it feels like home somehow. Steep and tall and shading back in blues into the distance.

I'm just coming up against the fact that gosh, I do occasionally get motion sick, don't I? I wishh I'd eaten this morning, because the best thing for motion sickness is a full stomach, but I was in too much of a hurry rushing over to the train station at 5:45 a.m. to try to activate my Japan Rail Pass to stop for food. Now I'm regretting that. I'm trying to figure out if I want to wait for the food cart to go by or if I want to take some anti-nauseant medication. I'd rather avoid the latter, if possible, because although it doesn't make me drowsy usually, you just never know if it will or not.

We're going to Kyoto for the day. I'm not sure what people are planning to do there, but it may involve a lot of walking around and looking at things.

I don't know why, but the last couple of days my feet have been incredibly sore. They were a bit better yesterday, but the day before I almost wanted to amputate. I envy my mother her sturdy and resilient feet. Mine sometimes seem lacking in that regard.

I haven't written much since I got to Tokyo. In part that's because my computer time was taken up with trying to get my already written files off the palm and onto the internet for the edification of you the viewer.

Wow, we just plunged through a series of tunnels, and every tiny valley that we come out in is full of little tiny houses. When they built these tracks they really meant for them to just go in a straight line, whether that meant through a mountain or whatever.

I'm going to talk about my days for the last few in whatever random order it pops into my head.

Last night I watched a little bit of japanese television. The japanese sure are... weird. The show seemed to be some kind of game show, but it was hard to tell if there were actually prizes or points awarded. The players were all japanese representing different countries, and so they were all dressed up in bizarre stereotypical ways. For instance, the dude representing the U.S. wore a blond wig, a fake nose, and a pink suit. The guy representing Mexico wore a somebrero, a fake nose and a fake mustache and a poncho. There were also two very young girls representing Japan, and by very young I mean 7 or 8.

All of the characters were sitting in office chairs in partitions in front of which was a conveyer belt that looped around in front of them. Every so often in between joking and laughing and so on they would start up the conveyer and sing some bizarre song to the tune of the Mickey Mouse song while various characters attempted to eat random food items off the conveyer belt with their chop sticks. If they managed it everyone cheered. If not, two incredibly burly young men came out and spun them in their office chair.

That, as far as I could tell, was the whole show.

We're passing some amazing country and I'm having no luck getting good pictures, in part because I'm typing and my camera takes about three seconds to get booted up and by then the scenery I was goiing to take a picture of is gone. Like.... gone. That's how fast we're going.

We just entered a big flat valley bottom and it seems to be full of industry. I can see over ten smoke stacks all puffing out extraordinary quantities of smoke or steam. It's rather shocking.

The hotel we're staying in is entirely enormous. Have I mentioned that it has over 3600 rooms? And 29 restaurants?

I'm once again in a triple room with two other people, but the view from my bed is incredible. We're on the 16th floor and my bed is next to a huge picture window looking out over the city. I have the curtains pulled open and I can lie in my rather uncomfortable single bed and watch the city put itself to sleep and then wake up again.

The hotel is right across from the Shinegawa train station, which is a pretty major hub for a lot of different train lines.

A young man just came into our car, bowed, explained something in Japanese, and then bowed again. I was uncertain what that was all about, but then he started checking tickets, so I assume that's what he was talking about. It was remarkably polite.

Oh! We just popped out of another tunnel and I can see the ocean! Of course, by the time I turned my camera back on we'd popped back into another tunnel. Blah.

Yesterday was our "free" day, because the head dudes had arranged a tea ceremony but it couldn't accomodate everyone. That was fine by me. A group of us went shopping in two locations. The first was a market that someone had heard about, they thought it was a flea market, but it didn't really turn out to be. There were lots of little shops, many of them selling american goods. There was even one shop that had used american keys for sale, for four dollars a piece! Just ordinary house keys that any one of us in Canada might have. I could have made a fortune! *grins* It makes me curious what's so different about Japanese keys. I'll have to pay attention when I visit the Matsuis, which I'm doing right after the rest of the group leaves for Canada (a slight change in plans).

We had lunch there. I ordered something that looked like an interesting noodle dish, in the hopes of being adventurous. When it arrived it turned out to be spaghetti with wieners. So much for adventure! It was certainly tasty enough, but still. One of the people I was eating with looked at my plate and said, "Who knew my mother was on the cutting edge of japanese cuisine back in 1967?"

I guess that's what I get for just pointing at the pictures in the menu and not reading what it has to say. Damn me and my inability to read kanji.

By the way, the food situation in Tokyo has been amazingly good. Wow! The food is so edible! I can see how people would have difficulty if they were strict vegetarians, but as I'm a pretty strict non-vegetarian I'm having no problem at all. There's curries and rice, and salads, and all kinds of yummy noodle and rice dishes to be had everywhere. In fact, there's very little sushi to even be seen, which suits me right down to the ground. I thought I'd spend two weeks eating gyudon (fried beef and onions in a sauce on rice), but so far I haven't even had to try to find it on a menu.

The second market we went to was in an area called Asakusa. This is a huge market area, and they had absolutely everything there was to be had. I found lots of presents for people and a few requests have been filled quite satisfactorily (I hope). I also bought myself a small loaf of traditional japanese sweet bread, fresh out of the oven. It just smelled too good to pass up. It was very yummy, light and fluffy, and lightly dusted with crunchy sugar.

We've stopped at a station... somewhere. I'm not sure where, but it's undoubtedly somewhere. And now we're taking off again. The train is filling up, I think, because now there are all sorts of people (mainly men in business suits) walking up and down the aisles trying to find seats.
Everyone in Tokyo seems to wear a black or dark blue or dark grey business suit. Unless, of course, they're female, but even then, it's not unheard of.

I think I need to take a break and write more later, so that's what I shall do.

---

Okay, so I'm back. Did you miss me? Because I'm starting to miss the lot of you. Unfamiliar group dynamics are trying at times.

Last night after the shopping and before the television I went and did laundry. Wait... did I mention that already? No... okay, so I decided it was time to do laundry, what with running out of clean absolutely-everything. The hotel would be ecstatic to do my laundry for me, but at a cost of %320 per pair of undies, and %1,100 for a pair of pants we'd be talking thousands and thousands of yen, which is ridiculous. I sorted all my clothes into a laundry bag and put it in my backpack and then asked at the hotel services desk if they could direct me to a coin laundry. As it turned out they had a printed out sheet with two locatgions marked on a map. I walked, painfully on my already sore feet, until I found the first location, but I couldn't actually find a coin laundry there, so I walked on to the second locatiion.

It was a very nice walk, finally out of the tourist-y areas and away from our gargantuan hotel. The street was narrow with tiny little shops on either side, and steep staircases up to second floor homes. I found a drycleaners so went inside to ask where the coin laundry was.

"Koin ronderry-wa doko desu-ka?" asks I in my atrocious canadian accent.

At first she didn't understand me, but when she did she pointed down the street and counted on her fingers, "One... two... three! Three! Okay?" which I understood to mean that it was three doors down, which it was.

The coin laundry was basically a hole in the wall. There were three washers and four dryers, all stacked against one wall, with barely enough room to sit on a stool between the machines at the opposite wall. There was a machine which I thinnk was attempting to dispense detergent, but I couldn't get it to agree to take my coins, so I walked back up the street to a tiny little shop manned by an ancient japanese man who came barely up to my chest in height. I picked a package with an illustration which seemed to suggest either someone stuffing clothing into a hole, or sparking clothing emerging from a hole, and paid for it (%398) with much bowing and arigato-ing back and forth between us.

Whether or not it was, in fact, clothes detergent, it certainly seemed to make them come out clean and smell nice.

It was fun to sit on a stool and lean against the gas-powered dryer and watch this far more private world go by. People rode past on bicycles, or walked home on their way from work, and they chatted with each other and called out to each other. They got haircuts at the barber across the street, or walked by with bags of produce. At one point a woman popped in and picked up her clean laundry out of one of the dryers.

Perhaps it is ridiculous from a certain perspective, but this is what I like to do when I go different places. Do entirely ordinary things with ordinary people. Touring through temple after temple taking pictures and generally acting in as completely non-zen a matter as possible is just not really my favourite thing.

25th Oct, 2006

japan

Okinawa, Oct. 23

Currently I'm on the plane from Okinawa back to Tokyo.

On our first full day in Okinawa we went to Shuri Castle, which I already wrote about. At about 5 we met up with a local Sensei who walked us back to his house, where his dojo was. It was actually a lovely little walk, all along the back wall to Shuri Castle. We saw the old path in one place where it hadn't been repaved for the tourists, and there were a lot of stairs.

When we got to his house and all came in and took off our shoes and walked up the stairs we discovered two open rooms with wooden floors on the second floor. One was a sort of general workout room, and one was the dojo proper, with mirrors, weapons, pictures of historical masters and a big heavy bag hanging on a magnificent wall bracket.

We were all already sweaty and hot from the walk and the humidity, and getting into my thick cotton gi was actually rather torturous. It's hard to imagine training like that all the time. We all assembled in the dojo, which was crowded with all 20 of us in, and did a very short warm-up. Then the local Sensei explained that he would watch us all do a kata individually and then offer feedback.

Our translater guy was kept pretty busy translating criticisms (most of which were tempered with "This is only my opinion") and opinions and the guy was opinionated. It took *hours* to get through everybody and sitting on the hard wooden floor was torturous and painful. My knees were in agony just from sitting and there was no room to really stretch out and I wasn't sure if that was polite or acceptable anyway.

Throughout the criticism was that we were in general far too tight and hard, with the explanation that softer was actually better and more effective. The sensei kept getting a 9-year-old brown belt in to demonstrate kata. Their kata looked very... sloppy, actually. Much less precise than ours, and yes, softer... but if you don't actually strike to the right spot it seems to me that you're not necessarily going to do a lot of good.

Still, it was interesting. I was about the fourth to last person to do my kata, and I decided at the last moment to do Pinan Nidan because all of the katas I might otherwise have chosen had already been done to death (Seisan was my first choice, because I like it, and Naihanchi Shodan was my second choice, because it's incredibly short). His criticisms to me were incomprehensible in Okinawan and our intrepid translator was seeming fairly exhausted. Still, I understood the Sensei well enough that he could get me to punch towards him in various ways so he could demonstrate his philosophy of soft vs. hard. It was good to not be sitting on the floor for that time, and shortly after that we were all finished, thank god.

After everyone had gotten changed the Sensei's wife set out a magnificent feast at three low tables that they'd brought into the work out room. There was a fair bit of sushi, but I managed to find enough to eat and drink anyway. It was a very generous thing to have done, feeding 20 Canadians you've never met.

After the meal everyone talked and talked. I lay down on the floor in the dojo for a little while to rest my back, which was feeling a little sore from walking around on concrete all day and sitting for close to three hours. Gifts were exchanged and we all took our leave and walked back to the Monorail and then home.

The next evening we had a session with a different Sensei. His dojo was above some kind of mechanical shop on a farm about an hour's cab ride outside of Naha. We piled four to a cab and drove off, and I got to sit in the front seat of our cab. Our cab driver was hilarious. He kept laughing and pointing things out to me and explaining them entirely in Japanese and then laughing some more. I grinned a lot because his laughter was so infectious, although I didn't really understand a thing. At one point the two cabs we were following went in different directions and he nearly drove off the road. He was extremely comical.

What bothers me, I think most, about some of the incredibly insensitive things that people say is when they are said by people I otherwise could possibly like and respect. This one woman I quite like was in the back of the cab and as we drove past this woman walking these two elderly plump and well-cared for dogs said, "Look! She's walking her lunch!" and everyone in the cab other than me and the driver (who I hope didn't understand) cracked up. I could barely contain my desire to lash out at her verbally.

When we got to the dojo we all had to pile out of our respective cabs and pay the drivers and then we assembled for a couple of photos before the light got too bad outside. Then we trooped in and got changed into our hot and already sweaty from the day before gis (yeuch).

The dojo had mirrors up on the wall, and weapons, and so on and an entire piece of girder suspending a heavy bag in the corner. It was much more spacious than the one in the guy's house from the day before. The floors were long wooden blanks and a little uneven. Later on when some of the black belts were doing their kata, and particularly Empei (sp?) it sounded like they were going to crash through the floor. The entire place shook.

This was an even longer period of standing after a short warm-up and kata, and it's hard to say what was more painful, sitting on a hard wooden floor for three hours while a gentle-seeming man explained that it was only his opinion, but he thought we were all too tight and needed to be looser, or standing on an uneven hard wooden floor for three hours while an arrogant-seeming man explained at length that we were all too tight and should be punching from our frickin' armpits instead of from the hip. Neither was especially edifying to me, but the first one at least gave me a piece of involvement. The second one I might as well have not been there for. As a purple belt I was less than dirt. The dojo was interesting, but I felt frustrated at wasting an entire Okinawan evening (one of the very few I'll have in my life) being yelled at tangentially by someone I didn't know and paying for the privilege (that was later).

Oh well. That's what I get for travelling with a karate group, I guess. I suppose I'm supposed to feel so spectacular about having been there for some kind of history making moment, but honestly, being there isn't always that wonderful a thing. More on that later.
japan

Okinawa, Oct. 21

Travelling with a large group like this is very different than travelling by yourself or with one or two other people. A large group can muscle through any culture without ever really having to experience any of it. It's a strength in numbers thing and I can't say I'm that fond of the experience yet.

I can't even explain how many times in the last couple of days I've heard the japanese and the Okinawans referred to as "those people" or "these people", as in "well, you know how it is with these people, *insert negative cultural stereotype here*." It's actually rather shocking, as well as seemingly entirely unconscious. No, I don't know how "these people" are, and neither do you. At least I know that I don't know, and at least I know that there's likely to be at least as much difference between individuals as there is between populations.

Of course, it's not everybody who's doing that, but still... here we are, in Okinawa, birth place of karate (sort of), in a large group of karate folks and yet somehow people seems content to skim the surface of the experience and remain entirely as they were before. They know everything they want to experience already and there's no room for anything outside of that.

Of course, as I said, it's not everybody. Some people are just rather quiet. It's never possible to know exactly what the quiet people are thinking without asking them.

Earlier today I had arrived back at our meeting place and was waiting for everyone to collect so we could go on to the next thing. Two of the older men from Ontario had arrived and one younger one, and as a group of teenage girls walked by, suddenly the conversation shifted towards "OH YEAH, that's what I'm talking about! Let me take a look at that!" This from one of the older men, while the other stood around grinning at the one who was leering at the girls as they walked away from him. He turned to me and, perhaps catching a hint of something from my expression, said, "I like that sort of clothes."

I said, "Perhaps you should buy some to wear for yourself then." He sputtered a bit at that, and then said that well... umm... he didn't really want to.

And I wish I'd said more. I could have said a lot more, but it's difficult when you're starting off on opposite sides of that great divide of understanding. At best, men of that age group walk away thinking that it'd be better to confine that sort of talk to moments when they are only around men. They rarely, if ever, seem to get the point of not doing it entirely.

Of course, by saying that, I'm othering them as much as they are othering me. I wonder if there's any way out of that?

There are a few people I'm really enjoying, however. I'm having some wonderful conversations and listening to a lot of people talk, which hey, I love. So I don't mean to necessarily complain. Perhaps this just involves revising my own expectations.

Just as travelling to another country as a white english-speaking person (where that is not the local norm) means that I will be cut off from truly experiencing the culture and place in certain ways, travelling with a large group will cut me off from experiencing the culture and place in other ways as well.

There's still a lot to hear and see and feel and notice if I keep my eyes open.

Today I thought we were going to be going to the beach. That sounded like a fantastic idea to me. I looooove the water. Water and me are like this *holds up crossed fingers*.

Then, once we'd gotten together it turned out that in fact, we weren't going to the beach. Instead, we were going shopping and then to a martial arts store. Ah. That's a rather different day, when you think about it, and not one you'd necessarily choose to wear your bathing suit and bring a snorkel for. Oh well! Shopping is also good (when on vacation in far distant lands). We took the monorail to a shopping area and wandered around.

I bought a few small things for people back home, and found a salt and pepper shaker set which is too ridiculously cute to even explain. It's two little amorphous people embracing and the shaker holes make up their rather sad little faces. For some reason it just called out to me to be bought and brought home, either for me or for someone else.

Once again in shopping I'm finding that my sister is ridiculously easy to buy for. For any one thing that I think would suit somebody else I see five or six things that I just know my sister would just adore. It's rather silly.

I wandered alone (but certainly not lonely, and I doubt that clouds shop so the entire reference is hereby blown) until I found a small restaurant which seemed to be selling tacos on rice. I decided to take a chance and eat my lunch there. I ordered my meal by pointing and shrugging and the girl behind the counter smiled and nodded and asked me incomprehensible questions about which options I would like while I shrugged and pointed and shrugged and pointed until she stopped asking.

The food was fantastic. Perhaps that's a little overblown, but it certainly hit the spot. I had a bowl of rice with shredded lettuce, grated cheese, taco-seasoned beef and a slice of tomato (I removed the tomato slice, of course), with a small beef taco on the side, one onion ring and a few spiced curly fries. A small bowl of rather hot but sweet salsa and a glass of cold unsweetened green tea finished off the meal. All of this for ¥650 (slightly less than $6.50 CAD), which wasn't a bad price.

After I had lunch and we'd met up again we walked over to a local martial arts supply shop. Everyone seemed really engaged in buying karate gis which were almost exactly the same as the ones at home (including the price). I was actually a little disappointed in the selection, but such is life. I hung around the counter with Shihan M while she tried on various gis and belts and ordered herself new karate get-up.

Then I placed the order for two size five red and white belts, cotton feel, heavy duty, no name on them, and so on, for Sensei ScottishGuy. They didn't have any in stock so they're going to ship them from Okinawa when they arrive, so the whole thing feels remarkably anticlimactic, except for the price, which was climactic enough (the red-and-white belts are almost double the price of the regular red belts for some reason, and with the unavoidable shipping the whole thing gets rather expensive). Still, I'm told they should arrive within three to four weeks, which is not bad. I'm just sorry I couldn't have brought them home myself.

After that Hanshi L and Shihan M took off back to the hotel (Hanshi L wasn't feeling that well and wanted some McDonalds food and a rest, which, in the middle of the day would make me feel actually worse), and everyone else seemed determined to go do more shopping. I felt frustrated with the group and the general indecision and oddness of group decision making, and after trying to tempt a few people into going to the beach with me decided to head off on my own.

It was nice to just walk aimlessly by myself. I wandered into a pet store. They had hot fluffy puppies lying in the window panting. I felt sorry for them. Inside there was an incredibly small monkey in a cage, which made me feel sad. Somehow I don't have the stomach for caged lonely animals anymore. It's different if they're somewhat lonesome animals regularly, but social animals caged alone are somehow profoundly sad.

God, I just looked in the mirror and I'm all freckles from the sun. I wonder why I seem to freckle more as an adult than I did as a child? At least I still don't burn.

I kept on walking, turning corners mostly at random and generally relying on my usually excellent sense of direction to keep me from getting lost. Somehow, the more I travel the more confident I feel about wandering. I wouldn't say it was true that the most interesting things happen to you when you don't plan them, because some of the most interesting things I've done and experiences I've had were very much planned, but there's a different quality to serendipitous happenings somehow. They feel somehow more personal.

The streets are pretty narrow, as are most of the cars, thouugh there are definitely some bruisers around too. I walked and walked and walked right past the Tomari post office. I'm pretty sure this is the Tomari where tomari-te was born (obviously not right inside the post office of course). In the simplified version of the history of karate as told to me by Sensei ScottishGuy this is one of the three original forms of karate, along with Naha-te and Shuri-te, all of course named for the places they were invented. Naha-te became, basically, goju-ryu karate, Shuri-te became, basically, shorin ryu karate, and aspects of Tomari-te got amalgamated into both. I think there's probably a fair bit more complication to this story than is at first evident however.

Still, it gave a lot of perspective on the size of people's lives geographically. I walked from Tomari to Naha in not very much time. I could drive there in 5 minutes. I could walk from Naha to Shuri if I walked for perhaps three hours. The drive might be 15 or 20 minutes. It's a tiny little island in the middle of the pacific ocean, and yet somehow people lived separate enough lives that a town three hours walk away was so distant that it could develop cultural differences. Our current homogenization of culture via mass media and easy travel becomes more evident when you consider that.

I walked until suddenly I realized I could smell the ocean, so I followed my nose right into and through a small park where there were children playing a very organized game of baseballl. I walked through the last row of trees and suddenly there was an ocean stretched out before me, only marred by a breakwater, a highway overpass, several boats, a further breakwater or possibly pipeline and a large fake harbour made off piled up enormous concrete widgets. That's actually fairly marred, when you think about it, but I was awfully glad to actually see the ocean at last.

I sat down and wrote a postcard, and then walked along the concrete path (there was no beach at this point, it was all built up with concrete and incongruous unnatural seeming rocks). I walked until I found myself in a little park. The children's play equipment was very cool and interesting looking, but there were some rather unsavoury characters around.

Eventually I came to a beach area where a few very brown local people were sunning themselves or playing in the water. There was Okinawan reggae blasting over a set of incredibly tinny speakers. The sand is all quite rough, like the sand on any coral atoll island, all ground up coral and shells. It crunches very satisfyingly underfoot. On the opposite side of the little crescent beach was a large rock outcropping, all worn away underneath so there was a huge overhang. I walked across to there and sat down to watch the world go by.

Over in the beach area, in the cordoned off swimming area, there was a couple of little old women wading around fully clothed in long skirts, loose cotton long-sleeved shirt and strange full bonnets. Just wading back and forth, or occasionally lying down right at the shore.

I clambered around on the rocks (which were very steep indeed) until I came to a point which would have been walk-able at low tide, but with the water high wasn't navigable. The rock-face looked very climb-able and I figured I'd just free-climb around to the next walk-able area, so I put everything in my back pack and started. The rocks were very sharp on my fingers, and I knew immediately that if I slipped I'd probably scrape myself pretty badly. I climbed a few points around and then suddenly had the realization that... dude... absolutely nobody knew where I was and I was free-climbing by myself. What an incredibly stupid idea! So, with difficulty, I reversed course and got back onto land. I scraped my wrist a little and my knee, but certainly not badly, and not more than I expected to. It would have been nice to have someone to climb with though, because it was certainly a beautiful spot. It was fun to swing myself around onto this rock over the ocean, but... practically it just wasn't a good idea.

I went swimming instead. The water was a wonderful temperature, just cool enough to be refreshing, without being shocking or uncomfortable.

After swimming I sat in the sun for a little while and then put my clothes back on over my suit and started to walk home. Walking with wet clothes was uncomfortable though, so I flagged a cab and got a ride home that way instead. Not really necessary, but somehow a nice treat for me. I'm enjoying treating myself from time to time.
japan

Oct. 20, Okinawa

It's my first morning in Okinawa now. It says something for the humidity that I washed my hair before I went to bed and woke up with it still wet, though no longer dripping. It's raining outside. The window opens only wide enough for me to put my arm out, but I can reach the occasional rain drop as it falls. The water is soft and fairly warm.

Yesterday, as I examined my itinerary again I realized that I actually would be meeting up with the rest of the group for the flight from Tokyo Haneda to Okinawa. The first two flights that I was booked on weren't the same, but with the last filght booking suddenly I was on the same flight. So I was looking forward meeting up with what would undoubtedly be a large group of white folk at the Haneda airport. First, of course, I had to get there.

We arrived in Tokyo only about 15 minutes later than expected (there was a strong headwind across the Pacific). I managed to get off the plane and walk walk walk walk through the maze of the terminal following the signs to "Arrivals". I finally got to the customs area where, without even checking my passport I was waved to the foreign passport lineup (I wonder how they knew?). The lineup was actually pretty short, probably because I strode so purposefully past all the slower people on the long walk, and although I wasn't actually walking that fast, I was walking fast enough that over the time available I'd caught up with just about everybody. The customs man was actually quite nice, and I got a small sticker and stamp placed in my passport. My passport is actually getting pretty full, which is exciting. If the customs agents had each chosen a different page for all the stamps I have I'd probably have a stamp almost every page.

Then I got my luggage, went through the drugs and guns checkpoint with my baggage (no drugs, no guns, no problems) and then... I was out into the world, having walked under a sign that proclaimed, "Welcome to Japan!"

I found the limousine bus desk with no problem and they had a half dozen young helpers standing in front of the desk directing you to the spot on the desk where you could buy the ticket you needed. 3000 ¥ later I had a ticket to the 5:10 departure of the bus to the Tokyo Haneda airport. I carried my bag outside, easily found bus stop #12 where my bus was to leave. All of the bus stops had young women or men in limousine bus uniforms speaking rapid japanese into wireless microphones. I assume this is explaing to all and sundry where the buses are going.

There's something I really love about being in a non-english-speaking world. I feel like I'm gently bobbing about like a cork on a sea of words. Words can push me one way or another way, but I don't understand them or comprehend why, necessarily, I end up where I do. I feel pre-verbal, and pre-literate when I all I hear or see is incomprehensible to me. I feel like a toddler who is slowly starting to understand, but with better communication skills of my own, even if speech is not my best method.

When my bus arrived I managed to get one of the front seats, which is wonderful, because one of my all-too-human weaknesses is to to get motion sick in buses if I sit near the back. If I can look directly out the front window I'm fine though, 98% of the time.

We drove on what seemed like a single expressway all of the way to the airport. We didn't drive past much that was too interesting. Most of the signs combined english and japanese characters. The bus driver seemed to switch lanes a lot and there were quite a lot of toll booths (we went through, I think, four, but passed several more on exits to other highways).

It actually took me a few moments into the journey to settle myself into the idea that, good heavens, I was in Japan. The Japanese drive on the left, so I was wrong about that, although I thought I'd gotten that information out of a guide book so perhaps my reading was in error. It seems like too big of a mistake for a guide book to make.

So, there I was in Japan. It was warmer than it was in Vancouver, with no real crispness to the air. The cars all looked very family and it took me a few minutes to even think of looking at the license plates which combined japanese characters and a few english numbers (two or three on a top line, which might have indicated region where the car had been registered, and five or six on the bottom larger line).

---

I'm writing this blog entry from the steps to Shuri Castle, which is pretty darn cool, actually. The castle itself is almost entirely reconstructed. It was almost entirely destroyed in World War II, like a lot of things in Japan. The castle was originally wooden but it has been rebuilt in concrete and faced in wood so that it looks authentic.

It's very humid today, and I'm incredibly glad of my indian kurta (shirt). Even though it's quite warm and very humid and even though the shirt has long sleeves and is quite long it's somehow incredibly cooling. It seems to catch the breezes so that I don't feel muggy or hot, or at least not as muggy and hot as everyone else seems to be feeling.

After a wet start to the day it's now actually partly sunny and it stopped raining fairly early on. I've bought a couple of postcards so I'll be sending them from Okinawa before I go. I think any further postcards will be sent from the mainland, as we'll be there longer.

There's a couple of school groups here and the way the students all wear their uniforms really shows the amount of individuality possible even with the same basic starting materials. The girls seem to all wear their skirts incredibly short.

The stones for the incredible walls around Shuri Castle are made of blocks of coral. They're worn and smooth and warm in the sun. Some of them feel almost plastic-y in texture. That's where I've got this little keyboard set up.

I've taken a lot of pictures today, and I have to admit that there is a strange freedom in taking as many pictures as I want, knowing that I can look through them all when I get home without having to worry about having taken too many or taken bad pictures. There are advantages to film, and I know that I love the entire mechanical process of taking pictures on film, but there's something very freeing about the low resource use of digital.

Probably the most impressive thing about Shuri Castle are the walls surrounding it. They are massive and imposing, and somehow smooth at a distance. It feels like there was thought put into even the aesthetic experience of the walls, which is interesting.

The buildings are all red-painted wood with clay tile roofs. The orange clay tile are stuck together with white mortar or cement and have decorate tiles to finish off around the edges.

Inside the reconstructed buildings are airy and open, and yet maze-like with many corners and connecting corridors. I'm told by some of the people I'm travelling with that this is partly a defensive design, so that when you're attacking or invading you'd have to constantly come around corners without knowing what's there.

I'll write more later, but I should go and catch up with the rest of the group now.
japan

Oct. 18, on flight

So, here I am on my flight from Vancouver to L.A. I decided to just stay up all night, rather than fall asleep and risk sleeping through. I stay up well and I wake up badly, so I decided to go with my strengths. But lordy, I was tired by the time I got through customs and security and had an hour to wait for my plane.

So far I haven't managed to upgrade any flights. Apparently random upgrades for free never happen anymore, not since 9/11. But then, I didn't think that sort of thing would happen to me anyway. I'll check into it a little bit more when I get to L.A. for the change to the long flight. Even if I can just manage to get into the economy plus section I'll be happy enough.

But frankly, even if I don't ever get an upgrade and just do coach the whole way I won't consider the "dressing as though I belong in business class" thing to be a waste of time. As I said to anna_would when we were having breakfast, when I'm wearing my new business suit I feel so much more professional and business-y. Even my crazy mass of hair feels somehow more purposeful. It must be purposeful, I'm wearing a suit!

Plus, it feels like people are treating me with more respect, which is a sad sad testament to the classism in our society. I'm the same person as I always was in my jeans and t-shirts and tevas. Still, I don't think it's only my imagination that I am being treated differently. And actually, my business class clothes are deceptively comfortable. Penningtons makes a mean pair of stretchy black slacks that move with my body, and silverseastar's long black jacket is incredibly comfortable.

When I put my money belt on it felt instantly comfortable and familiar. I guess I did wear it for six long weeks all over India, so that's not surprising. Still, I would have expected to have it seem strange or unfamiliar even for a minute or two. This money belt has gone to England (twice), Tahiti, Fiji, American Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and India. Quite a well-travelled article, considering the fact that its manufacture is rather shoddy.

United Airlines have leg room to spare, which impresses me. I wonder what All Nippon's leg room will be like. Please let it be spacious enough to unbend my knees...

---

I'm 10 kilometers straight up, which is, in and of itself, a rather crazy thing for any human being to be. I'm tired and starting to get a little stiff, which is a distressingly ordinary way to feel when you're 10 kilometers straight up.

The movie selection on this flight isn't quite Air Singapore. I watched X-Men 3. It was remarkably apocalyptic and everybody died (I suppose that might be a spoiler). Now I'm watching The Lake House, and it's a remarkably unmoving film consider its central premise.

I'm distractable also. I'm not sure I'm getting any of this down the way I'd like to. I'll edit it later on before I post. Apparently there's wifi here on the plane! Unbelievable! Our society is just so bloody decadent. Of course, it's pay wifi and I'm not quite so bloody decadent as all that...

In part that's what's been bothering me about getting upset about the ticket problem (the fact that I could actually see Seattle out the airplane window as we headed back north from L.A. made me feel as though my journey until that point had been particularly futile and pointless). There's a part of me that keeps going, "Yes, but you're flying around the freakin' world! You're going to pay money and access this incredible experience, as a result of your middle class privilege and affluence, which is at least partly a result of my white privilege, and so it goes. Arguing with people about whether you're hard done by because you have to fly slightly longer seems... bizarrely petty when laid against a global background where so many people could never afford to do what I do, and where many people of my class would actively blame those people for not going out and improving their situation." Which is to say, holy run-on sentence, Batman!

It's simply not true that anybody could access the advantages that I do if only they tried hard enough. We are all, after all, only temporarily able-bodied, temporarily sound of mind, temporarily employed. My privilege preceeds me in all things. I wish more people were conscious of that...

I was talking to a woman in the seat next to me on our flight from Vancouuver to L.A. She was a remarkably gabby woman and hardly had a quiet moment from the time she got on the plane to the time she got off. She was also quite Christian, and when she'd heard my plane ticket story said immediately that she trusted in God to get me where I was going in the end.

This kind of mind-boggling declaration always takes me aback a little. God might well be a fine fellow, but I doubt he's really that concerned with my journey's smoothness. If he was concerned nobody would ever have a problem, ever, don't you think?

Currently we're running 20 minutes behind schedule, which is going to make my already tight connection in Tokyo (and transfer between distant airports) even more sticky. I hope I make it. If not, I'm not sure there are any alter flights to Okinawa, but there might be. Eh, we'll see how things are when I get there.

All Nippon Airways is a very japanese airline. All their annouoncements, even in the L.A. airport terminal, were lengthy in Japanese and then rather truncated in English. I've now officially been called "Woodbridge-san" for the first time and it felt rather odd, in part because the woman at the desk in the terminal tossed it off so casually, as she undoubtedly should, I suppose.

---

The Lake House continues to be complicated and odd, but it is getting a little more interesting, possibly. Maybe. Or maybe not.

---

Now we're descending towards the Tokyo Narita airpoirt. Apparently we're only running 15 minutes late instead of 20, which is good-ish news. I still can't see the mainland... I don't think... though it's possible that dark shadow on the horizon is it. There is a baby crying uncomfortably, not in agony, but you can hear that it is an exhausted baby with ear pressure issues. Someone needs to nurse.

Every time they make an announcement I don't really understand anything. Sometimes I can't tell when they start speaking in English. It still sounds like Japanese because of the cadence and intonation. It sounds, at best, only slightly more familiar.

22nd Oct, 2006

japan

Sorry about my last post

My japanese keyboard (with 29 extra keys!) went completely berzerk and I couldn't figure out how to fix it. I actually turned it off and moved to another computer. Somehow I managed to turn it onto this chording thing, where every third key or so that I pressed changed all of the last 1-7 characters into different characters or different combinations of characters, only about 10% of which were english (but not the english characters I'd actually typed) and I COULDN'T TURN IT OFF!!!! I decided to just post what I'd typed anyway, for the amusement value. Don't ever say that I don't try to make the experience of travel real for the rest of you.

So far on this new computer I've managed to not activate that feature, thank god.

So, yes, I still haven't found wifi, but I promise that I have been typing about my experiences diligently in my palm pilot and once I get to Tokyo (tomorrow), I will assiduously seek a way to post them, even if I have to pay for an hour or a day of wireless at my hotel.

So for now, if my keyboard allows, I'll just post a bit about my day today.

This morning I got up and had breakfast with my hotel roommates down in the hotel restaurant. Every morning they have this massive buffet with all sorts of Japanese and western food and although it's a bit pricy at 1050 yen, it makes for a very satisfying preparatory meal. The two days that I've eaten breakfast there I haven't felt any particular need for lunch.

The whole group met up at 10:00 to head out to find Matsumura and Itosu's grave sites. We trooped down to the monorail and caught a ride most of the way to Shuri. Then we walked up a rather steep hill next to some sort of fenced in area where they were absolutely blasting this bizarre pop falsetto synth version of the Mickey Mouse song. Our intrepid japanese guide asked directions of several people. It's interesting to watch him talk to the Okinawans because it's a different dialect of Japanese so he often only understands about one word in three. He tends to look very intense about it all and everybody nods and gesticulates a lot.

Today was an absolute scorcher of a day. I can't believe I didn't bring my hat. Fer gawd's sakes, I've taken and worn that hat EVERYWHERE. I brag about that gosh darned hat and how it protects my face from the sun. So I travel off to the subtropics and what do I do? Oh, I didn't *forget* my hat. No. I just decided not to pack it. What a stupid idea. I think I may have gotten a bit of a sunburn on my face today, despite the fact that I really sucked it up and put on sunscreen and then reapplied several times. I feel a bit crispy.

So we continued walking up the hill with everyone sweating and feeling very sorry for themselves in the heat and the last woman we'd asked for directions ran after us to tell us we were going the wrong way. She directed us down an alley and suddenly we were in the midst of extremely modern japanese family tombs. These are really rather enormous structures made of granite (or possibly gneiss), very smooth and sleek.

It seemed bizarrely incongruous to be seeking the grave of Matsumura, who died slightly before the 20th century (I think, I'll have to look that up), in the midst of all of these modern graves, but his is there, likewise very modern. So modern, in fact, that it was just re-erected in 2000, so it's only six years old. There was a flurry of posed picture taking and then we found Itosu's gravesite (even more magnificent) where there was another flurry. It was interesting, because it was so completely incongruous and unexpected for the tombs to be in the condition they were in. I know that many people were expecting some dilapidated and run down old abandoned tomb that actually looked like it was for someone who'd died over 100 years before.

And after that, well... there was more. But my hour is almost up and I need to go have a shower and wash my hair (I swam in the ocean and saw flying fish! Sorry, no pictures), so... I'll write more later. And I promise that I'll find some wifi soon.
japan

Another day without wifi

and I have to admit, my いmぺつs

GOD! ThIS けyぼあrd!!!!!

I can't


ばh。

20th Oct, 2006

japan

Holy keyboard of weirdness, batman...

There are too many characters on this keyboard! There aren't enough shift keys in the world!

But anyway... Yes, I've arrived in Okinawa. The trip over was stunningly tiring, but after one good night's sleep (well, 6 hours of sleep on a flat bed with pyjamas) I feel so much better that it's amazing. Plus I managed to find this here 24-hour internet cafe without even a map, and with only a very minor description in a guide book, so I'm feeling pretty proud of myself. I took the monorail all by myself and everything.

I wrote a few journal entries on my palm pilot, but I haven't found a place with wifi yet to upload them, but I'll do that soon.

SO, it turns out that the group I'm travelling with is 20 people strong. That's a lot of people. It seems entirely too easy to not get out into the world and actually be in Japan with that many people. Everyone groups together and brings their own culture with them.

This afternoon we're going to Shuri Castle, and then tonight and the next two nights we're training for two hours with a local karate dojo. Everyone seems very excited about it, and I have to admit that last night I wasn't feeling quite as enthusiastic. After a night's sleep and with my body not nearly as sore my perspective is changing, though I think I'll still want to take it easy on my knees. On the plane over I was watching a movie and someone crouched down and then got up easily and I was almost sick with envy at the idea of doing that. It feels like it's been months...

Previous 10 | Next 10