Japan 17 - Pork sandwiches and coffee


Either we are getting used to the coffee here or it is getting better. At the train station they have armies of angry Japanese women in catering uniforms assembling mass-produced white bread sandwiches without crusts (Daniela is in heaven). Slices of cucumber, egg salad, fresh red tomato, crispy green lettuce and of course deep fried breaded savory slices of white pig meat. These sandwiches are FRESH. Not some wet squashed Saran-wrapped lump we get back home with wilted lettuce and warm ham.

Destination, Takayama, transferring from Nagoya. Green pockets of farmland in between urban sprawl. The mountain range follows along with us in tandem.

The train is quiet and not too crowded. The station on the other hand, was pandemonium. You need to prick up your ears here to find your way around, but the train systems are very efficient if you can afford it. Large mountains and power lines again, Godzilla looms in my memories.

My feet fared well over the night and today I am wearing a pair of Nike Air Force court shoes that are similar to having small personal love-seat sofas for each foot. Comfortable and relaxing. It seems Daniela’s snack fetish has worn off. It could be because we were rushed for time when boarding, also we opened a bag of potato chips we expected were onion flavor but found out they were seaweed fish oil surprise. Did you know a popular side dish here is American style potato salad? Yup you can order up a bento filled with Japanese exotics and sidecar it with some mayo-ladened potato salad complete with carrot, celery and all the fixin’s.

Daniela seems to think our next hotel will be a “wash” as she describes it. (we just passed something called the Panasonic Solar Arc. It looked like something out of a recent science fiction movie)

She thinks it is going to be a let-down, but from the booking pictures I remember it being pretty interesting looking – kind of like a hybrid between a ryoken and American room – she thinks if will be tacky but it was all she could find – I just hope we are not going to have to sleep in separate beds again. She just informed me it’s shoes off at the door at the next hotel, and that we have to transfer trains in five minutes so I have to sign off until we get on the next train – we only have a ten-minute window to get on and off – these bullet trains do not wait around.

Yes there’s the chime music – time to move.

We scramble to the next train, sort out tickets and Daniela jumps onto train car 8 (our car is 1) She starts to make her way through the cars thinking she is all clever-clever – then she gets blocked by more tourists heading in the opposite way – there is a mass of confusion and strained looks – think two cars going in opposite directions, no room on the road and neither car willing to move. I get all pissy and turn around luggage in tow, jump off car 7 and skip around the congestion and get in on the door passed the block-up – she sees me and waves, wondering how I got around while she is still waiting. Then it hits her and she follows me out and around getting back in where I am. We follow through a few more cars until we get to one that has no exit. We panic and have to get off again. The train will leave in seconds and we end up running the length of the platform four car lengths and jump into our car at the last second.

My bladder feels like a fully maxed water ballon with someone slowly pressing their foot on it so I head to the head while she gets settled. Our luggage is too huge to fit in the overhead so we have to leave it in vacant seats behind us.

After coming back from the lavatory I discover Daniela is up and around again – this time spinning seats 180 degrees and basically restructuring the interior of the train to her liking. She glares at me knowing from the expression on my face that I am amazed at her current and recent antics. She simply states: “Sitting backwards on a train makes me puke.” I can’t argue with that so I sit down like a good dog and shut my trap all the while retrieving my computer to get this down before it’s lost forever.

Everybody here reads manga – not newspapers – big fat phonebook type newsprint books filled with pictures and text. Even the big boss business dudes on the train have it on hand. What do they know that we don’t? 

I realize we are in the front car, hence the name number one. Now that Daniela has turned the seats around we have a front row seat with big windows to look out of. The drivers wear white gloves and salute/wave at passing trains and staff. It’s all very USS Enterprise like and very formal.

She’s back into the snack bag again this time it’s cheese and crackers plus a bunch of stuff I bought for myself she has claimed for her own. She is using the window sill as a table, spreading orange cheese on Ritz crackers with a little red stick. The three-foot-high conductor ambles by, white gloves, and an importantly serious expression on his face.

Somehow I get the feeling we are going to get in shit, but we get ignored.

It seems strange now and all turned around, as we just landed in a station and literally changed direction – started going backwards instead of forwards. Now that Daniela had changed the seats around we just hand to switch spots as we have four seats facing each other – I complained about not having a table but my lap is doing the job. Now she is into cakes, eating and photographing them. Food styling, shooting, and then consuming. Changing cameras from Cannon to iPhone.

I imagine the rest of this train trip should be relatively mundane – there has been enough excitement already to do us for the day.

She’s up and down like a pump handle, it must be the coffee, but she has trouble staying still for too long on a good day. The train is wobbling back and forth a lot and it is hard to stand or do much of anything. Kind of a rough ride for a railcar. Maybe it is because we are at the back now that the train is moving in a different direction  – the tip of a tail always wags the most.

These rides are somewhat cathartic and offer a time for refection in between the bouts of chaos and confusion, just like most things in life. I think I would like to travel by rail through Europe. 

Daniela returns with a blanket statement: “Boy that’s some toilet.”

We cross a high bridge overlooking a huge river and go in and out of tunnels just like the trains people fight on top of in the movies.

She pulls out some kind of black bean pancake sandwich wrapped in wax covered paper. It’s like she has some magic purse that shit just keeps coming out of like one of those tiny clown-cars that all the clowns come out of. Only instead of clowns its things to eat. Another stop – at each one I get uptight that we will have to move our luggage. The little captain Picard guy with the white gloves blows a whistle and we move on.

Daniela has announced how great it is to not be able to read the calorie counts and nutritional information on the snacks due to the language barrier. More black tunnels and bamboo groves. Jade green rivers and lots of clay tile traditional Japanese rooftops. It is hard to see far in the distance here most times as you are either buried in skyscrapers or surrounded by hills and mountains.

I am tempted to sleep but don’t want to miss anything. No one said this trip was going to be restful. It took a good hour to pack all of our shit up this am and our cases are fit to burst if we attempt to put too much more in. I have already expanded to two carry bags. On one had I could say that I packed too much but on the other fresh underwear is getting scant.

Living here would be interesting but I think a some point a few months in a westerner would get pretty homesick. From a historical point of view there isn’t much to connect us to. Everything is so different here that I really do feel like an alien. Not like the way I did in China – in China it was like we were in a glass case for everyone to view. We would walk into an eating establishment and the crowd would hush, all turn to watch us at once, then a few seconds in go about their business. In Japan people are too polite to openly stare or call you out unless they feel you are embarrassing yourself or need help.

The alienation in Japan comes from the deep differences here and their somewhat western influence isolation – being and island and all. So to live here long term there may be problems for westerners due to trouble identifying.

HUGE ravines and rivers with red bridges and rock gorges. The train ride is turning spectacular. Daniela has commented about how disappointing it was that the potato chip flavor turned out to be fish.

Damn that river really is deep jade green. She is looking out the window at it contemplating… What I would give to just see the world from her perspective for even a few seconds. How different would it be? What would it feel like?

Huge rocks, power lines, trees, and a distended gut from pork cutlets mixed with white bread and cucumbers. Hot black tea with milk would be good.

We land at Takayama station at about 2pm and roll out into a landscape that matches that of a small midwestern Canadian town kind of in the flavor of Calgary with mountains and everything is Japanese instead of Canadian. Our hotel is a short walk from the station but far enough to be quiet. People are soaking their feet in a foot hot salt-spring foot-bath outside. It is much colder here than in Kyoto.

We check into the hotel, lock our shoes in a box and read a bunch of rules and instructions written in broken english – but well enough to understand. We make it o our room on the 4th floor (409 for those wanting to visit) – it appears to be something out of a Japanese 1950’s tourist brochure. The decor is a mix of authentic Japanese meets 1950’s retro tiki. The room is modular and tiny with little sinks, little cups, little pillows little lights, little stationery pads and a very little bathroom sink. 

FREE NOODLES from 10:30 to 11:30 pm on floor 11 Daniela reads out to me. A salt spring on the 13th floor. (I can hardly wait to soak my ears in it!)

“Hey free cookies, I’m having mine!”

My only complaint – no internet in room – we have to travel the the radio tower room stationed on floor 2 and sit beside the giant transistor, also when posting it is required to wear some sort of anti-radioactive helmet to avoid Mothra discovering our location and attacking.

More after a walk around and some hot green tea boiled up in our very ow rice cooker/kettle.

So yes a bit of a walk around, some delicious beef ramen and back to the retro tiki ryoken to post this post. To my chagrin the internet is on the fritz here an I wish Mothra would roll in and nuke this place. I had to tether my phone to get this up and live.

I will post more in the am – I have to go find out who our new mayor is. Really hoping the Ford ran off the road and plummeted down a steep embankment to a fiery crash. Sorry if there are typos and mistakes – i just wanted to get this live. Technology here is a few steps back. We surely are in the Japanese countryside now!.