Japan 19 - Back to Tokyo. More Train. Less sleep.
Takayama train station at 7:30am. We sit in the station, its small and early but everything is open – you can even buy sake and swill it back if you so desire. I trip across the road and get us some coffees at a convenience store called family mart. It has no Japanese name – just english. Daniela eats a bagged pastry, I pass. We had a big feed last night that I am still recovering from.
After our coffee we head out to the platform and the train rolls in. We get on and put our luggage in the back of the car, get set up and settled in for the 2.5 hour ride back to Nagoya. A few seconds before the train departs a small Japanese woman politely informs us we are in her seat and it turns out we are on car 4 instead of car 1. Scrambles. A kind German tourist advises us not to get off the train but to wait for the next stop to transfer cars. The train then begins to pull forward and we decide to hump it through the cars to the front of the train. No big deal really but still a little stress to bring the edge up. In the correct car we do not have a spot for our luggage – someone took the spaces already at the back of the car so it sits on the seats across from us enjoying the mountain view.
We are both a little tired this am – Daniela has been having back issues, my guess is it is schlepping the many kg of luggage up and down the multitude of flights of steep stairs deep in the subway systems. There are no saggy mattresses here, mostly floor beds.
We spot frost on the mountain sides and treetops as we pass. some areas are blanketed white with it. The train is clean and orderly just like everything else you mostly find in Japan. There is no graffiti, cigarette burns, wads of gum, or vandalization of any sort. Washrooms here are for the most part pristine. (sure we found a few ugly ones but on the whole nada) My conclusion is we North Americans are pigs, plain and simple. We wreck things, mark them up, carve our initials, scratch, peal, chip, and damage shit just
for the sport of it. After seeing how people behave here it really seems pointless and rude the way we treat our public spaces. It sends the message that the core percentage of our population are animals. Not really sure why and never really questioned it until I saw how things are done here.
I am not saying that Japan is superior culturally – just that they have significant traits that could be adopted by us to make things a lot nicer and more comfortable at home if we could teach everyone to be more respectful and decent to public amenities. Die American Pig! Makes more sense now.
Our cycle trip yesterday was a real treat as Takayama is relatively small and easy to traverse by bike. We found a rental shop easily and just walked in, gave an elderly woman our name and hotel name – then she offered us the biles of our choice and told us the latest we could return was 7:30pm. No credit cards, no waivers, no deposits, no restrictions, just trust. She looked about 200 years old and shuffled as she walked, we both wondered how it was she managed the shop. She was the only one we ever saw.
We started off riding through narrow alleyways with open drainage troughs that ran fast water through the city. These gutters were certain deathtraps for bike wheels. The city terrain was treacherous and one has to look up and down in front at all times. You can freely ride your bike on the sidewalks and pretty much anywhere – the rule is though if you plow into someone or something, you are accountable.
The streets here are all opposite to ours and riding can be pretty hairy – best rule is to just stay alert and keep watch. We had no trouble getting around and the risk of getting hit or flipping over from dropping your front wheel into one of the rain gutters just made it all more of an adventure.
The mountain-town quality did haunt us a little when it came to hills and a few times we had stretches of lung-busting climbs or walk-ups. We rode through a few random temples, a nature reserve, graveyard, and a medieval folk village in the hills for a good part of the day. We covered a lot of ground in a short time – it was an ideal way to see Takayama.
A tall pillar of smoke rises out of the center of a small town in a valley across the river that the train tracks run parallel to. We both look at it and say nothing but it looks odd to see so much smoke just billowing out of a small residential area.
It is 8:37 and passengers sleep with white face masks on, on most days in Japan it looks like epidemic status in public places. They sell face masks with scents built in for “freshness” and “relax experience”. Here you can also “refresh and relax” your car when you take it to Dr. Drive. We interpreted this to be a car repair shop.
On some communications catering just to the Japanese they seem to like to use english language as decoration more than content. It is not uncommon to see an english word tucked in amongst news or television graphics. People here love to use pointers and wands. It’s like they all want to be the teacher or army commander. Instead of high-tech video graphics the weather girl stands in front of a board with peal-off decals to reveal sunny skies or impending clouds.
The Japanese are known for their quirky sense of humor and bizarre television programing. We watched a bunch first hand and I can attest that most of the shit they broadcast is beyond my comprehension. It’s a lot of people watching and talking about what other people are doing – then responding to or commenting on the actions of those being watched. Most shows that are not dramas have floating heads of people talking super-imposed over footage of other people doing shit. Mostly mundane shit like eating a croquette or walking down the street. They all talk about it and it all seems very exciting to them. Each screen is also filled with Japanese writing and graphics. We saw very little english broadcasting.
The ticket checker is doing a second run-through. I look out the window and see scenery I should be photographing. I ask myself when does it stop? How many photos can you take? I decide to leave my cameras in their selective bags for this trip and take it all in.
It seems the ticket taker had a memory like a steal trap. He nods at me acknowledging that he knows our papers are in order. We pass a large barge floating down the river with a huge digger on it. One of those ones you play with as a kid with the stream shovel and cables with huge clam sand grabbers. The barge is tilted to one angle and it looks like everything could slip off into the river. It all disappears into the blackness of a tunnel.
The train slows unexpectedly – I see rice patties all round.
Daniela is planning our itinerary for the next and last 48 hours in Tokyo. I don’t plan on sleeping much the next day or two. The Bandai museum and Tokyo National museum, some coffee and tea houses, the Yanaka walking tour, a 12 level Uniqlo, a department store in Ginza, Shibuya crossing to see Hachiko statue, and one last stationery store called Itoya (9 floors).
Yup it’s going to be a bit of a grind. At some points during this trip we have chosen restaurants depending on how long we figured it would take to eat – they can be time suckers and things close way too early in Japan.
The river is low but I expect at different times of the year it must rage and there are indications of water levels 10x what there is now.
I am looking forward to getting back into Tokyo, getting internet, and revisiting some places we missed. Not really ready to come home yet.
I am eating some sort of French pastry all knotted up with bacon inside. We bought it at the base of the mountain. Washing it down with a bottle of cold green tea.
This morning after we left the hotel Daniela stated that she felt like we were on a camping trip. We have moved around a lot, taken over six different trains excluding subways, and have lugged our weight in gear along with us. There is no food service on the train today so we needed to pack food, drink and whatever else and lug it along too.
Our neck pillows were abandoned in our Kyoto hotel. We just didn’t have the room.
The two blue pillows travelled from Pearson Airport to China, Egypt, Hawaii, Israel and Japan. Now they are gone forever.
Time to wrap this up and do something else – there should be enough time for two more posts during the trip and one on the plane home. I will miss writing these. I wish I could do it for a living, but I bet that would take the joy out of it. The good thing about writing things like this is having something interesting to write about. Writing for the sake of it never really has the impact in there isn’t a strong purpose behind it.
Ok We made it to Ginza district. And after intense deliberation, extreme concentration, immense physical prowess, and whole shit load of luck we found our hotel and walked to it from the Tokyo station. It is summer here in Tokyo out of the mountains.
I gotta go running out of time – and daylight.
Our room for the next two nights – A REAL BED Yay!!!