Joined September 2017
  • Day671

    Ainu and Arctic people

    July 13, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    I could really get into this whole anthropology thing...if I could ever manage to keep all the people straight and their timelines. It's like dinosaurs. They're cool, but I can not keep them straight and only know that they were in the Jurassic period thanks to the movie.

    I think it's cool because I've been lucky enough to be in just a few northern places in the world and, not to paint everyone with the same brush, but man oh man, are there similarities between the Northern Indigenous peoples! Japan is/was no different. Like North America, Japanese from the Honshu island did their best to ignore, force assimilation and generally wipe out the indigenous groups as they colonized into the northern islands, like Hokkaido. The Japanese government even hired American consultants to help the "assimilation" process; these consultants wise and experienced as they were fresh off their own country's actions to deal with the North American Native population. The indigenous people even called the ethnic Japanese "colonizer" or "one whom you cannot trust"---sounds so familiar right?

    In fact, it wasn't until 2008 that the Japanese government actually officially recognized that there was indeed, a distinct ethnogroup that had inhabited the northern island of Hokkaido. These people are called Ainu. This roughly translates to "human".

    There is evidence of human habitation of Hokkaido 20,000 years ago from peoples that walked down from Siberia and Russia. By the end of the last ice age, they had become hunter gatherers known as the Ainu. They look so different from the Japanese that they sometimes were mistaken for Caucasian. ....but their DNA is Mongoloid. Surprise, surprise....nope, not for me at least. The pictures of these people are so freaking reminiscent of what I saw in the Mongolian nomads and the North American Inuit it was uncanny. Deep set eyes, prominent cheekbones---features not associated with the Asian ethnicity. In the museum we visited, there was a recording of a woman speaking Ainu (one of very few left that can speak the traditional language). As I walked by, I thought it was Inuktitut. The rhythm, cadence and low guttural sounds seemed similar to a novice like me. It gave me pause.

    Like many groups intertwined with nature, the Ainu were animistic/shamanistic in beliefs and were deeply connected with the largest predator on the island, the brown bear. They have found carvings and ceremonial bear skull burials dating back thousands of years. I love how each culture seems to have their own central animal talisman that forms an important part of their belief system. The Ainu relied heavily on the salmon and fish, just like the bears. They lived side by side. Today, the bear is still very important in Ainu culture and it symbolizes their resilience and toughness, like the bear.

    If you look at a map of Japan, the Russian archipelago islands nearly kiss Hokkaido and it is easy to understand how flow of people occurred there. There are still many Ainu people living and recognized in Russia. Today, in Japan, the culture is learning how to live with a hint of diversity after more than a hundred years of efforts to focus on homogeneity. The few thousand Ainu that are left are now attempting to save any of the culture and memories that are left while learning how to be proud of their heritage rather than ashamed.

    I am always drawn to these stories and learning about these things because, to me, it further represents how we may feel our life experiences are painfully unique but they are not. We are all quite human and quite intertwined.
    Read more

  • Explore, what other travelers do in:
  • Day669

    Finally found a squatter toilet!

    July 11, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    Aha! I knew there had to be one somewhere! A true, proper squat toilet. Were we in a National Park far from the visitor's centres and city centres? Yes, but still....I've seen the top-of-the-line Toto Washlet toilets on the side of random rural-as-heck roads. I was beginning to think Japan had removed all of the traditional squat style. It was like seeing a unicorn.

    But, believe it or not, we did more than find toilets.

    We tooled around Sapporo, which was a city with sidewalks and sunny skies. Nothing particularly interesting about the city itself other than it hosted the Winter Olympics some time ago and is the site of the famous Japanese Sapporo beer brewery.

    The sites on Hokkaido island are more natural in their wonder. We sought out the infamous lavender fields in the Fukano area northeast of Sapporo with our sweet teeny tiny Toyota Vitz--fits approximately 2 normal size humans and their purses or satchel. Ta-da!

    We suspect that this year was not a stellar year for whatever weather the lavender fields needed because they were, um, underwhelming. We kept looking at the guide books and then up to the actual fields trying to make the images reconcile. They did not. The fields in Washington State that I got to see were much more impressive than what we saw and granted what I saw in Washington looked like the Furano guide book pictures so we think the flowers/plants weren't doing so hot. We were there in peak season...supposedly.

    We quickly abandoned our "lavender" tour since there wasn't much to tour and we headed to Daisetsuzan National Park. This park is one of Japan's most revered national treasures with active volcanos, high alpine meadows and snow covered peaks. Even more exciting was that the Hokkaido brown bear (same species as a North American brown bear--grizzly) lives in the Park! So, you're telling me we can walk to the caldera of an active volcano and maybe see bears?!!? SOLD! Jonathan I think was less excited given his enjoyment of sweating and while Hokkaido is higher elevation and cooler than the other Japanese archipelago islands, it still wasn't dry and cool.

    We hiked into the park, which was conveniently and nicely free, enjoying the otherworldly vistas created by the toxic eruptions from the volcano. The trail was well marked up to the sulphur field. Then, it seemed to end and we realized we were dead in the caldera with plumes of hot steam, stinking strongly of sulphur, all around us. The ground was strangely and freakily squishy. The smell was suffocating when the wind would push the air toward us. Then, new plumes would pop up and you'd be gagging on the rotten eggs regardless of the wind. Jonathan quickly decided he was done with it all. There was no way he was going to abide both sweating AND shit smells no matter the mountain views. With my partner tapping out and being unsure if the trail continued, we called it quits and made our way back. We were the only people in the caldera and the dense clouds cleared as we were in there avoiding the stench providing some amazing views.
    Read more

  • Day667

    trains, trains, and more trains...

    July 9, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    The trip from Shikoku and the Iya Valley to Hokkaido island and Sapporo city took all.day.long. by train.

    1. Bus from Iya Valley out to Oboke Station
    2. Oboke station on non-bullet train to Okayama Station
    3. Transfer to special bullet train to Tokyo Station
    4. Transfer to different bullet train at Tokyo Station with 3 min to transfer (yeah, totally not panicking with that "layover" time----but it turns out the trains were literally on the same track so the one we exited pulled away and the one we were to board pulled in. Noice!)
    5. Bullet train from Tokyo Station to Hodate station
    6. Regular train from Hodate to Sapporo.

    Easy peasy. Thank god for the interwebs that helped figure that little rodeo out!

    We arrived in Sapporo sometime around midnight and went straight to our hotel which was directly behind the train station---nicely done Jonathan!

    The next day was exploring the city a bit and getting out of town in our rental car....which Sapporo had in droves considering it's a city of half a million.

    We enjoyed the idiosyncrasies of Japanese sizes and design and set out for the lavender fields for which this area is renowned in the summer (yep, very Washington-state esque Hokkaido island is).
    Read more

  • Day666

    Violating property and privacy

    July 8, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Now at the mercy of the bus timetable, Jonathan and I had to reevaluate our plans for the Iya Valley. I had so wanted to drive to Mt. Tsurgi, a hikeable mountain with unspoiled vistas of the surrounding peaks and valleys. There was a bus that was supposed to go there. But, yep, you guessed it...that bus was not running the week we were there. We learned very quickly that when it's low tourist season in Tokyo, that means there is NO ONE out in the Iya Valley. lol.
    So, no bus to the mountain I wanted to see. The running buses were limited and spaced far apart so that if you missed yours back to your hotel, you would likely be staying overnight wherever you happened to be. So, "let's go exploring!", we said enthusiastically ignoring what might happen if we didn't understand the bus schedule or it was not running for some reason.

    We decided to take the bus to what was touted as an authentic hillside village that has roots going back in history over a thousand years, the Ochiai Village. Tour groups apparently offer tours of this little village, but the map and internet assured us that exploring it on foot was doable. In fact, that was part of the beauty the blogs and reviews said...."use the traditional footpaths etched throughout the mountainside that locals have used for centuries to traverse up and down the steep hillside". Excellent. There are paths.

    We catch the bus and journey even further into the Iya Valley. Meeting vehicles along the way and sending them in reverse to eek over to a spot wide enough for our bus to pass. Again, we were the only 2 people on the entire, full-sized bus. It turns out that we were, apparently, touristing alone in Japan. lololol.

    Forty minutes later we reach a nondescript spot on the road near a cluster of buildings. This is our bus stop. I search for a bus sign so I can find this unmarked "bus stop" for our return. There is a rusty sign that marks our spot. There are no sidewalks. The homes are right against the single lane road. It is dead as disco. For once, there are no maps or signs in Japan. We stand together, swiveling our heads around, looking completely like the ill-informed, lost tourists that we are. My kind of travel.....where are we? where do we go? where is this so-called "traditional village"?

    I read it was up the mountain so I figured we should try to go "up the mountain". Jonathan was less impressed with this plan. But, given that there were no signs or depots for lost travelers like ourselves, I figured we had nothing to lose. I mean, you can't get lost.....just head back down the hill. lol. As we started walking along the road, trying to decide on the best point of entry to "up the mountain", I saw a clear stone path leading up, between two homes. This was it! The traditional paths! Jonathan then explained that this could also be the path to the two homes...which were nestled a foot from either side of the path. The "path" definitely didn't look like a path for the foreign visitors. I conceded that he could be right, but hey, why not try it! Maybe we'll end up in someone's kitchen and they will feed us! Wouldn't that be awesome?! To me, it was a win-win.

    We embarked on the uneven, rock path and soon discovered a plaque that confirmed we were, indeed, on the traditional paths! Ha! I knew it! And, yet again, Japan didn't let me down with their signs! lolol.

    We continued on but the "path" deteriorated and even I wasn't sure if we were on the path or in someone's yard. As we zig-zagged our way "up the mountain", there was no doubt that we entered people's yards because when you have to step on their back porch to travel "the path", you're pretty certain you're not on "the path" anymore. We scurried across the private property like cockroaches aiming for the dark. I employed the "keep your head down so that if you can't see them, they can't see you scientific strategy".

    Every once in a while we'd see a little plaque somewhere and we'd beeline toward it so that we could be sure we got back on "the path".

    Our exploration was basically us walking through people's daily lives. It was like a living heritage museum, but the people in the museum were not paid actors. We saw how subsistence farming and cultivation was occurring on these silly steep hills. We saw the fireplaces and cooking areas. We saw the people tending their flowers, their wash, and their gardens. Scattered throughout were old, restored thatch-roof houses that appeared to serve as rest areas. We sat at these and let the humidity envelope us, silently begging for the clouds to open up and give us some reprieve. We were walking up this mountain, in the heat of the day, with the air heavy with humid moisture. I am no longer accustomed to that. It was like stepping back to Tennessee. Poor Jonathan has no tolerance of heat, and more importantly, sweating. Even when I was working in arid, dry Idaho and he visited, he could barely stand the sweating. At the first moment of sweating, his desire is to stop and cool down. Summer in Japan means the humidity makes it feel like you've taken a shower, not dried yourself, and then put all your clothes back on. So, any time we stopped, Jonathan quickly began pulling off all the clothes he could...shoes, socks, shirts....anything to alleviate the sweating. The only two things I've seen ruffle the man are: sweating and having his legs crushed by the reclined seat in front of him on a long-haul flight.

    After we'd absorbed all the culture we could stand, we started heading back down. That was our day. Up the mountain and back down. No other tourists. No lines. No urban sounds besides the occasional vehicle making its way up or down the mountain on the single road. (We took that road back down in accordance with Jonathan not having the desire to wade through knee-high grass and slippery slopes. I think he was over "the path". lolol).

    We arrived back to the bus sign and sat waiting, alone. We saw the school bus come, drop its kid cargo, and other tides of life occurring around us the little village. While it wasn't Mt. Tsurgi, it was awesome to see untouched Japanese life and culture operating without perturbation.

    When the bus came, we climbed aboard wearily, and again, had our private bus shuttle take us back to Kazurabashi stop, the only 2 people aboard.

    We had another evening of incredible food at the ryokan. Another 4000 course meal replete with our fried whole fish that I decimated, again, with chopsticks. We arranged to have the hotelier take us to the bus stop in the morning as we get set to begin the marathon journey from Shikoku island to Hokkaido island in the north. Most people fly there, but we have this sweet bullet train pass so why not spend the next 18 hours on a train??!
    Read more

  • Day666

    A bridge made of vines

    July 8, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Given that we had no car, our exploration plans had to be adjusted somewhat. Our ryokan was very near a famous bridge in the Iya Vally called the Kazurabashi bridge. It is made of vines. These bridges, of which there used to be 13, which crisscrossed the remote, misty gorges of the Iya Valley allowed fleeing bandits to cross the gorge while easily cutting them down to make it impossible to reach them. No one really knows when or why the bridges were built. The theory about fleeing bandits and refugees is supported by the fact that many defeated warriors fled to this valley to escape persecution. The other theory is more supernatural and offers that Kobo-Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddahism, created the bridges.

    Now there are only 3 remaining bridges. Because of the ole car debacle, we could not reach the bridges I most wanted to see, but it turns out I was fine with this because the Kazurabashi bridge, at 150 ft long and 4 1/2 stories above the water with planks set 8 inches apart was enough for me. I don't really care that much for heights and having to cross this swaying vine bridge was wreaking havoc on my anxious, nauseous tummy. If I wasn't in public, I probably would have belly-crawled across. But, pride made me suck it up and pretend I was uber-cool and chill when I was quaking in my boots. While I was reading about these bridges, one crosser was quoted as saying, "You never think a vine bridge is that scary until you cross one and shit a brick."

    Yep.
    Read more

  • Day665

    Off the beaten path...or the entire path

    July 7, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Welp, I managed to accomplish my goal of getting away from the crowds....a little too good. When we were planning this trip, I wasn't keen on being sequestered in stifling cities at the peak of summer. So, I looked for places that were supposedly quieter (a la Kanazawa, the sleepy town of 400k...lolol) and a little more rural. And by god, did I get it. Oops.

    Today was spent traveling from Kanazawa to the Iya Valley. It was supposed to be a few train rides and then a car rental at the train station. The Iya Valley was touted on the internet as an incredible, majestic, serene, off-the-beaten path destination. It was the destination of choice for fleeing, defeated lords across the centuries as a place to hide out after their exile so they wouldn't be killed by the new reigning leaders. That's how remote this place used to be. However, the internet assured me it was so totally worth it and renting a car was no big deal right there at the Awa-Ikeda train station.

    I even did my research and learned that to rent a car or drive in Japan, you need an International Driver's License. You cannot get one of these in Japan. You must obtain one in your home country before departing. I had Jonathan fill the form, take his passport-sized photos, and get all officially licensed up before we left. (Igloolik does not offer these services, so I was not able to get my IDP).

    The internet assured me that even though the roads were single car width through the mountains, a foreigner not used to driving on that side of the road would be fine. So, I told Jonathan he'd be fine driving in unfamiliar mountain roads on the left. He appreciated that I volunteered him for this. :)

    I had even booked a full service hotel replete with dinner service because the internet explained that food services were hard to come by in this isolated corner of Japan.

    We were totally prepared. We had this nailed. Imagine my surprise when we flounce off the train at our car-rental-designated train station and discovered from the tourism lady, in broken English, that there were NO rental cars at all there. Not even a company that was closed. No. Nothing. She didn't even know what I was talking about with car rentals--we were those crazy tourists with completely wrong information. I was flabbergasted. The Interwebs had failed me! Thus far, Japan had been a demonstration of silky smooth efficiency. I was not prepared for any wrenches in my plans. This wasn't like traveling in Africa where every plan needed 6 alternative plans cause no plan is a real plan.

    The lady could see we were pretty much at a loss as to what to do. She took pity on us and called the nearest car rental agency, which was 40 min by train back the way we had just come. It was a moot point anyhow because they didn't have any cars either.

    There should have been some signs along the way that we were leaving the well traveled path....the decreasing tourists at each station. The dwindling occupancy in our train car. We didn't bother to notice them.

    We gathered ourselves and began figuring our what we were gonna do. The tourism lady told us that there were buses to near our hotel. She told us to get back on the train and continue riding it down to where the buses would pick us up. We needed to hurry because there was only one bus left and we would need to be on the next train to get it. Otherwise, we'd be stranded right where we were. Super.

    We got our tickets, hustled on the train and arrived at the train station where the buses passed. It was a one-room train station. We had to cross the train tracks, in fact, to get to the station. This was a far cry from the multi-level, multi-city block train stations around Tokyo.

    We consulted with the androgynous attendant and she/he somehow conveyed that the bus would come. My trust now broken, I went out and read and reread the bus timetable sign about 7 times to convince myself that we were not, in fact, now stranded in an even smaller town with no transportation or places to stay.

    However, Japanese dedication to timeliness and consistency showed once again when the completely empty bus pulled up and Jonathan and I got on as the only riders. We looked at each other and nodded. Mission accomplished. We have, apparently, left all civilization whatsoever in this densely forested steep valley.

    Our ride was incredible and breathtaking. The roads I read about online were, indeed, only one lane despite there being 2-way traffic. Smaller vehicles would have to back down and away from our lumbering, careening bus. After about 40 minutes of riding on the snaking roads (I mean, if you're bored, check out Google maps for the roads--switchback central over here), we arrived at the bus stop.

    We were the only folks there besides a few vendors selling ice cream and meat to invisible patrons. We got an ice cream to fortify us for our next leg of the journey. What was supposed to be a relaxing day of train and then private car travel was turning into a 12 hr marathon of trains, buses, and now, our feet. We humped our backpacks and started walking to where we were shown, on a map, our hotel should be. The problem with most maps, is that they are not topographical. With topography, at least you can mentally prepare for what lies ahead. But not with regular, run of the mill, maps. Nope, your route to your hotel looks like a jaunty little caper down the road when in fact, it's a slog up a 20% grade in 90% humidity.

    The best blessing came when we made it to our hotel, an authentic Japanese ryokan, and were shown to our room and I saw a gleaming, fierce air conditioner mounted right above the sleeping area. Yes Maam!!

    We finished our day by rinsing the sweat and travel off of us just in time to make it downstairs for dinner, wearing our authentic Japanese grass sandals. Dinner was a culinary field trip consisting of about a dozen courses. I honestly lost count. All I know is there were about 29 little dishes that had to be carted away. Jonathan and I were so hungry that the full fish with head and eyeballs included did nothing to sway our eager stabbing with the chopsticks to get at its flesh. Have you ever tried eating a whole fried fish with chopsticks?
    So many different, interesting flavors. I may have dropped the ball on the rental car and backup plan, but I nailed it by making sure we had dinner when we arrived! Whew!

    Now, on to the exploration of this Iya Valley with no car.
    Read more

  • Day664

    Using what you got

    July 6, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Every time I get the chance to see somewhere new in the world, I'm struck by how many ways there are to "live". What I mean by that is that humans have been figuring out how to live in their environments for forever. Even within North America I've seen this. Take the Southeastern United States for example, where I grew up, clay bricks are extremely popular for building whereas in the Northwest US, it's all wood. Where I live now, in the Arctic, the people have had to be very inventive and creative to create dwellings and live in a treeless, clayless environment. But, they did it and have 27 different words for 'snow' to encompass all the different types and categories, illustrating that a simple precipitation word to non-Arctic peoples is a very important concept to Arctic dwellers.

    The same in Japan. In Shirakawago, a now-UNESCO designated heritage site, tourists can see the ingenuity of how traditional homes were built using what they had----grass--called 'gassho-style'. Not only were homes built using grass, but also shoes, clothes, bassinets, mats, etc. Instead of everything being seal skin like it is in Igloolik, it was grass.

    The village we visited is actually one of 3 such UNESCO designated villages. Their location deep in a mountainous region at high elevation both protected them from encroaching sprawl and redevelopment such that in the 1970s, local residents decided that this traditional style was worth preserving. They worked for 20 years to restore the homes back to their glory and achieve the UNESCO status, predicting that future tourists and Japanese would value this and bring economic stimulus. The steep mountains that surround these villages prevent any real agriculture of scale. Back in the day, the residents used to raise silkworms as a way to generate income.

    The houses' roofs must be replaced every 30 years. The roofs are very steep in order to repel and slough off accumulating snow. Plus, the houses are huge--like 3 to 4 stories tall and would accommodate extended families along with their silkworm cultures up in the attic.

    I am not sure what or how the residents not directly incorporated in the tourism industry do for money. They may commute to larger, nearby towns for jobs.
    Today, the village is awash with tourists and visitors. It is essential that the homes be protected for posterity but also economic reasons. To that end, the village has a crazy fire suppression system. There are essentially geysers set up every 30 m (100 ft) or so. They shoot something like 30 m (100 ft) in the air and are basically an unmanned fire hose. Instead of a knocked over fire hydrant that shoots upward, these shoot directionally towards homes and barns. They do fire drills every week or month, I can't remember, and the residents have to participate. They also do a test run of the geysers every fall to make sure they are working. Additionally, there are fire patrols that consist of regular residents making the rounds twice per day through the village to ensure there are no fire hazards that have unintentionally occurred throughout the day. Serious about some fire prevention in a town of grass homes.

    What was most interesting to me about the story of these villages was that when the residents decided to organize and preserve their village, it was the younger generation that prized this ideal and wanted to protect the traditional houses. The older residents at the time resisted with the argument that they needed to modernize and do away with these high-maintenance houses. I find that interesting because usually it's the kids trying to get the older generations to modernize while the elders try to impart the value of tradition and customs to the younger folk.

    As usual, the bathrooms were weirdly spotless. Also interesting and, according to Jonathan and I, taking things a bit too extreme was the fact that there were NO garbage cans. They just hands down refused to provide anywhere to throw garbage. Not in the restrooms, not in restaurants, no on the streets. Nowhere. And there were gobs of signs explaining that you would not find a trash can because there were none. We were instructed by the signs to carry all our garbage out. That even included diapers! That's where Jonathan and I drew the line. I mean, seriously, you have your baby with you and you're supposed to carry the baby's shit diaper with you the rest of the day in your purse??!! Isn't that lovely getting to sit next to that person on the bus ride back---the person with shit diapers in their bag. A little ridiculous if you ask me. But they didn't ask me and I didn't have an infant with me, thankfully, so I just shoved my plastic waste in my camera bag and moved on.
    Read more

  • Day663

    Where not to be a carpenter!

    July 5, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    We saw Japanese castles, gardens, and carpentry handiwork. Jonathan continued to work on not hitting his head everywhere we went, including our hotel rooms.

    And, thanks to jet-lag, both of us have been up before 6am every day since we got to Japan. I love being the early bird, but my body usually revolts. Thank you jet lag! We were at the park by 645am with coffees in hand to enjoy the place all to ourselves. Really the best way to enjoy a Japanese garden. We had to even figure a way to kill time till 9am when the castle opened. lololol. Those of you who know us know that that is like a solar eclipse--you'll see it once in your life.

    Kanazawa Castle was built in tehe 1500s, burnt down several times (of course), and now is a historical treasure. In the latest renovation, the government decided to adhere to the traditional methods of construction, which meant no nails at all in the entire wood structure. The Castle tour, which cost as much as an iced coffee, was very very informative in a "how it's made" type. Less about who lived there (the clans and rulers and such) and more about how in the world you build an entire castle from wood, without nails. Furthermore, the watchtowers in the castle are not square. The angles are 80 degrees and 110 degrees in the neighboring corner. Thus, the "square" is shifted, ever so slightly, so that there was not 1 straight or square cut in the things. It was madness. The archaeologists and historians are not sure why the castle was constructed that way because it makes the carpentry infinitely more difficult. They theorize it was done to allow a better vantage of the area most vulnerable to attack.

    A neat interactive part of the self-guided tour were wooden examples of the different joints that were used in the building so you could manipulate them yourself and see how the dowels, chocks, and shims worked to secure the structure.

    The Japanese garden we visited was incredible. It is considered one of the "3 Great Gardens of Japan". Had no idea when I chose this place! What are the chances of landing at one of the 3 best in a country that prizes its gardens?! Kenroku-en is the name and it was developed alongside the castle for the ruling folks around 1600s. It has been added onto and developed over the centuries. The oldest fountain in Japan, which operates under natural water pressure (gradient from high to low elevation) was created in 1700something. I love that they note the various restorations of the garden, with the first in 1774. lol. Gotta get with the times----renovate renovate renovate. What I found interesting about the garden was that it appeared to incorporate the trees and flora rather than showcasing them, as in say, an English garden. I am no expert, so I found it neat that I noticed how much I felt a part of the garden while walking through it rather than a spectator OF the garden.

    We also explored the old geisha houses and samurai houses that exist in Kanazawa. The narrow streets, alleys really, only wide enough for a bicycle to navigate, wound around the old wooden houses. Japanese houses don't really do it for me. They embody the concept of minimalism. I mean, the old houses are literally a square room. The end. That room is the sleeping area, cooking area, gathering area...whatever you need it to be. The tatami mats (grass mats) laid out look nice, but still very very bare. Just doesn't do it for me I think.

    Tomorrow we're off to one of the main reasons for coming this way in Japan----the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawago!
    Read more

  • Day662

    Sleepy Kanazawa

    July 4, 2019 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 22 °C

    We left Tokyo on a bullet train headed for Kanazawa, a "sleepy" town on the west coast of Japan. Tokyo is on one side of the big Japanese island, Honshu, and Kanazawa is on the other side. The trains travel around 270-300 km/h or 168-186 mph. The tracks have to be exceptionally level and straight for those sorts of speeds, hence why regular train tracks wouldn't do. They had to engineer new ones for the bullet, or shinkansen, trains. (try saying 'shinkansen' out loud--it's fun!). They rock less and are much smoother than regular trains--i.e. I didn't get motion sick at all despite the fact that Japan apparently insists on using the wimpiest, bare minimum air conditioning.
    In Japan, the first bullet trains began in 1964. Regular trains can use the tracks, but the shinkansens can't get up to their high-speeds on the regular train tracks. So, most stations in cities with the shinkansen stop will have an area and platforms for the bullet trains and a separate area and platforms for the regular trains. If the city has a subway, those trains are in yet another area, down some levels.

    I splurged on the "first class" train tickets because i knew we'd be doing a lot of train travel to explore the country and after all, it is our anniversary/honeymoon/birthday bash so why not let poor Jonathan's kneecaps remain intact for at least one trip? lolol.

    The trains were immaculate. I cannot tell you how old they are because, apparently, Japanese bodies do not actually wear and tear the finishings such as carpet or paint. Yes, the cabins are carpeted. 0_o Unlike Tokyo streets and subways, it is not a cultural no-no to eat and drink on these trains and still--they are so clean. What gives? (Side note--also there are cleaning crews that clean after the train reaches its terminal destination before it heads back out again. When they are finished, the exit the train together, line up, and bow in front of all the waiting passengers).

    We arrived in "sleepy" Kanazawa that afternoon and that's when I discovered this so-called "sleepy" town actually had a population of about 370,000 people. Oh, right. Sleepy. That's what I'd call it. We chose it because we were trying to avoid the tourist cultural mecca of Kyoto that I'd read could be very busy. Kanazawa was supposed to be just as culturally rich with historical and traditional Japanese shrines, temples, and designs---but, you know, "sleepy". lol.

    This is why facts are so great sometimes. Sleepy to a Japanese citizen would be 370k people, but sleepy to me is more like....20k. If I'd known the numbers, I could have applied my adjective appropriate for me. Or the word "clean". I say the trains are clean, but what does that mean? It means that the carpet has no stains or worn spots. There are no dings on the wooden accented armrests and seatbacks. And, of course, not one piece of missed trash.

    Next day is exploring Kanazawa and then on to my faves----UNESCO World Heritage Sites (They're the nerdy best and fun!!).
    Read more

  • Day661

    24 hr Tokyo

    July 3, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    With the delay in Hall Beach, Tokyo time was cut to a day. Plenty to see one of the busiest, most dense cities in the world right? Sooo, maybe we can't see all the sights, but the take home message is the same. Tokyo is the cleanest, most efficient, easist to navigate and polite city I've ever seen.

    Please allow me to provide examples....
    1. No honking. Ever.

    2. There are maps upon maps upon maps. In the train and subway stations, there are maps near the ticket kiosks, beside the ticket kiosks, on the support pillars in the station, at information booths...all in English of course. And if you just can't read a color-coded, numbered, English map, there are attendants everywhere to help you. Just looking like a tourist will provoke an attendant to attempt to provide travel aid. It is easier to navigate Tokyo than my own city of Vancouver...and I lived there! If you leave the station, not to worry, there are maps outside the station on literally every corner block. They are even in the ground!

    3. No litter. We have seen exactly 1 plastic bag that appeared to be litter. There are 13 MILLION people in this city and we saw a single plastic bag amiss. Mind boggling. What makes it even more unfathomable is that everything is packaged in plastic.....a single sugar cube..in plastic. A hard boiled egg...packaged. A coffee stir stick---plastic again. And there are NO trash cans. Everyone is expected to carry their trash with them and dispose of it at the place they purchased it or at a rare trash can at a train station (cans are only located inside the paid fare area).

    4. No eating/drinking while walking or on subways. This explains the absolute pristine sidewalks and public spaces, including subway trains. They are immaculate because no one carries sticky stuff on and spills it. Lol.

    5. The toilets and bathrooms are immaculate and over the top technological. Warmed seats, privacy music, various water jet selections to cleanse, and automatic lids. Everything I've ever heard about Japanese toilets is true and then some. Lol.

    6. Signs are everywhere about being aware and considerate of other people around you. On the subway and trains, they ask that you make sure your earphone noise doesn't 'leak' out and bother other patrons. Earphone leakage!!! Are you kidding me?! We can't get folks to just USE earphones. Lol. Keyboard noise from computer work can be annoying so please keep that in mind and work to lower it. !!! Stuff like that.

    It has been an eye-opening experience. No wonder people like traveling here. It's like a freakin spa retreat.
    Read more

Never miss updates of Jasmine Ware with our app:

FindPenguins for iOS FindPenguins for Android