Yep, I’m in Japan. I know, I know, I was only supposed to go to Korea,
then head back to China, but like so many adventures in life, I was talked
into going during an all night bar-hop. I was in Seoul, wondering what to
do with the second week in that country when I was already bored by the
sad nightlife and haunted by death thoughts, when the idea was slipped
into my head.
It all started innocently enough, chatting with two guys who work in
Japan, and then it grew as I ran into more and more expats with great
Japanese adventures. Finally, after hearing too good to be true rumors
about the price and speed of Jap life, I went looking for sober info from
a guidebook. That done, I’m now in Kanazawa, Japan.
I’m here looking for some order in Japan. I was expecting a land of Zen
gardens, but instead all I’ve seen is industrial chaos or suburban sprawl.
Surprisingly underwhelming. Hiroshima, my first stop after the ferry from
Korea, was odd. I went there mainly for the A-bomb museum (great for my
death thoughts), that was laid out with expected perfection, but the rest
of the city was shocking.
Very angular, very industrial, very tree-less. Even Hong Kong, in all
its concrete vertical glory feels greener. I would’ve though that with a
clean slate after the bomb, the Japanese would’ve made it more flowing.
Instead, it is an industrialist’s dream and my nightmare.
I fled Hiroshima for this more orderly green enclave in the north.
Kanazawa is home to one of Japan’s three best gardens: Kenroku-en. Built
to encompass the six attributes of Chinese garden perfection (seclusion,
spaciousness, artificiality, antiquity, water, and vistas) it is a clean
meditation point for me to take time to try and resolve my death fears.
That is if I can only get past the suburban sprawl around the gardens and
the megaphone-equipped tour guides in the park.
Outside of this little slice of heaven, the only other source of peace
in Japan is the rail network. With a Japan Rail Pass ($300 for a week!), I
get unlimited rides on the world famous bullet trains.
They’re not as fast
as the French TGV, but unlike its cousin, the Japanese train is way more
orderly and expensive. With lines on the platform showing exactly where
the doors will open, and the Japanese tendency to follow rules to the
letter, stops are momentary, and the train is moving before you even get a
And the trains do move! You can travel the length of Japan’s main
island in less than a day, allowing me to see glimpses of several cities
while I cross the country. I particularly enjoy the whoosh and jolt to the
left when we pass another train.
Yes, jolt to the left, for the Japanese, like the English, drive on the
left side of the road. This was surprising for me since we occupied the
country after WWII and you’d think MacArthur would’ve changed that
foolishness right away.
Well he didn’t and because of that, once off the trains I had one
hell of time trying not to get run over when I looked the wrong way
crossing the street. Makes me wonder how the Japanese live so long!
It has to have something to do with the food. Maybe raw seafood is good
for you. The raw baby glow-in-the-dark squid I ate sure was tasty with a
beer, and I’ve eaten my share of raw fish. Surprisingly, there are
Western restaurants everywhere, with spaghetti something of a Japanese
favorite. Even with the Western restaurants, there are few fat people in
Unlike China, it’s not cuz of the high degree of manual labor in daily
life. No, although Japan is super automated, the kids stay slim since food
portions are tiny and prices high in the restaurants. After China and
Korea, I’m constantly hungry here, for my budget can’t afford too many
$10 plates of 1/2 Western portion spaghetti and $5 beers!