After wrapping up my time in Osaka, I concluded my summer in Japan with a two week tour of the country by train (7/25-8/7). I was accompanied by Jeff and Graydon as I went out to visit old friends and obtain a more complete understanding of the country and culture. Traveling in Japan is expensive. But we managed to overcome this obstacle by acquiring "special" passes, reserved only for foreigners in Japan. By merely flashing our JR Passes to station attendants, we were given virtually unlimited access to Japan's extensive railway network for a period of two weeks.
First Stop: Shizuoka
Actually, the first stop was Hamamatsu. On my way to Shizuoka, I stopped in Hamamatsu to have lunch with my old friend, Takashi. I enjoyed catching up with Takashi before continuing on to Shizuoka to meet up with many more friends. While in Shizuoka, Jeff, Graydon, and I stayed at the "Joy House," which at any given moment was inhabited by approximately 6 to 10 guys. These figures do not include the incrediblely large spiders that frequent the premises, refusing to submit rent checks or complete household chores.
The highlight of our trip to Shizuoka was spending time with friends. Upon our arrival, we had dinner with our friend, Kenya, at everybody's favorite restaurant ... Bochan's. Our first day in Shizuoka included a trip to an art exhibit with Kojima-san and his children; the second day was spent hanging out on the beach with our friend, Snow; and on the third day, my old roommate, Gaku, took me to a dairy farm at the base of Mt. Fuji in search of his favorite ice cream. While in Shizuoka, we noted an increase in the number of females who wanted to cook dinner for us. Shizuoka quickly moved up on our list of favorite cities.
Our last evening in Shizuoka was spent at a traditional Japanese festival, held along the banks of a local river. This was quite a lively affair involving the entire population of Shizuoka being herded past innumerable street vendors selling every sort of food imaginable. But the countless multitudes primarily came to witness the mother of all fireworks shows - one and a half hours of blasts, bangs, and fiery debris raining on helpless crowds. Many companies participated in this exciting display by blasting away all their profits from the past decade, leading to yet a deeper recession throughout the country.
On the beach in Shizuoka.
Contemplating deeper things on the infamous tetrapods.
Second Stop: Tokyo
Leaving Shizuoka, I separated from Jeff and Graydon and made my way to the center of Japanese travel ... Tokyo Station. I soon discovered the difficulties of trying to meet up with someone in Tokyo, as it took approximately one hour to locate my friend, Kimiaki, within the station. This seemed to be a common theme during my stay in Tokyo, as a day later there was an even more disastrous occurrence when I tried to locate a friend, Stephan, in the world's busiest train station (Shinjuku Station). But train stations are only a part of the Tokyo experience. My first day was spent hanging out with Kimiaki and his friend, Yoshiki. Activities included a trip to a water park, an excellent dinner, and a rousing game of pool. The evening was capped by a visit to Yoshiki's home, where his parents returned to find a lone foreigner sitting in front of their television sipping tea.
My second day in Tokyo was spent with another good friend, Takano. Takano gave me the grand tour of downtown Tokyo, which included, among other things, searching for sumo wrestlers. We had difficulty locating wrestlers as, apparently, they were all hibernating for their afternoon "nap." We did, however, observe one sumo who was riding his bicycle through the streets.
Dave enjoying sushi with Takano.
Sumo wrestlers in Tokyo - what could be more Japanese?
Third Stop: Sendai
Sendai was a brief visit, primarily so I could meet back up with Jeff and Graydon. It did, however, include a pit stop at the self-proclaimed "best of the best" gyoza restaurant. I have to admit, I have yet to find a better gyoza. (cultural note: gyoza is a fried version of a Chinese dumpling.)
Fourth Stop: Hokkaido
After Sendai, we began a long trek to Japan's northern island, Hokkaido. Our first stop was at Noboribetsu, a small tourist attraction hidden in the mountains and surrounded by "virgin forest." Noboribetsu is known for its natural hot springs, that provide relaxing hot baths. These hot springs are formed when scorching water rises from deep within the bowels of the Earth, bubbling and steaming from the surface with volcanic fervor, hastening the moment when one seismic eruption blows the whole town of Noboribetsu to kingdom come ... you'd better believe the tourists are flocking there even as we "speak."
Our second day in Hokkaido was spent in Sapporo, the only major city on the island. Sapporo, with its wide roads and green parks, made me feel like I was back home in the USA. The city is also well known throughout Japan for its historic brewery. The evening of our second night on Hokkaido was spent in Hakodate, a small sea port at the southern end of the island.
Noboribetsu - "Run for your lives, she's gonna blow!"
Dave and Jeff in downtown Sapporo.
Fifth Stop: Hiroshima
Our final excursion on the railway adventure was a trip to Hiroshima, where we stayed with Masaaki, a friend from Greg's lab. Masaaki's family was more then generous in their hospitality, and we enjoyed the visit immensely. We began with a trip to Miyajima, an island just outside of Hiroshima, where we saw the famous "shrine in the middle of the water." Miyajima is also home to a herd of roaming deer that on the surface appear as tame, friendly beasts. But as you aquaint yourself with one "friendly" deer, petting his back and feeding him cardboard disks, another deer quietly approaches from the rear where he violently bites at your clothing, clearly in an attempt to steal your wallet.
Our trip to Hiroshima was also an educational experience as we gained new insight into the atrocities of World War II. Our first lesson began with a trip to the cinema (a modern educational experience, no doubt) where we saw Hollywood's version of Pearl Harbor. The following day we learned about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by visiting the Peace Park and Museum. On August 6th, we were priviledged to attend the annual ceremony marking the anniversary of the bombing. Children, survivors, and other guests (including Prime Minister Koizumi) spoke in an effort to promote peace among the nations. It was a sobering experience to be in Hiroshima for this occasion.
Low tide at the "shrine in the middle of the water" on Miyajima Island.
A memorial for peace. The last building remaining
from the destruction of Hiroshima.
Remembering the past, while looking to the future.
The two week railway adventure brought to a close our summer in Japan. Our last few days in Osaka were spent relaxing and packing our bags. For Jeff and I, it was time to move on. There was one last item on the itinerary. Next stop, China ...
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