Friday, November 25, 2005

White Christmas

Japan, apparently, loves Christmas. The shopping avenues and department stores are almost indestinguishable from their American equivilents at this time of year, and the shoppers seem to dig it. The slogans are almost all the same as in the states, and they're written in Enlgish. Huge Christmas trees have sprung up in the public plazas and luminescent snowflakes abound in downtown Osaka. Every chrismas carol from "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" to "Joy to the World" is heard in every form in the large stores. I can almost forget where I am sometimes, which is a momentarly dip into surreality.

As was Kyoto, when I left it last thursday the 17th for a week long getaway armed only with a couple changes of clothes and a week long Japanese rail pass. The pass cost around 255 dollars American but I used it well over 800 dollars worth of tickets. Here's a rundown of how I spent the week.

The Northenmost of the four main islands of the Japan Isdland chain. We decided we wanted to see a good mountain and some snow before we took off for tropical malasyia, and we were rewarded. We settled on making reservations at a youth hostel in the town of Makkari, which isn't really on any map. To get to it you have to ride several tiny trainlines up from the southern penninsula, get off at a town called Niseko and then take a bus 40 minutes south. The town had about 3 stoplights and was surrounded on the East, South and West by feilds. On the northside, however, was a pretty cool mountain which gave us a fun chance of winter hiking. When we got there, however, it had just finished dumping about a foot of snow on the area, so everything was covered with pristine white, giving the whole landscape a serene and austere and simple monochromatic quality that I'm sure would be found favorable by a Zen Ink Painting master. We walked around, found a good ramen resteraunt, and hiked into the forest enough to get a reasonably good view of the town and then turned back. Before starting back for town however, we took a couple hours to build what might be remembered forever in Hokkaido as the best snowman in the history of mankind. The whole thing was around 8 feet high and had a purely awesome face carved into it by none other than yours truely. The bottom section is about three feet in diameter, then next section weighing about 75 pounds. Constructing this uber-snowman, was a feat of both sheer ambition and astounding engineering skills.
Another thing that was nice about Hokkaido was the season. It was just a week or two too early for the ski season to open up, and a few months too late for the most hardy of the summer, warm weather hikers, so the whole joint was practically deserted. We saw maybe a handful of people on the streets in all the towns we visited in the area, and we were THE only tourist we ran into while we were there. The hostel was absolutely empty, meaning I got a huge, six person room, all to my self. Hokkaido, in a word, is amazing.

Our accomodations were pretty nice in our next stop, as well. We ended up spending two nights in Tokyo, which was more than planned but allowed us to visit the art museums that were closed on the monday we arrived into town on. The first night we stayed in the classic coinlocker business hotel with each room being little more than a cubic capsule just large enough to hold and bed and a desk, but was still privacy and comfort at a hostel price. The next night, we stumbled into a place about 5 minutes from a train station near downtown, that was out of dormroom style beds, so put us into a large family size japanese style suite at the dorm room price. We got pretty lucky again. Tokyo is said be a source of powerful culture shock to westerners expecting a western city, but really, after Beijing, Xi'an and Ulaan Bataar, Tokyo seems pretty tame. The night shopping avenures are pretty interesting, combining more neon than vegas, more wealth than new york and as much technology as, well, really as much as one would expect in Japan. We visited Yasukuni War museum, also, which is extremely interesting in that it illustrates with profund lack of subtlety the extreme rightwing attitudes in Japan that make most people of other Asian countries not like Japan very much. In our time in Japan it was more than clear that right wing attitudes and militaristic pride in no way dominated the political landscape, but in downtown tokyo it is true that there exist a national museum enjoying public support that recounts the events of the last 150 years with an unquestioning pro-japan bias. We also got a chance to visit the Tokyo Art Museum which was rather dissapointing considering that most of its most famous possesions are only on display one month out of the year. Imagine if the louve only displayed its collection of leonardo da vinchi only every february. I wasn't too happy.

We only spent an afternoon here, but it was well worth the trip. We enjoyed a variety of japanese streetfood that included deep-fried squid and sweat red bean stuffed pancakes. While wandering around we stumbled onto a preformance of Taiko drummers (which, admittedly, are extremely hard to miss considering that from any distance under a kilometer Taiko drumming sounds like someone shooting off artillarly next door). Of course, next we visited the site of the atomic bombing and the memorials attached to them. The immediacy and the intensity of this experience is beyond what I can desribe on the internet.

Interesting for its picterous views and historical temples. Also, its home to about 10,000 tamed and well fed deer. If you're anti-hunting, a trip to nara might change your mind.


Anonymous Kelsie said...

Rob... I want to come see you. Please call or email me so we can arrange a trip after Christmas? Where will you be? Get back to me.

30 November, 2005 02:46  

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