10-7 SCN

One of the benefits of getting to the airport super-early is that — at least on airlines that for inexplicable reasons don’t do pre-assigned seat selection — you get your pick of seats. In my case, following my horrible experience on the way to Japan, I asked for, and got, a seat in an exit row. Unlimited leg room. Ahhh.

What I didn’t know is that sitting in an exit row dooms you to losing about two or three inches of lateral space for your ass, apparently because the armrests now have to contain both the IFE system and your table tray, so there’s a big lump that pokes you in the thigh. I would have been okay with that, really, but I still traded my 51H away for something much, much better. It was further in the back of the plane.

Owing to a quirk of scheduling JL18 was not full. It wasn’t even close to full. In the waiting room at Narita I saw what looked like an inordinately large number of small, screaming-age children. This seemed odd; what seemed odder was the number of these children who — how do I put this delicately — were not of the same, er, genetic heritage as their theoretical parents. Some discreet inquiries revealed that this was a group coming back from China with their new Chinese orphanschildren. I’m deeply torn about this. On the one hand it’s touching and heartwarming to know that these kids will have homes with loving parents; on the other, it’s.. kinda creepy. “I went to China and all I got was..”

Yeah, I’m not going to finish that joke. I still have one flight left; I’d like to not go to hell before I get home.

Anyway. Flight not full. Whole rows of seats unoccupied. As soon as the seatbelt sign was off I bolted for the back of the aircraft. Scoped out the center section of row 61, stole six pillows, five blankets, and made myself a little fort. I spent the entire flight more or less horizontal, which is to say that while I didn’t get a whole heap of sleep I did manage to have a much more comfortable flight than I did last time. (Also, I learned that four seats in a 747 are just enough for me to stretch out completely. Walking around during the flight, I noticed that several Japanese people were able to do it in three.) It was great, me and my little blanket fort. It felt like I was about six. Highly recommended way of flying, even if the flight attendants do look at you kind of strangely. But, what relaxation! Blankets over my head, earphones in, eyes closed.. I didn’t hear the Chinese kids screaming the whole way to Vancouver.

Nor did I hear the fire alarm go off. I’ve always wondered what kind of jackass is so stupid — or so desperate — to try smoking in an airplane bathroom. Well, now I know: It was the kind of jackass that was flying from Tokyo to Vancouver last night. I’d like to think this is born out of drug dependency rather than outright stupidity, but the flight attendants were p-i-s-s-e-d o-f-f. A very stern annoucement was made — sterner, by the way, in Japanese than in English. “Evidence of smoking has been found in a lavatory! We wish to remind you that we will open the door and throw you out over the Pacific if we catch you doing it again!” Personally, given the fact that there are signs in the lavs warning of potential precautionary landings in the event of smoke detector activation, I would have enjoyed a trip to Elmendorf or Anchorage or Fairbanks. That would have been fun.

So happy to be back in Canada. So happy to be able to read signs again. So happy to be able to read menus again. So happy to be able to say, “Venti Passion tea lemonade, please,” instead of pointing, miming the drink, and mumbling, “Sore wa onegaishimasu.” Woohoo.

There’s a down side to this, of course: 22 voice mails were waiting for me when I turned my phone on. And a dozen text messages. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Of course, having written that, I just sat through an Air Canada announcement entirely in Japanese, and it was like, “Hey, where am I?” Cut me a little slack; my body thinks its 04:27 tomorrow, and I don’t think I can see straight enough to keep typing.

Document Insert

Japan Times, 22 October 2004, Page 2: Typhoon keeps SDF busy across nation

Jiji Press: The Self-Defense Forces have been busy this year with natural disaster relief operations, with a record number of typhoons striking Japan and causing floods and mudslides across the nation.

So far this year, the SDF has deployed some 11,000 troops for search and rescue operations, as well as water supply and other relief activities.

The number is nearly double that for the whole of last year.

The SDF has received requests for disaster relief from 15 prefectures, compared with four last year. All of last year's cases involved water-related disasters.

Surging demand for SDF disaster relief work reflects the devastating floods triggered by a weeklong spell of torrential rain in the Hokuriku region in July, as well as damage from powerful typhoons that struck the archipelago.

In July's Hokuriku disaster alone, nearly 7,000 SDF troops were deployed for rescue and relief operations in Niigata and Fukui prefectures.

The operations, which ranged from search and rescue to distributing clean water and disinfecting contaminated areas, lasted as long as two weeks.

Meanwhile, Typhoon Tokage, the 10th to make landfall this season, struck wide areas from the Kansai region in western Japan to the Kanto eastern region on Wednesday through early Thursday morning, killing at least 57 people.

As of early Thursday, Miyazaki, Kagawa, Okayama, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Gifu prefectures had sought SDF disaster relief assistance for the havoc caused by Tokage.

The previous record for the number of typhoons making landfall in a season was six. Generally, only two or three typhoons hit Japan directly.

Document Insert

Japan Times, 22 October 2004, Page 1: Cruelest typhoon in 25 years kills 62: 27 still missing amid mudslides, floods

Kyodo News: Typhoon Tokage left at least 62 people dead, 27 missing and more than 300 injured as it cleared Japan on Thursday morning, the worst carnage wreaked by a typhoon in 25 years.

The typhoon brought downpours and strong winds that destroyed houses and important cultural properties. It also disrupted transportation services across the country before being downgraded to an extratropical depression around 9 a.m.

The number of casualties caused by Tokage, which means lizard and is the Japanese name for the Lacerta constellation, was the worst since an October 1979 typhoon that left 115 dead or missing, the Cabinet Office said.

In September 1991, three typhoons struck Japan and left 86 people dead or missing, while 93 were dead or unaccounted for due to two typhoons and heavy rains between July and August 1993, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with Yoshitaka Murata, state minister in charge of disaster management, in the afternoon and ordered the immediate dispatch of a government fact-finding team.

Emergency disaster headquarters were established the same day, with the first meeting held in the late afternoon.

Many of the casualties were the result of landslides triggered by torrential rain, as well as high ocean waves and swollen rivers that crashed through embankments.

As dawn broke and weather conditions improved early Thursday, local authorities and rescue workers resumed efforts to search for the missing and assist those left stranded.

At the site of a mudslide that swalloed several homes in the city of Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture, the bodies of two people had been found by Thursday morning.

In the city of Maizuru in the prefecture, rescuers transported a group of 37 people to safety after they were stranded on the roof of a sightseeing bus. The group, mostly elderly people who were returning from a hot spring in Fukui Prefecture to Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, spent the night on the bus roof after it was almost completely submerged in floodwaters from the nearby Yura River.

Group members said they climbed onto the roof after breaking the windows of the vehicle with coat hangers. At one point during the night, the water had completely covered the bus and had come up to their stomachs.

"At that time, I really thought it was all over," a 65 year-old woman said in recalling her ordeal. "But all of us managed to remain strong."

Another woman said she was able to remain calm while they waited for help for more than nine hours in the cold. "But I could not hold back tears when I was rescued," she said.

In Toyooka and Izushi, Hyogo Prefecture, people were rescued from the rooftops of their flooded homes.

And in waters off Toyama port, the Kaiwo Maru, a training ship operated by the National Institute for Sea Training, crashed into breakwaters late Wednesday after its anchor was washed away by strong winds.

Change of Plans

NB: If it’s been a while since you’ve been here, you’ll probably want to scroll down until you see the picture of Miyajima’s floating torii, read that, and then work your way up. I’ve back-posted about four days worth of entries in addition to this one, which will be supplemented tomorrow at some point with more detail. There would be more tonight, but it’s quarter after eleven, and I’m spent.

Hikari 310 pulled into Tokyo station on time, 14:43 JST on 21 October, 2004. It took me about two seconds after stepping off the train to make up my mind about what I was going to do. Ever since the encounter with Fuji-san I had been toying with the idea of abandoning the old plan. The old plan was for me to catch the earliest NEX back out to Narita and fall into my hotel. It had a lot of appeal: I could go to the health club and work out, get that massage I’ve been hankering for, catch up on my e-mail, and generally relax my last night in Japan. And, had the weather been crappy, it would have been exactly what I would have done.

Instead, the remnants of the typhoon had long since departed the Kanto plain, and, at 14:43 in the afternoon, the sun was approaching the western horizon, scorching metropolitan Tokyo with That Light. You know the light I’m talking about — the light I had for about four days on this trip, and never in Tokyo. Well, I’m not one to let an opportunity like this pass, and I did have half a roll of film to finish off. “Where could I go in four hours in Tokyo?” I wondered. Ah. What was it that I missed out on thanks to the first typhoon? Asakusa, and Senso-ji. Simple deal: Hop the Yamanote line to Ueno, pop onto the Ginza subway line, and come out practically on the temple’s front doorstep. Take some pictures, have something to eat, be back at Tokyo-eki for the 18:03 departure to Narita. Perfect.

A brilliant idea, as it turned out.

By the time I finished dropping my luggage off in Tokyo’s cloakroom (for an extoritonate charge, by the way) and made it up to the Yamanote line platform, the light was even better that it was on the way in. I decided to, um, make a stop in an undisclosed location for the purpose of picking up a gift for someone that will remain undisclosed until they, um, receive it (preferably sooner rather than later, but you never can tell). Back on the train up to Ueno; I caught a glimpse of the park through the station windows, and I’ll tell you this: It’s a hell of a lot nicer-looking in the golden sunshine than in the pouring rain. Have I mentioned I’m really annoyed about the crappy weather I had during this trip? No? Well, I am.

Senso-ji didn’t disappoint. I’ll elaborate tomorrow, but for now let’s just say that I committed a cardinal sin in getting stuck somewhere photogenic with no film appropriate for the circumstances. It’s funny that I had everything in my bag except color ISO 400 C41 film. Had 800 color film. Had BW C41 400 speed film. Had a range of E6. But no Portra400. This is the part where I bang my head against the gate.

I stopped at Daikinuya, a tempura place just off [mumble] in Asakusa that came highly recommended by a number of people whose opinions I trust. For Y1,890 I had the best tempura ebi donburi I’ve ever had, anywhere. It’s not your typical tempura, either; this stuff was seasoned before and after it spent quality time in the oil, and the shrimp had been splayed open, creating a flat tail about an inch wide.. oh, it was delicious.

The expedition had an additional purpose. While I was deeply ambivalent about leaving Tokyo two weeks ago (thanks to the crowds and the fact I was sick and tired of not being able to find anything), I don’t think I had yet fully adjusted to life in Japan. The trip into the city today was partly about seeing whether I could tolerate Tokyo now that I am adjusted. Would I like the city more now that I was comfortable in a foreign country?

Answer: Hell yeah. Tokyo: Not such a bad place after all. Even at rush hour on the trains, it.. wasn’t so bad. It almost makes me not want to leave, now that I’ve got the hang of this place.

That said, it’s probably time for me to go. I was standing on the NEX platform in Tokyo station earlier tonight, and then at the hotel’s registration desk, and then in the lounge, and..

I kept thinking how annoyed I was the place was full of gaijin.

Definitely time to go home.


This is a travel day and there would normally be nothing to write about (“got on the train, rode it for nine hours, got off”), so I think what I’ll do is blog the train ride at least to Shin-Osaka and see how it works. I can’t promise it’ll be interesting, but this will give me a chance to catch up with some ideas that have been rattling around in my head for the past two weeks I haven’t written about yet, as well as serve as a record of my trip halfway along the length of Japan. Hey. If some random jackanape can blog the birth of his daughter (??!!?), I can blog my train trip for as long as my battery holds out.

pre-0843: Kamome 2 left Nagasaki this morning at 06:30 according to my cellphone’s clock. Exactly 6:30. I mean, the clock ticked over, and the train started to move. The accuracy of the timing here is almost frightening. Nationally, the average lateness of a shinkansen last year was 12 seconds. Twelve seconds. For every shinkansen, everywhere in the country. I don’t think I can do anything to a precision of twelve seconds.

I’m going to have to find a good picture of these trains. They’re ridiculously cool. They look like eggs with wheels, the seats are business-class style, upholstered in leather and — I swear I am not making this up — the floors are hardwood laminate. In a train! Hardwood! My house isn’t this nice.

0843: I had been sweating the seven minute train change in Hakata. The Komame LEX from Nagasaki arrived in Hakata at 0835; Hikari 352 left Hakata at 0843. “That’s insane,” I’m sure you’re thinking. “Seven minutes to change trains? Get right out of here. Who the hell booked your tickets?” A fair point, I guess, except that (a) I booked them myself, and (b) it turns out that seven minutes is plenty of time. The shinkansen tracks are only a two or three minute walk from the local tracks, and I made it to the platform before my train did. This is Japan. Seven minutes is plenty of time. Nothing is ever late. Nothing. My food comes on time. The trains run on a hilariously tight and carefully regulated schedule. Hell, leaving the hotel this morning, I stepped outside at almost exactly 0600, and a taxi pulled up just as I had requested.

0857: Arriving in Kokura. Kokura was supposed to be the site of the second nuclear bombing, but cloud cover saved it (and doomed Nagasaki). From the train, it looks like a very industrial town, with a number of tall smokestacks off on the north side. You can tell this is earthquake country — every tall free-standing structure (i.e., things that aren’t buildings) I’ve seen is wrapped in protective scaffolding. Go, civil engineers, go!

As an aside, I can’t help but wonder where Japan’s nuclear reactors are, and whether you can see them from the train. Japan is, if memory serves, one of the places that never built big US-style cooling towers and so their reactors look vaguely, disconcertingly Russian.

By the way, almost everything taller than about five feet in this country is painted in aviation avoidance orange and white, and will probably feature at least three red anticollision lights. It’s really weird, and along with the power lines that run everywhere probably one of the Japan’s most distinctive man-made features.

If Japan had…

.. a national building material, it would be ferroconcrete.
.. a national noble gas, it would be neon.
.. a national electric fixture, it would be the red anticollision light.
.. a national 70s lighting pattern, it would be strobe.

0904: We’re in a big-assed long tunnel. I bet we’re going from Kyushu to Honshu. Civil engineering is almost like a sport in this country — who can build the bigger bridge/tunnel/skyscraper/industrial plant/whatever? The Japanese are in love with concrete (or “ferroconcrete,” as they more accurately call it over here), which makes sense from an engineering perspective, and are able to do some truly amazing things with it. The old buildings that fall down or get burned or whatever that don’t absolutely have to be re-built in a traditional manner get re-done in concrete. It’s unreal.

If you watch the Discovery Channel or TLC periodically you’ll come across one of their “monsters of civil engineering” shows, and inevitably there’ll be some segment on Japanese civil works projects, usually a bridge. I got to see one in the flesh yesterday in Nagasaki — a giant bridge is being built spanning the mouth of Nagasaki harbor; I have no idea whether this is a wise or even necessary thing to do, but the unfinished span looks damned impressive even though it is, um, unfinished.

0918: Pulling into Shin-Yamaguchi. I have nothing to say about this city and know virtually nothing about it, except there’s a very cool-looking railyard below us with an honest-to-god turntable. I haven’t seen one of those in.. years.

Took advantage of the small break at Shin-Yamaguchi to haul out hallie’s AC adaptor. Yay electricity! (It’s my luck that I’m in the first row of seats on this train, in this car: If you’re traveling on the train and want to work, don’t count on this happening — AC is available only in the first row of seats in every car on Hikari RailStar services offered by JR West.)

0945: Hey, I recognize this landscape! We’re near Hiroshima (just outside Miyajima-guchi, actually). I pay attention. Score one for me.

I solved a fruity mystery on Tuesday. For a long time I’ve wondered where, exactly, those mandarin oranges come from. “Product of Japan” the box says, but Japan isn’t exactly known for its vast orchards and fields of produce. “Do they have room for the giant orchards needed to satisfy the endless appetite of North Americans for these oranges?” I used to wonder. Look at the pallet next time you’re in the grocery store around Christmas. That’s a lot of oranges. Now think about how many more pallets there are all over the continent. That’s a lot of oranges.

Well, I figured it out. They’re grown in Kyushu. There are fields of them — not vast fields in the sense that we’d think of the prairies as vast — but there are fields with lots of orange trees all over Kyushu. One mystery solved! (Now, if I can only figure out how they get the caramel inside a Caramilk ba–wait, I figured that one out in biochemistry. It’s an enzyme.)

0951: “We will be making a brief stop at Hiroshima.” Have I mentioned before that I really like this city? I do. Like Kyoto it’s not huge — around a million people — which is just about right as far as I’m concerned for a major city. At the risk of finding a silver lining inside of a dark cloud that really shouldn’t have one, one positive side effect of the bombing is that Neo-Hiroshima emerged with a fabulously navigable road network. Unlike Tokyo or Kyoto, everything’s on a grid, and it’s damn easy to get around. (Nagasaki is like this, too, sort of, and Kobe is reputed to be this way as well, though I have no first-hand evidence of this. Also, Kobe was designed that way, whereas Nagasaki and Hiroshima were rebuilt that way.) And as I said before, it isn’t a depressing place at all.

(I’m willing to concede that my enthusiasm for Hiroshima might have something to do with the absolutely gorgeous weather we had while I was here. It’s entirely possibly that I would have liked the city a whole lot less had it been typhooning.)

Here’s something I bet you didn’t know. Kyoto was spared Allied bombing during World War II out of consideration for its cultural history, but when it came time to pick targets for the nuclear bombs, the Americans wanted pristine cities so as to better evaluate the effects of the weapons. Guess what was first on their list? Yep. After all, what’s more pristine than a city you haven’t bombed yet? Kyoto was a primary target for a distressingly long period of time before Stinson yanked it off the list in late 1944, thinking about the post-war occupation strategy. I didn’t know this until I got to the museum in Hiroshima, and the discovery was.. weirdly upsetting. I couldn’t believe it was even seriously discussed. And confusing: You won’t bomb it with incidiary weapons and conventional munitions because you don’t want to wreck the cultural treasures in the city — but nuking the place, oh, well, that’s an entirely different story.. geez.

1002: There are LED boards at both ends of shinkansen cars that scroll text across them more or less non-stop during a trip. Periodically these will provide things that are comprehensible to.. well, anyone who doesn’t understand the language, things like “Ladies and gentlement, welcome to the Shinkansen. This is the Hikari RailStar superexpress bound for Shin-Osaka. We will be stopping at…” (In case you’re not paying attention, this announcement is also read in a strange, almost British accent.) The most obvious use for these things is to explain where you are and what the next station is — a highly useful and desirable thing! Also, sometime you get a speed report. “[random kanji and hirigana] 285 km/h [random kanji and hirigana].” You can figure that one out without the context, though it’s repreated in English (“We are now traveling at 285 km/h”) for clarity. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the hell the boards said the rest of the time.

Until this morning. I realized they’re news tickers when they’re not displaying train-related information! “[random k+h] 24.8% (-1.4) [random k+h] $1 = Y108 (+1.42) [random k+h] NY 55 [random k+h] 4-2 [random k+h].” I don’t know specifically what it was trying to say, but could fill in the blanks. And really, do you need an English translation for that last bit? Come on. I saw some sweat bands in a shop on kitsch shop on Miyajima. One pair had the number 51 on them, the other the number 55. Each number can only mean one thing in this country..

Periodically an announcement will scroll across asking for your cooperation in keeping an eye out for suspicious packages on trains or in stations. It is exactly the announcement you get in airports. I’m kind of curious how long this has been going on — has it been since 1995? Since 2001? Forever? I’d like to ask, but I don’t know who I’d ask even if I could..

The train crew keeps buzzing in and out of the car. Every time they enter or leave a compartment they bow. I’ve almost got the hang of it: Bow when you’re thanking someone for something, bow when you’re being thanked, and bow whenever you feel like it. I’ve been doing it almost involuntarily since I got here; i wonder how long it’s going to take me to stop once I get home?

1026: Okay, now it feels like we’re going 285 km/h. I don’t think you can go this fast, this low, anywhere in the continental United States. I mean, there are airpseed restrictions below 10,000 feet, and it goes without saying that the cops will get really really pissed if you do 285 in your car on a highway. Try it if you don’t believe me. The only place most people experience 285 km/h is at altitude, and you never get the same sense of speed. I’ve tried taking some pictures from the train, and they’ve been pretty bad, over all, thanks to the high shutter speed needed to freeze action and the fact that by the time you can aim your camera and get focus lock, you’re past whatever it was you wanted to take a picture of. So it’s, um, a little pointless. Bah.

1033: The best thing about train travel in Japan is that you go through some incomprehensibly industrial parts of the country. Thus, you can have great fun trying to guess what the purpose of a particular building is, or what they do in that giant plant. What the hell is that huge green thing that looks like a huge trash compactor? (Chances are good that it’s.. a trash compactor of some kind.) One thing that has continually run through my mind since I got here is how much some parts of Japan look like.. a SimCity game gone horribly wrong. Stop laughing! I’m serious! So far as I can tell there’s almost no urban planning, building designs seem to change randomly and have no relationship to when they were built, and transit systems look like they were rammed through because the location was convenient, not because it would have caused less destruction — all of which are true in my games. Even the buildings look a lot like they do in SimCity; I’m not willing to put money on it, but I suspect the Maxis graphics artists took cues from Japanese reality. I swear, for instance, that I saw SC4’s minor league stadium in Fukuoka. And the industrial “grinding unit” tile is something I’ve seen at least a half-dozen times here. Not to mention the “mixing tanks” and “Havoc Bioengineering.”

I wish you could plant bamboo forests in the game. Those are cool.

Stopping at Okayama. Gales of cigarette smoke blow through the compartment every time the forward door opens (the space between cars is a kind of air lock for smoke; I’m in car 5, and car 6 is apparently one of the cars for fucking up your lungs). This problem was made significantly worse on the leg from Fukuyama to Okayama, thanks to the teenage girls sitting in the interspace continually tripping the door sensor.

1053: You know what I’m realizing? There is practically no pristine mountain top in all of (southern) Japan. The tallest hill or mountain in view almost always has something on top — usually an antenna farm. The upshot of this is that you have phenomenal cellular coverage everywhere you go.

Pulling into Himeji. It’s.. interesting how Himejijo doesn’t really dominate the skyline approaching from the south the way it does when you’re arriving from the north. Too many buildings, I guess. Tough for it to stand out and fire the imagination the way it did when I came in here. (Stopped at the platform I can almost see half of the keep through the urban canyon.) Leaving the station, I can see why — it’s much flatter, with considerably less development on the other side.

One more stop before we hit Osaka. Damn, this (writing) makes the trip go way faster. I was going to watch DVDs, but this is much more fun.

It’s pretty clear the typhoon came through here and dumped an assload of water on this area. You know how you sometimes hear about rivers being described as “swollen”? This is the first time I’ve ever seen a river where I didn’t think that was hyperbole. The fields look like lakes.

1112: I went to a steak place for dinner last night. Mmm, mmm, good. I realized it was the first time in almost two and a half weeks that I’d had beef, and it was Kobe beef, at that. We’re sliding into Shin-Kobe right now. I’m told the cattle are fed beer and given massages. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but they do taste good. I’m not sure, however, that the added value is worth it — that might have been the most expensive beef I’ve had in years that wasn’t several inches thick.

1200: Changed trains, had lunch. I’m back. We’re leaving Kyoto, my favorite city in Japan. I wish I could just jump off the train and go exploring in the northwest of the city. (sigh) I still can’t believe the Americans seriously considered using this place essentially as a proving ground for nuclear bombs. Assholes.

1208: Well, that was weird. I was watching Lost in Translation on my laptop (because that’s what was in the drive and I don’t feel like digging around for anything else) — specifically, the part where Charlotte goes to Kyoto — and the in-seat service woman came by right around the point where Sofia Coppola and Lance Acord pan up to show the Kyoto station signboard, and I got the strangest look from her. A “what the hell are you doing?” look, only about five times as intense. As Instacracker says, “Heh.”

I was trying to take a look at the photography of Kyoto, specifically of Heian-jingu. Now that I’ve been there and I know what it looks like, and I’ve looked at it through my lens, I wanted to see if I agreed with her choices. (Well, okay, maybe they were Acord’s choices. I sometimes think DOP is the most underappreciated job in movies.) By and large, I think it’s a very flattering picture, and I’ll be thrilled to death if 1/12th of my photography turns out that well — but then, I suspect it might be difficult to take a bad picture of Heian-jingu. That said, I think I would have given my left arm for the weather she had while shooting there: I had to shoot Heian-jingu on a bright, hazy day; to be able to shoot it on an overcast, slightly dark day.. would have been awesome. Of course, at the time, I likely would have bitched owing to the fact that this kind of light more or less requires the use of a tripod, but whatever.

We’ll see. I didn’t do a lot of digital that day, so I don’t know how it’s going to render. The day my all film comes back from the lab is going to be an exceptionally happy day. If I get three good frames per roll of film, I’m going to call the photographic component of this trip a smashing success.

1240: Between Maibara and Gifu-Hashima, there’s even more evidence of the typhoon. Whole fields are flooded, and it looks like the water invaded some parts of the city. Wow. That’s deep water, too. From what I can tell, the river here overflowed its banks and.. well, you know how it works. Several electrical substations are flooded. I wonder whether the power’s out around here? (I would damn well hope so!)

There’s a really weird black thing here — the Sanyo “Solar Ark.” I meant to spend some quality time on Google looking this thing up. (Update: Oh. That’s what it is.)

I’m spending a lot of time glued to the window. There’s a reasonably good chance of something specific happening today, but I don’t want to say any more about it in case I jinx it..

1255: Nagoya. Aaaah! Invasion of the Japanese schoolgirls! They’re everywhere. Holy god. You can’t escape. WTF is going on? I’ve run into them everywhere the past couple of days. Is it mass field trip season, or something? (Update: They all got off at Toyohashi.)

Tokyo, here we come!

1320: The sky is clear to the west. This is a very, very good sign. (Still not saying anything!)

1351: It finally happened. My last full day in Japan, at 1351 JST, I finally got a chance to see something I had wanted to see the entire trip. Fuji-san popped out on the left side of the train, and stuck its head up through the hills. I can finally understand why it plays such a huge role in the psyche of the Japanese — it’s a gorgeous mountain, frighteningly symmetrical, almost like a child’s drawing of a mountain. It looked like there was snow on the peak, and — oh, hell, I wish my camera had had film in it and wasn’t packed away so I could have done better than those crappy digital pictures I ended up taking, because it was a sight that required film (preferably slow film, on a tripod, with the right light) to do it justice. Digital can’t convey the same amount of depth and beauty, at least, not my digital camera.

At this point, of course, hallie’s batteries packed it in. We’ve got a lot of progress to make in the battery-life department.

Document Insert

Japan Times, 21 October 2004: Typhoon kills 17, leaves trail of havoc

Kyodo News: At least 17 people were dead Wednesday as massive Typhoon Tokage chruned north across the Japanese archipelago after hitting Kochi Prefecture. The typhoon made landfall near Tosashimizu, Kochi Prefecture, around 1 p.m. and advanced through the main island of Honshu later in the day, leaving at least 20 missing and more than 120 injured, the Meteorological Agency said.

The season's 23rd typhoon became the record 10th to make landfall on the archipelago in one season.

Many areas nationwide were swamped by downpours and strong winds due to Tokage, which means lizard and is the Japanese name for the Lacerta contellation. October rainfall in Tokyo topped 570 mm, rewriting the montly record set in 1945.

A 31 year-old man was found dead after driving into a river in the city of Miyazaki. Two men separately fixing their roofs in Nagasaki and Ehime prefectures fell to their deaths.

In Tosashimizu, one of five fishermen who were washed away by waves while moving their boats was later found dead. In Muroto, Kochi Prefecture, an elderly couple and a man died when their houses were demolished by high waves, according to local authorities.

The Torrential rains also triggered landslides around the country.

A 24 year-old woman in Ehine Prefecture suffocated after he house was buried in a landslide around midday.

A man who fell into a flooded canal in Miyazaki Prefecture was found dead, as was a newspaper delivery man in Oita Prefecture who apparently fell into a river.

Among the missing were two fishermen who were washed away by high waves in Chiba Prefecture.

Under strong winds, the 4,883-ton Bahamian-flagged containership OOCL SETO ran aground on Kakeroma Island, Kagashima Prefecture, early Wednesday. No injuries were reported among the 16 Filipino crew members, according to the Japan Coast Guard.

It said the vessel was pulled to safety in the afternoon and plans to continue on to its destination of Hong Kong as early as Thursday.

The 9,900-ton Japanese freighter Shuri meanwhile became stranded around 5 a.m. on Uma Island in the Seto Inland Sea off Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. None of the 12 crew was injured.

The typhoon also wreaked havoc with air and land transportation.

A total of 874 domestic flights had been canceled as of 6 p.m., affecting about 103,000 passengers in what could be the largest number of cancellations in a single day this year due to a typhoon.

On the Tokaido Shinkansen Line linking Tokyo and Osaka, all bullet train services were halted at 3:47 p.m. due to heavy rain, operator East Japan Railway Co. said. The trains resumed operations at 7:10 p.m.

Thirty-eight bullet train runs were canceled and 15 other train services were delayed on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line as of noon, affecting about 27,000 people, operators said. Some trains on the Kyushu Shinkansen Line were also canceled.

Utility firms said that some 110,000 homes in the Kinki, Chugoku, and Shikoku regions temporarily lost power due to the typhoon.

The Hyogo Prefectural Government issued a request in the afternoon for the Ground Self-Defense Force to be dispatched to provide emergency disaster assistance in the city of Sumoto, located on Awaji Island in the Seto Inland Seat.

The Sumoto River, which runs through the city, threatened to overflow, prefectural officials said. Some 100 troops responded to the call.

Ohama in Fukui Prefecture also issued an evacuation order to some 11,000 households because many rivers in the city were feared to flood.

<i>Unzari shimashita</i>: The aftermath

When I get home, and people ask me what Japan was like, I’m going to tell them that I had a blast. I’m going to tell them the country is deeply cool, once you get the hang of doing things, and that everyone should go. I will, however, mention that the weather sucked, and that I’m trying to figure out who I offended in a previous life to be so cursed.

I woke up this morning to the sound of howling wind. I didn’t really think anything of it, because it seemed so familiar — exactly what I was used to hearing on the prairies in a windstorm. Then I realized where I was, and what the wind meant. Looking out my window I saw rain whipped into small vortices in the alley below; judging from the trees, this was a Force 10 storm that is bearing down on Nagasaki. After yesterday’s adventures in the rain, including the six inches of water on the road I had to cross to get back to the streetcar station, I wasn’t really looking forward to going out but figured since the odds were good I wouldn’t be coming back here anytime soon I owed it to myself to at least go do something. So I got dressed and waited for the elevator.

That was when I saw a 4×4′ chunk of aluminum siding go flying off my building.

“Umm.. yeah.. Maybe I won’t go out today..”

I did go out, however — for about ten minutes. Long enough to walk around the covered shopping arcade across the street and confirm that the majority of Nagasaki residents had decided to punt and go home, shuttering their shops at 11:00 in the morning, and abandoning Nagasaki’s largest shopping district to the wind, which tore up and down the urban canyon walls, tugging at my clothes and blowing grit in my eyes. Back at the hotel, I decided to make arrangements for a taxi to the station very early in the morning (my train goes at 06:30). Half-jokingly, I said, “So where’s the nearest liquor store?” If I can’t go outside, and I’m stuck here all day, I might as well have fun while I’m at it…

“Oh, I think the weather will get better after lunch,” the girl at the desk said. “Please wait; if you’re patient, you might be surprised.” Yeah, right, I thought, but what the hell, I’ve already written this day off, so anything I get to do is a bonus at this point. I went back upstairs and joined the Red Sox-Yankees game already in progress on NHK. Impressed that the Sox were winning, I settled in for 45 minutes of MLB, during which time I watched Schilling cough up a run, Arroyo cough up another, and saw the most blatant example of interference on a play I’ve ever been witness to. How A-Rod got ruled safe in the first place is a total mystery to me, but the umpires at least got the call right eventually. This was one instance where I would have really liked to be able to hear the inanities of the Fox announcing crew, if only so I could have figured out what the hell was going on. NHK showed a bunch of replays, and like I said, it was pretty clearly interference, but the specifics were.. elusive. That was about it for me and the ball game, since the housekeeping staff kicked me out of my room.

But that was OK. The front desk staff was right: The weather did get better. Sort of. The rain stopped, but the wind picked up. I made my way over to the Siebold Memorial Museum, a monument, of sorts, to Philipp Franz von Siebold, the Danish physician who more or less singlehandedly introduced western medicine to Japan during the 19th century. Siebold came to Japan in 1823 and assumed responsibility for the health of the Dutch population on Dejima, in Nagasaki harbor, the single European enclave in Japan at the time. He also began to collect information about Japan through his dealings with the Dutch traders and interpreters from the city; soon, Japanese physicians began to show up in Dejima to hear his lectures, and eventually he was given permission to enter the city, treat Japanese patients, and train Japanese physicians. He opened a clinic and school in 1824; in 1828, he was suspected of smuggling after trying to leave the country with a map, and kicked out of Japan. He spent three decades in Europe writing about his experiences, and in the process became the west’s foremost expert on Japan at the time. Siebold’s Japanese daughter, Ine (who was left behind when he got kicked out) was taught by Siebold’s students and became an obstetrician, the first female practitioner of western medicine in Japan. She later became court physician, and assisted in the birth of Emperor Meiji’s child.

It’s a small museum, housed in an elegant brick building on the side of a hill near the site of Siebold’s former home and clinic. The upstairs gallery was closed, so I could only see about half of the exhibits — not that this took long, since there’s very little by way of English signage and you need to follow along with a four-page handout you can pick up at the admissions counter. I think I liked the collection of medical research on display — an intricate (for 1825) drawing of the left side of the arterial circulatory system, for instance, would look really good on my wall, though I suspect I would have been even more impressed had I been able to read Japanese. Siebold’s collection of surgical instruments are also on display, which makes one realize that, um, the basic tools of surgery haven’t changed all that much since the 1820s.

The weather was still holding, so I headed over to Glover Gardens on the other side of town. If you’re lazy, Glover Gardens is the place for you: An escalator takes you from street level up to the admissions desk, and then rolling sidewalks take you all the way up the side of the hill, from which you have a fabulous vantage point to view Nagasaki’s waterfront. The official explanation is that elderly people might find the climb too tiring. I buy it, sort of, but given the state of the weather and the shape my body is in after two weeks of non-stop traveling, I’m also predisposed to be lazy.

(Glover Gardens gives you a much better understanding of the valley in which the city lies, something that probably didn’t help matters much when it came to the thermal pulse of the nuclear bombing.) I didn’t realize this, but Nagasaki has a very big shipbuilding industry — I don’t know why I didn’t realize this, since it was one of the main reasons why Nagasaki was selected as a target for the bombing, but the size of the Mitsubishi graving docks still surprised me. Geographically-speaking, Nagasaki is one of the world’s great natural shipbuilding harbors.)

Like the Siebold Museum, you can appreciate a lot of Glover Gardens on an aesthetic level, but don’t come here looking for a lot of detail; there’s precious little English signage on a lot of the artifacts and you sort of have to connect the dots based on your knowledge of 19th century European antiques. Which isn’t really hard; when you see a sign that says “Sitting Room” and then notice all the little Japanese labels on things like the chairs, the china hutch, the rug.. you can figure it out. Again, however, a lot of the interpretation is left up to you, and I suspect there’s something fundamentally missing from the experience as a result of the linguistic difficulties. Still, it’s the only place in Japan where you’ll see the first western-style wood home, the first western-style stone home, and a number of other houses belonging to Europeans living in Nagasaki during the 1800s, before Perry showed up to kick the door in. At the top of the gardens is a very interesting display in the Mitsubishi Number 2 Dock House, where sailors used to stay while their ships were in the dock — it is, presumably, a collection of ships (both in the model and painting forms) that the Mitsubishi yards had worked on over the years. No English signage, though, so this is just a guess on my part.

It’s a fun place to spend an hour or two, and the view is really good. The usual mob of kids was running all over the place; nine of them — 9 of them — wanted me to take their pictures standing on a viewpoint overlooking the harbor. Which meant that YT had to juggle nine disposable cameras in addition to my bag full of EOS gear and my jacket. Then I had to pose for pictures with all of them. Why, I’m not entirely sure, though it may have had something to do with the fact that a gaijin that’s a good two and a half feet taller than they are is something of a novelty in their world.

Something blew into my eye at Glover Gardens. Up on the hill we were getting the full force of the 95+ kph winds in the wake of the typhoon, and I thought for sure I was going to lose at least one of my contact lenses in the gardens. (It would have been my left lens, which is OK if not great, since my left eye is the “strong” one. Strong, in this sense, means “not totally useless, just mostly useless, compared to its twin on the other side of my head.”) Eyedrops found, eyedrops bought, eyedrops instilled, and everything was much better.

I walked along the waterfront towards Dejima, the artificial island built in Nagasaki harbor in the 17th century to contain foreign traders and really the only place in Japan you could run into foreigners during the isolationist period. It’s a tiny, tiny place; you can see why there were only ever 200 people here, at most, as part of the Dutch trading contingent — it just isn’t big enough. Even 200 might have been pushing it, but remember I’m afraid of crowds and need my space, so take that evaluation with a grain of salt. Dejima is in the process of being restored to its former glory (?) and only a handful of buildings are in the same state as they were, and even fewer are actually open. An new-old warehouse has a display on the reconstruction process and talks about how hard it was to apply modern construction techniques to old designs (and at the same time strengthening them against earthquakes and typhoons). The restorations are very well done; other than the brand new wood in the buildings (and that big blue Swedish store look as a result), I doubt you could tell they were built in the past decade.

There’s a museum here on Dejima, but — and you knew this was coming, didn’t you? — there’s precious little English signage. As with almost every museum I’ve been to in Japan, the displays have long blocks of Japanese text and about two lines worth of English. So while the Japanese may say something like, “This painting depicts the arrival of Pietr de van den Huevel in Dejima in 1826 bearing gifts from the Royal Dutch household to the shogun, and his preparation for his trip to Edo accompanied by sixteen porters, a cook, a doctor, the Dejima administrator, and twelve oxen,” the English version will say something along the lines of “Arrival of Dutch trading ship. Crew prepares to leave for Edo.” It’s.. informative, but not necessarily in the same way it is for the Japanese.

Also on Dejima is a very cheesy movie about Dutch life on the island — what they ate, what they did for fun, how they spent their time, who was allowed to come and go — which is largely redundant if you’ve been through the museum and can use your imagination a little and have done some pre-reading (which I had). Still, it features a Japanese actor in a bad wig in front of a green screen which was then spliced into old artwork depicting life on Dejima, and makes extensive use of the first person, singular, to describe events as he walks through the inanimate screens. It’s very strange. English isn’t a problem here; headsets are available in English, Chinese, Korean, and Dutch (which makes sense, even if it was weird to see diacritical marks over notionally English letters for the first time in a couple of weeks).

Typhoon TV: I’ve spent a chunk of the evening watching the NHK evening news, and, like CNN with hurricaine season in Florida, the coverage never stops. It’s about as informative, too, especially given
that it’s in another language.

(I can imagine it now:

“Tell me, Hiroshi, what’s it like out there in Okayama right now?”

“Windy, Megumi!”

“Hiroshi, have you spoken to any of the evacuees?”

“I have, Megumi! They say they’re tired of being evacuated and wish the typhoon would just go away! Many are concerned about the safety of their homes and the welfare of their shops. I spoke with one elderly man who told me this was the sixteenth typhoon he’s been through in the past 70 years, and I’m standing in water up to my ankles!”

“Good stuff. Thanks, Hiroshi. We now go live to the NHK weather center where weather specialist Akira Morioka is standing by to give us the latest on Typhoon 23’s current position..”)

Is Japanese TV news as insipid as American TV news? I can’t tell. But it’s fun to pretend.)

The big difference, of course, is that in a country as small as Japan a typhoon in Kyushu is a big deal for everywhere else. Whereas people in Massachusetts — never mind Washington — don’t need to
worry about Hurricaine Zelda (or whatever we’re up to now), high winds and a shitload of rain in Kagoshima is a serious concern for people in Tokyo, since chances are good that’s where the storm’s heading next. So NHK is forgiven for doing the wall-to-wall coverage thing with this story; save for the on-screen graphics and the language issue, you’d think you were watching CNN’s wall-to-wall hurricaine coverage: Lots of scary pictures from all over southern Japan of flooded roads, fallen power lines, flipped-over trucks, giant waves.. You watch TV. You know what this sort of thing looks like. I don’t need to spell it out for you.

Probably the most distressing part of the evening, from the perspective of someone who has a long rail journey ahead of him tomorrow, was the part when they started showing pictures of trains. This is where the language barrier stopped being annoying and started being truly aggravating. “JR blah blah blah blah, Hakata-eki blah blah blah, shinkansen wa blah blah blah deshita. Sanyo shinkansen no blah blah blah ikimashita blah blah no deshita; Tokaido shinkansen blah blah blah Shin-Osaka blah blah blah Tokyo-eki no blah blah blah deshita.” One could argue, fairly convincingly, that I know just enough Japanese to know I need to worry — too much to be blissfully ignorant and think, “oh, look at the pretty pictures of the wet trains”; too little to be able to make sense of what I’m seeing. The word for “cancelled” is torikeshimasu or kyanseru shimasu, neither of which I remember hearing, but I had to look it up after the newscast was over, so that doesn’t really help.

I think that’s enough for today. I have to be at the station by 06:1 tomorrow morning to catch my train back to Hakata, and that means I have to be up by.. way early. Yecch. Assuming, of course, the blasted things are running. Why is it that every time I have to travel there’s some kind of natural disaster? Alien attack up next.

<i>Unzari shimashita!</i>

Yeah, I should have let Mother Nature win that one. There’s wet, there’s “caught in a typhoon,” and then there’s what happened to me today. I set out for the Peace Park and attached museum in a fairly strong rain that got a lot worse before I made it out of the park. After Hiroshima everything on the nuclear war front is a little muted; my guidebook says that if you’ve been to the bigger museum in the north, much of what you encounter in Nagasaki will be redundant, and that’s a pretty fair assessment. I liked — if one can be said to like anything in this category — the memorials and museum in Hiroshima more, thought they generally did a better job of explaining things and telling stories.

The hypocenter of the explosion in Nagasaki is marked with a tall dark granite obelisk that I’m sure is much more impressive and interesting on a nice day. In the rain, it just looked tall and wet. To the northwest, a fragment of the grandest Catholic church in Asia (at the time of the bombing) stands intact. Unlike Hiroshima there isn’t a single iconic representation of the bombing in Nagasaki; the church wall fragment is probably the only thing that qualifies, and it hasn’t received nearly the amount of attention as genbaku-domu.

There is comparatively little detail in the Nagasaki museum about the history of the city, though it notes (as almost everything I’ve ever read about the city) that it was the first city in Japan to open up to international trade in the 17th century, and that it had a large foreign population, and that it had a large Christian population. More on this later. There are some very well-done exhibits that demonstrate exactly how big the fireball was, how the fires spread, where the blast pressures were, and, ultimately, what the radiation distribution patterns looked like. I had some minor techincal quibbles (for instance, they’re alpha and beta particles, not rays, and neutrons are neutrons, not neutron rays. A neutron ray is a comic book weapon and doesn’t mean anything. Neutron emission, on the other hand, is a serious problem.) For displays that don’t spare a lot of gruesome detail, they’re comparatively thin on scientific data — though the section on human effects had some excellent micrographs of both marrow and gastric epithelium. (They helpfully provided control samples of both so that people unfamiliar with micro pathology could see the difference. Sadly, the vast majority of people will walk away from this display and think, “Wow, that looks really.. different.” Which is perhaps to be expected: I can’t think of a quick way to explain what a neoplastic cell looks like, and why it’s bad, and how it’s different from a normal cell on microscopy.)

Hiroshima is a more emotional museum. Nagasaki is a more in-your-face place. There really need to be warnings on the exhibits — kids don’t need to see this kind of stuff. I barely wanted to look. Chances are you’ve seen at least some of the footage and photographs, so I don’t need to elaborate. Whatever you’ve seen in a book or on TV, it’s way different when it’s been blown up to wall-size. If Hiroshima was designed to make you sad, Nagasaki seems designed to disgust you. Which might very well be the point.

Still, the Nagasaki museum has a number of things to recommend it, not the least of which is their excellent collection of what I’m calling “altered objects” — coins, glass, clothing, personal items that were caught in the blast and generally melted. The bottles, the coins, the porcelain.. it’s remarkable how they survived the blast force, but succumbed to the heat. The one that will probably disturb most people is the human hand that melted into a glass bottle and then fused with concrete, though I think if the label didn’t mention anything 95% of the visitors wouldn’t be able to tell. Ditto for the helmet with the skull inside. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, or what you were looking for, you’d never be able to say for sure.

Towards the end is an exhibit dedicated to Dr. Nagai Takashi, a physician in Nagasaki at the time of the bombing. He lost his wife in the attack, and developed leukemia himself, but wrote prolifically and worked heroicly to treat his patients even as he lost his own fight against the cancer (he died in 1951). Stories like this help to put the bombing in perspective — 75,000 died immediately, and another 75,000 were injured, but those numbers are so large as to defy understanding. A personal tragedy, on the other hand..

Also included on special exhibition is a collection of photographs from Hisashi Ishida that show various sites around Nagasaki in the aftermath of the bombing. Ishida was a judge in Nagasaki at the time, and his 120+ photographs provide some of the most comprehensive documentary evidence of the devastation as seen through local eyes. As journalism they’re remarkable; as art, they’re captivating. Chances are you’ve seen at least one of his pictures without knowing anything about it; they were taken after the fires were out, and the dead were collected, and the reconstruction begun. They record the urban landscape that was left after the bombing, without the obvious human elements. (It’s easy to take a picture of a badly burned human and turn it into a statement about the evils of nuclear war; it’s something else to show a flattened Nagasaki Medical College and do the same.) They’re great pictures.

Unfortunately, the Nagasaki museum was — you knew this was coming — overrun by school groups, all of whom were going through the exhibits at as high a speed as possible and without any regard for anyone else in the museum. I don’t know if my school outings to museums were this disruptive to other patrons, but I’d like to think we were better behaved than these kids. They banged into me. They barged in front of me to see the displays. They yelled at each other. I watched two elderly women make their way through the museum — with people of that age, you really have to wonder whether they’re hibakusha or not, don’t you? — before being engulfed in a tidal wave of teenagers. This wasn’t the museum experience I wanted; I can’t think this was the experience they wanted, either.

Both museums make the point that while there might have been good military reasons for attacking Japan with nuclear weapons, those were not the only reasons for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There’s a not-so-subtle critique of US defense policy in the closing days of World War II — that at least part of the reason the United States decided to use the weapons was to justify the enormous expense of the Manhattan Project and to point out to the Russians that, yes, they worked, and you’d better pay attention to this in the post-WWII world. There was a fair volume of correspondance that suggested that the United States needed to warn Japan first, give them an opportunity to surrender or face nuclear attack. The counterargument, of course, is that Japan never would have surrendered, never would have given up the fight, and so a long and bloody battle for the home islands would have ensued, resulting in more deaths than the two attacks combined. (I’ve heard versions of this argument from a number of nuclear apologist authors, and I always bought it, until I realized that in rejecting the Potsdam Declaration Japan may not necessarily have been rejecting the idea of calling a truce — Potsdam promised nothing to ensure the continuation of the Emporer’s reign, which was known at the time to be a pre-condition to Japan’s surrender.) It is, of course, impossible to say what would have happened had there been a warning issued. But I can’t help wonder what might have happened had things played out differently.

The overriding message of both museums is, obivously, that mankind must never again use nuclear weapons — a laudable goal, and one that is really hard to disagree with, certain neoconservatives with their hands far too close to the reins of power for my tastes notwithstanding. Both cities are devoted to the antinuclear cause, and activists of all stripes like to both cite them and hang out here to pester tourists. (This was more of a problem in Hiroshima than it is in Nagasaki, probably a result of the crummy weather here.) The thing to say here is that, of course, it would be nice if we were able to stuff the nuclear genie back in the bottle so we wouldn’t have to deal with this legacy of destruction and the freak-out over Iran and North Korea (something that takes on a whole new dimension when you’re practically within rock-throwing distance of that strange land). But while we’re making that kind of a list, I’d like to have a lot of things I’m never going to get, so it’s pointless to wonder. I’m familiar with a lot of the chronology and the history of the development of nuclear weapons, and of the strategy behind their use (or at least the theory of the strategy behind their use) and hindsight being 20/20, the whole idea was insane. How we ever got out of the Cold War without blowing ourselves up is a total mystery to me. How we’re going to get out of the present ra — which, despite many assertions to the contrary, doesn’t really have any good historical parallels — is also a total mystery to me.

But the hell of it is, having been to these two places, I can almost understand why the Cold War strategy worked. Until you come here, nuclear war is an abstract thing, the consequences of which are pictures and models and statistics. It’s not really concrete — wasn’t really concrete for me until I came here. I’m not saying this is what happened, but I think that, knowing full-well the consequences, knowing the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, made it less likely for guys like Kennedy to pull the trigger. If you look at the history of the Cuban Crisis you can see how many times it would have been damn simple to just fire a couple of nukes off, and blow it all to hell (and, if you read Scott Sagan’s book, you’ll realize how damn close it was on a couple of occasions thanks to stupidity and accidents in the command and control networks). It was a poker game with the highest stakes possible, but the stakes were high, and the Soviets and the Americans knew they had to get it right, because they both knew the consequences of getting it wrong. I don’t know how well I’m explaning this idea, so I’ll try again: The fact that the consequences of getting it wrong were so high necessarily meant that all parties would do everything to prevent it from going wrong in the first place. (This is, to borrow from Sagan’s work, an example of “high-reliability theory,” and is echoed in much of his research on the nuclear command and control systems.)

Oh, yes. The peace park. Um. Good intentions aside, the giant statue at the end of Peace Park is.. awful. I’m sorry. I can’t think of a nice thing to say about it. It’s this green dude, with one hand pointed at the sky, and the other stretched out towards the horizon. I have no idea what it’s supposed to represent. It’s really confusing. I mean, okay, the Cenotaph in Hiroshima isn’t hugely representative of anything, but at least it works as part of a larger motif (the peace flame and Genbaku-domu). This.. is just there. I’m willing to give a large part of the blame over to the weather, but Hiroshima’s park seems much nicer. I’m not enough of a landscape architect to explain why, just that it feels better to the soul. (I think it’s the preponderance of concrete and tile in Nagasaki.)

As I was leaving the peace park the sky opened up and dumped gallons of water on me. If it’s possible, it was raining even harder than it was in Tokyo, and I got even wetter. It was in this state — cold, wet, tired, and vaguely annoyed at the crowds in the museum — that I ran into precisely the same mob of kids at the streetcar stop. Or maybe it was another mob; I can’t tell. The uniforms all look alike to me. Giant lineup for the streetcar. I stood on the street, in the rain, periodically being poked by kids trying to sneak by, for 40 minutes, getting progressively wetter. Eventually I managed to climb aboard a streetcar (not the one I needed) and we took off for Nagasaki Ekimae. Well. My agoraphobia, under control for the past two weeks, came roaring back with a vengance as I was packed into a hot, humid, stuffy streetcar full of people. I looked at my watch and realized I had broken my promise to myself: Don’t be on public transit during rush hour. Which is precisely what I was doing.

I don’t know whether getting an umbrella jammed into my crotch was punishment enough or just added punishment. After I finally made it back to my hotel’s stop, I walked the other way down the arcaded street, looking for both an Internet cafe (3rd floor, private booths with doors, open 24 hours a day, if you get my drift). Found it, logged on, checked my mail, posted the brief update you saw here on Tuesday. Went around the corner to the tonkatsu place my guidebook mentioned and had dinner.

A word about tonkatsu. You can find this in North America, sometimes, at Japanese restaurants with good menus. Trust me when I say it is a thousand times better here. For starters, every tonkatsu I’ve ever had in Canada is ridiculously overcooked; the coating here fell apart in my mouth, and the pork cutlet almost melted. Also, the sauce you’re likely to get in North America isn’t anywhere near as good as what’s provided in a proper tonkatsu place — you get a small mortar and pestle. Dump in some sesame seeds and grind them up (the smell of grinding sesame seeds is phenomenal). Add some Japanese-style Worcheshire sauce and stir. It is so good. Tonkatsu is supposed to come with a kind of dressingless cole slaw, but you generally get your own bottle of dressing which, though a little on the gingery side, is also surprisingly tasty. So, so good.

After dinner, a quick trip to Daimaru, the department store across from my hotel, looking for another bag. I have enough stuff that another bag is going to be extremely useful from hereon out, and considering I have essentially one more travel day ahead of me, now seems like a good time to buy the thing. You buy a bag in a Canadian department store, you think, “Ah, they’ll put a sticker on the side so security knows I paid for it.” Not so much over here: I bough a suitcase, and the saleswoman wrapped the bag up and put it into another bag. WTF! I know I’ve complained about the packaging situation here before, but this was absurd.

Came back to the hotel, took off wet clothes, spent an hour drying socks and shoes. Watched Game 3 of the Japan Series, cutting back and forth to a commercial-less Fox feed of the NLCS (damn, that was a nail biter, eh?). Wrote update.

I only took 14 digital pictures today and 23 stills. It was too wet to do any other photography, and even if it wasn’t, the light was flat, boring, and unappealing — “mother of all softboxes” effect, which would be great, except you don’t need a softbox when you’re doing landscape and architecture photography. As I type this, my entire photographic kit is sitting near the air conditioner vent drying out but even with this I think everything’s going in for some servicing when I get back to Canada (the body especially is going to need a CLA; I may just dump my lenses in a box with many silica gel packs and crank the heat on a bit to draw the moisture out).

God, I want tomorrow to be better in the weather department. Toyo phoned earlier this evening and said, “Geez, typhoons just seem to follow you around, don’t they?”

“Don’t give them any bright ideas!”

Oh yes. Hey, kids! Pop quiz: What’s a sure-fire way to not make friends with the people who are staying next door to you at an old-fashioned wood-frame ryokan? That’s right! Get it on when the walls are thin enough that the person next door to you can hear everything! I’m serious. I woke up at 01:30 this morning to moaning from the next room over, and I lay awake for almost 45 minutes while this went on. I wanted to bang on the wall, but then I’d have to admit I’d been listening, and..

I dug out my earphones and my Nomad and jacked the tunes up.

At the communal sink this morning, I gave the guy a hard look. He was confused until he saw me go back into my room. Then, the moment of dawning realization.

He at least had the good sense to be embarrassed.

Not again!

It was raining when I left Fukuoka this morning. It rained all the way to Nagasaki. By the time I made it to Nagasaki it was pouring — Tokyo-in-a-typhoon raining, I mean. I gave up trying to find my streetcar in the rain and hopped in a taxi; instead of shlepping my luggage all over the place and getting soaked while I tried to find my hotel, I got to ride in air conditioned comfort and go directly to my room, where I was informed that the weather sucks because — surprise! — there’s a typhoon coming.

“There’s a typhoon coming?” I asked, incredulously.

“Yes. Scheduled to arrive tomorrow,” the girl at the desk said.

“Oh, you have to be kidding me.”

“Not good for vacation?” she asked me.

“No. Yes. Bad for vacation. This is my second typhoon,” I told her.

“You had a typhoon the last time you were in Japan?” she asked.

“No, I had a typhoon in Tokyo two weeks ago. Earthquake, two typhoons.. ugh.” I asked her for advice on “indoor” things to do in Nagasaki. She laughed at me.

That said, I don’t think I have a lot of choice here. I already lost two days of my itinerary to crappy weather in Tokyo and I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose another day and a half here in Nagasaki because of that bitch Mother Nature. (Warning: Attitude may change depending on moisture content of pants.)

Ancestral Homecoming

I hauled myself out of bed — well, ok, off the floor — and my bags down to the Miyajima ferry terminal. On the JR ferry back to Miyajima-guchi I ran into Todd and Kristine from yesterday. Todd apparently thought I was putting one over on him, and had to check the score himself when he got back to his hotel that night. It turned out they were staying at the Jukeiso, same as me.) “It was even worse than I imagined!” he exclaimed. I smiled sadistically. “3-0! I’m glad I’m not in Boston!” Once again it was hard to muster a lot of sympathy, given what happened to my Mariners this season. I did, however, resist the urge to bug him about the Nomah trade.

Jukeiso is, by the way, exceptionally nice. It’s a good example of the “new/old” style of ryokan — a concrete building with solid floors and walls, individual bathrooms and bath tubs, and that austere look you mentally associate with staying in a ryokan. I liked the place, even if I found the front desk clerk a little bit on the standoffish side, and I can’t stand the fact that the maid practically offers to iron your socks. (I hate being doted on.) It was really nice to come back from my photographic expedition last night to discover my bedding laid out on the floor, a reading lamp installed near my head (something more ryokan need, in my view), and a pot of tea left on. Also, they put out a sign welcoming me by name, and stuck a Canadian flag in the flag holder on the front desk counter to recognize the diversity.

Todd and Kristine dragged our too-heavy lugage across the JR station to the appropriate track to catch the train back to Hiroshima. “Don’t pack what you won’t carry,” Kristine said, huffing. “Yeah,” I puffed back, “but the problem is that for some reason I keep accreting stuff as I go along!” She sighed. Apparently not content to suffer the woes of being Red Sox fans, they decided to hurt themselves physically by having a bad schedule. “We’re carrying presents for friends of ours in Tokyo. They’re heavy. We’re going to Tokyo last.”

They picked an interesting way to do and see Japan — they flew into Narita, but almost immediately thereafter flew to Okinawa and got acclimatized there, taking advantage of JAL’s “rail pass for airplanes,” as Todd put it. I was insanely jealous of them, especially after Todd describes the snorkling opportunities down there. “It seems to me like the best way to get over the travel shock is to do it in, say, Kyoto,” I said, “but Okinawa sounds like a much better idea.” Note to self: Do this next time. Why didn’t I think about going to Okinawa? Oh, right — the issue with public exhibitionism found at beaches. Also, cheapness.

We rode the train back to Hiroshima. I taught Kristine some basic survival Japanese phrases. Every time I think my Japanese is bad and awful and totally inadequate to get around, I am reminded — usually by talking to other foreign tourists — how much of an advantage I have simply because I speak some. “All I know is “gomenasai,”” Kristine said. “It seems to be useful.” (It is.) I taught her how to say “do you speak English,” “do you have an English menu,” “does this train/bus/streetcar/tram go to (wherever),” that kind of thing. I also explained the finer points of, um, pointing to the things you want to buy, including the ever useful, “I want that (point for emphasis).” They didn’t have a small, pocket guide to the language, so I gave them my back-up Lonely Planet book, for which they were grateful. I was grateful too — it’s 225g I don’t have to carry around anymore.

Todd and Kristine were going to the Mazda plant for a tour, which sounded like fun, but I decided I’d rather hang around Hiroshima for the day. My train to Hakata wasn’t until 16:34, and we made it back to the city at 11:20. We parted ways, and I went looking for a locker to dump my stuff in. For Y600, I was able to get everything — everything! — into a giant locker at Hiroshima station and wander the city carrying nothing on my back for the first time in.. a long time, I realized, because I discovered how many accessory muscles hurt now that I didn’t have weight on my shoulders. Pectorals, deltoids, triceps, biceps, intercostals.. it was unbelievable. Everything hurt. Everything. I was half-assedly thinking about availing myself to my hotel’s massage services once I got to Narita on Thursday afternoon; on the basis of today’s experience, I’m thinking about it a lot more seriously.

So I wandered around Hiroshima for a while, had lunch, got bored. Sat in a park and read the Japan Times cover to cover (learned about a photo contest I’ll be entering as soon as I get home), and ate oranges. Went back to the station and meandered through the Asse department store. (Seriously: Best. Name. Ever. Though it’s a testament to the length of time I’ve been here that I didn’t even think about this being pronounced as anything other than “ah-say.”)

Caught Hikari 367 to Hakata. There’s something about the shinkansen that makes me very sleepy. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m willing to bet it has something to do with the gentle rocking motion of the train. Granted, I didn’t sleep all that well last night, so maybe I was just tired, but I think there’s something to this theory, since every train I’ve taken has seemed to feature at least 1/4 of my car fast asleep. We pulled through some frighteningly industrial parts of Japan — Tokuyama, for instance, doesn’t seem to be anything other than a giant chemical plant. I’m serious! I couldn’t see anything other than industry, industry, industry, and in particular industry of the type that makes environmentalists go bonkers simply because it looks so damned polluting. Tokuyama’s factories — well, factory, I guess — was one of those maze-of-pipes deals, with stacks and a flare and enough tall columns that made me think I was looking at some kind of refinery. (So to be fair, I’m sure that Tokuyama’s industry probably is very polluting.) I must have missed the part about the underwater tunnel from Honshu to Kyushu, or else it got lost in the myriad of tunnels you pass through on that segment of rail line.

Arriving in Hakata was kind of anticlimactic. It was pretty dark by the time we got to the station, and I was underwhelmed. The funny thing is that this is ancestral ground for me — my dad’s mother’s family comes from this neck of the woods. Granted, the last one immediately related to me left in 1914 or so, so the connecton is tenuous at best, but still. Amusingly, I did not come to Fukuoka for that reason — I came to Fukuoka because it’s the end of the line for the shinkansen, and I thought it might be interesting to stop here for a night rather than just push straight on to Nagasaki.

By the time I made it to my ryokan, it was raining. Are you surprised? I got my four good days of weather, and I got a killer sunset last night on Miyajima, and the deal I made was “stay nice until Sunday, and then you can go to pot.” And that’s more or less exactly what happened. Which is too bad, because Fukuoka is supposed to be a hell of a party town, though frankly I don’t know if I had the energy to do anything other than collapse. Needing food, I asked the ryokan-keep for suggestions. “Try Canal City,” he said, referring to the giant mall complex a couple blocks away. “Walk to end of block, turn reft, and rook for rasers.” Look for what? Lasers? “Can’t miss.”

“Yeah, but –”

“Can’t miss it. Raser right.” I know it’s mean to snicker about this kind of thing, and after two weeks you’d think I’d be pretty inured to it, but it was a funny conversation.

He wasn’t kidding. Canal City has managed to fashion itself into something of Fukuoka’s main tourist attraction, which strikes me as a little strange given that it’s nothing but a really big mall. It’s like, if you went to Vancouver, and asked someone for recreational or sightseeing activities, and they said, “Oh, why don’t you head out to Metrotown?” (Whoops! Did that one already!) The effect overall is very North American — kind of like Vegas, and I’m not just saying that because of the (a) SEGA “gaming” parlor (really a thinly veiled casnio, but without the legalized gambling, only you can gamble) and (b) Bellagio-esque water fountain displays. Glen Miller and Peter Gunn. Can’t beat it.

Blew a couple hundred yen playing Japanese video games that don’t make any sense and yet were strangely fun anyway; my favorite, I think, was the one where you have to bang on a taiko drum in synch with dots on the screen. I have no idea what the point is, but if you do it right there’s a nifty beat that emerges. (You can see this game in Lost in Translation.) Several younger Japanese youths were taking their turn on a boxing simulator (put on a glove, throw a punch, and.. well, I don’t know what happens next, since they all got three punches and lost). Finally broke down, after two weeks of seeing signs advertising “Pachincko and Slot” places, and played a little pachincko — the appeal of which, I’m sorry, is totally lost on me. Except for the illegal gambling aspect of it, I mean. How and why an otherwise interesting bunch of people will sit, lab-rat-like at a pachincko terminal for hours is a total mystery. I don’t get it.

I had dinner at a teppan place that also specialized in okonomiyaki, which has been described as the Japanese version of pizza. This is a stupid description. It’s much more like a pancake with a lot of stuff thrown in for good measure. Mine had shrip, squid, shellfish, and something else in it along with the staples of cabbage and other vegetables, and it was very, very good. My last exposure to okonomiyaki came years ago, when I was very young, and I remember it as being way too savory for my tastes back then; either it was badly done, I misremember, or my tastes have changed, because this was awesome. I’m going to have to learn how to make it myself.

Note for potential visitors to Japan: If you really want to impress your waitress and the guy who cooked your food, make a point of telling them, “Kore wa oishii deshita!” before you leave. The waitress’ eyes got about the size of dinner plates, and she bowed very, very deeply. I don’t know why — did they spit in it? Was it supposed to be gross? This puzzles me. (This was also maybe only the second time I’ve wished that you can tip in this country. Which made me realize that back home I tip because I’m expected to, not because I think the service is all that spectacular. The attitude here seems to be “this is my job, and I’m going to do it in as excellent a manner as I can, and I get paid for it so I don’t expect anything extra.” I’m not going to say “in stark contrast to Canada, where…” but by all means feel free to think it. The service is superb, and the food is universally good, so I’ll let you wonder what might warrant special recognition. (Yes, the okonomiyaki was that good. Wow.)

After searching for the better part of a year, I finally found a pair of red shoes. Yes, I had to come halfway around the world, but I found them. I have, for those of you who didn’t know, been looking for a pair of red leather shoes, and when I say “red,” I don’t mean “burgundy.” I mean “red.” Shut up. Anyway, I finally found a pair that were exactly what I wanted, so I went into the shoe store, and pointed. “Uhhh.. shoes o kudasai,” I said, unable to remember the word for shoes. (Which turns out to be kutsu.) “Hai, hai,” the salesdude said. A string of rapid-fire Japanese followed, wherein he probably extolled the features of the shoes, and the viritues of owning them, but that’s just a guess. Then he looked at my feet. His eyes went wide. “Ohhhh! Ashi wa totte mo okii desu yo!” I was pretty sure I knew what he was saying, but felt I needed to make certain, so I gave him a blank look. “Feet!” he managed. “Too big! Not fit too big feet!” He gestured, making the international sign for “huge” with his hands.


Here are some random things I’ve been meaning to write about for a while:

  • In Hiroshima I encountered a species of rice boy even more pathetic than the ones we have in Canada. I’m sure you’re familiar with the kids who buy Civics and whatnot and then add 25 pounds of vinyl tape, 8-inch exhaust tail pipes, cut their springs, and generally spend more time making their car look good than worrying about performance. Well, the kind I ran into here is a bike rice boy. He rides a motorbike that looks an awful lot like the crotch-rockets many of my MVA patients seem to ride, except.. there’s something weird about the engine noise. It sounds like it’s coming through a coffee-can muffl–hey, wait a minute, that’s a 50cc engine noise! I have no idea whether this was a 50cc engine or not, but there’s no way it was more than about 150. None at all. I know what those things sound like; this was not it. And then I looked a little more closely and realized that everything on the bike was aftermarket accessory, and moreover didn’t really do anything. (Here’s a tip: I’m pretty sure that having rivets on your exhaust pipe doesn’t help your performance.)
  • I’m totally shocked by the amount of weird muzak here. At Hiroshima station I encountered a muzak version of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. What the hell? The Japanese seem to be very heavily into lounge music right now; I’ve run into a lot of Sinatra and Tony Bennett, as well as a great deal of 1950s rock hits. One corner of Hiroshima station seems to play a muzaked “Stand By Me” over and over again (that can’t possibly get irritating at all). “Eruvis,” as he is known around here, is also very popular. This confuses me: You’d think they’re going to figure out Jesus Jones next week, but then you realize that it’s not because they’re behind on their music imports — this is a choice.
  • Canal City has this thing called “Raumen Stadium” which sounds a lot more like Iron Chef than it is in real life. Seriously, it’s eight ramen noodle stands within about a 50 foot radius of each other, and I would have had dinner there except that the whole place had an awful smell, kind of like simmering pork stock crossed with bleach. I can’t stand the smell of pork stock (which is why I don’t make it) and when you throw bleach into the mix.. yecch. Instant appetite killer. (Later, while wandering around Nagasaki, I encountered the same smell around ramen joints, which makes me think it’s a property of the noodle joints themselves rather than the locale.)
  • Something I’m going to miss when I get home: The amount of neon and strobe lighting they have here. I’m sure that if I were epileptic I’d feel differently about this, but the number of stores that use strobes as part of their advertising is great. It’s sparkly! It’s pretty! It’s not nearly as awful as it seems!
  • Something else I’m going to miss: Nobody here seems to care if you drink in public. Beer, I mean. There also doesn’t seem to be a prohibition on drinking early in the day — try ordering a beer before noon back home, and see how many dirty looks you get. (I have not, however, tried to publicly drink beer in the morning.) It’s a non-issue here, which is kind of nice, as opposed to a sign of a problem. Even when it’s very clear you’ve been up all night, and have been waiting since you came off-shift at 06:30 for the pub to open at 11:00 so you can have a few before going to bed. Yeah, that explanation doesn’t go over very well. They still think you’re a drunk.