Sunday, 10 August 2008


Distance traveled: 19.038 km

When I walked through the tickets gates of the station in Nikko, I was infuriated - not that there was any thing in particular at the station to justify this infuriated state that I was in. But the train ride had been a source of great frustration - not that there was anything wrong with the train ride, as always, Japan Railways was running like clockwork. No. Rather the source of my frustration was a book. A book called Dogs and Daemons, written by an American, grown up in Japan, known by the name; Alex Kerr, a man that is somewhat of an institution on Japanese affairs.

I had ridden through the scared Japanese landscape, of countless ugly cities, dammed rivers, and ravaged mountain sides - as so often before - but this time I was treated to an insightful explanation of how it came to be like this. And this, my dear readers, was why I was walking through the ticket gate with a thick black thunder cloud hanging above my head.

A walk through the central area of the small town, had lightened the cloud, but it still had a black tint when i entered the Youth Hostel. It stayed outside, cause I was welcomed by one of those kind grand mother types, or Obasan in Japanese, that you can help but to love, even though the hostel itself looked somewhat like it predated her. Its people like her that makes this country worth loving.

Nikko is famous for its temple area, which is a world heritage site, and as i walked around - I was enchanted by the surroundings. The area was set in an ancient forest of tall cedar trees, with the canopy towering far above my head, the light filtered through the leafs, leaving an amazing light for us puny humans at their roots. As I walked deeper into the forest, a Tori, or gate for the unenlightened, proclaimed my arrival to the realm of the divine. An ancient warlord inhabits the mountain, guarding his clan, in return for being buried like a god. I clapped my hands 3 times and gave a light bow for good measure, and entered the temple grounds unscarred.

The temples were indeed fit for a god, everywhere i looked there were elaborate wood carvings, painted in bright colors, creating an amazing contrast to the forest towering above and around. Even the swarm of tourists couldn't quite destroy the atmosphere of the place. And as i entered the final temple, the gate to the shogun's mountain tomb, the crowds had thinned out, so that i could truly breath in the atmosphere of the place.
Next morning i got up early, and boarded a bus away from the crowds, and hiked through a pretty forest along a river, unscarred by concrete. The peace did not last long, as soon a legion of Japanese school children descended on the place, I can not even give an estimate as to how many times i returned their inquisitive hello's, but it had it's charm. And by the end my patience was rewarded with an amazing waterfall, with a 50 meter drop and a thunderous roar. According to local beliefs i am now a fertile man apparently.

Next morning my time of leisure was running out, and i had to replace the magic of the cedar forest with the madness of Tokyo's urban jungle. So i graped my machete along with my best khaki outfit, and boarded a train bound for Azakusa with a discrete Tarzan call.

- Stefan

Friday, 8 August 2008


Distance traveled: 18.782 km

Talk to any resident gaijin (foreigner), and you will sooner or later here some unbelievable stories about how awful hosts, the Japanese society can be. Media routinely blame everything from crime rates, to the Japanese' poor English skills!?!, on the small foreign community. Hot springs and expensive restaurants hang up signs proclaiming "sorry, no foreigners allowed", without the the slightest sense of shame, hostess bars and brothels of course, are strictly of limits since HIV is an unjapanese disease brought in by foreigners (i suspect middle aged Japanese men visiting Thailand and Russia is to blame, they are pigs more often than not)

The irony is though, that the gaijins here assimilate better than everywhere else I've seen in the world, Walk into a bar with foreigners and everyone who's not native English speakers will be speaking Japanese to each other, since almost everyone has made the effort to learn the language, which is more than can be said of expats and immigrants in most other corners of the planet. more often than not they will have married a local, and dutifully send their children of to be stigmatised in the local schools. Still most will, despite the odds, have a profound love for the country.

I suspect the reason for this is another case of the contrast i have been talking about. When your surroundings include the most racist and xenophobic society in the world, as well as some of the kindest most hospitable individuals anywhere on the planet, it cant help but to fascinate and spark your curiosity - and make the frequent acts of extraordinary kindness you experience, seem that more profound. Not that I'm condoning the stupidity of brainwashing an entire population into thinking they are somehow unique, the outside world somehow lesser beings, and the Japanese long suffering victims of circumstance. Not only is it utterly unsympathetic - its also hurting the Japanese themselves, as foreign investments are turning towards the much more internationally minded Taiwanese and Koreans.

In Sendai, I ran into Earnie, a local expat of the sort that really stands out, a tall black guy, wearing a big infectious smile, and massive dreads. Naturally he was employed in one of the 3 sectors, virtually anyone not stationed here, is working in; English teaching, PR or in the entertainment sector. Earnie was in the latter, running a small gaijin bar in Sendai's nightlife district, Ichibancho, an oasis of local expats, friendly Japanese people, and Russians hostesses letting loose after work. Well of the infamous tourist trail, the Japanese were blissfully inquisitive, open and welcoming, which all made for some fun nights out in Sendai.

One day i made a side trip to Matsushima, apparently one of the 3 great sights of Japan, made famous by the great haiku poet Basho, who unusually was at so at loss of words over the beauty of the bay that he simply proclaimed; Matsushima, ah Matsushima, Matsushima, Matsushima - not exactly inspired words, and these days loud Japanese tour groups, and concrete resort hotels, have done their part at leaving the place largely, well, uninspiring, there were some nice spots hidden around though...


Judge for yourselves.

Safely back at Earnies bar in Sendai, or so I thought, for not long had i sat down, before my chair apparently had enough, and started rocking about on an admirable effort to get me to stand up. Standing up however, did not help much, as soon the floor joined in on the action, and so did the walls, and more worryingly, the shelves with all the booze, people was quite, listening to the deep rumbling, and deciding with themselves whether to panic was an appropriate course of action. The general consensus was against this, and soon the rumbling ended, and a toast was made.

Next stop was Nikko (I know, I'm waaaaay behind in the blogging! :) )

- Stefan