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> Annals > 2006 > Japan > Week 7
by ZweiBieren Japan, August 7-13 Torii at Miyajima Shrine
  Tour: Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, Hakone, Nagoya, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Osaka
Monday, August 7     Mt. Fuji, Hakone
We arose before the alarm, excited to be off on a tour. We traveled first to Mt. Fuji and then on to Hakone resort area.

I walked over to get McDonalds breakfast again. Now it was Monday morning and spates of salary men came gushing forth from the train station after each train arrived. They are uniformly dressed in white dress shirts and black trousers. But few wore ties or jackets and most had short sleeves. Curiously, I saw a number wearing undershirts despite the 30 degree weather.

I told S that the good news was that they had turned off the "hot" switch. The bad news was that they had turned on the "Hell-on-earth" switch. And it was still before 8:30 in the morning.

Our hotel turned out to be relatively inexpensive by Tokyo standards. Only 13500 ¥ per night, about $120. 

Our guide yesterday told us that the old warriors felt there was a measure of safety in not having street names and in have a maze of streets with twists and discontinuities. They were right, atleast until GPS came along.

Some power engineers from North and South Carolina wee on out tour yesterday. They are part of the team planning a new power generation plant and were to talk with a vendor of boilers. It seems the US no longer builds them. Japanese companies market tem, but they themselves farm out the building to other countries like China.

It seems to me that Korea, Japan, and the US are three steps in  a cycle of national culture. In Korea they still build stuff. People work their butts off, hoping to build a better life for their children. Japan had that culture and now the children are grown and living that better life and are no longer willing to work their butts off in the same ways. They are still happy to take desk jobs and sell things. In the US, the children have their own children and they aren't willing to do anything much at all, other than play. (All except my kids and your kids who are indeed working their butts off.)

The Chinese have been lending money to the US at a furious pace so we can afford to buy their goods. The Chinese are a level earlier in the cycle, but are beginning to have the sort of life style they have been working so hard to get to. Now that they have so much American debt, they can buy American things. For instance companies. Then they will move those companies to China, leaving the newly unemployed behind. The new markets for Chinese goods will be Chinese and Indians.

Another facet of owing a lot of money is that others will be unwilling to hold funds in that currency because it is likely to inflate inorder to cheat the lenders out of their full value due. This may be happening now. Over the last six weeks I have been able only to watch the BBC and a few other programs. They regularly report the $ versus the Euro. And the dollar has been getting less valuable. At first you could buy a Euro for $1.25, but only six weeks later you have to spend $1.29 to buy that same Euro.

I still want to move to New Zealand. But we lunched yesterday with a lady who grew up on the South Island of New Zealand. She told me that there's little to do on the South Island and the intellectual life is limited. But, I responded, with the web that really might not be a problem.

Mt. Fuji was actually visible, though pale in photos. The bus took us up to the fifth (of ten) station, which is the jumping off point for hikers to the summit. There were crowds of hikers milling about, shopping, and praying at one or more of the shrines.

After Fujisan, we rode our bus down to Hakone and its lake. A short boat ride took us to the base station for cable cars to another summit.  But first we had to walk a shopping gauntlet where I succumbed to a wooden top that inverts when you spin it. They also had lots of wooden puzzles and trick boxes, but none of an interesting new pattern, so I bought none.

On arrival at the summit, we finally got a little respite from the heat. I took lots of shots, but nothing really interesting, I think. I did get great cloud photos from the boat. From the summit I got a picture of Fuji, with everything behind clouds except the two remote arms of the slopes.

Lunch was entirely western at the Highland Resort not far from Fuji. For dinner, S sent me to the "Family Mart" next door to our hotel in Hakone and I selected some California roll sushi.  I also got some sweet roll things for breakfast.

S sacked early (and made me put off writing this 'til Wednesday). I read ahead in our itinerary and discovered that we were to take only an overnight bag to Nagoya. So I set the alarm early.

Tuesday, August 8     Inuyama: boat ride and castle

We breakfasted in the room and coped with the luggage repacking. I drafted a plastic bag into duty as an overnight bag. A bus took us to the station where we awaited our first encounter with the Shinkansen, the "bullet train;" Japan's 275 kph intercity service. Welded rails--no clackety clack. While waiting I could hear the engines revvinig up. Vroom, vroom. VROOOMM. Then we followed our guide-of-the-hour to the station platform to await our own train. All of a sudden I was made to understand that I had NOT been hearing engines. The engines are electric and make little sound. No, what I had been hearing made a huge whoosh and sucked me sideways. It was a bullet train going full-bore on a track just beyond our own. Verry impressive. When riding, each time trains pass they are sucked toward one another. This is the major sensation of movement, although the country side is sweeping to, by, and behind us at a furious rate.

The guide did not accompany us on the train, but gave us a detailed map of the train and a list of the stations we would pass. We would have only two minutes to board the train, so overnight bags were a really good idea.

While on the guide, let me try to describe the intricate working of the Sunrise tour machine. At each step of our journey we are greeted by a new face who knows exactly where we will be andd where we are to go and what pieces of paper we will need.


transfer leader
pickup bus - to terminal

former newswoman
Tour bus - to Fuji/Hakone


cable car
transfer leader
bus - to station/Shinkansen train

(luggage truck to Kyoto)

Mike-san local train

bus to hotel
hotel, lunch

bus to boat



tour bus for the day


(walk to hotel)

The pickup leader Tuesday did duty above and beyond. I was so excited by the freedom of not lugging the suitcase that I got on the bus and halfway down the hill before remembering I had left my breathing machine on the bed. The transfer leader called the hotel and arranged to have the machine delivered to the station before we left.

Once in Inuyama ("dog mountain") we went on a boat ride and a castle tour. I was worried about the sun and boredom in an open boat, but decided to go along anyway. Good decision. The ride was through fascinating geology and rapids. I got lots of shots of rocks, a few may be usable. Then we walked up (and up some more) to the Inuyama Castle. There were apparently many battels there and the whole thing is now a restoration. The views were great.

Lunch was continental on the 6th floor of the hotel. Dinner was Japanese on the 2nd floor. Just like the well-known typical Korean restaurant that Prof. Lee took us to, the Japanese restaurant was decorated very sparely and lighted up far too much for what I think of as an elegant restaurant. The food, however, was up to snuff and beyond. Great taste. And variety. The courses were named according to the mode of preparation: boiled, baked steamed, vinegared, fried, .... There were at least a dozen courses, but all small enough that the whole was not a caloric nightmare.

The sunset was beautiful, but the camera seems not to have caught its charms.

Wednesday, August 9     Nagoya Toyota Museum; Nagoya castle & museum

The hotel actually provided us free cranberry muffins in our room. That was breakfast.

Mikesan, our guide met us with a tour bus because the seven of us were to became twelve in the afternoon. We traveled back to Nagoya and visited first a Toyota museum and then the Noritake museum/workshop. Toyota got his start building looms and now the  company builds automobiles. Each had a wing devoted to it in the museum. These were very impressive exhibits. The entire history of cotton handling equipment was visible and operating. From hand carding and looms all the way to modern air driven shuttleless looms. Cotton is amazing. You just hold a bunch, grab ahold of a little bit, and start pulling. It some out in threads, ready to be wound for spinning. They didn' actually build automobiles for us, but did have full-size mock-ups of the stamping, assembly, and welding machines.

A robot played trumpet. He looked impressive with head, arms, legs, fingers, all jointed as a human. But all it did was play the trumpet and wave one arm. He was pinned at the waist to the panel behind. I believe he has much more capability, but it was certainly not displayed.

In conrrast to Toyota, the Noritake exhibition was pretty lame. They had some beautiful pots, plates, and whatnot displayed. They did show the steps and had actual artists creating product right before our eyes. But the technology hasn't really progressed much in a thousand years, so they had little technology to showcase. And they disallowed photography. And I'm tired of pots, anyway.

Lunch was a huge buffet wwith all kinds of foods, though mainlyh Japanese. They have soft-serve icecream in the country, but this retaurant showed me something a little different. The icecream is in tubs in a fridge. You pick one, peel from the bottom a patch that covered a star-shaped opening, and you insert the tub in a machine. Holding a cone beneath the tub you press a button. Zowee, out comes a star-shaped stream of icecream to fill your cone. I had to have another. (And did not do so well in actually catching the icecream. Sigh.)

After lunch was Nagoya castle and another no-photos museum.

Nagoya Castle is one of the biggest. The impressive part was the keep, with its seven floors of lookout. But no one ever lived there. The prince lived in a near by mansion. The castle keep was to be occupied onlyh in case of attack. But this castle never did get attacked until its obsolesence was demonstrated by air-borne demolition in WWII. Obsolete or not, it was rebuilt in 1959.

The museum was not a total loss. Watching a film of beautiful things it struck me that most of my photos were attempts at capturing beauty. And yet what is important is to convey not the uniqueness of Japan, but it ordinariness. It is to easy for those elsewhere to imagine Japan--or any foreign country--as only the unique things that get photgraphed. The ordinarity of it allo is that Japan is like every country: full of people trying to feed themselves, be comfortable, and  relate to others. All this to-ing and fro-ing across the battlefields is merely to ausuage the egos of a few leaders. The changes they are offering or resisting are coming to come soon enough no matter who wins the battle. Many of the battles in Japan were fought in the name of unification. But the logic of specialization and the marketplace made unification inevitable. (Or perhaps I am wrong. Looking to the middle-East can we see progress being thwarted by the winners of battles?)

Epiphanies aside, the museum was not interesting. Especially with all the captions being in Japanese. I finally remembered that our museum ticket also admitted us to a garden and enjoyed myself there for a while.

We dined at a UCC shop across from our hotel (the New Miyaki in Kyoto). A little diner like place that served food considerably beyond the expectations offered by its outward appearance.

Thusday, August 10     Kyoto old stuff    Nara old stuff

All day in Kyoto and environs. Afternoon trip to nearby Nara.
Morning: Nijo Castle, Golden Pavillion, Imperial Palace. Lunch: Kyoto Handicraft Center (shops). Afternoon: Todaji Temple, Kasuga Shrine, deer park. S skipped the afternoon and shopped and made arrangements for Sunday night and bought supper.

Nijo Castle. This castle was built by the Shogun as a place to live while he paid obeissance to the emperor. The shoguns kept the emperor as a figurehead in Kyoto, while they ruled from Edo (now Tokyo). Annually they came to Kyoto to pay respects to the emperor. The paintings are mostly original from the sixteenth century. S says they are wonderful. I sped on ahead and went thru the gardens, where I was allowed to take pictures. The best pictures turned out to be those of the gardeners working on the tops of trees.

Golden Pavillion. Burned in 1955 by a crazy monk. Rebuilt 1955, but with thin gold leaf covering the walls. Became the "black pavillion as the gold leaf peeled. Re-leafed in the 1980's. My pictures don't glisten as the pro's pix do. I suspect they augmented the lighting.

Imperial Palace, Kyoto. This is where the emperor lived. Burned down. rebuilt in the 1850's. Not a pleasant place today since most of the courtyards are decked out in full gravel. Pretty big for one guy to live in.

Lunch was a nice buffet, but nothing to rival yesterday's. I didn't eat as much. 

Deer park. The next two sites are in a large deer park. The tourists are sold food for the deer, so they cluster about the tourist pathways, spewing deer berries as they roam. Cute enough, though. Killing a deer is a crime. So it is said that dwellers in Nara get up early to check for dead deer on their property for which they would be punished. If they find one, they just dump it on their neighbors property. This is the origin of the practice of passing the buck, siad our guide. I suspect she did not invent this story herself.

Todaji Temple. The biggest wooden building in the world. I think this means the biggest single room made from wood. It is huge. The second biggest bronze Buddha in the world. It is huge. I got some pictures of the monks prepping for servic on the podium to try to get the scale of the Buddha. But his legs are spread in front of him, so the head and torso are well-back and foreshortening reduces the impact.

Kasuga Shrine. SHinto shrine. Celebrants dcorate the site with donations of lanterns, both stone and bronze. Now there is no more room for lanterns, so a donors largese is rewarded with a paper pasted to an old lantern. Our guide went a bit into Shintoism. It is essentially animism, with the notion that gods--"kami"--reside in various natural habitations. Thick ropes generally decorate objects identified as being strongly inhabited. Since rice farming was so important to survival of the Japanese, natural phenomena were important and the kami were asked to help.

The fortunes found pinned to pipes, our guide said, are those that have been purchased and are not desirable to the purchaser. They are the bad fortunes, rather than the hopes for the future.

She also said that the Japanese today are eating less and less rice. The poor fools have adopted one too many Western habits if they have fallen prey to the notion that Americans know how to eat.

As per my idea yesterday, I took lots of pictures of ordinary Japanese people and scenes. I've selected too many of these and put them on the website. Further pruning will be essential.

Friday, August 11     Hiroshima

We arose early Friday for our trip to Hiroshima. Once again we were to pack an overnight bag and our suitcases were trucked ahead to Osaka. The bullet train to Hiroshima was a snap; we are now old hands. Then we boarded our tour bus to ride to Miyajima Shrine, on an island south of Hiroshima. We rode a little, waited a lot, and repeated for an hour and a half. Everyone is on the holiday where they go to homecoming, and apparently everyone lives in places that go via Hiroshima.

Eventually we got to the island, ate lunch, and toured the shrine. Finally, it rained. Blessed cool, at least for a while. So we hied back to the ferry and back to the bus and on to the Peace Monument in Hiroshima.

The target of the bomb was a distinctive T-shaped bridge in Hiroshima. There are several before and after pictures and models of the "hypocenter," the kilometer wide zone centered immediately below the bombs burst. The bomb was set for explosion a half kilometer above ground, but the actual hypocenter is 250m to the southeast, over a hospital. All the pictures show that the bridge itself stood fast, although some of its beams were severely buckled.

Death and destruction were everywhere, especially since most of the buildings were wooden. A domed building midway between bridge and hospital was brick and a few of its walls were left standing, as well as the iron framework of the dome itself. This building has been preserved because it was the last thing left that was not reconstructed. Otherwise there is little physical evidence of the bomb.

I had thought that radiation would linger. Apparently the original radiation was lessened because the bomb was an airburst and did not contaminate dirt. And in September a typhoon blew through, washing away much of the remaining taint. It was thought that plants would not grow, but they did. The oleanders came back first and they are now the city's flower.

Curiously, I have now seen two mock-ups of the bomb. One at Hiroshima where it landed and another at Los Alamos, where it began. I have seen the sculpture at the University of Chicago where the first chain reaction was achieved. What would history have become had that experiment gone differently?

Our guide explained that the people of Hiroshima hope that all world leaders come to visit, see the destruction and horror wrought by the bomb, and vow never to bring such horror again. I fear, however, that some leaders would come and observe that the bomb was effective and could be used as a tool of war. Especially a leader who has not himself fought in a war, but instead dodged his military obligations. Especially a leader not given to reading the newspapers. Especially a leader who says not only that one can "win" a "war" against terror, but also claims to be doing so in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

We dined at the Chinese restaurant in our hotel and I finished reading C is for Corpse. No computer with me, so we bedded down a bit early.

Saturday, August 12     Kurashiki

Our train in Hiroshima was not until 9:30, so we went to a cafe for breakfast. (They promised pastrami and "red cheddar" on my sandwich, but it turned out to be a single thin slice of meat and the usual orange goopy cheddar.)

Looking out the window next to me I noticed a track laid down on the sidewalk--a track of the sort commonly used for movie cameras. Sure enough, we had a front row seat to the shooting. It appeared to be a fifteen second sequence where some dozen people crossed mthe sidewalk in front of the station. For that amount of finished product three dozen people worked for at least two hours. We talked our way into one take, but I think we were too late to actually be filmed.

We took the train to Kurashiki and then a bus to visit the old-town area. I took a number of pictures enroute, trying again to get ordinary houses.

Our first stop was an art museum. No pictures allowed, so I zipped through and took some shots in the neighborhood. Then we had an hour on our own to tour the town. We were supposed to buy things, but I just took more pictures. A bride and groom passed by in a buggy, but I wasn't ready and didn't get a shot. S is upset about that.

Lunch at a hotel. Western. Fried chicken. Phooey, I can get that any day in Pittsburgh. I drank five glasses of water. I ate the chicken, too.

After lunch we toured a "wealthy merchant's house." From what I could gather he was a "factor" as was Thomas Hardy's Mayor of Castorbridge." That is, he bought grain from farmers and sold it whereever he could make the most profit. The house was huge, having a number of ten-mat rooms. The average room size in Japan is about seven mats. (Mats are rectangles twice as long as wide, with the narrow side somewhat less than a meter. Mats are turned after five years and discarded after ten.) This house was only three hundred years old.

Our last stop (our last stop) was a beautiful park nearby. S gave me too much grief about the bride and I felt shot out, so I gave her the camera for pictures of the park. I strolled through and found a nice little pavillion with a stream through it specifically designed for the dangling of feet. So I did. And I meditated, listening to  everything: cicadas, a band, children, young girls, thunder, and a bird. Eventually the thunder threatened and we all retreated to the bus. The thunder renged by going south so we had no respite from the heat.

We took the Shinkansen to Osaka and here I sit. Time for bed. Three more nights before Pittsburgh.

Sunday, August 13     Osaka

We did our own tour arranging today. It was a bit unnerving to have to make all connections ourself.

First we didn't even get out of the hotel until ten. We took a train to Kobe and then a cab to the Kobe earthquake museum. Arriving after noon, we dined at their lovely little cefteria before viewing the  exhibits.

It was a terrible disaster. Forty-two hundred died. A hundred thousand homeless. No water or electricity for periods ranging up to three months. More died in the raging fires than in the earthquake itself. The museum did a great job of showing the event and the impact on people. The first room was a computer generated movie that showed a dozen scenes of the earth quake. The floor shook as as the scene unrolled. The second room told the story of survivors through the experiences of one girl. Descending a level, the third floor showed many more stories in artifact and captions. Handheld devices enable each viewer to read the captions they want in their own language.

The second floor has demonstrations of what happens in an earthquake, with an emphasis on averting consequences and being prepared for disaster. One way to be prepared is to know how to make a series of knots in a rope without appearing to do so. I remembered the trick from my studies of magic fifty years ago and was able to amze both the demonstrator and my wife. S was also amazed at the rapidity of the liquefaction phenomenon. As the earth shakes, water and solid part separate so builds atop the soil sink rapidly. Deep pilings or "floating" platforms are tools to avert this sort of disaster. The building housing the museum has itself a number of earthquake defenses. It also generates its own power through solar panels. However, it was an expensive building: ¥6 billion ($60 million several hundred $/sq ft). We tried next to visit a sake winery, but it was closed, whether for Sunday or because the day was part of the OBan homecoming holiday.

We took a train back to Osaka and invested in a package that gave us full subway passes and a harbor cruise. With less than an hour to get there, we found subway connections excellent and arrived for the five o'clock cruise. The ship was called the Santa Maria and was rigged out as a pirate vessel. I knew things were not good as we boarded because the intercom was smothering us with "It's a Small World." The harbor itself turned out to be typical industrial ugly. Disinterested and tired of photography anyway, I handed the camera over to S. To her credit she did get some nice shots.

We dined at a small local sushi shop and then decided to use another of the coupons to visit the Floating Garden Tower. This building is two towers surmounted by a single donut with a restaurant and a rooftop observation platform.

For the experience, we had booked a "ryokan," a small Japanese inn for our first night without a tour. Richard Feymann has written of the excellent rural Japanese inn he visited with his wife. It was so enchanting they extended their stay instead of returning as planned to the city. This account had given me high hopes for our ryokan. Nope. Ours was in the middle of the city and a bit rundown. An elderly women greeted us and welcomed us with ice tea. She called me "papa-san" and S "mama-san." So S wanted to ask about her children and asked if she was a mama-san. Oh no, we inferred. Mama-san was in the next room. We never saw her, but she must be quite old.
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