Monthly Archives: August 2008

Days of neglect

After a shockingly long time, I’ve posted ONE (yes, one) more entry from my travelogue thus far. It’s not really polished, but hey.

I have been feeling slightly guilty about neglecting updates recently, especially as it seems slightly more people are interested in reading about what I’m up to this time compared with Canada, where I wrote a lot more, ha.

Anyway… for now I am staying in Tokyo and taking a Japanese language course until the end of August. After that, I will probably stick around for an extra two or three weeks as I am also taking a corporate finance course from UCLA extension, and the final exam for that needs to be done by the 10th September. Probably easier to do it while I’m still stationary rather than on the road, though writing university applications for next year is going to prove interesting whilst travelling again, hmm..

The place where I live right now is seven minutes from Shibuya by train, and the rent is 2/3 the price of my place in Balham. The Japanese prime minister’s house is actually just down the road. Well, one of his houses, and apparently his favourite, but who knows! A policeman is permanently stationed outside the building in a mini-police box. This makes the location very easy to find for any would-be ne’er-do-wells. I feel sorry for the policeman who has to man the post, as it’s not the most exciting quiet residential street to be standing around in for hours at a time.

I recently acquired a mamachari (old woman style shopping bike resplendent with basket) from my friends Akemi and Matthieu, which means that in theory I can cycle to school every day, and most places around this side of town. This was a brilliant money-saving idea (although my train fare to Shibuya only costs 75p [for the sake of comparison, the equivalent London fare would be £2.40]), BUT (parents – look away now) I rode to school once and not only was I ridiculously hot by the time I got there, the roads were SCARY. For the most part you can ride along the pavement, but at points it gets too narrow so people dodge out into the road. Into oncoming traffic. On a three-lane road. Hmm. This would also be fine if my back tire wasn’t on the point of perishing completely, which causes a slight wobble with each turn of the back wheel :) still, what can be expected of a freebie?? And it’s pretty damn sexy.

I’m enjoying the language course, and think I am making some progress. My classmates are all Asian, and most of them are probably advantaged in that they can either read and write the Chinese characters (Taiwanese), or understand the grammar structure (Korean). Still, forces me to try hard to keep up. To start with the workload was fairly intense, but it seems to have calmed a little. Though am very wary that might be due to greater slacking off..! Which will bite me very soon when I have to take a test on the entire text book/course content up to this point in a couple of weeks’ time. Eek.

There have been a number of people passing through Tokyo in the past week or so that I know from home. Right now Gurpal is here, and I met up with Jeremy, Rena and Abs in the past week too. It’s great to have some familiar faces around to hang out with. Of course I have met some cool people here too, but old friends are old friends.

Anyway, my current plan is to be here ’til mid-September, then travel through the rest of Japan and around SE Asia, returning to England in mid-December. Plans, as always, subject to spontaneous changes!

Will try to write something more interesting next time round..! For now, I’m sure everyone will be relieved to hear that for the most part I am feeling a lot better about life these days :)

Asahidake Onsen / 旭岳温泉 (09/04/08)

Heading back through Biei I realise that the landscape is quite unjapanese. the rolling hills look like a alpine meadow, but in japan everything is rugged or flat with little in between. the picture is quaint, and in summer it is rumoured to be a beautiful place. in fact, it seems that the whole of hokkaido bypasses spring somewhat, despite the proclamation of four seasons. the snow here lasts a long time, and it may be may or june until its gone. this is fine, but some places are closed through the middle of april, I suppose because it’s low season, and a lot of the activities here are based around hiking, which is a little problematic if everything is under a metre or two of snow still (literally), especially when one is supposed to be resting an injury. (shminjury).

I set off for Asahidake by bus, after another trip to the exceedingly helpful asahikawa tourist office. still no time to visit the otokoyama sake museum – wondering if I’ll ever make it..

[en route]
A frozen lake behind a dam looks like salt plains. At Tenninkyo rock pillars are arranged like sentries above the highway. Perhaps it was hewn from the rock, but I doubt it, for at the end of the valley near Tenninkyo is a beautiful waterfall that I would have loved to see but can’t afford the time for. Again would be good to have a car…
For the second or third time today, my eyes fill with tears. I wish my angel were beside me, I turn and open my mouth to speak to no-one. We were to do this trip together sometime, though perhaps in the reverse direction.
I wonder what the point is in my travelling. What am I looking for? What do I expect to find? Since our re-contact, or perhaps repeated disappearance, sad thoughts come more often.
Or maybe it’s that I’ve severed my anchor. Every day a new place, new people. I have become a nomad; a wanderer. A ronin (or yubokumin?).
I am heavy and light. Made of stone but also of water. I know where I’m going, but why, or how I get there, or what the destination is, I question.
I carry a sadness that is new to me. Or rather a sense of loss, of lament. It is a heavy burden, but one that is inescapable. It is part of me, and wherever I am, it will be there too.

arrived in asahidake around 4pm. After making smalltalk with my roommate for the night (a fellow englishman, who would have thought) I go to check out the onsen.

compared with the previous day’s baths, it’s like comparing a public swimming pool with a top-notch private health club. dead flies floating on the surface of the rotemburo, a feed pipe which looked suspiciously like it was coming from a mains water supply, and the plink plink of decay in the inside bath. Feeling a mite disappointed, I cut my visit short and headed out to take some pictures of the surroundings. it was just before sunset, and again I got some good shots of the dying sun as it melted into the skyline. a fellow enthusiast was out with his large SLR and we exchanged nods and smiles.

Dinner was a stunningly early 6pm. I envisaged heading out to one of the other, more famous onsens after dinner, but was brutally shot down by everywhere closing to visitors after 6pm – some as early as 3pm. WTF is that all about? Is this or is this not a famous resort? After that myself and Andy (aforementioned roommate, and as far as I could tell the only other visitor to arrive that day) cracked open some beers and, after waiting for the sizeable dinner to digest, headed back out to the onsen. Either the pool surface had been swept, or ignorance was bliss (devoid of outside lighting), and we managed to tolerate the outdoor bath under silver birch and a starlit sky for over three hours, by which point the breeze had been thoroughly shot, and each of us had made semi-naked trips back through the hostel to buy more beer from the vending machine (the most expensive vending machine yet – bastards). As much as it’s great to travel alone and immerse oneself in a different language (perhaps too grandiose a term for my activities), it was good to speak with another native. Especially to find out about experiences while living here, perceptions of the people, and other common topics.

The next morning I woke impressively early (7.40am) and after breakfast headed up in the cable car to near the peak of Mt. Asahidake. There was a rather irritating family in the cable car with me, one of whom seemed to be a Chinese-Japanese mother of one who was dressed in full white tracksuit with orange stripes down the side. Tasteful. I was anticipating having a quick look around at the top, taking a few pictures and coming back down again, but some steaming outlets in the mountain crater piqued my interest, so I ended up hiking across deep snow to have a look. Despite getting wet shoes, wet socks, wet trouser-legs and dropping my camera in the snow, I made it there and back reasonably quickly, and smiled wryly when a snowboarder passed me looking quizzically at my footwear.

Back at the hostel I chatted briefly (or rather was chatted to briefly) about how amazing the Asahidake backcountry is, how I was only staying such a short time, and how they were looking forward to me coming back again.

By the way the picture which is currently gracing this blog is from Asahidake at sunset. Beautiful.