Blind

I seen a girl
With a guy
With hair like yours
From what I remember

He took her hand
And smiled her name
Her face like yours
She smiled the same

From what I remember
Been so long since last December
She walked your walk
She talked like you

She shimmered strong
She shined right through
From what I remember
I said I seen a girl

With a guy
So who I’d seen
So who am I
Now I can’t remember

Been so long since last December
So I’m sending
Up the ladder
To the perfect doorfront

I’m still mighty tiny
Hoping that you’d be my little godsend
Because right now I’ll take any and blindly
Before I find another noose to fit us

Before we choose another hand to hit us
Let us ask each other
What’s the difference
Because if you save yourself

I’ll save you all the time
Open letter to the ligeance leering
Ah, we entertained you
Why don’t you cast your gaze into the moonlight clearly

Cause my love, my love is a suckerbat
Before I find another noose to fit us
Before we choose another hand to hit us
Let us ask each other

What’s the problem
Why don’t you save yourself
I’ll save you all the time
Because if you save yourself

I’ll save you all the time
Now what’s to blame
Save yourself, I’ll save you all the time
Now what’s to blame

Save yourself, I’ll save you all the time

[TV On the Radio, ‘Blind’]

Otaru / 小樽 (03/04/08)

On the train to Otaru I feel very off. I think it’s the combination of painkillers and a gutful of alcohol from last night. Well, it’s traditional for me to move from place to place with a superb hangover. I assumed the foetal position on the train for a while. I remember the time I was with Gurpal in a restaurant in France on the Val d’Isère Christmas uni ski trip and mixed sudafed with red wine resulting in a psychadelic experience. That was a bit too much for me though, and I wasn’t keen to repeat it. Still, once I’ve decided that’s what this is the feeling of anxiety about what to do if I suddenly need to vomit subsides.

Passing through Yoichi I wonder if I should have stopped off there too, but my fellow guests at Lodge Mellow and Tabi no Kousaten didn’t enthuse about it much. Perhaps it was the lure of the “phachinko” (sic) parlour I observe from the window when the train pulls in there. Not much snow down here and I miss it already. The sea is close by and a flock of gulls takes off.

***

I arrived in Otaru at four in the afternoon. Despite my early confidence, it’s not a great surprise that I can’t find the place where I’m staying. Also, the wheels on my supposedly “robust” suitcase (yeah, I declined to take a backpack as I figured a suitcase was way more convenient) were starting to stick and get chewed up. Not cool. I decided to ask someone in the street who initially said they didn’t know it but then had a flash of inspiration and came chasing after me, with kids in tow.

I arrive at the hostel (which was, incidentally, very well hidden) and am greeted by the Obaa san’s shiriai, who is “very surprised by my japanese”. But I am wise to the exaggerated praise. Actually I didn’t realise she wasn’t the owner (which goes to show how much I understood), but then the real owner comes to greet me after and the penny drops. I chat to her a little – notably I tell her I don’t need room heating (which costs extra) because I have lots of meat. She says she does too but it’s cold. I say well I have lots of chest hair too. She laughs.

We spoke about why I can “speak” Japanese for a little bit – everyone is interested about this. I guess they just don’t run into that many foreigners, or less still foreigners who can speak Japanese to the standard of a 3 year-old infant.

I decided to hit the streets and went for a walk around the canal, which is probably the most famous thing in Otaru because of its European-ness. Doesn’t look that European to me.. In fact I was more intrigued by the assortment of dilapidated factory buildings in between the canal and the seaboard. I take some nice pictures – it’s a grey day but I figured maybe black and white is ok. Next I walk down to the pier, which really looks like a scene from a mobster movie. I can imagine the Yaks rocking up in black mercs to dump bodies *shudder*. Or maybe it’s the Russian mafia I should be concerned about, given the amount of Russians in town (and the apparently well-known fact that they are stealing/scamming car shipments from Japan to Russia). The gradation of the sea is beautiful though, and possesses a certain surreality. It feels like the end of the world – as if I am looking off into oblivion. Perhaps it’s a reflection of my mental state at the time – just departing on my journey, alone, injured, not knowing where I’m going or where I’m staying from one day to the next.

I make a large circle around the town centre and come across the entertainment district. It looks like there are some nice izakayas there, maybe I’ll go back for dinner. Next I try to find an internet cafe but no luck, so I head back to the station to visit the tourist information office, but it’s closed.. There’s a fellow traveller picking up maps, but we only exchange a few words before she scurries off into the deepening night. So I go to a department store and buy a laundry bag – I’ve been hankering after one since I saw my roommate in Lodge Mellow in Niseko using one. It’s perfect for travelling! I do find one but make a gross error of judgement in deciding what size is required.. Doh.

By this point I’m starving but head back to the canal to see it lit up by gas lamp before walking back to the entertainment district. However there are only salarymen roaming around the streets and I can’t be bothered to walk all the way up the hill. I go back to a small street that I passed by earlier on, looks like fun, only room for 6 or 7 people in each place so I figure I might be able to chat to some people. As it turns out (given that I am writing this months after the event), this was one of the most fun meals of my entire trip. First I make friends with the owner and two customers – one is an Ojii-san who is getting drunk (Keiji perhaps?), the other a woman whose birthday is today (Ayako?). We talk about relationships with foreigners and public displays of affection. Sadly I can’t remember exactly what was said! Keiji (let’s just assume that was his name) gets more drunk, befriends me and buys me a beer. He remarks how I am like a Japanese in my eating preferences and that I am very friendly; he feels like i’m a good person, other foreigners give him some kind of cold feeling (didn’t catch the full meaning of what he said), but good if I’m friendly. We have similar dislikes in food (ikura, tarako), I’m clearly in. He asks what I think of Japanese women, and I tell him they’re not bad ;) he thinks I should marry a Japanese girl and live in Otaru.

Throughout the evening I’m given Okinawan shortbread, another pint of beer, some ika shio (salty squid – very strong taste and probably not for everyone), some karaage, some sticky miso paste with sesame (which was awesome), a sausage and then another beer from a different customer who has just won money at pachinko. There are also some Chinese customers who turn up a little later, who are very smily. Pachinko-san (Nokori) and the Chinese try to converse, but face major difficulties and ask me to translate(!!!). That was very entertaining, and led to much toasting and beer-swilling. Another “customer” who is sitting beside me turns out to be the real owner – I ask him if he’s married and he says yes, to “mama” (the lady who’s running the place), slightly embarrassing, but how was I to know?

I come home and talk a little with the owner. She says I’m only the second foreigner to come and speak Japanese with her at her hostel, which I find quite surprising (if I didn’t already make that point just before!). She urges me to get up early and go see Otaru as I’m not staying long, which I thought was sweet. She gives me a heads up on where to go and where to find a good sushi restaurant for lunch. Otaru is quite famous in Japan for its sushi, even though I was to find better elsewhere in Japan for less money later on my travels.

I hear snoring through the wall (again), and wonder why a) everyone snores, b) why i’m always in the next room (there were others available), c) why all the walls are so goddamn thin. For some reason I recall a night in Thailand the previous October where I listened to a tremendous shouting match between a couple who were either in the next room or upstairs. I wonder what happened to them… I was almost concerned enough to alert the staff at the time. Anyhow..

The next day I get up earlyish and wander back to the canal, all the way along to some crossroads miles down the waterfront. I see some old buildings, and look in the Venetian glass museum – is Venice famous for glass? Looks boring, but I laugh at the picture of Japanese girls wearing old school bloomer-style period dresses (available for dress-up and picture taking, naturally).

Next I eat some free cake samples in a cake shop, but didn’t find it that impressive even though there were loads of people in there, and then find sushi-ya dori (sushi street) and realise I walked up it the day before. I’m underwhelmed by what’s on offer, though the ¥3000 maguro, chuu-toro, oo-toro set is very tempting.. mmm.. Still I have a lunchtime recommendation for sushI from the ryokan lady, which I head off to find next. It looks like it’s closed but after much deliberation I try the door and turns out it’s open. Seems they are not used to seeing foreigners, but goes down OK with a few grunts and nods. The sushi is awesome, probably the freshest I’ve ever eaten. I was hoping for chuu-toro, but strike out. I make a note to self to look in koji (or tsukiji).. After lunch I go see some art at the museum/library, and find a couple of very nice pics. I realise it’s been a while since I did that kind of cultural stuff (yes, supremely eloquent). They have free internet in the café, so I try to make a plan for today/tomorrow.

I get into a big fight with the Jalan website (which is excellent by the way and was my saviour on many occasions, although to start with, when I could hardly read any of the characters, figuring out what needed to go where in their forms was a bit of a mission..) and it takes ages – I run out of time and have to go get my stuff in order to catch a train to Sapporo, for a weekend of fun around town.

Death of a Star

Note: this is a very personal post. I debated for a long time whether to publish it at all, or just keep it private. For now I’ve set it visible again, but may change my mind at any moment! Grieving is a funny thing to deal with, especially as this was expected from a long while back. I’ve found it doesn’t change much about receiving the actual news, and I still wander around with the same emptiness; as if a part of me has died too. That is probably the best summary of my feeling – that I have lost a part that I can never get back. But this is life. Anyhow it is entirely impossible to do any kind of justice in writing to this person. This is merely a scribbling of my thoughts right after I found out she had passed away.

***

We knew it was coming someday, but not how it would feel. That day was last weekend, and I feel lost, relieved, downtrodden, wistful, mournful, sad, angry, detached. I feel like I lost her long ago; I found her once – the real her – only to have her taken away. As things worsened perhaps we grew apart, but mostly because she pushed me away. But the feelings remained – I know how special she was. Even this feels weird as it is written in the past tense, something I have actively avoided. Until now.

I look at our beginnings – the excitement and wonder, the realisations of potential and the anticipation which inevitably built. Sharing intimacies in the deepest night, finding things which had never been found before, or which would have been lost forever. The things that happened to keep us apart defy belief. But if we hadn’t been apart would it be even harder to let go? For I know that is what I must do.

Overall it is such a waste. Such a wonderful, amazing, talented person gone, and so young. She was the brightest star in my life, ever. Someone who complemented me so completely, gone. Never to come back. No more sweet nothings, no half-day phone calls, no amateur poetry (well, perhaps she was a pro), no more discoveries, no more chance of recovery, no more hope. At least for her there is no more suffering.

How do you deal with that? Who knows what happens now? I am hoping she will talk to me, but so far there has been nothing. We talked about this many times. She believed in past lives, I’m not sure what I believe. Maybe it is just darkness. When I stared down death and thought it was all over there was nothing but darkness. But I still feel a presence. Will you guide me? You were the only one who could tell what I was thinking before I thought it; who could show me what I was looking for. I miss you.

Life can be cruel, and sometimes seems devoid of sense or reason. But for the living, we have no choice but to look forward, or to give up on life completely. So we must look forward.

Wherever you are, somehow I think you’re smiling at me. Is it a smile of sadness? Or of happiness? Through these tears, I’m smiling at you too. A happy smile, but a sad smile. A smile for memories that never came to pass, but for all that you gave me. You will always remain in my heart, waga koibito. I hope we can meet again some day, some time, some where. And I hope we can find true happiness again.

The trip

I am still struggling with words and pictures, which are coming at a trickle. The main issue is that I also have to write university applications and job applications.. But maybe I’m just making excuses.

Anyway this was the trip:

Japan
Niseko / ニセコ
Otaru / 小樽
Sapporo / 札幌
Asahikawa / 旭川
Fukiage Onsen / 吹上温泉
Asahidake / 旭岳
Wakkanai / 稚内
Mashu-ko / 摩周湖
Kawayu Onsen / 川湯温泉
Rishiri / 利尻
Kushiro / 釧路
Ikeda / 池田
Muroran / 室蘭
Noboribetsu / 登別
Shikotsu-ko / 支笏湖
Sapporo / 札幌
Hakodate / 函館
Aomori / 青森
Hirosaki / 弘前
Morioka / 盛岡
Tono / 遠野
Hiraizumi / 平泉
Sendai / 仙台
Matsushima / 松島
Yamagata / 山形
Yamadera / 山寺
Yokohama / 横浜
Tokyo / 東京
Yuzawa Onsen / 湯沢温泉
Niigata / 新潟
Sado-ga-shima / 佐渡島
Haguro-san / 羽黒山
Tsuruoka / 鶴岡
Aizu Wakamatsu / 会津若松
Tokyo / 東京
Nikko / 日光
Enoshima / 江ノ島
Izu / 伊豆
Shizuoka / 静岡
Kyoto / 京都
Osaka / 大阪
Tokushima / 徳島
Kochi / 高知
Matsuyama / 松山
Hiroshima / 広島
Yakushima / 屋久島
Kokura / 小倉
Fukuoka / 福岡
Nagasaki / 長崎
Kumamoto / 熊本
Aso-san / 阿蘇山
Kagoshima / 鹿児島
Ishigaki-jima / 石垣島
Hateruma-jima / 波照間島
Taketomi-jima / 竹富島
Iriomote-jima / 西表島

China
Hong Kong
Shanghai
Beijing

US & Canada
San Francisco
Vancouver
New York

Link to the pics is at the top of the page. More words to follow here…