Thursday, 8 November 2012

Memoirs of a Barbarian – An Englishman’s travels around central Japan


This week sees the first part of our Japan trip covering our visits to Tokyo, Nikko and Takayama.

Some observations on Japan and its culture: -


Face masks
This is a curious one – only about 3% seem to wear them around Tokyo, probably slightly less away from the city but still enough to be very noticeable.

It begs the questions…… are the masks to:-

Protect the wearer from everyone else’s germs?
Protect everyone else from the mask wearer’s germs?
Worn by frustrated people who wanted to be a surgeon but didn’t make it?
Worn by Surgeons who want everyone to know that they are a surgeon?

It seems to be very rare to see two people wearing a mask in the same group – is it a fear of looking like you have come out in the same face outfit ….?

Toilet seats
As an Englishman, the Japanese western-style toilet seats are a remarkable discovery – That lovely warm feeling you get when you sit down just about offsets the fear of being electrocuted – water and electricity are not known to be good companions unless you want to end it all – and the worry that you will develop piles (I remember as a child being told that it was bad to sit on a hot radiator as it was a sure way to develop a case of the old Farmer Giles….  ). 

Then there is the mechanism for cleaning your nether regions – The press of a button results in an alien like probe appearing from the toilet which proceeds to squirt warm water in the general direction of, for want of a better description, your crack.  Unless you have a desperate need for retaining clingons (feel free to insert whatever form of description that you have a preference for i.e. clegnuts, dingle berries etc.… )  it’s a real winner – be warned though,  don’t have the pressure setting too high, after all the idea is to get clean, not to be violated like a young guest on one of Jimmy Saville’s shows in the late 70’s ( I for one am relieved that I didn’t ask Jim to fix me a Japanese Toilet seat – he was always a little too hands on for my liking) ….

For a nation that seems to avoid touching things wherever possible – There are automatic sliding doors everywhere,  it seem strange that Japan has not developed the system further and added a blower mechanism to eradicate the need to ever wipe again…. At which point we run into a typical Japanese anomaly – while the nation happily provides plenty of clean, well maintained facilities, with ample water,  they don’t seemed to have embraced the hand dryer – the only one I came across looked like it was based on one of those Dyson models where you stick your hands in the top like bread into a pop up toaster – only this one looked like it had been designed in the 1960’s by someone who thought cement  blocks and asbestos was as good a material that mankind would ever develop….  


It's like ET's finger* appears and squirts
warm water up your jacksy.....

* At least I hope it was his finger.....
Smoking -
While smoking is pretty much banned outdoors in Japan– people are allowed – almost encouraged even - to smoke indoors in restaurants, bars café’s e.t.c…how mixed up is that? Many a decent coffee or meal was ruined when someone close by lit up and proceeded to smoke us out.....

I love that this health conscious individual
stands amongst the smokers wearing a
mask in  an attempt to avoid the effects
of  secondary smoking ....
Before dropping the mask and
 having a crafty puff.....

Obviously first hand

 smoking is OK....
Not sitting next to Barbarians -
While most Japanese are excruciatingly polite ( so much so you should never attempt to buy anything when you are rushing to catch a train – all the bowing and "aragoto’ing" - Japanese for thank you – makes it almost a certainty that you won’t make it…) they seem to avoid sitting next to foreigners where ever possible….. One poor woman looked like she actually passed out when Mrs B and I sat either side of her on one train journey…..First her eyes opened wide before she stiffened and finally slumped sideways onto Mrs B – It was like the equivalent of sitting beside a giant Japanese possum……If the train floor had been softer I’m certain she would have attempted to bury her head in it – the worlds first ostrossum or would that be a Posstrich…..

Perhaps the slight wariness of visitors might explain the slightly nervous chuntering that accompanied any purchases I made – a stream of incomprehensible (certainly to me) , although always very polite sounding  words,  that might have been wishing me "a nice day" or equally asking that I "leave quietly and never darken their door again – although thank you for the business" …..

Free Tours -
Having investigated paying for a guided tour through a number of commercial tour companies we were very shocked at the price –  for 10 nights accommodation (we already had Tokyo accommodation sorted out), a couple of dinners, all lunches and breakfast , 14 day Japan rail card (standard class) and 4 days English guiding for a rather impressive £6,000 of our English pounds. Ouch … 

A bit of internet research and the discovery of a rather splendid network of volunteers who will happily guide you for the cost of their transport, entrance fee (although they all seemed to have free passes to most attractions) and a meal if they ate with you.  What could go wrong.....before you answer that, remember this is BlackLOG which seems to be  preprogramed for things to go wrong ....

Tokyo -
We enjoyed Tokyo,  especially once we worked out the transport system with the added bonus that our hotel was close to the Yamanote JR line – which was not only covered on our Japan Rail card but also one of the most useful lines for accessing central Tokyo….. Would like to have seen more of the Japanese Harajuku Street Fashion – but the rain seemed to keep them away. Rather surprised and a bit disapointed that it does not have more futuristic and high rise buildings...

Nikko

could have gone better for us. We arrived nice and early for our day trip and successfully met our guide at the station, finding ourselves almost immediately dispatched on a bus up the hill to see a waterfall. The guide told us that if we left it until later we would end up in a long queue for the buses. It sounded reasonable; although I was not sure I particularly wanted to see the waterfall but went with the flow (pardon the pun). The autumn leaves had started to turn but, having started a bit later than most years, it was not the spectacular display that we might have hoped for…

While our guide had worked out that we would save time by getting up the hill early, she had not thought through that increasingly busy roads would mean severe delays getting back down the hill to the far more interesting shrines and temples – as it was we ended up waiting for 2 and a half hours to catch a bus back – Aaarrggghhh!  Almost 6 hours wasted seeing a bloody waterfall -  leaving us just an hour to see around 8 shrines.  As it was, our guide managed to show us just one…..As she had not joined us coming up the hill we were worried that she had got bored.  You can imagine our delight when we found that she had spent a nice relaxing time in an onsen (a hot springs bath)….. It certainly was not a great start to our free guiding service; it won’t be giving too much away to say that thankfully things got a lot better on that front…. 
I had not realised that Nikko was so high up – so my choice of shorts and sandals was not the best especially when you end up standing around waiting for 2 1/2 hours to catch a bus back to the more interesting parts of Nikko.

Takayama

A delightful small town, which has retained a lot of old-world Japanese charm – a bit like Bruges say, where you can get around easily on foot. Fascinated to hear that they get about 15 metres of snow in the winter….Could see myself coming back to Japan for a Ski Holiday
Tune in next time to hear how I got told off by a station platform, how we got on with the Japanese railway system, Japanese baths, Mount Fuji  and why I was so much out of kilter with the Japanese when it came to seasonal dress….

Photo Finish

The Beast returns to his homeland….
Tsukiji Market
The worlds largest fish market ....

Which a picture of three men cutting
up a Tuna hardly does justice too...
Japan's answer to Mr Churchill 
An attempt at an arty shot....

more of those next time...
The bright lights of Tokyo...
Autumn was almost here....Just waiting for
 us to leave before breaking out in to it's
full
season wear...
Mrs B wondering if the six hour trip to see
a Bl**dy waterfall was really worth it.....
He looks like an extra from a Wallace
and Gromit movie...
Japanese Bullet trains - they can travel
at over 200 mph and on average turn up at
a station within 6 seconds of their
published time .

Similar to the British variety although
 they travel at about 6 MPH and on average
 turn up within 200 hours of the almost
published  timetable... 
Shin-Kyo Bridge - Nikko
fortunately bridges don't
close in the evenings... 
While we didn't find any fire breathing
 dragons we did come across this
rather splendid water spitting one.....
 
Not entirely sure what these are but they 
look nice and authentic Japanese....which 
probably mean they are Chinese imports....  
Takayama Sunset...
Mrs B manages to wreck a priceless
Japanese antiquity.....Oops 
Apple notes in the new IOS 6 release
 was proving  to be a bit restricted. The 
only way to delete the message was to 
eat the product ....
I so hope this sign translates as

"Do not photograph this sign!"
This Carp has forgotten that
Red Nose day is typically
held in March....

Or is he attempting
to dress as Autumn

Mrs B and Mega Mini Beast

Fortunately for the sake of the BlackLOG Mrs B and Mega Mini Beast rocked the Fish Market - While The Beast and I spent our time taking close up pictures of people (who could frankly have been anywhere) Mrs B and MMB fished around and came up with a cornucopia of fishtastic proportions .....

Looks like looking at dead fish is a big hobby in Japan 
Even in death these two lovers were inseparable.... 
Here's that sick squid I owe you....

Please note this is a vocal joke and probably requires
you to be British and clinically dead before you find
 it mildly amusing ....
The autopsy was inconclusive but putting down
 "drowned" as cause of death was probably a mistake.... 
These just look like little snots -
I suspect when they are put on
a menu they get some fancy
description ...

This probably explains why I
 don't  write menu's for a living... 
Catch of the day...
Now that's just shellfish.....
The end product......


16 comments:

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    ReplyDelete
  2. Your blog had me laughing out loud Niel, loved the accompanying photos too!! By the way check out Instagram and look at photos that I have liked, a mutual friend is in Japan at the moment and has posted some really good ones!!
    Anna C

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anna C
      Your blog had me laughing out loud Niel, loved the accompanying photos too!!
      Thanks Anna, Hope you weren’t in an inappropriate environment like a library or funeral service when you LOL’d....

      By the way check out Instagram and look at photos that I have liked, a mutual friend is in Japan at the moment and has posted some really good ones!!
      He certainly has.... Damn I hate being upstaged...but I guess I should be used to it by now....

      Delete
  3. When we were in Bangkok recently, the facemasks had me wondering the same thing.
    Although the pollution of peak hour traffic made them an understandable fashion accessory

    Sounds like an amazing country to visit and on my wish list for one day.

    Your photos are wonderful as always

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When we were in Bangkok recently, the facemasks had me wondering the same thing.Although the pollution of peak hour traffic made them an understandable fashion accessory.

      Tokyo was nowhere near as polluted as Bangkok...Someone tried to tell me some of the masks were for hey fever sufferers but I didn’t buy it as it was the wrong time of year.....

      Sounds like an amazing country to visit and on my wish list for one day.
      You should get there if you can an amazing experience.....

      Your photos are wonderful as always
      Thank you, although Mrs B should get a lot of credit this week....

      Delete
  4. It has been many decades since I last visited Japan. I was in the U.S. Navy at the time and only interested in pretty women and getting as drunk as possible. I didn't do any sightseeing. Though I did some some interesting sights. I think.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Delightful little trip! The closest I've been to Japan has been reading some rather disturbing horror stories (which I thoroughly enjoyed).

    Hello!

    Pearl

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mynx8
    When we were in Bangkok recently, the facemasks had me wondering the same thing.
    Although the pollution of peak hour traffic made them an understandable fashion accessory

    Tokyo was nowhere near as polluted as Bangkok...Someone tried to tell me some of the masks were for hey fever sufferers but I didn’t buy it as it was the wrong time of year.....

    Sounds like an amazing country to visit and on my wish list for one day.
    You should get there if you can an amazing experience.....

    Your photos are wonderful as always
    Thank you, although Mrs B should get a lot of credit this week....

    ReplyDelete
  7. Douglas8
    It has been many decades since I last visited Japan. I was in the U.S. Navy at the time and only interested in pretty women and getting as drunk as possible. I didn't do any sightseeing. Though I did some interesting sights. I think.
    Did you think about having an interest in drunk women and getting as pretty as possible

    ReplyDelete
  8. Pearl9
    Delightful little trip! The closest I've been to Japan has been reading some rather disturbing horror stories (which I thoroughly enjoyed).
    The Japanese do horror frighteningly well... I’ve only seen a couple of Japanese films, the one that stands out the most is Battle Royal which deals with controlling Japanese school children by making them kill each other – a blueprint for the Hunger Games

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'd love to see Japan, but all those dinosaurs would scare the crap out of me.
    Come to think of it though...if that happened, one of those bidet thingies would come in handy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of those bidet thingies would certainly squirt the crap out of you....Sad to say didn't see any of those giant lizards they must have been on holiday....

      Delete
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