There was no piss on any toiletseat I used in my entire 2.5 weeks in Japan. Of all the things that struck me as odd in Japan, that one was the most unusual. After spending time in Japan you really begin to realize how rude and obnoxious people everywhere else really are. Folks are so polite in Japan that they will not even smoke and walk at the same time, no one uses their cell phones in public spaces, and when crammed into the subways together somehow people manage to not bump or touch their neighbors. Everywhere we went people would stare at Orion and I but would not say anything unless we spoke to them first. Everyone wanted to talk to us, but were too shy and polite. I remember on one train that was full of school kids in uniforms pretending to ignore us, I took the ketchup container out of my backpack and said ‘ketchup’ in a loud voice and the entire train car was in an uproar with everyone yelling ‘ketchup’. Within 2 minutes there were 20 cellphones snapping pictures of Orion and I with our arms around the local school kids.
There are few things that motivate me to camp more than overpriced Hotels which Japan seems to have in abundance. The cheapest, rattiest places we could find were about $50-70 a night and I was constantly feeling like I was hemorrhaging money on trip. I’ve gotten cheap travel down to an art in the US but it’s hard to travel in Japan on a budget and actually see or do anything. When it was raining or Orion was jetlagged we got a hotel or stayed in a hostel, but most of the trip we camped out. There was a bunch of places that I wanted to go that no public bus or JR train went to, so some of the national parks we hitchhiked to. Its great hitchhiking with a 10-year-old because people automatically assume that you are not a psycho.
The bullet trains were always eerily quiet. The combination of disabled cellphones, people not talking and the silky smooth suspension they put on the highspeed trains made it really uncomfortable. I was constantly imagining Bobby Madness strutting down the isle blasting some old school punk rock music on a brightly colored My-First-Sony Boombox with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Those sedated Japanese seemed to really crave something to come along and stir them up.
The Japanese people were really blessed by their losing of WWII. Because of resulting treaties that prevented them from having any sort of real military, all of their profits have been reinvested in their incredible infrastructure. I have never been to any country with as solid or efficient infrastructure as Japan. Once we were standing on a platform and our train was supposed to arrive at 12:34 and it was 12:32 and the bullet train arrived so we got on thinking it was 2 minutes early. It was actually a different bullet train going to the same place. Once we realized we were on the wrong train we got off at the next stop, waited 2 minutes and then got back on the next bullet train. The Japanese make the US public transportation system look as bad as it really is. There were only a handful of places we couldn’t easily get to, and we rarely had to wait more than 15 minutes for any bus, train or boat. Think of what the US might be like if we dissolved the Military Industrial complex, got rid of our hundreds of military bases overseas and only kept the National Guard and the Coast Guard. If we took all the resources we waste on wars and put them into improving our relations overseas and renewable energy and public transportation. Our country could be doing well now instead of struggling on the brink of national debt bankruptcy and disaster. All the energy we spend towards maintaining the status quo instead of thinking of our future and our children’s futures will only hurt us in the end. If this oil spill causes Americans to wake up and see that fossil fuels create an unsustainable future, then I say it might be one of the best things that has ever happened to US.
It’s interesting to see Japan’s relationship to nature. Given the current crisis in the US it seems wrong of me to criticize another country, but everywhere you look in Japan you see man and technology dominating nature, They cut down all the trees and then have to build huge unsightly retaining walls to keep the cliff from eroding. Everywhere you look there are the signs of massive, overwhelming industrialization. People flock in droves to the national parks, or anywhere they can be outside again. They wear full protective gear, hiking in long shirts and long pants and even white gloves. Inside they have that longing to get back to nature, but it seems like most people they are challenged to forgo the comforts of driving to the top or taking an overpriced chairlift to the top of the mountain to have their picnics. It’s such a different attitude from what we are used to in the states, but at least they are getting back to what little nature they have left. Most of the flat lands in the city and country are all used up. Land is a precious commodity in Japan so every square inch is utilized as efficiently as possible.
During one of the night’s camping I had a dream I disrupted the entire Japanese high-speed rail system by jumping onto the tracks in front of a stopped bullet train and handcuffing my ankles to the eastbound track and my wrist to the westbound track to protest Japan’s continued whaling practices. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. I decided that what the Japanese people really needed was some stirring up, and the high-speed rail system is incredibly vulnerable to serious disruption by nonviolent protesters. After hours of laying awake under the stars I decided that it wasn’t really fair to put Orion through all that and it probably wasn’t such a great idea after all, and after I calmed down a bit and decided that I really wasn’t going to do it I was able to fall back asleep. The ironic thing was that I decided that if the Iraqis and Afghani people really wanted America to leave their countries the best way to do it was not to blow themselves up or plant IED’s but to convince others to nonviolently non-cooperate with American policy in those countries. I honestly believe that the US can never win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people of those 2 countries after all the damage and destruction we have brought there. We really are guest in another man’s house and its time for us to go. Deciding not to protest in Japan really showed me how much I’ve mellowed out in the last 20 years. Thank god I didn’t go there when I was 18!
The Japanese have a passion for all things efficient. The #1 best-selling car in Japan for 15 months has been the Toyota Prius. Even when Toyota was going through their unintended acceleration debacle the Prius stayed at the top of the list. There was one thing that I found quite strange as well, in the 18 days we were there I did not see a single American made car anywhere in the country. It would be hard to imagine one of these efficiency loving people tooling around in a Suburban or a Hummer, it’s just not part of the culture. It seems like 40% of the cars I see in the US are Japan made, and none of the cars in Japan are US made. I think there is something our country can learn from this. I spent a fair bit of time drooling over cars that we can’t even get over here like the Honda Stream and Japanese version of the 4th generation 4WD Odyssey. In my opinion these 2 cars blow everything else made in the US out of the water in styling and efficiency and apparently there isn’t even enough of a market to bring them to the US.
One of the funniest incidents that happened to us involved a luggage storage locker. Since there was basically no crime in Japan I decided it was a waste of 500 Yen to put money in the storage lockers when I left my big backpack in lockers at the Train station so I just stuck the bag in and didn’t put in the money. The locker police caught me in the act and removed my bag after about the 10th city I did this in. When I finally caught up with him he was very pissed and clearly didn’t speak any English. When I finally coughed up the $5.50 for the locker he made me sign a luggage reclaim tag which I signed with a big “F%^# YOU”. Orion thought it was pretty funny and since this guy couldn’t read English anyway, I thought it was pretty funny too.
Should you find yourself in Japan, make sure you take the time to hike in some of the National Parks, the views are simply spectacular and it will be a welcome break from the massive over-industrialization that has plagued Japan in the last 50 years. Although Japan was one of the most expensive countries I have ever visited, I still feel like it was totally worth it and gave Orion lots of wonderful memories for years to come. Just don’t bring a 1 person tent and try to share a sleeping bag if your travel partner is a chronic bed hog.The ‘Olsen’ or public baths were fun for Orion and I. When it was just us, we would splash around in the hot water and generally have a great time dumping freezing cold water on each other and our own heads. When there others were in the bath with us we’d be far more subdued and often we would communicate with the locals to the best of our abilities. Everyone really enjoyed Orion’s company, traveling with a child many people stop and try to talk with you that would otherwise probably wouldn’t.
Tokyo->Kyoto->Nara->Osaka->Hiroshima->Tswano->Nagasaki->Unzen->Kummamoto->Aso->Aso San National Park->Usuki->Ebino->Kirishima-Yaku National Park->Kagoshima->Sakurajima->Hiroshima->Tokyo