Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Final Days In Japan

Upon our return from Vietnam, we found that Spring was slowly coming to Japan. The blossoms were beginning to emerge, and the weather was steadily turning warmer. The arrival of spring also meant that our time overseas was growing short.

Still, there were things to see, places to go, and new sensations to experience.


We took the train to Hakone; a well-known vacation spot that lies south of Tokyo. The thing is, Hakone is also home to an active volcano! From the train station in a valley a winding local train took us up much of a mountain, and then it was on to a tram car. This gave us a good view of the valley and of the area, which is a huge vacation spa during the summer. It was still busy in March, but it was obvious that there were nowhere near the overwhelming crowds that flock to the place during the High Season. (at top left; a 'Beluga' Shinkanzen - this is the fastest of the Bullet Trains).

We spent the entire day in the area. The first stop was to the top of a mountain to visit the Owakudani Natural Hot Springs. This gave us a chance to view the active volcanic vents and to try a local treat; eggs boiled in the sulphur pools.

The shells turn completely black, but otherwise the taste is normal. (At left; Jean & I were posing for photos when a tour group happened to come by!) From there we took the cablecar to the far side of the mountain, which gave us a view of the lake and surrounding golf course. There are many such golf courses and hotels scattered throughout the entire area, and all are jammed during the summer.

From the end of the cable car it was a short walk down to the shores of the lake, where tourboats take visitors around and across the lake. These were not just ordinary tour boats; one was built as a Mississippi Riverboat, and the second one, the one we ended up on, was intended to look like a pirate ship. However, with the benefit of some modern engines hidden under the waterline, the boats moved along at a good clip, giving the passengers a good view of the lake and shoreline. (below; on deck, with a passing pirate ship in view. The guy here seemed oddly familiar; have a look at the label on a bottle of Captain Morgan Rum sometime and you will see what I mean!)

We got off at the first stop, which was a small village at the far end of the lake. This was a typical tourist town, with art galleries, souviener shops, restaurants, and gift stores. Since we were not new to Japan, we had seen many of the usual offerings, but there were some unique arts and crafts available for purchase.

We decided to walk to the next town down the lake, where we would be able to catch a bus that would take us further down the mountains to our train station. The walk proved to be interesting as part of the original walking trail from Tokyo was still visible, and had been used for centuries to carry travellers to the southern parts of Japan. (Left: old cedars line the ancient walking trail from Tokyo)

There were also parks, a golf course and numberous side stops inviting us to explore, but we didn't have time. Catching the bus, we had a view of the peaks, evergreens, streams and meadows that reminded us somewhat of the Rockies, but the villages and towns were distinctly Japanese in nature.

The trip home on the train was uneventful, with the exception that we happened to end up on a car that is for women only; it turns out that there is sometimes a special car put on a train just for women, in order to minimize groping during the rush hour! Blissfully unaware of this restriction, I settled into a seat, much to the amusement of all of the passengers, except a lady across from me who glared at me. About halfway home we realized that the car was for women only, much to the further amusement of the passengers, (with the exception of the lady who kept glaring at me), as they now knew that we knew! However, having a seat is a special thing, so I decided I was going to stay. So, I kept ducking my head behind Sandra whenever the Conducter looked into the car from the end of the train. Fortunately, he didn't enter the car, so I was able to keep my seat. Those Gaijin, they just don't get how things operate! (Above: Jean and myself with our sulpher-boiled eggs)


After another week in town, it was time to pack up and head out to the airport. We went out a day early and stayed overnight in the town of Narita, partly because we didn't want to rush out to the airport on the day of our departure, and partly because Narita is a beautiful little town full of things to see and do.

We spent the day touring the mainstreets, shopping, taking in Morning Prayers at a local temple, and walking in a beautiful Japanese Garden in the area. The blossems hinted at the arrival of Spring, while the gardens were still beautiful in their winter garb. Even the fish were wecloming; following us as best they could in the hope of obtaining a little food from us.

That night we spent on the town, ending up going for a traditional meal of Economaki, served on Tamia mats while you sit on cushions on the floor. This is a difficult thing for Westerners, who are used to table and chairs. Some airline crews were there as well; we could detect Australian accents. By now we could handle chopsticks with ease, we knew what and how to order, how to pay and when and where to stash your shoes. There was even time to visit an old friend of mine from my earliest days in Japan; the Squat Toilet. Yes, it has been an eventful almost-four months; but looking back on it, we have (literally and figuratively) come a long way!

So the next day we were off to the airport and onto the jet for a the long trip back. Aided by the powerful Jet Stream, we were back in Vancouver in just 10 hours. From there we transferred to a turboprop for the 17 minute flight to Sidney. We were home. (Above: wooden prayer cards for the gods, left outside a temple). They can be asking for everything from World Peace, to recovery from disease, to just asking to find a job!

Sited Along The Way:

a No Smoking sign - Japanese Style! No half-measures here; this is the Real No Smoking Deal.

My Fastest Jet Ride - Ever! Flying in a Boeing 767 on the way back to Japan fom Vietnam, helped considerably by a powerful Jet Stream, we topped out at an incredible 723 MPH at 35,000 feet. This is actually faster than the (theoretical) Speed of Sound! And here I thought that with the retirement of Concorde I would never get to ride a supersonic aircraft! (Left, the in-flight display showing that we are flying at Mach 1.0.)

Why the Japanese Kick Ass at Hi-Tech.
So you are in a popular bar in Narita, and it has all the trimmings; Happy Hour with cheap drinks, lots of comfortable chairs, good food, and even a huge widescreen TV. Now, this being Japan, what would you think was playing on the TV? Baseball? Soccer? Sumo?

Nope; what was being televised in this nightclub was a lecture on Theoretical Areodynamics! I kid you not! Looking at the formula, we think the lecturer was explaining the Co-Efficient of Drag Curve to the interested!

Who do you think is overseas in Japan earning a little spare cash by doing promos and personal appearances while his agent is busy trying to re-vitalize a flagging career? Why, the Aflac Duck, of couse!

A neighbourhood liquor store. Could they have gotten the first 'M' upside down?

Oh, so elegant!

A 'Culture Convenience Centre: its really just a Video Rental Store.

Doug San (no longer) In Japan

Saying Sayonara for now!