‘じゃあね、日本’, or ‘See you later, Japan’

Sadly, it’s time to leave Japan after two months.

As we fly from Okinawa to Kobe, we spy what looks like the Golden Gate Bridge. This is in fact the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge.

We visit it the next day.

It is enormous.

You can stand on a glass deck in the Visitor’s Centre.

Waters of the Akashi Strait, 50 metres below

The mind boggles at the engineering science and social organization that goes into the planning and construction of this steel-and-concrete behemoth.

Consider my mind boggled

Kobe was the site of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. This event takes 6,000 lives.

Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park

We are in Kobe: we have to splash out on a dinner of Kobe beef at Tor Road Steak Aoyama.

The raw materials…
…prepared teppanyaki-style
Prepare the vegetables
Salt liberally
Cut into cubes
Grill evenly
Serve with salt and garlic flakes

Interesting historical fact: until 1872, eating meat was banned in Japan for over 1,200 years.

We are in Osaka, our original point of entry, for the third time. And for the third time we stay at the Tani9 Backpackers.

It seems so long ago that we first arrived in Japan, slightly overwhelmed by the hectic pace and unfamiliar culture after laid-back New Zealand. The atmosphere at the Tani9 is so relaxed and friendly, we ended up spending five days here as we acclimatize. It’s good to be back.

And we get to see Akubi again.

Our favourite cat in Japan helps with the blog

We take a day trip to Nara, once the capital of Japan. The temples are known for their tame deer.

Starting from scratch

They have been for centuries.

Deer at the Kasuga Shrine’ by Yoshida Hiroshi

Other views.

Nara – Todai-ji
Nara – Calligrapher
This deer mistakes my pant-leg for a rubbing post
Nara – even the noren over the door have a deer theme

We catch a train to Kyoto. While there, we visit the Tale of Genji Museum in nearby Uji.

The Tale of Genji is a strange thing. Over 1,200 pages long, it’s a ‘novel of manners’ written in the 11th century by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu.

Like many great works, you get the feeling it might contain entire worlds between its covers. Don’t know if I’ll ever get to read it, though; my dwindling stock of days in this world probably preclude starting 1,000-plus-paged novels. (No terminal illnesses – simply age.) Too bad there’s not a Classics Illustrated version.

For the time-pressed bookworm

We see the Metropolitan Museum in NYC is having a Genji-themed exhibit: ‘The Tale of Genji’ and the Art It Inspired

The last ten chapters (out of 54) take place in Uji. Hence the location of the museum. The building is attractive – sleek and modern.

Ancient book, modern architecture

Wandering in Uji, there is a street fair going on. I sample some of the best grilled tuna I’ve ever tasted.

It’s tuna-licious

In Kyoto itself, we come across a crew demolishing an old Kyoto-style wooden building. Sad.

Out with the old…

But of course many parts of Kyoto retain their charm.

Next door to the demolished building

In Kyoto, seeing groups of women – or couples – dressed in full geisha gear is common. Seeing a group of teenage boys much less so.

Looks like a boy band

Then back to Tokyo for six days. One of our first stops is the Hokusai Museum.

Katsushika Hokusai reminds us of Rembrandt Van Rijn. Both artists spent most of their lives in the same neighbourhood, probably never traveling further than 100 KMs from home, but creating an entire cosmos in their work.

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa – the original:

From the series ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

Which inspires many variations, such as this Van Gogh-style effort:

Starry, starry night

For those who like rabbits…

Lagomorph tsunami

…or for those who like pugs (you know who you are!):

A late painting by Hokusai for a shrine, now restored (recreated, really) after being destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake.

Set into the plaza in front of the museum:

Mosaic of Hokusai’s ‘Fine Wind, Clear Morning

We like this noren-shaped building in the Sumida district .

We catch a single act of kabuki at the Kabuki-za Theatre.

We visit the Roppongi district for its museums. They turn out to be closed that day.

Nice architecture, though

The plaza of the Mori Tower has one of Louise Bourgois’ ‘Maman‘ sculptures.

Just like home

Have we mentioned that people in Japan love their dogs?

Pooches on parade

Our final day in Japan, we decide to have our favourite Japanese foods. Maria opts for conveyor-belt sushi for lunch.

I choose tonkatsu at Maisen for dinner.

The Last Supper

Sight or Insight of the Day

We are really going to miss Japan. Even if communication is often a problem, Japan has a lot going for it.

Like the Scandinavian countries, Japan has worked out a way of life that is uniquely suited to itself, for the betterment of its people. Like Scandinavia, Japan has figured out the basics:

  • Make sure stuff works properly
  • Keep things clean
  • Be courteous to your fellow citizens
  • Don’t vandalize public property
  • Educate your people and keep them healthy
  • (Having a sense of shame for doing bad things doesn’t hurt either)

When I was younger and in my traveling prime, I wasn’t tempted to visit Japan because I thought of Japanese society as ‘rigid’ and ‘conformist’.

These days, I tend to see people often interpret their right to be ‘non-conformist’ as privilege to be as big an asshole as possible.

People have been good to us here. We won’t say ‘sayonara‘ – that’s not a thing anymore – but ‘Jā matane‘, or ‘See you later’.