Many weeks passed.
For the agency I was making my travel arrangements through, it was too many weeks. If by the end of July I did not confirm my itinerary and pay up, prices would rise to compensate for current economic influences, and I would have to pay at the new rate. The travel agent was charging like a wounded bull as it was. (Oddly enough, prices do not go down when economic influences go the other way.) So I confirmed and paid up on the last day of July. This just happened to be the exact same day my membership package arrived from Japan. The package consisted of a cover letter in English, and five progress reports containing all the information anyone going to Daicon 6 could hope to need. Unfortunately every word of it (bar a one-page story by Jack Haldeman in report number four) was in Japanese.
While making a pocket itinerary with a calendar program on my PC, it came to my notice that the con seemed to take place on a Sunday and a Monday. Why Sunday and Monday and not Saturday and Sunday? Some Buddhist thing? I reached for a Japanese progress report...and then rapidly for all the other progress reports. The con dates were clearly displayed in each one, in familiar Arabic numbers: "1993-8-21/22." A Saturday and a Sunday. Locus was wrong, wrong, wrong! On the 21st, my itinerary had me in Hakone. To change that would involve major surgery to all preceding arrangements.
Frantic phone call to travel agent. Was it possible to change my travel plans a little, even though everything had been confirmed? Yes! In exchange for loads of money!! Phone calls were made to Sydney. As things turned out one can get from Hakone to Osaka in a couple of hours, and early in the morning. (Small country, fast trains.) This saved me additional expense, but put paid to my plans of getting to the city the day before the con and familiarising myself with the convention area.
Three days before leaving Australia, I came down with a cold. (First time I'd been sick in over a year.) I felt the cold coming on my last day at work, and by the morning of the first day of my holidays was sure of it. By the time my departure date rolled around the worst of it was over, leaving me with clag forming in my nasal passages for the next few days while being in a country where it is considered impolite to blow one's nose. (It is hardly surprising it was the Japanese who invented tissues.)
The early morning was inky black and raining hard. Not a lot of traffic was about at that hour, so we made good time. The closer we got to the airport, the geometrically faster the meter seemed to go. $32.90 from home, we arrived at the airport. I checked my suitcase direct to Tokyo, and myself to Sydney to connect with the international flight. The sun came up while the aircraft was in transit, and by touch-down in Sydney the day was already a sizzler. From the cold and rain of Melbourne into a Sydney heat wave.
It costs $2.50 to get from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. In all places I've been to outside Australia, where the terminals are separated the connecting service was free. Not in the land of Oz, however. You don't pay, you don't leave. (By comparison it costs $5.00 to get to Sydney from the same terminal.)
Take-off was delayed because we waited for a late-arriving connecting flight bringing more Japan-bound passengers.
There is only one hour's difference between Tokyo time and Eastern Australian standard time, so jet lag is not a problem. The in-flight movie was Walt Disney's Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Could have been worse. Wind was screening on some flights.
Most of the rest of the time, the movie screen showed a map of our flight, with such constantly updated information as "Ground speed 883 km, Outside air -35 degrees, altitude 9451 metres, 376 km from Sydney." Watching yourself approach Tokyo this way is worse than watching a kettle come to the boil. The closer we came to Japan, the more intensely than ever before I found myself reading my Japanese flash-cards.
An hour out from Tokyo the movie screen lit up with a brief travelogue of Tokyo's Narita airport and its satellite buildings.
Had the first Japanese words spoken to me by someone not trying to teach me the language, and it was something I could recognise: "Shitsurei shimashita." (An "excuse me" phrase from a kid on roller skates, who nearly skittled me.)
It is about 60 kilometres from Narita to Tokyo. Shortly after the bus pulled out, it began to rain. (Lets see...dark and raining. What did that remind me of?) The passenger seats all had seat-belts. We stopped at a few toll gates along the way. (Toll gates are impossible to get away from in Japan, when travelling by road.) The rain killed any thoughts of walking from the bus's last hotel to mine. Checked with a phrase-book to make sure of a grammatically correct phrase for the taxi driver. The bus reached the final hotel on its run, where a helpful English-speaking bellboy fixed the taxi arrangements for me.
Night-time traffic in Tokyo is very light. (This is because nobody with a believable income actually lives in Tokyo, due to incredible land prices. Everyone lives in the suburbs.) My hotel was reached in a very few minutes, ¥600 later. Checked in at the Tokyo Grand Hotel. Was greeted at the hotel door by a Japanese phrase I was familiar with...I just could not remember the correct response on the spur of the moment. Remembered it while alone in the lift going up to my room though.
My room had been designed with foreigners in mind the bath had a built-in soap-holder. The hotel supplied the usual free soap, plus razor, toothbrush (with mini-tube of toothpaste), hair shampoo, shower cap, and green tea. The latter was not in the bathroom, but was sitting in tea-bag form next to a hot-water pot on top of the refrigerator. There was a bible in my room, the same as in any other hotel I had ever been in. There was also a volume of the sayings of Buddha.
Looking out the window, I could see something through the rainy haze that looked like the Eiffel Tower. As it turned out, this was Tokyo Tower. By coincidence, I had seen this on TV the week before. Godzilla had been pushing it over.
Tokyo Tower is designed after the Eiffel Tower...only bigger. (333 metres tall including lightning rod.) In accordance with air-safety regulations, it is painted white and orange. The view from the glass-walled lift going up is an experience. Mount Fuji is visible from the main observatory...I am told. Unfortunately the mild drizzle happening outside had views of any distance trailing off into the haze.
The observatory also had little windows in the floor, so one can look straight down 150 metres!
If I understand the posters in and around Tokyo Tower right, Sailor Moon R was screening inside between 23 July to 31 August, admission ¥300.
Outside all restaurants and cafes are plastic display models of their menu items.
Near the part of the Imperial Palace grounds where the general public is allowed to go is an open space with a sign advising that in event of a major emergency (such as an earthquake,) this is one of the places where people should congregate.
If you've ever seen tourist pictures of people walking underneath what looks like a giant, red paper lantern, that might be the entrance to the grounds of the Asakusa Kannon Buddhist Temple, in Tokyo. While walking among the shops and stalls in this place, I was approached by a Japanese schoolboy with family in tow. The boy asked me if I had a few minutes to spare. As part of a school project, he had to find and interview an English-speaking foreigner. In the process of this my photograph was taken by the parents, who said they would send me a print. (They did too, along with an origami swan.) I have been told that if you are a foreigner in a major tourist area in Japan, being interviewed by school-children is an occupational hazard. Tokyo was the only place I was interviewed by anyone, although I suspect it almost happened again at a cliff-side temple in Kyoto. Two girls approached me and asked me if I had a few minutes to spare. At the time I was with a group going through the place at just under the speed of sound, and did not want to lose sight of the tour guide.
Shinto has shrines, Buddhism has temples. Many Japanese believe in both Buddhism and Shintoism. Shinto's main concern is life (people get married in Shinto ceremonies) whereas Buddhism's main concern is death and beyond (people get funerals in Buddhist ceremonies.)
My first breakfast in Japan was at a stall in the Asakusa Temple grounds. It consisted of an omelette thing (¥400), with a bottle of lemonade (¥100). The prices of things at my hotel put me off eating there. (A tin of soft-drink from the room refrigerator would have cost me ¥300. The same thing from a vending machine in the street near the hotel door was ¥110. Other prices for comparison: a MacDonalds Big Mac - ¥280. Chicken McNuggets - 9 for ¥460, 15 for ¥780. Kentucky Fried burger/fries/coke - ¥580. Blank 3-hour videotape - ¥870) A video of Akira - ¥2800. Admittance to movie theatre - ¥1800.
Tokyo has 12 million people and 5 million cars. If you want to buy a car, you have to supply proof that a parking complex exists within a specified distance from home.
The Ginza is one huge place. I was in Tokyo three days, and it was not long enough to learn even the proper basics of navigating around the area.
All maps I laid my hands on tended to omit giving street names, and instead showed such landmarks as major shops and businesses.
Temples are indicated on maps with the swastika symbol. The swastika has been around for a long time, and has only comparatively recently received bad press, courtesy of Adolf Hitler and co. (Swastikas are part of the design on the steps of the Prahran Town Hall, here in Melbourne. I believe they were covered over in WW2.) A number of Japanese were unhappy at the time with their country's alliance with Germany, because the Nazi swastika being reversed, thanks to Nazi attention to detail and accuracy goes against God.
Train stations in the Tokyo area are huge things, with the same station often having several street-level entrances, incredible distances apart.
Japan has lots of vending machines, due in part to a low vandalism rate. Vending machines can be found anywhere, and sometimes even in the middle of nowhere. The ones yours truly saw were concerned mainly with such things as soft drink, saki, cigarettes, and food-bars. (Saw one of the ¥110 machines standing open while it was being reloaded. On the inside of the door was a strip of prices, each label for a higher amount. Anticipating the advance of inflation, the company was not only ready for the the next price rise, but the price rise after that, and the next, and the next, and so on for the length of the strip.) There are other machines selling such things as pornographic manga, computer software, and used girls underwear.
The first sushi bar I found was a comparatively inexpensive place that served its customers by conveyor belt. People sit at a counter in the centre of the store, while food goes by in front of them, around and around the counter. The sushi chefs work in the middle of the store (in this place at least), preparing the food and placing it on the belt. I'd heard of places like this before leaving home, as well as stories of plates of sushi sitting on a conveyor belt for hours and hours, going round and round, getting older and drier.... I walked in and promptly found myself sitting at the counter with a card headed "How to Enjoy Sushi" in my hands. (Japanese on one side of the card, English on the other.) Unlimited free green tea help yourself to tea-bags, and hot-water is on tap. (Another sushi bar in Fukuoaka had no tea bags in sight. The tea came directly out of the counter taps.) Free pickled radish. Free sauces and spices. Prices of the sushi varied, but averaged ¥100 per plate. After you finish eating you bring all your plates to the cashier, who works out how much you owe. The actual prices were coded to the plate design somehow I never did figure out the details.
Phrases you should learn in Japanese, that aren't necessarily in the guide books: "Oops, sorry!" "I would like to buy this." "How much is that?" "What should I have said?" "Where the hell am I on this map?" "Are you sure?" "How did I get here from there?" "Please point in the direction **** is!" "I think you're in my seat." "Please may I have ***?" "We're out of that." "Tasmania has been left off again!" "What's the word for this?"
To get around the city by rail, one checks with a transport map in the station to see how much it costs to get to that destination, (all such maps and railway signs are marked in English as well as Japanese kanji and kana,) feeds money into a ticket dispensing machine, pushes the button marked with the value of the trip, and collects ticket and change. To enter the platform area, the ticket is inserted into a slot in the entry gate, which opens. The ticket either pops out of a slot on the other side of the gate, or vanishes totally if one is leaving the station at the final destination. I had a major problem with one ticket. It would not let me into the platform area. As it turned out, although it was a ¥250 ticket, it was the wrong ¥250 ticket. (Blue instead of yellow...or vice versa. Thinking about it now, I probably bought a ticket from a private line machine, rather than one for Japanese Rail.) The real drama began when the gate attendant tried to give me directions to where I could get the ticket converted to cash, which I could then use to buy another ticket from the right machine. Neither what there was of my Japanese or what there was of his English could convey the involved directions.
It takes three people to sell you a book in Tokyo. One person takes your money and gives you your change, another is on the cash register, and yet another wraps the book.
Tokyo Disneyland compares easily with its Californian counterpart. One major noticeable difference is the absence of the Nautilus ride. With the state of the art in simulation rides these days, I suppose the cost and bother of such a ride is not really necessary. The rides of major interest to me were the ones U.S. Disneyland did not have when I was there last.
Star Tours was quite an experience. The seat-belts one has to clip on after boarding are not just for decoration. A panel of lights by the door shows the entry attendant when all belts are fastened, and the press of a button ensures they stay that way until the ride is over. The entire spaceship cabin dips, sways, and shakes in synch to what is happening on the forward screen. The robot pilot keeps up a constant stream of enthusiastic Japanese (though interestingly enough instructions from the take-off space-station are in English) as a routine trip to Bespin detours through a cluster of icy comets, into a pitched battle between rebels and Imperials, and into the Death Star. (Luke Skywalker the wimp takes the EASY route.)
In places like Japan Meets the World and the Visionarium, if one goes to the back row after entering, one can usually find a set of headphones supplying an English translation. In the waiting area of the Visionarium, people like Newton and Einstein figure on a stained glass window. Inside a set of screens and projectors give a 360 degree view of the point of view of Nine-Eye, a little robot bouncing through time and space, meeting Jules Verne and H.G. Wells in the process.
Critter County is in some ways reminiscent of It's a Small World. You travel in a boat along a winding river, seeing animatronic displays of the story of Brer Rabbit as he decides to leave home, running afoul of Brer Fox, Brer Bear, and the Tar Baby. All very pleasant...except you know from that long wait in that eternal queue outside, sooner or later your boat is going to plummet down a long and near-vertical drop into the briar patch. And when you do finally get to this drop, (after passing a couple of vultures making snide comments,) the boat stops dead for a while to let you have a nice lo-o-ong look at where you're going to be plummeting. For a while I wondered if this was a uniquely Japanese innovation to the ride, but have since been told this sadistic pause is also in the American version.
All the comic books I saw in Japan were telephone-book-sized weeklies. I did see a picture of Batman on a comic-stand once, but it turned out to be a coffee advertisement on the back cover of one of the normal all-Japanese publications.
One thing which escaped my notice until being caught in the rain is the almost total absence of overhangs in front of shops. You can travel substantial portions of Swanston Street (in Melbourne's central business district) and stay dry in the heaviest downpour, but when it rains in Tokyo although you might be lucky enough to find a place to shelter from the rain you would be unable to travel anywhere outdoors without getting wet.
It was *cold* on Mount Fuji. The only place I ever experienced a marked lack of temperature while in Japan.
All along the tour guides kept apologising for the abnormally cool weather. At first this was a mystery it always seemed plenty hot enough to me until Hiroshima. Then I really got hit by a Japanese summer.
One tour guide apologised for the current rate of currency conversion ¥100 = $1-00. A strong currency can hurt Japan particularly in the tourist industry.
Japan has a variety of telephone cards with incredible pictures. Collecting sets can be an expensive business however, if you do not plan to make a lot of telephone calls.
The Kowaki-En hotel in Hakone, unlike every other hotel I stayed at, did not have an international adapter I could borrow to recharge my camcorder's battery packs. However the fellow at the front desk took a screwdriver to an ordinary Japanese plug, connected the wires directly to the relevant parts of my recharger's Australian power socket, and did the battery packs for me.
I would liked to have seen more of Hakone. This was thwarted to a large degree by an incredible fog the day I arrived, and the early hour I had to leave next day, in order to get to Osaka.
The bullet train is a fast and pleasant way of getting around. You get to see more ground details than would be the case from an aircraft. Especially tunnels. I have heard it said the Japanese use the dirt from digging so many tunnels to make more hills...from which to dig more tunnels.
"Note please the view from the honourable secret camera. Foreign tourist is using his video-camera again to try and get continuous panning shot from inside of carriage to scenery whizzing by outside. Camera is now pointing at window. Quick! Cue tunnel!"
Each major station seems to specialise in their own variety of boxed lunches. Someone comes down the aisle flogging the speciality of the last station the train came through.
One of the questions my travel agent back in Australia asked when reserving my accommodations, was where in Osaka the convention was. My reply: "International House." The response: "Which International House?" Just about every nation on the planet seems to have their own International House in Osaka. I was able to find out in time via the Melbourne Anime Society. ("Osaka Kokusai Kouryou Centre.") Finding the address in Osaka was easy. The English lettering on the front of the building made it easy to spot from a distance. It read: "International House, Osaka." An additional sign made it clear this was also the site of Daicon 6, Japan's 32nd SF Convention.
Almost the first person I ran across at the convention was Nick Stathopoulos. Travel to distant, exotic lands, and meet people you already know.
There were piles of Japanese-language programme sheets, for what they were worth to me. I can read Japanese phonetic script, but kanji (Chinese symbols) are something else, and the programme-guides were heavy on that. There were sheets in English, but they had run out of them and were printing more. Interesting. The total number of us round-eyes came to just over half a dozen, yet they had run out of English-language translations!
By the by: Daicon is a Japanese word meaning "white radish". As the last syllable is "con", and s.f. conventions world wide bend over backwords to call themselves "something"-con, radishes were ready-built for the science fiction community.
I missed the opening ceremonies of Daicon 6. Judging from the video clips of previous Daicons, this had promised to be a major event. However a fellow foreigner told me I had missed nothing special.
There were three main levels to the convention centre. Chaos seemed to be the general rule. Things seemed to be very fan-oriented. I had not known quite what to expect, but the over-all amateur-style tone caught me by surprise. It's possible I was walking past Big Names in Japanese SF without knowing it, but where were the displays by the film and t.v. companies? By major manga companies? At least everybody seemed to be having a good time, despite the rampant disorganised panic. It just seemed to help if one knew what everybody else was saying.
Tokyo-Japanese is the type of Japanese taught in language schools. Osakan Japanese is slightly different. It made the normally incomprehensible even more incomprehensible. Damn the language barrier. And to hell with the slow plodding way of learning a language. (According to one estimate I have heard, the best way to become reasonably proficient in Japanese is to put in eight hours of study a day, every day, for around two years. To hell with that!) I want one of those translators like they use in Star Trek!
The art show was listed in my programme guide as "Non-professional Art Show." Apart from the "SF Pulp Magazine Art Show" there was no other kind.
Around lunch-time a number of English speakers (mostly us foreigners) congregated into a lump and went out for lunch together. To travellers in Japan: It is my recommendation to make the midday meal the main meal of the day. Prices go up in the evening sometimes astronomically. (Some places are geared to business-people with expense accounts.) I had quite a hefty meal for ¥500 a ramen dish. The Japanese themselves tend to view ramen (noodles with broth) as a junk food these days and the price of ramen is cheaper than its non-broth version. Don't question this, just take advantage of it.
After lunch the English speaking Japanese contingent headed back to the convention, while the rest of us dropped in at Keith Hansen's place. (Went there by train not the Japanese Rail variety covered by my unlimited rail-travel voucher, but the private rail company who had jacked its prices up just prior to our arrival.) Keith lives in Osaka, in a small flat he rents for ¥85,000 a month. He told us that whole families live in similar-size places. His flat contained some of the things I would have expected to see at Daicon, such as model kits, animation cells from movies and t.v. series, videos, war-game figures, and an encyclopaedia on the Yamato (not the real WW2 vessel, but the one from a t.v. serial seen here under the title of Star Blazers, which renamed the ship the Argo). "One advantage of living here is I can find things." Keith is currently collecting the Japanese official history of the war, and even hopes to read it someday.
We returned to the convention, hoping things had picked up. They had not.
At a particularly low ebb in proceedings, I tried to drop my things at my hotel. A problem with this was my having been booked in at the Tennoji Miyako Hotel. The Miyako chain had two hotels in Osaka, one quite near the convention site. The other was the one in which I had actually been booked. Got there by train. Underground rail. Very far underground. No lifts, no escalators...but lots and lots of stairs. Did I mention that my luggage was breeding? I had arrived with one skinny suitcase and one overnight bag. The luggage now consisted of a fat and exceedingly heavy suitcase, one fat and heavy overnight bag, and the souvenir JAL bag the airline had given me, now being used to carry my camcorder and the overflow from the other bags. Climbed to the surface every single step. No lifts. No escalators. (How do staff move big things between platform and street? By the stairs!) The hotel was just opposite the station exit. The hotel lobby was on the sixth floor. My room was one floor above that. It was the first hotel in Japan I had been to which did not have someone insisting to take my luggage to my room for me. A back problem that had landed me in hospital a few years before had mysteriously reappeared, (thankfully in a mild form, and which faded over the next couple of days.) I reached my room in a mood where I was ready to kick the cat, sprawled onto the bed for a few minutes to let the throbbing at the base of my spine subside, and woke up around 11 p.m.
I was in a much better humour by the morning. Asked in the lobby for which direction Daicon was in. (You don't spot too many landmarks from an underground train.) Giving the address to the people at the counter, the response was sheer horror. "You can't get there by foot! It's too far to walk at least 20 minutes. Take the train!" They were right. It did take me about twenty minutes on hoof to the convention.
The standard morning greeting "Ohayo gozaimus" (see Footnote) was getting a work-out all over the convention centre that morning. Everybody was saying it to everybody in sight foreigners or not. Made the proper responses until I was in the stair well. For no reason known to me, I responded with "Ohayo" (minus the "gozaimus"). Why did I say that? It was like my mouth developed a will of its own. I had actually heard a Japanese use this abbreviation once, on a video. It was Ataru Moroboshi in an episode of Urusei Yatsura. As Ataru is not renowned for his good manners, why was I suddenly taking lessons from him? I thought of adding the "gozaimus" to the retreating back of my greeter, wondered if this would sound too ridiculous, and then the person was way out of earshot anyway, and it was too late. A simple, basic greeting had turned into something to bug me for the rest of my life.
Took in a good part of the Computer Graphics Convention in the Yusino Inn Hall, part of an overflow building near the International Centre. The so-called "hall" turned out to be a large room. (Leave your shoes at the door.) Some of the animation I had seen before, some I had not. (And all of it I saw again at my first computer club meeting after getting back to Australia.) The fellow talking about the graphics kept up a never ending natter. Occasionally he would rewind to a particular part of the video, point to one section of the screen, and do a freeze frame...whereupon everyone in the room would give out an "aah!" of enlightenment. After a while the accumulated frustration of incomprehension, the heat, and the fact my legs were getting numb after sitting cross-legged on the floor for such an incredibly long time, got to me.
Went to see what the "Robot Contest" was. Missed it. Among other things on the programme which I missed completely: "How to Enjoy Daicon 6 for Overseas" (Locus, it's your fault I arrived too late to catch that), "Monty Pythons Flying Circus", "Telling About Chinese SF", "Teach You Why SF Isn't Interesting", "Perry Rodan Meeting", and "The 1st SF Used Car Auction." (Having seen one of the cars later, I am particularly sorry I missed that last one.)
Star Trek fandom is alive and well in Japan. Saw a number of ST fanzines in the hucksters room, along with a few fans in Star Fleet uniforms. There was also a room running videos of ST:TNG, fresh from the USA, American commercials and all. The Star Trek room was at the end of a corridor of cover art native to the USA and Japan. Movie posters abounded in this area, some of them were in English, some in Japanese.
Elfquest fandom was also in evidence. I remember discovering Elfquest with issue two, back in the days before everybody knew something or other about it. I also found evidence of Cordwainer Smith fandom in the hucksters room, however was unable to analyse the fanzines to any depth.
Why do people wear their caps backwards these days? At Daicon this fact started to get to me. The function of a cap is to keep the sun out of the wearer's eyes. Okay, so there was not a great deal of sunshine inside the convention rooms, but who came up with the idea of putting the ugly side of a cap in front, and why did it catch on?
The costume parade consisted of long and involved presentations by large groups of people. Understood the confrontation of Lum and Dirty Pair, but most other things went over my head. Robocop 3 had been and gone in Japanese theatres before I arrived. Had I seen it, I suppose the Robocop skit would have made more sense.
Mostly the costumes were ones I had never seen before, worn by people doing sketches that made no sense to me. The audience, however, was nearly kakking itself in amusement.
I have been asked if there were any Big Name guests at the convention. My reply was "I don't know." Nobody I recognised, anyway.
My overall impression of the thing was that it had been put together by amateurs, but that everybody present had a terrific time anyway.
Final flick of the Con was a video of Daicon 6 highlights, put together by somebody else who had been prowling the place with a camcorder. It ended with "To be continued". (Coming soon: Daicon 7.)
Saw a poster in a railway station featuring characters and vessels from the Anderson's Thunderbirds. I do not know what the poster was about, except that it had nothing to do with Daicon. (Although the progress reports I received each had their numbers printed against a different Thunderbird silhouette.) For some reason Thunderbirds has made a somewhat large impression in Japan.
Came across the site of Expo 70. (This was where I saw Rolf Harris do Jake the Peg for the first time, in a live tv transmission) There are two time capsules buried at the Expo site one to be opened at the beginning of every century, and the other to stay where it is until 6970.
There was something in Osaka a walking distance from my hotel, called Dino Alive. (I suspect animatronic dinosaurs, but am not sure.) The poster advertising it showed a tyrannosaurus rex scaring a film crew. Decided to check it out, but confused the JR station on the map with the overlapping private rail station, and went the wrong way. Found a place that sold every CD I was looking for, and then a second hand bookshop selling most of the titles I was looking for. This kept me busy for a while. Tried to go back to the advertising poster later...and could not find it! After that, the further west I travelled in Japan, the more plugs I kept seeing for Osaka's Dino Alive.
Asked at the Osakan second hand book store what the price of one particular book was. Got a long-winded reply that left me no wiser. This was the first time anybody in a Japanese store assumed I could speak Japanese. (I had asked about the price in Japanese, and was buying a Japanese language paper-back comic, so you might think this was hardly surprising. But no other book store any-place else had made the same assumption.) I had taught myself to read Japanese phonetic symbols, know the meanings of a (very) few of the Chinese-origin kanji symbols, and had taken three terms of language lessons. Frequently found the phonetic alphabet to be of use, but the spoken lessons by and large went down the gurgler. My accent can not possibly be that bad. My theory is that most Japanese hearing a foreigner speak Japanese will assume they have mis-heard. Because they know their language is difficult for non-natives, you therefore can't be speaking it. While "Kore o kudasei" will go over the head of a Japanese shop assistant, "I'd like to buy this" (while pointing with finger to desired item), will get results every time.
I became something of a soft-drink junkie while in Japan. My favourite was something called Calpis Water. It has a sort of lemony taste, and I am told (to my surprise) it has a milk base. Then there is Bickle (which does for the pear what Calpis Water does for the lemon.) Blendy (which had puzzled me in a commercial seen while still in Australia) turned out to be coffee. Pocari Sweat is intended to replace the body chemicals lost in perspiring.
Stayed at a ryokan (a Japanese inn) in Kyoto. Shoes off at the front door, slippers off at the door to my room, special slippers to be worn in the toilet (and ONLY in the toilet), the first truly Japanese-style bath I had ever seen since arriving, and notices (in English) up all over the place, telling how to do things the Japanese way. (I do not remember any notices in Japanese. Presumably all Japanese guests were expected to know how to behave.)
Found a second-hand book store in Kyoto that had EVERY SINGLE BOOK I WAS LOOKING FOR! Came away with every single issue of Kimagure Orange Road that there was...along with every single issue of Urusei Yatsura. And I thought I had trouble with fat luggage before!
Name on block of flats in Kyoto: "Luminous Nose."
Hiroshima has trams. One-price ticket to any one destination.
There are plaques all over the city showing the distance from the hypercentre, and what the view was like at that spot on the day of the bang.
There is only one building left standing from the time of the Bomb. The A-bomb dome is the building that the Enola Gay actually aimed at. Being directly under the blast, it rode out the pressure wave that smeared most other structures in the city. The dome only stands today courtesy of a series of girders propping it up. It sits by the bank of a river, in a pleasant area called Peace Park. Memorials and floral bouquets are everywhere.
Peace Museum contains the famous piece of brickwork where someone's shadow is burned. When the bomb went off almost directly overhead, the flash bleached the bricks evenly, except for that part shielded by the sitting man. After the blast, his shadow was all that was left. I had seen pictures of all this before, yet now I was actually there. Hiroshima had never been quite so real before.
Towards the end of my stay in Japan, I was getting so accustomed to the place, I actually left my hotel without taking my camera with me. To cut a long story short, I won't be making that mistake again.
The last movie I saw in Japan (second last day in the country, with the money running out) concerned a school-boy finding a tiny man. The man is big enough to ride the family cat and hitch a ride from a crow. He's some kind of water-spirit...I think. (No subtitles!) The boy learns respect for water, and at the end a new pollution-free body of water is found for the little man, who rejuvenates to such an extent he gets played by a woman. The major trick was telling the ticket-seller which movie I wanted to see. (The title was totally in Japanese. Fortunately I recognised the first word of the title as "mizu" [water], which provided a good enough clue at the ticket counter.)
Was concerned about leaving the country the last few days I was there. Weather reports were keeping track of a typhoon that seemed to be heading for Tokyo with the relentlessness of Godzilla.
Saw three Buddhist monks in the street, on my last day. I know they were Buddhist monks, they looked exactly like Cherry from Urusei Yatsura only taller.
Train to airport. Checked in two cases, and carried two. Nobody queried the weight on any of them. I was amazed.
Advertising on back of my airline boarding pass.
A slot at the boarding gate took my pass and returned it, just like an oversize rail-travel ticket barrier.
While waiting at Narita International Airport, you can pay for a booth to sit in and watch television.
After dark take-off.
The flight to Australia was less crowded than coming the other way. Had a window seat. Nobody had the other two seats between me and the aisle. Was able to sleep horizontally, after lights-out.
Morning. The pilot apologised for the late arrival in Sydney had had to detour for bad weather.
Through customs...paying $$$ for the excess on the camcorder purchased from duty free. (Made a healthy profit converting what little yen I had left back into dollars.) Am told that when leaving the country in the future, I can register the camera and anything else, so I do not have to pay duty when returning.
Missed connecting flight to Melbourne. There were pink keys on the computer keyboard the clerk was using to put me on a later flight. Took a moment to realise why. Red carbon on the backs of the tickets was being transferred, over time, via human fingertips.
Took airport bus in to the city, and public transport the rest of the way home. No burglars had visited, despite the zonked deadlock. No messages on the answering machine either. A brief power failure after I left had zapped the machine.
A few weeks later I'm back at work, and it's just as if I was never away. Depression.
"Ohayo gozaimus" is a greeting usually translated as "good morning" used from dawn to around 10 a.m.-ish, at which point "konnichi-wa" takes over up until sunset. However, despite its usage, "ohayo gozaimus" does not actually mean "good morning". It more literally translates as "it is honourably early." Japanese works on about four levels of politeness rude, informal, polite, and excruciatingly polite. The average Japanese speaks mainly in the informal level, and the formal level is what is mainly taught in schools here. (Which is a pity. because you just about have to learn the language over again if you want to understand the speech the Japanese use in everyday life. By learning informal Japanese you can follow a few simple rules to work out what most of the polite level is, memorising the few exceptions.)
My first Japanese teacher was an Australian who learned the language in an extremely concentrated military crash course at the end of WW2, the thing being so intense a few of the students committed suicide before it was over. He took one look at the textbook we were supposed to be using, chucked it out, and conducted lessons from typewritten sheets of his own. The next teacher I had was Japanese, and seemed caught between teaching us from the textbook issued, and teaching the language as it was really spoken. She opted for the book, but kept saying things like "Boy is this fellow ever polite!" when doing sample conversations. But I digress).
The "gozaimus" part of the greeting is an extremely polite way of saying "it is" ("it is" in formal speech is "desu'', in informal speech "da"). Despite its literal meaning, the whole phrase is used as a morning greeting. You had better use all of it when greeting strangers. Short cuts, such as dropping the "gozaimus" or contracting the phrase to its first and last sounds ("ossu") is something that happens in informal conversations between peers. My dropping of the "it is" to a stranger could be interpreted as assuming an unwarranted familiarity. However, it was more likely taken as what it was another damn foreigner mangling the language.(Click here to return to text.)