“Hello, nice to meet you, my name is Julian, I am from America” ……
My last week has been filled with a strange sense of Japanese hospitality. The weather has been terrible, with cold rain/hail storms blowing in almost everyday and subzero evenings. My tent never has the chance to dry, all day its packed in a wet bag and at night it quickly freezes when its unpacked. To avoid the weather I have slept in some very unusual places that before entering Japan I would have felt uncomfortable sleeping in. This has led many locals to believe that I am homeless and often times when I try to talk with them they will scoff at me and tell me that they don’t have any money! I guess sleeping in a parking garage and being nice does not go hand in hand in Japan. But this gives me a good opportunity to experience the “unseen” side of Japanese culture.
On several occasions, after explaining that I am not homeless but rather trying to save money by camping, I have been invited into the homes of Japanese locals. I am quickly overly complemented for my chopsticks skills and knowledge of Japanese cuisine and am almost always offered a large dinner consisting of some sort of seafood, with rice and miso. I think that most Japanese would be surprised to see how much of their culture can be experienced in other Asian countries as well as in Japanese restaurants. Not to say that there is a lot that I have learned solely from Japan but I find that many Japanese are shocked that I know what wasabi is! All three of my dinner experiences have gone pretty much the same, after a great meal, I am bid farewell and accompanied outside where I then depart and camp in the dark cold. Never have I been offered a place to stay! It’s almost as if my host feel that “well he has food in his belly he will be OK camping in the cold”. In all my experiences with invitations from strangers in foreign lands Japan is the only country where I have not been offered a place to stay. On my last occasion, after a fabulous meal of crab and green tea, I pressed my host to offer me a place to stay (probably a Japanese Taboo). It turned out that my host was a doctor at the local hospital so after a few phone calls he organized me a room in the intensive care ward! I think I would have been better in the tent, all night I could hear the sound of coughing and respirators and nurse call buttons, and I dreamt of visiting my father in similar situations.
Exploring cities on a bicycle in Japan is always a bit challenging, riding from sidewalk to busy street hopping up and down curbs, dodging schools kids racing home from class. With the berth of my bicycle I often wonder if it might be safer for me to ride in road. Hiroshima was no different, a very busy metropolis separated by 5 rivers draining into the bay. This gives the city an almost nostalgic fishing village-like feel even though the population is close to 2 million. My first day I wandered about pedaling the busy downtown shopping district and eating the local cuisine. Other than the historic atomic bomb dome (A historical monument from the war) there is very little sign of the city’s tragic past. Drunk business men in black suits smelling of fried fish and sake bar hop while skinny Japanese women in high heels walk the sidewalks with designer handbags. The nightlife is absolutely crazy, where the street lights are brighter than the sun, and cars are shuffled in a conveyor belt in the public parking lot, I quickly became overwhelmed and missed the solitude of the wild.
Visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum was extremely emotional but extremely interesting! Looking back I somehow didn’t realize the full extent of which Hiroshima and Nagasaki were affected by the atomic bomb. Both cities were completely leveled!! As I walked past monument after monument I was quickly overwhelmed with a feeling similar to that experienced when visiting Auschwitz in Poland. (I actually wonder if anyone could handle visiting both of them in the same day). Most of the artifacts throughout the museum are pieces of clothing and cherished items from the victims, and it was not hard to start crying when looking at the pictures of innocent children burned beyond recognition, or human remains where only a school backpack is visible. IT was very disturbing to learn that a few minutes before the bomb was deployed, scientific instruments attached to parachutes were dropped to measure the air pressure and radiation so that the full effect of the bomb could be understood. The thousands that lost their lives in Hiroshima were test subjects to the American Military machine.
I am now in the ancient capital city of Kyoto, I really enjoyed cycling the Shimanami hwy across the islands to Shikoku. In two weeks I will be back in America for X-mas but I am already sick of the chorales playing in the grocery store.