Homeless in Japan

Asian coin

This Chinese coin is a good example of Asian culture, the outside is circular and symbolizes openness, with a square, conservative, ridged core.

“Hello, nice to meet you, my name is Julian, I am from America” ……

A dry place to sleep until being forced into a typhoon.

A dry place to sleep until being forced into the rain, this was a vacant parking lot until about 9 am when all the sudden I was surrounded by Toyota’s and Hybrids

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.

Oconomi Yaki, Hiroshima specialty. Bean sprouts, Noodles, pancake, egg and bacon

Oconomi Yaki, Hiroshima specialty. Bean sprouts, Noodles, pancake, egg and bacon

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.

DCIM102GOPRO

The making of Matcha Japanese green tea

Japanese mocha with cultural mocha sword cutter

Japanese mocha with cultural mocha sword cutter

Macha, Japanese green tea mixed in milk

Matcha, Japanese green tea mixed in milk, you can see that my host is ready to send me to the intensive care ward.

Tricycle of little boy, buried in the aftermath of the war

Tricycle of little boy, buried in the aftermath of the war

The national bank and the atomic dome were the only structures left standing at ground zero

The national bank and the atomic dome were the only structures left standing at ground zero

Depiction of the bomb, which exploded 600 meters above the city maximizing its destructive potential

Depiction of the bomb, which exploded 600 meters above the city maximizing its destructive potential

Japanese style cycle touring

Japanese style cycle touring

These bicycles are extremely popular in Japan, its the size of a folding bike but doesn't fold

These bicycles are extremely popular in Japan,  the size of a folding bike but doesn’t fold

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.

Looking out at one of Japans most famous and oldest bridges originally built without nails

Looking out at one of Japans most famous and oldest bridges originally built without nails

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.

Cycling the Shimanami hwy, a beautiful network of bridges connecting 5 islands south of Hiroshima

Cycling the Shimanami hwy, a beautiful network of bridges connecting 5 islands south of Hiroshima

Route 372 American style café, I tried to get a burger at this place but it was close to $15! I can wait

Route 372 American style café, I tried to get a burger at this place but it was close to $15! Everything seems American until you look at the small electric car in the front parking lot

Sunset in Hiroshima

Sunset in Hiroshima

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.

15 thoughts on “Homeless in Japan

  1. I’m almost certain that not only it will be hard to find a host to let you stay indoor in Hong Kong, it will be even harder to setup a tent almost anywhere in Hong Kong (with the exception of Admiralty, where the civil disobedience movement (Occupy Central / Umbrella Movement / Umbrella Revolution) is still happening.

    Enjoy your trip!

  2. Masumi Tanaka – abbot
    Shimo-en – temple
    located above Kyoto – at source of Kamu River (sic) (anyway main river of Kyoto_
    Masumi reminds me
    of Karming … amazing Bodhisattvas!!!
    i am waiting for phone number
    will post a soon as it comes
    here is email kunugi-keaki28@docomo.ne.jp

    last year a Japanese friend who lives on maui
    Mika took her family to visit Masumi … the temple
    is one of the oldest in Japan (maybe the first) its where
    Gary Snyder stayed … Allen Ginsburg …
    Masumi is the hereditary abbot very hip speaks a little english
    plays Dylan on guitar … has family … and u can probably stay there!
    my neighbor (right below) Mo’o Kanaio (Stan Skurow) is very dear friend to Masumi

  3. Hi Julian, got your message, thank you for taking the time to reach out. I’ll be back in California in a few weeks too. My mom just biked the Shimanami Hwy alone in October, her pictures were beautiful. Besides maybe being wary of strangers, I think Japanese homes are often too small for hosting guests… try asking 20-somethings for a place to stay, they’re less self-conscious about that sort of thing. Kyoto is my favorite city in Japan – I hope you can make it to Nanzenji and some of the other little shrines and temples interspersed throughout the city.

    • Nanzenji is great but I was actually thinking of Kiyomizu-dera. The Fall leaves are beautiful there (if the leaves haven’t fallen yet), but don’t go on a weekend. Fushimi inari taisha is also a pretty hike through the torii gates.

      • I know what you mean by not going on the weekend, today, Friday was crazy I can only imagine what tomorrow will be like. Where are the real (practicing) Zen monasteries?

      • I don’t know about Zen monasteries in Kyoto, but I know Koyasan has plenty including some that will house and feed you. I hope you are taking full advantage of the many onsen (hot springs) and public baths all over Japan!

    • I guess that this is the biggest difference between Japanese and east Asia culture and Central Asia culture. While pedaling through the Stans I was, on many occasions, offered lodging in tiny homes where the host would often let me sleep in his/her own bed or share a room with them family style to keep me from sleeping in the cold. Once I slept in a tiny room with 5, and it felt like being back with the family.

  4. Shimyo-in — (correct sp. of temple)
    http://www.kyoto-kankou.or.jp/english/info_search/?id=6735&r=1404873077.9359

    # 075-406-2061 – Masumi does speak a little english … please try to talk with him remind him of mutual friends on Maui … he has been intending to come to visit Mo’o (my closest neighbor below) so he does know about me and the stupa – anyway perhaps a little shelter from the weather !!! and good friends!!!

    Mt.Iwayasan Shimyoin Temple

    VisitDiningExperienceAccommodationShoppingConvenient

    Mt.Iwayasan Shimyoin Temple lying at the source of Kamogawa River was built by Kukai in 829. Fudomyo-o Statue, principal image of this temple, is said to have been made by Kukai himself and also to be the oldest Fudomyo-o Statue in Japan. The temple is an ascetic training place surrounded by rich nature and heals the hearts of visitors. A community of shakunage (rhododendrons) designated as a natural monument by Kyoto City beautifully bloom in April. It is also famous as the setting for Narukami, one of the 18 famous representative Kabuki performances.

    Business days and hours 8:00-17:00
    Fares /Entrance fee: ¥300  (A group of 20 or more need to make a reservation.)
    Enquiries 075-406-2061
    Postal Code 603-8861
    Address Detani-cho Kumogahata Kita-ku Kyoto City
    Map

    Map data ©2014 Google, ZENRIN
    Terms of Use

    Map
    Satellite
    100 m
    Public Transportation 20-minute walk from Kumogahata-Iwayabashi stop by Kyoto Bus
    Parking Available

  5. and … it was Mika Nakamura from Maui and her family that visited Masumi last year I believe she spoke to him about her connection to Kanaio stupa and consequently connection to him … (for an associative referral)

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