Journal - Napló

Days 398-403 Hiroshima, Kyoto (Japan 1.)

Posted on November 28, 2010 at 5:55 PM

'   Japan is an island country. It's population is growing, the area remains the same, more new things are being born than old are fading? Perhaps this is what taught, made Japanese to find harmony with their environment and not to take more away from nature than what?s needed?

   Anywhere I've been in the southern part of Japan, there has always been a strict line between civilization and nature. There's no transition. The backwalls of the last houses of the populated areas are "held" by thick jungle, nature is standing in the way of additional expansion. I was welcomed by cleanness, order, kind and polite gestures. The expensiveness is compensated by "wandering life-facilitator" sense of safety. I hardly spent any money on hotels. I could sleep in parks, stairways, on houseroofs without a problem, sometimes having views over towns that only the expensive accomodations offer. (I could couchsurf only once.) The running water is drinkable everywhere, the restrooms are free, one can find 0-24 shops at every corner.



 Fukuoka does not give the best impression for those arriving by ferry. Neither old nor modern concrete buildings, motorways running up high.

 Stepping out at the entrance of the port my journey in Japan started: slowed/beautified by long walks.

   My first day passed without any ride, but with marches. In the humid heat I practiced how to resist the tempting soda machines. Being rainy season, I got some rest looking for a roof or rather for shade against the beating sun. It took some time, but I managed to acquire the pleasant routines of travelling in Japan which is expensive but meets many basic human needs for free.


   When it got dark, I was still walking in a densely populated area. A block of flats showed up. Their stairways was running outside the walls, i.e. was open. The landing at the topmost floor, the closed space before the door opening for the roof seemed appropriate lodging. Using my backpack I evened out a stairstep and in my "bed" I fell asleep.


 Next day, with the help of a few short rides I got close to my first destination, the town of Hiroshima. My eyes soon learned what to look for. Just like that day, for almost all the nights during my Japanese journey I could easily find a place to stay at, a roof above my head.

I was just having breakfast when a young boy spoke to me and offered to give me a ride. He dropped me off at the entrance of the underwater tunnel running towards Honshu-island (the biggest island of Japan). I walked through the paying gate and started to wave. In a couple of minutes a police officer turned up wanting to direct me back to the gates where finding rides would have been almost impossible. I asked for 10 minutes which, surprisingly, I was given. In a minute a van stopped.

   The driver rearranged the whole cabin so that I could fit in. During the journey he offered me beer and some dessert from Osaka, he even invited me for dinner. It was late night when he dropped me off at the centre of Hiroshima.

I walked up to the train station and got me a map of the city. I found out where I could keep my backpack the following day. Then I searched for a rather tall block of flats whose main entry was open. I used the elevator to get to the topmost floor. Then, "making my bed" at a landing of the outer stairway I went to bed.


Day 401. Hiroshima

   A 400-year-old town... with no old buildings or locals. A place whose atmosphere is not given by buildings or people but history.

   The atomic bomb of '45 killed tens of thousand of people. The place of their deaths now attracts tens of thousand of tourists.


The town only has modern tower blocks, except one old building whose ruins stand as reminders in the memorial park of the centre. I visited the memorial place, wandered around in the coolness of the green areas mirrored on the glasswalls of the downtown. I went to see the rebuilt palace, too, surrounded by a ditch giving home to huge goldfish and turtles. In the late afternoon I was sitting on the bank, staring at crabs as they were defending their homes dug in mud against each other, lifting up their white claws.

For the night I went back to the "well-known" landing at the 8th floor.


Day 402.

  Although I stood almost at the centre of the town, my ride came within 5 minutes. A fortyish couple took me eastwards. The husband once lived in the U.S. as an exchange student, now he's the head of a construction company inherited from his father.

According to him, the reconstruction of the town started a few years after the bombardment. People settled in the "new Hiroshima" which more or less has taken its shape of today during 20 years.

   I had hardly lifted my thumb up at the exit of a resting spot when an elderly man stopped. He directed me to the back seats where a guy was sitting smiling derisively. As it soon turned out, he was a hitch-hiker as well.

   He set out from Tokyo two weeks ago, went as far as the southern end of Kyushu, South-Japan's island. When we met he was already heading back to the capital. He did all this by hitch-hiking.


He was the only hitch-hiker who I met during my ca. one-month journey in Japan.

Supposedly, 20 years ago it was almost impossible to hitch-hike in Japan. What made this country the "paradise of hitch-hikers"? A tv-series about the round-the-world adventures of a few hitch-hikers in the 90s. The Japanese themselves do not tend to hitch-hike but they are delighted to give rides. Moreover, they experience it as adventure.

   Our driver was a retired designer and and enthusiastic hiker. He was heading up to the mountains for a week-end's hike. I accompanied them as far as Kyoto.

My aim was to reach the train station, in the hope of getting a map and internet access. The hot and humid air made me have to take breakes pretty frequently, and it gave me a "towelless-just-showered" look. When I finally got to the station, it turned out that was a suburban station. For the remaining part of the journey, I chose the two-dollar, air-conditioned, local train (though my T-shirt didn't get dry). Not finding the main train station would be a great challenge. I found myself in a vast, modern building, maze of shops and fast food restaurants around me.

   Not only would a shower have felt good but I deemed it necessary, so I started to look for a paying accomodation. With the guidance of a helpful gentleman, I found a relatively -at least in Japanese respects- cheap hostel.


Day 403. Kyoto


   ...An elderly lady is walking ahead of me. Suddenly she turnes around and starts to stare at the ground in front of my feet. While not stopping walking I bend down and pick the pack of tissues she dropped. Reaching her I hand it to her. Smiling and bowing she thanks me. After a couple of metres she drops her gloves. I pick it up and speak to her. We laugh. I show her it would be best if I keep walking behind her. We laugh...


   Before a small town becomes a big one, there "has to be" a moment when the humane place of living already has the benefits of big city life but the complete transformation has not yet ended. It seems Kyoto is right at that point -in the best sense possible.

After Tibet and China, here I encountered a clearer sort of Buddhist arts. Whereas people's places of living can be characterized with total utilization, minimalist spaces, narrow treets, Japanese culture makes a generous sacrifice for religion and nature. Great temples full of wooden and silver decoration, vast parks, and everything is so organized that "the only reason one could not find the needle in the haystack is that it has already been removed since it didn't belong there".

I wandered on the bank for hours, admiring the rich fauna of this ?oasis?. Hanging my feet in the water, I was listening to a man playing the didgeridoo and smoking, and I took pictures of photographers trying to catch fishing waterbirds. An oasis in the middle of a metropolis, where the noise of the traffic is pushed into the background by the music of bugs and birds.



Categories: English, Japan, by Peter

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