TWD Video Downloads TWD Home Page TWD News Page TWD Journal Archive TWD Image Archive TWD Photo Gallery TWD Musings Index

Japan 1978

On board the ship from Nakhodka to Yokohama I spent most of the time chatting with Pippa, the English girl that I had met on the Trans-Siberian train. She was probably somewhere in her early twenties with a vaguely Hayley Mills small face surrounded by a mane of henna red hair She was scheduled to begin an English teaching responsibility in Tokyo in about Youth Hostefour days so we decided to pal around together in Japan until her assignment was to begin. I had Yokohama Ferry Terminalsort of won her affection by not hitting on her and by serving as a sort of protector from the young Russian men on the train who were overly interested in her. She was quite intrepid in her approach to getting directions so that we were able to make our way from the Yokohama port to the Kanagawa Youth Hostel where we hoped to find inexpensive accommodations. I thought that I was a little old to be staying in a youth hostel but I signed up, had my picture taken for my membership card and was soon enjoying my stay very much with many opportunities to meet and talk to Japanese people and my first experience of a communal bath. Early next morning we took a train to the nearby city of Kamakura where we spent the day wandering around through gardens and temples under the benevolent gaze of a huge bronze statue of the Buddha.

Kamakura Daibutsu KamakuraHasedera Sculptures Kamakura Bonsai Kamakura Garden

My interest for my third day in Japan was to take the train to Mt. Fuji where I hoped to be able to get to a 4th level base camp from which I might be able to climb to the top of the mountain. At 12,388 feet (3,776 m) Mi. Fuji is Japan's highest mountain and thousands of pilgrims visit the mountain from all parts of Japan and there are a number of shrines and temples on its slopes At the time I didn't think that I would be in Japan long enough to climb from the very base of the mountain but if I could reach the 4th or the 5th post by road it would take take about 4-5 hours to reach the peak and about 2-3 hours to descend. Pippa was going to go along with me to the base of the mountain but she lacked boots for making the climb. However, when she got to the mountain she was lured by her own intrepidness into climbing it in her sandals. We were late in getting started so we spent the night at the base camp so as to get an early start in the next morning. The climb was hard for me in climbing boots because the mountain is a huge cinder cone and you end up slipping back one step for every two that you take. I can't figure out how the frail Pippa in her loose fitting sandals ever made it to the top but she engaged in unspiritual swearing much of the way up and her tears didn't come until we were cinder skiing back down. If I were climbing in sandals I would have cried all the way up and back down.

Arriving at Mt. Fuji Waterfall Near Mt. Fuji Base Fujisan Climb Top of Mt. Fuji

Next day we went together to Tokyo to leave her backpack at her school and wander around the city. My plan was to spend a last day with Pippa and to then find my way to Narita Airport and buy a ticket for Anchorage, Alaska. We had both wanted to go to the Imperial Palace to see what the residence of the Japanese royal family was about so that was our first objective. It was a also a welcome respite from the almost overwhelming rush of impressions as we rode the trains and walked the streets of Tokyo. Next we went to the Tokyo Tower to try and sort out the locations of the various neighborhoods that we were reading about in our guidebook. Since its opening in 1958, the Tokyo Tower at 333m has been the world's tallest self-supporting steel tower. The Eiffel Tower in Paris is 320m high. To some extent it allowed us to get a birds eye view of the Ginza area with the most expensive and exclusive shops and department stores in Tokyo, the Akasuka area where we had hoped to visit the Sensoji Temple, Ueno where we wanted to visit the Tokyo National Museum, and Shinjuku where we had thought of going to see what the night life was like.

Tokyo's Imperial Gardens Imperial Gardens Tokyo Tower Vie from Tokyo Tower
Ginza Kabuki Theater Akasuka Beer Ad Pachinko Palace Shinjuku Night

After a long day in Tokyo, I returned to my solo journey and headed toward the train station from which I could catch a train to Narita Airport. While waiting for the train I met a young JapaShincansen Route Mapnese man who had just returned from spending two months traveling in Europe. We talked for some time and after hearing of the places that I had visited in Japan he felt that I had not really experienced the country in the way that I should. I respected his judgment because of the careful way that he had studied Europe and was ready to follow his directions for seeing more of Japan. He suggested that I accompany him the next morning on the Shinkansen Train to the city of Fukuoka in the southern island of Kyushu. The Tokaido Shinkansen, connecting Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka, was inaugurated in the year 1964 as the world's first high speed train running with speeds of about 200 km/h. The extension of the Sanyo Shinkansen to Hakata Station in Fukuoka was completed in 1975. My new friend Masaiko had never ridden the bullet train and suggested that it would actually be cheaper than riding the regular trains because we could save money on meals. So with seven weeks still remaining on my visa and much interest in exploring the country, I was off to Kyushu with Masaiko. After a futuristic ride down the length of Honshu and across an underwater tunnel to Fukuoka. By the time that we arrive Masaiko has decided to take me to his home in the town of Notsu in the prefecture of Oita. He is returning to his mother and sister after two months and bringing home a lousy t-shirt with an American in it as a souvenir. I knew only a few social amenities in Japanese so I don't know what was going on as Masaiko was greeted by his family and made his explanations as to how I was going to be staying with them for a while.

Shinkansen Train Shinkansen Train Interior Canal City Oita River fom Train

The next month was probably the most richly textured of my life as I was taken to a rural clinic for a repair of my elbow that had been injured in the Leningrad fracus, visited and had a mud bath in the hot springs of Beppu, taught English in the Notsu high school for two weeks, was followed everywhere by a retinue of shy little children who were fascinated by my height and long hair, and was taken to a the composite active volcano of Mt Aso. The shattered mountain lies almost in the centre of Kyushu Island and boasts the world's largest caldera, stretching 11 miles (18km) from east to west and 15 miles (24km) from north to south. Inside the caldera are five volcanic peaks, with one of them, Naka-dake, still being active and regularly emitting smoke and ash. The rest of the landscape inside the caldera is green and grassy, grazed by cows and horses and inhabited by about 50,000 people in several towns and villages, seemingly nonplussed by living inside a volcanic crater. I visited the Takasakiyama Natural Zoo in Oita which is Japan's largest colonial grounds of Japanese Macaques.

Beppu Tower Beppu Hot Springs Mt. Aso on Kyushu Mt. Aso Crater
Monkey Business Macaque Youngster Adult Macaque Macaque Baby

In my final week in Notsu I got to experience the life of a Buddhist Novitiate in a rural monastery and then with feeble attempts to express my gratitude to all the people who had been so kind to me, and carrying some of the most precious gifts I have ever received including an arrowhead shaped by the indigenous Ainu thousands of years ago, I was driven to Fukuoka where I could begin to cash in a whole packet of "Letters of Introduction" written by Notsu townspeople to be used for relaying and hosting me through visits to Hiroshima's Peace Memorial and Museum, Osaka Castle, Nara's Todaiji Temple with its huge Daibutsu, the beautiful temples of Kyoto, and finall back to Tokyo. After a final night spent walking the the wonderfully safe streets of Shinjuku and the 3:00 AM walk around the Tsukiji Fish Market watching the ballet of auctioneers. The market's clamorous labyrinth of stalls showcases all manner of seafood—from live sea eel to pickled octopus—and reflects the well-ordered confusion of Japanese society. I reluctantly left the market to catch the train to Narita Airport.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hiroshima Peace Flame Cranes in Hiroshima Hiroshima Peace Arch
Osaka Castle Todaiji Temple in Nara Kinkaku-ji-Temple-Kyoto Tsukiji Fish Market