a visitor

26 12 2007

There’s something about riding on a train that reminds me of a zoo. You only get these quick little glimpses of life between the backs of buildings. Kids playing soccer in a park; people walking their dogs; shop owners peddling their wares. And in the train are a bunch of people who are entirely unaware of the world outside themselves. Virtually everyone is talking, or writing, or playing on their cell phone. I read an article about the internet/connectivity obsession of the youth in Japan (and honestly, America too) and how the more engaged people are with their connected life, the more isolated they are from the world. Even now, I’m sitting on a train writing, but I’m essentially connected—I’m sharing my thoughts with you, aren’t I? I don’t feel particularly isolated, but since all this writing is so introspective, I suppose, de facto, I am.

I forgot about how different life is in a city compared to the inaka. I had the same sudden realization (and subsequently forgot it) when I arrived in Tokyo to head home for my sister’s wedding. All of a sudden instead of 6,000 people in my entire town, there are that many people in one city block. The weirdest thing about it though is that the people here are just as lonely as those of us that are hours from a large city. How does that make sense? Why can people feel alone when they’re in a crowded room? (I admittedly stole that from someone’s away message, which means it’s probably from a song.)

My thoughts immediately jump to Lost in Translation again: the idea that people are generally unable to convey all their feelings and thoughts. How do you translate yourself in a way that other people understand? How can other people translate themselves so that you understand?

I think that’s enough introspection for now. My head hurts.

And so does the rest of my body. Zach and I spent the last two days amidst a sea of Australians while we snowboarded/fell down the mountain in Niseko. I somehow managed to hurt my left hand. Not sure what’s wrong with it, but it hurts to put much weight on it or move it around (edit: it still hurts 2 weeks later too). Actually, I know exactly when it was, and there’s great footage of my face as it cringes from the initial pain. I’ll see if at some point I’m feeling fond enough of schadenfreude at my expense to post it on YouTube.

I jumped ahead (I liked the previous transition too much to write this chronologically). Before snowboarding Zach and I spent a few days in my town, giving him a taste of life as the English teacher in Tinytown Japan. The first class was a kindergarten Christmas party where he, to his surprise, had to dress up as Santa-san for the kids. What better welcome to Japan than being an adored mascot for a bunch of super-excited wee ones? The rest of the day was spent driving around seeing local sightseeing-worthy sights. We ended in nearish-by Hiroo, at the not-so-famous Santaland (ironic that it’s such a Santa-obsessed day and we’re both Jewish). It was a bit anticlimactic; when you hear there’s a place called Santaland, it’s hard not to form high expectations. The sunset-lit coastal drive leading there, though, was absolutely stunning and we discovered some weird roadside oddities and this tiny shrine with tons of photo-worthy stuff inside.

The next day we took a trip to the dam in my town and did stupid things on the frozen reservoir. The ice never broke, but it probably should have as some sort of karma for us being so stupid.

We ate a lot of food in my town. Once it just the two of us, and in addition to eating sushi from fish that neither of us had heard of, Zach walked away with a sweet kite as a gift from the owner. We also ate out with some of the high school teachers who, as always, enjoyed the extra chance to practice their English. I was impressed with Zach’s and the teachers’ ability to communicate about movies even though no one spoke the same language. After the second dinner, a random dog scared the crap out of us when it snuck up behind us and ended up following us until we snuck away from it (it was clean and had tags, so we didn’t feel too bad, though it was damn cute).

A slight interlude: we’ve met a few people along our way who have made me wonder why people develop such a sense of futility in life. At a restaurant, this one man was telling the two of us about his son who is a semi-professional marathon runner, yet all the dad does is sit at a bar and drink (this was my fourth time seeing him in the same seat). Shouldn’t he feel successful because of his kid? Shouldn’t he and his wife be happy for having raised him? I just don’t get why, unless someone has a sense of material success (e.g. someone else talked about his new MILLION DOLLAR apartment), he feels as if he hasn’t really achieved anything.

Meanwhile, this other completely drunk guy at the restaurant managed to pass out on his way to the bathroom, so the cook brought him upstairs where the owner keeps a bed for people too drunk to get home. Think of your favorite bar. Could you imagine sleeping in the attic? It’s a really weird concept, but it illustrates Japanese hospitality (I almost wrote hostility for some reason) very nicely.

Back on track (har har har). We just passed through Osaka, and it’s remarkable how well it and Kobe blended together, although now that we’re totally out of Kobe, the differences are quite noticeable. Osaka seems much more bland, and less people are out. Look at me making generalizations from a train. I’ll report back on it after we give it a proper visit.

The outskirts of Osaka are 100% more interesting to look at than the urban sprawl we passed through. A city is a city is a city (edit: something I would learn all too well over the next few weeks). I’m very fond that there are rice paddies between buildings. It might be a city, but it’s still distinctly Japanese.

Next time I write, it’ll probably be from the shinkansen. I am brimming with excitement to write while I move at 300 km/h (186 mph).

PICTURES (click to enlarge):

suiting up

Zach as Santa-san

nursery kids

Me as Santa-san and the hoikuen kids. Note the kid crying all the way on the left. He never stopped.

cranes on the road

Paper cranes in the shrine from the road to Santaland. Yes, those are snoopy and hello kitty origami sheets

shooting the moon

Zach taking a shot of the moon at the reservoir

stairway to…

and he’s cliiiiimbing the staaaairway to … a Buddhist temple

posers

in front of the TV Tower in Sapporo

Otaru

I think one of these is the back of the Otaru beer garden…whose symbol is the Star of David

random resort

A random resort that Zach and I find while we were sort of lost

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