One hundred and ten degrees of longitude separate St. Petersburg, Russia, and Tokyo, Japan. For eight weeks in 2005, I'll be crossing this large chunk of the world solo. I've set up this blog so that family and friends can keep track of my whereabouts, my activities, and my well-being. It might also be useful for someone planning a similar trip. Please bookmark this page so you can check up on me at your leisure.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Pocari Sweat

It was the right decision, getting my hair cut in Shanghai. I passed some salon places here in Hiroshima this afternoon, with prices posted in the window, and it looks like I couldn't have got it done here for less than 3500 yen (about $35 Canadian).

A special note for my friends Graham and Steph: The "claw game" is everywhere in Japan! I was walking through this pedestrian shopping arcade today and saw a couple of places that were entirely devoted to the claw game, in various shapes and sizes, with various prizes including plush Hello Kitty dolls. The claw game machines in the concourse of the baseball stadium in Fukuoka were called "UFO Catcher."

I also saw a hobby shop filled with action figures, HotWheels, model kits for planes and ships from World War 2, and fierce-looking plastic robots.

I had a lot of difficulty finding this English-language bookstore called the Book Nook, but it's okay, because I was in no rush and was happy to proceed by lazy trial and error. At the Book Nook, I browsed the shelves of used books while behind a curtain, in the back, two young people were taking an English lesson with a native English speaker. I ended up buying All The President's Men and The Emperor of Ocean Park, which I hope will keep me busy during my quiet hours until the day I fly back to Toronto.

I guess I should say something about the shinkansen -- the "bullet train." As I believe I've already mentioned, the shinkansen doesn' t go nearly as fast as the MagLev train in Shanghai. It should be noted, however, that the MagLev is little more than a public relations stunt right now, with one short line of limited usefulness, and I think I read somewhere that it's losing money badly. The shinkansen system, on the other hand, links almost every major city in Japan and is an extremely impressive service used by people in all walks of life. The trains are fast, very fast, and they look very cool with their big jet-like noses, but there's a lot more to it.

I got up early this morning so I could soak in the bath. Kind of weird, to have a hot bath at 7:30 a.m., but I liked it. I decided to carry my bags to Hakata Station rather than take a taxi, reasoning that I could endure anything for a few short blocks as long as I took regular breaks. It was a hot day here, and I was sweating profusely by the time I dragged myself into McDonald's for breakfast on the second floor of the bus station next to the train station. I made it up to the platform with several minutes to spare before the 10:28 train to Hiroshima, and because I didn't care about having a reserved seat, I just had to flash my railpass at a couple of officials on the way up and that was all. The train wasn't crowded when I first got on, and didn't become increasingly crowded as we made our stops along the way, which was a big relief to me because my duffel bag was too big to go in the overhead compartment and I had plunked it down in the seat beside me.

Shamefully, I don't know how to say "water" in Japanese. Before I got on the train, I bought a bottle of this clear stuff called "Pocari Sweat" at a convenience store downstairs -- I just pointed at it because it looked like water. It's not water, though -- it's flavoured, and it claims to replace your electrolytes and nutrients after exercise, similar to the claims made by Gatorade. After I got settled in my comfortable seat by the window on the train, and we were pulling out of the station, I opened it up. It was sweet, and tasted faintly of turkey, or maybe like water that a roast turkey had been floating in. I was thirsty and drank the whole thing despite some misgivings.

Across the aisle from me, a businessman in his forties used a delicate paper fan to cool himself down. You wouldn't see that in Canada, with North American notions of masculinity being what they are. On a related note, I've seen many women in both China and Japan using parasols to protect themselves from the sun -- another thing you aren't likely to see in Canada in 2005. Maybe 1805 or 1905, but not 2005.

The landscape of Kyushu, the southern island where Fukuoka is located, is incredibly lush and at the same time mountainous. We passed through a number of tunnels, some of them quite long. The whole trip took only an hour and fifteen minutes.

The Japanese government is conducting a census soon, and they've got posters all over the place, in English, encouraging everyone who lives here to participate, regardless of immigration status -- whether you're a citizen or not, a short-term resident or a long-term resident, a student or a worker. The poster makes the point even clearer by including an image of a smiling Caucasian male. I'm only including this observation because the poster campaign seems like a really big one, suggesting that the government is troubled by a lack of clear and detailed information about the foreigners living in Japan.

I saw two teenage girls a few minutes ago dressed like Strawberry Shortcake dolls. They had big white bows on the tops of their heads, and flower print dresses with puffy sleeves and a lot of lace trim, and lacy stockings. They were waiting for a bus. It's some kind of Japanese fashion subculture, I guess.

Tomorrow I'm going to visit all the sights associated with the atomic bomb that exploded over the city in 1945. There's the Peace Park, and the A-Bomb Museum, and the A-Bomb Dome.

I spent several minutes on a bridge this afternoon trying to take pictures of a beautiful white crane that was poking around in the rocks on the river bank below me. He was just a bit too far away for my lens, though. Maybe tomorrow I'll have better luck.


Anonymous Ben said...

You saw Harajuku girls!

8:30 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm very curious to hear about this A-bomb Dome...


12:07 PM


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