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.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Don't think that I don't care about you -- the reason I haven't been blogging up a storm lately is that I've been having trouble here at the tourist information centre logging into Blogger and accessing the "create a post" page. Mysteriously, the connection is working right now, so I'm going to seize the opportunity.

The last three days have been busy ones. On Monday, I did a five-hour walking tour with "Johnny Hillwalker," a quirky and opinionated Japanese man in his 70s. I learned a lot about the following subjects: Shinto, Japan's native religion; Japanese Buddhism in its many forms; traditional arts and crafts of Japan; geishas; and much more. I met some interesting people on the tour from Chicago, Hawaii, Quebec City, Ottawa, and County Kildare in Ireland.

Yesterday, I bought some gifts for people, went to Nijo Castle, explored the Nishiki-koji food market, visited a shop selling washi (the wonderful hand-made paper), drank Japanese beer at an Irish pub called "The Hill of Tara," and tried six different kinds of sake under the guidance of the very knowledgeable bartender/proprietor at "Sake Bar Yoramu" -- a charismatic little hole-in-the-wall on a dark side street. It rained hard all day long, and I was forced to buy an umbrella at a convenience store. At 500 yen, it was pretty affordable.

>Sake Bar Yoramu is owned by Yoram Ofer, an Israeli in his 40s who has been living in Japan for twenty years. He speaks and writes Japanese fluently. His bar only has six seats, and his clientele is mainly a local and Japanese one. He taught me some things about sake, and also gave me his best explanation of wabi-sabi, the aesthetic that is embodied in so much Japanese art. For a while last night, I was his only customer, but then a number of other Westerners trailed in, having seen the same ad as me in the Kyoto Visitor's Guide. I met a German couple in their 60s -- him a neurologist and her a mathematician and theoretical physicist who "specializes in the concept of time." I met a young couple from Melbourne, and we talked at length about the episode of The Simpsons in which the Simpson family travels to Australia. "It doesn't show Australia in the best light, really," the woman said. I met another young couple from Sheffield, England, who are both physiotherapists. They're on a three-month break from the hospital where they work and are travelling around the world. From Japan, they'll go on to Australia, New Zealand, and South America. "So many Westerners tonight," I remarked to Yoram. "When it rains, it pours," he said. "Before tonight, I haven't had a foreigner in here for 10 days." I stayed at the bar for hours and had a really fun time, but I actually hated the sake. I find it absolutely awful.

Today, I took the train to the outskirts of Kyoto to visit Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the goddess responsible for harvests and prosperity. She is often represented as a fox, and there were beautiful stone statues of foxes everywhere. There were also thousands of bright orange torii (gates) lined up to form a hiking path around Inari Mountain, and in some places the torii were so close together that they achieved a kind of tunnel effect. It was a very damp day, like yesterday, and I liked the way that everything looked -- covered with beads of water, and the colours all changed. There were also a lot of large, elegant, black and yellow spiders building webs in the corners of the gates. I met and walked with two friendly Americans: a man from San Diego, and a woman from Portland, Oregon.

I go to Tokyo on Friday, and will be meeting up with my law school friend Emeryll on Saturday to do a daytrip to Kamakura. Emeryll has her own blog -- I'm also hoping to meet up with Matt -- an expat living in Tokyo, a translator, and the author of No-Sword, another entertaining and informative Japan blog that I read.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


While in Tokyo you should go to the National Science Museum and visit with Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori, who recently took the first photographs of a giant squid in the wild - at 3,000 feet down, no less.


10:27 AM


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