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.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pork cutlets

Emeryll was making fun of me yesterday because during my time in Japan I've been eating breaded pork cutlets and cabbage salad to the exclusion of almost every other Japanese dish. To fix this situation, we found a small yakitori restaurant in Shinjuku last night and ate skewers of chicken prepared in different ways and flavoured with different seasonings. We washed the chicken down with Sapporo beer.

Neighbourhoods in Tokyo I've explored a bit: Ikebukuro (where I'm staying); Shinjuku, including the sleazy Kabuki-cho area; Shibuya, home of the immense and crazy crosswalks featured in the documentary film Baraka; Akihabara, with its concentration of giant consumer electronics stores in "Electric Town"; and Harajuku, recently brought to the attention of Westerners in a song by Gwen Stefani. Stefani sings about the "wicked style" of the "Harajuku girls." I shot a whole roll of film on Sunday afternoon in the small public square beside Harajuku Station -- the right time and place to observe these girls with their bizarre and outrageous clothes, make-up, and accessories. They line up around the edges of the square, chatting, laughing, admiring each other, checking themselves out in compact mirrors, and posing for Japanese and foreign photographers. It's a very interesting subculture.

Yesterday, Emeryll and I spent the whole day in Kamakura -- a small town just an hour from Tokyo on the train, famous for its beautiful temples, shrines, and an enormous bronze Buddha. Several of the sites we visited were tucked away in wonderful, hushed, almost eerie woods. Although yesterday was a national holiday in Japan ("Health and Sports Day"), Kamakura was not crowded at all -- it was a wet grey day, and also I think a lot of people here wait to visit places like Kamakura until the leaves on the trees reach their most beautiful autumn colours. We came back to Tokyo and went for a drink at the New York Bar on the 53rd floor of the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku. This is one of Tokyo's ultra-luxurious hotels, and the one where Bill Murray's character stays in the film Lost In Translation. You may recall that several scenes take place in the New York Bar -- Bill Murray's character tries to drink away his jet lag there. We saw no celebrities, but I did enjoy a fine glass of pinot noir. We made a point of leaving before the 2000 yen cover charge kicked in at 8:00 pm.

Today I hope to visit the highly controversial Yasukuni Shrine -- a shrine that honours the memory of Japanese soldiers killed in war-time. The controversial part: the shrine explicitly honours several high-ranking officers who were found by courts to be war criminals for their actions in China and elsewhere during the 1930s and 1940s. Every August 15, on the anniversary of Japan's surrender, prominent Japanese politicians visit the shrine, provoking angry protests from different groups in Japan and abroad. This and related issues cause a lot of tension between the Chinese and Japanese governments. Apparently, black vans blasting right-wing propaganda from loudspeakers can often be seen (and heard) cruising around the shrine. I encountered one of these creepy propaganda vans in Fukuoka on my first day in Japan, and wouldn't have known what it was if my friend Steve hadn't told me about them. The voice that came out of the loudspeaker was dead serious, cold, and strident -- all the people walking by seemed to ignore it completely, though. I didn't know what the voice was saying, but I could guess: a lot of nationalist-verging-on-racist stuff about Japan's destiny in the world. "The past is not really past," somebody famous once wrote. I think maybe it was William Faulkner. That observation certainly seems correct when applied to Japan and WW2.

I'm ready to come home now. I have a painful blister on the third toe of my left foot.

I plan to blog a bit tomorrow.

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