Daniel in Japaniel

Nagasaki, Fukuoaka, Kanazawa and Shirakawago

with 3 comments

Almost embarrassingly so, I listen to Regina Spektor’s Hotel Song as I connect to the world through Manten’s lan access. Many sites, few people, just a handful of places visited, but many beautiful sites they’ve been.

Thinking about my original plans before departing Kyoto, maybe I’ve let myself get taken by the travels than forcing them myself.

Nagasaki was more than I bargained for in terms of solitude.

Riding down on the limited express, the orange of Sanda vanished, the harbors opened up. Bamboo stalks, like cat tails fanned out against the horizon and I could see unrecognizable islands on the left and right. Often I had to push down the urge to hop out, a la Eternal Sunshine, at the next dilapidated train stop. Figure out the landscape, see every hidden place, eat everything in the process. These thoughts came to and out as I faded between reading “How to Cook Your Life”, napping, and pining after a rural life.

The suburb of Urakami appears fast. Suburb is a tough word to describe the Nagasaki area. Like most of Japan, the houses scale the edges of the mountain sides, however travel guides insist Urakami, the hippocenter of the Nagasaki Atomic bomb, is a serene suburb with even love hotels minutes from the Peace Park.

As I mentioned, originally the trip to Nagasaki came from my friend. Since her grandparent’s own a sushi restaurant, and I was looking for food to eat, she pointed me towards the island of Kyushu. The Nagasaki Peace Park came as an afterthought, unfortunately. For, like most people, when I think of the bomb I think of Hiroshima and FatMan.

Sadly things with the restaurant didn’t quite work out. Aki’s grandmother is feeling ill and they’ve temporarily shut down the place.

So, as I passed Urakami station, I thought, “I should get off here, I shouldn’t be selfish, I deserve to lug my bags around the tragic sight” I did check into my accommodations though. On my way, I passed by the sight of the crucifixion of 26 Japanese-Christians from the 1600s. Back in the day, the days of isolation, Nagasaki was the only open port to foreigners. Foreigners at the time included, the Chinese, Koreans, Dutch traders, and Portuguese Christians.

With the Chinese came the Obaku Zen tradition and the first stone bridges of Japan.

Anyway, following the romanized signs of sites (thank you Japan), I found my way to the Peace Park. Now the Peace Park consists of three things, the Atomic Bomb Museum, the Nagasaki Bomb Victims Memorial, and the Park itself. I started with the Memorial.

This is a terrible picture. I put it up so you get an idea of how large it is. In Japanese fashion, you are to walk around this basin, collecting your thoughts, calming yourself. The water itself, that trickles over the edge represents the water the victims cried for, but could not drink. At night, at each corner of the tiles a small light shines. The 70,000 total represent those that died instantly when the bomb fell. Standing tall off center of the fountain are twelve pillars in two rows. When you look down the center of it, a sign tells you, you are facing the hippocenter.

Assuming this was the extent, feeling already drained from thoughts, a red arrow with “Suggested Route” written in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese, pointed me down marble stairs. The walk down is flanked by the pressed-cedar walls. Following this route, you come into several darkened rooms, each with their own testimony of the bomb. There I tried to read the aged pages of journals. A long corridor separates each room.

In the sub-basement, you see the reach of the 12 pillars. A open rectangular room, with now the white of the twelve against the cedar, the memorial hall is a lexicon of those lost to the bomb. A growing tome, each volume is edited when another atomic bomb survivor passes away.

Laid against the plastic picnic tables are several branches of Thousand Paper cranes. At the end of this rainbow collection are name tags. They say different school names, elementary, junior and high school, each with own date, each date today.

Drained, I left thinking I would visit the Peace Park now and return to Nagasaki. Instead, I went inside the Atomic Bomb musuem. Though I was a little turned off from the mass of school children running around the outside of the museum, the interior was actually incredibly educating. Though most of it were relics from Urakami, a warped clock hands stuck on 11:02 the time of impact, glass bottles fused into meteorite jade, or burned money and laquerware, there was a great deal of history on the atomic bomb itself. As the museum is funded by the Nagasaki Peace committee, it is a living museum that continually sees renovations and updates on Nuclear Disarmament.

By a Mother Theresa quote “All world leaders must see these pictures” are lined photos, black and white, of charred remains, white teeth stark contrast against their blackened babies’ bodies, while families stand eyes lost.

In the following room is a time line of the bomb next to a globe that represents the amount of nuclear testing each country has done through baron craters of varying sizes. The United States has an enormous volcano jutting out of the Nevada area, while North Korea has a blemish and France has a black island.

I left the museum for the site of the hippocenter. A black prism stands with a table for incense and flowers. Like a drop of water, ripples of grassy and concrete in concentric circles radiate from this monument. Adjacent is the half standing church walls of the Urakami Cathedral. Even though the B-29 was searching for the Mitsubishi Arms Factory that day, the pilot had mistaken the spires of Japan’s first Catholic Church for the factory’s exhaust stacks.

Half of the entrance still remains. Behind that, an alcove filled with Thousand Paper cranes.

Although I had planned on visiting a few bars a tourist book had recommended, I spent the rest of the day to night walking. From about three to ten at night, I was walking. First I walked back to Nagasaki, then to the Dutch slopes by the harbor. Eventually I got tired of the circles I had been making and made a trip back to my room.

The next day I walked back into the downtown area and stopped at a few temples along Nagasaki’s Teramachi-dori. I definitely enjoyed the view from the riverside though. For each street there is a stone arch bridge that connects these two sides. They were made by the donations a Chinese Zen monk received while doing Takahatsu. The bridges are by no means large or extravagant. They are simple and practical. Later I would see the largest rice pot ever. This iron bowl was used during a famine in the 1600s to feed a few thousand Nagisakians. It’s housed at the Sofukuji temple, a temple built and shipped from China.

After lunch in their China-town, I got on the limited express to Fukuoka.

Fukuoka is by far one of the more glamorous cities I have been in before. From the station the streets fan out like spokes on a wheel. Surrounding Hakata-eki are massive business hotels, and luxury malls.

That night my accommodation was at the Hakata Riverside Hotel. It sits right next to this Pinocchio-esque island, that I could only wander around in for a good minute. Nakasu island is filled corner to corner with glitsy bars and strip clubs. It is inhabited by drunken salarymen who try to speak English to me. It’s a place beautiful in it’s marginal excess, and set customers. By far a place I will never really know.

Past the island, though, is the downtown area. It’s more or less concentrated around the two train stops and subway stops: Tenjin, and Tenjin-minami. Each business building has its own trademark designer architect, and have abstract metal Christmas trees lit in purple and baby-blue. There are Starbucks and Starbuck’s babies, Tully’s, Cafe Velloce and Seattle’s Best, around every corner. And in between are more Hermes, Fendi and Louis Vuitton stores you have ever seen.

But the true gem of Fukuoka are the yatai. Food carts, though more like the world’s tiniest bars. They sit askew on the main streets. You can see the silhouettes of their customers through the plastic curtains. Underneath they are eating the best Ramen of their lives.

Perhaps I’ve missed this about cities. Back home, a grundgy local spot is expected, it colors the town, chains and clean floors are the things of suburbs. Fukuoka excels though, giving the extremes fashion expenses next to the bargain bowls of street vendors.

Eventually I gathered enough courage to pull back the curtain and sit on a stool at this one yatai. Out of random I picked a 41 year old place and sat next to a doctor of cancer cell biology who received his Ph.D in America. We talked for a little bit. The owner’s son in law insisted on being translated by the doctor, while his wife asked me to translate some spam she received on her cell phone to her.

As soon as I ordered a bowl, it started pouring outside. Although I went to Kyushu to escape the cold of Honshu, it seemed I timed my arrival with a cold front. Drops of rain would occasionally make their way through the cardboard ceiling, while wind would blow up the curtains. This made for all the more enjoyable meal. The doctor poured me a glass of Kirin beer and I drank in the warm broth of the famous soup.

I got back a little after one and collapsed on my tiny bed.

My hundred yen breakfast woke me up. The owner of the place knocked on my door a little before eight thirty, and placed down a little basket with three potato sandwiches in it and some “Instant-French-Drip-Coffee”.

After eating, I took the next Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka and met up with Sachi, my co-worker, who would act as my travel buddy for the next few days in Kanazawa and Shirakawago.

Kanazawa is Boston with castles. The gingkos are a brilliant yellow at this point. I arrived just after a snow storm, so there was still a little remaining. With a little time before my bus ride to Shirakawago, I stopped by a nearby castle/garden to get a view of the city. Despite how beautifully sculpted the area was, bonsai outfitted, reflecting green ponds etc. it was no match for the end to end rainbow that spread over the downtown area.

At around one, I got aboard the bus to Shirakawago. About an hour away, Shirakawago of Toyoma prefecture is just west of the Japanese Alps. Just west doesn’t equate no snow, however. The area is famous for it’s “Gassho Zukuri” a type of mountain cabin known for it’s “gassho” (hands in prayer) shape.

Fortunate enough for me, the zukuris rent out rooms. With dinner and breakfast, a night stay comes out to 8,000 yen, or about 80 bucks. Not to bad, considering…

Fantastic. It made for a tough return to Kanazawa. Definitely a place to return to. I desperately wished I had hiking gear to explore, or perhaps cj to ice climb with. As neither were possible, yes return trip, in store.

The next day, I visited the acclaimed 21st Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa. This glorious, white circle is quickly gathering quite a collection. Currently they have a grassroots collection of 9 popular Kanazawan artists, including Nara Yoshitomo.

Most of the stuff was regrettably off limits for my camera, but free for me to purchase in the gift shop.

I did manage a shot of Leandro’s piece “Leandro’s Pool”

Specializing in installation art, Leandro Erlich deals with optical illusions, etc. etc.

After the trip to the museum, Sachi was kind enough to introduce me to Izumi, who has an 8 month old baby called Ko-chan (refer to the previous post for a video).

Before arriving, Sachi warned me of Izumi’s beauty, but I can’t for the life of me remember what she looks like. From the moment I entered her apartment, I was won over by Ko-chan.

The next morning, I started typing this entry and continued it on the double-decker bullet train to Tokyo.

Tokyo, yes finally Tokyo. I have slowly my approach to the city synonymous to Japan back home. I can’t even imagine the time it would take to learn a city like this. My KEIO friend Momo has been kind enough to put me up at his parent’s apartment that overlooks Tokyo from the top 27th floor of this gorgeous complex. Tokyo University at it’s feet and mountains in the horizon, I can’t fathom what people do here.

Hopefully over the next six days, I will experience the prelude to December and January here. For now I will play the dumb foreigner and touch, taste, smell everything I see.


Written by Daniel

November 22, 2008 at 3:02 pm

Posted in wandering

3 Responses

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  1. Hi, very beautiful pictures. May I check with you, did you just visit Shirakawa-go? Does Shirakawa-go have snow now already?


    November 22, 2008 at 6:49 pm

  2. I visited Shirakawa-go two days ago and it had beautiful amounts of snow. Over a few meters already. Are you thinking about visiting?


    November 23, 2008 at 12:03 am

  3. Hi, thanks for your reply and sorry for my late reply. Yes, I’m visting Takayama on 11th Dec and will be heading to Shirakawa-go on 12th Dec and overnight there. Would love to see snow in Shirakawa-go! The Takayama tourist information office staff mentioned that there is a little snow at Shirakawa-go now. But from your pics, it looks like there is a good amount of snow, which is great!



    December 7, 2008 at 6:55 pm

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