||[Nov. 6th, 2010|03:29 pm]
I am going to start writing the random memories that pop up from my time in Japan five years ago. I realise that if I don't write them down I will forget them. |
There was one time when I was travelling from Okayama(?) Sorry not sure where from,,... but from somewhere in the middle of Japan, to Fukuoka by bus. It was an overnight bus that cost around 100 australian dollars. The bus was to take about 8 hours to get from wherever I was, to Fukuoka. The equivalent ride by Shinkansen would have taken 3 or 4 hours and cost about $170-$200 I guess. At the time I had never tried a night bus so I didn't know how bad it would be.
Anyway, so I was at this station and I had a few hours to go until the night bus. I exited the station to see what was around the area, looking for a place I could kill time. There were lots of people out on the street, sitting around on concrete ledges of small gardens, a busker or two, the usual neon signs around the place. Then I spotted a manga kissa (cafe) nearby. I hadn't spent much time in manga cafe's up until that point, but then I decided to use it for the purposes that many people used them - to kill time. So I went in and paid my 200 yen ($2 or something) for the exclusive use of a computer and internet, plus free hot and cold drinks. I checked my hotmail, browsed the net, looked at some manga. After a couple of hours, I realised that there was about 20 minutes to go until my bus was scheduled to leave, so I left the manga cafe for the train station to go and find the right platform. I could not find any platform that seemed to match my ticket. I showed some random japanese people my ticket and then gestured like "do you know where my platform is?". They seemed concerned, I managed to figure out eventually that they were telling me that I was not at the right station for ths particular bus. Then I entered a minor panic because: a) I had a pre-paid ticket for which I don't think I could get a refund b) I didn't want to be stuck overnight in this random place that I couldn't even remember the name of and c) I was supposed to be meeting a friend the next morning in fukuoka and then catch a train onward to kumamoto (which I had also already booked and didn't want to forfeit the ticket for). I had no idea where this other station was, but hell, I ran over to the taxi rank hoping for a taxi... luckily one came. I think I only took a taxi twice my whole 8 months in Japan.
(not my photo... in fact none of the photos in this blog entry are mine.. just from the internet).
Taxis are extremely expensive, you ride for like 10 minutes and it'll cost you $40, its ridiculous. But I had no choice. I showed the driver my bus ticket and hoped that he'd know where I needed to be. He seemed to understand, and then drove me to this other train station. Being in a car, in japan, in a foreign little town/city that I don't remember, was quite a nice novelty now that I remember it. Anyhow, we made it to the station, I paid him the fare of maybe what, $15? jumped out, and ran for it. I made the bus with a few minutes to spare, phew! The bus was only maybe 1/6th full, barely anyone. I had an inflatable neck pillow that I had bought from a 100 yen store (about 1 dollar). I blew it up. The lights on the bus went off around 11pm. I did not sleep at all. It was impossible. Have you ever tried to sleep on a bus overnight? It's frankly impossible. There were a few 50ish year old ladies on the bus who just kept TALKING AND TALKING AND TALKING. They obviously had zero intention of sleeping at all on that bus. At some point the bus pulled over at a kind of mid-way highway road-stopping shop. There were about 10 other buses there filled with similarly dozy people on their way to somewhere else. The shop was like a very large petrol station store, but with a cafeteria, toilets, souvenir stands etc. It was fluorescent and mostly not so pleasant. Then we all got back on the bus... after that the old ladies quietened down... I think I dozed a bit but I wouldn't say that I slept. I remember going over the huge bridge between honshu and kyushu. Anyway, the whole night bus experience, at the time I think I thought, NEVER AGAIN, but I just remembered that I also took an overnight bus from Kyoto to Tokyo on which I didn't sleep either. I remember arriving at shinjuku (equivalent of northbridge) at 5-6am and it was the strangest thing ever. It was a mix of cold, dirty and empty... but with many gleaming surfaces of closed shop windows through which I peered. Most of the people on the street were uniformed workers of some sort... street cleaners, shop-people, traffic police... I wanted to spend more time wandering around there that morning but nothing was open and there didn't seem much point. I caught the yellow sobu line back through akihabara, got off the train at akihabara and put my bags in a big locker so I could wander around a bit there as well at that time of morning. But I was tired and there wasn't much going on at that time of morning, so I got my bags out and took the yellow sobu back to funabashi then transferred by keisei back to okubo,.. shortly after which I found myself alone in my untidy apartment, I laid down on my bed clammy and unwashed and took a nap.
So anyway, I arrived at Kyushu station at 6:30 or 7am. The station was smaller, older and a bit dirtier than the stations of other cities I had been in, in Japan. I was supposed to be meeting a friend sometime that morning, but obviously not so early. I looked at the map in the station which was quite a good map, and decided to go and spend some time in Ohori Koen which had a large lake in the middle of it. I took a subway there (which was very easy), walked around the lake and then lay down on a bench in a japanese garden next to the lake.
My friend Kaoru called me around 9am and laughed when I told her I was in Ohori Koen. "What are you doing in Ohori Koen?". I guess it's like arriving at Perth airport at 7am and heading straight for kings park. Not so unusual? Anyway, she said, let's meet at Kyushu castle (which apparently still had cherry blossoms), so I took a subway there I suppose (no memory of the transport there, it must have been easy). I met Kaoru there easily. There were almost no other people there (usually when you go see cherry blossoms the park is packed with people), but this was a week day morning. The blossoms were starting to fall... kind of like light pink snow against a soft blue sky, blurring light green spring leaves... light grey stone path... very soft air ... ahhh. We climbed up a stone path and spent some time looking over kyushu city from the look-out.
We had a bowl of champon noodles at one of those "order from the machine, put money in machine, machine gives you ticket, give ticket to kitchen-hand, kitchen makes you noodles" places.
Then Kaoru took me to Fukuoka Canal City, which is an extremely pleasant shopping mall.
They had a Moomin Cafe... which is where, well, there are lots of Moomins.
Then Kaoru took me to "Ramen Stadium" on the top level. Ramen stores from all over Japan compete to get into Ramen Stadium. Then they spend the next few months trying to make the best ramen they can. The public try all the ramen in the stadium (maybe 15 ramen shops?) and vote on slips. The winners get to stay on, the losers have to go back to their home town. I didn't try the ramen there cos we were still full from champon... but what an awesome idea.
After all this I said bye bye to Kaoru and then went back to the train station to take a train down to Kumamoto.
I just realised why I hadn't written all this down before, it's painful to write it down. Painful because I had so many great times... and also there were many moments where I felt so cold and lonely too. I was very lucky .. circumstances lined up so perfectly... I had taught english to Japanese people in Perth for a few years prior to going to Japan, so I had friends to meet in many cities throughout Japan. They showed me around to so many places and things that would have been hard for just one lone foreigner to know about and get to. I am a bit sad because I lost contact with many of these people and only caught up with a handful of them on our trip to Japan last July?August?.
When you are away from the routine of home-life in your home-country, and surrounded by things that are constantly new and surprising (as happens in japan), it's almost like the experiences are clearer and sharper to remember.. many memories have continued to shine on in my mind though 5 years have passed.. I remember many small episodes (for instance, going to the local 7/11 to pay my phone bill) more than I remember some of my own birthdays.
It's painful to think back at the many smiling faces, and the view of the country-side through the window as I rode train connecting with train connecting with subway...
I will continue to write as many memories down as I can before I forget too many details.