I have belatedly realised that I didn’t start my account of our trip to Japan at the beginning. We began with a day, just one, in Tokyo. Of course, we could see little in this time, but how amazing to be in Tokyo at all! My beloved’s internet hivemind of global travellers had said that the fish market was the place to see. So we were booked into a hotel right on the edge of the market. I didn’t realise my beloved had cunningly planned this, so was delighted and surprised when we came out of the hotel right onto the edge of the part of the fish market that was out on the nearby streets.
Crowds of people, cooking on the street, and stalls with all manner of things from vegetables and pre-cooked food to knives and dishes. And fish, of course. I even saw dried, smoked fish being shaved into bonito flakes.
I can see from my photos that I was taken by Japanese-style cuteness right from the start… and that I felt I couldn’t take pictures of all. the. things. So many amazingnesses!! I know what it’s like to have people photographing everything in the central markets in my home city. And a friend who grew up in Taiwan has since informed me that for any person from China, a fish market would be the obvious place to see in a new city.
Eventually, we left the fish market and I followed my bold beloved onto the train system. Needless to say, unfamiliar plants and places and things were everywhere. I couldn’t get over these capsule stations, full of weird and wonderful things. This display was in a department store, in a stairwell or corridor.
After some wandering about in a shopping district, we took a break in a beautiful park.
We had to investigate what “pachinko and slot” was (as it is advertised all over the place and in very big buildings). I have since read Pachinko by Min Jee Lee, which is more of a multi generational account of Korean immigration in Japan than it is an account of pachinko–but pachinko is a low-end form of gambling that is a little like pinball. It is very loud and accompanied by the smell of cigarette smoke, so far as we could tell at first sight, and apparently a predominantly a male occupation.
We had a very funny experience of being in a shop in the geek district of Tokyo and being hailed by an Australian friend of my beloved. Just so we’re clear–Tokyo itself has a population almost the size of the entire country of Australia. And–the pictorial signs of Japan were gratefully received by me with my pitiful Japanese, but they also have a very different aesthetic to Australian signage. This one I especially enjoyed. I held onto my hat.
And then we had to travel to Kyoto. There had just been major flooding in Japan, not far from Kyoto, so we were lucky to be able to catch the train at all. Some of my beloved’s students had arrived early and been evacuated along with locals, and others had struggled through travel rearrangements made necessary by damaged rail lines and roads. While we didn’t catch the fastest train Japan has to offer, it was still very fast by Australian standards. And very clean and lovely too. All the signage inside the carriage (about the next stations and such) was in at least three languages–more gratitude from me.
I spent the time taken to travel out of Tokyo marvelling over its size and density. Oh, and knitting a sock.
Once we left Tokyo and were in more rural areas, I was amazed to see rice growing all the way up to the train line. I don’t know why, exactly, as wheat grows up to the train line in Australia. But even seeing rice growing is pretty amazing to a person from such a dry place. People live right up against the major inter city train lines too, and there were market gardens all the way to the train line that we passed. We passed Mount Fuji in the distance too.
Even just being on the train made vivid why so many lives and homes are lost in floods, typhoons and mudslides in Japan–people live very densely by comparison with Australia. The heartbreak and trauma of the flooding just before we arrived was plain even through the language barrier on Japanese TV news each night. And for the train buffs, here is a view of the train from the front, most unlike any Australian locomotive I’ve encountered. Much faster and much quieter too!