Sunday, May 09, 2004

Blogger has changed its format in my absence. This is probably ok, since the old one continually ate my wonderful prose.

I'm back from 9 whole days of fabulous not work. It also happens to have been the most expensive vacation (per day) that I've ever been on, probably due to the fact that we're in Japan, which is ridiculously expensive to begin with. Thank god that we were camping most nights instead of staying at hotels.

The first day was pretty much spent just travelling. Jennifer and I took off from here at 8:00 on the bus and we met up with Lara and Shane later in Tokyo at the monorail stop. It was good to be underway and during some shopping time (shane's birthday was on Earth Day) I found that the Tower Records in Tokyo has Cyclesport Magazine on it's racks, IN ENGLISH!!
I gladly paid the $10 and happlily had something to read on the various plane, train and boat rides of our trip.
We flew domestically from Tokyo to Fukuoka, the biggest city on the island of Kyushu. Airports are pretty much all the same no matter where you are, but I was surprised that no one ever looked at our picture identification. This seems rather foolish to me. If I were a terrorist, this would be a pretty easy place to hit. Anyway, we landed without mishap and proceeded to eat the local Ramen specialty which consists of some greasy noodles and pork broth. It was pretty good. We then staked out our claim on a bit of the public beach there. It was convenient and free and the security guard who hassled us seemed generally sorry to have to bother us and assured us that if we left in the morning it would be just fine.

The next day we travelled to Nagasaki and saw the sights there. The city has a good feel notwithstanding the fact that it was blasted by the second A-bomb. What a major fuckup that was. The hypocrisy of american foreign policy based on WMD is never more clear than when you are standing among relics of a blast dropped by your own government. The hardest hitting display for me was the human hand bones fused into a hunk of molten glass caused by the blast.

Since it started to rain about halfway through the day we booked some rooms in a love hotel, complete with mirrored wall and S&M on the TV. What a great place, but cheaper than many other options. The shower was nice at least.

The next day was spent travelling to Kagoshima, home of the nastiest Sho-chu (japanese crappy distilled alchohol) in the country, and also of one of the more active volcanoes. We camped and ate on the volcanic peninsula of Sakura-jima and got pretty wet in the process as it rained all night. Lara and Shane had it worse since their tent was less than waterproof despite being more expensive than ours. We checked out the volcano and the seashore which was totally awesome for me since there were so many crazy things that I'd never seen before. Oceanic life is all new and interesting to me, an Iowa boy.

We then took the jet boat to the rainforest island of Yakushima off the southern coast of japan. THis place is kind of similar to the Olympic peninsula of Washington, but there is a more jungley feel to it since it's so much further south. We camped the first night at a campground that was half kooky garden, half woodcarving museum. The associated restaurant had a gigantic wooden torii shaped like big penises arching over a larger than life carved tiger. Pretty damn crazy. The island is famous for its really old cedar trees. Some are 7000 years old and we hiked to see some of them on the following two days. SInce the island has such a small population, there is no regular bus service and we rented a car for the 3 days we stayed there. The convenience was superb and we really "did" the island properly. We were also graced with the good fortune of beautiful weather for 2 of the 3 days. Yakushima also boasts one of the few co-ed, fully naked, seaside open natural onsens in the world. After meeting some really cool Brits at the campsite we went back to the onsen and soaked in hot water with the sounds of the seaside crashing just meters away. This place is super cool because you have to time it with the tides, at high tide the pools are submerged and a low tide they become hotsprings again.
I had always scoffed at people describing their island getaways as perfect paradaise, but realisitcally, after visiting Yakushima, I totally believe it. I really didn't want to go back home and still am dragging heavily at the thought of work in a few hours. Working sucks, no matter how good your job is (as far as I can tell.)

For our last day of vacation we travelled to Aso Dake, the most active volcano in the world. The hike was surreal, over the broken shards of volcanic spew and the stinky crater visible from the peaks surrounding it. It was stunning in its wastes. You can totally imagine what Mars or the moon look like up close. Also, I imagined myself slogging through the bowels of Mordor to Mt. Doom, it was just that cool.

Some general observations:
Kyushu is the place to go if you want to live in Japan and don't really have a giant thing for skiing. The people are super friendly (for Japan) and they actually want to have conversations about stuff, even if it is just the basic bullshit about your name, job, home country, etc.
My Japanese is shit. I had the worst Japanese of the group and so was consequently feeling a little embarrassed about it. I gotta get to studying and really be able to communicate the basics at least.

More to come and pictures will soon follow.

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