May 072002

Am in Hiroshima in an Internet Cafe called “I Love You,” which is nice to know. And it’s raining, so I thought I’d write up some more from the last week or so.

I went to Himeji-jo, which is the castle everyone seems to rave about. Personally, I thought Matsumoto Castle was better. It was fairly massive, and at least it was a sunny day, which makes a change for me and major attractions. But I did have one significant discovery, I worked out how the trains here are designated. Since all the Gaijin catch the Shinkansen, no one could explain how the system worked, but through powers of deduction, and much luck I now present the JR system for those who can’t afford Shinkansen.

Actually, it’s not that impressive, but I wanted it to sound like it was. As always, I should have read the guide books and other information first. Note to self: I am an idiot. There are several grades of trains, starting at bottom called local, then rapid and special rapid, then express and limited express and then Shinkansen. When you buy a ticket you buy a local ticket. This lets you catch local, rapid and special rapid trains. There are no reservations. Local do what you’d expect, and rapid are local trains that go further, quite fast. If you want to catch express or special express, you buy a local ticket, then an express ticket as well. Express trains are like Shinkansen, but not quite as fast, and travel on the local train lines. The designation of “special” usually means it goes further, and has less stops. All trains are special, just that these are more special than the others. Shinkansen, we all know and love. It has it’s own completely separate track, which is a concrete raised platform, sitting on rubber blocks on pylons, and the track is welded together so there are no clicky-clacks. Shinkansen travel fast, very fast. And they look really cool, like they’ve stopped very suddenly when still hot and rubbery from the friction of travelling so fast, and the nose cone just kept going until it cooled down. (Shinkansen has three levels of seating, Green Car which is 1st class, reserved and unreserved.) Sydney to Melbourne would take about 2 to 3 hours. I’ve been catching local, rapid and special rapid. The cost is usually a bit more than Sydney travel, but they don’t have return tickets like we do, so a day journey can get expensive.

I used my day pass to go to Himeji, as it was the edge of the range it could do, and so it was the best value I could get out of the thing.

(I have a 7 day pass for Kyushu, so I’m going to try and cover every bit of track JR own down there, including some of the Shinkansen, even if it means doubling or trippling up.)

Himeji was good. Rachel, the English girl was in Kobe, and I had agreed to meet her at the castle. I was only 50 minutes late, which by my standards wasn’t too bad. At least she was still there. The last person I was late for by 2 minutes had already moved on. We went to Kobe for dinner. There’s a description of a building in the Lonely Planet I now want to see:

On the way from Kobe station to Harbour Land, take a look at the Kobe Crystal Building next to the elevated highway, just east of Kobe station. It’s a high-rise office building in the style of a Gothic cathedral! It is, to be frank, a monstrosity.

So, went to Kobe’s chinatown area for dinner, which was good. Had some beer and met an Australian girl, dressed as a clown raising money for an African war orphan school she worked at by selling balloon creations. She was the first person to tell me I had an accent, which I guess I do, but I think everyone else has been polite about it. I don’t mind, ’cause she’ll be right mate.

Anyway, one thing I haven’t covered yet are the toilets here. For a culture that didn’t develop chairs, they also don’t have sitting toilets. Oh, no. They have squat toilets. Lots of them. Thankfully one part of Western Culture they have incorporated are the great device of Mr Thomas Crapper, but they aren’t as common as you’d think. And when nature is calling for a Number 2, the great and mighty search for a Western Toilet begins. Anyway, to cut a sordid tale of busting guts and bladder bursting jocularity I did manage to find one after about 20 minute of searching. I’ve learnt to control my bowels enough to hold a number 2 for quite some time. It also helps to have a diet that doesn’t consist of curries, read meat and potatoes. (But when I return, watch out.)

The next day, after Himeji-jo was a shopping and general excusion day in Osaka. I wanted to do some last wandering around Osaka before I left. Anyway, I had found previously in the week the Sony Building of all places sold Tim Tams, Tiny Teddies and a few other things like Milky Way Bars. There were these two Canadian guys at the Youth Hostel (The YH, if anyone was confused what the YH was meant to be.) And I was telling them about Tim Tam Suck. So I went out and bought some Tim Tams, and I wanted to get some good coffee to drink rather than instant stuff. I also tried explaining cricket to them, but after I started with “Well, first there’s a pitch, and at each end there are the stumps with the bails on top and the crease.” They lost it. I ended up using baseball as a reference point, which was not easy but I think I managed. Anyway, I hassled them about Lacrosse.

Anway, it was my last day in Osaka, and although I didn’t get lost (which I was really, really happy about) I did forget to try and get a day pass for the subway, which I’m kicking myself for. The subways were cool, they made the City Circle look like a joke.

One of the places I went to in Osaka is called Doguya-suji. Outside all the not so expensive resturants in Japan, they have plastic models of food on display and a price. In this arcade there are a few shops that sell those models. Lets just say, they were expensive. But what I really, really wanted to get but didn’t was a cast iron frying pan for takoyaki. The 6 to 8 ball ones were about $15, and the other bits needed would have pushed it to about $20. But (a) I’ve no idea how to cook them, and (b) being cast iron it was too heavy to bring home. But they looked really cool. This whole arcade had heaps of resturant equipment, like the flashing signs outside a resturant, menu boards, cheap bowls and so on. The Japanese love their arcades, and it’s proff that John Nash’s work of co-operative capitalism actually works.

I’ve also been having some sake here. They sell the stuff in these really, really big bottles. When I caught the subway back to the YH, I discovered to my amazement a supermarket. So, I bought some beer and they had Tiny Teddies too, and I asked about the coffee they had. You can buy here these coffee bag like things which are disposable. When I asked in my poor Japanese language skills what the different was, the woman ran away and returned with probably the third Westerner I’ve met who works in Japan, but not teaching English. After the coffee experience I walked around looking at this place I discovered and found a bottle shop, which was where this guy worked. We talked a bit about sake, and he recommended a book to me to buy (which I now have,) because I want to buy some of those really, really big bottles to bring back. Anyway, while there I saw they had some Lindemans Bin 65 Cahrdonnay in their top 12 pick by the chain store’s wine expert. Well, I don’t think much of the wine, and I told this guy that. It sold for about 3 to 4 times what it is in Australia.

I’ve also been asking other Gaijin if they drink Fosters, or at least have heard of it. Then I tell them the joke. The reason you can buy Fosters oversears is that no one in Australia drinks it, because it is disgusting. It’s exported because there’s nothing else to do with it. I told this wine guy this, and I alluded to the fact that Bin 65 Chardonnay is the Fosters of wine.

Anyway, the last entry in my journal for that day, and the one for the next day should apply as a good introduction to the next installment, which I’ll do tomorrow. You must remember that I had bought some beer already from the supermarket, and we had a beer vending machine at the YH. Sam and Alvin (the Candians) were also buying some beer. Also, two more Candians and an Aussie girl who were English teachers on holiday turned up that evening as well (after I wrote the first entry.)

3rd May 2002: … But tonight I get to show Sam and Alvin the Tim Tam Suck. Woo Hoo.

4th May 2002: Go shitfaced last night with Karen (the Aussie girl) and the Candians. Tops fun … So much fun getting two Aussie’s together with a Candian audience. All these new words.