Of Things Past and Present

Well, my rail pass has finished, so no more extensive rail trips. The last two I did was going back to near Beppu, to see a valley with 4 groups of 1000 year old stone Buddhas, and a quick trip to Sasebo which turned out to be a complete waste of time.

The trip to Beppu was really good. It was on a really old desiel train called the Yufuin no Mori, which was a tourist trip designed to go to Yufuin and Beppu. I then caught a local train to Usuki, and once there tried to work out how to get to the Buddha statues. There was no tourist information office, and only a few brochures. I found one with a picture on it of where I wanted to go and asked the JR train station bloke when the next bus was, he said 4:30pm. Considering it was 3:15pm, I wasn’t too keen on waiting. As I started to calculate the cost of catching a taxi, walking and just plain giving up a Japanese man and his wife walked up to me and asked if I needed help. It’s really weird here how that happens. Anyway, the JR man gave me correct, but not helpful information. The JR bus came at 4:30pm, there was a local bus that arrived at 3:45pm to go to the statues, that dropped me off at the front of the place. These busses had no English signs, numbers or anything. I essentially had to wait for 3:45pm and, in my poor Japanese, ask if he wasing going to the place in the picture.

Thankfully, he was.

The place was really good. Someone, obviously with a lot more time then I could possible imagine decided that they’d take this cliff face, and with a chisel remove all the bits of rock that didn’t seem to match their idea of the image of Buddha. And not content with doing it once, slices out a whole host of retainers, other Buddhas and bits and pieces. Four times, in different places around the mountain. Although I’m getting a little Buddha’d out now, I felt that I was lucky to see them. Although being a major tourist attraction, lots of other people got to seem them too.

I made my way back to Beppu to meet my friend there. She’d recently heard that her ex-husband, had got ingaged to his new girlfriend in the US. So her life had not taken a good turn. I don’t think she got to use the word reconciliation. We had a few beers and talked about it. She’s got some work now, which is good. Some of which was in a Japanese style bar, the sort of place that scares me. I always wondered how those places make money. They fit about 8 people, and there may be several hundred of them in a small area, so competition is fairly feirce.

After getting the bill, I now know how they survive.

They carge like a wounded bull. Two bottles of beer and some snack food cost me the equivalent of AU$40. What I was paying for was the company of the women behind the bar, which I really, really didn’t understand, didn’t need and didn’t want. These are the places middle-aged men go to be comforted, sing some Karaoke and drown their sorrows.

As I said, they scare me.

I missed the train I wanted to get back to Fukuoka, and so I waited for the last one I could catch. Which meant I ended up, half way home at midnight. Most trains stop at midnight. I managed to get the last train back, which for JR was supprising running 20 minutes late. At 1:30am I managed to crawl back to my hotel. So much for trying to get the 8:15am the next morning.

So, yesterday I went to Sasebo. Enough said.

Had some beers with my English friend again, so I seem to keep bumping into her at the oddest places. I’m pretty sure with only a few days to go, and with her going to Shimonoseki (where the International Whaling Commission have been having a fun time the past week,) it’s not likely we’ll see each other. I’ve made lots of friends on this trip. Met lots of people, and had lots of fun. Although the final chapter hasn’t been written, (and my never get written,) I would like to think I won’t come home the same person. As I’ve talked with a lot of other backpackers, after this much travel one can’t return home and be normal. There whole world is out there, waiting to be seen. Waiting to be changed, waiting for something to happen. I have been reading the Japan Times quite a bit. I don’t have much hope for Japan anymore. A dystopian furture awaits it. Money Politics, or Concrete Politics as I end to think of it domiantes the whole country. The Japanese people, who as a people, are lovely, kind, considerate and open have had to suffer to take Japan so far forward into the furture ahead of everyone else that it can’t continue.

When I got back to Fukuoka at 1:30am, I saw the homeless people at the train station. There were somewhere between 50 and 100 people, with their carboard boxes for homes, or sheets of newspaper sleeping in the warmth of the building. I don’t know yet where these people go during the day, how they eat, how they survive. Or evenwho they are.

I want to find out though.

So now, all I have left is shopping, shopping and more shopping, and maybe look for work. Actually, I think some reflective analysis of the state of Japanese culture in the later part of the 20th Century might be in order. Or I might just go to Starbucks and have a coffee.

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