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Japan

Memorandum

It’s not easy to sum up two months in a country especially when traveling by bike - You can read my Tumblr blog, it may seem long, but in reality this country deserves more than one visit. Landscapes, cuisine, architecture are in harmony, almost in a kind of perfect order.

 

My ride ended after some 1700km, from Tokyo to Nagasaki.

 

Everyone will tell you; Nagasaki is a unique city in Japan, for its history, its geography and its atmosphere. The Museum of the Bomb is a sad yet unavoidable place in the city that must be visited. I spent time watching the heartbreaking video testimonials of survivors, reading through the museum literature, and wandering around the park dedicated to the memory of the victims. After a few minutes sitting in the Peace Park, an old lady approached me and asked me the usual questions (Where do you come from? Do you like Japan?...) she was one of the survivors of the bomb. After spending so much time watching videos in the museum, listening to the history professor on the benches of the school, I finally met a face, a person that I can talk to!

 

“I have nothing new to tell you about the event,” she said. “I just want you to spread my message once back in your country. Those who think that humans learn from their mistakes are completely wrong. Those who think that modern man is civilized enough not to commit barbarities of the past are wrong too. We must constantly remind and inform, because to forget the past is a big mistake! I do not blame the Americans in particular, because there are others who blame us too and rightly so. Forget our differences and remember the horror of the war, this must be a primary mission while humans exist on this earth.”

Moments

April to May 2013

Did you know...

1. Raw horse meat is a popular food in Japan.

2. Sometimes the trains are so crowded railway staff are employed to cram passengers inside.

3. Many couples in Japan celebrate Christmas like Valentine's Day.  It is definitely more of a "lovers" holiday in Japan.

4. Poorly written English can be found everywhere, including T-shirts and other fashion items.

5. More than 70% of Japan consists of mountains, including more than 200 volcanoes.

6. Mt. Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan, is an active volcano (although scientists have not reached a consensus on what defines "active").

7. Religion does not play a big role in the lives of most Japanese and many do not understand the difference between Shintoism and Buddhism.  However, there are also many Japanese who do understand the difference.

8. A nice musk melon, similar to a cantaloupe, may sell for over $300US.  For example, a nice specimen of Yubari melon.  These are often physically perfect, not like their American counterparts with dark smudges and scars.

9. There are four different writing systems in Japan; Romaji, Katakana, Hiragana, and Kanji.

10. Coffee is very popular and Japan imports approximately 85% of Jamaica's annual coffee production.

11. Japan's literacy rate is almost 100%.

12. Sumo is Japan's national sport, although baseball is also very popular.

13. Sumo wrestlers eat a stew called Chankonabe to fatten up. Many restaurants in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo serve this nabe (Japanese word for stew).

14. Most toilets in Japan have a built-in bidet system for spraying your backside.  These are known as washlets and are now the norm in homes and nicer restrooms.  However, in some train stations and other public restrooms you may still find the traditional Japanese "floor toilet".

15. When you use the restroom in someone's home you may need to put on designated bathroom slippers so as not to contaminate the rest of the home.

16. Noodles, especially soba (buckwheat), are slurped somewhat loudly when eaten. It has been said slurping indicates the food is delicious.  The slurping also serves to cool down the hot noodles for eating.

17. Japan is the world’s largest consumer of Amazon rain forest timber.

18. Vending machines in Japan sell beer, hot and cold canned coffee, cigarettes, and other items.

19. When moving into an apartment it is often required to give the landlord "gift" money, usually equal to two months' rent.

20. On average there are around 1,500 earthquakes every year in Japan.

21. In Japan it is not uncommon to eat rice at every meal, including breakfast.

22. Average life expectancy in Japan is one of the highest in the world. Japanese people live an average of 4 years longer than Americans.

23. Japan is the largest automobile producer in the world.

24. The Japanese language has thousands of foreign loan words, known as gairaigo. These words are often truncated, e.g. personal computer = paso kon. The number of foreign loan words is steadily increasing.

25. Tsukiji market in Tokyo is the world's largest fish market.

26. Although whaling is banned by the IWC, Japan still hunts whales under the premise of research.  The harvested whale meat ends up in restaurants and supermarkets.

27. Men might shave their heads to apologize.  Not common these days.

28. Women might cut their hair after breaking up with a boyfriend.  Again, not common these days.

29. The first novel, The Tale of Genji, was written in 1007 by a Japanese noble woman, Murasaki Shikibu.

30. The term karaoke means "empty orchestra" in Japanese.

31. In a Sumo training "stable" the junior rikishi Sumo wrestlers must wash and bathe their senior sumo wrestlers and make sure their hard to reach places are clean.

32. Contrary to popular belief, whale meat is not a delicacy in Japan. Many Japanese dislike the taste and older Japanese may be reminded of the post-World War II period when whale meat was one of the few economical sources of protein.

33. Rampant inbreeding of dogs has resulted in one of the highest rate of genetic defects in the world for canines.

34. Raised floors help indicate when to take off shoes or slippers. At the entrance to a home in Japan, the floor will usually be raised about 6 inches indicating you should take off your shoes and put on slippers. If the house has a tatami mat room its floor may be rasied 1-2 inches indicating you should to take off your slippers.

35. Ramen noodles are a popular food in Japan and it is widely believed extensive training is required to make a delicious soup broth. This is the subject of the movies Tampopo (1985) and The Ramen Girl (2008).

36. On average, it takes about 7-10 years of intensive training to become a fugu (blowfish) chef. This training may not be needed in the future as some fish farms in Japan are producing non-poisonous fugu.

37. Ovens are not nearly as commonplace as rice cookers in Japanese households.

38. Geisha means "person of the arts" and the first geisha were actually men.

39. It was customary in ancient Japan for women to blacken their teeth with dye as white teeth were considered ugly. This practice persisted until the late 1800's.  The American style smile (big, wide, and white) would have been seen as "exposing too much bone".

40. In addition to a "boneless smile", small eyes, a round puffy face, and plump body were considered attractive features, especially during the Heian period.

41. Some Japanese companies conduct a morning exercise session for the workers to prepare them for the day's work.

42. In Japan non-smoking areas are difficult to find in restaurants, including family restaurants. Many of Japan's politicians have interest in the tobacco industry and anti-smoking laws are almost non-existent.  If you are planning a trip to Japan you may want to think twice if you are sensitive to tobacco smoke.

43. Many companies hire people to hand out small packages of tissues which include a small advertisement flyer.  Some non-Japanese are surprised when they are handed a free package of tissues.

A father and son in Kyoto
Nagasaki
Cycling around Fukuoka
Wedding in Tokyo
Mizaru, Kikazaru, Iwazaru
Matsuyama

Blog

Rather than to fly, drive, or rely solely on Japan's famed ultra-high-speed train network, I opted to test a newly purchased bicycle from Thailand. Cycle touring Japan is challenging yet one of the most amazing and rewarding ways of experiencing this serenely beautiful country. Despite a few mishaps--not least some unexpected rain...