Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Japan  ,
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

 From Tokyo we spent 5days in Kyoto - the ancient capital full of temples and zen gardens which are amazing at first but once you've seen more than 4/5 they become monotonous and dull. Its a definitive place to see in Japan, and well worth visiting but just confirmed to us how weird the Japanese people are. We cooked in the communal kitchen at the hostel and the owner happily showed us where all the pans etc were kept. The next day we couldn't find anything - pans, forks, knives, everything was gone. Gradually we discovered that it had all been hidden separately in really random places like behind the bin. After we started cooking the woman didn't speak to us again.

The best thing about traveling is waking up and not having a clue what
might happen in the next 24hours. Unfortunately, this works both ways.We had wanted to go somewhere in the middle of nowhere which would be a completely different Japan from the cities we had experienced, and this tiny laid back town set in a stunning valley looked perfect on arrival. After a fruitless hour trying to find the youth hostel, we knocked on a few doors and were told it had closed down a year ago (a major problem in using the Internet to find information is you never know when it was written.) The cheapest room we could find was 50quid so we abandoned our plans, got back on the train, and ended up in Hiroshima.

Then things went really wrong. On the tram to the hostel we realised that the plastic bag we were about to send home had been left in the middle of the train station. Inside, were all the cd's of photos from the past 3months, material we had collected, books, and postcards - useless to anyone else but priceless to us. I jumped off and got an old one carriage tram going in the opposite direction. After a couple of minutes the tram braked violently and a sickening thud reverberated through the carriage while most people on board let out an horrendous harrowing scream. For a few seconds everyone sat paralysed to their seats, no one spoke, the world stopped moving bar for the tears rolling down the cheek of a young girl sat next to me. Eventually I jumped up, ran to the door and saw the crumpled body of a 60year old man trapped in less than a foot of space between the tram and a concrete wall. Motionless. Lifeless. As I sat back down I could feel a horrible sickening feeling in the stomach preventing me from moving. After regaining some composure I had to weigh up whether I was being selfish in jumping off the tram in order to go find our bag. Although, with 20 Japanese people present, I was of no use to anyone, 10 minutes after exiting I felt ashamed of leaving. Within moments i saw the police, fire service and 2 ambulances pull up but a newspaper article the following day confirmed that the man had been pronounced dead before he reached hospital.

After running the 30minutes to the train station i was still confident of finding the bag; this is Japan, a country with the lowest crime rate in the world, a country where no one locks their doors when they go out. No such luck. After a fruitless hour with lost and found and the police I gave up hope. I wasn't at all gutted - after witnessing a man die in such an unfortunate accident, my loss paled into insignificance. I was so thankful it wasn't Kerry or myself in front of that tram.

Its fair to say that Hiroshima has had its fair share of misfortune throughout history. We went to see the A-bomb dome, the only building that still survives after the worlds first atomic bomb murdered 200,000 people within minutes of exploding and countless others through radiation. Ironically, the dome only survived because it was directly below where the bomb exploded (not sure of the science involved there). It was delivered in order for the US to cement their position as world leaders, as it bypassed involving advancing Russia in the war against Japan, and no warning or threat was given prior to the bombing. As it cost over $2billion to develop the Japanese provide damning evidence at the war museum that the bomb 'had to be tested' to justify government spending, despite the war being virtually over.

However, Hiroshima is not a city mourning the past. Its contains all the good things about Tokyo - modern, clean, energetic - but moves at a much slower speed. Looking at well it has rebuilt itself I wondered how many places in England might welcome the whole city being demolished (without the death of course) and a chance to rebuild from scratch. It was probably only the second time in Japan we could take a few minutes a relax. The other was in the outdoor hot springs of Ohara. In temperatures near zero, you get naked and sit in an scorching hot outdoor tub looking out at the scenery around Kyoto. I had the tub to myself but Kerry was sharing the women's with 4 Japanese women. As she came out she couldn't believe how hairy the women were downstairs, her actual words being 'i think there was stuff living in there.' I shut my eyes and imagined whether they would support as many animal species as the beard of Ricky Tomlinson in the Royle family.

After 3weeks we left Japan and boarded a 28hour ferry to Qingdao. Its been good but its annoying having to budget so much after we had gotten used to living like Kings in China, buying anything we wanted. Then we had another one of those days. The plan was to get to Qingdao and get straight on the train for Shanghai because MANDY was playing there on the Friday night. At 3pm, an hour early, the boat pulled up 500m from Qingdao harbor and waited, and waited, and waited, dropped anchor, and waited. After 3hours we asked some Japanese people what was going on. They started laughing and said we had to spend another night on board because it was too foggy to dock the boat. Are you winding us up? I won't be laughing if we have to stay on here. Why do Japanese love laughing at their own misfortune. Another example - in Tokyo the apartment shook for about 15seconds and Sachyo started laughing, 'just another earthquake' she said - I thought i was going to die. I found someone who spoke English and went to reception to complain. "ITS THERE! I can see the harbor, how can you say its foggy if I can see the harbor...ITS THERE, where's are the controls, I can drive I'll park this beast, tell the captain I'm on my way." Unfortunately, most of the vigor and anger and anger in my protest was lost by picking the person with dullest monotone voice as my interpreter.

After 2 further protests with different staff I managed to negotiate an upgrade so we had our own room. However, because the doors of the boat had been closed due to 'bad weather' throughout the whole journey, the boat was unbearably hot and trying to sleep in this room was like trying to sleep in Ibiza in August. Within minutes of lying down you've lost half your body weight in sweat due to the unbearable heat. I went down the corridor trying to find some fresh air and when i looked outside i realised we had docked. People were taking all the cargo off the boat but a Japanese passenger said we had to wait till the morning. Back to reception. "ITS THERE, ITS THERE, WHY ARE WE STILL HERE." These piss takers wouldn't let us off the boat so I went around trying to get everyone to complain and ask for free beer so we wouldn't be bored. If there going to keep us here prisoner we might as well get pissed on them. A few moments later a Japanese man bought me a beer. Thanks, but that wasn't what I was trying to achieve.

So after being docked for 12hours we finally got off the boat, hung around Qingdao for 6hours and took an overnight bus to Shanghai. Qingdao is very much like Southport - it thinks its a classy place because its got a bit of coastline and a few grand houses but really its a shit hole full of scum. I can't really tell you much about Shanghai because we were only there for 36hours and it rained constantly so we just slept and got pissed in the hostel. From what we saw it like a microcosm of all thats good and bad about China - the people are friendly, the foods quality, its good fun but it stinks and it needs cleaning. And we missed MANDY - don't ever try planning an itinerary around clubbing.
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