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Japan Travel

JAPAN – CONCLUSION

I really liked Japan, it is a super developed country and also very beautiful. The Japanese people, I would say they are the most polite in the world, they are always maintaining the order and perfection with smile on the face. I would live in this country for a while, the country is very safe and it is possible to have everything, but it is all expensive, taking into account the cost of local living, maybe not so expensive for the Japanese.

Here everything is very clean, since childhood the Japanese citizen is educated to maintain hygienic habits, keep his own garbage, throwing something out of the car window can incur a heavy fine.

Not everyone speaks English and those who speak, due to the accent, the understanding becomes very difficult. I had the opportunity to practice my poor Japanese. Knowing “hiragana” (the Japanese alphabet) and a little “kanji” (the Chinese characters) helped me a little, and this situation led me to learn a little more.

The Japanese are honest and friendly for the most part, but also very naïve. They like Brazilians and in general they treat tourists very well, they like the “gaijin” (foreign). But on the other hand, there are some xenophobes and explicit discrimination, especially against Brazilian and Peruvian “dekasseguis”, who are mostly underpaid and sometimes deceived and exploited. I’ve heard some reports of injustices of Japanese gangs fighting against the “gaijins”.

Not everything is perfect, there is a lot of hypocrisy. The society is oppressive, the pressure on the individual begins early from childhood at home and school. The number of suicides is very high and the government seems to ignore this fact. The number of thefts of female panties is something absurd, several friends have reported it to me. I attribute the fact to the implicit repression in Japanese behavior, it would be a way of expressing their stress. After all it is not a sensual country as Brazil is.

Any show of “rebellion” like painting your nails or dyeing your hair can hinder entry into a good college because they don’t want “bad elements” in college. I couldn’t understand why the girls at school fold their skirts and wear them very, very short way.

There is censorship in this country. The movies have some cut scenes, but the Japanese don’t know it. The government controls TV and the news, manipulates and filters the news. I heard that even e-mails are violated. There’s a kind of “brainwashing” in this country, some people live unrelated to everything. The society ended up creating addicted in “animes” (cartoon) and “manga” (comic books), people who live obsessed in this world and in other artificial “worlds”.

About the “yakusa”, the Japan’s famous mafia, it is a non-secret criminal organization, unlike the Italian and Chinese mafias. Sometimes there are dozens of groups fighting each other. There are four main “yakusa” families: Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest group with 750 clans and close to forty thousand members; Sumiyoshi-rengo, with 177 clans and 10,000 members; Inagawa-kai, with 313 clans and 7,400 members; and Toua Yuai Jigyo Kummiai, divided into 6 clans and more than a 1,000 members, many of them are of Korean ethnic origin. Banks often informally use yakusa’s collection services, one of the reasons there is a low default in the country.

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MOUNT NASU

The weather was very good, so we went to Mount Nasu (or Nasuyama), an inactive volcano. We took the cable car and after arriving at the first stop we walked a little further up, but we did not reach the top because not everyone was in the mood. We strolled through Otawara, a relatively small town and cooler than Tokyo.

Here in Japan, children like to capture living insects, such as beetles, and keep them in a pot with plants. If I had known the importance, yesterday I would have caught a rhinoceros beetle, those who have horns on their heads, when I saw it at Nasu-Shiobara station, I had never seen one alive and flying. Honestly, even dead is already extremely rare to see.

In the evening I decided to go straight to Tokyo airport, since the next morning, very early, I would catch the plane to Beijing. But since it was a local airport, the security guards invited me to leave politely to close the doors, so I had to spend the night in a parking lot across the street from the airport.

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MOUNT FUJI

In the morning Teru accompanied me to the station, near his house, where we said goodbye. I was going to Sendai, just northwest of Tokyo, I was going to travel 900 km in four hours of shinka, but as I saw that the weather was good I changed my mind and went to Mount Fuji. I was going to send him a can of “feijoada” when he got back to Brazil next year.

Mount Fuji is the highest mountain and postcard in Japan. At only 3,776m tall, it is actually a still active volcano of perfect symmetry. From Osaka I went to Odawara, change lines to Kozu, and from there to Gotemba in Gotemba had a bus to the base of Mount Fuji. As I regretted, no sign of Fuji-San (as it is called locally), the hill was covered with clouds and I went only to the base, no photos or climbing, I lost my time and money! I should have gone straight to Sendai.

At night I went to another friends’ home in Otawara (town in Tochigui province, northeast of Tokyo, with 80,000 inhabitants), with the bullet train everything is close, I took the two-story train. The couple and their little girl picked me up at Nasu-Shiobara station.

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THE TEMPLES OF KYOTO

In Kyoto everything is very well taken care of. After fulfilling my ritual of acquiring a map of the city, which was free and there were indications of temples and bus and subway lines, I set out to walk. It was difficult to choose which temples to visit and pay for admission, and it was a rush around the city. I have put together a list below of the temples I was able to visit that day:

•            Kinkaku-Ji (the “Golden Temple”): Buddhist temple originally built in 1397 by Shogun Yoshimitsu, is all gold foliage, considered one of the most beautiful in Japan. In Itapecerica da Serra (São Paulo) has a replica that had already visited, which is why I was not very impressed.

•            Heian-jingu: shinto temple is also very beautiful, built in 1895 AD in commemoration of the thousandth anniversary of the founding of Kyoto.

•            Kiyomizu-dera: A Buddhist temple dating from 798 AD, with its typical streets and stalls selling souvenirs and other little things, very beautiful. Crowded with local tourists and some foreigners.

•            Gion: is the Geisha district, full of temples, shops and typical restaurants.

•            Fushimi-Inari: It’s a complex with five Shinto temples being also a maze! It has 30,000 toriis, which are those portals, of all sizes. The movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” was shot in part here.

In the late afternoon I went to Inari, as recommended by Teru. It was really something quite different. I walked mount Inari up among the “toriis”, I was lost up there, without signs and almost without anyone walking, I went into despair, because it was getting dark. I found my way back after finding a gentleman running and pausing to pray, although he didn’t speak English, he indicated the way. I ended up barely taking pictures. Inari is a deity of fertility, business, agriculture, rice and sake (a Japanese strong alcohol drink made from fermented rice).

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THE CITIES OF CASTLES

I left Danilo’s house early in the morning. We quickly visited Ueno’s castle which was small and surrounded by a moat filled with water. We didn’t go in, we just watched from the outside. After the visit, Danilo dropped me off at the train station, where I had to do two transfers until I arrived in Osaka. Despite it being Sunday, Danilo had some commitments.

Osaka is the third largest city in Japan, capital of the province of the same name, with 2.7 million inhabitants, also known for the beautiful castle surrounded by a huge moat with water, is one of the most important port cities in Japan. The Osaka castle built in 1583 A.D. was destroyed several times by fire and bombing and finally rebuilt in 1997.

After seeing the castle, in just fifteen minutes I traveled by bullet train, from Osaka to Kobe, a neighboring city and capital of Hyogo Province, with 1.6 million inhabitants. I didn’t know what I was going to see, there were only modern buildings, no remnants of the earthquake since January 17, 1995, when more than 6,000 people died. Kobe is also an important port city from where the first Japanese immigrant ship departed for Brazil more than 100 years ago.

From Kobe I took another “shinka” to Himeji, in Hyogo province with 500,000 inhabitants, to see the castle considered the most beautiful, according to the lonely planet guide, but I did not enter, it was raining and I took some pictures from afar. Besides, after seeing so much castle it all looked the same. It is the only castle that was not destroyed and rebuilt, retaining its original form dating from 1580, housed forty-eight feudal lords.

I returned to Osaka, got in touch with Teru, a friend of my brother’s, and went out at night to get to know a little more of the vibrant city. We went to Dotomburi, where we remembered the “noir” setting of “Blade Runner”, with its thousands of lights and thousands of Japanese. We ate “Okonomyake”, a typical food of the region.

Dotomburi at night.

I ended up staying in the tiny “squeeze” of Teru, near Shin-Osaka, the smallest apartment I’ve ever seen, there was neither room nor kitchen, it was a kitchinete that looked like just a hallway. Teru spoke good English, unlike most Japanese, because he had studied English in Canada with my brother.

Teru explained to me the basic difference between “temples” and “shrines” that appeared on the maps and at every corner, which in Portuguese translate everything as temples. The temple is a Buddhist temple, while the shrine is a Shinto temple. Physically only the “shrine” has the “torii”, a kind of portal or red bow, like the one that has in the neighborhood of Liberdade, in São Paulo. The symbol of Buddhism is the inverted Nazi swastika, as if looking from a mirror, in fact it was Hitler who reversed the Buddhist swastika.

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MIYAJIMA’S LIGHTNESS AND HIROSHIMA’S WEIGHT

On yet another rainy day I traveled by “shinka” to the west, from Osaka to Hiroshima, it was an amazingly quick 342 km – in 1h37m! Arriving at Hiroshima station I had to change to head to Miyajima, and from the station to Miyajima island was a leap, for those who have the JR pass, just take the JR boat for free. On the train I met two Japanese-Brazilians, Rosa and Márcia, mother and daughter traveled together. We became and together we went straight to Miyajima.

Miyajima have only two thousand inhabitants, it is beautiful mainly due to the huge floating “torii” in the sea, which provides an air of lightness. The original “torii” was built in 1168, and the current one dates from 1875. It is considered one of the three places most photographed by tourists. We took the tour of the beautiful Shinto temple Itsukushima accompanied by some deer. The temple has its roots dating from the 6th century.

On the way back we stopped in Hiroshima, capital of Hiroshima Province with 1.2 million inhabitants. It was the first city to fall victim to the atomic uranium bomb on August 6, 1945 (Nagasaki’s was plutonium three days later). The city, cut by rivers, had been completely rebuilt with the exception of the “A-Bomb Dome”, the only building left standing at the time which had become one of several memorials, only 380 m from the epicenter. It is estimated that more than 10% of the victims of the bomb were Korean prisoners working in factories in the region, as well as some Chinese. The rivers that cut through the city were filled with bodies, due to the heat of radiation, the people (who were not disintegrated) threw themselves into the river in an attempt to cool off uselessly.

Next to the Dome was a park, crossing the Motoyasu River, the Peace Memorial Park and its memorials, there was the Peace Memorial Museum in the background, I confess that it was not such a pleasant visit, but depressing and shocking, similar to the visit I have made to the extermination/concentration camp of Dachau in Germany in 2003. Seeing the photos, movies, and feeling the heavy weather of the moment was not so pleasant. But it was definitely worth it, I think it’s all worth it for learning and for general culture. Hiroshima offers no attraction other than memorials and a castle from 1589 A.D. that I didn’t visit. Outside the museum, a children’s choir finished singing a song to the dead by the bomb. Japan seems to ignore the thousands of victims they themselves have caused to the dominated countries of Asia and the Americans until World War II.

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DRAGONFLIES AND GEISHA

In the morning, we all went out for a walk. We walked to a place with a suspension bridge, over a cliff and a river, similar to Capilano’s Bridge in Vancouver. On the bridge there were dozens of black dragonflies. I don’t remember every seeing so many at once before! In cities like São Paulo, it is simply impossible to see even one. Then we went to the “koen” (park) of Nara, in another city, listed by UNESCO and very well cared for, with over 1200 sika deer (シカ or 鹿 shika) and several temples. Nara was the capital of Japan before being transferred to Kyoto, located in Nara Province with 370,000 inhabitants.

In the afternoon, we went to another neighboring city, the beautiful Kyoto further west, capital of the province of the same name, known as the city of temples. It has more than two thousand temples, in addition to twenty-four museums, thirty-seven universities, gardens, castles and palaces. It was one of the capitals of Japan for over a thousand years, from 794 A.D. to 1868 AD before being transferred to Tokyo. Population of 1.5 million inhabitants.

As we arrived after four in the afternoon, the castle and the palace were closed. In addition to visiting the palace it is necessary to make a reservation in advance. But it was worth the tour through the outside area, by the beautiful and well-kept garden.

We strolled through the central region and Pontocho Street, a region that bordered the river, with its restaurants with balconies and shops full of Japanese passers-by. There were some girls dressed in kimono for the tourists to photograph, but I didn’t get to see any geisha. Geishas are not prostitutes, the literal translation is an artist, they are women specializing in the art of dance, singing and seduction, although some prostitutes dress like geisha.

Nara and Kyoto are two nice cities and less bustling than Tokyo and Osaka. Both followed the Chinese geomancy model of the ancient Chinese capital of Chang An (present-day Xian).

Japanese in typical costumes.

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THE BULLET TRAIN

Finally came the long-awaited day of taking the “shinkansen”, commonly called “shinka” (the bullet train), I was quite euphoric. I went from Odawara to Nagoya (282 km to the west) in just 1h13m! There is a timetable with constant trains to anywhere in Japan, it was much better than taking a plane, without check-in or queues, nor the need to arrive hours earlier. Although, if you want, it was possible to make a reservation or even choose a bed.

Nagoya is the fourth largest city in Japan, with 2.3 million inhabitants, and is the capital of Aichi Prefecture, being well industrialized and commercial, fully rebuilt after being destroyed by aerial bombardment by the Americans during World War II. Its also has a large port which is a large economic driver.

I met Nestor, another “dekassegui” friend, at Nagoya station and we went to visit Nagoya Castle below the rain. This beautiful castle which has white walls, a stone base and a greenish roof, was built around 1612 AD and rebuilt after World War II in 1959. The moat was transformed into a green area, where I saw were some deer. Looking at some pictures it looked like Osaka’s castle.

There was a sumo tournament in the city, the most comical thing was to see a sumo wrestler dressed in a kimono squeezed under a colorful umbrella!

In the afternoon, I said goodbye to my friend and left for Iga-Ueno, a small nearby town in the countryside with a population of 105,000 people. Iga-Ueno is a city known for having a castle that was in the past a training base for ninjas, and the result of the merger of smaller cities of Iga and Ueno. Unfortunately, I didn’t visit the Ninja Museum. Ninjas were warriors who used disguises for espionage, murder and sabotage, some were mercenaries and others were allies of feudal lords. Over time they were incorporated into the armed forces and police. Ninjutsu, the martial art practiced by ninjas, is practiced until this day around, including in my home country of Brazil. It has its origin in China.

I took the “milk-run” train to Iga-Ueno, not the bullet train, but I preferred to take it despite being longer than buses, because it was the Japan Rail (JR) line, so I could use my train pass. Maybe I should have bought the two-week pass instead of one week only.

I arrived at the end of the afternoon at Iga-Ueno station, after a few “norikais” (connections), and Danilo came to pick me up. We passed quickly in a Brazilian mini-market. I stayed at his house, in his little boy’s room. Danilo was blond, very young and a hard worker, as was his mixed-race wife.

Japan’s playlist
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YOKOHAMA, THE CHIC COASTLINE

I left my friend’s home, towards Yokohama, after three “norikais” (the change of trains or “transfers”) between Odawara, Kaiyama, Ebina and Yokohama, I arrived. It was closer than Tokyo in the same province as Kanagawa.

Yokohama is a seaside town being the second largest city in Japan after Tokyo, very beautiful, pleasant and prosperous, like almost all the cities here. It has 3.7 million inhabitants, the largest port in Japan and the Yokohama Landmark Tower, the largest building in Japan, with 296m high and 70 floors, as well as other futuristic buildings. In the past it was a fishing village. Today it is the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture.

I did the “walking tour” circuit along the seafront, passing through Minato Mirai 21 (the port), Yamashita Koen (a park), Chinatown and Sankei-en Garden. Chinatown here is very “niponized”, unlike other countries, here is very clean and people are polite!?! The price of things in Yokohama was even more expensive than the average in Japan. It’s the only place in the world where Chinese stuffs and restaurants are more expensive than local things and cuisine.

On the way back to Odawara I stopped by Ebina, and bought seafood on sale because it was already evening.

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A LIGHT ATMOSPHERE

It was another rainy day in Tokyo. From the hotel I walked to Asakusa, passing through Kappabashi, an avenue full of household items stores, mainly kitchenware. The temple of Asakusa (Senso-Ji Buddhist Temple), in the old town, is the main attraction of this neighborhood, very beautiful and with dozens of stalls selling souvenirs and typical local foods, it worth a visit. The original temple built in 645 AD was destroyed in 1945, like almost everything in Japan during World War II. This region has a more relaxed and less hectic atmosphere. As the Sumida River was nearby, I decided to go there and take some pictures.

I found the cheapest “bentô” (lunch box) in Japan, so I decided to eat two for USD 2.50/each, after all here is extremely expensive. I continued walking to Ueno and Akihabara Park, from there I took the subway to Ikebukuro, another neighborhood full of entertainments and shopping malls in addition to many Japanese. Ikebukuro station is the second busiest in the country.