Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Billions of school children

Wednesday17th November 2010

MP3 track of the day: Idyll`s End - The Last Samurai

Weather: A cold start but becoming a beautiful day with, shock horror, a blue sky

Out at 10am wasn't bad I suppose; the cute Swiss chick had already left and it wasn't such a bad thing, she talks in her sleep. Anyway, with my 'all day tram pass' I had just purchased for 500 yen (£4) I decided to hit the piece park first. As I had been to Hiroshima's piece park I wasn't planning on staying long. Three days after the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, America bomber 'Bock's Car' was on a flight path to Kokura; after circling three times over Kokura the bomb was not released due to the weather being so poor and so, with the weather at Nagasaki being better (and the fact that it was an important military port) it was decided that the choice of target was to be changed and at 11am on the 9th August 1945 'Fat Boy' was dropped on the town resulting in 140,000 deaths once the effects of radiation had been included (70,000 died immediately).

I had a quick walk around a black monument that indicated the exact spot where the bomb hit. I then walked up to the atom bomb museum where I contemplated spending the 200 yen (£1.50) admission cost to have a look inside the actual museum (I had already been to Hiroshima's). After reading my guidebook I decided that I would go in and have a look, however I wouldn't take too long (and I would totally skip the 'crusade to remove all nuclear weapons' part). As I approached the entrance there were millions, no billions, of Japanese school children (a slight exaggeration, but definitely more than a school year) in every direction; a sea of navy blue uniforms and teachers with flags in the air, probably indicating which class was supposed to be where. I reluctantly handed over my 200 yen admission fee as I knew I would be fighting for room, at each exhibit, with a navy blue Japanese child, however I wasn't going to spend too long here so maybe I'll over take them. Well I forgot children don't really like to spend too much time in museums and so we actually kept up with each other (lucky me).

The museum was okay, though very much like Hiroshima's. The main differences was that this was a little more horrific, with more video of the actual wounds suffered. It was also about Nagasaki and so the models showing the devastation were of a different city. I soon exited the museum and then I spent a few minutes walking around the small piece park taking a couple of photos.

Back on the tram I headed to the other side of the city to go to 'Glover Garden', a European set of gardens (Nagasaki was the only place in Japan where trade was allowed to be exchanged with outsiders for a very long time; therefore there are quite a few European influences around the ports, including these gardens). Again on the tram there were loads and loads of school children; at each stop there were more of these navy blue people and I soon realized that maybe the school was partaking in some sort of Nagasaki project. I did wonder if Japanese children did actually go to a school as, so far in Japan, I've seen children, in their thousands, out-and-about in all three cities that I've visited.

Before arriving at the gardens I had to go up a road with shops on either side; most shops were selling this type of cake that, a bar of it, would cost in the region of £10. Luckily one shop was offering free tasters; I didn't think the cake was worth the amount requested. At the top of the road there was the 'Oura Church', a wooden christian church, that looked very much like any christian church anywhere in the world. To the right of the church there were some steps leading to the gardens; it would cost me 600 yen (£5) to visit these gardens and, on reflection, I didn't really think it was worth it, especially as they were European gardens and I can see similar gardens in, well, Europe. It wasn't just the cost that was a factor in my decision, the growing crowds of navy and the fact that I was hungry also helped me make a quick decision. I therefore battled my way down the road and once more onto the tram heading for the city center to find something to eat.

Slurping on my coke, I was reading my guidebook to decide the next best course of action. I've felt quite weird today, quite tired. I can't really be bothered to do any serous sightseeing, I actually fancy heading back to my hostel for a snooze. However I resisted the temptation and I decided that I fancied doing something I never, ever like doing. I decided to look around the shops.

So there I was, in the middle of a shopping center, looking at all the shops. I had set my walking pace to slow and I was enjoying myself. I walked this way and that and didn't really see anything 'Japanese', most of the stores were similar to ones back at home … until I found this souvenir shop. I had already decided that Nagasaki was going to be the place that I would start to purchase souvenirs, if I found something that I liked, as I knew time would be short in both Kyoto and Tokyo. Looking through the shop there were lots of ceramics, which is very Japanese, however I didn't really trust the international postal service that much. Instead I focused my time on the chopsticks; not attached with just Japan (more of an Asia thing) I still decided to purchase a set as there was a set that I liked. A lady came over and I pointed to the chopsticks that I liked; she then pointed to the boxes below which, I presumed, held said sticks. She picked up the box which was designed for the sticks that I liked and, though it was the blandest of the selection of boxes, it had a certain 'upper class' feel. I happily paid the 1,000 yen (£8) for something that I thought was going to cost nearly double that and, once leaving the shop, I opened up the case just to make sure...

… and then I popped back into the shop to purchase said chopsticks as there weren't any within the case. This souvenir cost around £16, the next two souvenirs that I purchased only cost £2/3. Firstly I got a newspaper for my dad (ha … read that if you can) and then I got myself a Manga comic. Manga is a type of drawing style for Japanese comics; It may not be anything to do with samurai or temples but this new Japanese art is known throughout the world, I bet you've all herd of Pokemon right? I purchased said comic and had a flick through; what looked like a comic dedicated to martial art fights, good versus evil and swords turned out to be a book with many different types of story line … some of which were quite pornographic, which made it all the more annoying that I couldn't read the text.

That was it for my shopping, there are a few other items that I would like (a fan and a old style Japanese picture) however it looks like a photo book of Japan is out as I can't find them anywhere. It was now 3pm and I decided to head back to my hostel, however on approaching I decided to take a little detour and visit a temple. Suwa Shrine is a huge of complex designed in 1625; It took quite a while to get to the top of all the steps but, looking back, the view of the city was pretty good. I had a quick tour of the temple before heading back down and back to my hostel around 4:30pm.

I'm now in the common room just chilling; tonight I plan to use my 'tram day pass' once more to head to the train station to advance book my train to Kyoto in two days time. Oh speaking of Kyoto I managed to book into a Ryokan (Japanese style accommodation) which I'm very excited about. It's still a hostel, and it was cheapish, so I don't know how authentic it will be (it has the internet) but it's better than nothing.

So I've been in Japan over a week now and so It's time to have a bit of a round up. So far I have spent £42.50 per day which is waaaaay under the £80.00 per day I thought I would need. However this doesn't include the rail pass, and my first two nights accommodation, I purchased before arriving so my costs will go up, but still I can't see it hitting £80.00 per day. Food wise this is the second cheapest country that I have visited, only just beaten by Fiji. I have never paid more than £8 for a meal and they have all been delicious; supermarkets and convenience stores have packed meals which they heat up for you and they taste good … all for £3/£4.

Things that I have noticed is that there are a lot of 'bobbies on the beat' which I found slightly odd for, apparently, a safe country. It has been useful though as I've managed to ask them a few questions which they are glad to help with.

Bicycles are a big thing in Japan and they come at you from all directions. I do believe that I will get hit by one before I leave however the interesting thing is that I have yet to see one locked up; all the Japanese leave their bikes unlocked when they go shopping or even to sleep for the night. One of my favorite past times is checking out the bizarre fashion statements made by the Japanese. My favorite has to be a guy who seemed to have modeled himself on 'Jack the ripper' and 'denim man' who was covered, head to toe, in blue denim except for a large black berry on his head and big black boots. Female attire is very nice indeed with many women, even in the winter months, opting for big black leather boots and mini-skirts … female fashion has never been so interesting.

Smoking on the streets can only be done in smoking areas (you can't walk down a street and have a cigarette), however there are still smoking and non-smoking areas within some restaurants. At first rubbish bins on the streets were extremely hard to find, however the top tip on this one (told to me by Steve the American) is look for a vending machine (which are everywhere) and you usually find a bin next to them. Finally if anyone is interested in traveling within Japan, but worried about the language barrier then don't be; there is a lot of English around, especially in regards to transport, which has made it a breeze to visit Japan. The only down side is that food packaging isn't in English and therefore, sometimes, you don't really know what you're eating (a bit difficult if you are vegetarian) … but that's half the fun isn't it! My Japanese is coming along swimmingly; I can say `good afternoon`, `Thank you` and `goodbye` fluently; I`ve now decided to add another word, `sorry` I think should come in handy.

The only downside to Japan so far is that everyone is so dam polite they will never correct you. I went into a restaurant in Hiroshima and I wanted to know if I was holding my chopsticks correctly; the chef just smiled and nodded but I knew I was holding them incorrectly. Another slight pain is that blowing your nose in public is considered very rude, so I have to keep reminding myself not to and then find a quite corner or toilet. Finally the currency; in a country where 131 yuan is the same value as one pound, they still have a one yuan coin ... I have so much change that I think my wallet weights more than my backpack.

Japan expensive … I don't think so!

Toodle Pip!

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