Thursday, September 23, 2010


Another couple weeks another country! Japan is a pretty neat place to visit. It was one of the countries I was looking forward to the most. I'll talk about some of the highlights and list some of the observations I had during our two week stay. At the bottom is our daily log and the links to the photo albums for Japan.

One of the top highlights for me was the first place we visited in Japan which was the city of Hiroshima. I wanted to go to Hiroshima primarily because of its role in history as being the first city in the world that was attacked with a nuclear weapon. On the first full day that we were in Hiroshima we walked a few blocks over to the Peace Memorial Museum for a talk by Keijiro Matsushima or K as he called himself. The people we were staying with told us about him and talk he gives at the museum which is how we heard about him. Anyway, K is a 81 year old witness and survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. He was 15 years old at the time of the bombing. He spoke for a little over 30 minutes and described what he experienced that day. He was about 2 km away from the hypo center where the bomb exploded and was just starting the school day. The bomb went off at 8:15 am. He spoke about how he saw a bright flash, tremendous heat for a couple seconds, and then it was pretty much quiet. He was also on the south side of his classroom. Kids on the northern side closer to the blast actually were burned worse than him. The 2km point he was at was pretty much the radius of the blast zone in which most people were immediately killed. He went on to talk about how he walked around the city for a little bit in order to find help for one his classmates that injured pretty badly. He spoke about the terrible sights that he saw. He actually ended up walking and hiking up to the countryside to where his family had a home that his mom was staying at by the end of the day and didn't go back into the city after the first day for quite some time which probably saved him from suffering too much from radiation. Close to 70,000 people died in the immediate blast with another 70,000 dying within 4-6 months from the radiation and other side effects. It was a very moving talk about his experiences. He went on to be a public school teacher who taught English in Hiroshima. He has been to the US on more than one occasion. He was very nice and posed with pictures with Alethea and I. He even autographed a print out of his talk that we he gave everyone. He gave Alethea and I an extra hand out since we were the only Americans there to hear him speak that day. The rest of the audience was from Germany and England.

After K's speech we spent the next hour walking throughout the Peace Memorial Museum which only cost the equivalent of 50 cents US to go into. The museum itself really wasn't all that spectacular but what stood out for me was the way that history is presented in places such as this outside the US. I read on some of the displays some information that I don't recall learning about in history class in the US and history was probably one of my favorite subjects. The first bit of information that I read at the museum were that two of the main reasons we used a nuclear weapon against Japan was that we were afraid that the Soviet Union would take over Japan. I had heard this as a possible minor reason but not one of the main reasons. The other main reason was that we needed to justify the expense of the Manhattan project. I had never heard this before. The primary reason I had heard for us using the bomb was that by the fall we would mount an invasion of Japan and that by using atomic weapons we would bring the war to an end quicker with fewer casualties than the 1 million we were expecting from an all out invasion of the Japanese mainland. From what I can recall with access to the internet since I'm writing this in our room while our laundry is drying the entire cost of the Manhattan project as big as it was only cost about $100 billion dollars in today's dollars and was less than 10% of what the WWII costs the US. Needless to say I think it interesting to experience other viewpoints. I remember reading some different accounts of history in museums in Berlin and at the Aushwitz-Birkenau concentration camps last fall too.

I'll mention a couple of other interesting facts real quick that I learned during our visit to the museum. They mentioned that Hiroshima was one of four cities that the US was considering to bomb and that leading up to the bombing those four cities were not bombed with conventional bombs so the US could measure the impact of the nuclear explosion. Also, on the day or so before the bombing of the four cities Hiroshima had the best weather forecast which in their opinion sealed their fate. Another factor that didn't play well for Hiroshima was that there was no Allied POW camps in Hiroshima. There were some American prisoners in Hiroshima and they were killed in the blast but it was very few. I believe it was less than 20. One other last piece of information was that the Tokyo fire bombings that occurred months before the nuclear bombings killed more Japanese than either one of the Hiroshima or Nagasaki nuclear bombs.

Next interesting thing we did actually occurred later the same day. We decided at the last minute after seeing displays at the Hiroshima train station to go to a Japanese professional baseball game. It was somewhat different. We ended up sitting in the upper deck right field bleacher seats. In this section they have a noise making and cheering section. The have one group called The Carp Club (the home team is called the Hiroshima Carp) that plays trumpets and beats on a drum all game long. They also have a yell leader who calls out the cheers and the fans sing songs when they are at bat pretty much the whole game long. It felt like a soccer match. The game itself is played the same. There wasn't any real differences there. We did have during the game some level of interaction with some Japanese. One young person came up to me and gave me a bag of potato chips and uttered the word present and naturally I ate them. Later on two of the women he was with ask if they could have their picture taken with me and of course I said yes. During the 7th inning stretch they have an odd custom of blowing up balloons, dancing with them for a minute, and then releasing them. A young man gave Alethea and I a couple balloons when he saw that we didn't have any so we could participate. We ended up leaving the game in the top of the 9th since the home team was down by 10 runs at that point.

The next place we visited after Hiroshima is Kyoto. Kyoto is a very nice city to visit and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Japan. I will not go into too much detail because I am not sure it have the same relevance to the people reading the blog back home. Kyoto is a very old city that was the capital of Japan for over a 1000 years from the 8th century until I believe 1867 when the capital was moved to Tokyo. The city is pretty easy to navigate and is laid out in a grid. There are several Buddhist\Shinto Temples and shrines to visit. There is the Kyoto Imperial Palace which is massive. There are also side trips you can take from Kyoto. It really makes a good base city. We took side trips to Inari and the city of Nara using our Japanese Rail Passes which I would also recommend. The trains here can be expensive but if you are a foreigner you can buy a rail pass that will definitely pay for itself. We purchased a 7 day pass back in Portland before we began our trip and are glad we did. I thought it was very neat to ride the Shinkasen type train from Hiroshima to Osaka and from Kyoto to Tokyo. It was very fast and comfortable. Our pass didn't allow us to ride on the fastest trains called the Nozomi but the ones we were on were pretty good in my opinion.

Highlights for Tokyo are somewhat easier. We only had two full days in Tokyo. Tokyo is pretty much a maze of buildings. By a lot of different measurements Tokyo is the largest city in the world by population. According to Wikipedia it has 30 million people and the same article ranks Seoul second with 20 million. It ranks New York 4th after Mexico City. Tokyo definitely felt larger than New York. One thing that felt large was the train stations. It seemed like each train station was gigantic. Their train system or at least the subway system can be a little confusing since there are two different systems. One is older and owned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government while the new one called Toei is I believe more privately owned than government owned. Some of the trains use the same station but different tickets and all day passes do not work on both systems unless you buy one that does. Anyway, the highlight for me for Tokyo was going to a sumo wrestling tournament in person. On our last full day we bought two tickets for the general admission section which is the cheapest to watch the matches. The tickets were 2,100 yen a piece which is around $24 USD. The tickets were on the very last row at the top. The seats in the row beneath us were 3,600 yen. The tournament we saw was at the Sumo Stadium in Tokyo. It was only a couple subway stops away from where were staying in Asakusa. The tournament we saw lasts for approximately 15 days. We were there on day 11. The matches go on to about 6 pm with the lowest class wrestlers starting around 8:30 am. Also, the general admission tickets we purchased are only sold the day of the match at the stadium. We counted around 350 seats at the top and once those seats are sold then that is it. We went early in the morning to get our tickets but went over to the Tsukiji fish market for a hour and then over to the Sony store before heading back to the stadium for the afternoon matches. When we arrived the stadium wasn't that full and I believe we caught the tail end of the wrestlers who weren't full time professionals. We then saw the professional wrestlers as well as the top rated wrestlers including Hakuho who is the top wrestler at the tournament. He disposed of his opponent within a few seconds. You could tell as another higher class started to wrestle that the quality of the matches would get better and better. In all we watched about 4 hours of wrestling. They do a lot stretching and I guess you would call it warming up before the few seconds of actual wrestling. They also have a ceremonial march into the arena. They even have advertisements in the way of people marching around the ring with banners including McDonald's during the final match. I'm glad we did it even though we didn't always understand what all was going on. I saw a fare amount of other western tourist there as well.
That pretty much wraps up our 11 day stop in Japan. I really like Japan. It is a pretty neat country that is not too difficult to get around but not exactly always. It is expensive especially housing but it wasn't too bad. Our next stop is China. I'm a little nervous about China. I've wanted to go there for a while and check it out first hand but I've also heard that the traveling there can be rough. It is the rough part that I am not looking for but I think the 5 days in Korea and maybe some of our Japan experiences will help out. Take care everyone!

Links to Japan photo albums:

Observations about Japan in general:
Easier to get around. More people understand a little English. More signs & menus etc in English.
You can drink water from a tap or refill your water bottle more often but not everywhere.
A few Japanese people will talk to you such as in Hiroshima at the baseball game and on the local train.
Few places accept Visa or Mastercard including Mazda station in Hiroshima. Most places only accept cash.
ATMs are not that common in Hiroshima or Kyoto but were common in Tokyo. A few major banks plus the post office which also doubles as a large bank. Also 7/11s have ATMs too but overall there is much fewer than the US. I kinda expected it to be different in Japan. Not a bad thing though.
Cities are large and there is not much green space although the cities are more quiet than in other countries of the same size.
A lot of bowing in almost all environments from baseball game to trains.
Just like almost all cars in Korea were Korean (Hyundai or Kia) almost all cars are Japanese (Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Susikis). In SK I saw some Fords but have only spotted one here so far.
A lot of Buddhist & Shinto shrines. Very few Christian churches. The couple that I have seen where Catholic. Christianity has pretty much been resisted by the Japanese. It was even illegal for a couple hundred years starting in the 17th century when the Shoguns didn't like how fast it was gaining influence. They even killed about 30 missionaries back then to send a message.

Japan Daily Activity Log:

Monday 9/13 – Hiroshima
Flew in from Seoul
Airport is 45 minutes to the northeast. Airport had no ATMs that were open at 8 pm when we landed.
Checked in at World Friendship Center

Tuesday 9/14 – Hiroshima
Went to 9:30 talk by 81 year old Keijiro Matsushima who witnessed and survived the A-bomb attack
Walked though the Peace Memorial Museum
Walked around Peace Memorial Park
Walked to the A-bomb Dome
Walked 80 meters over to hypocenter where the bomb exploded
Went to the Shukkeien garden
Picked up and activated our Japanese Rail Pass
Went to Japanese Professional Baseball game between the Hiroshima Carp & the Dragons – received gift of potato chips and balloon for 7th inning stretch.

Wednesday 9/15 – Hiroshima (day)/Kyoto
Miyajima Island
Buddist\Shinto Temples
High Speed Train from Hiroshima to Osaka (1 hour 28 minutes), Osaka to Kyoto (15 minutes)
All land is used seemingly
Attendants bow when entering and leaving the car
Have pretty bad cold

Thursday 9/16 – Kyoto
The Golden Pavilion – Rokuon-Ji Temple
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kiyomizudera Temple

Friday – 9/17 – mini side trip to Inari & Uji near Kyoto
Took local train to Inari which was only two stops away
Walked through the orange gates of Fushimi Inari.
Took train a few more stops to Uji
Bought tickets & walked around musuem @ Byodoin Temple – Phoenix hall was built 1052

Saturday – 9/18 – side trip to the city of Nara from Kyoto
Took train for 50 minutes to Nara
Walked a little over 1km east to shrines
Went to the Todai-Ji Temple and saw 15 meter Buddha statue. Temple was built between 710 & 794. Buddha statue was consecrated in 752.
Walked aback through park and back to train station to return to Kyoto since Alethea wasn't feeling well.
Ate dinner at the Kyoto train station. Pretty good
Went to Japan version of the dollar store or 100 yen store.
Picked up some food at the grocery store

Sunday – 9/19 - Kyoto
Path of Philosophy
Nishiki Market
Came back mid-afternoon to rest
Did laundry again before going to Tokyo so we will not have to do it there.

Monday – 9/20 – Kyoto to Tokyo
Visited two Buddhist Temples that were within walking distance of the hostel.
Ate lunch at the Kyoto Train Station
Took Shinkasen high speed train from Kyoto to Tokyo. Took 13:29 train. Arrived around 16:00.
Took the subway to hotel. Wasn't that hard to find.
Went to tourist info office to get English maps and material.
Ate dinner
Walked around Asakusa area then came back to our hotel. It started to rain a little bit.
Stopped @ a Family Mart and bought a beer and thing of Sake since we have a fridge.

Tuesday – 9/21 – Tokyo
Imperial Palace
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings - 45th floor

Wednesday – 9/22 – Tokyo
Tsukiji fish market
Sony Building
Nissan Leaf car
Sumo Wrestling – 4 hours – saw Hakuho

Blog post covers 9/8 thu 9/23