Hiroshima

HIROSHIMA

Hiroshima is famous for pretty much one reason, and nothing lets you forget about it more than being in the city itself. Almost every site on the tourist map emphasizes peace.

Peace Gardens, Peace Museum, Peace Park, Peace walk…and of course the entire city is littered with swans and cranes, the birds that symbolize peace.

The main center of Hiroshima is bordered by two big and very muddy rivers that once acted as a moat for the castle inside of it. If you walk around in a circle, you will find yourself surrounded by national tea gardens.

We enjoy some authentic Japanese Cheetoes while staying high and dry from the gigantic snakes that would cross our paths.

On the West side of the city center is the remade Hiroshima Castle, a beatiful, large cabin-like castle overlooking another moat.

In the park surrouding the castle there are the first remains of charred stone blocks from Hiroshima.

The A-Bomb Dome, a gigantic federal building that happened to be Ground Zero of the Atomic blast:

As Vivian said, “Wow, you guys did really good job!” I couldn’t help thinking the same thing. Seeing the building made the atmoic blast even more frightful, “super-effective” in any form of macro-warfare.

Just aside the Dome were many peace-oriented statues, museums and monuments, including this “Children’s Monument” that features paper cranes from thousands of children’s classrooms across the world

Indeed, Hiroshima seems to have some strange desire to break your heart while you’re there, and if you’re American, feel some deep sense of guilt that immediately must be justified with the statement: “Well, they weren’t playing very nice either!” Or otherwise shrug your shoulders in a “what-can-you-do” manner.

Not a lot to report on the nightlife, drinking stories all sound the same after awhile…

 

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Traveling 2007 – August 8, KYOTO

Kyoto!

Kyoto is the most well known city in Japan for shrines, historical sites and traditional villages. It’s a city that’s thousands of years old and was once the Imperial Capital of Japan, and has only maintained its stature with a booming night-life and tourist industry.

Basically, when it comes to preserved cultural heritage sites, Kyoto is where people go to look at a past way of life, while being constantly confronted with the hyper-real Japanese culture of today.

We came straight from Osaka, uncertain of what to see but certain that Kyoto wouldn’t disappoint. We quickly found English-speaking people to help us, a rarity in Japan, and headed straight for the temples.

As in Korea, at tourist sites it’s expected that  journeyers march for some time up a steep hill while being ritually picked off by “specialty” retailers. It took us about an hour but after that mess we came across a sprawling temple area of preserved country-side and villages

The differences in Korean and Japanese architecture with temples is staggering. The Japanese are well known perveyers of subtlety, matching dark browns with black and white, while Korean temples feature meretricious colors that are both vivid and distracting.

Though to say Japanese temples are fully “subtle” is not entirely accurate. Their Buddhas, most made from solid granite, are far bigger than the statues within the penninsula

Here you can see a Big Buddha next to a high utility van, and the statue is far further back as well. Here’s the same statue shot from beneath the fence where we couldn’t get in;

Another difference in Korean and Japanese architecture is the growing necessity in Koreans to begin building up, rather than out. While Japan overall is a bit overpopulated, at least we can still go to some cities and still see this:

While in Korea there would be a multitude of high-rise apartments blocking the skyline like behemoth concrete blocks.

At any rate, the night-life was a riot, though since Kyoto is a bit of a tourist city, it was overpriced as well. As usual we spent most of the time twisting through labyrinthine sidestreets, cutting into Japanese brothels and slithering past with women in traditional geisha attire and make-up.

At night, the temples were still enthralling.

2007 Traveling – August 5, OSAKA

At nearly 20 million people, Osaka isn’t an easy case-study when it comes to “drive-by” tourism.

After the long boat ride to Foukoka and refamiliarizing myself with the currency, language and habits of the Japanese, we bought a twenty-thousand yen ($200) railpass to see the entire western half of Japan. Before heading there we spent the night in a Japanese spa, sense neither me nor my traveling companions ever thought it very adventerous to make hotel reservations.

Spending the night in a spa is an experience nobody should miss. First off you get clean as hell, as in rubbing your skin until it turns bright red (which everyone can see cuz, well, it’s a bathhouse). I’m reminded of the Greek gymnasiums, where back in the day training the body was just as important as training the mind, and it was casual to have libraries in gyms and bathhouses. Japanese have that, and it seems like scrubbing and exercising go right along with reading and studying in the spa.

We had to travel through three hours of Japanese countryside on a high-speed bullet train before arriving in Osaka Station Terminal. Osaka is a city surrounded by water, the “water capital” and “food capital” of Japan; Osaka to me was just big as hell. From the Osaka towers you can look in every direction using a telescope, and still the buildings seem to extend indefinately.

Serrendipitously, one member of our group (not saying who) flirted enough with a Japanese girl to get us reliable directions to the hot spots. The first was Osaka castle. The last picture is from the top of the castle we visited, though to get there we had to move through a carnival of festivals and celebrations, losing each other in the mess of rock concerts and cheap beer while the sky was filled with balloons and helicopters.

As a westerner, the castle seemed far more like a medieval fortress than the sustained, subtle architecture I imagined from Dark Ages Japan. In fact, the castle is surrounded by two seperate moats, then built ontop of three gigantic foundations.

Oour tour of the castle was maimed by the lionizing of one of Japan’s greatest unifiers, who also attempted to “genocide out” the Kingdoms of the Korean Penninsula in the sixteenth century: the axe-wielding Toyotomi Hideyoshi. I recall my brother’s girlfriend expressing her nationalistic attitude: “How can they treat him like hero? He is monster!” My response: “Andrew Jackson wasn’t all that great either.”

I barely remember the Osaka nightlife. According to the guide, there are two big spots for nightlife, one that’s “Western orientated” and another that’s authentic Japanese, obviously we went to the “authentic” one.

Here’s what we got: Incredibly talented dart players winning drinks galore while we sat around consuming expensive but miniscule cocktails and watching older Japanese businessmen hitting on the younger boys and girls.

“authenticity” we desired…

Osaka was fun. I can’t begin to encapsulate it within a single blog…It’s big, and there’s lots of water.

Something I learned in Japan the last two times I came: judging by personality, the Japanese are nothing like Koreans. Perhaps this was my own prejudice, thinking they might act alike. But where Koreans are super-shy and self-conscious, Japanese will stare you down and offer conversations at a whim, perhaps because they really don’t care so much about you. Japan’s also far cleaner than Korea, and though it’s people seem far more polite than Koreans (Koreans have spat at my feet, casually), they are also a bit less honest and overtly friendly. This is just my impression from people in Fukouka and Osaka–mostly Osaka. Yet, like Koreans (and probably Americans too), their ostensible pride hits you harder than the stunning lights, the steaming pork ramen and the overly-modern bullet trains.

They also seem to revel in their perversions. Or perhaps perversions is the wrong word, none of them are perverse, in fact, as Erich Fromm would have said, when taboos are absent there is also the absence of shame. Japan is surreal, and free, and conspicuous, when it comes to sexuality. Shameless, one could say. Uninhibited, one could also say.

Even though Osaka is the ninth-biggest city in the world, I was completely unhindered walking the backstreets at 5am. Japan lives up to its reputation. Like Korea it’s strangely safe.

A Map of the water city

City’s website