Asia ~ Japan ~ Kobe, & Kyoto
Brrr, since when is January cold?! Ok, I’m too used to the Australian seasons, so sue me! When I last wrote, I was suffering from a ‘hangover’ brought on not by too much alcohol, but rather the lack of sleep and the thought that I had to deal with a cross-water trip…
I got myself to the ferry terminal with minimal trouble – why is it that the only dodgy taxi taxi I take in China is the one when I have all my baggage and I need to be somewhere by a certain time?! But I sorted him out – he didn’t realise I could read road signs… hehe. The boat trip was amazing – I caught the Shanghai-Kobe ferry across to Japan and had a great time doing it – certainly beats flying. The trip took a little over 44 hours, and the boat was basically a luxury cruise ship. We had beds – 8 to a cabin (only 6 people in mine) – complete with dooners, pillows and a curtain to close out the outside world. The ship also had 2 bars, a karaoke room, a mahjong room, washing machines (tough that all my stinky clothing was in my checked luggage!), a variety of vending machines (beer, softdrink, sake, noodles) and even a duty free shop. Best of all was the fact that all of the staff (and a fair majority of the passengers) spoke both Japanese and Chinese, so even I in my confused state (swapping between the town languages is hard, I keep using Japanese grammar and Chinese words, or vice versa, or worse still I use a mix of the two) could understand me. The journey itself was uneventful – made friends with an old Japanese guy touring the world after retirement and a number of younger Japanese returning from a tour of China.
Weather was fine, except on one of the nights, where the boat was a bit rocky – but I didn’t get seasick, must be more like dad than I thought. *edit: turns out it was rougher than i realised – the rough weather was from a series of seismic activity – earthquakes or something* My room had 2 younger boys in it – one who was about 15 and wasn’t a trouble. The other one was about 10, and spent most of the first evening running around and shouting. Try to sleep, I finally had enough, opened the curtain and told him ‘shizuka!’ (quiet!). That was enough – he didn’t quite know what to make of a blonde foreigner telling him to shut up in Japanese and was quiet for the rest of the trip. In fact, word must of got around, because when the kids ran up the corridor screaming, they would always stop shouting two doors down and wouldn’t start screaming until three doors past us… hehe … check my ABC’s of backpacing for more information on the Shanghai – Kobe Ferry.
View of the pearl tower from the ferry
Arrival in Japan was, once again, a great feeling. I wowed the dudes at immigration with my (dodgy) Japanese, but the Italian guy next to me had more than a little trouble, turned out he had just down a visa run to Shanghai, and the Japanese officials told him ‘last time you come to Japan!’ . Glad I didn’t go through immigration with him! Asako’s mum and dad picked me up from the dock and so began my Japanese adventure…
I arrived on the best day – ‘Adults Day’ – a bit like horses birthday for Japanese – all people who turned 20 in the past year celebrate their birthday on the 8th of January, all the girls are dressed up in beautiful kimonos, wandering the streets, fantastic sight to see. After coming from China, everything seems so civilised – the cars stop for you at the crossings and no-one hawks after you in the shops, they merely say ‘welcome’! I went and exchanged money the other day, and what an experience! I walked in, and the guard politely asked me for my address. Whilst I was writing it down, he asked if he could ‘please have your passport’, after which he bowed and photo-copied it. He then passed my information to a bowing lady, who changed the money, then returned it, complete with sweets, a pack of tissues, an envelope for the money and a bow. ‘Sorry for wasting your time’ they said as we left the bank… What a country!
I’ve spent my time in Kobe visiting once again with Asako and her family. We’ve been shopping most days, today we spent the day being truly Japanese. On the boat trip over, I spent the majority of my time reading ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and today I spent the day in Kyoto. Incredible, after reading the books, then strolling the incredibly old streets and watching the girls dressed in kimono at the temple gazing off into the distance. I even got my fortune – although I can’t read the paper (I’m still busy translating it), I’m told it’s pretty good. This evening we went to the onsen (hot springs) which was lovely, as it’s been so incredibly cold. There were outside onsens, so we sat in really hot water (about 40 degrees), whilst the air outside was incredibly cold (probably about 4 or 5 degrees). The best part of being here is just interacting with Asako’s family and friends – everyone is so kind, and willing to explain everything slowly and carefully to me. Her Uncle and cousin were even chatting to me in Chinese the other day! Tomorrow I’m off to Fukuoka on the shinkansen, serious speeds here I come!
Asako & I in Kyoto