Kansai Airport – Osaka
We have a relatively uneventful flight to Japan, landing at Kansai Airport just outside Osaka Japan. As we fly over the area I notice mountains, however, unlike B.C where they are all clustered in one area, Japan has mountains everywhere. I notice we appear to be landing in the ocean, the runway juts out into the ocean. Cool, we are landing on a floating runway.
I have finally arrived in the land of the rising sun, I don’t know what to expect but I plan to make the most of it. I follow our sensei, the teacher of our group to a JR station where our rail pass is used to purchase our train fare to our final destination. We would be travelling by bullet, high speed, express train and regular passenger train, this takes over an hour to get organized, processing twenty people. Our destination is Nobeoka, a town on the most southerly island of Japan, Kyushu. Travelling time approximately eight hours, we were scheduled to leave at 9:30 A.M the following morning.
Dinner at 5 P.M
We stay our first night in Japan in the city of Osaka, a nice hotel, the Osaka Garden Hotel. The hotel has a piped in supply of volcanic water, we have a hot spring bathtub in our room and we make good use of it after fourteen or more hours of travel, it’s time to relax. As we have been through two time changes and it is only 5:00 P.M we venture out to dinner at a fast-food noodle shop. Not speaking too much Japanese, it is best that you just point at a picture on the wall and grab your own drink from a fridge.
We had a great noodle soup and an ice-cold beer, did I mention a monsoon had recently hit Japan and they were experiencing a heatwave and high humidity, mushi atsui, Japanese for hot and humid. We sightsee in our section of Osaka, venturing into some local grocery stores and purchasing supplies. My limited knowledge of Japanese gets us by, we receive a lot of attention from the store personnel, and they are very friendly and most helpful. Managing to trace our way back to our hotel, we join some other members of our group for a nightcap and then retire to our room. We have a team meeting at 6:00 A.M.
Netsuke, Inro, Tsuba
In Japan you are likely to find ancient artefacts all over the place; by chance, I find a museum on the 2nd and 3rd floor of the Hotel. The walls are lined with glass cases and beautiful miniature wood boxes called Inro are displayed. Traditionally worn by men, the Inro was used to store the individual’s seal and ink, or as a means of storing medicines.
Other cases hold ancient Tsuba, iron sword guards as well as fine examples of Netsuke. The toggle that would attach the Inro to the sash. These items are prized by collectors with pieces selling at auctions for thousands of dollars.
The hotel shuttle bus takes us to the train terminal station next to the airport and we quickly boarded our Shinkansen — bullet train. However, not before a cleaning crew jumps on board, one uniformed supervisor hangs a sign in front of the doors which states ISO 9002 please be patient till cleaning is finished. The cleaners finish in about five minutes and then we are allowed to board the sparkling, inside and out, high-speed rocket.
The train starts off slowly and as we gain momentum the window shades automatically close. Our train compartment has a digital speedometer that gradually increases from zero Kilometre per hour to its present reading of one hundred and eighty-five (185) KPH, wow that is fast. In three hours we reach Kamakura and that is as far as the bullet train will take us, we disembark.
The last leg of our journey is on a slow-moving train that stops in every town along the remaining five hundred kilometres. It is a good way to sightsee and we are with nice people. They serve good food and drink on the train. There are washroom accommodations.
They have the dreaded squatter toilet and unfortunately, I had to make use of it. This is not an easy task on a moving train, in a landscape that has more twists and turns than you can imagine. My first experience and I do a pretty good job, it has taken all of my focus to remain balanced and I’m exhausted and exhilarated. No wonder it seems like everyone in Japan does martial arts, it is a prerequisite to using the washroom facilities. I am happy that most places we visit during our stay have western-style toilets.
I wander back to my train compartment and meet up with some of our team who are in between the trains cars. Some folks are getting some air and others are stretching. I hang with them for a while and watch the beautiful scenery go by. Southern Japan has some of the most magnificent looking camping and fishing areas that I have ever seen.
For more of my Japan adventure, read part 3.
by Paul Yanuziello
Copyright © 2020 Paul Yanuziello, All rights reserved.