Visiting Japan, what to expect?
I first learnt about Japan at the age of 15 watching a TV show called Shogan with my Uncle.
The TV show was about a Dutch sailor who had been ship recked in 16th Japan, based upon a person who was called William Adams to the Japanese he is called Miura Anjin, he is in fact an English navigator who in 1600 was a first of an English person to set foot in Japan.
William Adams settles he in Japan becomes an advisor to the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu he also becomes a Samurai. Adams now has great influence to improving Japanese trading between UK and Neverland’s. At this time in Japan it was normal to have no foreign visitors.
William Adams born Gillingham Kent 1564
Died Hirado Nagasaki 1620 (aged 55)
I have not found out the reason for the death of William Adams it is probably his age then aged 55 is quite an old age, but in fact if you think about it Adams had died a long time ago his UK wife and child in Kent were told or presumed he was dead.
The Shogun Ieyasu had forbidden Adams to leave Japan, the Shogun made Adams name dead and renamed him Miura Anjin and now Adams reborn Miura becomes a Samurai.
Now a Samurai, Adams is allowed to marry a noble Samurai’s daughter Oyuki daughter of Magome Kageyu. This mainly all came about as the Shogun Ieyasu requested Adams to build a 80 tons ship, Adams shot to status in Japan and was allowed many privileges.
Adams who is now called Miura has a son and daughter with Oyuki, when Miura passes away at 55 years old his son builds a monument for his father which can still be seen today in YOKOSUKA (TSUKAYAMA PARK.
During the TV Series Shogun I became more interested in the culture compared to the Uk Japan appears to have many more customs and more polite.
I asked more about Japan and my Uncle explain his time in south Japan during WW2 he been living on the south islands of Japan where he worked as a fisherman but was actually counting the amount of planes ships movements of Japan and radioing back the information to UK.
My Uncle explained the small island and how lovely the people were and that he wished to return one day and visit the area. Life their was very simple relaxed weather great people happy and everyone got one with each other a far cry from his home town Abergavenny in Wales Uk where the rain fell side ways and the sky’s can be very dark during 6 months of the year.
But one fateful day while out fishing around the small islands of Japan he and his army mates were caught by the local patrol boat and taken back to their camp where the radio had been discovered and then the night mare began, marching some 2,000 miles into mainland trough sweat dripping bamboo jungle to a place where he carry coal down all day.
I drew an image from my mind a year back of the story my Uncle told me of this experience while in Japan.
WW2 south Japan, my uncle tells me a story I am aged 15 and now many years later I decide to paint the idea that sat in my head all these years.
Uncle John sitting in a fishing boat sending back info about Japans movements of boats, upon returning to the island he staying on he captured by the Japanese as they come across his radio in his hut.
Now marching 2,000 miles north into mainland Japan, he meets many people with many a story to tell me. There march is to take them to an area where they have to climb a 500 ft hill and then fill there bag with coal total weight of the bag is now 110 Lbs or 49 Kg. During the heat of the day they walk down the path with the coal and back up again.
At night in Japan the heat very humid and not a dry heat, my Uncle kept inside a little hut with 15 other men. The hut size is 10 ft 15 ft the heat inside is unbearable. One prisoner asked the guard outside can they one at a time lay on the tracks to get the benefits of the cold steel and reduce the heat from there bodies. The guard amazingly says yes.
The guard just a very young man, like many a person in the front lines are. My Uncle watches the man go outside in a full moon and he lays down on the tracks. The train approaches slowly and cuts the man into three parts.
Uncle John said the man made no efforts to move or cry out it was as if the idea of going to the tracks was a form of suicide to be relieved from the torture of life.
The guard rushed over and from the small hut Uncle John could see the guards trying to push the body back together.
The next morning the guard who allowed this to happen was presented in front of the Samurai who ripped off part of his jacket and said you are now to work and live like the enemy. The soldier who had been so kind now suffered to the hands of the people he was born to.
Zoom forwards to 2008
I am now in Nepal and meet a lady during my travels she from Japan and before I knew it I was in Japan, my first experience was maybe too much the period too long.
Why ? well in 2009 North Japan Sapporo I found three people that spoke english a librarian lady that had lived in California, a canadian man working for a bank and one visiting family from Singapore when in Toya at the hot baths.
As he put it to me in 10 years they been here visiting and never seen or spoken to an english person, he said if you speak no Japanese it must be impossible to even get on a train or under ground the preferred method of transport in say Sapporo.
Every symbol was in Klingon no other language was available so just getting on a tube which is all automated you do need to be able to buy the ticket and press the correct order of buttons and get off at the right place. It is not say like traveling through Europe which is 90 % easier for communication, Japan after all had an isolation policy from 1641 to 1853, the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan enforced a policy which it called kaikin.
The area changed now people visiting north Japan Hokkaido, many Australian people come to visit for skiing in the area of Niseko and buy up properties the locals complain of house price increase and rudeness.
I best explain some areas like in the UK we might have a statement in a paper this space station that is going to be built is the same price as a four bedroom house, we are obsessed with monetary values. Japanese if you buy say a flat in main town Sapporo you do not talk about the property price they do not increase each year by 10k like in Brighton.
People prefer talking about food avoiding confrontation enjoying life.
A simple observation I experienced was while in January 2011 town centre of Sapporo waiting at a crossing the red light for not to cross was on.
Maybe about 80 people were waiting no cars were coming and two snow boarders walked across against the lights, a taxi on the other side turned left towards the two snow boarders.
Meanwhile all Japanese people remained on the pavement waiting for the green man to walk. The taxi driver actually shouted out from his window at the two snow boarders, something you would not see in Sapporo Japan. I asked my wife what was that all about ?
My wife explained the taxi driver would be held accountable if he caused injuries to the two walkers yet at the same time only a western person would do such a foolish thing cross when lights are red.
Now lights green I walked across with the road with other 80 or so people in a relaxed pace, I saw the two dudes introduced myself, they were happy to meet another english speaking person and I asked why they did not wait?
They seemed surprised at my question, they said they told the taxi man where he could go and mainly thought they were right and he was wrong.
Here was my first insight to how people in Japan think, rather than cause anger or stress to another human.
Japanese do the opposite, you learn in kinder garden for an example children aged 5 are shown by role play how your actions will effect another person by acting out the role so you can first think about the other persons feelings rather than charge into a situation.
The snow boarders dudes could not see this point of view had no understanding of another person point of view they considered the people waiting to be odd and the taxi man a bad driver.
To me the snow boarders dudes came across as arrogant with attitude, they were people that go against the waves not flow with the waves. The more I visted Japan the more i warm to their ideas and cultures.
I often hear from friends in Brighton must be busy in Japan I have seen a show on Tv looks mad in Tokyo, crazy mad, i respond per square foot in Brighton Tokyo has more room.
Example pavements in Brighton are 3 feet max across sign posts implanted all the way down the pavement with car doors opening into the pavement.
In Japan you would not put a pavement next to a road they considered this a place of unease and 3 feet pavement is too small to use so no in fact Brighton has less walk space per foot than the biggest city in Japan.
Image of Brighton town centre where taxi drivers may driver with care but mainly for predestines often a hang out for street drinkers and beggars. In Japan why are their no street drinkers or beggars I not seen any in my travels. The answer simple the honour you are born with and taught stays with you.
As a friend said to me in Nepal while I was traveling.
You would expect to have beggars in Nepal, I agreed with him, he then asked me beggars in Uk ?
I asked what he meant by this ? his reply was quite simple their is enough work to have enough income to eat have shelter if you need help for teeth etc on a low wage your have help.
Brighton sea front 9am in month of June.
Sunday morning Brighton month August 10 am 3 feet of pavement 50 % taken up and its not even busy yet.
Kathmandu Nepal Saturday morning 10am beggar asking for food or money.
Image of Nepal workers 8 am their moving rocks that have fallen onto the road side which has stopped all traffic mean while in the Uk train strikes by southern rail are still in place.
Notice the happy smiling faces of the workers they sleep here under the under cliff at night, sing songs under an open fire drink local hootch paid one dollar a day, work conditions terrible but they work as a team and are happy with what they have one week on and one week off.
I have yet to see a beggar in Sapporo maybe I not looking hard enough, but I feel comfortable in saying from my view Japan same as Nepal has something the UK forgotten called family support working it out together rather than turn to the bottle or drugs blaming someone else.
Life is but a moment to flourish like a flower full of beauty and spirit.
For me this is how I would see Japanese people as alien as it will be to most that visit Japan. Once you become used to the way Japanese people think and inter react life feels more relaxed.
Simple food in Japan
It was said to me recently if you wish to have a healthy diet eat Japanese food well they seem to eat loads but in fact all they do is eat often but low fat diet.
If you take say a USA or UK food we tend to go to a super market all is in plastic bags, we become to accept this as normal environment of none fresh foods picked fresh and then frozen or deep fried and now six months old. Did you know most of the food we consume is not fresh and kept in a deep freezer and six months old ! Go to your local green grozer and local butcher support local people and local produce make it so captain, but avoid the super markets for cheap food ever wonder why the average persons weight was
If I go back to Nepal quickly, once I return to the UK it was January 2009 and I was in a super market Asda I held a tomato in my hand it looked red and I moved it towards my basket it then changed colour to an orange colour. I looked upwards and saw a kind of blue type light i guess it changed the colour and made the tomato look deep vibrant red.
All around me people were in a hurry busy with their day, i was just relaxed and chilled a voice behind me said what are you doing Rob with that tomato, I turned and a friend Luke was looked puzzled.
I showed Luke how the tomato red under the light and now pale orange when moved away towards my basket and was basically not fresh in fact it felt like a rubber ball.
Japan if its not fresh your out of business in 24 hrs people really look forwards to their food from the simple dish to the complex dish if it is not fresh and yummy your fail as a business.
The simpless take away cafe’s prides itself on perfection they see you smile and hear you say the magic words Oishii everyone happy.
How fresh is fresh well I have had sushi in Japan a lot and I have some in UK, recently I made an order and collected the food later went back and asked do you put the food in a fridge ? of course they said health and safety so basically it is not fresh and been in the fridge for hrs.
To me now after eating plenty of food in Japan I have taste buds that can sense fresh the sushi here in Uk more cardboard kind of taste from the take away restaurant in Brighton compared to the order on line delivered to your home in Japan.
Some easy to learn errors to avoid when using chop sticks, they come in easy to use and pro chops sticks, for me I never had an issue I am ambidexterity.
However chop sticks are also used to pick up a piece of the bone at a funeral once the body cremated and then chop sticks placed into the ashes.
You never stick your chop sticks into food when eating as it reminds all of a funeral.
Easy one to remember you simply place the chop sticks on your chop stick rest next to your plate and never into the food as it look very bad manners indeed.
Traveling around Sapporo can I go camping back packing ?
Image below December out skirts of Sapporo city.
Well some areas to consider first, think of Sapporo as the most modern city you have ever been to.
1.9 million people live here in an area of 1,121.12 km2 it looks packed in the image below. But in fact the city built to very modern standards and all traffic and people flow with ease.
Underground tubes, trains flows smoothly, quietly no bumps no noise with wide easy access for all including wheel chair people.
Everyone uses the tube so simple and quick nice relaxed wi fi works under ground no grinding metal wheels to steel rails thats so last century who on earth would still have that type of old hat construction ?
Above ground trams are used in certain areas, buses get on have the money ready pay at the other end.
So the city Sapporo has it all hot baths and oh boy roof top terraces outside in minus 10 c during winter times and your sitting in a hot tub wonderful, underground shopping area that are bigger than you can imagine.
Takes ah hour or so walk the shopping area without stopping, skiing powered snow just a 20 mins ride away so easy and if your up to it the sky jump its big.
Spring and summer is the best time to visit Hokkaido in my view, summer here warm August very hot maybe too hot for some.
Your be able to experience the true wonderful nature of the area its big area to visit Hokkaido think Canada style open big areas then your about their.
Typical food in Sapporo city we visit a meat eating restaurant, not for a vegitarian person the method is press your buzzer a person arrives takes your order 321 and drinks arrive allow maybe 4 minutes and food arrives. You never leave the table you are the customer you are expected to enjoy no queuing at the bar.
This is the equivalent to a pub in UK, local food after work on a Friday evening service with a smile and your to enjoy the time their.
Sapporo has always been a great places to have superb food but is still a young city.
Image below is what it looked like so many years ago in 1872, i think I am correct in saying this was the main high street of the day back then in 1872 Sapporo.
Sapporo city 2017 looks more modern and 3 million people live here now.
A favourite to try is Ramon a little simple affair nothing to fancy.
If you asked me to compare the style I say quick snack, in this image just by the fish market in Sapporo, Sundays your find this little place busy busy and packed by 11 am.
The way they work here is go inside and pay at a machine and take your ticket, you have already made your choices of food and drinks, but be aware the machine all in Japanese so have a friend with you to explain. Also worth while pointing out that in Sapporo North Japan 99 % of people speak only one language Japanese.
Once you have your self seated at high seat at the bar, hand over your tickets and food is made in front of you, basically you have noodles very thick and served in a sauces of your choice. It sounds rather simple to a western persons tastes, however your not be disappointed it is mind blowing on your taste buds, you also feel so energised afterwards.
Your make a payment at the machine as seen in the image below not all Ramon home run outfits work like this but all require cash and not many credit cards used.
The idea is once you finished eating you leave to allow the next person to take your seat, the whole affair around 30 minutes turn around. I quite like these cafe’s at first I was little rushed but once your into the groove and understand the process it is rather fun, inside warm and toasty atmoshpere friendly and all are very happy. The food a wonderful taste and if you ever noticed a Japanese person eating in silence with their heads down your might wonder why.
Took me a while to understand this over a period of 7 years, its very simple their very much into their food, I go as far as to say the Japanese love their food more than the French, in fact once you pick up the local language, you cannot help but smile if a conversation starts up they already taking about their next meal !