One thing that has struck me in visiting rural towns in Japan is how the graveyards don’t have fences. In fact, superstitious sort that I am, it really freaked me out. However, a realization relieved me of my panic: there aren’t any bodies in there. You can’t have a rise of the undead when there are no bodies.
Now I’m aware that you could still end up with a zombie apocalypse here, of course. After all, most detailings of such an event emphasize its rise among the living, and there are certainly enough living people here. People live pretty close together as well, even in rural areas. But they also tend to be pretty interconnected because of this. The towns have daily announcements that are broadcasted by loudspeaker, and I find it hard to believe a murderer who was as yet not caught would escape those announcements. Though I will say if you got stuck on a train car with a zombie I wouldn’t like your chances.
In addition there is security everywhere in Japan. I had to show my passport just to drive into the airport, much less to fly out. It was honestly really disorienting at the time, and totally unexpected. I mean some of the people with me on that bus were almost certainly Japanese citizens taking domestic flights, and I was just trying to get on a train.
So despite the inherent vector issues, I think Japan would probably be quicker to respond to patient Z than most of us.
Since I started letting my plans about this trip, people have been calling it a vacation. It never felt like that to me. I guess it’s one of those call-it-what-you-want things, but to me vacation has always signified frivolity on some level. I felt like I had some higher purpose to what I was doing. If I wanted a vacation I would have gone to Florida to lay on the beach. I wanted an experience. I wanted to meet myself.
It’s still early to do too much introspection in that regard. But Nozawaonsen is a good place for it. It’s a peaceful ghost town, a snow town but all the snow gone and just me here. I’m like a stray cat blown in from the mountains. The streets are empty but water flows through them. I slink between streams silently.
I found a shop today, searching desperately for any kind of food. I was looking for a grocery store, but I found the shop. An old man and woman were sitting inside. They welcomed me and had me way with them. It was unexpected. I picked through bamboo shoots and other vegetables, asking for their names. One strange pickled stalk was nozawana, “from Nozawa”. They called the mushrooms kinnoko, “children of the trees”. We wove wicker rings and they put them in a bag and gave them to me.
Here there are flowers everywhere. I’ve taken pictures of the prettiest ones. So many of them are unrecognizable. The frogs sing at night and the carved faces of strange gods stare from doorways. The mountains loom green and remind me of home. I feel like I can relax. Nothing to see or do. Just trees and flowers and water and sunshine. I go to the hot springs tomorrow. I probably could have gone today but I wasn’t ready.
So I guess it is a sort of vacation after all.
This may be the last time I have wifi but I will try to keep you updated. After this, if you care to follow on a map, I will be staying at a ryokan for one day. Then I will be in Shizuoka for one night. After that I will be with Miho in the Kansai area before we set off on a brief road trip south.
Well by the time this is posted it will probably be the end of my stay in Tokyo. I can’t say I will be disappointed, not that I haven’t seen some amazing things here. I will be posting pictures whenever I finally get Internet on my phone. Right now I’m using my limited store of purchased megabytes to bring you an update.
I’ve never been one for big cities as you may be aware, fair reader, but I greatly love two things about them: museums and food. I freaking love museums. And food. The latter of these loves, at least, I was prepared to let go of. Everything I’d heard talked about the food desert that is Japan as experienced by vegetarians. It’s like starving and staring at a set of plastic fruit. Really realistic plastic fruit. You know better but every time you pick a piece up you expect it to be real. Then you bite into it and promptly spit said bite into the sink.
Still, despite being prepared for my inevitable malnourishment, I was not prepared to lose my enjoyment of museums.
Perhaps that is too blanket of a statement. I still enjoy the museums somewhat. The Tokyo National Museum was great. It was also primarily artwork. I could appreciate things without know who the artist was and that was pretty cool. It’s definitely on my list of must-sees (a more comprehensive one to be posted end of trip). But yesterday Victoria and I went to the Nature and Science Museum and, while some exhibits were pretty English friendly, a great portion of them had no English whatsoever. I spent most of the time staring at taxedermied birds and kanji. Not even the name was reliably shown in English.
The exception to the rule here is the Tokyo-Edo Museum. They have made a pretty uniform attempt to show their exhibits in English as well. I still feel like I’m missing things, but it’s evident that the curators are far more interested in catering to foreigners.
I know that I am in Japan and should expect things in Japanese. Believe me, I’d normally be okay with Japanese everywhere. I just find myself frustrated, knowing that this knowledge is all around me and completely inaccessible. Whether in bookstores or in exhibits or restaurants, I miss home.
A more positive post to follow, lovelies. I have good news. (^_^)
I believe I just experienced an earthquake. It felt rather like being on a boat.
It’s currently a bit after 4 am and I’m reading a book. I woke up somewhere around 3 for some unknown reason likely related to jetlag.
Anyway, I was lying here reading when suddenly my super retro hotel room began rocking like a boat.
At first I was convinced someone somewhere was moving around and causing the floor to shake somehow, but as the shaking intensified I realized that was most certainly not the case. I can only assume that it was a shallow earthquake, the kind which often vibrates Tokyo and Narita, since I’m not dead or anything.
Anyway, I’m now going to eat a snack and nap until breakfast opens at 8. When I get wifi I will post some pictures from yesterday. Or whatever day that was.
It’s official. I am the queen of the cat nap.
I woke up yesterday about noon on the east coast of the USA. My boy and I sort of napped and puttered about until around seven or so. There was much cuddling and discussion of a potential three-way marriage to the Dalai Lama. It was a lovely day outside. We went to our favorite grilled cheese place and a movie he didn’t particularly want to see. Then we cuddled and napped some more.
At 2 pm we set out.
I will spare you the mushy details but suffice to say I boarded this plane a little teary eyed. I am now hovering over the Rocky’s preparing to descend to LAX. I’ll be posting this when I once more have reception and my ears function again. In the meantime here’s a picture.
After this it’s a four hour layover and then an eleven hour flight to Narita. Wish me luck!
Thursday was my last day of work and everyone was perfectly wonderful. They threw me a surprise party in one of the conference rooms, complete with balloons, and everyone I work closely w came. They even made a mostly vegetarian spread for me. About the time they rolled out all the presents I started crying a bit, I’ll be honest. It was just so nice of them. I took some pictures of my gifts, so here you can see just how unreasonably awesome everyone was.
Then that night I went home and cracked open a bottle of cheap champagne with some friends I haven’t seen in a while to celebrate and went to bed with my boy who’s been so amazingly supportive through all of this. And the next day I cried all over him for about an hour.
I’m going to miss him so much.
I know it’s not for all that long but the idea of leaving him is suddenly terrifying. I want him to come with me. I want to stay.
But I have to go. I’ve never needed to do something so much. Japan is a dream I’ve had for years, one I’ve struggled towards for a long time. My friend Meghan, who is probably one of the best friends I’ve ever had, wrote me a letter a few weeks ago. It meant a lot, not only because it’s been so long since we spoke, but because she acknowledged what so few people understand about what this trip means to me. It’s not just a vacation or a galavanting – it’s a decision that I know will shape my life in ways I haven’t foreseen yet. When I come back from Japan, I won’t be the person who left.
And maybe that’s what makes me so scared.