Published: December 22nd 2006November 21st 2006
The search for that winning picture postcard view of Fuji is something the Japanese take extremely seriously. Autumn or Spring is the ideal time when the leaves are tunring red or the cherry blossom is... blossoming. Both the blossoming of the cherry trees and the turning of the leaves (known as Momigi) are followed with great interest in Japan. They have daily weather style reports on TV about where to find the best Cherry Blossom or Momigi.
The somewhat ignorant, probably hideously offensive but ultimately pretty funny jibe goes: "you're never alone with schizophrenia". If that is the case then I can conclude that it is possible to come close to experiencing living with this unfortunate mental disorder by travelling in Japan. The Japanese really seem to struggle with the idea of solitude.
They live in houses where the walls are so thin that as they lie in bed doing the crossword, they can ask their neighbour two doors down for help with seven across. When did paper walls ever seem like a good idea? Sure, they look pretty and are easy to replace; but lets be honest, you're less likely to put your big toe through a good old plaster and brickwork number. I mean it's all getting a bit ridiculous when you have a whole branch of the hotel/sex industry cashing in on unfortunate building techniques by offering couples the opportunity of a bit of nookie in a place where they're less likely to frighten the kids. But at those prices (they charge by the hour), quality
time must be short and to the point in Japan. Is it just a coincidence that the birth
Main Hall, Todai-ji Temple, Nara
Background: The largest wooden building in the world.
Foreground: The most wooden pose in the world.
Fact for the Day: This is the 1709 rebuild after a fire destroyed the original which was built in 751. The original wooden building was 30% larger!
rate in the country is at an all time low while the price of a sound proofed hotel room is at its highest?
They bathe in communal baths. And why the hell not? Thanks to paper walls, they're virtually sleeping with their neighbours/family, so why not jump in the tub with them as well? Get it all out in the open - that's what I say. Your working relationship with your boss is bound to be improved if you know that when he goes to those meetings in his immaculately pressed Gucci suit, he's sitting down on a spotty arse bearing a large purple birthmark in the shape of a silohuetted Che Guevara.
They travel together - with as many of their friends as they can squeeze into a 32 seater coach. But it's not so much the size of the groups that separates these coach parties from their Western counterparts. I mean, we get the same size of group, consisting of roughly the same demographic holding up the traffic on the single lane and winding roads of the West coast of Scotland. At some depot in Leeds they pack in as many Yorkshire pensioners and loud, heavy,
One Big Buddha
A statue of the Buddha Vairocana (Daibutsu in Japanese) housed within the Main Hall at Todai-ji. As you can see - its massive. Hence the need for the largest wooden building in the world. Your average B&Q garden shed just wouldn't have cut it.
tartan-clad, ancestor-hunting Americans as the suspension will take. What makes the Japanese tour groups different is a change that takes place on the bus somewhere between the point they board it and the point they get off it. Whether there is some form of hypnosis that takes place on the bus or whether a pack mentality begins to consume them I'm unsure; but once that coach reaches its destination, the mild mannered, aging individual Japanese persons who originally boarded the coach emerge uncompromising, unrelenting and as one. Red flags for bulls - tour guide flags for Japanese tourists. Get in their way; dare to stand in their path and prepare to be jostled, elbowed and shoved.
At every major tourist site we have been too there has been at least one occasion where an old lady (usually tiny, wearng a rimmed hat and a face mask - more on that later) has managed to bug the hell out of one of us by either pushing us out the way to get to a photo opportunity or stuck an elbow in if we threated to obscure her view. Let me tell you that these boney old coots have pretty damn
Is that a Fact?
Right, I used up all my facts on the last few pictures and cannae remember a thing about this guy. I seem to recall that he and the equally ugly bloke on the other side of the Daibutsu are guards, scaring away evil spirits. But I could be making that up.
sharp elbows which are at a height designed to cause most damage.
At Himeji castle I was stood at an exhibit reading the blurb on the board - it was a long bit of blurb... not dis-similar to the length of this blog but on the much more interesting subject of the design of weapons racks in the 13th century. Anyway, as I stood there a tour group arrived led by a bolshy little man with a flag. People with flags are notoriously self-important because they know people are paying attention to them and few people find themselves holding a flag by accident. This squat little turd was no exception. He was leading a trail of fifteen people who all "oooo"ed at the same time (please refer to scene in Toy Story: "the claw is my master" for full understanding of Japanese tour group sound effects - believe me when I tell you that Japanese tour groups one redeeming and hilarious feature is their unfailing "claw is my master" oooooing). This obnoxious little twirp backed his way towards the exhibit while verbally farting into his microphone. People with flags AND microphones are among my least favourite people in existence.
This is what my Dad looked like when I broke a valuable plate playing football in the living room. I was scared, but remember wondering why he was wearing that silly head gear...
It is attention seeking of the highest order. So he checked behind himself - looked right at me and continued reversing. Well, it was a big blurb and I'm not the fastest of readers - words have to drop out before others can squeeze in. I returned to my reading expecting him to stop. He didn't. He completely ignored me and backed up until he stood on my toe. Did he apologise? No. He kept going. His arse and hips pushed at my leg as I tried to free my foot from underneath his. The little bastard just kept moving until he had knocked me clear of the entire exhibit!
I take no joy in telling you that; and I say this without wanting to sound heartless and cruel, Vikki and I have both, on at least one occasion (the above being a prime example) taken to shoving back. The strange thing is, and I say this as a person with the greatest respect for my elders etc. etc., there is a certain amount of pleasure to be taken from placing your hand flat between the shoulder blades of a little shoving tour grouper and propelling him/her forward. Our
Baby Stuck in Todai-ji Temple Pillar!
Accoring to Buddhist scripture, this baby has been stuck in here since the year 790. It is said that anybody who can pull him out will be granted years of nappy changing and the joy of watching it go through those difficult teenage years.
superior size and the added enthusiasm which we put into each carefully aimed push tends to lead to a skittle effect through the tour groups. We are thinking of marketing this as a sport - it is actually highly satisfying. The object of the game is simply puerille revenge and points are scored for the number of groupers displaced with a huge bonus for identifying and "taking out" annoying flag waving, microphone abusers.
There are more photos below