Today we have a day of travelling to the town of Kanazawa, which is on the north coast of Honshu about 400 kilometres north of Tokyo.
You can set the second hand on your watch by the public transport here. We get on the bus and it leaves within a second of the clock ticking over to the scheduled departure time, and the same happens with the bullet trains.
As we stand on the station platform, we watch as a bullet train comes hurtling through. "Watch" is probably too strong a word. If you blinked you’d miss it. It is going ridiculously fast. If a bullet train isn’t stopping at station, it looks like they make sure that no one is on that particular platform as it goes flying past. We suspect that this is to make sure that no one gets sucked into the vortex it creates as it charges past. Issy says she wonders what would happen if a bullet train got derailed. It certainly wouldn’t be pretty. I wonder if they slow down during earthquakes.
We pass through Nagano, where the Winter Olympics were held in 1998. We seem to spend about half the time
we're on the train in tunnels, but when we’re not in tunnels the views of the snow capped mountains are stunning. It doesn’t look like too much land is wasted here; every square millimetre seems to be occupied by either houses or rice paddies.
I take the time sitting on the train to read up on some things that have surprised me about Japan since we’ve been here.
They drive on the left hand side of the road in Japan, and Japan is one of only about three countries in the world that weren’t British colonies where this is the case. It seems that when the samurai ran Japan between 1603 and 1868 they got everyone to walk on the left hand side of the road. There were apparently at least two good reasons for this. The samurai all wore their swords on the left so that they could grab them more easily with their dominant right hands. This meant that if a samurai walked on the left his sword would be further away from anyone coming towards him who might want to grab it and use it to slice him into small pieces. The second reason was
that if you walked on the left, you could swing your dominant right fist more easily at someone coming towards you. It sounds like the road toll might have been quite high here even before there were any cars. The concept of travelling on the left was then reinforced when the Japanese got the British to help them when they started building railways in the 1870s. The British trains all ran on the left, so they designed the rail system so that the Japanese trains did too.
Japan is one of only a handful of developed countries in the world that doesn’t have daylight saving. This became blatantly obvious to us the morning after we arrived, when we left the curtains open and the sun came blazing in to wake us up at 4.30am. It currently then gets dark again at about 6pm. It‘s not all that clear exactly why Japan doesn’t have daylight saving. The Americans implemented it when they occupied Japan after the end of World War II, but it was then abolished as soon as the Americans left. One theory is that it hasn’t been reintroduced because no one wants to be reminded that the Americans
were only here because Japan lost the war. The other prominent theory is that Japanese people would find it too confusing. I’m not sure that that theory’s got a lot of credibility. The Japanese people don’t seem to get too confused when they’re making most of the world’s cars and TVs, so I’m pretty sure they could cope with changing one digit on their clocks twice a year. There‘s a lot of debate online about the pros and cons of daylight saving. The people against it can’t understand why people don’t just get up and go to bed earlier if they want more daylight. Unlike in our own dear Queensland, where they don’t have daylight saving either, at least the arguments against it here don’t seem to include anything about it confusing the cows or making your curtains fade.
If you see a map in the street in Japan showing you where you are and where everything else is around you, north is never pointing up the page. It seems instead to be pointing in any apparently random direction other than up the page. I’ve found this very confusing. Issy says that she thinks that the maps show north
pointing in the direction it would be if you were standing right in front of the map. She says that this is a really good idea, because the first thing any females of the species need to do when they’re trying to read a map is to turn it around so that it’s pointing in the direction they want to go. She says that you can’t do this if the map is stuck to the ground with a couple of large steel poles, so she thinks that the Japanese have come up with the perfect solution. I still think that it’s confusing, but I suppose it might become less confusing after a while if you knew that all the maps were like that. We decide that we will test Issy’s theory tomorrow.
We arrive in Kanazawa. Issy decides to rest up so I wander around on my own. I have a quick look at the very impressive Kanazawa Castle, which is right next the hotel, and then another quick wander through the cute Higashi Chaya district which is renowned for its traditional tea houses and geisha performances. I think we’ll be back for a closer look at both of
these destinations tomorrow.
Restaurants near the hotel seem to be in short supply. We try to get into a sushi restaurant but it is booked out. The only other nearby choices are a North American "cuisine" restaurant, or an Italian restaurant. We go into the Italian restaurant. As we enter, a young Japanese waitress reads a note from a script which is intended to make sure that we realise that we’re entering an Italian restaurant rather than a Japanese one. The implication seems to be that no one in their right mind would eat Italian food if there was a Japanese restaurant anywhere remotely nearby. We are the only people here. There are two pizzas to chose from on the menu - bacon, and "mixed cheeses". Both sound like they should be accompanied by a referral to a heart surgeon, but I decide that the lesser of two evils is probably the cheese, so I order that. It comes out. I think that someone forgot that this was supposed to be a pizza. All I can see and taste is a whole bunch of melted cheese with nothing underneath it. If this is a pizza, then it is a
very bad one. The waitress was right in her implication that no one in their right mind would eat here. Issy tells me that I screamed very loudly in my sleep last night and she was surprised that hotel security didn’t come banging on our door to find out what our problem was. She knows that cheese tends to make me very restless, and I think she can feel another sleepless night coming on.
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