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Japan Trip, April and May 1998


This is a somewhat cut/censored version of the notes and journal I maintained during the trip. Only Megan has read some of it, and it will probably remain that way. Really, the stuff I cut is mostly about the number of times I ate at McD's and me complaining about things. What follows, has only a bit if that and some of the more, hopefully,  interesting stuff of when and where I went in Japan.   Please follow the links to information about the item.  I took over 1000 photos and they are on display, at least 400 are, in the section on Towns and Cities.


But before we begin,

The Cast:

Richard  (the writer of this page and explorer of Japan)
Megan  (Richard's occasional travelling companion, translator, landlord and, of course, best female friend)
Dennis  (he wasn't on the trip, but he was Megan's Financee at the time I was in Japan, I mention him so people don't get the wrong idea about Megan and I, we are like brother and sister, without the fighting)
Glenn (landlord in Mobara and Barry's brother)
Barry  (he wasn't on trip, but is my best male friend, that's how come I stayed at his brother's place)
Kanako  (Megan's friend in Osaka and our tour guide while we where in Osaka, her fiancee is Robert, a Yank)
Kanako's family  (Mother, father and brother)
Sharon (the other English teacher in Karuizawa, from England, near where some of my family lives)
Chika, Yumi & Irene  (Pretty students in some of Megan's classes)
Yoshi & Kenko  (Two of Megan's male students)
Mr. Konuma  (the teacher from Megan's class, I forget his name just now)
Akiko  (very pretty girl Megan and I met on a train)
Maiko  (another pretty girl I met on a train, I met a lot of pretty girls on the train, but I only really remember three of them, Chika was the other, see four lines up)
Conductors  (well there are many here, I asked for a lot of directions)
Serving girls at McD's  (again, I went to McD's a lot, but MosBurger is much better, for the burgers, not necessarily for the serving girls)

And some others I have probably forgotten....

Note: In the decade since this page was first written, most of the links below have been broken. My apologies, but I have not fixed them, you can use search engine if need be.


I arrived in Narita (an airport and city near Tokyo), Japan on April 19th, after an 11 hour flight from Toronto (Pearson Airport), with a connection in Vancouver (airport).  Funny enough, in Toronto I met Professor Ujimoto from the University of Guelph (and the University of Waterloo) who I'd taken a course with, Contemporary Japanese Society(Soc250).  He was on his way to Thailand and we were on the same flight, though he was in Business Class and I in Economy (not that I minded, the ticket was free after all).   We were on Canadian Airlines.

I met Megan just outside the custom's gate and proceeded to change some Canadian dollars into Japan Yen. From there, we went and I picked up my Japan Rail Pass. I, feeling hungry, then went to get something to eat, but decided against it, as I didn't know what the foods were.

We took the Kasai Skyliner, which on route to Ueno, I saw wild Bamboo for the first time. We had to hike to the Shinkansen station, about ten minutes away underground. I picked up some lunch from a Bakery, outside a very scary washroom (my first experience with Japanese style toilets). The Shinkansen took about an hour to get to Karuizawa, (Nagano Prefecture)station (inside Karuizawa station).  As we were waiting to disembark the train, a local asked Megan about the tags on my back, as one was Vancouver. He thought we were on our honeymoon.  He was very embarrassed when Megan told him I was her brother. The train attendant, who speaks very good English, was standing behind him, and she also laughed. As we exited the station, we met Sharon, the Assistant English Teacher from the junior high school in town.

We took a taxi to Megan's house, it was dark at this point. I didn't have much jet lag, but was rather tired from being up so long (or may be that's what jet lag is??). I went to sleep at 11:pm, after Megan had showed me around the house and how to use the funky Japanese gadgets.



April 20th

I woke up at 7:30 am, not really very tired after a good nights sleep. I watched television for a few hours after Megan left for work. At 11:am I went to the grocery store for lunch and then headed into town. The grocery store is the place I made my first cultural mistake. I didn't know I was supposed to put my money in the tray and wait for it to be put in it, instead of handing to the person. I initially wanted to walk to Sando-yama to have lunch, but I ended up going through the Ginza area and up the hill to Usui Pass Nature Walk.

I began to eat lunch on the side of a road. I didn't have a single car or truck pass me while I was walking up, but as soon as I sat down to eat on the side of the road, it became like a highway. I met an American, Cliff, who's from California and works at a local hotel. We chatted and walked up to the top of the lookout with him. The walk was about one hour and twenty minutes long and we walked into Gunma prefecture by mistake, having walked off the trail. At the top of the mountain(which one?), the view of the mountains was very nice. The leaves had not come out at this point in spring. I took a picture for a young couple, there were a few on the top of the hill, having driven up. With the girl wobbling on nine centimeter heels, there was no way they would have been able to walk up the path.

I left Cliff at the Poet's Monument and walked a bit up the hill on the other side. I went to the Kumano Shrine, which was completely deserted. I was there three minutes and on the way out, I saw a five foot snake on the stairs (he wasn't there when I went up them a few minutes earlier). I started back down the hill and asked someone for directions. He told me Karuizawa was 1700 km along the road to the left. I repeated what he said and corrected himself that it was 1700 meters. I went about that far and found a dirt track, deciding I should walk on and that a dirt track just couldn't be a road into town. I walked on and found another small track, I asked someone, the third car that had past me in half an hour, which way was faster. He didn't know, so I just started to walk down the hill. By now my feet hurt me very much. I can to a fork in the road, stopped, and got out my dictionary to try to figure out the road signs. The couple I'd asked up the hill were now traveling down and the gentleman offered me a lift. I had to use a little tray under my feet for my boots. He stopped to pick something off the trees. I was trying to speak with his wife, using the conversational book and dictionary. Her name was Shiyoda, that was pretty much all I could figure out.

They ended up driving me down the hill and through the town. I was dropped off just after the high school. I gave them each an Ajax pin. When I got home (well Megan's home, but mine also for a month), I was very tired. I took my boots off, and Megan noticed some blood on my one toe. I soaked my very sore feet in cold water. My toe nail had cut into the side of another toe, despite the toe nail being short. I rested for a while before we set off to the bookstore, where I picked up two gardening magazines (in Japanese, but of British origin) and we looked at the music section. After renting two videos, we went to the grocery store to pick up supper. We later planned on were and when to do things on my trip.

Television show on tonight about the sexual harassment of airline attendants. The women's voices were disguised and their faces obsecured. But considering it was a show about sexual harassment, I'm not really sure it was appropriate for them to concentrate on the women's legs and their short skirts;-)



April 21st

The lead item on the news today, is about the introduction of self-serve petrol stations in Japan. These are extremely, extremely rare. Today was a rather slow one for me, as my legs were very sore from yesterday's walk, and my feet are rather numb. On the way back from the grocery store, I met some primary school kids outside Megan's house. They said `hello' and giggled when I said `Konnichi wa'.

After school, Megan and I went for a walk to the duck pond, Kumoba Pond. There are many nice properties around there. There is some very nice moss cover on stone structures. The pond was lovely, with beautiful houses around it and a wonderful stone wall on the road at the head of the pond.



April 22nd

There was an Earthquake down near Osaka/Kyoto (a 4 on Japanese scale). It was a 2 in Karuizawa, but I didn't notice anything. Didn't do much, as me feet and legs are still sore. When I did go out, I cut my foot again. Since its two days till we go away, I will have to do better to stay off them. Went to the do-it-yourself shop down near Naka-Karuizawa station for some bits and pieces. Down there, on the bridge by the store, is a nice view of Asama-yama (a few photos from someone, some good shots of the volcano). On the way back, I took some pictures of trees in people's yards. The people were very gracious about it.

I rode the bike to Burger King for dinner, but it closed at 5:pm and I got there are at 5:30 pm. So I went to McDonald's. Very tasty, better burgers than Canada. I met Sharon on the way back home. She came back with me and I gave her the custard and oatmeal I'd brought over for her (she's English and its hard to find and expensive in Japan).



April 23rd

Found out this morning that each box of Frosted Flakes is good for three breakfasts. So I had to go and get more. Went to the do-it center again and to 7-eleven. It was lightly drizzling.

I met Megan's neighbour on my way to met Megan at Naka-Karuizawa station (traffic cams from that part of town 12).  She is this lovely, short old lady (Japanese), who is always smiling. I tried to tell her I was Megan's friend. I said I spoke very little Japanese, then I wrote in the dirt with a rock the Chinese character for friend, which I think she understood. Hopefully Megan will explain later. I rode the bicycle to the station. We got the train, almost late, with several of Megan's students. One of them, Chika, is very attractive, and I was told, very good at English and is on the University bound track. Megan asked the students, after Chika had left, if they knew the character I had written earlier. The knew only the last character. What I might have written, could mean, powerful friend.

When we got to Ueda(1)station(2), after one connection, we went to the JR travel office so Megan could get her train pass for our trip down south. I went off to get dinner from McDonald's. After waiting in the office for Megan to finish, and thinking it was too late to get the next train, I went and sat outside to eat. A minute later, and partially through my burger, Megan came running out thinking we could get the train. We missed it and went back to the travel agents, finishing dinner after Meg had gotten her ticker. We had to transfer trains and Meg picked up a noodle dish from a vendor. While she was eating, some of her students came into the station, by train. We chatted briefly with them, one of whom thought I was Dennis. She and a friend sang the wedding march. Her friend told her I was Megan's brother and that she was an idiot, she covered her face with her hands and ran off. They then had to rush to get their connecting train. Turned out, we were on the wrong platform and had to rush over to the other one to get our train.

Megan took the bike home, as she had her Japanese lessons. I walked the 20 minutes home, in the little rain. I said `Hello' to her tutor when I got home. She knew the characters I had written and said that an older Japanese person would most likely understand what I had meant.



April 24th

Didn't do too much today.  Dennis called and I chatted to him for a while before leaving so he and Megan could talk.  I told him that Megan never stopped talking about him and how I was sick of it and ready to leave.  Megan got mad, playfully, and he knew I was somewhat joking.  Megan and I went to the Do-it-Center and picked up some cheap umbrellas, which were useful, as it was raining on the way back.  I also discovered how cheap film can be in Japan, purcahasing  24 exposure, 400 speed 3 roll pack for 580 yen, about $6 CND.   The guy next door was burning his garbage (a common Japanese practise) and I was fretting somewhat about my laundry hanging outside.

SMAP, Luna Sea, Speed and Glay were on one music show tonite, very good.  While packing, I went through the Lonely Planet guide book and mapped out where were to go.  We've decided to skip Nara, as we can't think why we wanted to go there in the first place.


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