Sunday 21 March 2010

It's the cat's meow #106

Actually, the site is called Garflied Minus Garfield. It's very funny at first but before long you realise it's a man by himself spouting non-sequitors.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Back in Osaka

And so the wheel turns full circle and I'm back where I started for a couple more days before I fly back. Tokyo gave me a bit of a shock one evening when it started snowing. I was walking back to the hotel and I looked up with a rueful smile at my bad luck. What I should've done was grab someone and demand an explanation, as the snow soon picked up and was whipped about by a pretty merciless wind. As I approached Shinjuku I was impressed by the sight of the skyscrapers disappearing up into the low cloud, their lit windows gleaming while the snow flurried around. I would've taken a photo, but my hands were two blocks of ice and refused to do anything fiddly like operate a camera or even open and close.

Monday 8 March 2010


Arrived yesterday, although the drop in temepature and driving wind and rain didn't make me feel too welcome. Tokyo's okay. Today has been hard on the feet, as I set out for Akihabara, spent ages looking at things, and then made my way back again. Tokyo definitely has that capital city vibe of "this is the place where things get done, so would you mind getting out of my way?" although Tokyo adds a "please" at the end.

Friday 5 March 2010


I arrived in Kyoto a couple of days ago and yesterday I decided to walk a mountain trail I had seen described in a book. And since I was going to walk in the mountains, I thought, I may as well walk to the start of the trail since - according to my map - that was a pleasant walk along the river. Which, indeed, it was. But it was a two hour walk along the river. Even stopping for a coffee before carrying on didn't fully recharge my batteries, but it was too late to go back now.

So I set off, not exerting myself too much and before too long - perhaps an hour and a bit - had reached the summit of the mountain - Daimonji ("large charcter", so called because during a festival a giant kanji character of the word "big" 大 is lit up on the side in fire).

So I figured I was making good time. I continued the path, making sure to always check the signs at junctions so I was heading towards the next spot on the trail. As it turned out, this too a while. And while I was expecting a steady descent, the path meandered about, going down and then - cruelly - up and with each sign it still pointed towards this place I was heading to with no indication if I was getting any closer. This went on for an hour, with my legs getting increasingly tired. If I hadn't had a compass with me to reassure myself I was always heading south, I'm sure I would've thought I was going in circles.

Finally, arrived at this place but that was cold comfort since the book assured me that after this was another hour of walking. At least for now on it was all downhill, and there were some pretty interesting little shrines dotted along the way, and a waterfall where buddhist pilgrims pray nude while standing under it. No photos of that, since there was one there disrobing as I went past and I didn't want to intrude.

Finally got back into Kyoto after four and a bit hours in the mountains and collapsed into the nearest coffee shop.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Old man in park

While out for a walk, I sat in a park for a bit of a rest and to read a book. Before long an old man had come up to me, asked if I was American, and then invited me to chat. I said okay and so we wnt back to his bench where he'd been drinking whiskey and iced tea. We then spoke (mostly in Japanese, mostly him) about his daughter (half-Phillipino, sixteen years old, which means he must've been about fifty or sixty when she was born, so well done to him) and how the Japanese are happy people, and his job as some kind of agent who works to solve disputes between companies. At one point he started whispering and I get the impression he was telling me a terrible secret. I didn't undserstand a word of it, apart from someone going to prison for ten years. Possibly him.

He then pointed to his bicycle and explained he didn't live in Osaka, but only came in to by instant noodles. I have a hard time imagining any town in Japan that doesn't sell noodles locally, but I didn't ask for details.

At one point, he said he was just going to the toilet, so I said okay. Although the were some public lavatories in the park not far from us, he just walked a little distance away and started pissing against some bushes! I wasn't sure where to look (although "not at him" was the obvious first choice) and tried to pretend that nothing weird was happening.

Monday 1 March 2010

The Takedao Tunnels

One of the things high on my list of things to do was to visit the Takedao Tunnels. I'd read about them and found it interesting that a disused railway had been turned into a nature trail, despite the presence of some very l0ng, dark tunnels along the way. So, armed with torch, I took the train out of Osaka to try them out.

On the walk from the train station at Takedao to the start of the hike I passed passed two signs giving off bad vibes. One was a sign warning women of the danger of muggers, and the other was a hand-made sign in Japanese, the only word of which I understood was "abunai" (danger). I hoped that whatever the sign was about, it didn't refer to the walk.

The first tunnel was a good introduction to the walk, not long and gently curving so you can see the end before you begin. The second was just straight ahead, so didn't offer any real problems. And between the tunnels there were some beautiful views of some tree covered mountains and a raging river.

Tunnel three was the first to offer up some challenge. For a start there's a big sign in front of it, which looked a lot like a warning, but I couldn't really tell. There was also a photographer nearby having a cigarette but most importantly, to my discomfort, on the ground at the mouth of the tunnel was a dried, withered bunch of flowers held in place by two stones. They looked somewhat funerial, but I gritted my teeth and entered the tunnel.

This was the first tunnel where I needed my torch, so I switched it on. I was disappointed that, after seeming so bright when I tried it out in my bedroom, it seemed to struggle against this much darkness and could only offer a rather pale yellow beam that let me see where I was about to walk but no further.

About a third of the way in, I heard other footsteps and, looking behind me, I saw that the photographer had started to walk through too. I could see his silhoutette and the light from his torch. He was some distance back so I didn't give it much thought. Later, as I was approaching the end, and the beginning of the tunnel was no longer in sight, I realised that I couldn't hear the photographer's footsteps, nor see the light from his torch. I guess he either turned back or stopped to take a photo. Either way, I found his disappearance a bit disconcerting.

Tunnel four was a doddle, but tunnel five really lived up to the trail's reputation. It's very long and, for the most part, in total darkness. In this situation, your mind can't help but play tricks on you, such that a white streak on the wall fleetingly picked out in the edge of the torchlight gave me quite a shock until I double checked and it was just a white mark on the wall. After a while, you notice how the brownish stains of water on the wall resemble blood and I don't know why but a row of sleepers propped up against the wall really disturbed me.

Tunnel six was another straight ahead one, so no challenge there. Finally I got to the end of the route and arrived in a different town. This was something of a let down after majestic mountains and the rolling river. I then realised I didn't know where this town's train station was, and after a bit of a sit down, I decided that instead of wandering around an unremarkable Japanese town looking for a railway station that could be anywhere, I could just go back the way I came. The walk wasn't long or physically difficult, so why not? It was a great walk in the other direction, too.