Europe: Travel Hiking Journal Mont Blanc: Travel Travel Walking

Alpine Journey 2: Alps Ho!


One more day to go. I’ve been so busy with work and preparations that I haven’t had any time to post anything here. As with all such things problems pop up at the most unlikely times. For one, another big typhoon is making its way along the Japan archipelago, but hopefully it will veer off toward Korea. Then there was the problem with travel insurance. I applied for membership with the Austrian Alpine Club, UK branch, specifically so I could get the mountain walking insurance (including health and rescue) and discounts on mountain huts in the Alps. However, when I recieved the membership card in the mail, my name was printed out wrong, with no sign anywhere of my last name. I emailed and then twice made an expensive international call to rectify the problem, and you know what, they flatly denied that there was any problem with either my registration information and the card, in spite of evidence right there in my hand. They cancelled my membership without looking at the scan I sent them and had the audacity to say that I didn’t know what I was looking at! Well, now I don’t have travel insurance and with diabetes that is a BIG worry. I just can’t understand what induced those people to treat me like that. It took me four months to find a travel insurer who accepts diabetics.

All I can do now is either completely give up going up to the mountains, or just damn the torpedos and hope for the best. I’ve been dreaming of this trip for more than ten years, so giving it up would be self-defeating.

I’m excited about getting out of Japan after all these years, but full of trepidation, too. Yesterday as I was wishing a good summer to people with whom I work and ended up walking home along my now daily route through the rice fields, I wondered why I was doing this, heading off yet again alone to some mountain somewhere, undoubtedly to go through bouts of loneliness and sadness. Why don’t I just stay home, find someone to settle down with and love, and forget about subjecting myself to the rigors of the road? The other day an old woman sat down next to me on the train and indicated two children across from us sitting in the “Silver Seats” for handicapped and elderly. “Japanese children these days are so spoiled, don’t you think?” she asked me (already a rare occurance… most Japanese will never assume that I can speak Japanese) “When I went abroad last year I was shocked when someone next to me told me that the two children standing next to me were not allowed to sit down, because to stand built character and showed respect for the elderly. Don’t you think that Japanese children should do the same?” She turned her coke-bottle glasses to me and blinked at me with big expectant eyes. Of course I had to agree. Then she asked, “Do you have children?” “No,” I replied. “Ah, but you’re still young,” she said, nodding. “I don’t know. I’m already 46,” I said. She shook her head, and then, in a loud voice so that everyone in the car could hear her, she boomed, “Oh that’s so sad. What is it, something wrong with your semen count?” I think I must have shrunk to the size of a grapefruit. “Oh, don’t worry about how much semen you have. You can always go to some countries I know, get an operation, and soon you’ll be squirting the stuff all over the place and having 20 or more little rugrats!”

In spite of the humor in that encounter, I thought a lot about her saying that it was sad that I didn’t have any children. I’ve often wondered if that is what is missing from my life, because I can’t seem to find that one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that makes me feel like a human creature that has filled its purpose in this world. I don’t know, maybe that has nothing to do with children at all, though.

So tomorrow I’m going to the Europe. I will arrive in Zurich, Switzerland, spend a day or two there, head over to Lucern and Interlaken, maybe catch a jazz festival or so, then head into France to Chamonix where I will spend two or three days acclimatizing to the altitude and seeing how my legs are faring. From there I hope to head up to the Tour de Mont Blance, about a 10-day walk about the biggest massif in western Europe. I hear it’s one of the greatest walks in the world. Most likely I’ll have some more days after that and if there is enough time I will head on along the Walker’s Haute Route towards Zermatt, where the Matterhorn is. Even if I can’t walk it I think I will at least take a bus there just so that I can see that famous peak. Then it’s down to Italy to relax and do some architecture viewing. If it’s not too far I’d like to go see the architect Carlo Scarpa’s Brion Cemetery, one of my favorite examples of architecture. But none of this is set in stone; I’m aiming to be very flexible and not be too hard on myself.

I’ll probably have internet access here and there and will try to post occasionally, but since I want to get away from the computer I will only post a little. Hope to stay in touch with you all!

Have a nice summer!

Humor Japan: Living Journal Life In


On my way home on the train this evening I over heard two drunk senior Japanese business men having this conversation. It was interesting for several reasons: First, it seemed to represent the two main faces of how Japanese are feeling about themselves today, one a very polite and amiable face, the other, much more rarely seen unless the personage happens to be drunk, full of trepidation and suppressed anger and frustration. Second, because one of the men was slyly directing his comments at me, a foreigner whom he imagined could not possibly understand their conversation, their words rang against the bell of my own two-faced feelings about Japan right now. Third, their conversation budded directly from the seed that Bush planted three years ago, digging deep into the feelings the world’s populace has about their own place in the world and how outsiders see them and how they see outsiders. To a different degree I’m sure this same sprouting seed is growing throughout the Muslim world, albeit in much more explosive and anguished ways. But if a self-effacing Japanese businessman can feel like this, than just imagine what others feel.

I surreptitiously listened to the two businessmen while playing a game of Othello on my cell phone…

“Have you been to the Kabuki-cho district recently?”

The other man shook his head, his face tomato red with alcohol. “No, my dear sir, I have not,” he replied with exaggerated courtesy. “Spend most of my drinking time around Ginza after work.”

“You should go. It’s still got quite a few good places left.”

“You mean you still go?”

“Well, yes, occasionally. My son lives near there.”

“Your son? The one with blonde hair?”

“That’s him. Gives me hell when I tease him about the hair. Now what business does a Japanese have walking around with blonde hair, you tell me?”

The other man leaned over and smiled. “You shouldn’t say mean things about your son. It’s not seemly.”

“Ah, you’re right. You’re right. But it makes me so mad.”

“What, that he has blonde hair?”

“No, no. That he lives near Kabuki-cho.”

“But I thought you said it is still a good area.”

“Well, yes, there are still a few good places left there, but my son shouldn’t be living there.”

“Why ever not? He’s got to live somewhere.”

“True, but that’s not a place for decent people to live.”

“Is he a decent person?”

“Of course! He’s my son, isn’t he?”

“Yes, yes. That he is. That he is.”

“It’s just that people don’t watch out for one another any more. These Tokyo people don’t talk to each other any more. You live somewhere and you don’t even know your neighbors.”

“Things are changing. They’re always changing. It’s the way of the world.”

“But it wasn’t like that thirty years ago. Neighbors made an effort to be there for each other then. Like back in my hometown in Kyushu.”

“You from Kyushu?”

“Small town outside of Fukuoka. You’re from the country, too, aren’t you?”

“Sort of. My family moved around a lot. Tokyo’s been the longest.”

“My son is being sent to Hokkaido next year.”

“Ah, it’s starting then, is it? The years of moving around for work?”

“Yes, and his company doesn’t have drinking after work. It’s all work until late at night, without even a little chance to have some fun. I say he ought to quit a company like that. What’s the point in working if you can’t enjoy a little of the fruits of your labor?”

The other man nodded solemnly, grunting his agreement and swaying a bit too far with the jolt of the train.

The first man continued, “Something is really wrong with the Japanese people.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, first you got them all stampeding to the cities and forgetting who they are and where they come from. Then they start only thinking about themselves and forgetting what it means to live as neighbors.” His voice rose a notch, causing the woman sitting opposite his friend to look up from her stack of computer printouts. “And finally they start letting foreigners roam the streets as if they own the place. I’ve nothing against foreigners, but this is Japan and they should remember that this is a country called Japan! Why would they choose to come to a place like this?”

The other man squinted at the first man with some concern. He reached over and patted the first man on the lap. “Whoa, whoa there old man, you’ve no reason to get so upset. We’re all on good terms here.”

The first man deflated and hung his head. “You’re right. You’re right. You’re always right. I get angry too easily…” He paused to reflect for a moment. “That’s what my wife says, at least. I get angry like an old dog. That’s why I’m glad it’s you I am talking to now. You’re an old dog just like me!”

They both burst out laughing, only realizing too late that they are making a lot of noise, and putting they’re hands over their mouths in embarrassment. The second man leaned in and behind his hand whispered, “We really are a couple of old farts, aren’t we?”

They burst out laughing again, slapping they’re knees. They laughed until they gradually fell silent. Outside I could hear the clackety-clack of the traintracks.

The first man leaned forward and buried his face in his hands. He sat up, shaking his head slowly. “But seriously, I am very worried about the future of Japan. Very worried.”

The other man nodded and grunted agreement.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with the Japanese. Look at us. Here we’ve got this fool [Prime Minister] Koizumi. A fool! And we just go along with him: the Iraq war, the economy, the useless government… If I were a foreigner I would think the Japanese are a bunch of stupid gits.” He looked at his partner and shook his head. “I really think so. We Japanese are a bunch of stupid gits!” He hung his head again, a deeply pained expression gripping his face. “There is nothing wrong with our genes, that I know, but all the same we are an idiot people. We’ve got great genes though.” He looked up at his partner. “What do you think? Is there something wrong with our genes? Have foreigners got better genes than we do?”

The other man gripped the first man’s hand and held it. “My old friend, there is nothing wrong with your genes or with mine. Or with any Japanese genes. We are doing all right. Don’t fret yourself so. The world is just going through a difficult time. Everything will work itself out, you’ll see. You just have to be patient.”

“I truly hope so.”

Here the first man glanced up at me and for a split second held my eyes, before looking back down again and continuing his dialogue with his friend. “I’m glad that I ran into you here on the train. I’m so glad it was you and not my son. My son would have argued with me and just made me feel bad. It’s always like that. With you I can open my heart.”

The second man smiled and patted his friend’s hand again. “That’s exactly the way it should be, no? You and your son, me and you.”

“And me and my wife. She would have kicked me off the train with all my whining!”

They both broke out laughing again. The train arrived at my station and I turned to get off. The doors closed behind and from out in the cool night air I watched the two men continue to trade assurances from inside the warm glow of the train’s interior. The train pulled away, leaving me with a curious feeling of outrage and empathy negated. Above, the moon shone. Tomorrow would be a lunar eclipse, the whole world party to the same shadow. I wondered what the two men would say, sitting and drinking together, watching the night sky.

“It doesn’t look right through all this Tokyo smog.”

“But the tinting effect is that much more accentuated, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Hmm. Now that you point it out, so it is. So it is.”