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Monday, 1 October 2012

XII Japan: Shogun - Not Stirred

Shimonoseki: Driving on the Left.
   There was a chance to wash on the boat, i slept very well in the splendid cabin, and on the morning of St Henry’s day, Wednesday 13th July, i had time to write a few postcards before our arrival in Shimonoseki, Japan. Customs and passport control went smoothly, after which i was struck more than anything else by how British everything appeared. The sky was overcast, the buildings were fairly drab and non-descript, and perhaps most eerily of all, the European/Japanese cars were being driven on the left. I bought a kind of baguette to have for breakfast, and sat myself on the dockside, looking down at the waters of the Pacific, in which one could see various smallish eels, and a funny-looking ‘sea caterpillar’ type creature with bright orange frills. There were also amphipods, sometimes called beach fleas or scuds; shrimp-like things that, i came to realise, swarm right along the perimeter between land and sea in that part of Japan. After breakfast i called into a cafe-bar, where the lady gave me free cold teas, milk and biscuits (though my coffee wasn’t cheap). I then had in mind to do some surfing - of the web, meaning a walk past the former British consulate to a hotel, where an English-speaking receptionist told me how to reach an internet cafe by bus. With a break for lunch, i spent an hour or two writing ‘Pacific Details’ on the blog, and catching up with emails etc.

   I had arrived in Japan in a state of woeful ignorance of the scale of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami disaster of the previous March, in which the island of Honshu in the north east of the country was moved 2.4 metres east by a magnitude 9.0 (Mw) undersea megathrust earthquake, one of the five most powerful in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900. Of course i’d heard reports, but somehow i assumed it couldn’t possibly be worse than the earthquake that hit Kobe in 1995, which claimed nearly six and a half thousand lives; yet in fact the Tōhoku quake claimed the lives of nearly 20,000 people. Anyway, while i was in Korea, the first place i looked for when scanning a map of Japan was Hiroshima, which i now had an opportunity to visit, having arranged to meet my friend in Kobe on Sunday 17th. I started walking, though i knew it would be impossible to get there without transport in the time available. Nevertheless i covered a fair bit of ground, turning down the prospect of staying in a budget-busting B&B, and seeing the first geckoes of the trip. I found a place to sleep on the roof a semi-derelict tower block, somehow confident that it wouldn’t rain.

   On the morning of Thursday 14th July, feast of St Camillus De Lellis, the weather was appreciably brighter. Having slept quite well i got away early, and put some coins into a cold drinks machine (ubiquitous in Japan) for my customary morning caffeine fix. A police officer with good English gave me a friendly reprimand when i crossed the road on a red man, soon after which i encountered my first pachinko slot machine emporium; thrown up like cheap supermarkets and deafeningly noisy inside, where Japanese people of all ages congregate to nourish their addiction to gambling. Then at last i cleared Shimonoseki’s suburbs and came to an area of countryside, seeing numerous white herons, as well as a selection of their favourite snacks; little frogs, turtles, fish and a crayfish in the irrigation channel running alongside a paddy field. My lunch was a pot noodle from a machine in a petrol station, by which time the weather was seriously hot. In late afternoon i made it to Asa where, having been aware of rather speedy-looking locomotives surging parallel to the road, i shamelessly strode up to the train station and bought a ticket to Hiroshima. On the way, the sight of a conurbation called Tokuyama made a strong impression, with its futuristic dystopian morass of ageing chemical refineries, pipes and chimneys, and the sea just beyond.

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