Monday, December 22, 2008


hey all,

i am in hiroshima right now and visited the hiroshima war memorial museum today. It was easily the most depressing and intense museum/ place I have ever spent a significant (3 hrs) amount of time in. It was excellent, in the way requiem for a dream was an excellent movie but extremely hard to grasp emotionally.

I should preface a few things when talking about the museum etc. I view it, first and foremost as a reason to promote anti war movements and the destruction of nuclear weapons.

1st, I agree entirely that the atomic bomb was not necessary for the surrender of the japanese. General Douglas MacAurthur (commander of us forces in the pacific) said so himself repeatedly, along with many other members high up. There were ample reasons for the united states to use the bomb, due to their investment and the postwar landscape with russia. How history would be different had we not used the bomb etc we will never know- but in my opinion its not "the point" of this.

I think knowing that brings up the true issue I have with war. Based on what the "japanese" did in china and south east asia (nanking as a great example but certainly not limited to that), i think one could argue that "they didn't deserve pity in war" or that it isn't really the united states job to do what is just and fair.

But on a personal level, people are people. And the truth is the difference between a child or a mother in japan or one from america is not significant. A child in japan is not an evil person any more so then a child born in germany in the late 1930s or 1940s. Heck, the current pope was forced to enlist as one of hitlers youth.

And that to me is what makes war so horrible, and the exhibits this museum had so powerful.

I would rather not go into detail about what i saw in the museum, and I felt it was wrong to take pictures (although I ended up taking one- see below) but I think I should say this: the atomic bomb created a fireball 280m in diameter and 4000 degrees Celsius. The blast of heat itself raised temperatures 2 km away up over 1000 degrees celsius. The city of hiroshima was at the time constructed mainly of wood and at those temperatures wood naturally combusts. Skin chars black. Although many perished instantly, there were countless stories of people who survived the initial blast, spent the rest of the afternoon only to find the burnt remains of loved ones or went home to be with their family only to die within the next day/week or month. I hadn't been that close to tears in a long time and I am 100% certain if I had been with my homestay family- the mother and 2 adorable girls I would've balled my eyes out.

I don't know how future wars can be avoided. Its obvious that countries like the united states that are host to huge corporations that produce weapons of war, there is a vested interest in not bringing peace and having arms races. And I know many conflicts have persisted for 100s and 1000s of years. I will say though that I think/and hope the world works toward a decrease in nationalism. This could/ probably should be an entirely different topic, but I do not feel any closer to a person from Detroit, or California then I do someone from Japan. And I think that if globalization helps people understand that we are not all so different then we can work towards solidarity.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Homestay

So its already* been 12 days in the homestay and now I'm back to living out of hostels for the next while. I must say, while I love traveling- I love seeing new things, eating new foods meeting new people getting lost etc.- there is something to be said to not worrying where you are going to sleep at night, to not need to have any security over your belongings etc. In hindsight, instead of a RTW ticket, having just picked 3 places to live for 2-4 months each might've been slightly superior. I think it might just be part of my personality and everyone is probably different on this.

Anyways, living here was great. For the first time in a good 3 months I had home cooked meals. I got to hang out with 2 adorable little girls. I think the experience, when weighed versus living in hostels gave me a very different look at the country/ culture etc. For example, during these 2 weeks I had one drink was at lunch yesterday. I woke up every morning at 7 (at the latest) and went to bed well before midnight each night. Besides putting me in a more natural rhythm then I was in during high school (and something I hope to revert back to when I settle down) this prevented me from seeing much of the youth culture in Japan except for the people I saw on the subway. And I haven't seen the city lights at night.

On the other hand, I know a lot about how Japanese people live in small houses (its not bad at all), what they eat, where they sleep, what they do in their free time. Relationships between kids and the mother (and the father).

I think given that I have the opportunity to experience both the family life and youth culture in Japan I am really glad I went for it.

For those curious about both go and cooking, I have some unfortunate news.

re: go. When I got here I did some internet research for go clubs and came up empty handed. All that i found was someone who wrote an article about a go club here 20 years ago. I emailed a few people and made a craigslist post also asking for a partner and asked the next day when the host family had a gathering of about 8 friends. No one knew anyone who played go. So I gave up.

re: cooking. Every meal (except for noodle dishes at lunch) included a bowl of rice. Breakfast was usually leftovers from dinner the night before - exceptions being
pancakes, eggs or a pan fried fish.

So a typical dinner would be

Miso soup (includes onions, mushrooms, some seaweed)
A stew. includes ground beef, skinned/boiled potatoes, steamed carrots, green onions, radish (i think)
bowl of rice

things to add to the rice. one was small fish called "jacko" (as in wacko jacko)
another was a mixture of ground beef and i think ginger? Although it wasn't very strong tasting so it might've been something else.

In general - for cooking japanese foods i was a little dismayed by the fact that most of their cooking supplies were particular to japan. I will hopefully visit (and document) a trip to a japanese supermarket with kristin but they have a lot of things readily available (fish in particular, but also things like sticky rice and some food on sicks) that I have never seen in north america. I remember kenta complaining about it in uni, but i thought he was just making it up.

anyways, from here a friend of mine is visiting tokyo in transit from la to china for a few days so i look forward to seeing him for the first time in a pretty long time. Our plan for tomorrow morning is to visit the tokyo fish market - which i still haven't gone to, but I think I may end up visiting 3x before leaving this country.

After that I am off to visit Hiroshima, Kobe and Osaka. I'm not going to see Sapporo because its too cold and I am going to hold off seeing Kyoto until Kristin gets here because that was high up on her list.

I want to make another post about some observations about the social culture here and hopefully I get around to it.

To everyone reading- Happy Holidays- enjoy your christmas, hanukkah or solstice and best wishes for the new year!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


edit: I know, there are no posts for el calafate/ torres del paine/ iguazu falls/ lima and machu picchu etc. hopefully you aren't holding your breathe for those becaues they probably aren't coming. Except maybe something on Lima/Cusco.

anyways, onwards. I think this blog will take a turn for more of a freestyle writing rather then a honky dory i saw this i saw that type of thing.


Do you remember the first time you went to a big city? By being in a city, I don't mean when you're behind the glass of your parents car the entire time, or on a grade 5 field trip. Or even the city nearest to where you grew up. I mean that first time when you are walking around the streets of a city, in awe of the endless tall buildings, seeing millions of people walk by you each going their own way, doing their own thing, on a whole totally oblivious to you. It probably would help if you were alone at this point.

I think some cities more then others have the ability to put you in your place, to slap you in the face and say- hey there are 6 billion other people out here, I'm sorry but the world doesn't revolve around you. Now get over it and do what you were gonna do already.

I think there are a few cities in the world that do this better then others. In North America, I really think New York City is the most obvious example, but I remember also having the same feeling when I first arrived in Toronto. I never felt that way with Boston, but I think part of this comes from being somewhere new and not having familiarity with it and its people. But, on the other hand- I didn't get that feeling in Buenos Aires, Rome, Paris etc- so it might also require a city with a lot of hustle and bustle.

I really (really) get that feeling here in Tokyo. But its not as cold as New York (figuratively) and its not as cold as Toronto (literally). But its big. It's imposing. I was up in a tall building and looked out and as far as the eye could see i saw buildings. In all 4 directions. I've never seen anything really like it. Most are under 10 stories, so this wasn't new york city where your eye is restricted by all the mammoth buildings next to you.

They have a subway terminal here that I visited the other day (Shinjuku station) that services 3.6 million people a day. Think about how many people that is. How many could you become good friends with? How many would you hate? How many have common interests as you?How many of them will you ever meet? Probably 0. But thats not neccessarily a bad thing. Thats just life.


Okay so beyond all that I'm pretty impressed by Tokyo. I don't really feel “lost in translation” per se, but I have found it sometimes challenging to get from point A to point B or to order something off the menu. BUT- according to Kenta he had trouble using the Tokyo Metro as well so i don't feel so bad. And I think the difficulties is part of why I'm traveling. Iguazu falls, the glaciers of el calafate and machu picchu were quite incredible- but Puerto Iguazu and the town near El Calafate were soulless, and Cusco is but a shell of its former self. Buenos Aires was nice and interesting but I felt disconnected from its true character- I'm not sure why.

Tokyo is tokyo. And like New York you can almost sense that people would identify that they are from Tokyo before they said they were from Japan (something again I think you see in NYC, Toronto). You see more of the trendy but completely impractical outfits worn by the younger crowd here. You see a lot of jeans, leather jackets, colored streaks of hair and ear piercings (on men and women). With the business crowd you see suits for men and dark outfits for the women. The older crowd is a bit more comfortably dressed and quite a few have surgical masks on (for reasons I'm not completely sure, as the air quality here is much, much better then that of Buenos Aires).

Before coming here I heard a lot of things about Tokyo. Daniel told me about how the cab drivers here wear nice white gloves and take their job very seriously. In Anthony Bourdain's Japan episode of “No Reservations” he talks about the attention to detail and how people here believe Perfection is impossible, but its what keeps people working hard every day. In "lost in translation" its portrayed as a society hard to penetrate. And I've also heard many times about how the people here are workaholics- spending hours upon hours in the office but* this is almost more of a cultural phenomenon, as people spend a ton of time in the office, but not the entire time working.

For the former, I definitely see and believe it. Cab drivers in Buenos Aires are part time crooks. They smoke in the cab, they try and take the long way to your destination and if you're drunk and its 5 am they will try and slip you fake money. In North America they are quite often university educated immigrants unable to land a better job. They might take you the long way, but in general they don't try and rip you off- but they certainly aren't too proud of their jobs. I have yet to take a cab here in Tokyo, but I have seen them work and they look about as professional as you can imagine. The cabs are clean, you could say spotless, and spending a few minutes outside a hotel entrance it is quite obvious they take their job very seriously. I've seen train conductors here with the spotless white gloves, standing with perfect posture at the 'helm' of the subway car, leaving their station on the minute. In North America and Buenos Aires, subway cars arrive when they do. Some cities have excellent public transit, others are more suspect. There is no real schedule, although they depart with the notion of arriving at regular intervals. Here, they arrive on the minute. When you enter the subway trains, schedules show at what time you will reach the next station(s). The only other place I've seen public transit like this was in Berlin.

re: lost in translation- i can understand it, this is a society very different and maybe a bit difficult to penetrate. I'll hopefully get around to a blogpost about the homestay I did and my experience with it, but I will say people here are unbelieveably friendly and respectful. And while I think its a vastly different culture, maybe impossible to penetrate 100%, things can be done to mitigate this, and by understanding and accepting that fact you'd be suprised how similar people are.

I think I've done a poor job of explaining what I like/ love about Tokyo and more maybe why I like big cities. I think when you visit Niagara falls or Mount Everest or whatever you go there, you stay in a hotel you look out, you see the falls or the mountain and you go “wow, thats a great mountain. Let me take a picture” and thats that. But in a city, you have some/more freedom to do what you want. To see what there is to see. I spent one whole day walking around Asakuska looking at Buddhist temples and another day getting lost (over and over) near Shinjuku station. Everything and everyone is super foreign to me. Everyone I have asked for help has been very nice and very polite. I've never for one second felt unsafe.

thats all for now