Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Visiting more replicas in Fukuyama and Okayama

Korakuen, a famous Japanese garden in Okayama

Today being the last day of our JR rail pass, we decided to visit not one, but two cities! Yoko said goodbye to my aunt and then we left for Fukuyama, where a castle stands right next to the train station. Unfortunately, I noticed in the fine print that this too, was a reconstruction of the original, which was destroyed during an air raid. Almost all castles in this nation are reconstructions. Still, Fukuyama castle was beautiful, and I enjoyed the view from the top.

Now we rushed so fast to catch the train to Okayama prefecture 40 or so miles away, that we left our bags in the locker at the Fukuyama train station. Since it was running late, we decided to leave the bags there and get them later at night.

Once we arrived in Okayama, we immediately caught the bus to Korakuen, a kind of oriental garden that Americans associate with Japan. Nice rolling mini-hills. Neatly trimmed trees. A nice (reconstruction) castle overlooking the park. Friendly turtles that come to you seeking food.
Even a centuries-old zen teahouse! This open air teahouse is of rare design: a stream ran right through it, which gave the room a quiet and relaxing atmosphere. You have to experience this teahouse to realize how at peace you can be watching water! Nobility would come here in the Tokugawa period to relax and drink tea. The sign in the middle of the floor tells you to take of your shoes (in Japanese, of course. Where do you think we are, in America?)
Unfortunately, whenever I go to relaxing zen places, I always bump into obnoxious foreign tourists. This time, it was the “Ugly Chinese.” While we were enjoying the peace and tranquility, these Chinese tourists arrive, start yelling in their loud voices, and the woman starts snapping pictures right in my face. HELLO?? NI HAO??
Ni kan zhonguoren ma?(Do you see the Chinese?)
Then they start STANDING in the stream to cool off their feet. Folks, this is a place of meditation, not a bathhouse! The Chinese tourists started shouting at each other oblivious to our nearby presence. Is there so much noise in Beijing that you have to yell at each other even if the other person is only two feet away? I fear what happens when China becomes a rich power and more Chinese tourists go abroad. (Yoko, who is quite fluent in Chinese, told me that they were speaking in Mandarin. I wished she had yelled at them, “Don`t you Chinese know what the word QUIET means?”). Now before you accuse me of racism, I encourage you to look at this webpage address. Yes, according to the rules of civil society, my Chinese blood gives me every right to criticize the behavior of some Chinese tourists.

Korakuen closed at 6:00 and the staff politely shooed us out. We went to a stream to relax, and I realized that you couldn’t do this in most Japanese cities. BTW, we passed a common sight in Japanese waters - the swan boat! You sit in these boats and power them by pedalling.

Swan boats. Notice the one with the black trim?

On the way to the station, I bought a Japanese t-shirt at a store for large and tall men. They had imported American-sized goods like Nike XXL shirts and Hanes XXL underwear. Hey, that’s where American goods will always have an advantage over other nations – clothes for extra large people! We should make use of our obesity epidemic and have “Fat tours” for overweight Japanese. Bring them to Hawaii and take them shopping for large clothing. Take them to all you can eat buffets. Have them enjoy sitting in extra-wide bus seats, and not feel out of place at all when they stroll the street. Of course, who am I to speak? I must have gained ten pounds since coming here with all that eating.

Afterwards, we walked around downtown Okayama. The town here seems surprisingly deserted and we decided to eat at a yakitori place. The friendly chef decided to introduce me to a new kind of food: fish guts. Yes, he served me kim chee fish guts, and it was surprisingly good with beer. I also liked their twist on Korean jhun pancakes (which Japanese call chizimi). While the authentic Korean jhun has leeks or seafood in it, this variant had pork, kim-chee, and cheese mixed into their chizimi. Sounds gross, but all three flavors go together very well. Trust me, now I can envision that one could make pork and kim chee tacos!

Mixing pork, kim chee, and cheese together with the pancake batter

We had left our bag in the locker at Fukuyama, so we had to return there. Bullet train travel does shrink distances between places. Imagine leaving your bags in a town 40 miles from where you are visiting, which you can do if it only takes 15 minutes to get there by train. We went to Fukuyama, walked around the deserted downtown, and then went home. Yoko would take about 70 minutes to go 130+ miles to Osaka, and I would take only 20 minutes to get back to Hiroshima about 60 or so miles away. But it seems so close when you travel by bullet train, which goes so fast, you feel like it is going to take off and fly off the rails. I kept thinking of the Eugene to Portland Oregon distance of 100 miles. It took me a little over 90 minutes to get there by car and I always felt wiped out afterwards. I could travel the same distance in under an hour if it was by bullet train and arrive feeling refreshed. When are we Americans going to learn the joys of mass transit?

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