Just over a year and a half ago, when I had traveled to Korea while waiting for the Japanese reopening, I visited coastal city (and second city of Korea) Busan. I wrote about it in this blog, and later in my new book.
“I would love to take that night train someday,” François said, as we were making nerdy travel plans. “Oh, I’ve traveled on that one before,” I said, “but that was in corona times, so that was a little easier.”
“Yukarigaoka, city where you can see the future,” read the inscription on the 40-year-old people mover (often called monorail, but it’s not the same) making its rounds through the town. Yukarigaoka, or Eucalyptus Heights, was built as a feat of urban development that Walt Disney dreamed about in his EPCOT days. High-rise buildings with lots of greenery, large malls with facilities and, to keep it all car-free, a largely elevated people mover that runs circles to and from the main train station.
Last Monday was Sea Day. A national holiday in Japan, and therefore a perfect excuse to go out. To the sea, or elsewhere. Jean-Jacques and I chose elsewhere; in fact, we had bought tickets for a steam train ride in Tochigi prefecture!
In four days I will fly back to the Netherlands for a month. My last visit was in January, so it was about time. I have to, because my little brother is getting married, and of course I have to be there. The wedding is not in the Netherlands, by the way, but in the south of France. Good, we’ll fly there too.
Jean-Jacques had tickets to a concert in Osaka, and asked if I wanted to come along. Not to the concert, no, punk bands are not for me. But while he was there, he wanted to go to Universal Studios to see the new Super Mario-themed area, and I thought that would be pretty fun. Besides, I don’t turn down a trip on the shinkansen and two nights of unlimited seggs either, so I went along.
If they’re good at anything in Japan, it’s…. Anime? High-speed trains? Bustling metropolises with illuminated billboards everywhere you look? Sushi that took ten years to study for? Finding your ikigai? Well, yes, also maybe, but today I wanted to talk about that other talent of Japan: leaving places and buildings behind and then letting them decay.
It’s quite the distance, from Sapporo to Hakodate. The train ride, not on a shinkansen but on an express train, took about four hours – and cost me almost 70 euros! After such a long ride, I figured I probably wouldn’t feel like exploring the city, so I decided that I would stay two nights in Hakodate. I had booked a room at the JR Inn hotel, which turned out to be an excellent choice: the hotel was literally right above the train station.
Hello, from a hotel room overlooking the train station of a rainy Hakodate. Hakodate is the southernmost tip of northern Japan, the island of Hokkaido. On Friday I flew to Sapporo, the capital of this prefecture. This is where the Pokémon GO Fest was held last weekend: a live event organized by Niantic, the makers of Pokémon GO. I saw the announcement in the app and thought, “Hey, I can just go to this!”
I like to be well prepared. And well informed. For months I’ve been following the Facebook group “Seeking entry in Japan” closely, because I can tell you, sometimes the best info has actually been on Facebook.
I owe you an update. “How is Korea?” you keep asking me. I couldn’t answer it because that wouldn’t be fair. Korea cannot do well, and that is not because of Korea, but only because it is not Japan.
It was the day before Riemer and I went to Disneyland that I decided to try Korea. I had been waiting for Japan for over a year, and it didn’t look like anything was going to change in the near future. And camping in Riemer’s living room, or in hotels in Utrecht even longer didn’t seem like a good idea. So it had to be Korea.
I had been wanting to go to Disneyland Paris for months, but kept putting it off, “because Japan”. I couldn’t plan ahead, I didn’t dare take the corona risk, or Riemer had to work. But after we did not go in November, “because Japan”, and Japan and Omicron screwed me over again, I was determined: we are going. On New Year’s Eve. That way I would be rid of the Dutch fireworks misery as well.
Recently I was strolling through the book store while waiting for my train, and there I found The Secret For A Long And Happy Life. Or well … I don’t know exactly who to believe. There is the Danish “Hygge”, the Swedish “Lagom”, or “The Way” of the Chinese.
While in the Netherlands the corona virus is taking hold, everything is closed and everyone has to stay at home, it is slightly less intense in Japan. Yes, certain things have been closed for weeks. But although everyone suspects the government of lying (because of the Olympics), it actually seems to be not too bad here.
Japan is the safest country in the world. In the Starbucks you can leave your laptop on the table when you go to the toilet, whoever forgets his iPhone in the metro will almost certainly get it back that same day and in the evening I walk home without any fear. Yet I was scammed yesterday. By an extremely sweet-looking girl in a pink dress, with kawaii pins in her hair and a high-pitched voice that makes her sound like a ten-year-old, while she is probably twenty-five.