Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Hiroshima mon amour

About 3 months since the last blog. Its crazy how fast time passes here. Working weeks, however compact, certainly eat up the hours. Imagine how fast our lives would be disappearing if we had proper jobs!!

We continue to be bemused, confused, miffed and in love with this land of Japan. Just when you think you have got a handle on something you come across contradictory evidence. They are a proud and stubborn people who would, I feel, happily ignore the rest of the world if they could. They believe, collectively, that they have got it right and want to protect that state. It many ways they have but point of perspective is everything and there is always a trade off.

The mono culture we have mentioned before was recently substantiated by some figures which state that the population is 98.6% Japanese with only a tiny 1.4% being from other countries. Staggering. Even in Hiroshima white faces are rare, black faces rarer still.

The whole society feels a little other worldly. They have television, technology, 7 day a week shopping etc but there is very little crime, no evidence of drugs (although jolly drunks are not uncommon), as a rule no one shouts or does anything to embarrass or put others in difficult positions - unless they are in a car then they are selfish w*****s. But thats just because 'Rules are rules' and they are conditioned to follow rules from the crib. Point of fact people wait at roadsides for a green man for 5 minutes or more because they are supposed to. But, its not illegal to cross the road!!!.

The women are girly girly and there is a national tendency to talk in a high pitched squeaky voice. This is an affectation brought about by the infatuation with manga style sexy school girl imagery seen in comics and on TV. The men must like it or they would tell them to stop but they don't so the girls continue to do it. Quite frankly its grating and annoying. There is a general love of cutesy. Cutesy animal figures adorn nearly every poster, information stand and many logos. Its bizarre.

Working, man do they love working!! 6 days a week, 10 hours a day, 2 weeks holiday (and if you take all the holiday you can kiss promotions goodbye). And it seems that no one is unhappy with that because....That's just the way it is. And, it is the way it is because of this closed society that has so few influences from outside. Again - both good and bad.

Finally on the social side. When these hard working people finally do get to relax at home they rarely go out with their partners and often have separate friends - guess where from? Work!. Plainly this is not everyone but it applies to many we have spoken too so it must be a lot.

However. We do still love the place and continue to try to fit in. Although the ridiculously complex language structure is vexing at the very least. I think I have previously mentioned the three/four alphabets. Hiragana - for traditional Japanese words, Katakana - exactly the same set of sounds but different letter symbols - this is for imported foreign words (although stupid coz they take no account for the sounds that are unachievable in Japanese phonics so words are just bastardised). Next there is Kanji. The highly complex pictorial images you see with each symbol having a variety of sounds or meanings depending on the surrounding Kanji. Finally there is Romanji - Basically their word for our traditional letters that are used to spell out certain words. Consequently you will often see a sentence written up that incorporates all of these. To top this off the buggers like to further complicate things by doing stuff like this: In England we have numbers 1, 2, 3 etc and ordinal numbers 1st, 2nd, 3rd. In Japan you have numbers, numbers that are pronounced (each differently) for time, mechanical things, food and amazingly for ' flat and long things'. WTF!!!

The gym that we regularly attend is peopled by the whole cross section of Japanese keep fitters. During the day, however, the clientele gets decidedly older. Although, to watch these supercharged OAPs, it is hard to believe they are 'old' and what that might imply. There are two fellows in particular that deserve a special mention. One 71 the other 76. They both spend several hours a day at the gym and have remarkable body's. After watching one rolling out to a fully prone position and back to standing 10 times - using a weight bar with wheels, we got to talking (signing) I tried the weight bar feat of strength (and i am far from unfit) and managed only to bang my forehead. I then posed a balancing position that requires strong stomach and bicep muscles. He declined. Ha! (although I suspect possibly because he deigned it beneath him). He then suggested an arm wrestle which was eagerly witnessed by his posse of perhaps 15 other gym goers. I could see their expectant faces where they sat in rapt silence on surrounding machines. Gambate! (Good luck) was heard from more than one. But uttered in a tone that suggested doom. We tensed, we looked into one another eyes and, two seconds later, my hand was smashed into the table top with such unstoppable force i didn't quite know what had happened. He's 71 for goodness sake.. Oh yeah, some consolation, He and his mate are also body building champions with the smaller (weirdly) of the two having been Mr Japan and only recently lost the over 70's title at 76!!!

We have a car! Buying a car in Japan is something of a test of stamina and paperwork endurance. With Japanese it is possibly easy but with limited communication skills its certainly not. Here' s why. First one needs to find a car to buy, then, get a hanco ( a personal stamp) made - these are required to open a bank account and serve as a signature here so most people have one anyway. Next get the stamp authenticated at City Hall also at City Hall get a certificate of residency in Hiroshima. Basically a piece of paper that says the already issued plastic residence card is you. Then you need to find a parking space for the car. You can't just leave it on the street. It has to have a home off the road. These are found through estate agents and range in price according to size and location. Our space which is minuscule is actually a bargain at 10k Yen per month (one third of what we pay for our entire flat). So once space is agreed and contract signed. A map, depicting where the space is, marked with measurements and also showing local landmarks has to be presented to the police to stamp. Then one has to take all the above to City hall along with proof of insurance, Mot (Shaken as its known here) and several thousand Yen and the car is then officially yours.

To drive our car, we both have both got Japanese drivers licenses since our international ones have expired. Being British this was incredibly easy because many of the rules, the side of the road we drive on etc are the same. Once again the paperwork is a bit of a burden. More so for me since i couldn't prove i had ever lived in the UK for more than 90 days - new passport, no house, paperwork etc. Anyway after some pretty crafty footwork I managed to acquire the necessary 'proof' and could join the ranks of legal drivers. The test essentially was to identify whether an arrow was pointing up, down, left or right. specify the colour of three lights -  green, yellow and red. And the best bit do a single squat and rotate your outstretched arms (luckily I didn't get asked to do this which was just as well because of my broken wrist - more in a second on that). So with that comprehensive assessment of one's physical health, vision and ability to cobble together some paperwork one can hit the roads.

Its a pain going through the process but having a car has opened up the whole world to us beyond what our pushbikes ever could have. We have trundled far and wide (to be detailed shortly) in our tiny Daihatsu Mira. This car has a space time continuum fitted so its actually bigger inside than out. Its remarkable. It has four reasonably capacious seats with plenty of leg room, it has head room in abundance, a tiny boot and a 660cc engine that propels us along at sometimes impressive speeds or, if going up hill, rather embarrassing crawls. Still its ours and we love it. It is what's called a K car - A highly compact town car ideal for getting around often tiny streets of cities. The K cars are cheaper to service, run, insure etc so are hugely popular and very japanese in looks - Square is the only word i really need to use.

I fell off my bike recently. Coming back from the station pushing rachels bike (she had just picked up the new car) and I toppled off. I smashed my wrist into the pavement dislocating one bone and snapping the other. I returned home with a ridiculously angled wrist which needed fixing. An ambulance was called and i had to sit in the back going slowly whiter as the pain increased for 45 minutes whilst the Ambulance people tried to find a clinic open and one that would accept me with little Japanese - Appalling!. The long story is on this link. A website Rachel has done some blogs for - www.taken.co/single/emergency-services-dont-panic .The short version is I saw a doctor/butcher who two hours after the accident (therefore no adrenaline) repositioned my bones without any pain killers , wrapped my arm up and and sent me home with an appointment to see a specialist 2 days later. This i did and thankfully it was in a bonafide hospital. He was a leading Orthopaedic surgeon in Japan and he quickly got me in the operating theatre where I got a my bones re-repositioned and a metal plate put in to hold them all together. Three days in hospital followed with careful monitoring and care under excellent staff. Now 7 weeks later I have a frankenstein scar and am having to do numerous stretching to get my muscles and sinews to work properly again. Sadly this means no gym so am piling on the pounds again.

In the last few months we have done so much that i will not be able to do justice to it all. And, in fact, will make a point of reporting things monthly in future.

We have been to a couple of beer festivals in the city - one with a blues band and one with a Bavarian Umpah band. There is a disused space in the city centre where they are always staging festivals of some kind. Trouble is these festivals, irrespective of what they are celebrating, all seem to be just swamped with food and beer stalls so apart from a dance or two on a stage and few banners to give pointers we could all be celebrating anything.....but who cares - there is beer and expensive food!!!

One festival that was different - although the food and beer element remained the same. Was the Hiroshima Flower Festival- literally hundreds of huge dance troupes parading the city's leave boulevard for three days. Whilst bands and traditional groups entertained the millions who came to watch. The sun shone, magnificent banners were waved b

We have watched Ice hockey matches a couple of times. The rink is open for 6 months a year - the rest of the time it is dismantled and an impressive 50metre indoor pool and diving area is there. Its just across the river from where we live and is really exciting to watch. We both think we could get into watching ice hockey and how I would love to have a go myself - legitimately hacking and slashing opponents.

We have driven to Iwakuni and seen the 5 arched wooden bridge supposedly constructed with no screws or nails (although we could see some). Even so its an impressive and picturesque bridge spanning a wide shallow river and is reached by a lovely drive through the hills. The bridge itself leads to a renovated small palace and temple with extensive gardens that, in turn, lead to walks into the forest beyond.

We have walked up several of the hills that dot the city to look down over the lovely vista of Hiroshima. It truly looks a magnificent place from above with parks and greenery everywhere set amidst the sprawling buildings that use up all flat areas and encroach slightly on the sides of the hills. The buildings themselves are not worth mentioning but the general vista with the green hills everywhere and larger hills climbing to mountains surrounding the place on three sides, the sea on the forth, certainly are. Our particular house location too is amazing. We can be lost in forest in 40 minutes, skiing in 70 minutes, swimming in the sea in 30 minutes, and bike to the city centre along a pleasant river in 15 minutes.

We have walked the heritage trail that mianders about the city taking in 13 temples of varying delights. We even have a personal favourite called Mitake which is absolutely stunning with moss covered statues, tori gates, pagodas and statues dotted around the grounds that are criss crossed with streams and paths that lead up into the bamboo forests behind. This is a joyous place and being just 15 minutes bike from our apartment means it is a place we will often visit.

We have been to Miyajima a temple island just a short ferry ride from the port. Here we braved the wild deer that mob you for food and looked at the charming olde world buildings, huge tori gate in the sea and extensive temples and shrines that can be found on the walks that lead up Mt Misen. The top of which affords an amazing view of the Seton Inland sea and the numerous small islands that are found there.

We have driven along a chain of interconnecting islands that run from a little way out of Hiroshima. The road winds around these small densely forested out crops that are sparsely populated and are linked by bridges that connect them to one another. There are beautiful views to be found on every turn. Foliage against light blue skies, foliage against deep blue seas, foliage against mile after mile of more greenery. Japan is volcanic and the landscape, where not flat, is sharply ridged with jagged arettes and gorges that are covered with numerous varieties of trees and greenery. Bamboo groves sit beside copses of maples and fir trees and for as far as the eye can see and once you are out of the cities there is real joy in driving.

Check out the photo pages on www.rachris.co.uk for more images of the above. They are worth the look!