So it’s been a long time. I really tried you know, to do this blogging thing, I’m still going to give it a go because for some masochistic reason I want to be a writer or something along those lines. People tell me they read this and say that I’m good but I don’t trust people, and it’s only very British of me to be self-deprecating and bitter.
After an intense 12 weeks of studying, with no breaks or national holidays followed, my college let us free for Christmas and also gave us a ridiculous Winter/Spring holiday of three months. I went back to the UK all of January and returned the beginning of February.
My honeymoon love of Japan seemed to die as soon as I landed. Unlike my flight to the UK, I didn’t bond with a sweet old Japanese lady sat next to me. I just struggled to sleep. Moreover the mini-tv sets weren’t working so we couldn’t choose what to watch. All you could do was flick through the channels hoping that you caught a film at the beginning. I thought I was timeskipped back to 2001. I really like flying though, it’s grown on me, especially when you catch a gorgeous sunrise.
I love clouds most of the time so the experience of looking down onto different formations makes the cramped conditions bearable. But really that’s a whole article on its own.
When I landed early in the morning, the next bus to Yamanashi wasn’t until 1:30pm, I didn’t want to kill time in a bland airport so I bought a ticket to Tokyo. Tokyo station. What I really should have said was Shinjuku. Trying to work out how to get from Tokyo station with a couple bulky bags, I ended up relying on a kind woman who helped my buy an extortionate express train ticket to where I needed to go.
Returning to Yamanashi I went to a festival in the small city near my university, Kofu, it involved throwing beans and scaring children. It’s called Setsubun, occuring usually on the first day of Spring. It used to be considered the beginning of the new year, with the act of throwing beans as a means of cleansing evil spirits from the previous years and to drive away disease spreading spirits for the year to come.The ritual itself is called mamemaki (bean scattering) dating back to the Muromachi period. Children and adults dress up as oni and scare toddlers and infants; all with the consent of parents laughing at their traumatised offspring.
After wandering around, eating some street food, we checked out a cafe run by students called Iira. It had a stripped down vibe and good coffee. If you happen for some reason to be in Kofu, I suggest supporting these guys.
University felt like a ghost town. Classes were only on for the students in the English language program and there was this dead feeling permeating campus as those who hadn’t shipped off for some travels seemed pretty depressed. Or maybe I’m reading into it too much. I was glad to be gone. I took a bus to Tokyo and stayed with a buddy for a few nights before catching a plane with Hannah to Sapporo.
For the second and third weeks of February I was gallivanting around the north of Japan with my buddy. We went up to Sapporo in the northern-most island of Hokkaido for Yuki-Matsuri. It wasn’t worth all the hype but it was fun to trek through snow and bundle up. I’d never done a cold holiday before, I was proud of how I handled it.Sapporo is grid-planned and therefore the easiest city in Japan, or the world, I had navigated around. I wore all my heat-tech gear, however, I had still failed to bring the hat and gloves I had acquired back in the UK to Japan. So I gave myself good-job-on-the-preparation-pat-on-the-back-matey and then I bought some more there. We ate a lot of great food, drank good beer and found many new ways to express the cold we felt outside and the extreme joy we experienced being indoors.
Sapporo Yuki-Matsuri was cool, a little gimmicky, not as overwhelming and awe-inspiring as I thought. It felt very commercial at times which detracted from the works. A better festival was around a hour away from Sapporo, Chitose Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival. All ice and lights and mountains and lakes in the background. None of the sculptures were representational, mostly structures you could walk around or through. I love lakes for the most part and the view was stunning. We were pestered by a Korean man who had recently invested in a huge DSLR and wanted us to pose with his wife and then pose in front of the sunset. I ate great temaki sushi, just three rolls yet so goddamn filling. At nightfall all the sculptures lit up and the end was marked with a firework display.
I had brought my camera with me but I forgot to put the battery in. I didn’t expect to use my phone. It’s pretty faulty after a few years and damage, yet it worked well enough to get some of the goodness.
Shikotsu was one of those incredibly beautiful, so much so that it hurts, type of place. Probably the favourite part of the Sapporo trip. We were hosted by my art teacher’s son Ebun. He gave up his bed and took us around, looked after us really well, eternally grateful to him.
We took an overnight ferry from Hokkaido to Sendai. It’s in the Tohoku region, north east Honshu. The boat felt like it was sucked out of the early eighties or some other distant ancient time. There was an arcade room, a in-boat pianist with horn accompaniment, and even a konbini because Japan!
Sleeping was a little uncomfortable. We were in a shared tatami laden room with only a handful of mothers, daughters and obaasans however it was the overwhelming groan of the engine and sounds of seawater that made sleeping uncomfortable. Our buffet breakfast in the morning was an improvement from the vending machine pot noodles we had the night before, although really it wasn’t all that edible. Maybe the worst food I’d had in Japan.
I was battling with a few things since I returned to Japan. Admittedly frustrated by the intense amount of effort and time I had put into studying the language, a language that is only used in one country. Secondly, I felt somewhat stifled, it’s a strict place and there was little to do if you didn’t have money, there aren’t many public spaces you can hang around and get drunk in. A Japanese friend described her native country as “A Boring Heaven”, and I definitely saw that after being back home and around my friends. The UK is an interesting hell – London is a diverse whirlpool and there’s a lot of unhappiness but you can feel change brewing under the surface. Something I didn’t feel in Japan. I didn’t want to stagnate here. Going back home, I realised more than ever my Englishness. That whilst I never really felt English living there, and always a bit of the fringes of any community, I was most definitely from that place. All this only swelling with a bout of depression and I was certainly struggling with some sadness. Yet here I am still, in Japan, knowing that I’ll return.
Anyway, thank you for reading. The next post will cover Sendai and stuffs.