(Not so) Big in Japan

Trip Start Apr 02, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Japan  ,
Sunday, June 18, 2006

I traveled to Japan for a few days on what is a called a "VISA Run", a mandatory step in order to keep things good and legal, and what is deemed a right-of-passage for those teaching English in Korea.

Now, I've had something of a romantic idea of Japan for quite some time, and how could I not? This is the homeland of Nintendo and giant robots and I love both of those things!

Day 1 -

Woke up early in order to get myself to Busan on time and not miss the boat.
The voyage itself wasn't much to write about. On the Busan subway, a man charged into my car and started the loudest and most unconvincing sales-pitch I've ever seen outside of Moores Clothing for Men. Shouting at the top of his lungs he tried unsuccessfully to peddle insoles to largely unimpressed crowd of Koreans making their commute that morning. I got a good laugh out of it which in turn made some of the locals join me. After leaving the train I walked to the ferry terminal... mistakenly the Domestic terminal instead of the International terminal and was kindly pushed in the proper direction by a taxi driver all too eager to make a few thousand won off of a bewildered waygook. Once at the proper terminal I had just enough time to fill out the necessary paperwork and pick up my ticket for the Hydrofoil that would take me to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Upon arrival in Fukuoka, I instantly felt lost without a destination as I wouldn't be heading to the consulate until the next morning, so I explored. Walking around downtown in the Tenji district, I used subway maps and my trusty compass (thanks mom!) to navigate.

I found my way to Canal City, which is a long winding mall built alongside the canal which runs through the city. I tried saying hello to people but didn't get much of a response. It was difficult as I had just started learning Korean and now I was surrounded by people speaking another crazy language that I didn't know save for a few words learned from cartoons and videogames. The other foreigners I found weren't all that accommodating either, so I decided to try an experiment.

It was my hypothesis that if I stayed in one spot long enough something was bound to happen. Choosing a busy place where there was a lot of people and action, I sat down with my book and kept my Canadian flag visible to passing eyes. I forced myself to stay for an hour or so, hoping that somebody would stop and say hello... and I got nothing but "Hello!"s from Japanese children. It became clear to me very quickly that nobody would be stopping anytime soon to rescue me from my boredom. I was on my own.

I wandered around until night came and didn't have any luck with meeting people, but on the plus side there was plenty to be seen. The women in Fukuoka were so beautiful, and after two and a half months of Korean cars and architecture it was nice to see the variety they had here.
Eventually I found myself at the Green Hotel, one of the places I had read about in blogs about VISA runs that seemed to have a decent reputation. It was a bit pricier than I would have hoped but at least it was clean. I flipped through the 12 available channels on TV only to find out that Meg Ryan still does commercials in Japan and still looks good. It had been a few years since her last big movie. Why couldn't she get work back home? Leo Dicaprio was doing car commercials as well, but that's less of a big deal now isn't it? By 11, I was asleep.

Day 2 -

I woke up early the next day and set out to drop off my application at the Korean consulate, but not before hashing up a new scheme. I made a sign for my backpack which read:

"If you can read this I'd LOVE to talk with you." and "Si vous pouvez lire ce pencarte... parelez avec moi!!!"

This turned out to be another dead-end for me... but it doesn't hurt to try.

It seemed that every one I ran into that day was in a bad mood. I met some waygooks/gaijins on my way to the consulate who were pretty rude and unfriendly. At the gates the Korean consulate, the security guard was terribly irritable and impatient, yelling at me when I questioned why they needed my phone number when my cell phone doesn't even work in Japan.

I got through all of the paperwork and left the consulate with one last dirty look from the security guard. I headed across the street to a small shopping center with a Namco Playworld Arcade. I wasted money on games like Mario Kart Arcade GP and House of the Dead 4... taking out my frustrations on hordes of the undead. From there I went to the Toys 'R Us because what could be more fun than a Japanese toy store? I ogled the Nintendo stuff and if I had the money and the Japanese language ability I would've bought it all. I settled on a stuffed Toad.

I headed back to the subway and returned downtown and found a temple. The grounds were immaculately kept and the ancient smell of incense filled the air. The giant wooden Buddah was a sight to see and the "tunnel" going under it was very interesting featuring paintings of the seven stages of Hell. Creepy music accompanied me as I looked at these paintings and then through a pitch-dark winding corridor only to be delivered by the bright shining light of Buddha who apparently saves one from Hell and darkness like some kind of spiritual super hero.

I took many pictures, and sat around taking notes for my journal in a variation of my first experiment but did not have anymore luck this time. I've always felt a little strange at holy/religious places. They've always held some wonder for me, secrets I'd never know, and rituals I'd never understand. As usual, I just did what the locals did and hoped to not insult anybody. I found and explored two more temples in close proximity, one of which was apparently a mermaid's grave. I though to myself that folk-lore certainly runs deep in their society and I wished to myself that Canada was more imbedded with this sense of magic.

The rest of the day was a bit of a write-off, walking around through Canal City and girl watching. I was ripped off in a Sega arcade by trading money for medals that didn't work in regular games... only in the gambling games which dispense more medals for winning. Did I mention that you can't trade your medals for money? I gave my medals to a random Japanese person and left in a huff. Later on I had the most expensive pint I've ever had... about 10 dollars for a Guiness in a bar that advertised "Guiness No Charge" on a sign outside. My heel was sore by the end of the night, and it really hurt to put weight on it but I didn't think much of it. I took some Tylenol and by 11, I was asleep.

Day 3 -

I woke up, checked-out of the hotel, and headed off to the consulate to pick up my passport and work visa. People were every bit as unwelcoming as the day before and with my new leg injury I couldn't wait to head back. I had time to waste and refused to give money to taxi, so I decided to walk to the ferry terminal and take in the sites of the city. The subway maps, my compass, and a vague recollection of city layout proved to be not enough to find my way there, so I made a crude drawing of a boat crossing from Japan to Korea and had some locals point me in the right direction. I got there in decent time, sweaty, tired, but satisfied in that I could navigate myself in a strange land with only the most basic of tools at my disposal. I waved "Sayannora" to Japan as the hydrofoil headed out to sea.

Denouement -

Looking out at the perfect blues that make up the horizon at sea I tried to put my trip in perspective and not hate Japan. What did I learn?

I learned that I don't like being alone for too long and that it's very strange to not speak aloud more than a few times in a day.

I was upset with myself that I let feelings of loneliness overwhelm me and that I was in JAPAN and only ate Western style food... but really, it's depressing to eat a $20+ meal with nobody to share it with.

I learned that people who share your nationality, skin colour, or occupation are not necessarily your friend.

I felt that my social experiments weren't necessarily complete failures as on a long enough timeline who knows what kind of trouble, adventure, or romance awaited me in that city. It was only a few days and that just didn't seem to be long enough to set the cogs of fate in motion.

I realized that I shouldn't have over-romanticized the place. It only led to my let- down when got there.

Finally, seeing yet another far way country only managed to further confuse me with regard to my future and to further distort my idea of "home". Could I ever go back to Canada and live a "normal life" again? What would I do there? Where would I live? How did I ever get to this point? I had been away from home for two and a half months and I was already feeing as though I didn't recognize myself. I wondered if my friends and family would.
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