Tokyo, Trains and Travels

A busy weekend! With Monday being National Foundation Day, the past weekend proved the perfect opportunity for more travel. The weekend likewise coincided with the much-famed Sapporo Yuki Matsuri or ‘Snow Festival’. Not content to spend all my weekend looking at snowmen, I opted to do that and more. A friend of mine in Aomori mentioned that Rage Against the Machine were playing in Tokyo on the Sunday, and thus the beginnings of an epic travel of doom were formed! At the end of business on Monday night, I had gone by bus to Sapporo, flown to Aomori, taken the bullet train to Tokyo, seen RATM, and flown back to Sapporo. In the space of 3 days! Truly an awesome way to spend it.

I was able to view the snow festival at 6am in the morning on Saturday, allowing the dual pleasure of seeing the sculptures at sunrise as well as avoiding the throngs of tourists that descend upon Odori Park later in the day. To be brutally frank, I don’t see what the huge fuss is about this thing. Before I even enlisted on the JET programme I’d heard about the snow festival, with the hundreds of snow sculptures depicting everything from the latest Disney movie to big-breasted anime heroines. But aside from the few giant sculptures, roughly the size of a large house, the rest were rather… crude. They looked as if they were hewn with a chainsaw rather than chisel, resulting in at-times misshapen faces and forms. The large centerpiece statues were impressive, to be fair, including several made to seemingly glow with a bluish hue. But to be honest, if I didn’t live in Hokkaido, I think I would feel somewhat cheated by traveling so far to see the things (hotels are expensive in Sapporo, and they only get more so around the festival.) Nonetheless, I’m glad I saw it; one more thing off the checklist of life and all that. Fun fact: According to my JTE, many of the main snow sculptures were created by members of the JSDF (Japanese Army.) Integral training and all that I’m sure!

Aomori and the surrounding areas looked stunningly beautiful from the air, with snowy farmlands, mountains and the like cradling small towns in the middle. Juliet, the South African ALT stationed therein, explained that this was the poorest prefecture in all of Japan. Probably something to do with being razed to the ground by Allied forces in WW2. Then again, so was most of Japan, so it’s not a terribly valid excuse. From what I could tell, there was little to no industry or staple manufacturing base to fuel the city, meaning that the majority of Aomori’s income would, I assume, come from agriculture and fishing. Much like Hokkaido in this respect, only with more mouths to feed! Only one night was spent here, but it was certainly entertaining, with bountiful beer and Juliet and I displaying our country’s wonderous language called ‘afrikaans’ to the delight of the Married ALT duo Ron and Kelly, both of which who are extremely entertaining after a couple of drinks (much, I suspect, like any other warm-blooded human being!)

From there we embarked on the bullet train to Tokyo. At a speed of 360km/h, the train is whisper-quiet and not nearly as bumpy as a non-magnetic-levitation vehicle. I don’t know what I expected, but the train was interesting if only to say that I’ve done it. There are no jaw-dropping G-force effects or unnerving atmospheric pressures. It’s kinda just like being in a really fast, smooth-running train which, I guess, is precisely what a bullet train by definition should be!

Tokyo was just as vast and overwhelming as my first visit at the start of the JET programme. With skyscrapers as far as the eye can see and vast transportation networks, I don’t think I’ll ever wrap my head around quite how impressively HUGE it is. And then there was the concert itself. I’ve always been a RATM fan, even though I’m by political definition part of the ‘problem’ in their anarchistic eyes, so seeing them play live was a truly awesome experience. I had expected the Japanese fans to be largely docile throughout the concert, and the initial pre-show atmosphere certainly indicated such. But when the band came onto stage, my god! The hall virtually exploded with energy and never let down right until the end. A two hour session of awesome music, insane mosh pits (I have my fair share of cuts and bruises) and screaming has me now completely finished! Two days later and I am still exhausted. I have no regrets! I was able to get right to front about mid-way through the show as well, so seeing a band that I’ve always enjoyed playing from within sweat-catching distance was something I won’t easily forget!

And that was Tokyo in it’s brief madness. I got to ride the monorail to the airport, which was again quite an interesting train ride. Unlike the other rail lines, monorails tend to bank left or right, much like an aircraft would, rather than simply turn. Likewise, the trains go over skyscrapers, rivers and estuaries feeding into the Sea of Japan, with no need for sleeper tracks and all that jazz, so the experience is very much like flying through the city at low speed. My stomach did jump into my mouth at the first turn, however, as the experience of staring 100m down at children playing soccer while traveling at speed is… unnerving.

I left for the airport in Tokyo at 6am and got home to Sarufutsu at 22h00. A long-ass journey, but compared to the 24 hour monster that is getting home from Cambodia, it’s relatively manageable. One thing I have noticed is that the thought of a 6 hour journey somewhere is now not nearly as daunting as a few years back, where simply driving from Jo’burg to Durban was a minor operation. Out here, getting to any major city takes at least 6 hours, and then one compounds that the further one goes. I am getting quite used to traveling for a day or more now, if I might say so myself. Good practice, I think, for anyone who wants to go on a road trip when I return to SA?

Here are what pics I got before my camera died. Enjoy!

Juliet and John (Not me!) outside the concert hall
Associated footwear
Love and peace!
Love and Peace! Or something…
Disney promo for the next LW&Wardrobe movie... I think...
Disney promo for the next LW&Wardrobe movie… I think…

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