Monday, 27 September 2010

Neighbourhood Ikenomiya

This is a quiet street in Ikenomiya. I am doing a home-stay further down the road, and this picture was taken during my morning cycle to university.
Hidden away down a slight hill, 2 distant corners away from the main road pictured below, this area may appear a little isolated. However, in the evening, all of the houses on this street cover their windows with metal shutters in addition to windows and wooden sliding doors to keep out overnight noise. There are a surprising number of motorbikes racing down this road very fast at night, although in my opinion the shutters are an excessive measure.

This busy junction can add 5 minutes onto my journey depending on the lights. This main road is straddled by car and bike showrooms, bridged in with a repeating cycle of restaurants, karaoke and convenience stores.

During my time in Japan, I've found the strong consistency of chain outlets help make it easy to lose direction, certainly in the big cities, but the same applies here on a more spread out scale. It sometimes feels like a maze of 7-11s and Lawsons.  I got completely here on one of the first nights at the home-stay, and managed to keep the host family waiting for me until ban-gohan had gone cold.

Behind the roadside outlets, industrial sites and storage facilities mingle in with residential areas. More memorable is the solitary patch of farmland pictured below.

As of yet, I feel that I am not too familiar with the neighbourhood outside of my cycle route. My view of the area hasn't really developed beyond first impressions; which are that of a quiet, residential area with light industry and the usual entertainment facilities located nearby. At present, I can scarcely tell it apart from other similar districts; but hopefully through further exploration, independently and with my host family, I can learn to appreciate some distinctions and characteristics that are individual to this area.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

First impressions of Japan

This was my first sighting of Japan, taken whilst traveling from Busan in South Korea to Fukuoka by boat. Despite some similarities with South Korea, I feel that Japan is rich with distinct cultural features that are shared with nowhere else. I held this presumption before arriving in Japan, and at present maintain the belief; but my first impression was slightly underwhelming and could not contend with the excessive hype and anticipation that had built up in my mind.

I arrived in Hakata / Fukuoka in the early evening during the rainy season with no hotel reservation. From getting off the boat, it was easy to take a bus to the city centre, maps were conveniently planted on streets and most information was provided in English. The process of finding a place to stay was efficient and convenient but lacking in the character and adventure that define travel memories. Everything seemed convenient and the mystery and intrigue was elsewhere.

Without discrediting Hakata / Fukuoka from such a brief glance, I felt much more 'in Japan' when traveling the next day to Nagasaki. Above is the monument to the 26 martyrs, which serves as both a reminder and a repentance of Japan's early hostility to foreigners.

Japan's modern flexibility towards religion was further evident in Nagasaki. The picture to the right is Urakami Cathedral which was rebuilt in 1959 after the original was destroyed by the atomic bombing. A variety of school groups (wearing different colour hats) were in Nagasaki visiting various sites relating to the bombing.

Nagasaki gave me my first real impression of Japan, although it was not the Japan that commercial media has lead me to expect; I could find none of the eccentricities of Akiba here. The relaxed, friendly nature of this city and flocks of school-children made visiting the bomb site (above) and relative museum all the more poignant.