No Cash? Advertise In This Space
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Wednesday, 30 JanuaryThere have been three (3) proposals submitted to date for the Links.net Travel Giveaway. The deadline is February 15. To accommodate some eager young folks, the age limit has been lowered to 18 years and above (from 20 years).
Kakunodate is mostly a wonderful town for visiting foreigners. A manageable scale with basic essential human services and a great many barbershops is punctuated by lovingly maintained buildings a century or two old - stately manors of the old samurai class. Most are open to visitors, and for a small fee you can peek behind the screens of the private lives of Japan's upper classes from before modernization.
The Aoyagi house is particularly worth visiting.
for men without yen.
Before I commenced that wonder I stopped by a bank to refill my wallet from my American bank ATM card. In Japan, only having $250 in your wallet is not enough to get around; especially since most businesses do not accept credit cards. My lodging, the modern and well-appointed Yamaya Ryokan was costing around $70-$80 a night, with breakfast and dinner included. So I couldn't afford my third night in Kakunodate unless I either dragged my bags across town to a $50 no-frills-no-meals hotel that took credit cards, or found some money from a bank.
However simply I expected to be able to use my ATM at any of the four banks in town I was sorely mistaken. At each bank my card was immediately spat out, as though the very taste of it offended the machine. The employees could coax no better behaviour from these machines; even at the Ubinkyoku (Post Office) where much of Japan's money is wrapped up. The kind lady there pointed out that I hadn't used the "cooperation" button on the machine (as it is so labelled in English) but even that wouldn't yield human-card-machine interaction. Standing in a small town in which I wished to stay, with my bags in a room reserved for another night, I realized I had to cut my losses and head for Morioka, the next biggest town around, where I might expect to find a bank that will read my foreign card and give me real money. And I could at least expect to pass the night in a hotel prepared for card-carrying debt holders.
It's closer to Tokyo, and funny to think that I might be urged finally into that town, unable to stay in Akita as their banking networks are not yet intercoursing with the global unlimited commerce in cash. I can scheme and try all I wish; fortunately I'm moving largely without preference so as ever I'm down for whatever.
My one guiding spirit here is to keep from going where I have been. I take this approach when I head out walking, to always find a new road back to where I live. I could now return to Tsurunoyu, and stay on credit, or I could find money in Morioka, and then return to Kakunodate, picking up where I left off learning Akita-Japanese from the two nice young girls at the J-Phone shop who sold me a USB-to-phone connection that might have put my laptop online with my mobile phone if only I was running Windows 98. But explaining 今まずいたちばにあります "I am in a difficult position" to the ryokan, and proving them right as they intimated on the phone to start with and found yesterday when I actually spent the first part of the day in my room soaking electric heat into my bones and writing and sleeping to recover from an illness that hasn't started yet, I proved them right that foreigners are difficult and unreliable, well, because they are not a part of the first-order network of cash machines, and we don't know any better than to vacate a traditional Japanese guestroom during daylight. This combined with the knowledge once again gleaned, as I rounded a streetcorner at dusk in Kakunodate last night, I saw down a street with more houses, past a gas station where two Japanese high schoolers waited to gasoline a tiny white economy van, one with a giant slice-wound across her mouth and chin, they smiled at me again as they had yelled something at me as I approached the convenience store that morning, and I had actually responded, approaching the car, to speak and exchange just a few words; now as I nodded at them, and the chunky driver said "oh!" and waved at me, I looked up ahead and saw so many more corners to the world that I have never seen. And so it seems okay to keep moving.
This kid was peeking at me on the bullet train:
Tuesday, 29 Januarywords: 15720
travelling in Japan, you miss the "will they kill me and take my stuff?" part of being away from home. Instead you get occasional shadowy glimpses of some kind of loathing, locals wishing you would leave before you sully their paradise.
I trudge through snow over ice under a full moon through a deserted town to a payphone outside a defunct NTT office. Here I can connect to the Internet for a short time tonight. I trudge for business, to send in articles that pay for my travel. In my head, I wonder, what is the struggle of my fiction, but the struggle to stay awake?
Monday, 28 JanuaryAyako came to visit Akita. We had a marvellous short time, and then she left.
She got on a train and I'd spent much of the last half day remembering what I think about instead of committing to this woman. And all the while we're dashing about throwing snow on each other playing little games laughting outloud, carrying on. She gets along with people and animals admirably. But she smokes.
I keep saying, I'm a travelling man, I'm not living anywhere, I can't have a girlfriend. Mostly this I say to the people around me who keep asking, "is that your girlfriend?" Ayako seems smarter than to ask any of that; she's mostly interested in having a good time it seems. As am I. And the world is full of delicious potential as always. But when the rain is falling and the last bit of fun is still lingering in your nose while the host glides off on silent rails, you stand alone in another train station without a place to go, you regard your heavy bag and wonder why you're moving, and what you're looking for.
Exerpt from a letter to Mom:
It was strange, two weeks of living in paradise. Snow would fall on steaming soothing water as I sat for hours each day easing away the pain of writing too much. That was marvellous. My inability to cook regularly in a sub-zero temperature kitchen left me thin and weak I think, as did the routine exposure to extreme heat and cold. The beauty was inspiring and there was silence and great conditions for writing, but basically my body broke. I could return now, but I feel urged to move on down the road.
I'm not sure what I'm looking for at this point; I want very badly to work on this fiction project and I feel driven to avoid Tokyo because of all the distractions there. Still being on the road is completely distracting itself; finding a new place to live every two or three days, and seeing such marvellous things in between.
This week I'm living at a newly built Japanese inn. It's nice to have a strong heater and some TV after so much drafty isolation. This town "Kakunodate" is known for having many pristine condition large samurai houses. Most of the rest of Japan was paved or bombed; very little old architecture remains. This place is like a small town in the American South packed with plantation houses. There's a lot of craft and picturesque old Japanese beauty here that is inspiring. I expect to feed off this for a few days at least.
Next on the list of places to travel is Yokote - it's not necessarily a place of great beauty, but somehow I imagine this it might be a good mix of convenient and quiet for two weeks where I can write. Some of my curiousity and traveller instincts could be satisfied by the town's big winter festival, which should happen while I'm visiting. Also, there was a gentleman I met at the inn who was very nice and sent me some fruit and foot while I was sick; I will look forward to thank him there in person.
So I'm trying to balance travel and the urge to work with some grounding in the coming weeks. Then in March I leave for an Internet conference in the United States. After March I don't know where I'll be living! So far my open time has been well filled with exciting stuff so I'm optimistic for the future.
Tuesday, 29 JanuaryI look at my watch these days and i think, it's been about two days since i felt the consequences of my stupidity. Time to test that again!
Somehow I had some kind of ugly sex-related injury. It seems to have gone away. I tested that by trying it again. Hours and an entire language away from medical care.
24 January 2002
Lonely, in pain, I had to come into town when I could to connect to my emotional self online. Sitting this morning, I wondered, am I physically ready to travel over an hour away from my bed? And as I was thinking, and studying my own condition, I let a small fart go, because that is one of life's great pleasures. And well it wasn't just a fart, I shat in my long underwear I'd been wearing for two days straight. That sent me to a toilet, and through the snow in sandles to a bath, and feeling much stronger after all that I am now here in town where the tourist bureau has asked me to review some roadsigns they will be making soon to see if there is any "bad english."
Still I feel physically weak and wonder where I am to travel next? But I have found that if you wait long enough, you will be forced to do something, and that's usually interesting so this is what I am doing.
21 January 2002
18 January 2002
I sent out an email update before I left. Now I have the chance to try to stuff a cheap phone card and a 44k dialup connection with a few day's worth of media and email. And then rush out to buy food for the next few days. The last bus leaves for my mountain home in two hours!
Between late Monday and early Friday, 466 new messages; 233 obvious spam. And no proposals for travelling. It only gets easier to win!
I'm doing great. They're playing Beatles muzak here in the train station, rendered entirely by small bells. I'm losing weight again; each day is miso soup, yogurt, little bits of pork. But my brain is alive - I'm thinking, writing, studying Japanese, talking to mostly older Japanese people, going for long walks in the quiet snow stuffed woods. I bathe long and slow two or three times a day; my skin constantly smells like sulfer.
9 January 2002
Wake up at 6am, say goodbye to Ayako as she leaves for her house. Go back to sleep until 10.30. Work until late lunchtime, writing correspondence, tinkering with an article. Either eat lunch at my desk and work through the afternoon until evening, or take lunch out and have meetings or errands in the afternoon. Evening, gather with Ayako for dinner and entertainment, then back to my place. I tie her up for some intercourse, then naked I type correspondence from midnight until 4am so that my American and European peers will get my emails as they are coming in to the office.
I eat convenience store yogurt for brunch, and a large dinner.
3 January 2002
GK advises that A Terrible Thunder has finally been released in paperback.
1 January 2002
Thanks to Ayako's diligent phone work, I might have a place to stay alone later this month in the mountains, in the wintery north of Japan. This is my first choice: Tsurunoyu - the pictures nearly stop my heart. I'm preparing of course for unstoppable optimism and good times in the face of an emotional let-down or physial obstruction. They asked, "What is the guest's name?" and when Ayako said "Justin Hall" - they said, "Huh?!" They were quite surprised and, it seems, a bit miffed about having to support someone foreign and probably unfamiliar with the interface to a Japanese mountain residential bathhouse. There's no blankets, they said. (But I can rent them for $5 a day). There's no utensils or plates or pans. (But I can buy some at a 100 yen store). Will he know how to communicate? Ayako is going to write me a letter of introduction. All told, I'm looking at about $35 a day for a cook-it-yourself place to live. So if you can see photos here, picture this with two meters of snow over it. I think.
They only had space until Feburary, so it looks like I'll be Inn-hopping in Akita. Pack light for the thick winter!
December - gosh what a month.
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