An Empty Japan

July 2, 2015

290 - 1We have left the door to the balcony open and the humid morning air heats the room and tugs impatiently at the lace curtain that flicks around the settee. We are not feeling as pressed as the breeze feels we should be, and take an indolent start to the day. The sea is bright green blue and is barely ruffled by the zephyrs that prowl our ridge, and the jungle is as jungle green as jungle ever gets, home to birds whose song we don’t know but which encourage us to lie back and soak it all up. When we eventually dislodge ourselves from the hotel and roll down the hill in the Blue Angel of Death we have no real plan except to travel north. We have decided that we will poke into places that catch our eye and avoid the one big attraction to the north, a well touted aquarium. Read more

Tropical Scruffy – not Your Average Japan

June 29, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 4.56.16 pmPlaneloads of Korean and Chinese tourists pour into the customs and immigration area with us and we shuffle along looking decidedly out of place. We lack the designer tourist clothes, hats and sunglasses and don’t have any cute toddlers in pig-tails in tow. The large crowds at immigration mean there is no waiting for our luggage. But there is a moment of confusion as we search for the car rental pick up point – there are no signs indicating care rental. So we ask a very helpful person at the information desk. Her English is fortunately better by far than our Japanese which is limited to “hello” and a variety of brand and place names. Hokkaido. Kawasaki! She points us at the domestic terminal where we should look out for the name of our car company representative on the sidewalk. That makes little sense but we soon find a girls standing on the sidewalk with a clipboard, a list of names (including ours) and who points us to a bus. We duly get on board thanks to a whole lot of sign language and finger pointing and a little humour, and are carted off into the suburbs to a car park where we are introduced to the Blue Angel of Death. Well, we had to name it something. Read more

Off to Okinawa

June 28, 2015

HK290We are off to Okinawa. CX138, seats 47J and 47K.  Well, these seats will get us to Hong Kong at least.  The notes are scratched with a crayon I found in the pocket usually housing flight entertainment guides and other weighty tomes I rarely read anymore. It’s been a long time since I logged anything. Far too long. But the crayon stirs the muse. Or is it the fact that I am in a plane again? Those muse sure do like to travel. It’s the day after the wedding and we slip away in that turbo hum of a jet airliner that tells us a long haul is ahead of us. Vivid lighting across Sydney paints the Harbour Bridge a bright mauve and the coat hanger stands out against the deep, black, empty space of the harbour. It’s 10pm and we are fatigued from what was a relaxed celebration but which was clearly draining nonetheless. Read more

Paul Tibbets and That Nuclear Bomb

November 2, 2007

Paul Tibbets made news again yesterday with the announcement of his death. (NYT Obituary) Paul was the pilot who flew the Enola Gay (named after his mother) from which the nuclear weapon was dropped on Hiroshima. The news of his death prodded surprising reactions from some in the the newspaper blogs I have been reading. I have the view, perhaps historically driven, that the decision to drop these two weapons was sensible when weighing up the costs of Operation Olympia, the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland. With more than one million casualties anticipated, the code breakers indicating the Japanese military factions had convinced the country to fight on and that the defences of the areas into which Olympia was to be directed had been reinforced, combined with Iwo Jima and Okinawa giving a foretaste of what a hometown fight was going to look like (pretty nasty), the two bombs made a lot of sense. But sixty or so years on and our revisionist perspectives prompt comments and views I don’t entirely understand – some thought Tibbets’ (apparently) painful death was a sign that he got what he deserved from God (just as well God is not a vindictive fellow isn’t it?!). Others felt he was an officer simply doing his job (I am sympathetic to that view) while others felt he could have said “no” to the mission – clearly failing to understand the times in which Tibbets lived, or the structure in which he worked. All mixed up in other commentary that gets emotive after all this time about the rights or wrongs of various aspects of that war, aspects which have no connection with Tibbets in any way. Sadly Tibbets lived some of that ambivalence, emotion and hostility in his latter years and he has asked that he be buried with no tombstone least that be a site for protest. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that war it is a part of our history with threads that tie into the fabric of our community today. Beating up on Tibbets now, or at any other time for that matter, isn’t going to change any of that.

A Japanese Haircut

August 28, 2007

I was only looking for a straightforward haircut, much like this young bloke is getting from his Dad. (Didn’t we all hate haircuts from our Dad?! Dad to kid with hacked hair “Hey, what’s the difference between a good and a bad haircut?” Silent pause. “Two weeks! Ha, hah. Now put the clippers away for me will you?” Would have gladly thrown them down an offal pit). (I reckon this kid is glaring at his siblings who are laughing behind Dad – who also has a grin which was never a good sign). Anyway, best get off the couch. Had a meeting in Tokyo with some senior executives of Matsushita (who own Panasonic among other things). Decided I was looking a bit woolly and needed a tidy up. So I walked into the first hairdresser I could find next to the hotel. My Japanese was limited to Toyota, Hiroshima, Sony, Suzuki – you get the idea. Their English was limited to nervous giggles. I signed with scissoring fingers that I needed a haircut. The very cute receptionist nodded and bowed vigorously then showed me into a very sharp waiting room. Glass and leather, mirrors and chrome. She then gave me a bottle of water. That should have been my cue that I was going to be there a long time. From that point on I was treated like a cross between an invalid and a rock star. I was wheeled in my chair from station to station. Shampoo here, lather there, rinse over there, more goop there, massage somewhere else, pause and read Japanese fashion magazines for fifteen minutes in the middle of the shop (with no glasses – they had been taken off me, carefully folded in a cloth and locked away in their own little safety deposit box). Giggling ride somewhere else (dark this time, with strobes), another massage and rinse. After an hour and half someone tentatively approaches me with scissors. They clip away for moment or two before their role is complete and someone else steps in with golden scissors and clips up the back. A girl in a revealing bib and brace set of overalls swans in and clips the hair off the top before someone has a go at the sides. Then a wash and rinse again. More goop. Another massage. A vigorous toweling. A long and studied examination by three or four as my hair is brushed into shape (basic short back and sides!!) before being wheeled, after two hours, to the reception where I am looked at expectantly by a small crowd of workers. It took a few moments for me to realise I was finally free. That I was allowed out of the chair. I opened my wallet dreading what this was going to cost. Twenty dollars!! I could scarce believe it. I fled up the street to the hotel laughing at the experience but after seven bottles of water I was desperate for a bathroom. I was not game to ask where theirs was – it might have invited another couple of hours of, well, washing and rinsing!!
Tokyo, Japan 2002

Japanese Kill Sailors – Then Shake Hands

August 6, 2007

I understand those of my grandfathers generation who never wanted to speak about the Japanese (or Germans) or only spoke about them with hatred. But I am always moved by those who experienced those times and who have been able to get past the wrongs, and if unable to forgive, are at least able to make up. There are numerous stories about former adversaries who have not only made up but who have been active in social programs in each others countries building something positive and of use to the citizens. A story of a group of Australian soldiers going to Japan after the war and building an orphanage comes to mind – at a time when everyone else was screaming for revenge.

in 1942 the Japanese took a couple of torpedo shots at USS Chicago moored in Sydney Harbour, missed and killed 21 sailors quartered in a ferry. The only living survivor, Neil Roberts, is seen here yesterday shaking the hands of the younger brother of the commander of that submarine, which had recently been located sunk off the Australian coast. Who can’t be moved by that image and understand there is more power in forgiveness than there is in revenge?