It amazes me sometimes just how much people who are on a short stay in Japan manage to actually see and do. After 17 years, off and on, I am no longer just a visitor here (the government and many of my neighbours would probably beg to differ), but I’m nowhere near seeing all of the famous sites/sights of Japan. Maybe that’s what the problem is – a resident sees the touristy things a lot differently. There’s always time to see them if you live here, isn’t there? And of course, many of them are over-rated (or, like that line from The Holy Grail, they’re “only a model.”), but many are not.
It’s always been this way. When I was at university, one of my summer jobs was to show Québec high school kids around Halifax, where they were studying English immersion. Among other things, I took them to museums, parks, the Nova Scotia Legislature, City Hall (to meet the mayor, who frankly wasn’t doing much else anyway), and the Citadel, the old British hill fortress which looms over downtown and is now a National Historic Site. Before starting my job, I had to run around the city checking these places out myself – I grew up not 25 miles away from Halifax and had never (with the exception of the Natural History Museum when I was in Grade 3) been to any of them.
I know Osaka inside out, and the Kansai (basically Osaka plus Nara, Kyoto, Wakayama and Kobe), know Tokyo pretty well, and have been to Hiroshima once and Shikoku a couple of times. I have not, however:
• been to Kyushu, Hokkaido or Okinawa. Something always comes up to keep me away from Kyushu (although I’d love to see Nagasaki and Fukuoka). Hokkaido seems too much like Nova Scotia to be worth the expense, and as for Okinawa, I have no excuse whatsoever.
• seen much of anything between Osaka and Tokyo (although once, out of sheer boredom, I jumped on the first available train to Nagoya and walked around there for a Sunday afternoon; it didn’t do much for my boredom, I’m afraid); a day-trip to a gallery in Shiga last spring doesn’t really count. I don’t ski or snowboard, but the hot spring resorts of Nagano and Gifu are said to be amazing. Probably.
• climbed Mt. Fuji. Fred of Vancouver did it over 15 years ago, put a tuxedo on when he got to the top and had himself photographed drinking champagne. I’ll have to wear a full formal kimono and hakama to top that, or I may as well not bother.
• been to Tokyo Disneyland (actually, I consider this a personal victory).
So when you live somewhere, with no concrete plans to leave, you get into your routine, as people do. You go to work, you meet your friends, you see a movie or go to a gallery or a restaurant; you’ve got your local shops, local pubs. You get comfortable. That’s not such a bad thing, of course, but every now and then, a co-worker who’s been here less than a year announces that he’s leaving, and then relates all that he’s done in the short time he’s been here. And then, like Charlie Brown, my stomach hurts.
I guess it all comes down to this: I’ve got four days off in March (four whole days! I really am starting to think Japanese) and I’d really hate to waste them. Where to go? What to do?
Of course, as I was thinking last night at dinner, there’s always Korea…