It’s been a fine road, a long road, and a road worth travelling. But it must come to an end.

There is no more east from Japan. Canadian branded airplanes have started appearing. My shoes are full of holes, so I’m coming home.

I have a nineteen hour stopover in China before I fly back to Gatwick. Just in time to get a pint of Guiness and chopstick down some fish and chips! God bless the Irish.

I’m staying in Tianjin’s ‘Italytown’. It looks like how someone would describe Italy down a phone. The food is good though.

The local security guards and soldiers keep bursting into giggles when I talk to them. I don’t think they see a lot of foreigners.

My memory card is full. My camera has been my constant companion; except that one time I left it behind and had to reverse a day to find it.

Here are my favourite shots from the last five months, and some lessons I have learned on my journey.

1/ There is no street furniture in Asia. You can sit on walls or the floor, and bins can be found inside convenience stores.

2/ The further east you go, the fewer English speakers you’ll meet. I havn’t had a real conversation since Vietnam. I’ve never really felt loneliness before. I’ll be kinder to the misfortunate when I get back to the UK.

3/ For the most part, the world is normal. People work, laugh, eat, sleep, fall in love and raise families. We have far more in common than the superficial superstitions that divide us.

4/ Dogs grow to emulate their environment. In India, the dogs are resourceful, territorial and loud. In Korea, they are smart and silent. In Thailand they are charismatic and sleepy.

5/ You must get your Asian slippers right. Shoes are for outside, except for short trips where you can wear outdoor slippers. Don’t get those confused with your indoor slippers, which are not the same as your bathroom slippers. At the airport they will give you a pair of slippers to walk the five meters through security while they scan your shoes.

6/ My top three ice creams – 

Mango Sorbet from The London Dairy, South India. Apple and Cranberry from Swensens, Vietnam. And Kiwi Gelato from any 7/11, Japan.

7/ Three months on the road is enough. I hit a wall in Vietnam and had to take a break. I’m glad I finished the trip, but an endless wanderer I am not.

8/ My best food award goes the the Parsi Restaruant in Mumbai, who served me ‘Mutton Berry Pulau’. I’m going to reverse engineer this one when I get home.

9/ Sightseeing is not valuable travel. We all want a break from the 9-5, but there comes a point where you feel you have seen every temple, every mountain and every museum. You begin to ask yourself what you are gaining from the effort. I found myself much more engaged when I was perfecting a skill, helping a local or trying something new.

It’s been fun! Thank you for sharing my journey. I’m going to be staying closer to home for a while, but I have Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East on my radar. I’ll blog it when it happens.

Alavida, sà-wàd-dee kráb, selamat tinggal, hooroo, tạm biệt, zàijiàn, annyeong, sayōnara and farewell.


Kyoto and Osaka in Pictures

It’s been a long trip, and my feet hurt. I have spent my last few days in Kyoto and Osaka, soaking up some Japanese culture.

Clockwise: An Onsen admissions policy, Japanese supermarket, a street noodle bar, and a kitchen knife/sword shop
Colourful Japan
Japanese Library, the kids love lying around reading Manga
Pachinko players jockey for a win
The anime characters may be colourful, but everyone here has the same haircut
Kyoto Temple
That’s a long bow for horseback
This was cool
That’s a crow bullying a kestrel

I left my toothbrush on Mount Fuji

Tokyo was really claustrophobic, so I escaped a day early and took a train into the mountains. I’m glad I did, as I got this 5am shot of Mount Fuji. I was hoping for a golden sunrise, I guess red will have to do.

It’s great to finally see some snow after my extended summer. Fuji Ice Cave has a pleasant temperature and a very low roof.

They make you crouch under this desk before you enter the cave

I’m mostly staying in homestays as I navigate the countryside. The Japanese generally have better English reading skills than speaking; but I was amused when I saw a sign proclaiming:

‘Towels are available for lent’.

Moving towards Kyoto, I have realised the bullet trains are really hard to photograph. You get mabye four seconds of audible warning that they are approaching the station, and if your camera isn’t out they are gone in the next three. Here are some shots at 1/2000 and 1/10 of a second.

And I finally have proof that selfie sticks are a menace! People have been struck by lightening when they wave them around under the power cables in stations.

I saw a group of Japanese tourists taking selfies with a herd of friesian cows yesterday. They did not look suave.

Next, onto Kyoto and Osaka. My last cities.

Exploring Tokyo

A picture says a thousand words. Tokyo is another Asian beehive. The Shinjuku and Shibuya districts are wall to wall with people. There are a few gems tucked around the city though.

This is the Cemetary of the Forty-Seven Ronin. Caught between their Samurai vows to their late lord and their vow to obey the Emporer, the Ronin disobeyed a direct imperial edict and then surrendered to the Emporer’s justice. After much debate, he allowed them to commit ritual suicide as restored Samurai, returning their house to honour.

I also visited the grave of the last Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The Samurai shogunate ruled Japan during the Age of Empire, isolating it from the rest of the world and preserving Japan’s unique society.

Akibara district is home to modern Japanese culture, including cartoons about giant robots and disturbing girl band AKB48. The 48 member troupe of teenage girls regularly rotate their members, normally dismissing those who get a boyfriend. They have received accusations of coercing plastic surgery on new members, to resemble the girl they replaced.

J-pop is big here. The performers all look like schoolgirls and the audience is 99% male. It’s a little weird, honestly.

Japan regularly suffers from both natural and man made disasters, personified in city-wrecking monster Godzilla. Here he is, bellowing atop the Tokyo cityscape.
Japan’s internet speeds are surprisingly slow. Manga cafes offer some light reading and an internet connection, for those into Japanese cartoons. This cafe also rents booths which can be slept in. I lasted half an hour, I don’t want to sit on the floor in the dark.

I struggled on whether to include the next photo in my blog. If you read my stories for adventurous fun, just skip the rest of this article. I have some great shots of Mount Fuji lined up for you to look forward to tomorrow.

I visited Yushukan museum, which chronicles Japan’s history from the Samurai Wars through to the end of WW2. It’s Tokyo’s second biggest museum and adjacent to Yasukuni shrine, chronicalling two million deceased Japanese soldiers.

It’s a professional operation, all the dates are right, the English is excellent and the displays are well maintained. I detected some small pro-Japanese bias in the early Samurai exhibits but put it down to translation errors.

As the timeline progresses, the historical context becomes increasingly warped, placing the Japanese in the most rational, understandable positions while deamonising foreign powers.

By the end of the tour, I had to leave before I started correcting the exhibits or lecturing the staff. The museum makes no mention of the Rape of Nanking, The Asian Holocaust, the brainwashing of the japanese peasantry, the sex slaves taken by Japanese soldiers or the torture of allied prisoners of war. It did point out when atrocities were committed by Soviet or US troops.

The narrative then went even further, portraying the WW2 Japanese as the liberators of Asia from imperial powers and champions of racial equality.

I wasn’t allowed to take photo’s, but I snuck these two out.

Anyone with even the most basic understanding of history will know this story is fabricated. This ‘museum’ is a disgrace and I am ashamed that I paid money to enter it.

I’m glad I got that out of my system. Hopefully I can find another museum to restore my faith in Japan.

All Trains Track to Tokyo

I forgot my receipt when I left my hotel this morning. The receptionist chased me down the street to deliver it.

Japanese people are extremely helpful. To a fault, in fact. Even when they have already tried to help, and I have no expectation that they are in a position to assist me, they will continue to go to extraordinarily futile lengths to resolve the situation. More often than not I would be better off continuing on my journey and asking someone else.

I’m moving down the train networks to Tokyo. I took a relaxing stop at Bunny Island, a fun place with a sad history. It has been overrun by rabbits released from poison gas labs after WW2.

They seem to like fresh veg
Bunny hunts my sandwich

There are some good views from the train platforms; Mount Fuji still has snow on it, and Himeji Castle is really beautiful at sunset.

A short walk from the station
Mount Fuji

I’m mostly staying in business hotels, which are really efficient but havn’t been updated in thirty years. My bed has a cassette player in the headboard.

I forgot my cassette tapes……

My second night was in a pod hotel, watching Japanese TV and trying to sleep without a pillow.

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