Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Japan Framework 2013

Tomorrow I go to Japan. I need a plan for a plan.

The only fixed part of my "Japan Framework" is:
March 22: Hydrofoil from Busan, South Korea to Fukuoka (Southern Japan).
April 11: Check in to Sapporo New Chitose Airport hotel (Northern Japan)--I'm catching an early flight next morning.
April 12: Fly Sapporo to Tokyo, then nonstop to Minneapolis.

From March 22 through April 11 I plan to go with the flow, booking trains and hotels as I go. I'll start in the South where it will be warmest and end up in the North when it gets warmer.

Japan has four main islands, in approximately south to north order:

Kyushu. This is where I start.
Honshu Much-visited cities, such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are concentrated in the middle of Honshu. I will be avoiding these cities.
Hokkaido This is where I finish.

The next island north of Hokkaido is part of Russia; it's close enough, there was once talk of building a tunnel as part of a rail route from Japan to Europe. Siberia is in the neighborhood.

Kyushu, Shikoku, Honshu, and Hokkaido are connected by rail bridges or tunnels. The Saikan Tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido is the longest rail tunnel on the planet. I've bought a 3-week JR (Japan Rail) pass, giving me unlimited travel on the JR network, including the famous bullet trains. I'll travel well over 1,000 miles.

I've selected four areas to explore based on stuff I've read, including history, novels, colorful books written by individuals who have distance-walked in Japan, guide books, and so on. I'm trying not to see Japan just through the prism of World War 2 or modern preconceptions. The areas I am visiting are "the other" for many Japanese. I'm sure the cultural context of much I will see will be lost on me; I'll simply see "exotic."

In each selected area I'll start in a "bridgehead" smaller city (you have to start somewhere), then explore the surrounding countryside, and hopefully find some great hikes. The Japanese take their hiking very seriously, and the smiles of happy hikers are culturally universal.

Island of Kyushu, southeast, bridgehead: Kagoshima
Island of Shikoku, southwest, bridgehead: Kochi
Island of Honshu, northwest, bridgehead: Hirosaki (near Aomori)
Island of Hokkaido, southeast, bridgehead: Hakodate

I don't really have a plan beyond this, and my Japanese language skills are essentially zero. However, I am going to set pretty basic goals for myself, taking things slowly. For example, an early goal is to get my hair cut. 

I do have crutches, including mobile Internet and a GPS with a full set of maps. I plan to do a lot of smiling and bowing and apologizing. I'm willing to scrap the framework and do something completely different.

Maybe I'll be glad to get home, maybe I'll get a really bad haircut; or maybe I'll find areas Dwight and I will enjoy together one day.

A trip like this is out of character for me; it's going to be interesting.

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