Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fictional Hokkaido

I was on a train, traveling through darkness. The elderly woman next to me asked if it would be OK if we chatted.

She was on her way to her home on Shikoku having stayed with friends on Honshu. I was returning to my base after cycling on bridges and islands across Japan's Inland Sea.

After some basic pleasantries we talked about the Meiji era at the end of the 19th century when young Japanese traveled to America and the UK to learn how to modernize Japan.

She chatted about her year working at Johns Hopkins, and her travels in the UK. She connected with northern industrial cities like Manchester and Glasgow. She did a side trip to Denmark because she loves Hamlet.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tracing a Victorian Woman's Hokkaido Journey

In the summer of 1878, Isabella Bird sailed from Aomori in the north of Honshu to Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island of any size.

She then sought undeveloped places beyond Hakodate.

When she returned home to Edinburgh, Scotland, she published a book of her letters, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. It's still in print and available as an ebook. It's a good read, full of intense and detailed observations.

She was the first Western woman to explore beyond Hakodate. She traveled on horseback, accompanied by a native-Japanese interpreter, and stayed in the homes of the indigenous Ainu people.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Japan's First ESL (English as a Second Language) Teacher

September 2016: I'll land in Wakkanai, Japan's northernmost airport capable of handling commercial jets. If the plane were to fly 30 miles further, I'd be in the Russian Federation.

I'll then take a boat to Rishiri Island.

July 1848: Ranald MacDonald, 24 years old, half native American, half Scottish, landed on Rishiri Island. He represented himself as a castaway to the Ainu, the local, indigenous people.

But MacDonald was not a castaway. Driven by curiosity, he was risking death by entering a society that was closed to outsiders. He had boarded a whaler in Lahaina, Maui, and persuaded the captain to set him adrift in a small boat in the Sea of Japan.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Trek to Tiny Tim's Tomb

In 1968 Tiny Tim released his first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, and his falsetto Tiptoe Through the Tulips became a worldwide phenomenon. In 1996 he had a heart attack on stage at the Minneapolis Women's Club, and was pronounced dead at the nearby Hennepin County Medical Center.

It seemed strangely appropriate to start my hike to Tiny Tim's tomb outside a factory that makes jingle machines for ice cream trucks. On the way, I would pick out other points of interest, including the former home of a pathologist whose name is known to millions of men around the world, the home of an elf, and a former fast-food outlet which is now on the National Register of Historical Places.