Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On being illiterate

Its a humbling thing, going from being an avid fan of all things written to not being able to read at all. It isn’t like in Europe, where I might or might not have spoken the language. Usually I could start to recognize patterns, so even if didn’t speak German I would see the letters strasse and see that it meant street and know that the next time I saw strasse we were talking about a street again. Even Czech, which made no sense to me, had some words that I came to recognize.

Japan – not so much. Heck, not at all. Surrounded by symbols, but they are meaningless to us. Some of our guidebooks give us the names of places in English, then the characters so we can recognize them. But we are usually confronted with such a blizzard of symbols that we can’t pick out anything.

Yesterday we went to the town of Furukawa, in the Hida district. We’re getting off the beaten path, for Western travelers, at least. They’re set up for a huge number of Japanese visitors. We were whiling away time in the train station, confirming to ourselves that we were headed in the right direction. We compared our guide book with the train station signage and managed to match up the symbols for the name of the town. Of course, once we knew those two symbols we saw them everywhere. We even figured out that that the symbols following probably meant ‘station’. Later that day we were at the Furukawa station, waiting for the return train in the cold and rain. We were staring at the hotel across the way when Wilf said ‘Hey – that sign says Hida-Furukawa.’ And sure enough – we both remembered and recognized the symbols. We were as pleased with ourselves as if we’d discovered fire. Now, if we could just remember something useful.

When we got to our hotel here in Tokyo we noticed that the remote for the tv had a button for TV guide. Hey, we thought, maybe it’ll help us figure out what’s going on:


Yeah, again with the not so much!

Of course, English is not always supremely helpful here, either. When we got to Furukawa yesterday they were very pleased to present us with a copy of the English version of their tourist map. At the top it says:

A town where Japanese spirit live unchanged since olden times.

Hida Furukawa stroll map

From long ago, people full of human touch and cityscape where master technique lives are also expressed ‘Come to Furukawa if you get bored with the free world’ Touch the feeling of Furukawa where you can just relief and feel nostalgic.

Pretty hard to argue with that, eh?

Light picture day today as we spent most of it on the train. We took a smaller local train from Takayama to Nagoya, then switched to the Shinkasen for the ride to Tokyo. And that thing flies! Being a clear day look who put in an appearance:



Tomorrow we’re off to see the over the top extravagance of Nikko

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