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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

You been waiting for this update....

First of all let me first state I am alive, well and SAFE!  I’ve been itching to update the blog but due to events outside my hands I haven’t had the opportunity.  Now I am in a safe place Fukuoka (which is the same distance to Sendai, as Barcelona to London is.) I can finally update you on what has happened.

Wow, that is all that could be said for the 11/03/11, a day I will not forget in a hurry.   As you are aware, I’m on an adventure across Japan and this day  I will never forget in a hurry.

The first strike
First of all let me begin when it all started 9th of March (Random fact- anniversary of Biggie Smalls death)  I was on my computer  in my house when the floor started to vibrate.  My home in London has a train line behind it so I am used to the vibrations it caused by when trains pass.   However there was no train track nearby and the vibrations were getting stronger and stronger.   Suddenly it felt like the house was swaying.  I asked myself if I was dizzy but no the house was actually swaying from side to side.  All in  all this lasted for 30 secs.  I still wasn’t too sure it was an earthquake, I googled Sendai earthquake and saw the last major one happened in the 1990s.  I then told to my concerns to my Australian based workmate Stephen Wardell who confirmed that it indeed was an earthquake and measuring at 7.3 on the Richter scale- It was a biggie!   Although I wasn’t scared at the time, probably because I didn’t know what was happening,  thinking about it afterwards had me a little concerned.  I’m guessing the fact that is was such a big one and being so close to the New Zealand earthquake I started to think how lucky that there was no damage.  Speaking to my American "Boogie Down" friend Milly Tejeda about it, I was told next time go under a table. Ahhh I will remember this for next time!    I was so close to updating the blog on that day but I thought let me take a couple more pictures of places of interests and write the blog just before I leave Sendai either Friday or Saturday

Early hours of Thursday 10th of March, about 3am there was another earthquake.  I was extremely tired too tired to hide under the table and it wasn’t as intense as the one the day before so I just lay there.   After about 15 secs it settled down again.  Speaking to another person I was told next time get out of the house because the table might not take the weight of the roof.  Ahhh I will remember this for next time!

Friday the 11th - Fatal strike
Started off as any other day.  Woke up, did some chores then went to town ( by the train station) for a bit of lunch.  Although it was cold it was nice and sunny and didn’t require gloves for once.  I  came back home then had a bit of a nap.   A hour later I woke up , went online and waited for the UK to wake up.  Then there was a vibration.  Uh huh, here we go again, I know what it is this time. I remained calm and collected it should pass in a bit I said to my self.  Then the vibrations started to increase in intensity, and walls started to shake  hmm this is not so good.  Now the house is swaying -just like on Wednesday but more force! Ok I am really scared now and it doesn’t seem like relenting!  What do I do??  Do I duck under the table and have the roof cave in on me, or do I go outside and have the house fall on top of me.  I honestly thought this was game over, no coming back from this.  So I did the only thing I should do- and prayed to the big guy in the sky.  I’m not sure what I even said, I don’t remember words even coming out my mouth but I prayed, opened my eyes to see what could possibly be my last moments.  The house was still shaking and swaying violently.  Then slowly but surely the swaying resided.  The ground was still vibrating but I was now able to move and I ran outside of the house.  I was greeted with the sight of the roof of the building opposite my house on the pavement and Japanese all congregating on the street.  Even tho we spoke the different languages we were all united  in the one common denominator - fear.  

What to do next?  I was unaware of any city/countries earthquake procedure, I knew it was bigger than Wednesday but no way of telling.  Emailed Stephen again from my phone to find out what was going on but wasn’t sure if it would go through or if I would receive his response.   Earthquake had knocked out the power so internet was not available, phone lines were messed up. Went inside and took a look to see if there was any damage - fortunately only some bottles and items had fallen over.

Should I go outside, where the temperature was getting colder, should stay  in the house which had withstood the earthquake without structural damage or should I go back into town and see if I could find out any information.  I decided to go with the third option.

As I was about to leave I felt specks of water -rain great!  Went inside to get my umbrella and found out I was mistaken, it was actually snow - even better!   Walking to town gave me an opportunity to get a better look of the affects of the earthquake.  The majority of buildings looked fine with no visible external damage.  The older buildings were the ones that had problems, especially the shrines.  I had visited all the shrines on the way to town the day before and so was able to clearly see how the effects of the earthquake on them.  Roads were packed with cars driving to and from city centre, the busiest I have ever seen them.  People were standing outside buildings houses and shops all with bewildered looks on their faces.  Some of the traffic lights were working but electricity was pretty much K.O’d.  

Japanese Word of the day - Jishin  -Earthquake

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

On the Road again

Time Flies!
I dont know where the times goes, i thought i had only updated this a few days ago, not two weeks!   Welcome to another edition of Only D Brave- The Chronicles of a traveller in the land of Japan!  Since the last blog I have had an awesome time at the snow festival, landed in a new city, acquired housemates and have had another less than smooth travelling experience!  Please enjoy!

Capsule system explained
I had heard about the capsule hotel system sleeping in a pod / capsule so I was excited that I had this opportunity to finally experience it. So while checking in I was asked to pick a locker to put my shoes in.  Once my shoes was locked up I had to give the key to the desk and in turn they gave me another locker key which corresponded to a locker in the basement and my capsule number.  The premise was that your shoes was held as a deposit, while you was inside the hotel you would walk bare feet or with socks on, if you wanted to visit outside the hotel you would hand in your room locker key in exchange for your  trainers.  The room lockers were in the basement and width wise were very small.  There was no chance it was fitting my backpack let alone my suitcase.  I had to take all my valuables and clothes I needed for the next couple of days and place it in the locker for safe keeping and convenience. For this hotel there were 5 floors of capsules each with a communal area.Floors 2-3 and 5-6 had about 40 individual capsules.  The fourth floor had capsules for at least two persons.  

As is the Japanese way the capsules were small but economical in using space.  There were no locks on the capsule, just a blind which you would shut when sleeping.  This is the reason for the locker in the basement to keep valuable safe.  Inside the capsule is mattress and bed sheets, a light switch a radio and Tv and an alarm.  I found it was quite spacious for person if the main aim is to just sleep. 

However long you stay, you have to check out at 10 am morning and return after 1pm if you staying more than one night. I'm guessing it gives the staff time to clean capsules and the communal areas.

The 62rd Sapporo Snow Festival!
As mentioned before I wasn't to keen on leaving Fukuoka, coupled with the ridiculously expensive flight to Hokkaido it did cross my mind if I had made the right decision! However seeing the Sapporo night blew away any doubts!  Little did I know I was to be completely blown away in the next few days!  The Sapporo festival was split across three sites.  Susukino which was a minute walk from my hotel was where the Ice sculptures were based. Odori Park was the second location.  This I think was the biggest site. Here was home to the snow sculptures.   This was about 10 mins from my hotel.  I discovered underground shops that took me write outside both these sites which reduced unnecessary time spent out in the cold.  The third site (Tsudome) was the only site I didn't get to see but to be honest I experienced more than enough at the other two! Tsudome housed snow slides and snow mazes!

Susukino Site (The 31st Susukino Ice Festival)

  This was ice town!  I was stunned by the quality and details of the ice sculptures.  These ranged from  They even had a Gundam sculpture, with eyes that light up!!! These sculptures were awesome during the day but was that extra special at night when illuminated. I think my personal highlight was sliding down the slide made of ice, damn I felt like a kid again!

Odori Site
Glad I stumbled upon ice town first because it only lasted for 3 blocks.  However it  it was a great start and set me up for the park.

The snow sculptures were out of this world.  Massive baseball player head, mario, Lion king stage, were a few of the many snow sculpture.   Also it had the 10 entries of the snow sculpting competition.  As well as snow sculptures, it has stages (made from snow of course) where live music and dance performances were held, food stalls from Sapporo and around the world.  Then you had the ski tremplin/ slope where guest skiers and snowboarders performed outrageous stunts!

Time for a change
With weary eyes I made my way to the train station.  The journey didn't seem so long time due to two reasons - it wasn't snowing and I knew where I was going! Got to the station with 20 mins to spare.  I was so happy I purchased my tickets the day before because it saved me queuing in the morning which I wasn't in the mood to do.  The journey required 2 changes and would take about 8 hours.  I boarded 
the train with my 40 KG and went to sleep - First destination Hakodate.

Same ol' Same ol' 
It wouldn't be only D brave without a mishap along the way. Woke up just as I was approaching the first change over. I gathered my stuff together got off the train at Hakodate and carted my gear off the concourse while trying to wake myself up and look for the departures board.  Coming off the platform I noticed that the station was quite small in comparison to the other stations I have been to, it 
only had six platforms.  So at the start of the platform I took out my ticket to look for the name of the next destination. I looked up at the board of the platform I just left (5) and I saw my train details.  I looked at the adjoining platform (6) and saw what could be my next train but it was showing it the destination in Japanese characters.  I couldnt wait for it to change to English so I asked the station master if that was the platform for my train ticket. She looked at my ticket looked at me, looked at the ticket looked at the board looked at the ticket looked at me again and then said yes next train.  I was about to move when the destination started to flash. Then I received a mail message.  As I was reading the message( which said how was your journey?) the board stopped flashing and had a different time. I looked at the platform and saw the train, which was opposite the train I had arrived in, slowly pull away.  It slowly dawned on me that my train had left without me on it.  Damn it!  Cue me speaking to a platform guard - my Japanese slightly better this time - and explaining to them that i missed my train.  He took my tickets and 5 minutes later return with another set of tickets - no charge.  Im not too sure the same thing would have happened in the UK.  However it involved me waiting 2 hours for the next train to arrive in a cold ass station.

Not again…
2 hours came, I got on the train and heading to Shin-Aomori. Just before I left Hakodate, I asked the platform guard what platform my next train would be on.  He said platform 13. Journey was pretty uneventful, spent most of it cursing my misfortune of missing the train at the previous station.     Arrived at station hours later.  The strain pulled in at platform 4.  I got off the train and got to the end of the platform.  There were two ways to go, either left to the Shinkansen (bullet train) or straight on to the JR trains.  I looked at my train ticket and it said JR Super express so I headed straight on.  10 secs later I stopped.  The entrance to the JR trains only had platforms 1 and 2.  The other 10 let alone platform 13 were nowhere to be found.  I only had 8 mins left for my next train.  Could it be.. could it be the other the Shinkansen path?  Did an 180 turn and raced towards the Shinkansen path.  Went throught the barriers which was open and saw a massive board - with platform 13 - YES!  Raced to the platform and got on the train with 3 mins to spare!

Welcome to Sendai Myiagi

Eventually I arrived my new location Sendai!  Why Sendai?  Well a good university friend is teaching English out here, I haven’t seen him since he left to go Japan two years ago so why not now?  Also it was a perfect location for my plans to travel from North (Hokkaido) to South (Okinawa)  

Usually when I arrive in a new city I never take cab, either public transport or walking.  As well as the obvious cheaper cost, it also gives your first opportunity of the lay of the land.  This time I made an exception because a) I was overtired from the Journey and b) the landlord kept calling my phone asking where I was.  I think I counted 8 calls that day from the landlord all before 6pm, the time i told him my train was arriving in Sendai.  So I hopped in a cab and 10 mins later I was in my new accommodation!  When I say new I mean new, it had only been completed being built in December.  My new housemates were two French guys but neither was in the time I arrived.  The Landlord told me to introduce myself to them and apologise on his behalf since he didn’t tell them I was arriving.  I found this very odd especially since the landlord had called me numerous times that day and the previous two days to confirm if i was coming.  Nonetheless I signed contracts, paid the cash and got the keys to my new accommodation for the next couple of weeks!

Japanese word of the Day - Hanashimasu -(to) speak