Friday, January 1, 2010

Apartheid in Japan and Going to Beppu - Japan's Onsen Capital

A couple of years ago I lived in Bangkok and studied Thai. Since I already could speak the language fairly well when I first arrived, the school decided to put me in the class with the students who had already been studying for a while.

At school I got to know this kind of quirky, but very social and outgoing, Japanese guy. He had arrived at the same time as me and didn't know any Thai at all. During the year I lived in Thailand I observed Kei's Thai learning process, from not knowing anything at all, to be mastering the language impressively well.

He became one of my best friends in Thailand. We'd study and travel together. I continued to be amazed by his ability to be making friends wherever he went, and he soon picked up a lot of Thai that we wouldn't learn in school, and that would help him connect with the locals better. Most of his fellow students would have a hard time learning the language, despite living
in Thailand, since the only time they would practice was in the class room. Much like how I feel in Japan now, but that's another story.

So when it became clear that I was going to return to Norway to study Japanese at the university, and eventually study in Japan, I knew I had to meet up with Kei, in his home country, if I had the chance.

Goodbye Tokyo
and the God damn bus stop sign that was
hiding from me in the
asphalt jungle

Kei lives in Kyushu, the third largest island of Japan and most southwesterly of it's four main islands, in a small town called Ogata (population: 6277) in Oita prefecture.

I really would have loved to ride an airplane all the way from Tokyo, but my rapidly decreasing budget made me go with the most economically method.

On December 26th, the first day of the winter holiday, after riding the train from Togane to Tokyo, I climbed on a night bus heading for Hakata in Fukuoka.

*Insert 14 hours of joy*

Of course I'd been assigned the seat at the
way back (karma). At first I thought "Okay, I can do this" and made my little nest. But then when we first got on the road I could feel the car sickness sneak up on me, no matter how persistently I stared out of the window next to me, or pulled every muscle in my neck trying to catch a glimpse of the road through the front window a kilometer in front of me.

I could feel every turn and bump. "Fourteen hours of
this?", I thought - I'm going to die.

No, I didn't think about bringing car sickness medicine, since I usually don't have too big a problem with it - considering I never
willingly sit in the way back. And how was I supposed to know about the apartheid that rule the Japanese bus transport system?

At our first stop a couple of hours later - mind you, no toilet on the bus - I crawled up to the bus driver and explained my situation, assuring him that if nothing happened I would
puke all the way to Hakata.

Half plea, half threat.

The driver looked very uncomfortable.

I knew that all the seats were occupied, but then he also explained to me that the front half of the bus was for
men only and the back was for women. I looked around and realised that he was right.

Then, to myself, I got a bit angry and forgot about the vomit at the back of my throat for a moment.

In Japan seemingly women are fragile small creatures often victim to
chikan - perverts groping them, often on jam-packed trains and buses.

So, on a 14-hour long busride, if a man and a woman were to sit next to each other, the temptation would be too strong - hence the segregation.

In order for the women to feel
safe, of course.


What a way to solve a problem in society, Japan.

I can't imagine the Norwegian government caving in like that when some muslim immigrants put up a fight, not wanting young boys and girls taking swim lessons together in school, just because they are taught a view of women that is screwed up.

I don't want to feel safe because I am separated from what might harm me. I want to feel safe because people are thaught that certain things are unacceptable and that there are consequences for your actions.


In the end the driver decided to let his two assistants in the seats behind him switch seats with me and the girl sitting next to me. So suddenly I was in the way front. I felt like such a primadonna. Yet there wasn't
any space to stretch me legs, and there wasn't any overcompartment space for my backpack, so I had to balance it on my lap the intire way. So I still got my torture. No car sickness, though. High five!

When I finally got to Hakata at 11 am on Sunday morning my body felt like it belonged to a 90-year old. But the thought of the hot springs awaiting in Beppu helped me keep my spirits up as I got on the bus taking me from Hakata to Oita.

From one of the pee stops at the crack of dawn

When I finally arrived in Oita after more than 20 hours on the road I was met by Kei at the bus stop. Together we drove the 20-minute ride to Beppu. Kei was working the next day, so I was going to stay at Khaosan Beppu Guest House for the night and spend the next day exploring by myself.

The view from Beppu Tower

Hello, bed.
I know we've just met, but after spending a godawful long time on a cramped bus..
I love you

Look, they love the Thai king in Japan too

After getting settled in at the guest house I made Kei take me to a faraway hidden hot spring. I wanted to take photos of naked Japanese butts, and I sure did.

Bumpy road in the middle of nowhere

Hello naked Japanese lady,
thank you for letting me
act like an overeager tourist
with a fancy camera

They sure weren't shy
Kei looks a little sceptical

After I'd finished paparazziing the naked Japanese people I was starting to feel pretty famished, considering that I was pretty fresh of the boat (BUS!) and that I didn't dare drink or eat anything during the entire busride, since there wasn't any toilet onboard.

So Kei took me to a Udon-shop. And I have to tell you, I've spent many blog posts complaining about bland Japanese food, but this trip to Oita has made me change my mind. It has re-confirmed my former belief that anything can be good if served right.

Udon is a type of thick wheat-flour noodle, and I've been dreading it ever since I came to Japan, because the looks of it makes me think of parasites and tape worm. At the school cafeteria it swims around in a disgusting broth without any vegetables and looks very unappetizing.

But now I can say that I've had a dish that made me apprecciate udon-noodles. Yum!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Så mange fine bilder, så ut som et fantastisk sted! Ble helt misunnelig. Tenk Sakurablomster allered nå! :D