This country of mine, if I can still call it that, is not easy to get around. Toyama is merely 55min away from Tokyo if you fly. With a long-awaited Shinkansen the bullet train, 2.5hrs. A budget-friendly option that I chose, a night bus, leaves Shinjuku at midnight, drops you off at JR Toyama at 6:40am. The 10,000+ feet of mountain ranges surrounding my hometown make the ground transport grudgingly lengthy. Japan as a whole is more mountainous than an outsider would expect; Tokyo, which represents Japan to most, sits on the widest flat piece of land in the mainland, a disadvantage in the wartimes and a rare advantage for a Japanese city in the time of growth, whereas most other cities are built modestly by the waters or in the valleys, and connected by JR railroads and highways that are flawlessly maintained by tax, fares and tolls which definitely add up (more on this later). Depending on your destination, it costs more to travel domestically than abroad. I had been to more cities and places outside of Japan border than within, even before this crazy travel binge. So I figured, since I postponed my trip to China, I'd rediscover the country who issues my passport.
After I returned my rental in Hakodate, I had about 6 hours to kill before I got on the night ferry. Asked the girl at Budget where I can drink solo within walking distance, she suggested Daimon street which kinda looked like another tourist trap; a dozen or so modest establishments all tucked in a designated block, almost like a curated version of Goldengai in Shinjuku. I walked around a few times unsure about this whole deal let alone where I can settle, then a bottle of shochu named "Peasants Daughter" caught my eye and decided on a good ol' izakaya stand.
"Let the ingredients speak for themselves. Don't interfere. Save your creative intent and ego." I'm paraphrasing it, but that about sums up what I was told by a chef I met in Toyama several years back. Toyama or Hakodate, a good chef knows when s/he is privileged, and would not smear the goodness with your ideas or ambition. #notetoself
Then they share the stories of their industries and how the business is booming thanks to the forthcoming Olympics and the post-quake rebuilding efforts, both of which is not without major controversies. 2020 Olympics is like an adrenaline shot that the leaders think the aging Japanese society desperately needs from both the economic and moral perspectives. Our youth has been in depression for longer than a decade, struggling to find work, significant others or even hope to survive in the Fukushima age which now faces the fear of nuclear warfare with its unpredictable neighbor. Apparently the plan is working, attracting workforce from all over the country to Tokyo, but also is seen as a dilution of the resource from the rebuilding only a few hundred miles north, and the distraction from the ongoing situation where tens of thousands remain in temporary housings after 6 years. “There’s definitely work, if you’re willing” Bossman says, and proceeds to tell me about his friend who chose to go to Fukushima where TEPCO offers top wages for spending a mere few hours near or inside the plant. To the obvious question of whether they’re concerned about radiation and its effect, he replied “the radiation effect won't kick in till 20~30 years later and I’ve already had kids. By then I’d have some kind of health issues even if if weren’t for radiation, so why not make money and retire early?” Bossman says he’s not alone in this thinking.
One event in my life that reminded me of where I come from more than any other happened on my mom's 64th birthday.
The fact that I was an ocean away, unable to do anything other than to send money, or rather didn't do anything, is one of the biggest regrets of my life till this day. And I still don't know how to articulate what I saw and felt when I was there.