I'll skip most of my time in Scotland. It turns out that very few of my friends live in Edinburgh anymore! It seems that half of them have moved to Glasgow, so I spent a fair bit of time acquainting myself with “that fine city”, as my father would describe it. One highlight was being able to stay long enough for Sean’s 18th celebrations.
After a chillaxing time at home, my family met up in Japan. I had never been before and it didn’t take 2 weeks to find out how fascinating and different it is. First impressions last. My first impression was of a toilet - and it blew my mind! Japanese toilets are highly sophisticated - they are riddled with electronics and the seats are warm. The electronics cause jets of water to spurt in unexpected directions, not least because the instructions are in Japanese kanji characters. Who plugs in their toilet?! (see below)
We spent our first week skiing in the north in a place called Niseko on Hokkaido island. Rarely have I experienced so much snow. It snowed every day for 6 days, which meant visibility wasn’t great. In fact, we didn’t even know the mountain in the photo existed until our last day. That discovery was a highlight (it’s not Mount Fuji, by the way!).
But there were two even better highlights. First was meeting Kat and Gus from Edinburgh - my sister and I used to play for Kat and Gus’s respective hockey teams. By a miracle of timing, they were in Niseko on their honeymoon at the same time as us - I hope we didn’t spoil it for them!
Second was our night skiing experience with Kat and Gus. We arrived at the top of the chairlift for our first run to be greeted with a bright flash - my quick-witted sister quipped “it will be thunder next”. Moments later she was as surprised as the rest of us to hear the low growl of thunder. My father was quick to point out that it wasn’t ideal to be standing on 2 thin metal (conducting) planks or holding 2 metal (conducting) poles on the middle of a mountain. Without further ado, we headed down the slope buffeted by strong winds. With the chairlift closed, it was time for dinner and our night skiing experience was over...or so we thought.
Miraculously, by the time we had eaten our noodles, the wind had died down, the thunder and lightening had ended and the chairlift had reopened, leaving the whole slope to us. Everyone else had given up and left. I could wax lyrical about the beauty and serenity of the temples and gardens of Kyoto, but the beauty and serenity of the slopes of Niseko that evening will stay with me forever.
Kyoto was the next destination. It is a truly wonderful city, and after 4 days of walking round temples and gardens, I can now tell the difference between a Buddhist and Shinto temple and spot a Geisha at a hundred metres. For an 18 year old boy, that’s probably a reasonable achievement!
I can hardly fail to mention the next stop, Hiroshima. Not surprisingly, we went to the Memorial museum, which one friend has described as "dark tourism". The museum conveyed the horror of the destruction and suffering caused by the “Little Boy” atomic bomb, mostly by focusing graphically on the stories of the innocent children and their families in Hiroshima in 1945. I had thought I knew something about Hiroshima, but it really did open my eyes. Hiroshima itself is a truly inspiring place. It has recovered from the devastation (something like 80% of the city destroyed or severely damaged) and is now a thriving, modern city of over 1 million people.
Our trip ended where it began - in Tokyo. It’s a huge, busy city with plenty of temples! Fortunately, regular food stops aided the sightseeing. The food in Japan is incredible - sushi, sashimi, oden and a vast array of unidentifiable but edible, tasty items were consumed.
So, I’m back in Taiwan and on a diet. My future blogs will be shorter!