a personal memoir by Michael Organ
Tokyo, 2-4 July 2008
On 23 June 2008, as a former member of the Australian Parliament (Member for Cunningham, Australian Greens, 2002-2004) and supporter of Tibet, I was invited to attend the Free Tibet! Asia-Pacific Forum to be held in Tokyo between 1 –3 July 2008. A report on the Forum is presented below, interspersed with personal observations arising from the visit - my first to Japan. The invitation came out of the blue, but was very welcome – I was driving home from work when I received a call asking if I could go to Tokyo the following week. Needless to say I was excited by the thought. The account below outlines some of what I saw and experienced there. It was amazing to visit Japan and something I had never envisaged happening. It was also a great honour and privilege to attend the Asia-Pacific Forum and continue my work supporting the Tibetan people in their fight for freedom from Chinese oppression. Free Tibet!
Leaving Sydney, Tuesday 1 July 2008
After a full day at the University of Wollongong, where I work as a database manager, I headed off home for a quick run along the beach to Bulli and a dive in the surf one last time. Though it was the middle of winter, and a bit fresh, the run-swim was a daily ritual. A friend had pointed out to me that it would be good to do a run before the flight as I would be seated and immobile all the way to Japan. So I ran, and after my run I showered, finalised my luggage and hopped in a car with my friend Terry and my son Andrew, heading north for Sydney airport, about 90 minutes away. We arrived there around 7pm and I said my farewells, checked in with Qantas and went through customs without any trouble. I then felt I could relax and headed off to the 1st class lounge to have some dinner and wait for my flight, which was due to depart at 9.55pm. I would have liked another shower, as the running around and getting to the airport and through customs is always a bit of a stress, but I was not prepared for it so had to wait until late the following evening. Perhaps one day we will all be able to shower on a plane, especially if the journey is a long one of more than 4-5 hours. The flight to Tokyo was going to be longish – about 9 hours, but being through the night hopefully it would not drag. Anyway, I was able to chill out for a while before boarding, which was good – I don't like arriving latish at an airport and being forced to run and scurry through the long corridors and checkpoints. So I settled into the lounge and had a meal. The following is the text of an email I sent off home from the Qantas lounge at 8.14pm, as I awaited the departure of QF21:
Hey, just a few words from sydney airport before i head off - i just had a big meal at the first class lounge restaurant - lovely pumpkiny veg soup, then spicy chicken and rice followed by sticky date pudding - i am stuffed - i feel like a fat rolly poley polly :-) yuk i ate too much / its about 8pm now and i am starting to feel tired - i want to go to bed :-( but i cant - not till tomorrow night – aaaah . . . . but i will be ok / the lounge is nice but very quiet and rather a lonely place - full of serious looking business men - some women sitting at the bar getting sloshed - and all mostly alone, with briefcases and speaking into mobiles, typing on laptops or reading newspapers - i actually just sat there staring out the window at all the pretty lights and watching the planes land . . . as i look out the window i see the big jumbo that's going to take me away - big yet small - i am glad i had my run before i left, cause it has made me tired and hopefully will help me sleep on the plane a bit - i have a window seat so that when we get close to japan in the morning i might be able to see the lay of the land. we arrive around 7, so i should get an hour or two of daylight before hand. / by the time you read this i should have landed safely . . . . and be winding my way through the busy streets of tokyo to the conference / have a lovely day, and will write you later to let you know all is well and my first impressions :-)
Qantas flight QF21 eventually departed Sydney at 11pm after a delay of about an hour due to the need to replace a lightning conductor part. The delay was tempered on my part by the fact that I was upgraded from an economy, window seat, to a first class, window-less sleeping seat – and I was not complaining about that one bit. We flew out of Sydney in the dark of a clear winter’s night under a sky full of stars, and arrived at Tokyo’s Narita airport around 7.20am the following morning, Wednesday. Tokyo time zone is 1 hour behind Wollongong's i.e. 7am at home is actually 6am in Tokyo, which is no big deal and meant there would be no jet lag as such, perhaps just tiredness at the end of it all from the travel. The flight was ok and mostly horizontal, though I must say that the sleeping seat was not very comfortable – it was thin, hard and lumpy and not really long enough for me, being near 6 feet tall. But, having said that, it was terrific in comparison with the normal upright seat in the rest of the plane, which of course you can never really get a good sleep on unless you are a heavy sleeper. Therefore, thanks to Qantas, I was able to get a bit of sleep during the night and not feel too tired upon arrival in Tokyo or through much of Wednesday. The flight was bumpy at times, but nothing to be worried about, and due in part to the pilot trying to make up some of the time lost prior to departure from Sydney.
The most notable part of the trip for me was some music I heard on the in-flight sound system – we were provided with a range of movies, cds and radio programs to chose from, but as I didn’t want to watch a movie at 1am, or listen to radio DJs babbling on in between music, I went to the cd collection – pop and rock – and came across the latest cd from the artist Seal, called Systems. I was a fan of his song Kiss from a rose and found System to be a beautiful album, soothing in parts and rhythmic in others. I was quite amazed that the first song I heard was If it’s in my mind, it’s on my face with the verse: If I could fly, I'd spread my wings, and take you from these foolish things.... which I found very appropriate to my situation, as there I was, alone on a plane en route to Japan and leaving so much behind in Oz. I would return of course, but for the next three days I was on the other side of the world, and here and now I was lost in Seal's music.
As I settled into my comfy chair / bed, the attendants offered us champagne and juice, but I just stuck to water. Some people in front of me didn’t hold back with the bubbly, but luckily they were quiet drunks and did not disturb our slumber during the night. We were also offered a dinner meal, but I think it strange having a meal around midnight on a plane, so I skipped it this time, mainly because I had already overindulged at the restaurant in the Qantas lounge at Sydney. I did, however, have a full breakfast on the plane at around 6am and that was nice – muesli and scrambled eggs and tea and bun. Not having a window seat, I did not see much of the Japanese landscape as we flew in, though we all enjoyed a view of Mount Fuji sticking out of the clouds in the far distance like the volcano that it is, after the captain pointed it out. I was hoping to look down on the famous paddy fields of Japan, but due to cloud and my seating I missed out. The landing was uneventful – the way I like it. The flight, for me, was a mixture of trying to sleep on the sleeping seat and listening to Seal. Around 1pm I lay down on the bed and slept on and off until about 5.30am when the sun appeared. Some of my fellow passengers donned the grey pajamas supplied by Qantas, but I didn't bother, neither did I do any reading on the flight, but rather I engaged in a lot of thinking, including going over what I would say at the Forum in the speech I was due to deliver on environmental aspects of the Tibetan situation. Being rather rushed, I had nothing written down, but this was a topic I was familiar with, so I had no qualms about my ability to get up and deliver, especially as I was able to use information supplied from the Tibetan government-in-exile website. We would see how I went ….
Tokyo – First Day – Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Narita Airport to the conference in the city
Being in first class I was lucky that I was also first out of the plane on arrival at Narita airport just after 7.20am. I passed through customs and located the ‘Airport Limousine’ bus pretty quickly and without any problems. Narita was about 70km outside of the city, and the bus ride was a nice way to get my first view of the Japanese landscape. The journey was quiet, warm and picturesque, at least in comparison with the return trip, which was by fast train and rather disconnected from the local environment and more like watching television, as the scenery flashed by: reminder to self – catch a bus in a foreign country every now and then. The weather was fine – it was summer and about 26 degrees, warm but not too hot or sticky. I had left relatively nice weather back home in Oz - nice for the middle of winter anyway - but whilst I was away Wollongong was pounded by cold weather and strong winds. None of that here in Japan though. The countryside outside of the city was pretty standard fare for the most part, but different to what I was used to. Sure, the expressway was just like any expressway in Australia, apart from the Japanese / English signage and the sheer size - bigger, and the traffic was the same to a large degree, however it was different from Australia, as you would expect. The houses and buildings reflected a style I was unfamiliar with but nevertheless saw as uniquely Japanese. The land was low lying, mostly flat, with small ridges everywhere covered with dense forests. In between the ridges were rice fields and between the fields and ridges were houses and roads. The houses were mostly 2-storey residences, squarish in footprint, some with Japanese ornamentation, some without. There was a consistent style, especially in regards to size and spacing, evidence perhaps of a strict planning regime. They were different to most Australian houses, though not overly so apart from the ornamentation. However they were invariably squashed in together, with no evidence of the Aussie quarter-acre block in a country where land is scarce. They were, I suppose, typical Japanese suburbs, with corner shops, car yards and the like in surrounding streets and town centres. Quite 'western' actually..
As the bus got closer to the city, the greenery and the paddy fields disappeared, to be replaced by lots of houses, factories, roads, bridges, canals and apartment blocks and not much green space at all. Concrete was everywhere – in the buildings and especially the overhead road and railways. It formed a huge mass of buildings and associated infrastructure such as power lines and roads, slowly increasing in density and height as we got closer to the city. Due the earthquakes in Japan the height was somewhat less than in some of the other cities I had seen during my recent travels, including Sydney and Taipei, but the density was much more noticable - Tokyo's population alone is some 15 million people, whilst that for the whole of Australia is just over 20 million, so there were a lot of people to be accomodated in the environs of Tokyo Bay. However there was one exception to the rectangular, pale grey concrete masses as we drove in – a huge, light brown hotel-type complex topped with gold roofing in the Kremlin style caught my eye by the side of the expressway. I later found out it was Tokyo Disneyland, which represented to me evidence of the strong US influence upon Japanese life and culture as a result of the post-World War II occupation.
I smiled as I noted the little freeway-side hotels with their strange architecture – like a whole heap of Lego building blocks stuck together in no real order – and with even stranger names, such as ‘Hotel Chat’, ‘Hotel la Scene’ and ‘Hotel Rainbow’, the latter being a very colourful Rubik’s Cube type structure. One even had Greek statues painted all over its outside walls. I thought that the hotel rooms must have been incredibly small, like coffins, and similar to those box-like airport hotels in Australia that offer overnight accommodation for $100 flat.
On the way in on the bus I asked a Japanese lady who had been on my flight if I could charge my mobile and camera in Japan the same as at home. I was using it and it was already starting to run out of power, only able to last a day or so before dying. She said yes (the answer was actually no as the voltages were different and you needed special adaptors), but then I was not sure if she really understood what I was saying – just as over the next few days I would smile and nod and say yes on occasion when I did not have a clue what was being said to me in Japanese. Anyway, the whole charging of my mobiles was a problem and left me with no mobile coverage throughout my time in Japan and only able to use my mobile camera to a limited extent. Next time I will be better prepared in both those areas. As a result I was not able to take any shots of the scenery on the way to the airport, which was a shame. I also began to suspect that the language barrier and the quiet nature of the Japanese may make communication a bit difficult for someone like me who had no knowledge of Japanese whatsoever.
Having got on the bus around 7.45am for a 1 hour 10 minute trip, I arrived at the Tokyo City Airport Terminal around 9am and was greeted by two Japanese ladies from the Save Tibet Network, organisers of the Forum. They were smiling and waving a big sign with my name on it, just like out of some Hollywood movie. I felt a bit embarrassed, and waved back as quickly as possible, hoping they would bury the sign. So far all was going well and I was delighted to see them, fearing of course that I would get lost in this gigantic sprawling city of 15 million people, with no language skills on my part and no mobile phone to contact anyone. The two ladies were both in their thirties - one was a tall Japanese nun by the name of Ms Shunke who could not speak any English, and the other was a shorter lady by the name of Ayako Yamasaki, who could speak relatively good English and who I found to be very helpful. From the bus terminal we hopped into a taxi and headed off to the Gakushi Kaikan hotel in the middle of the city and its main conference hall, where the Forum was to be held. Upon arrival, Ayako and Ms Shunke took my luggage, but I felt the need to help them and we had a little bit of a struggle over who would carry it – in the end we both carried the bags, because they were heavy and I was happy to do so. This was my first encounter with a culture that is in many ways different to mine – Australian – though it remains very much a mystery to me. I was informed that it was fine for women to carry luggage such as mine – this was Japan – but my western manners found a bit of difficulty with the concept of a woman smaller than me carrying a heavy load for me. Anyway, it was all a bit of fun and as we climbed the stairs to the Forum hall we both had our hands on the heaviest piece of luggage, which we soon deposited at the conference reception desk. I was later told that young women in Japan generally have quite a deal of independence, but once they decide to have children and/or marry, careers usually come to an end. This is changing, of course, as pressures of modern living, earning an income and other influences change some of the traditional Japanese cultural values and move it more towards the west and increasing equality for women.
The trip from the bus terminal in the taxi was a bit of an eye-opener. Tokyo taxies are so very different from Sydney taxies: they are super clean and tidy, sparkling on the outside with extra coats of polish, and immaculate on the inside, though full of lots of electronic bits and gadgets such as small video screens and GPS monitors telling the drivers exactly where they are in the city. No bulky hissing and clicking two-way radio in this taxi – instead, just a small mobile and an earpiece connecting the driver to base. The taxies themselves are almost invariably new Toyota Crowns and Nissan Cedrics - ugly, square, boxy cars - with lots of knick-nacks on the outside and inside, such as big, ugly rear vision mirrors on the front left and right fenders; little things on the roof that light up and have numbers on them; crocheted lace seat covers in white; shiny silver and gold hubcaps; and finally, the drivers – dressed up like Captain Stubing out of the Love Boat, with braided jackets and caps and a white glove on each hand. The doors to the back seat opened pneumatically and automatically. When you paid, the money was placed on a little tray in between the two front seats, and there was a lot of bowing and thank you thank you between driver and customer. No idle conversation was engaged in by the driver during the trip, apart from briefly at the beginning to receive instructions as to the destination. This was all in total contrast with my experience of Australian taxies and taxi drivers, which in comparison are often, though not always, rough on the inside and out, dirty, big and a lot noisier, plus conversation is freely engaged in. The taxies, like so many other things in Tokyo, were very efficient and got us to the Forum with no problems. The service was exemplary.
The Free Tibet! Asia-Pacific Forum
Around 9.30am we arrived at the Gakushi Kaikan hotel main conference hall where the Forum was to be held. Apart from my one large item of luggage, I also had a shoulder bag with papers and personal things in it, such as wallet and passport. I was attired in simple jeans and t-shirt from the flight, so a change of clothes was required to turn me into a ‘politician’ or at least someone who looked like a politician attending an international conference. I was able to achieve this superman-like transformation in a small yellow room with ‘Gentlemen’ on the door located near the main hall. I was dying for a nice shower after the all night flight, but it was not to be as there was no time to drop by my hotel room. So I stood there in front of the mirror in the toilet bathroom as I had a brief strip down and wash, before donning suit and tie. Next to me was an Asian man, who I later discovered to be Mongolian and was changing into traditional Mongolian attire. I suppose you could call my suit traditional Australian attire, though that is a pretty sad thought. Anyway, now looking and feeling the part, I breathed in, smiled at the realisation that I was actually in Tokyo - wow! - and I left the little yellow room walked slowly up to the conference registration tables then on into the conference hall, with perhaps 15 minutes to spare before commencement of proceedings.
I was greeted by lots of friendly faces, though I must have stood out a bit as I entered the medium sized hall. Near on 6 feet tall, in black suit and red tie, us Aussies - apart from our Tibetan colleague - were all rather large compared to the average 5 ft 5 inch tall Japanese men and women, though of course there were, on occasion, Japanese taller then us, such as Ms. Shunke. At the front of the hall, and in front of seating accommodating about 200 people, there were two banks of 3 rows each of tables. In the first rows were the politicians and former politicians from Australia, Taiwan and Japan, a senior academic and, most importantly, Madame Kesang Yangkyi Takla, the Tibetan Minister for Foreign Affairs. In the second row were academics and other delegates, including two men from Mongolia and Urghar. In the third row were the Tibetan representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from Australia, Taiwan and Japan. The chairman of the forum was Mr. Seishu Makino, a long-time supporter of Tibet, former Japanese member of parliament and chairman of the Save Tibet Network, Japan. Mr. Makino’s limited English-language skills were more than compensated for by his friendliness, enthusiasm, professional manner and obvious deep commitment to the Tibetan cause.
The Forum began at 10am and proceeded through until 5.30pm, with lunch in between. The various speakers included the following, though this is not a definitive list:
• Inaugural address by Mr. Seishu Makino, Chairperson, Save Tibet Network Japan
• Keynote speech by Mdm. Kesang Yangkyi Takla, Minister for Foreign Affairs, CTA, Dharamsala
• Mr. Jin Matsubara, Japan MP
• Mr. Shoichi Nakagawa, Japan MP
• Mr. Katsumasa Suziki, Japan MP
• Mr. Peter Slipper, Australia MP
• Prof. Su Chia-Hung, Foo-Yin University, Taiwan
• Mr. Paul Bourke, Australia Tibet Council
• Mr. Lee Ching-Feng, Taipei City Council, Taiwan
• Ms. Chien Yu-Yen, Taipei City Council, Taiwan
• Mr. Michael Organ, Australia Fmr MP
• Mr. Tenzin Phuntsok Atisha, HHDL Representative, Australia
The Forum commenced with the reading of a letter from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, written the previous Monday.
Message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 30 June 2008
I am happy to learn that a meeting of the Save Tibet Asia Pacific Forum is being held in Tokyo from 1st to 3rd July with representatives of Tibet Support Groups, including Parliamentarians from Australia, Taiwan and Japan attending the Forum.
Tibet today is passing through a very critical period with the very survival of the Tibetan people at stake. The situation in Tibet continues to be grim. The recent demonstrations and protests throughout Tibet are a clear manifestation of the Tibetan people's deep-rooted dissatisfaction over the situation prevailing across the Tibetan plateau. China's current unremitting efforts to assimilate Tibet are eroding the Tibetan people's distinct cultural and spiritual heritage. For this reason it is important for the international community to speak up on behalf of the Tibetan people.
On our part, we remain committed to resolving the issue of Tibet through dialogue and discussion in finding a mutually acceptable solution, that is, within the constitution of the People's Republic of China. During my meetings with representatives from the Chinese media as well as at a gathering of members of the Chinese community in Australia recently, I also assured them that we are neither anti-China nor anti-Chinese and we have great admiration for China and its people. It is extremely important that we reach out to the Chinese brothers and sisters, wherever possible.
Incidentally, the seventh round of formal discussions between my envoys and the representatives of the Chinese leadership are taking place in China at the same time as this conference of yours. This latest meeting has come at a crucial time. I hope this seventh round of talks will continue in making some marked improvement in our discussions
I am happy to learn that Mrs. Kesang Y. Takla, the Kalon for our Department of Information and International Relations, is the main speaker at this conference. She will provide you with more details of our efforts to resolve the Tibet issue with the Chinese side.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the organizers of the Save Tibet Asia-Pacific Forum and the participants for their unstinted support in our nonviolent struggle for freedom and justice. As I have said time and time again, we treasure your valuable support, especially coming as it does from the Asia Pacific region. I also take this opportunity to wish you every success in your deliberations.
With prayers and good wishes
Tenzin Gyatso, 30 June 2008
All four of us from Australia had the opportunity to speak. This included the Hon. Peter Slipper MP, federal member for the seat of Fisher in Queensland, Paul Bourke, CEO of the Australia Tibet Council, myself, and Tenzin Phuntsok Atisha, Australian representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Peter’s talk before lunch focussed on the political aspects of the Tibet issue. Paul’s dealt with global activist campaigns. Mine concerned environmental issues and the importance of Tibet as a source of water for help of the world's population, and Atisha’s included a personal account of his part in a delegation which visited Tibet during the 1980s. Our presentations took place during the course of the day and were interspersed among those from Japanese and Chinese speakers, young and old.
The hall the forum was held in was three quarters filled, with a good crowd of local supporters, media, a translation booth and assorted paraphernalia. It was sparsely decorated – lots of white paint and dark brown wood trim. I noted the absence of a Tibetan flag, though a large sign was in place outlining the title of the Forum and the theme ‘Compassion for the Planet.’ The absence of the flag was remedied after lunch as a result of my raising the issue, and one was wrapped around the speakers rostrum. Translation services were in place to cover the languages spoken at the conference – Japanese, English and Chinese (Taiwan). The instantaneous translations into English were very good, allowing us to follow the general thrust of all the speeches. Some speeches – including those from the Taiwanese – were broken as a result of the need to translate first from Chinese into Japanese, and then from the Japanese instantaneously into the English. This was my first real experience with translations, and it was ok as long as you concentrated whilst listening, and slowed down a bit whilst speaking.
The speakers covered the main topics of concern regarding Tibet – the uprising and crackdowns since March 2008, with hundreds killed and thousands imprisoned, along with issues such as the environment, the Olympics, the ongoing discussions between China and representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the heightened interest in things Tibetan by the Japanese. The recent, unprecedented public pro-Tibet protests in Japan were noted and applauded. The conference was attended by a good mix of older people, especially politicians, and younger people who had recently been involved in the public protests. One of those young people gave an impassioned speech at the end of the first day of the conference, in contrast to the more measured tones of the previous speeches by the politicians, though I like to think that my early afternoon, slightly emotive speech on the importance of Tibet’s environment spurred on the more passionate speeches that followed.
During the afternoon a group of young Japanese from the Japanís Conference, Wakamiya group approached me asking for support. Though we had a bit of difficulty communicating, I was able to assure them that I would do what I could, and that their own recent efforts revolving around public rallies and demonstrations were truly inspirational. They indicated that they had other events planned, and it was good to see their enthusiasm and passion for the cause.
It had probably been a baptism of fire for many of the Japanese, as the first half of 2008 presented them with images on televsion of the the riots in Tibet, the Olympic torch relay in their own backyard, and a state visit by Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China and former head of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The President and other leaders of China have a lot of blood on their hands, not just Tibetan, and Hu Jintao remains a figure of utter contempt for Tibet supporters around the world. If any single figure personifies the evil nature and cold-hearteness of the Communist Party of China, it is Hu Jintao. An impenetrable man and perfect figurehead for China's governing regime, he has overseen the atrocities, crackdowns and continuing cultural genocide campaigns in Tibet since the 1980s. One can only wonder where his humanity and compassion lies, if indeed he has any. Hu Jintao presents as a stiff, cold personage to the world, with his plastic-black hair - like an early 1960s Beatles wig - his black suits and pasted on ingenuous smile. He is the face of the Communist Party of China, and the sooner he and it are thrown out of power, the better. Their evilness is without precedent and the atrocities carried out in China towards Tibetans, Mongolians, Urghars, Falun Gong, democracy activists, Catholics and Muslims, to name a few, are truly horrendous. In comparison, the Forum was filled with people full of warmth and compassion, coming from all parts of the region with the pure aim of standing up for the people of Tibet - a people they did not know, but who they felt genuine compassion for.
Delegates to the Free Tibet: Asia-Pacific Forum.
The day was broken up by lunch at the Chinese restaurant located inside the conference venue, and then a dinner in a stately room adjacent to the conference hall itself. The food at the latter was Japanese, though for someone from Australia it appeared quite western. During the evening dinner Madame Takla spoke, as did the local Tibetan representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mr. Lhakpa Tshoko, who I had met previously in Australia. The dinner was useful in that it gave us Australians time to talk with some of the local Save Tibet Network supporters and get their views on a whole range of issues, including of course the Tibet situation. During the dinner I was also able to arrange a tour of the city for Thursday afternoon, following the completion of the conference. In addition, I organised with Atisha to get up early – about 6am – and go for a walk, which seemed like a good idea – I did not want to waste a moment of my free time in the city, as I felt that I may never get back there again.
The dinner ended around 7.30pm. As I left the hotel I noticed in the foyer a man standing by a strange little stand, smoking. With smoking now banned in so many parts of Australia, and our tolerance for cigarette smoke at an all time low, I was intrigued by the sight, until I realised that the little stand was a device for sucking away all his smoke, thereby enabling him to stand there without bothering the other guests. I suppose I stared a bit to much at him, and thankfully he didn't take any offence.
When I finally arrived at my hotel room around 8 the first thing I did was have a shower – a lovely, warm, much needed shower – my first since the one I had back home the previous day around 5pm. So much had happened in between. After the shower I asked the hotel staff to assist me with charging up my mobiles and also with obtaining an internet connection and laptop. The latter was achieved without too much trouble, whilst the former remained problematic. During these encounters I noticed that all the hotel staff were female, aged about 18 to 25, neatly dressed in brown uniforms and very efficient and helpful, even when their English was lacking. These smallish young women were lugging around heavy bags and doing all the things that, in Australia, one is used to seeing carried out mostly by males. But this was Japan. Anyway, by about 9pm I was set up to send an email home. Though the email repeats a bit of what I have said above, it also gives an impression of how I was feeling at the time, and is more immediate and talky in style.
Tokyo, Wednesday, 9.01pm. hey, finally made it to my hotel room and a nice shower - the first since yesterday afternoon! had to hassle to get a laptop for my room, but i did - so i can write you and stuff .... a lot has happened over the last 24 hours and i would like to write some of it down - impressions and stuff - so hope you dont get too bored with it - firstly my mobiles dont work and i cant charge them up because of the different power systems, so that is a real bummer . . . . the flight here was ok - 5 minutes before boarding i got called up and told that they had shifted me from economy to first class, which was cool cause i found out that the first class has seats that fold out into a bed! so i kinda slept :-) pity those poor people in economy - prior to that i had gone into the qantas lounge at the airport and pigged out on a big meal, so i didnt eat anything much on the plane. It was an ok flight - slightly bumpy, but they were fanging it because we left some 50 minutes late due to a dud part - tho we were only about 20 minutes late into tokyo ... a nice breakfast and we saw mt fuji, sticking out of the clouds like an old volcano on the way up / got in at 720, straight thru customs - it was hot and sticky here - and was picked up by two of the Tibet support people and arrived at the conference at 930. I was all hot and sticky and sleepy and kinda remained that way throughout the day, cause of no shower till just now, but i am ok - thank god i slept on the plane a bit, tho i should sleep really well tonight .... .... arrived at tokyo and as i got the bus in to the city - the airport was about 70 kms out of the city - passed through the countryside with rice paddies, lovely old houses, and of course expressways and factories .... funny hotels by the side of the expressways - like lego blocks stuck together by some big kid and with names like - rainbow hotel, hotel chat and hotel la scene - not very japanese sounding at all... tokyo is such a big city - like sydney only 5 times :-) and the land around is flat but with lots of small hills and streams running all about - that's where the whole rice paddy field thing fits in ... the city is full of high rise, flats and lots of overhead train and expressways - apart from that just like any other city - and oh, lots of japanese signs everywhere / didnt get to see much of it though because it was straight into the conference and sat there listening and presenting my speech, all through to 8pm. Lunch was at a local chinese restaurant - not japanese ! but that was rectified when we had dinner tonight - a japanese banquet in a lovely old 1920s hotel room :-) / hey they just brought me up a transformer so i can charge up my mobile and my mobile / camera - terrific, everything is settling down ... :-) . . . . the conference was pretty much people getting up and talking about tibet - i spoke in the afternoon about environmental issues and kinda kicked off an afternoon session which was more emotive than the morning, political session.... near the end we had a young japanese tibet supporter giving an impassioned, noisy speech, which was nice - apparently all the killings in tibet in march have really pricked the consciences of the japanese, who fear the chinese - fear that china will invade taiwan and then invade japan - so there is a real interest here in the tibet issue and concern for the rise of china / apart from the conference i didnt do much - i did the conference thingy - they had us sitting in front of a big audience, all suited up :-) it ends tomorrow after lunch, so i am hoping to go for a walk in town ... also hoping to get up early in the morning and go for a run in one of the local parks - it is 26 and hot and sticky here remember - no wind or nothing. trips such as these are both exciting and also i miss home . . . . Anyway, off to sleep now - will spend some time tomorrow looking around the city and see what i can come up with - i want to relax a bit and have a look around by myself - dont fancy traipsing around as part of some group tour to see the 'sites' - usually like to do my own thing in a big city like this . . . bye
And so to sleep. As I looked out the window of my small room on the 15th floor of the Marunouchi Hotel I noted the high rise buildings outside lit up like Christmas trees, with little red lights outlining their form. Below me was Tokyo Central station, still alive but starting to wind down. The bullet trains had come in and out and the commuters were on their way home. I had only ever seen these sleek machines on television, and thought there was just the big white one, but from my view looking down upon the tracks, it seemed like every other train was a bullet train, they were that common. Of course we in Australia are yet to get our first fast train, but having a population of only 20 million probably explains their failure to appear to date. But not so in Japan, where they are a normal part of the rail system. And so it was time to sleep, and I did just that, after fiddling with the lights and trying to work out how to turn out the invisible ones on the floor and in the corners of the ceiling . . . .
Day 2, Thursday, 3 July 2008
Imperial Palace Walk
Thursday morning I awoke around 6am and headed off 15 minutes later on a walk with Atisha. We were staying at the Marunouchi Hotel in the middle of the city, next to Tokyo Central station and just two blocks away from the Imperial Palace and gardens, so we went for a walk in that direction. We were hoping to enter the gardens and walk through them, but with the G-8 leaders coming to town, and the imperial family in residence, there were police on every corner and the palace was closed, as were the gardens. So we decided to do a complete walk of the perimeter – all 6 kms of it! This took us about 2 hours, and whilst it was very enjoyable, the duration was a bit unplanned. I would have loved to have seen more of the palace and grounds - what I did see on the perimeter reminded me of some of the sets out of Akira Kurosawa films such as Seven Samurai, Yojimo and Ran - very beautiful, very Japanese and very grand. We got a bit lost amongst the high rise at the end, but the walk was worth it, despite the sore legs Atisha was to feel for the next couple of days.
The palace complex is surrounded by a huge moat with occasional white swams, and a high wall made out of large blocks of dark basalt. On top of the wall is dense forest, so we really could not see anything within, apart from one or two high Japanese temple towers. This place was a fortress, and would have undoubtedly been difficult for hostile forces to penetrate in the past. Some of the buildings on the outskirts of the palace were worth photographing and I was able to get a few shots before my camera died due to the charging problems. The exquisite bridges, large gates made of incredibly thick wooden beams, and the various gate houses - all pointed to the age and elaborate detail of the palace environs. During the walk, as I said, we noticed lots of police, and most of them had big sticks – huge sticks like out of some Samurai movie. Crowd control I suppose. Anyway, after our walking adventure we got back to the hotel around 8am and headed off for breakfast, which was a traditional western fare. Once again served by young Japanese women in neat, hotel uniforms. After breakfast I sent off another email home.
Tokyo, Thursday, 8.44am hey - just had breakfast and we start again at 930. got up at 6 and went for a two hour walk around the imperial palace gardens - about 6 km in the middle of tokyo - they have like a royal family here - lots of security guards everywhere. This place is soooo clean and police and workers all over the place, in spick uniforms – we were told that there is a lot of stress here because everyone is so prim and proper - not noisy or open etc - they hold it all in ..... i will have to try not to be too noticeable when i go walking in the city later :-) will write you again tonight when i get back / have a nice day
Drafting the Forum resolution
We left the hotel for the Forum at about 9.30, hopping into two gleaming black taxis and arriving in time to start our work for the day around 10. It was different this time – we were located in a smallish room at the conference venue and all seated at a long table, with Tibetans, Japanese, Taiwanese and Australians together in their respective groups. Our job was to work on the Forum resolution, and in this we Australians took a lead role – liaising with all the other parties of course, but bringing our language and editing expertise to the task of fine tuning the resolution and getting it into a strong, English language form that the Japanese could then make use of. This process went on until 12.30 and was quite enjoyable, as we went over each line, adding and deleting material, seeking consensus and getting it just right. I was pleased that some of my input helped strengthen the tone of the resolution, which I felt was necessary given the seriousness of the situation in Tibet, which had arisen, in part, out of China being granted the right to host the Olympics.
Following adoption of the resolution, which I moved, there was an hour break for lunch, once again in the hotel Chinese restaurant, then at 1.30pm a press conference was held which ran on until about 2.30pm. The following is a press report on the Forum outcome, including the final resolution:
1. Save Tibet Asia Pacific Forum Draws Resolution on Tibet
Tibet House, Tokyo (Japan), July 3, 2008
Parliamentarians, scholars and supporters of Tibet from Australia, Taiwan and Japan who attended the Save Tibet Asia Pacific Forum yesterday at Gakushi Kaikan hall in Yurakucho, Tokyo drew a resolution this morning based on their deliberations and discussion on the Tibet issue yesterday. Kalon Kesang Yangkyi Takla, Minister for Information & International Relations of Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamsala was the chief speaker during the Forum. The resolution called upon the world G-8 leaders who are scheduled to meet on 7th and 8th in Hokkaido, Japan for the Toyako summit to address the Tibet issue during the summit. The Save Tibet Asia Pacific Forum was organized by the Save Tibet Network Japan, represented by Mr. Seishu Makino, former Japanese Member of Parliament.
The resolution was drafted and discussed among the delegates and unanimously finalized at 12 pm today as follows.
Resolution of the Save Tibet: Asia-Pacific Forum
Given the current critical situation in Tibet, present and past parliamentarians, Tibet Support Groups and supporters from Australia, Taiwan and Japan attended a forum immediately prior to the G8 summit to appeal to world leaders to use their influence to address the Tibetan issue as a matter of urgency. [Note: Tibet in this document refers to the whole of Tibet, comprising the provinces of Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang.]
The Asia-Pacific Forum, organised by Save Tibet Network Japan*, was held in Tokyo from 1-3 July 2008. Participants recognised the dramatic increase of concern and support for Tibet throughout the world resulting from the recent tragic events in Tibet.
The Forum condemns the on-going violations of human rights in Tibet, including arbitrary arrests, repression and the campaign of so-called "patriotic education" in occupied Tibet.
The Forum commends the Tibetan people for responding to the call by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to reject violence, despite the violence and suffering inflicted on them by the Chinese authorities.
The Forum fully recognises His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile to be the legitimate representatives of the Tibetan People.
The Forum fully supports the Middle Way Policy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the re-opening of official contact between Representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Government of the People's Republic of China to discuss the peaceful resolution of the Tibet issue.
The Forum notes that many of the leaders attending the G8 Summit at Toyako, Japan, including President George Bush, President Nicholas Sarkozy, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda have individually made strong statements of support for the Tibet-China dialogue.
The Forum urges these leaders to jointly re-affirm their support for the dialogue process and calls upon them to urge President Hu Jintao to elevate the dialogue to the level of formal, results-oriented negotiations leading to genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people as soon as possible.
The Forum urgently calls on the Chinese leadership to:
a) Cease the arbitrary arrest and detention of Tibetans and immediately release all those imprisoned for peacefully exercising their basic human right to free expression
b) Allow the United Nations, foreign journalists and other media, diplomats and independent international fact-finding delegations unrestricted access to Tibet
c) Immediately cease the so-called "patriotic education" campaign which has been re-introduced across Tibet
d) Respect the rights of the Tibetan people to engage freely in cultural and religious practices
e) Cease the facilitation of migration by Han Chinese and other non-Tibetans into Tibet
f) Stop the reckless exploitation of Tibetan natural resources which is endangering Tibet's fragile eco-systems and impacting on neighbouring countries
g) Transform the Tibet-China dialogue from mere token discussions to transparent, agenda-driven negotiations with the aim of achieving genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people and bringing harmony to both Tibet and China.
Tokyo 3 July 2008
Press Conference Press Release
At 13:30 hrs Kalon Kesang Y Takla along with the other delegates from Australia, Taiwan and Japan gave a press conference concerning the Forum and the resolution. The resolutions drafted in English and Japanese was distributed and read before the press. Kalon Kesang Y Takla thanked the Asia Pacific Forum organizers, and informed the press that she had a good opportunity to participate in the Forum`s discussion on Tibet issue and that the deliberations have been very fruitful and vibrant. She spoke on the critical nature of the Tibetan struggle for peace and justice. She concluded here remarks with a hope that the G-8 leaders will take the Forum`s resolution seriously and adopt appropriate action to urge China to resolve the Tibet issue at the earliest convenience. Mr. Makino, organizer of the Forum said, "The G-8 summit is very important; we have seen good numbers of agendas to be discussed during the summit. But despite the brutal crackdown in Tibet and gross human rights violations taking place in the region, the Tibet is issue not on the agenda. We want to appeal to the G-8 leaders to raise the Tibet issue and to bring peace and stability in Asia, and for that matter in the world." He said the resolution will be handed over to the offices of the Japanese Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister tomorrow by Mr. Edano Yukio, President of the Japanese Parliamentarian Group for Tibet. Through the office of the Japanese Foreign Minister the resolution will be passed to the leaders of G-8 nations. He further added that the Save Tibet Network will follow up the matter to see that this resolution makes its proper impact during the G-8 summit in Hokkaido. After attending to the questions from the press, Kalon Kesang Yangkyi Takla and the delegates left the venue, marking the successful conclusion of Save Tibet Asia Pacific Forum, Tokyo.
Following completion of the media conference around 2.30pm, a few photographs were taken of delegates, helpers and organisers, at which point the Forum was officially over. A lot of us visitors and delegates then headed off for tours of the city. The other Australians had plans to go to dinner or get out and about. I was fortunate in that one of the local Tibet support group helpers, Ayako, had agreed to show me around the city and help me locate a market to buy some genuine Japanese items for family and friends. It had been a busy two days so far, but I was looking forward to getting out of the centre of town and into those parts of Tokyo that we a bit more lively and Japanese. I wanted to ride the underground, go shopping, have a real Japanese meal and just walk around and see the city, the people, and take it all in. While this sounded very ordinary to the local Japanese I encountered, to me, a stranger in such a large metropolis, it was exciting just to be there, and I wanted to make the most of it. I had in my head images from the Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson movie Lost in Translation, where Murray and Johansson spend a couple of days in Tokyo and so much happens. I was hoping to see some of that, especially the city lights and the mass of people. And I wasn’t to be disappointed over the next few hours.
Lost in Tokyo ... taxi to Asakusa market and temple
My guide, Ayako, and I were both wearing our favourite Tibet supporter t-shirts as we set off around 3pm – Ayako in a local, handmade one inscribed with the words ‘I love Tibet’ in brown above the image of a sacred dorje, me in a beautifully embroided ‘Free Tibet’ t-shirt which was made in Nepal but purchased in Sydney many years ago. We left the Forum venue and walked into the city, passing through one of the most upmarket parts of town – the one with the Chanel and Louis Voutton stores and everyone dressed in suits or their best attire. This could have been anywhere – Sydney, Edinburgh, Taipei, London – and of course it was only part of Tokyo. However, while we stood at one of the large intersections in this moneyed section of the city, with lots of smartly dressed people around us, I indicated to Ayako that I would welcome the chance to see something a bit more downmarket and not so ritzy. So we decided to take a taxi to Asakusa, north-east of Marunouchi, where there was a market located adjacent to the Senso-ji Temple. The day was warm and a bit sticky, but it was pretty good to be out and about and I was alive to all the sights and sounds around me. Within about 20 minutes the taxi had us at our destination - the entrance to the Asakusa market.
The market was a long, thin paved walkway about half a kilometre in length, with a roof and small touristy shops on either side – just perfect for someone like me on a mission to obtain Japanese mementos to take home. We started at one end of the long market building and, by the time we got to the other, I had most of the things I wanted – a kimono, purse, bag, t-shirt, cup, tea service, shot glasses – all distinctly and genuinely Japanese of course. The things I could not find at the market I later purchased at a big department store in the city and at one of the stores at the airport as I left Japan.The market was full of people this Thursday afternoon, and most of them were Japanese. Ayako said that she had not been here for years, and that local people did not usually go there, but it was obvious that it was popular with Japanese tourists, and also the few westerners that I could see among the crowd. Whilst I was very happy with what I found at the Asakusa market, the best part of the little buying spree was the fact that it was split in two by a visit to the beautiful Senso-ji Temple, which was located at one end of the market.
Situated right in the middle of a built up area, the Senso-ji temple was not surrounded by gardens or anything similar to the Imperial Palace grounds, but by tall buildings on two sides and paving all around. There were hundreds and hundreds of people about, local and foreign, with many washing their hands in the fountain before they climbed the temple steps and stood before the shrine to pray. Ayako and I did just that, throwing our spare coins into the grate before the alter as part of our offering. The smell of incense filled the air, most of it coming from a burning cauldron near the entrance of the temple. Ayako told me how it was good to bathe yourself in the smoke of the incense, so I stood there as it swirled around me, using my hands to gather it in. I felt good, and it reminded me of the big Nan Tien Buddhist temple back home in Wollongong which had a similar cauldron, though the hustle and bustle of Senso-ji was in stark contrast to the quietness and calm I usually feel at Nan Tien.
After leaving the temple and market we headed off to the nearest Starbucks cafe – they seemed to be located on lots of intersections in Tokyo - and we sat down for a moment to have a hot chocolate and chai, plus plan the rest of the afternoon. Whilst at Starbucks we spoke a lot about what had brought us to the Tibet issue – for me it was back in 2001-2002, with people such as Australian politician Bob Brown being a spur to my investigating the history of Tibet and committing to support the Tibetan fight for independence via my work with the Wollongong Dharma Collective. For Ayako it was the recent tragic events of March 2008, though she had encountered support for Tibet during her years as a French language student in the United States and later. Ayako could speak and understand English well, though it was a second language and I was aware that I would need to take my time and speak slowly to ensure that she understood. I also saw that it was not always easy for her to express to me her thoughts in English, but we nevertheless were able to exchange a lot of interesting views. She was the first Japanese person I had ever had a long conversation with, so I think I perhaps did more listening than talking. I had spoken to some of the locals at the Forum, including the young activists who had approached me. I also had an interesting conversation with one of the Forum helpers during the dinner the previous evening. She was intrguided by Australia - by the space, the beaches, the kangaroos and koalas, and you could tell that the hectic pace of life in modern Japan, and in a city like Tokyo, was a strain. I heard how the present Japanese prime minister had gone against tradition and was attempting to transform his country into some sort of "Greed is good" / self over community / low wages and long hours clone of the United States, just as Australian prime minister John Howard had attempted during his reign between 1996-2007. Once again, I could see the similarities between us and the Japanese - the pressures imposed upon ordinary people by conservative governments driven by profit as opposed to social responsibility and compassion. This young lady cited as an example of these new pressures in Japanese society the recent shooting of seven people on a busy Tokyo street by a young man who could no longer handle it. Where in the past suicide was the path choosen - a very lonely, singular act - times were changing in Japan and the result was an almost unprecedented public attack. Of course all this simmering tension was masked by so-called economic progress and rising living standards. Yet at the end of the day these things count for little when it comes to obtaining peace of mind and true happiness. Perhaps these pressures are another reason the Japanese are seeing His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the plight of their neighbours the Tibetans in a new light.
I also came away from these conversations with the impression that many young people had a real fear of China, and for good reason. There was a long history of conflict between Japan and China, and China had been arming itself to an incredible degree over the previous decade. The Japanese - who have no military forces to speak of - were very much aware of this and feeling vulnerable and defenceless, and this even applied to those who were pacificist by nature. The Communist Party of China was also one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes on the planet - evil is a word commonly used. Its treatment of the Tibtetans since 1949 and more recently in March 2008 was evidence of this, as was the constant threats to Japan's near neighbour Taiwan.. China's actions displayed to the Japanese, and to the world at large, a hatred of freedom of expression and the democratic process. Some Japanese felt that if China were to continue down its present path, then the invasion of Taiwan and Japan was inevitable. This fear was heightened in March when Japanese television, in many instances for the first time, showed images of the brutal repression of the Tibetans by the Chinese - more than 200 protestors were killed and over 5000 imprisoned, with torture a common fate for those in custody. As a result, the Japanese reacted in support of Tibet with unprecedented public protests involving thousands of people taking to the streets. They also confronted the Chinese thugs who accompanied the Olympic torch relay when it visited Japan. The Japanese, like so many other democratic and freedom loving peoples around the world, are hoping and praying that the Chinese Communist Party falls and that the brutality, torture and oppression of the citizens of China, Tibet and Mongolia ceases and that peace comes to the whole region. Their support for the Tibetans is therefore also a cry for peace for all the people of Asia. For us Australians, located a long way away, these fears are foreign. However we are part of Asia, and we only have to hark back to World War II when there was a real threat of invasion by Japan. We can now empathise with the Japanese, Taiwanese, Tibetans and Mongolians, as we contemplate the thought of being made second class citizens in our own country, of loosing our independence, our freedom, our democratic rights and our sovereignty. Of course we did just that to the local Aboriginal people back in 1788 when we invaded them, so as Australians we have a role to play in fighting for freedom and justice for all, whether it be the Tibetans or even fighting for peace for the people of Taiwan and Japan.
During this conversation, and later, the topic of World War II came up, and the reality struck me that Japanese students are told precious little about a lot of the actualities. For some reason conservative governments around the world tend to disguise the past and deny the more unsavory aspects - we have experienced this recently in Australian with the Howard governments statements about, and treatment of the Australian Aboriginal people. As a result, many young Japanese are unaware of the nature of the conflict in the region during the 1930s and 1940s. We in Australia were very much affected by our involvement in the war against the combined German and Japanese forces, and especially by experiences in our encounters with the Japanese and incarceration in their prisoner of war camps. I can remember during the 1980s, when I was working in a local brick factory, there were a number of men there who had fought in the war and been prisoners of war. I recall one instance were there was a visiting delegation of Japanese brick plant managers and the local men were so traumatised by it all that they ran out the back and hid among the brick stacks until the visitors were gone. With time, of course, things such as this fade and the relationship between Australia and Japan, and Australians and Japanese, improves. But, as with the Chinese, the events of the past are a spectre which can hang over the present, especially if they are not faced up to. For Australians and Japanese the future remains positive, as we cast off the past and deal with people as they are, and not as we may perceive them to be, especially if that is based on ignorance and fear.
Train to Ginza - shopping
Our hot chai and chocolate drunk, and the conversation needing to turn to something brighter and more hopeful, we departed Starbucks and from Asakusa caught a train Ginza, a shopping district in the centre of the city just south of the Marunouchi Hotel. Getting there was my first trip on the famous Japanese underground. It was around 4.30pm and prior to the rush hour, so not so crowded. The train was fast and clean – no signs of graffiti anywhere – and the stations were the same. I noticed that on the platforms there were barriers to stop people falling onto the lines as the trains arrived, necessary due to the mass of people who use the platforms during peakhour. We paid 160 Yen for our ticket – most tickets seemed to be this price – and hopped on after buying a juice and water. Whilst standing in one of these trains I notice a sign about me with a drawing of a kangaroo and a lady bathing in its pouch - I didn't have a clue what the ad was about, but it was nice to see something distinctly Australian on such an exotic place as the Tokyo underground.
I gulped down the juice I had purchaced, and realised that it was becoming warmer as the night wore on. We would do a lot of walking over the coming hours, and I knew I would need plenty of liquids to keep me going, especially as the humidity started to become noticeable later in the evening. There were lots of police in the city during my visit, associated with the G-8 meeting, and there were police on the train platforms, standing on little metal platforms and holding big long wooden sticks. What a boring job that would be.
Upon arrival at Ginza, Ayako took me to a department store with a toy section where I could purchase something for my sons. It was like any other department store really, except most signs were in Japanese, naturally enough, though there were plenty of English signs around as well, such as the strange Fantastical Sale! I noticed this sort of thing to be almost a standard part of advertising in the city i.e. large English language signs overpowering the local Japanese language ones.
At the entrance to the store we saw a beautiful artificial tree with lots of bits of brightly coloured paper hanging off it. This was part of a festival, and the aim was to write something on the paper and hang it on the tree. We both did this – I think I wrote something like “Free Tibet / Peace for us all / Happiness for xxx” which were the things filling my thoughts at the time. Ginza was another stop in my shopping exhibition – I wanted to buy a simple paper notebook or diary, something distinctly Japanese, and we were able to locate a lovely store which sold beautifully printed papers and notebook diaries of the type I was after. We also found a toy store with Bionicles which I purchased for my sons, and which thankfully they did not already have. So they were happy. Things were going well in regards to my shopping needs, such by the time I had the toys and notebook I was pretty pleased and ready to go and see some more sites and leave the shopping behind. Our next stop was Shibuya. Following my prompting, Ayako had the idea of taking me to a different, busier part of town - the Lost in Translation bit - and then on to a small restaurant she knew, run by a friend who was an environmentalist. We would take a train.
Train to Shibuya - people and dinner
For my second trip on the underground, it was now around 6pm and peak hour, so the number of people had increased substantially, and the pace of the crowd had decidedly quickened. Shibuya was located north-west of Ginza and about 20 minutes away by train. I had told Ayako about wanting to see an intersection like the one in Lost in Translation, with lots of people and big video screens on the buildings. Though she had seen the movie, she did not know precisely where that was. However she knew of the one adjacent to Shibuya Station. Luckily for me, this just happened to be the one from the film!
When we got out of the train and rode the stairs to the exit level, we looked out of the window and below was a mass of people, apparently just standing around. In the distance I could see an intersection teaming with thousands of people who surged onto the road as the lights went green. The intersection was surrounded on all sides by huge buildings covered with gigantic video screens and brightly coloured, flashing neon signs. I loved it. We went down to the street level to get in amongst the crowd and get a few photos. Ayako was bemused – this was just an everyday occurrence to her, but to me it was exciting and rather amazing. Here I was, in the middle of Tokyo on a warm summer night, standing around just looking at the Japanese passing me by – mostly young people, young couples, dressed in a lively assortment of often brightly coloured, modern clothes and outlandish hair styles and colourings. I realised then what conservative dressers Australian young people are in comparison with the Japanese. Because my camera had died on me, I relied on Ayako’s and she took a few Lost in Translation shots of me, standing amongst the crowd and with the video screens high up in the distance. She later told me how my enthusiasm for the whole experience made her feel like a tourist and look at her city in a different, more sympathetic light.I suppose someone who lives there must get drained by the sheer numbers of people encountered every day and the lack of personal space - something which we undoubtedly take for granted back in Australia.
The intersection was noisy and crowded, so when I had my photos we talked about going someplace quiet to have something to eat. Ayako rang her friend’s restaurant, but found it was closed this Thursday night. Eventually she settled on a little restaurant called Bliss, up the Meiji-dori Avenue from Shibuya, in Jingu-mae. We caught a taxi there, arriving around 8.30. For the next two hours or so we had a nice Japanese meal, with a bit of Okinowa cuisine thrown in and interesting conversation from the owner / chef, who liked to mingle with his customers and offer us lucky dips. The time flew by as we ate and talked about all manner of things Tibetan, Australian and Japanese, past, present and future. Bliss was a hole in the wall – a small travel agency / restaurant / bar, all in one, with seating for only about 14 people, no more. The place was a bit noisy, and on the wall next to us was a video of overseas tourist destinations, though most of the shots seemed to be of Mediterranean beaches. The food was great – I especially remember a noodle dish that had bits of scrambled egg, an Okinawan cucumber and onion, but which tasted divine. We washed it down with a local beer, which was also nice as the night got hotter and stickier. The 4 course meal and drinks came to about 4800Y, or about $48 Australian, which was typical. I had heard that Tokyo was an expensive place to visit, but I would put it on par with Sydney, and no more expensive really. Some things were decidedly cheaper, such as cds, whilst others were the same, such as restaurant and food prices.
We left Bliss around 11 and headed out amongst all the late night party people, though we were searching for a means of getting home – me to the Marunouchi Hotel and Ayako to her flat somewhere in the city. Ayako was looking to catch a train after she had set me on my way, whilst I was after a taxi, which was always very easy to find in Tokyo. However just prior to parting our ways, we sought to have a photo taken – so I looked around and bailed up the nearest foreigners I could see to ask them if they would be of assistance. This just happened to be two middle aged ladies from the US and Canada who also happened to be supporters of Tibet. When we realised that Ayako’s camera had run out of memory, they said they would take our photo and email it on later, which they did. So after all the photos and goodbyes and thank yous, I hopped in a taxi and headed back to the Marunouchi Hotel, where I arrived just after midnight. I was hot and sticky, but not really tired. It had been a great afternoon – I had done all the shopping I had needed to do, I had had my Lost in Translation big-city experience – why I even kicked my toe in the hotel room the next day – and I had eaten a genuine Japanese meal in a genuine Japanese restaurant. But most importantly, my conversations with Ayako had given me a bit of incite into Japan and the Japanese, an incite I would otherwise not have obtained on such a short stay in the country. After a shower and finally sorting out the charging arrangements for my mobile and camera, I set down on the computer to send an short email off home to a friend.
Tokyo, thursday night, 12.40am hey i am writing this after midnight - the conference went to well in the afternoon, then a couple of us headed out to see tokyo - lots of walking, riding two subway trains (the last incredibly crowded) and sitting down to a nice japanese meal to talk about tibet and other issues such as the japanese fear of invasion by china. i was able to visit a large japanese shrine, a great market to buy some stuff, and walk through parts of tokyo that have thousands and thousands of people on the streets - it is so interesting looking at them - a lot of young people work in the city, and at 6pm on a thursday night i saw all sorts, all colours and shapes and many very different to aus / i have been without my mobile and my camera today due to problems charging them up, but hopefully that may be fixed re the camera tomorrow so i will get some photos of the city. will write more tomorrow bye
Last day , Friday, 4 July 2008
A late night usually results in a sleep in, so there was no 6am walk for me this Friday morning, 4 July 2008. I got up around 7.30, had a shower and sent off a quick email home before going down to breakfast.
Tokyo, Friday, 7.31am hey :-) its really warm here - was so nice last night - about 22, clear night and tokyo is the city of neon lights - you should see the streets - they are amazingly lit up at night, with signs and lights and huge video screens on intersections - i love it :-) it makes it such an exciting and different city for a visitor from australia, though the japanese i was with they could not really understand why i was so excited as it is so normal to them - but soooo different to us .... if you watch the lost in translation movie you can see a bit of what it is like when she walks along the busy street and you see the building with a video of a walking dinosaur on the side of the skyscraper - i was at that intersection! pretty cool eh :-) i have just got up - slept in a bit . . . . not sure what we are doing today - a tour is planned - which is ok, tho i like to do my own thing a bit, and tours as such can get a bit boring .... anyway, i will go and have a nice quick walk - try not to get lost, then come back and have breakfast then either go out looking around and do a bit of shopping, or go on the tour / we have until 4pm today so plenty of time - which is good. i like japan - i like tokyo, and it would be nice to travel around a bit / had an interesting conversation last night with one of the japanese about their education system, the war - which they are not really told about, and about oz attitudes to japan - i think the whole idea of them invading australia was a bit of a shock to them - they just did not know .... but time has moved on a lot and they were very very interested by it all / bye now from tokyo :-)
After packing my bags and stuff I went down and had breakfast with Atisha and the Tibetans. I had on my favourite Budgie t-shirt - they are an early seventies British rock band wo recently visited Australia for the first time. I am a big fan, so when I stood there getting my breakfast, I was surprised to hear a voice say to me "I didn't think Budgie was still around." I turned and a British man, about my age, told me how he had seen Budgie in the early seventies and had been a fan. It is a small world indeed ....
During breakfast I arranged to go with the Tibetans to their office in another part of Tokyo and from there have a look around, before doing lunch and then heading back into the hotel where all our luggage was. We planned to catch a train around 4pm to Narita airport in time for our flights home which were due to leave around 8.30pm that night. Therefore I had practically a whole day to look around. One thing about this Friday in Tokyo – it was hot. 36+ degrees, and pretty sticky, so walking around the city was not as enjoyable as the previous evening. Nevertheless I was hoping to see a bit more of Tokyo and take a few photos, now that my mobile and camera were all charged up.
Tibet Office, Shinjuku
After breakfast we deposited our luggage in the lobby, before hopping in a taxi and heading off to Shinjuku where the local liaison office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was located. It had been there for some 10 years and was well resourced, with a comprehensive library, a small room with a shrine, and ample space for meetings and dealing with the important task of promoting the Tibetan cause. As the Tibetans settled down with their Minister for Foreign Affairs to discuss issues of state, I headed off into the middle of the shopping district of Shinjuku. The first thing I noticed was that, like most city streets in Tokyo, the highrise and other buildings were also distinguished by a mass of signage – on windows and on the buildings in the forms of neon signs and video screens. It was overkill in the Australian sense, but normal for Japan. Of course it added a lot of colour to the cityscape, especially at night. I took a flurry of pictures of the people and streets around me, as I walked under the glaring sun and I even saw a homeless man sleeping near the entrance to the subway, which seemed very much out of place in this super clean city. There were no garbage bins in the centre of town, and instead I noticed lots of people whose job it was to walk around and clean up. I suppose when you have so many people in a place - 15 million - there is an ample supply of labour. However there is a down side to this as well - yes, in the park near the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Central station there were homeless people sleeping, just as there are in all big cities, including Sydney.
I also passed a bank where I noticed that all the tellers were young women dressed in Geisha costume and a policeman was on duty inside the door, as in every bank I saw. Unfortunately I was looking to get some money via my Visa card, but none of the ATMs worked for me – apparently they only accepted Japanese Visa cards, so I just walked and looked.
About 11.30 I returned to the Tibet office and we all headed off to a nearby hole-in-the-wall noodle bar. With very little space available to them, three young men, uniformed and head banded, worked behind the counter amidst a mist of steam and flying noodles, preparing quick meals for the 12 or so customers who were able to squeeze in at the bench in front of them. As they cooked our dishes they spoke and sang loudly to each other, and it was quite riveting to watch them work. We were in and out in about 30 minutes, fed and happy. I ordered something called Meso, which was a soup with lots of noodles, soya sauce and a bit of onion dressing. Very nice.
After lunch Atisha and I said farewell to the Tibet office and headed off to a department store with one of the local Tibet office staff. He and Atisha looked through a 100 Yen shop, whilst I browsed around a music store and purchased a copy of the Seal cd I had heard on the plane flight to Japan. It cost 1580 Yen, which was only about $16 Australian and half the price I would have paid for the new cd back home. Like shopping in other parts of Japan, there were some bargains to be had, and some not. With all our shopping completed, Atisha and I got a train to Tokyo central station. Atisha was heading back to the Marunouchi to rest until it was time to head off to the airport. I decided to go for a walk instead, to fill in the 2-3 hours. It was now about 1pm. Initially I was going to try to get to one of the big electronic stores at Hakiabara, but the 36 degree heat was too much, so I went for the closer Museum of Modern Art, near the Imperial Palace. Even that was a longish walk, such that when I arrive there I was hot and wilting. At the entrance to the museum there were four young Japanese women to serve visitors, but no one really spoke good English, so I browsed through the bookstore and decided to give the tour a miss – I was running out of time now so I turned around and walked back to the hotel. By the time I got there it was close to 3.30. Atisha, myself and Peter then went about getting our luggage and heading across the road into Tokyo station. We booked three tickets on the Narita airport express and, as it was due to depart in 5 minutes time, we were forced to run through the station and down the stairs with our heavy luggage. But we made it just in time, saving us a 1 hour wait. Needless to say, all this walking and running about in the heat had worn me out and once seated in the train I dozed off for a while, before being awoken by a ticket inspector who told us we were sitting in the wrong seats. Atisha and I got up and moved. The train journey took us just under an hour, even though it was a fast train. I saw a lot of the scenery I had seen on the bus trip in, but unfortunately there was no real opportunity to take any photos now as we were going too fast.
Narita airport to Sydney
Upon arrival at the airport we checked in at the Qantas counter – once again staffed by young Japanese women – and by about 5.30pm the three of us - Peter, me and Atisha - were safely settled in the 1st class lounge. We did not fly out until about 8.30 so there was plenty of time to have a nice shower, a meal, read the newspapers, check the internet, look out the window onto the tarmac and the planes taking off and landing, and go to the local airport tourist shops for those last minute purchases prior to finally leaving Japan. Atisha and I did just that, using up all our spare yen and securing a few nick nacks for family and friends. I purchased a set of two beautiful matching black and white mugs with drawings of traditional Japanese figures, whilst we both secured t-shirts and bags. I finally said goodbye to Atisha and Peter around 8 and headed off to gate 87 for flight QF22 to Sydney. Atisha was travelling on to Melbourne and Canberra by a separate flight. The journey home for me was quite different to QF21. I was seated in 50A at the rear of the plane, by a window, and it was pretty cramped, but in some ways cosy and I probably slept just as well – which was not much really – as I did on the flight up. We had a bit of dinner around midnight and breakfast around 6am, though nothing as fancy as in first class. In between I listened to Seal again and tried to sleep. There were no problems with the flight and we landed in Sydney just after 7am on Saturday. I passed through customs with no problems as usual and by about 7.30 was in my brother’s car on the way home to Wollongong. He had come to pick me up and make sure I got his bottles of Midori and Glenfiddich scotch at the duty free. I arrived home about 9am and by 10 I was standing in my kitchen doing the washing up and thinking – "This is weird! A couple of hours ago I was in Tokyo and now I am back home. Did it all really happen?" Yes, it did, and it was a pretty amazing experience. I was so glad to have had the opportunity – brief though it was – to visit Japan and to once again publically support the Tibetan cause. I hope to go back again one day and to see more of the country. Why? I don't know really - I just found it all very interesting, both the people and the places, and very different to Australia, and I suppose I am interested in Japan due to the whole history thing between the two nations. Perhaps it is also all those Akira Kurosawa movies I have been watching lately, and Lost in Translation of course. Sayonara from Sandon!
Page last updated: 16 July 2008.