Sunday, January 28, 2007


Hello Japan, I'm Home!

It took the airplane 14 hours to reach Tokyo. It took me 30 years to reach Japan.

Observations Galore!

Japan is a small country, inhabited by 130 million people (or so). Rush hour at Tokyo station could be frightening for a visitor, let's say like myself, who was walking - carrying his bogu and shinais - just in the opposite direction of that wall of people moving against me, however, to my surprise, nobody bounced on me or, on each other.

Tokyo is a big city where everybody moves fast yet, there is no screams, no fights, no pushing. Politeness is everywhere. Customer service is just beyond believe and everything is observed to the utmost detail.

Nobody bends the bank notes and they look just like new. After paying for what you have purchased, the change is counted, first the bank notes, being given to you with both hands, and then the coins and the receipt, along with a cordial bow, thanking you for the purchase.

The train stations look pristine, spotless, and the floor shines. There is no litter to be found on the floor, but the curious thing is the fact that there is no trash cans to be found either, just very few but, people has enough education to keep the litter with themselves until finding a place to properly dispose that garbage. Also, there is no senseless chatting over the cell phone while on board of the train, so much different than here in Canada, where cell phones could turn into something extremely annoying while travelling..... is that much you have to say?, is that such emergency?

Trains like the Shinkansen (bullet train), or other lines (like the Narita express) have vendors on board, where you can buy coffee or a sandwich but, they provide a small transparent garbage bag that will be collected later on.

I bought a card called Suica, a very convenient way to travel via rail. The card operates by radio frequency, and you just load money into it. Then, all you do is to touch the sensor of the accessing gates to the station, and you are in. When you exit the station, at the end of your trip, you do that again and voila, the appropriate fare is deducted from the card.

Needless to say, the punctuality of train services are measured by the second.

Taxis are also spotless, wearing those white knitted skirts to cover the seats. Taxi drivers are super polite and also very knowledgeable of the city. It is very unlikely they will take you for a "tour around the city" if you are just asking to go to a place that is 12 blocks away. Receipts for the trip are printed immediately upon request, right off the meter.
The door is opened and closed by the driver, who operates the door from his sit.

Can I take the toilette home?

Toilets deserve a special chapter on this story. Not only found in hotels, but also in many public places, these beauties of modern technology help users to stay clean no matter what.

The sit is heated, and after you are done, the same device washes your privacy, making you feel pampered like a baby!


Food in Japan can be found anywhere, not only Japanese delicacies but also sandwiches, pastries, hot and cold drinks, you name it.

Japan has a fame of being a very expensive country, however, depending where you go, you can eat better, more abundant, and even cheaper than here in Canada.

But Crime also Exists.....

Well, paradise was removed from earth some few hundred of thousands of years ago so, yes, there is crime and poverty in Japan but, it is somehow blended with the scenery. I have spotted homeless people around the Emperor's Gardens, I have seen some Geisha around Ginza, on the company of some men of dubious quality, and also some Yakuza around Shinjuku but, dressing impeccable Armani suits. I was not molested at any time and obviously, I did nothing to get unnecessary attention either.

More about Japan, and possibly some pictures, later on, so stay tuned

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Views From Taipei

Taipei was not for me that good experience. Happens that I've started to feel "funny" the day before leaving Toronto, kind of getting a cold or something like that. Despite stopping in Tokyo for the night and flying to Taipei next day, my body felt the length of the trip and somehow, that was the trigger.

I went to the opening ceremony of the WKC, and I've managed to stay, cheering the Canadian women, up to 1:00 PM or so but, I started to feel feverish so, I went back to the hotel and from there, to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

I got some medication there, and then, back to the hotel, where I literally spent the rest of that day and the next, just sleeping and sweating away that flu.

So, after regaining some of my strength, I was able to watch the last day of the tournament, yet, not completely composed, I decided to skip the sayonara party and sleep all night again. My big challenge was keiko in Japan, and up to that moment, I was not certain if I would be able to make it.

I've Seen so Little...

That being said, my chances to look around the city were reduced to the minimum but, here you have my 2 cents worth of observations.

The Airport looks new, very clean and fairly big, with some areas under construction or remodelling, which make them a bit noisy. The services there were fast and we went in and out of the country with no problems of any kind.

What I've seen of the city, was a mix of buildings, like a 23th century style super tower/shopping mall (called 101) and luxury super modern hotels, mixed with those 1950's cold-war style apartment buildings. Kind of extreme differences between social classes.

Lots of cars, driving around in a not-too-organized fashion, and then, thousands of scooters (small motorcycles), flowing like water in between the cars, in front, around, on the side.... very noisy too.

Taxis need to be mentioned because, we got nailed a couple of times. There are some bad apples that charge according to the face of the passengers but, we've learnt our lesson quickly and it didn't happened again. For the most, the honest taxi drivers outnumbered the bad ones. One other thing... language could be a problem, particularly with the older drivers so, if you have the chance, try to have cards or something written in Chinese that indicates where you are going. I had to switch taxis once because the driver didn't understand where I was going.

People in general, was polite and the only 2 times I have had the opportunity to walk during the night, we didn't encountered any problem.

Medical attention, well, since I have to experience such unfortunate event, at least I will comment on it. I went first to a nurse, which was part of the services in the hotel. She took my temperature and referred me (with a note written in Chinese) to the hospital. The hospital was also under construction so, it didn't look pretty but, the person who took the note at the entrance, help me right away and got a young person who spoke English, he was from Taipei but studying medicine in California.

The service was super fast, probably because I was a visitor, and also because I was paying for the service which, in total, cost less than $1000 NTW (sort of $30 Canadian Dollars), that included the medicines.

The medical attention for the locals seems that runs at slower peace but, all the treatment was very polite.

Despite all these troubles, I was happy for being there.

Japan is next... stay tuned

Monday, January 22, 2007

Long way to Taipei

I have been away from blog-writing for a while but, here I am. Reaching Taipei was a long trip. It took 14 hours to reach Tokyo, in a direct flight from Toronto and then, another 4 or 5 hours to reach Taipei. Fortunately, we spend the night in Tokyo, breaking a bit the travelling mood.

Few Observations

Well, these comments are not exactly related to Kendo but, they are very real anyway.
Thanks to my friend, who travels very often, I got access to the Air Canada lounge, that is a reserved area for the first class, business class, or frequent (very frequent) customers of the airline, Super Elite that's called. In that area, you can relax and enjoy free goodies, food, coffee, all kinds of drinks, Internet, news papers, etc., all while waiting for your flight, and everything is free.
So, that impression of "free stuff" kicks hard on some people, and I have observed here people drinking wine or spirits at very odd hours or, eating like if WW III was about to begin, kind of disgusting. It makes me much all that "free stuff" is really free, when most of these people had paid close to $9000 CND Dollars for a ticket!?, unreal isn't it?

The other good thing was to have access to priority luggage treatment, it means that your luggage gets processed in a slight different manner and less chances for it to be misplaced or lost. So, when it comes to my bogu, that was really a good-to-have option that brought to me peace of mind. Hey!, I can spend 2 weeks with the same underwear but, being in Japan with no bogu?? .... Out of the question!

In any case, I have enjoyed like Cinderella, being part of a dream that it is, normally, out of my league.

Flight Time

It was, as I've said, a long flight. We left on daylight, then it turned night, then day again, then night again...and I was still on the air!, so, I went to a flight attendant and asked if the airplane had enough fuel!, we all laugh, well, or so.

Stay tuned, more comments coming up soon .....