My long overdue trip to Japan finally happened – I had tickets for March 11, 2011, when earthquake and tsunami devastated the country but this time I was greeted by friends who had nearly forgotten the disaster and beautiful cherry blossoms (sakura) in Yamagata, 30 min. away from Fukushima. I stayed with families throughout the 10 days in Japan, shared a tiny apartment and a loving relationship between a 70 year old mother and her 45 year old daughter in the middle of Tokyo, and up North I joined 84 year old grandma visiting to her husband’s grave, soaked with mom in the hot springs, while dad in his brand new mercedes with tv and all the gadgets prepared the tour route to the best cherry blossoms and the oldest temples. I am one of the very few who went to Japan and left out Kyoto, a reason for me to return.
After a 3 hour flight I landed in Shanghai. A culture shock, warned my friends, and they were right. 100 square kilometers of city that never ends with buildings that looked like East-German Plattenbau, some much worse than what I saw in East Germany years ago. They were interspersed with beautiful old buildings from colonial times, many restored – the famous Bund with banks and hotels that cater to tourist and the many rich in Shanghai – others terribly run down, windows and doors absent, laundry covering the open holes. The fantastic subway system always crowded with pushy people is like a city below a city. Be prepared for very long walks if you have to change lines and you better know your exit, otherwise another long walk. Tokyo’s metro is similar but it feels different, people don’t scream into their cell phones, don’t push you around. And, thank God, I was not driving in China, just sat in taxis and friend’s cars fearing for my life. Rules don’t seem to exist, or they are tested to the max. Hangzhou is known for being one of China’s beautiful cities. Like Shanghai, it has a wide, slow moving river with slow moving barges that look like big black pieces of wood flowing down the river. There is a romantic, large lake – Xihu or Westlake in Hangzhou, a “Fussgängerzone” like in German cities where you can see the remains of the thousand year old city wall, many beautiful pharmacies from around 1650 where lots of patients visit doctors and buy strange herbs, There are silk shops where big balls of raw silk are sorted and sieved by hand and a silk road for tourist to buy silk products, and a wide variety of Chinese and western restaurants. If you visit Shanghai, stop in Hangzhou, it’s only an hour away by fast train and tickets are much cheaper than in Japan. I didn’t loose my heart in China though, too many people who think of nothing but work, family and making money by selling something — very different from the Japanese where salesmen or women would rather hide in their shops than try to talk you into buying something. Would like to go back to Japan to visit Kyoto and hike on the Kumano trails.