Jenny has returned to Ireland so I have a break from adventuring (for the moment) which I’ll use to finish off my posts from Spring break. While we were in Tokyo, we went to two ‘themeparks’ – the Ghibli Museum and Disneyland. I had been to the Ghibli Museum last year with my family, but on that day there had been an unseasonal typhoon so we had to hurry from the bus to inside the museum, so we missed out on appreciating the exterior. It was a beautiful day when Jenny and I went, lovely warm spring weather with clear skies and cherry blossoms.


Like Disneyland, the museum and its grounds are themed from the Ghibli films, but it is a museum, not really a themepark. I have only seen a few Ghibli films, but even so it’s a really enjoyable experience, because you get to see how the ideas are created and how they are made. Photography is not allowed inside the museum, so I only have photos of the exterior. The interior of the main museum building is like an old house, with many floors, and finished in wood. The various rooms of the museum house different exhibitions, on the lowest floor is an exhibition that shows how different kinds of animation work, from looped reels of celluloid film and painted glass scene boxes to a large wheel of characters in slightly different poses, that when spun and viewed with strobe lighting can fool even the eye that knows it is an illusion. Upstairs there’s an exhibit that’s made to look like the Ghibli animation studio with pictures and sketches pinned to the wall, half-finished drawings on desks, and chests and tables overflowing with inspiration. There is a cinema on the lower floor that shows different short films that I think can’t be seen anywhere else. On the day we went there was a film about a puppy that gets lost and has an adventure, but I loved the one I saw last year about an unlikely bond between a diving bell spider and a waterskater. It’s probably one of the most beautiful animated stories I’ve seen.


There is a room that features changing exhibits; last year there was an adult-sized catbus that you could sit in, this year they had an exhibition of English pre-Raphaelite illustrators of fairy-tales. The exhibits are interesting for all ages, because it manages to convey information, such as how animated films are made and the history of a type of art, through its presentation which is appealing to children. You are allowed to touch parts of the exhibitions, and there are many machines you can use to experience how a film works, and doors to open to peek inside. The most interactive exhibit is a catbus that is unfortunately only open to children, who clamber all over it as the adults look on enviously. On the day we were there, one of the attendants had filled the catbus with sootball teddies that children had to move into a basket, combining the characters of My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away.


On to Disneyland!
In Tokyo there’s the Disney Resort which has Disneyland and Disneysea. Disneyland is more cute and character-based, while Disneysea has supposedly better rides. Jenny wanted to go and compare it with Disney World in Florida, where she’s been many a time, and I wanted to compare it to Eurodisney where I went when I was about ten. I also really wanted to go on Space Mountain because neither of my parents would go with me when we were in Paris. Both Jenny and I got into the spirit of things by dressing up – Jenny as Minnie Mouse and me as a brunette Alice in Wonderland because it was a good excuse to wear my Baby the Stars Shine Bright dress that I had bought last year after having watched this film. I would recommend it – it’s got Lolitas, yakuza, yankis and pachinko.


We got in around eleven o’clock, put our backpacks in a locker and went straightaway to get a fastpass for Space Mountain later that afternoon. The Haunted House was the only other attraction I particularly wanted to go to, but there was a long queue and we had to wait to get our next fastpass, but when we came back later it had closed because of some technical problems. For the rest of the day we went to whichever place had the shortest queue, so we went on ‘It’s a small world’, the Teacups, Philharmagic, the Mark Twain Riverboat, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Carousel. We also saw the afternoon Parade that had dancers and big floats themed on the different films and characters.


We wandered from place to place, marveling at the Disney architecture, eating, taking pictures and people watching. Many junior high-school girls came up to us to ask us for a picture, and I could tell they were proud and embarrassed to use their English. Lots of other visitors were dressed up like we were, and everyone there wore at least one Disney product. The selection of souvenirs is quite astounding so we waited until the end of the day to do our shopping so that we would have time to think about what we wanted to buy. I ended up buying an Aristocats’ Marie hat/scarf/gloves, which I love.


Disneyland is extremely popular, especially with teenage girls. More than the rides or the attractions, it seems to be the fantasy that they love. Some of my students have written speeches about Disneyland for competitions, and one girl wrote about that particular aspect of it. She told an anecdote about asking a cleaner what he was doing and he replied that he was sweeping up stardust. She also said that there were no mirrors in Disneyland (though of course there are) because it would break the illusion to see yourself and realise that you are still the same person and have to go back to your normal life. I was really struck by her representation of Disneyland and the importance she placed on the escapism of a visit, without her even realising it.

The film Afterlife (ワンダフルライフ) is about a place where people go when they die to choose their most meaningful or happy memory to be remade by the people who work there before they move on. A Junior High School girl chooses a trip to Disneyland with her friends as her memory, but she changes her mind after one of the workers tells her that a lot of girls her age choose Disneyland. Instead she chooses a simple memory from her childhood with her mother. It seems strange to me that teenage girls can take Disneyland so seriously, treating it as a real fantasy land where you can escape to, rather than just a fun diversion. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with escapism, I think it is good to take a break from your own life, and everyone has their own (often silly) ways of doing that. I consider books and films a form of escapism, but the difference is that you learn experiences from them that you mightn’t be able to have in your own life, whereas all I have from Disneyland is a happy memory (and some souvenirs).



Kurobe Gorge, Toyama

I had recently been feeling the urge to get out of the city and get into nature, because the leaves were changing colour and I was reminded that it won`t be long til the cold, dark and snowy winter will make countryside travelling very difficult. Two weeks ago I went up to the Noto peninsula in Ishikawa. It was a beautiful day for a barbeque and we went to the woods on a hill overlooking the bay. The Noto peninsula is beautiful, rural Japan, but so far I haven`t seen much of it as the trains only go half way and buses are infrequent. Some day though, I`ll make it to the end.

Last weekend I travelled to the neighbouring prefecture of Toyama on Ishikawa`s north-eastern side. Toyama is home to Tateyama, the third Holy Mountain, and to the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine trail where you can cross the Northern Japan Alps from Toyama into Nagano. I might do the trail in Spring because when the trail opens, the snow on the side of the roads can be as high as 20 meters, making the famous snow corridor. But this time I wasn`t going to look at snow, I wanted to see the Autumn leaves. I was going to Toyama anyway that weekend to go to a Halloween party so I did some research to see what sights could be seen while I was there. Kurobe Gorge is close to the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine route but it`s accessed from a different direction and doesn`t link up. The gorge is the deepest in Japan (although it`s not exactly a ravine) and wasn`t a popular spot to visit until after the construction of the Kurobe Dam when the railway, originally used to help with construction, became used for a sightseeing train.

This was exactly what I wanted to do, so on Saturday morning I got the train from Kanazawa to Toyama City where I met my friend Katie, and on to Uozu where we changed to the Toyama Chiho Railway at Shin-Uozu on to Unazuki-Onsen, from where the sightseeing train starts.

I learned three things on that day: wear a coat when going through mountain tunnels, don`t wear tights to places there are foot onsens, and don`t assume that cans of coffee from a vending machine will always be hot now that the seasons have changed.

We were the only foreigners there that day, although there were a lot of Japanese tourists, and I wonder how often foreigners go there. No English was spoken to us, but the train conductors were very concerned about us missing the last train back and making sure that we understood the timetable. Bless them.

The trains were long and orange with open-sided cars. Before we started off I was worried that this was going to be like a chronically unsafe rollercoaster, skirting around the sides of cliffs with nothing between us and the gorge but a loose chain at the side of the carriage. But it wasn`t terrifying at all as the train rumbled along at a leisurely pace and the tracks were wide.

I don`t know why there was a Norman castle at the edge of the reservoir.

We stopped at two places on our journey. At Kanetsuri we saw the mannen yuki or `ten-thousand year` snow, which was looking very sad at this stage in the year and an open riverside hot spring where people could stick their feet in.

They`re not that common but they do exist – beer vending machines.

At Keyakidaira we were quite chilly from our journey through the mountains so we went to an onsen (hot spring) to warm up. It was a pretty basic affair; we gave 700 yen to a lady running a ryokan (traditional Japanese guesthouse) to use her outdoor onsen which was a small pool at the side of a cliff facing onto the Kurobe River, covered with tarpaulin to shield it from passerby`s eyes. The water was absolutely scalding but after a while a woman came in to check and added some cold water to the mix. The view from the onsen was great, with yellow and red forested mountains around and a rushing river below.

The sun had set by the time we boarded the train back to Unazuki-onsen so while our carriage was flooded with light, the outside was dark except for the occasional lights of the few stations. As our train trundled along, it reminded me of Spirited Away.