Japan/China Journal 2007


China, Japan. The very words conjure up images of the exotic and unusual – the foreign and appealing.

As a child I remember the wonder that I experienced as I saw animation that originated in Japan. Somehow it was very different than the other cartoons from the United States. It seemed to have an “edge” and be much more exciting. Throughout my growing up I became more and more fascinated not only with Japan but also with China through the food that I experienced in tantalizingly minor ways in Canada. I grew to be friends with some people who came originally from Hong Kong and then, in April 1997 I made my first visit there. I was immediately hooked with the bright lights and fast nature of this wonderful city showing it to my mother on a second visit two years later on the way to Australia. The wonder was infectious with her immediately falling in love with the city as I had. Now, eight years later the opportunity to visit in a much more exhaustive way has arisen.

A further bit of background – I am a fan of Science Fiction. No, not necessarily Star Trek and Star Wars (though I certainly enjoy them) but of the genre in general. To this end I have been attending the World Science Fiction Convention which is held in different cities around the world every year. At “LA Con III” in Anaheim, California in 1996 a small group from Japan made it known that they intended to bid on holding a convention in Yokohama (Japan) in 2007. The bid was immediately greeted with a great amount of enthusiasm – This would be the first time the convention would have been held in a non-English speaking country and the first time in Asia but it also reflected the fascination that Science Fiction fans have with Asia. Their bid parties were well attended and pre-supporting (of the bid) membership soared. I was one of the first members back in that summer of 1996. A few years later when the membership voted for the site of the 2007 convention the Japanese bid succeeded by quite a number of votes. A plan began to form. Japan, hum…I knew I had to go.

Seeing Michael Palin in his first trip, Around the World in 80 Days, I found his method of travel very interesting: Eschewing flights and travelling by surface. I particularly liked the way he got from Hong Kong to China then Japan: Train from Hong Kong to Shanghai then ferry to Japan. I saw that this was a particularly good way to visit the country in that you had time to appreciate the sights and people along the way. Well, if it was good enough for Palin it was good enough for me.

The plan was, and is now, to fly to Tokyo, visit the convention in Yokohama then a week later catch the ferry from Kobe to Tianjin (just outside of Beijing on the coast of China) then, after visiting Beijing, travel by train to Xi'an (home of the famous “Terracotta Army”) then on to Shanghai (also by train) then finally to Hong Kong (ditto). This plan has been long in the making and has been what I have been working on in my spare time for the past year – My apartment in Cambridge, England has stacks of China and Japan tourist information along with the various travel books. My plane tickets were purchased last summer with hotels and tours booked in the months that followed. One of the many difficulties has also been co-ordinating with my mother who offered to come with me. I think we both realise that this is a trip of a lifetime: Four weeks, 2 countries (one “special administrative region”), 7 major cities, a two-day ferry journey, a nine-day tour in China, a five day convention in Japan, countless hours on trains and many thousands of miles. A serious trip. Serious planning.

Wish us luck…

Day 1 - Departure