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In the second week of May 2017 our small group of habitual fellow travellers Craig and Sonia; Wendy and I; took a package introductory tour: Discover Japan 2017 visiting: Narita; Tokyo; Yokohama; Atami; Toyohashi; Kyoto; and Osaka.  

As I have remarked several times elsewhere, the down-side of organised tours is that one is first labelled and then shipped about like a package - thus the term 'package tours'.  The up-side is that tours are largely hassle free; the cost is fully defined; everything is prearranged, including visits to the acknowledged 'tourist highlights' and on days when they are actually open;  there is no hiring cars or driving and worrying about hiring cabs or catching trains is minimised, except at 'free times', when out and about alone.  One simply goes with the flow and can even 'catch a nap' on the bus. 

 

Narita

Our first overnight stay in Japan was at Narita.  The main airport servicing Tokyo is here but its 60 kilometres away, over an hour by bus. So we had a free afternoon as our group assembled. Options for dinner were the hotel (boring) or to catch the shuttle-bus to a shopping and eating district (Aeon).  I did my usual trick of getting us off the bus too soon - at the railway station - so we had our first experience of a surprisingly decrepit Japanese black taxi cab - not impressive.  Where was Uber when we needed it?  The shoppers went off and Craig and I found a bar.  Later we all ate a pleasant meal in a local restaurant, more Chinese than local.

That afternoon, at the Excel Tokyo Hotel in Narita, we had our fist experience of the Japanese enthusiasm for 'all singing all dancing' toilets. We soon discovered, at the shopping mall,  that even those in public places are high-tech, with various function buttons on the wall.  Those in hotel bathrooms are even higher-tech with additional functionality, like heated seats; hot and cold running sprays; and air blowers.  While sitting in contemplation I was reminded of the words of the Limerick about the engineer from Racine who invented a similar machine: 'concave or convex it suits either sex, with attachments for those in-between'.

Throughout the trip, breakfasts were included as were several lunches and dinners. So after an early breakfast we were bussed off to Tokyo. This was our first experience of a Japanese expressway and we agreed that it was not unlike travelling on a highway in Australia or the UK, as the Japanese drive on the correct side of the road and there are lots of Japanese cars on the road. Modern highway engineering is much the same the world over.

 

Japan highway Japan highway

A typical Japanese Highway

The most remarkable difference in Japan is a class of smaller cars and little vans that have different numberplates and seem to be second class citizens, frequently overtaken. We learned that these pay lower registration fees due to smaller more efficient engines.

 

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Travel

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Cloud

 

 

 

 

 Chapter 1 - The Party

 

 

 

This morning Miranda had an inspiration - real candles!  We'll have real candles - made from real beeswax and scented with real bergamot for my final party as a celebration of my life and my death. This brief candle indeed!

In other circumstances she would be turning 60 next birthday.  With her classic figure, clear skin and dark lustrous hair, by the standards of last century she looks half her age, barely thirty, the result of a good education; modern scientific and medical knowledge; a healthy diet and lifestyle and the elimination of inherited diseases before the ban on such medical interventions. 

It's ironical that except as a result of accidents, skiing, rock climbing, paragliding and so on, Miranda's seldom had need of a doctor.  She's a beneficiary of (once legal) genetic selection and unlike some people she's never had to resort to an illegal back-yard operation to extend her life. 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Tragedy in Norway

 

 

The extraordinary tragedy in Norway points yet again to the dangers of extremism in any religion. 

I find it hard to comprehend that anyone can hold their religious beliefs so strongly that they are driven to carefully plan then systematically kill others.  Yet it seems to happen all to often.

The Norwegian murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, reportedly quotes Sydney's Cardinal Pell, John Howard and Peter Costello in his manifesto.   Breivik apparently sees himself as a Christian Knight on a renewed Crusade to stem the influx of Muslims to Europe; and to Norway in particular.

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