12 November 2007

Trip to 水戸: Thoughts on the Pacific Ocean, among other things

I have been on several epic road trips in my life.

One to Ohio to see Radiohead. One to Birmingham, Alabama to see a reunited Hum. And one to Kentucky to see the Magnolia Electric Co.. America, in geographic and socio-political terms, lends itself to road trips. Gas is cheap, and the roads are free and largely straight. You can travel 500, 600, 700 miles in a day and be okay, more or less.

Japan, in geographic and socio-political terms, does not lend itself to road trips. If you take a look at Japan on a map, you can see that Japan is really just a sliver of mountains broken off from the mainland of Asia. Traveling from one side of 本州 (Honshu, the main island of Japan) to the other has been historically full of danger. Now, there are highways that have been cut into and through the mountains, but you pay the price for it. We traveled just about 300 km each way and paid 6250 yen each way. That's about $110 for 400 miles. Gas was another 6500 yen..

More than the price, the driving is just not terribly relaxing. The roads are narrow — in some places, you'll have four lanes, but in about half of the trip to this weekend, it was two lane. You're traveling over 80 km/hr, with only about a meter of asphalt between you and the oncoming traffic. This wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't mostly mountain driving where you are climbing up and down hills, through long tunnels, ten kilometers or more, and around sharp corners. Add fog and rain or snow, and you have to stop about every hour and half to unwind and pray.

We came through the mountains yesterday, out of Fukushima Prefecture and it all made sense. There, spread out like a blanket, was the Pacific Ocean. I always think when I see the Pacific Ocean that if I could just walk — walk straight across it — I would eventually be home. And all that is between me and the States is really just a bunch of water.