031. Getting Around

I won’t mention that I was awoken at 6.23am by the alarm clock in the next door apartment.  Won’t mention it at all, because I might have wanted to wake up then anyway.

Today was a day for Ned to orient himself to getting around, not just in Sapporo but Japan as a whole.

I caught the tram and then the subway back to the main Sapporo station.  (I also won’t mention that Ned got taken aside at said station because the old fool did not have enough credit on his IC card to get through the turnstyle.  The charm thing worked a treat as the attendant showed me how to do a top up. Good-o.)

Here was the purpose: to activate my JR Rail Passes, and start reserving numerous trips.

The JR Rail Passes are for foreign visitors, and come in 7, 14 and 21 day flavours.  I’ve got two of the 21 day passes due to my excessive fondness for the Rugby World Cup.

You have to buy them overseas, and you are sent a voucher. I bought mine in New Zealand from HIS Travel who were totally Japanese about the whole thing (that is, they knew what they were doing and didn’t assume that I did).

Once in country (and make sure you get the ‘Temporary Visitor’ stamp in your passport as you enter), you toddle off to a JR station and exchange said voucher for the actual pass.

There was a special lane set up at the tourist office in the station for the JR Rail Pass exchangees.  Which was just as well because there were a fair few of us, and it takes a wee while. When I arrived there were a couple of kiwi couples, an Englishman, and a brave fella wearing his Wallabies cap, being served.  We were all very well behaved and refrained from making inappropriate suggestions to each other.

The young women (and they were all young, and all women, and all properly uniformed, and had fabulous little stamps for making everything official) were outstanding.  Everything was done just so: pages and paper lined up exactly, adhesives applied with Goldilocks pressure, the kanji script delicate and strong.  The bit I liked the most was when they checked eachother’s work to confirm it was right. Smart smart smart. I cannot imagine the hours of training that have gone in to deliver service of such exquisite precision and beauty.

And then I handed over a formally printed list of reservations to be made on my newly minted Rail Pass.  I have spent the last few months working the Hyperdia website to figure out the exact trains I want – need – to be taking to get to all my matches. (The site is a bit cumbersome, primarily because you need to know the exact station name, and you should never ever assume that it is what you think it is because it might not be.)

My young new friend allowed only the merest glimmer of doubt to cross her face when I handed across my list: clearly she is more used to dealing with such as the aforementioned Aussie bloke along the counter who had a general idea of being here and wanting to get to there, but without a specific sense of how that might be achieved in real life.  Good Lord, it might have been Michael Cheika himself.

Whereas Ned had it printed out in precise 24-hour terminology, with the correct station and train names.

Glory be and hallelujah, it was all tickety-boo according to Young Miss.

So now I have my actual Rail Passes, complete with warnings that if they’re lost or stolen you’re f*cked don’t come asking for a refund or a replacement because frankly we’ve had it up to here with you gaijin not having your shit together. Fair enough, too. Having had the warning, I shall guard them better than my passport or wallet, which can be replaced. They shall go right next to my match tickets, which also cannot be replaced.

I celebrated the above singular achievement by buying a cup of truly execrable coffee.  Sigh.

Megan Andrew, in her excellent A Sports Traveller’s Guide to Japan, had some words of sage advice for just this moment:

Wabisabi is the concept that life is beautiful not because of perfection and permanence, but through imperfection and impermanence. We most obviously see wabisabi in procelain and pottery; applying gold to bowls, plates and cups to enhance cracks and repairs. However, the concept transcends material goods and embraces the notion that life itself is flawed and fleeting so in embracing the blemishes and finding beauty in the damaged, we can focus on the poise that comes with time and experience.

Not a bad way to enter into a World Cup, really.

So anyway, after all that I tottered off to a local art museum which, bizarrely enough, had a special exhibition of the Italian bad boy painter Caravaggio (1571-1610), and some lesser others influenced by him.

Frankly they weren’t top drawer Caravaggio (go to the Galleria Borghese for those, if only to soak in the corrupt voluptuary ambience of his time), although the Medusa was very fine, enough to give small children nightmares.  There was also a goodish Judith Beheading Holofernes by a follower: the poor schmuck’s mouth open wide and screaming in panic as Judith saws at his neck, but with the scene stolen by Judith’s maid driving her on with pure venom from the background.

By contrast, the permanent space featured an excellent exhibition focused on the 1920s: oils, woodcuts, sketches, ceramics.  I would gladly have taken 20 or 30 of the pieces if no-one was watching.  (They were.) Only a few names I recognised, but all the more powerful for that, as it rammed home again for me what a tremendously rich few decades the before and after of World War One were for art, all around the world.  All the optimism of progress before; all the picking up the bloody shattered pieces after.

Wabisabi indeed.

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