I was generally very fortunate when it came to weather while in Japan. Though it did rain at times in the places that I visited, I only had to use my umbrella once, and not for very long at that. For the most part, I had clear, blue skies, like on Sunday morning. Here was the view from the the Hotel Nissei ニッセイ when I went downstairs to have breakfast:
After checkout, I took the train to Ashiharabashi 芦原橋 Station, and visited Liberty Ōsaka/Ōsaka Human Rights Museum リバティおおさか大阪人権博物館 (http://www.city.osaka.jp/naniwa/english/spot/liberty.html). Japanese may pride themselves on being a "homogeneous" 同種 nation, but as this museum makes abundantly clear, the reality is quite different. The exhibits cover the difficulties faced (and the progress made) by resident Koreans 在日コリアン, Okinawans 琉球民族, the Ainu アイヌ, women, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities, people with HIV/AIDS, survivors of Hansen's Disease ハンセン病, the homeless, Burakumin 部落民 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buraku), and victims of pollution, including Minamata Disease 水俣病 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minamata_disease). The photos of the latter group, in particular, were very sad to see. Liberty Osaka is very sobering in that it reveals just how many people have been left out of the so-called "Japanese Miracle". At the same time, it is encouraging that these groups have not just accepted their lot in Japanese society, but have organized themselves to demand what is rightfully theirs, including going to court. During the week I was there, the Japanese Supreme Court 最高裁 ruled that:
"...a clause stating that the parents of children born to foreign mothers and Japanese fathers must be married for the children to be recognized as Japanese is unconstitutional, as well as the clause that only grants nationality if the Japanese father, even in out-of-wedlock cases, comes forward before a child is born, but not after."
while the Diet 国会:
"...unanimously passed a resolution that recognizes (the Ainu) as indigenous people of Japan."
Two displays, in particular, at the museum caught my eye. On the left is an example of a typical parcel sent from Okinawa 沖縄 to the Japanese mainland while the former was under American occupation. The Spam, Wrigley's, Snickers and Planters Peanuts all show the extent of American influence on the Ryūkyūan people. The picture on the right is of a display of drums made by Buraku craftsmen. While the quality is excellent, it does reveal how the Burakumin have been restricted to doing such work as a result of mainstream prejudice, a practice which seems to have continued into the present day.
After the museum, I headed to JR Ōsaka Station 大阪駅, where, following lunch, I got on the first of six trains for the nearly 5 1/2-hour ride from Ōsaka to Kurayoshi 倉吉, in Tottori Prefecture 鳥取県, where I was to spend Sunday night. The route I took first went west, but at Kami-gōri 上郡, the train cut across the heart of Honshū, all the way to Tottori 鳥取 on the Sea of Japan 日本海 side, from where I continued on to Kurayoshi. Here's a photo of the train that took me from Kami-gōri to Chizu 智頭 (about halfway to Tottori):
I had considered buying a Japan Rail Pass ジャパンレールパス before leaving Taiwan, but after doing some calculating, I came to the conclusion that it would be cheaper to travel via local trains. Sure, it was slow going, but the scenery was fascinating, especially the numerous little towns and villages the trains passed through. One thing that was clear from the train window was the extent of depopulation 過疎 in the Japanese countryside. I saw many elderly people out and about, but not many signs of children. Very few homes seemed to have children's clothes being hung out to dry, or kids bikes parked in the driveway, or toys scattered about the yard. (It was also clear yet again on the long train ride just how big of a country Japan really is. This would surprise most Japanese, who are under the impression they live on a "small" island. True, when compared to countries such as the USA, Canada or Australia, Japan seems cramped and overcrowded. While I never completely accepted the idea that Japan was "small", it wasn't until moving to Taiwan that it really struck me that this is a huge country. All things are relative in the end.)
Kurayoshi, with a population of around 50,000, wasn't exactly a teeming metropolis either. As is the case with many small cities in Japan, it wasn't easy finding an open restaurant, especially on a Sunday evening (though it didn't take too long to find an okonimiyaki お好み焼き http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okonomiyaki place not far from the station that was still serving customers). Had I wanted something to drink, on the other hand, I would've had too many options from which to choose, including at least one joint that proudly boasted of its Southeast Asian hostesses. However, Monday was going to be a busy day, so I went back to my hotel after dinner, and called it an early night.