From the observation deck of the Tokyo Tower the city spreads like a haphazard heap of high rises. The harbour area offers some break in the landscape of concrete and glass. Somewhere in the middle lies the renovated acreage of Tokyo Castle, its renovated pagoda-like keep testament to the rebuilding that has raised Tokyo from the ashes of the Second World War. The fire bombing of many cities in Japan in 1945 caused massive destruction in a country where the main building material was wood. Operation Meetinghouse in March of ’45 caused more damage and loss of life in Tokyo than the two nuclear bombs that would follow later in the year at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The red and orange ‘Eiffel ’ copy is a major attraction, both for those wanting to view the city and those wanting to indulge in perusing the tacky souvenir shops below. Fast food and a fast buck seem to be the order of the day here, but as darkness falls and the floodlights come on the tower shines like a beacon of a new Tokyo. Hidden in the back streets is a small but exquisite garden, in the ultimate Japanese style, a place of tranquillity and peace which is shattered by the screams and scrapings coming from the huge roller coaster that over looks it from the fun fair next door. What a genius of a planning officer allowed that?
For me, Japan is an enigma. The guides insistence of a people committed to community, calmness and compromise jars with my talks of the Japanese activities in the Second World War; the atrocities committed in south-east Asia; the evidence of the ‘Death Railway’ and the use of local women as ‘sex slaves’. Although 70 years have passed this ‘new view’ indicates either a complete change of attitude or a veneer over what could re-emerge under the right conditions. The cheers and waves of the schoolchildren on the dockside as they ‘played’ us in and out of port was emotional and gratifying, and hopefully a sign of a change in the make-up of this country to give us all hope.
Taiwan – the Republic of China – as opposed to its huge neighbour across the water – the People Republic of China is another enigma. Believing itself to be the true centre for the Chinese people it hangs on to its independence through its political compromises with Beijing (no nuclear weapons and no formal separation), and the backing of many big players, such as the USA. Populous and crowded, with many factories pouring out almost everything we need complete with the ‘Made in Taiwan’ labels it has an order and method to it more reminiscent of Europe than Asia. The streets are wide and clean, the traffic lights work and the signs are in Chinese and English giving some hope to the traveller.
The role of Buddhism plays a huge role here, and a visit to the Fokuangshan Buddha Memorial Centre demonstrates this as clear as day. Here is a place of unbelievable scale. The buildings, shrines, walkways, pagodas and the huge figure of Buddha are straight from the CGI workshops of Hollywood. It looks unreal, It is huge. The atmosphere is calm, the concessions shops sell only healthy food and the souvenirs are of a different class. But the walk to the main shrine is one to take your breath away. Even in the slight drizzle of a mid March day it was like walking in a dreamland, a religiously tasteful theme park. Words almost fail me. Where the money came from the create this, I don’t know. Where the money comes from for its upkeep…a similar response.
We dined in a restaurant dedicated to the preservation of the Buddhist vegetarian regime. We had enough to eat, but were not always sure which variety of bean curd we were tasting. But the vegetable were good.
And so a return to Hong Kong, Xiamen, Jejus (South Korea) and Shanghai and to finish this set of cruises in Tianjin…and settle down for the 20 hours of flying to get home”!