Thursday, December 11, 2008

My guesthouse is owned by a cult

...called The Kofuku-no-Kagaku. Which in English means "The Institute for Research in Human Happiness". Pretty catchy, huh?

They're pretty low-key in my guesthouse. The guesthouse is run as a business, not a cult-centre. Nobody gets hassled to join, though I understand that nine years ago, the first time I came to Tokyo, Japanese staying here were asked if they wanted to go to...meetings. Now they just give you a book when you move in. The little library here, dotted with backpacker pulp novels and ancient German-Japanese dictionaries, bulges with abandoned copies of these cult books. They have names like "The Laws of the Sun" and "Guideposts to Happiness". They read like they were written by James Redfield on valium. Most of it is pretty harmless, mildly obvious fluff: "Having been given human life in this world, if we can live in a way that is uniquely individual we will feel all the more joy", "Be intensely sincere" etc etc.

However it is not difficult to find the craziness, the spoon-bending feng-shui Mists of Avalon what's your starsign I remember the womb-state I was a princess-of-Egypt-in-a-former-life frootloop looniness. How about this:

"The Garna Civilization flourished for approximately 25,000 years until the continent was destroyed...the men of that time still had their third eye: a round, emerald-green eye in the centre of their forehead about 2 centimetres above the eyebrows....The Garna civilization came to a violent end...approximately 735,000 years ago."


"The airships of Atlantis would have seemed a very strange shape to us."

No doubt.

"In June 1986 Jesus Christ, Ame-no-minakanushi-no-kami and other spirits came down to me one after another and declared that now was the time to stand forth and announce my presence publicly."

I read a paragraph every now again, just as a reminder never to underestimate human stupidity.

Kofuku-no-Kagaku claim to have 10 million followers world-wide.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Bullet trains are a load of bollocks

Took the Japanese bullet train last week, the legendary shinkansen. The shink has a great reputation: luxurious, swift, silent; wonders of modern technology.

Well, like so many things in Japan, I can report that the reality is sadly different.

I was told that riding the shinkansen was likely flying in an airplane. Maybe, if you are flying Aeroflot in the 1970s. The shink from Osaka to Tokyo was old. It was extraordinarily shabby. Stained seats and faded curtains. Scratched windows. A food trolley whose legs were held together by bits of tape. The haggard crone pushing it was flogging cup noodles and slimy sandwiches made of white bread with the crusts cut off. Decades of tobacco smoke had made the cabin smell like death. The seats were cramped, dingy and lumpy. This was not modern technology. It looked like a film clip from the 50s.

Yes it is swift, but far from silent. The noise comes not from the train itself but from the annoying intrusive announcement before and after station stops. It was a lot worse on the much newer tsubame, the shink that goes from Fukuoka to Kagoshima. That train has so many announcements that, far from being rested, you will have cut your wrists an hour before arrival.

Take my advice: catch the bus. It is comfortable, relaxing and half the cost.