Just 110 kilometers from Busan, where we spent the last day, is the island of Tsushima, which belongs to Japan. This closeness is a thorn in the side of South Koreans, which is not surprising given that historically, invading neighboring Korea has been a national sport of Japan.
Nevertheless, there is a ferry from Busan to Tsushima and we don’t want to miss the opportunity to put our smelly feet on Japanese soil as well.
It starts early in the morning and the small but fast passenger ferry also gives us a free harbor tour. I am impressed by the huge container ships, but also by the massive residential fortresses that can be seen on the horizon on the outskirts of the city.
The ship is full but we are the only westerners and the only ones looking out. Immediately after boarding the ship, all other passengers devote their full attention to the old TV, which continuously broadcasts the most embarrassing Japanese reality shows.
One player after the other in ridiculous costumes tries to balance on machines in oversized children’s playgrounds and ends up in the water to the loud laughter of the spectators and the overturning comments of the presenters.
We are very enthusiastic about visiting Japan. Famous for so many things, this country is the epitome of contrasting cultures.
In this respect, we press our noses flat against the window pane as the outlines of Tsushima emerge on the horizon.
The island looks a lot sleepier than I thought. In the harbor of the small town, which is both the capital and the only settlement on the island, there are small fishing boats. I wonder what people are doing here who are not tourists or fishermen.
Entering the country is very easy. We step onto Japanese soil via the jetty, where a uniformed officer waits for the arrivals and, after a short bow and a quick look, slams the longed-for stamp into our passport.
We walk from the harbor in the direction we hope for more city life. Small canals lead into the city. The Japanese style is very dominant, corresponds to all clichés and differs significantly from Korea. From the winding house roofs, manga and torii everything is there.
Nothing is happening on the streets. We’re the only ones traveling. Maybe the Japanese also spend their time in front of the TV and follow the game shows.
We pass a house in front of which a father is helping his young son to put a tire on a bicycle while the mother is watching. When the family sees us, father and son stand up quickly and they and the mother bow deeply to us. We are totally flabbergasted and bow – but not as deeply as the Japanese. We still have to practice that.
Our impressions continue just as curiously. Every passer-by we meet bows to the waist. It is taken to extremes in a bank. I want to withdraw money so that we can also buy something in this country. The ATM next to a bank branch doesn’t want to spit out any money and confronts me with all sorts of questions in Japanese.
I surrender and enter the branch to get human help. The room in front of me looks like how I imagine America in the 1950s. Several rows of employees in work jackets, ties and fine trousers sit next to each other at tiny tables and hit the keys in front of tiny screens. Nobody seems to be playing solitaire.
As soon as we enter the room, all the employees stand up at the same time, as if on command, and bow to us. We are totally irritated and nod our heads. A short, fat man stalks us from the back of the building as the clerks sit down and return to their keyboards.
The little fat man bows low to us again and probably asks what he can do for us in fluent Japanese. He doesn’t understand my English and his question to his clone army also seems to get a negative answer as to whether anyone understands these long-nosed barbarians.
Gestures with my hand and waving my VISA card have little effect. The man and no other worker seems to understand what on earth we could possibly want to do at an ATM with a VISA card. In desperation, the man rushes to a nearby supermarket and returns with a lady who actually also speaks a few words of English and who helps us to solve this difficult situation.
As soon as we have found something like a city center, we are out of the city again. A road runs the length of the island. The climate is mild, almost tropical, and we can see jungle to our left and right and the sea beyond.
On this occasion, nature comes very close to me. Michael stops me just before I run into a large spider web that has an equally large spider stretched all the way. A proud achievement. She’s sure to have the next cyclist as prey.
We can’t leave Japan without eating at a sushi restaurant. And of course there is such a thing on this small island. People look at us a bit surprised when we enter the restaurant because they are still cleaning. It’s not that early anymore. Although we are on the last island of the Japanese archipelago, this sushi restaurant is more modern than any I have seen in Germany.
There is a tablet at every seat on which the customer can see what is available. The navigation can even be set to English. You enter your wishes on the tablet, save them, and a short time later a pretty model railway comes to our table and brings the plates with our orders on it on a transport wagon.
It was an impressive trip to Tsushima. The politeness shown was very impressive and I could see most of the clichés or my idea of Japan confirmed. I wonder what it’s like on the main islands. I won’t find out until a few years later when I visit Kyoto and Osaka.
We catch the last ferry back to South Korea and let our thoughts drift away from our experiences in Japan while the other passengers are already clamoring for the reality shows on TV.