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First stop in Tokyo was to drop off our bags at the hotel and to my surprise the bus was unable to approach the hotel, due to the time of day, so we had to walk a couple of blocks with our luggage.  Just as well I was pretty well recovered from my recent open-heart surgery.  Then it was off to explore Tokyo.

I'm sure there's a lot more to see in Tokyo than one can see in a day and a bit.  It's a big place.  First we we stopped off briefly at the Imperial Palace, on the site of the old Edo Castle that no longer exists.

It no longer exists because early in March 1945 the single most destructive bombing raid in human history annihilated 16 square miles in central Tokyo in a fire-storm.  Estimates vary but the death toll exceeded 80,000. US firebombing raids continued on the remainder of the city and on the night of 25 May, most structures of the old Imperial Palace (Edo Castle) were destroyed in a raid rendering it henceforth uninflammable.  So in a special mission on July 29, what remained of the Palace was targeted with 2000-pound bombs, in a presumed effort to kill Emperor Hirohito. This should stand as a warning to those wanting to do this to Kim Jong-un, because, like a dozen CIA attempts to kill Fidel Castro, it was obviously to no avail.  Thus it was on this same site, in a bomb-proof underground bunker, known as 'His Majesty's Library', that the Emperor met with his Privy Council, to consider the the US dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th of August.  It was here that they decided to surrender. The Emperor's intention to surrender leaked and led to an attempted coup by officers who wanted to fight on. They unsuccessfully attacked the Palace intending to depose Hirohito but were repulsed by loyal defenders. Had those ill-advised assassin bombs succeeded the war may have continued for months more.

We learned nothing of this from our guide.  Throughout the trip nobody within my hearing mentioned the war.  Although Craig and I did privately discuss how much of the present city had been built after the fire bombings.  It was like that Faulty Towers episode when Germans came to stay in Torquay: "...and what ever you do - don't mention the War".   Thinking back, this was extraordinary in a busload of Australians of a certain age.  Politeness all round.  Fukushima seemed to be another topic that was off the agenda until the very last day. No discussing possible radiation hazards and scaring the tourists.

Casual tourists to the Imperial Palace can only gaze in from the gravel road outside, at a few remaining remnants of the old palace and a glimpse of the grounds across the moat. The gravel is a traditional Samurai defence, designed to give an audible warning of ninja attack.  The main buildings appeared to be very utilitarian 1950's style structures with little or no tourism potential.  But as we stood there a ripple of excitement ran through the assembled tourists.  Unspecified members of the royal family had returned in a pair of black horse drawn coaches, accompanied by a handful of horsemen, perhaps household cavalry; crunching their way across the gravel; followed by a black security car.


Palace Moat Palace Moat
Royals Royals
Looking back to the city Looking back to the city

At the Imperial Palace - security gravel 


A bus tour around the city to lunch on the Bay and to visit the Ginza shopping precinct gave us a further on-the-ground impression.  Then to see more of the city we ascended to the lookout levels of the Tokyo Tower, which provides panoramic views in every direction, including Mt Fuji, when the air is clear, which it wasn't. 



Tokyo Tower Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower


Later we spent some time at the Asakusa Kannon (Sensoji) Temple, originally built in the 7th century but burnt down and rebuilt since. 

Like the Taiwanese, the Japanese like to have a bet each way on religion and Shinto shrines are typically found adjacent to Buddhist temples or is it vice versa. With fortunes told, soothsaying and praying for a change of fortune also plays a big part.  The future thus forecast or prayed for is apparently unchanged by the expectations and changed behaviour engendered by these fortune tellings; or are they reliable because they're self-fulfilling?  In one case useless and in the other insidious.  Thus the Jewish and Christian Bible warns against soothsayers and suggests stoning them to death.  But the gravel here was too small.

In the vicinity there is another shrine, to consumerism, in the form of a long shopping street selling stuff on the way to the tip, that proved an irresistible and, as it turned out, unnavigable magnet to certain members of our party.



Asakusa Kannon (Sensoji) Temple and surrounds


The Sunshine Prince Hotel Tokyo was within walking distance of the Nakamisen shopping street - and the Disney shop - essential Wendy visiting for grandchild gifts. 

Some in our tour eschewed shopping and continued on to the area where sometimes geisha (female courtesans) can be seen in traditional garb.  They came back very excited to have caught a glimpse of a hooker, well no, they are actually a very sophisticated and talented woman, as we learned from one and all. 

I was reminded of driving my, then six year old daughter, home one evening along William Street when, previously contemplative Emily, remarked: "little ladies of the night," quoting from Les Misérables. She was not mistaken, except the Sydney geisha, just as popular with Japanese businessmen, wear shorter skirts.  My enthusiasm for eulogising Japanese men's exotic sexual proclivities masquerading as high culture, had also been somewhat dampened by the 'comfort women' controversy that was in the news during our recent trip to Korea (read more...). 

What with shopping and walking a long way already, coffee seemed a better idea.  So we had to be content with a kimono fashion show later in the trip, featuring models.  The real geisha being otherwise engaged with their wealthy businessmen benefactors.

As it happened our guide on the bus was Chinese who has lived with her partner in Japan for many years and is fully integrated.  Nevertheless her commentary on Japanese family life was amusingly feminist.  She had fun representing a typical Japanese marriage as one in which the woman is little more than a painted slave to her husband's illusions:  getting up early each morning to put on her makeup before he sees the real woman beneath the mask, then biding her time until the late evening, when she again does a paint touch-up before her man comes home after a night 'on the town' with his colleagues, essential to securing his position in the corporate hierarchy. During his long absences she socialises with the other corporate wives, comparing the relative brilliance of their children and homes and brags of his long hours at work, basking in his reflected glory or being shamed by the lack thereof.   Thus when a husband eventually retires the wife typically wonders who this stranger is and promptly files for divorce.  And this accounts for the very high rate of mature age divorce in Japan. She had the bus in stiches.

I privately asked her about the apocryphal antipathy of the Japanese towards the Chinese and she denied any personal experience of this. On the other hand when in China one can't help noticing the number of TV programmes remembering the war revisiting the Japanese and their atrocities like the 'Rape of Nanking' and showing Japanese officers cutting off Chinese heads for practice and 'blooding' their samurai swords. One such documentary was very interesting, describing how the Chinese dismantled entire factories and fired the buildings ahead of the Japanese advance. I don't think there is an hour in the day on Chinese TV when the Chinese can't be seen victorious or the Japanese vicious.  Even in Hong Kong, in the naval museum, the Japanese are depicted as a vicious enemy during the last war and earlier, during the initial Chinese trade with Europe, as troublesome pirates, known as 'Sea Dwarves'.

Today the most notable thing about the Japanese people is how solicitous and polite they are and how apparently happy people are, with many smiling Japanese faces everywhere one goes. There are also lots of Chinese tourists who behave like Chinese tourists.


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In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

Read more ...

Fiction, Recollections & News

His life in a can

A Short Story



"She’s put out a beer for me!   That’s so thoughtful!"  He feels shamed, just when he was thinking she takes him for granted.

He’s been slaving away out here all morning in the sweltering heat, cutting-back this enormous bloody bougainvillea that she keeps nagging him about.  It’s green waste tomorrow and he’s taken the day off, from the monotony of his daily commute to a job that he has long since mastered, to get this done.  

He’s bleeding where the thorns have torn at his shirtless torso.  His sweat makes pink runnels in the grey dust that is thick on his office pale skin.  The scratches sting as the salty rivulets reach them and he’s not sure that he hasn’t had too much sun.  He knows he’ll be sore in the office tomorrow.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Issues Arising from the Greenhouse Hypothesis

This paper was first written in 1990 - nearly 30 years ago - yet little has changed.

Except of course, that a lot of politicians and bureaucrats have put in a lot of air miles and stayed in some excellent hotels in interesting places around the world like Kyoto, Amsterdam and Cancun. 

In the interim technology has come to our aid.  Wind turbines, dismissed here, have become larger and much more economic as have PV solar panels.  Renewable energy options are discussed in more detail elsewhere on this website.



Climate Change

Issues Arising from the Greenhouse Hypothesis


Climate change has wide ranging implications for the World, ranging from its impacts on agriculture (through drought, floods, water availability, land degradation and carbon credits) mining (by limiting markets for coal and minerals processing) manufacturing and transport (through energy costs) to property damage resulting from storms.  The issues are complex, ranging from disputes about the impact of human activities on global warming, to arguments about what should be done and the consequences of the various actions proposed.  The following paper explores some of the issues and their potential impact.


Read more ...

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