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Full Circle

Day 45: Hakata

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Michael Palin - Full CircleOn our last morning in Japan a clutch of newspaper reports emphasize the fragility of life on the edge of the Pacific. In two of the countries we are to visit, there have been earthquakes measuring seven and above on the Richter scale. One in Mexico has killed fifty-nine people and over one hundred have died in Indonesia. Nearer home it's a story of human fragility - the Japanese Minister for Justice has resigned after accepting money from a religious group. I'm told the favour system is a characteristic of Japanese business, the giving of gifts here is generous, and always reciprocal. But the line between a gift and a bribe has always been blurred.

The Hakata ferry terminal, with its polished marble counters, granite slab floors and gleaming chrome-sheathed escalators, is as spotless, efficient and bland as the Toyama airport terminal at which we arrived.

The ferry passengers are mainly Korean. As we wait to embark they bring small, encouraging signs of eccentricity into this shining wasteland. One of a group of monks wears a straw boater, another an embroidered Russian fur hat. A long-haired vamp of a woman in high stiletto heels is travelling with them. They are arguing, good-naturedly, but publicly - very un-Japanese behaviour. The woman next to me sits smoking a cigarette, hugging one of her nylon-stockinged legs up on the bench beside her; an inelegance which is quite shocking to behold after these last three weeks. And the language sounds very different, the accent heavier and more guttural. Korean is a central Asian tongue, which has more in common with Hungarian and Finnish than anything oriental.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 45
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Hakata
  • Book page no: 69

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