we had been meaning to take a day trip from tokyo for a while but somehow kept having to put it off. finally we decided to go to niko, a town about 2 hours north of tokyo by train. we had to get up really early since it was a bit far, and unfortunately had managed to only get like 4 hours of sleep. ouch. but we were determined, so we went anyways. we accidenatlly forgot the train directions at home, so we ended up taking the wrong route and it took an hour longer to get there than it should have. niko was so amazing though! it’s in the middle of this huge cedar forest and seeing all these magnificent temples in this beautiful setting made them even more tranquil and beautiful. oh, one cool thing that i never before knew was that the monkeys you always see w/ the “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil”.. those actually originated here!
we checked out a couple of temples and then wandered over to this place called the abyss. it is near this really cool river that carves its way through rocks leaving the rocks in intresting formations. near the river, there is a path lined w/ buddhas that are supposed to be protectors of children’s souls.
we spent a bunch of time in tokyu hands one day. it’s a cool japanese store that sells everything under the sun. one thing i thought was really crazy was some of the bizarre beauty products. straps that you wrap around your legs at night to make you less bow-legged. crazy masks that help shrink your face. little things you put in your mouth to stretch out your mouth and make it bigger. so odd!!
need to shrink your face?
maybe you just need to shrink everything?
need a wider mouth?
exercise machine for your dog
the japanese have invented a square watermelon. yup, it’s true. japanese refrigerators are really small and shoving a huge oval shaped fruit takes up too much space and isnt really the right fit for a fridge. so they invented a technique of growing square ones. we’ve been searching for these things ever since we got to japan, and finally, we found one. it looked so crazy. apparently they cost like 300$!!! ouch!!
speaking of fruit, pretty much all of japanese fruit is hella expensive. we wandered through a grocery store one day and looked at some prices. we were totally shocked!! i couldnt belive some of the prices we saw!!
more than 10 bucks for a tiny basket of raspberries
more than 13 bucks for a rather small watermelon
84 bucks for a cantelope
russian visa hell
after japan, the next country on our list is russia. but going to russia is difficult. there’s all sorts of red tape and bullshit you have to go through. we ended up spending an insane amount of time, energy, and money to figure out our russia situation. first off, to get a visa, you need to get an invitation from someone in the country. you cant just go to russia uninvited. now that the USSR has crumbled, this invitation has become pretty much just a formality. you just pay some organization or hotel in the country to send you an invite. we were hoping to apply for our visas before the weekend, so we paid an extra 90$ each to get the invites rushed. when we were emailed the invites, we called the embassy only to find out that it was a russian holiday and that the embassy was closed for a 4 day weekend. great, we just wasted 180$ for nothing.
tuesday rolls around and we go to the embassy. the line is huge. hours are from 9am to 12:30. we wait for 2 hours and the place closes. great. we come back the following day. we’re not sure when the next ferry to russia is and we dont want to miss it, so we pay to have our visas rushed too. 100$ each. after leaving the embassy, we check the schedule. damn. ferry doesnt leave for 1.5 weeks. we just wasted more money for nothing. eventualy, we pick up our visas. phew.. we didnt get denied. we call the ferry place to arange tickets. crap!! the ferry is full and the next one doesnt leave till mid july. crap!! so now what? do we pay all the money it costs for airline tickets? plus, our visa starts on the 20th and you can only get a visa for 30 days, but we cant get into russia till almost a week later. will we even have enough time to get across the biggest country in the world?? so screwed. so, basically our situation really sucked. sure, part of it was poor planning and preparedness on our part. but part of it was a bunch of stupid red tape on russias part. ugh.
the last several days in tokyo were spent in internet hell. pretty much everyday we were online for hours and hours. whether it was dealing w/ the russian visa thing, searching for flights, searching for hotels, comparing prices etc. it was such a pain in the ass, and it was sucky that so much of the last few days we had were wasted doing that.
randall had introduced us to two of his friends : laughlin and hikaru. both of them live in the bay area and are friends with hella people we know, so it’s surprising that we had never run into them before, but i guess shit happens. anyways, it was really cool to hang out with them, and we kicked it w/ them several times even after randall left. it was sucky to eventually have to part ways, but oh well, that’s the law of being on the road.
it was also really sad to say goodbye to japan. i had really really enjoyed my time there. such a great country. if i would ever want to live temporarily in a place, that would be it. the people there were just so nice and welcoming. the food was awesome. the sights were awesome. the technology was awesome. everything just kind of came together perfectly. the only problem of course was the huge price tag. we ended up spending over a month there which is longer than we have spent in any other country so far other than india. 2.5 weeks of that was in tokyo, which is the longest we’ve stayed in any city so far other than mcleod ganj. it definitely felt kinda like home by the end. *sigh*…
well… now, it’s off to russia!!
everything in japan is ridiculously expensive. it’s nuts. surprisingly though, if you dig around, there are actually quite a few sushi places to be found that are really cheap. even cheaper than the united states. these places do the conveyor belt sushi, so you just pull your sushi off of a conveyor belt that runs along the bar, or you can yell out what kind of sushi you want to the chef and he’ll make it for you fresh. the sushi at these places usually costs around a dollar for 2 pieces of nigiri. so cheap! it makes it too easy to totally pig out on sushi, and the last time i went to one, i actually ate 11 plates of nigiri. dayum! so good though…
since the sushi is so cheap, this gave me the opportunity to order some stuff that i usually wouldnt order in the states. i decided to give another chance to trying uni, which is sea urchin. i had tried it once before and totally hated it, but i thought maybe now i’d be able to handle it. nope. this stuff is so insanely disgusting. other than uni though, most of the stuff i’ve tried was pretty good. i’ve grown rather fond of raw shrimp which i had never liked before. one thing that we tried at a different restaurant, which i thought was kinda crazy, was raw chicken. raw chicken! i never knew that was even safe. but it tasted hella good. maybe i should start eating everything raw from now on?
the sleepy japanese
it still really shocks me just how many japanese i see sleeping everywhere. it’s constant! everytime i get on the subway or any train, whether it’s day or night, there will be some people asleep on it. and when it is late, or really early, almost everyone will be asleep. i’ll see rows and rows of japanese people, heads drooped down, totally passed out. i also regularly see people asleep in their cars, asleep on benches, asleep leaning against walls, asleep waiting for the subway, etc etc. i’m actually really impressed w/ their abilities to fall asleep anywhere anytime, no matter how uncomfortable. and yet somehow, they manage to wake up instantly whenever they reach their stop and get off the train. it’s actually really sad, a lot fo these people are totally passed out just cause they are so overworked. i’ve read that the younger generation of japanese right now is called the fatherless generation… because their fathers are so busy, often working 60-80 hours per week, that they have no time to spend w/ their family or really do anything at all. what a life.
the bathing ape
there is this clothing brand here called the bathjing ape. it was started by this guy who is this kind of marketing genius, who has managed to keep prices for his stuff super high by using various techniques. his stores are hard to find, they have no signage, and they only sell you one shirt of any design. you cant buy more if you tried. because of all this, his stuff seems all crazy exclusive, and so people are just dying to have it. at first i thgought all this was super interesting and was hoping to find this store and get a shirt. but dude, its so crazy expensive!! 75$ for a tshirt! and not all that exciting of one at that! 300$ for sneakers?! its totally ridiculous. apparently just recently, he opened a store in NYC. but the store is by appointment only and you can only get an appointment if you’re a somebody. dude, f* that! the more i think about it, the more this bathing ape stuff seems hella whack. ever since that, everytime i see someone here wearing the clothes, instead of thinking “wow, that’s hella cool”, i just think “dude, he paid like 80$ for a tshirt. sucker!!”
there is this bar/club here called the gaspanic. it’s actually just one of many bars of its kind. basically its a bar where foreigners go to try to hit on japanese girls and japanese girls go there to find a white guy. the place is such a crazy meatmarket, and so incredibly lame. everyone there just seems so cheezy. when i was in the bathroom, this guy turns to me “yo dude, you finding any bitches?!”. huh? who the fuck says that kind of crap? i tell him that no, i’m actually here w/ my girlfriend, to which he responds “so? i have a girlfriend too, and i dont care, i come here every night to get bitches”. ummm… yeah. nice.
there’s no tipping in japan! none! no, really! its so crazy, cause we’ve been to a lot of countries where tipping is not the norm. most locals wont tip, but the waiters usually still kind of hope to get a little something from tourists. if you leave a tip, they’ll take it. in japan, they wont. even if you insist, they absolutely refuse to take tips. even when we got a pizza delivered to our apt, the guy refused a tip!
we went out clubbing at this club called yellow one night. we decided we would just go for it, not worry about the last train and stay out till morning. the place was pretty cool. large dancefloor downstairs with a nice bar and a small loungy area upstairs. drinks were 7$, which, considering you dont tip the bartenders, is actually pretty reasonable. one thing that i thought was kind of crazy was that there were beer vending machines inside the club. i guess if you didnt want to wait in line, you could just grab beer from the machine. they even had miller lite which was funny… but it was 7$ a can! ouch!
at the club these guys called Optimo played from scotland. dude, they were so awesome!! they played electronica but mixed in all sorts of other random stuff like talking heads and other cool bands. it was kind of like Ztrip, but unlike ztrip who focuses mainly on hip-hoppish stuff and turntablism, these guys focus more on hard hitting dance music. the music was awesome and we danced for hours and hours. it was really cool to go out clubbing and listen to great music again. eventually at 5amish we left and then had to sit in front of the station and wait till it opened to go home.
the next day, we slept until late afternoon, and then we went out at night again, this time to a small hip-hop club called Wedge. this place was pretty cool and really chill. lots of friendly people. it was crazy though that this place was so small and yet it still cost 30$ to get in for a tiny little club. its so expensive to go out here!! at least drinks were only 5$. dude, people here are really hardcore about their drinking. i keep seeing hella people *totally* absolutely wasted. like drunk to the point of not really being able to walk. i keep seeing people passed out at tables, or falling over, or stumbling around. man, people really know how to party here! once again we stayed out till 6am. our sleep schedule was totally screwed for several days after though.
this girl yoko that we met at the club
i have this thing about plastic food. i dont know why, but i find it totally revolting. i totally hate it. well, japan has plastic food *everywhere*. almost every restaurant has little plastic models of its foods out front so you can know what they serve. where do they get this stuff? ok, yeah, there’s stores that sell the conventional stuff like plastic bowls of rice, or plastic sushi, but if you are some really random restaurant selling some food thats not very common, where do you get the model? does a sculptor come in and make it for you? do you pour weird stuff on your food to make a mould of it? how is it done? anyways, after being in japan for a whole month, i’ve gotten used to the plastic food. it doest really gross me out anymore.
when we were in hiroshima, caryn and i were given instructions on how to make paper cranes. one night we were bored in our apt, so we tried making them. it was so hard! well, i think that was cause the instructions sucked. but after struggling with them for a while, we finally succeeded!
clothing for pets
walking around tokyo, we keep seeing people who dress up their pet dogs. all these dogs are wearing little sweaters, scarves, etc. of course, this isn’t really anything new, i’ve seen this in the states a lot, maybe just not on such a large scale. but what i did find to be really crazy was: flashy clothing for… crabs. yes, crabs. in several different toy stores you could buy little hermit crabs to keep as pets. along w/ the crabs, you could buy different colored shells for your crabs. some of these crabs had all sorts of crazy designs, soccer balls, basket balls, little logos etc. you could be sure that you crab was the hippest little hermit crab on the block!
sick of constantly moving around and having to look for new hotels, caryn and i rented an apt here for 2 weeks. the apartment is in a small quietish neighborhood near Yoga station, on the west outskirts of tokyo. there’s kinda something cool about staying in an apt instead of a hotel. it feels more home-like. the place is absolutely tiny, as most places in tokyo are. there’s a small bedroom w/ two really crappy beds, a small tv, a small desk. there’s a “kitchen”, which is basically just a closet that you open w/ a tiny half-sized fridge, a one burner stove, and a microwave. then there’s a small cramped bathroom. heh, did i mention that everything is really small?! oh, here’s the good part: it actually comes with a washer and drier so we havent had to look for laundromats. it’s also been nice watching japanese tv. it’s not nearly as whacky as i hoped it would be, but there’s definitely still some funny stuff.
one thing we were excited about was being able to cook our own food. well.. that didnt really work out for us. although the ad said that cooking stuff would be provided, none actually was. i tried to ask the guy in the office for cooking stuff:
me – “hi! do you have stuff to cook with?”
him – “cook?” “with?”
me – “hrm. yeah… cooking. stuff to COOK with. like you know.. frying pans” (insert motion of someone shaking a firepan over a stove)
him – “oh! fry pan!” runs off, come back with the tiniest saucepan i’ve ever seen, slightly dirty.
me – “thanks! umm… but, err, we need more stuff. for COOKING! you know.. bowls and stuff?”
him – “AH! bowl! you want bowl?” he runs off, comes back w/ one bowl also slightly dirty.
me – “hrm… well. ok, i guess. thanks.”
so now we have a saucepan and a bowl, but no utensils, nothing to actually stir the food in the saucepan, or really anything. so the possibility of cooking was abandoned. instead, i decided to go buy groceries that one wouldnt need to cook. i get groceries, walk up to the front, and then notice that everyone’s bagging their own groceries. ok, well, that’s cool. i can bag my own groceries… i’ll just put them in this bag…. err.. umm.. wait a minute.. there’s no bag. thats when i realize that people bring their own bags. crap. what do i do? i frantically look around. there really are no bags. i contemplate whether i can somehow carry all this crap w/ no bag. nope. hrm.. maybe i can just steal the basket and bring it back later? so i walk back through the store and then eventually i find that you can actually buy a grocery bag for 20 cents. man, nothing is obvious around here!
tokyo doesnt really have a town center, instead the city has a bunch of different neighborhoods. the main neighborhood near us is shibuya and we pass through shibuya station every single day. many years ago, there was a guy who would always take the subway to work here and his faithful dog, hatchiko, would come to the station and wait for him to get off work. one day, the guy died, but hatchiko continued coming to the station daily and never stopped for many years until he too died. near the station, there’s now a statue of hatchiko in honor of his faithfulness and the station exit near it is named after him. hatchiko’s statue has since then become one of the most popular meeting spots in this area. the subway stations and streets are a total maze, so it’s much easier to just tell people to meet you at hatchiko. so, pretty much any time of day, there’s an endless parade of people coming by the statue and then wandering around looking for who they were supposed to meet. the people watching here is excellent.. probably the best in tokyo i’d say. shibuya also happens to be the district where all the young people hang out, so you get some really interesting characters. i could spend hours just kicking it there and seeing what happens.
and then there’s hatchiko crossing. this is the intersection by the station, and there are like 5 or 6 crosswalks all pointing in various direction and crisscrossing each other. when the light turns green, the street gets flooded w/ people from all directions. this is the most insane intersection i’ve ever seen. i would guess that there are *literally* around a thousand people that swarm across each time the light turns green.
english words become japanese
i find it totally hilarious to see how japanese people take words that are english and adopt them. for instance: puripeido kado for prepaid card, yusu hosuteru for youth hostel, or koin randorii for coin laundry. the japanese dont like to have any words that end w/ consonants, so pretty much any word they say, even if it ends in one, they’ll throw a vowel on the end.. usually an “o” or “u”. the word “included” becomes “includedo”. funny thing is, if you say the word without that last vowel, they will be completely unable to understand you. the word beer is meaningless unless pronounced beeru. also, they have difficulties w/ the letters “l” and “r”, and you’ll often see stuff written like “serect” instead of select.
i’ve been wanting to go out late in japan ever since i first got here. there’s just so much nightlife here! unfortunately, the trains stop running at 1am so that kind of makes things difficult. there are only three options: 1) end the night early and be finished by 1am. 2)stay out later and then pay an insane amount of money for a cab. 3) be ultrahardcore and stay out till 5am when the trains start up again. we’re already spending too much money here as it is, and when you go out it costs like 25$ to get in anywhere and then at least 7$ per drink afterwards, so spending yet even more money on a cab is just too much. so realistically our options are stay out till 1 or stay out till 5. the thing is, 5am just seems to be way too long, so usually we wus out and take the last train home that night. not last night though.
we started out the night by going to eat shabu-shabu. this was one of the all you can eat shabu shabu places and it was so good. there’s just nothing like having medium-rare meat cooked at your table, as much as you want. we ate so much meat that it was ridiculous. we literally ate till we could eat no more. we almost had to crawl out of the restaurant. oh, and one of the cool things about the restaurant was that this was the restaurant where the main characters ate in Lost in Translation.
after dinner we decided to go find a bar. we didnt want to go anywhere too crazy, just a chill spot to have some drinks. we ended up finding the perfect place, the insomnia lounge. this place was so dope looking inside. you take your shoes off at the door, and then you walk through the place on red fuzzy carpets. the whole place is all red and glowy and the decor is really awesome and stylish. you drink at low tables while sitting on pillows on the floor. the ambience in the place was just so cool.
after a couple drinks, we headed out to the next bar. we read about this place online that was a tiny little hole in the wall bar. this place was so small that it didnt have a name and there was no sign or anything posted out front. people pretty much only found out about it through word of mouth. the place was decorated with all sorts or random kitschy stuff and ended up being a really cool spot. surprisingly, the drinks there were hella cheap by japan standards… all drinks were 5$! more and more people came in as the night went on and soon the place was getting crowded.. well, as crowded as a tiny bar like that can get. it was some girl’s birthday, and her friends brought cake and soon everyone was pasing cake around. the crowd there was really nice and people came over and tried to talk to us in as much english as they could. this bar was exactly the type of place we wanted to hang out in and we ended up chilling there till 4am.
we stumbled out of the bar and whoa! daylight! tokyo is pretty far north and so during the summer here it gets light really early. it was a really eerie feeling to see it be so light out at 4am. we walked through the main intersection at shibuya, and for the first time ever, this intersection that is constantly packed w/ a sea opf people, was empty. it was almost surreal to be the only people out there.. nobody where there should be tons of people, light where there should be darkness. weird.
we were all starving and so we grabbed a quick bite to eat at mcdonalds and it was then that caryn had her brilliant idea. there is this famous fishmarket in tokyo called tsukiji. pretty much all the fish eaten in the city comes through this market (around 2,000 tons of seafood per *day*)and because of the insane activity there, this market has become a major toursit attraction. the problem is that all the action begins at 5:30am. you *have* to get there early. we’ve been wanting to go see the market for a while now, but just couldnt bring ourselves to get out of bed that early. so, when caryn suggested we go check out the fishmarket right there and then, we all were totally psyched. here’s our chance! minutes later we were on the metro zooming across town. during the ride, we got more and more tired, and after a while we started being unsure whether staying up to go see fish was such a good idea.. but we had to take our opportunity!
eventually we got to the market. it was so crazy. tons and tons of different species of sea creatures and stuff stacked up all over the place. people scurried left and right fetching boxes. the ground everywhere was slippery w/ water and fish guts. workers zoomed by at high speed on delivery carts. such a crazy scene. definitely the most random thing i’ve ever done after staying up all night partying. eventually we made it to the actual tuna auction. humongous tuna fish all over the place. these things were so big! it was kinda sad to see these huge fish all laid out onthe ground dead. i started kind of questioning whether i would be able to eat sushi for breakfast…. one of the things to do here is to eat sushi that is pretty much fresh off the boat.
well, despite the carcasses, we decided to go for it and soon were seated at a sushi bar in the marjket. i gotta say, this was the absolute best sushi i have ever tasted. the fish was just so damn good. insanely fresh. i’m sure this will be the best sushi i will ever taste. unfortunately, the price definitely reflected the taste. each *single* piece of sushi was 5 bucks. so yeah, a pair of nigiri, which usually at home would be 3$ to 6 was 10 bux. totally worth it though.
eventually we staggered back to the metro and then back to our place to go to sleep. sooo tired…. on the way back, when we got to shibuya station, we ended up seeing these 2 guys totally passed out on the station floor. holy crap.. one of them was this guy we had been talking to earlier in the bar! he had said he was supposed to be at work at 9am… but he was still totally drunk at the bar at 4am when we left. he must have staggered to the station when the bar closed and decided to sleep on the station floor until work time. it was just so random that we saw that guy again! it’s funny cause there are times when you see just random people passed out here and there and think “whoa! where the hell did this guy come from? how did he end up here sleeping on the train station floor during rush hour?” well… this time we knew exactly where the dude came from andhow everything happened to him…
in our mission to check out all the interesting stuff that japan has to offer, we’ve been trying out all the different kinds of interesting hotels that they have here. we had already stayed in ryokans (traditional japanese inns), capsule hotels, business hotels, and now the only thing left to check out was one of japan’s crazy infamous love hotels. if you’re a sensitive reader, you might not want to read on.
so, a love hotel is basically a hotel where people go to… well, errr, “be in love” if you catch my drift. the hotels are basically totally geared for people who need a place to hook up. you can rent room either for a “stay” which means you stay all night, or just for a “rest” which means you get the room just for a couple of hours (although i somehow doubt that much resting actually takes place). these places are meant to be totally discreet and they usually have out of the way entrances where people can sneak in w/out being seen. in fact, when you enter, they are set up so you never have to interact w/ anyone who might see you. the rooms are depicted in a menu on the wall. you just type in the room you like, grab the key, and go inside. to pay, you either put cash in a machine or pay someone who is standing behind frosted glass or a curtain… you never see them and they never see you. the exit then often is in the back of the hotel. so basically, this is the perfect place for a secret tryst.
the hotel rooms in these places are also not like normal evryday hotel rooms. first off, they often have crazy themes like medieval castles, dungeons, aquariums, the arctic, etc. plus, the rooms can come equipped w/ all sorts of crazy stuff ranging from bumber cars, to vibrating sportscar beds, to umm hospital gurneys, school desks, etc. yes, these places aim to accomodate your every bizarre whim.
so before i go into what we saw, i gotta mention a story here. on my brother’s first day here in tokyo, he had many problems finding a hoetl. try as he did, he just couldnt find a place to stay. in desperation, he went to a place called “la passion”. heh. ok, so you would think that the name here would give it away, but my brother had not yet read about love hotels and had no idea what they were. so in he goes, and he gets himself a room. he wonders why choosing a room is through a menu, but whatever. this ends up being a kind of tame place, so his room is fairly normal. he goes to sleep. he is supposed to meet us at 1pm the next day. he wakes up all of a sudden and looks at his watch. 3 oclock!!! oh shit!!! he jumps out of bed, packs, drops his key in the slot, and runs out the door. it’s dark. oops. it’s 3 *AM*. so he goes back inside. but, w/ love hotels, once you’re done and turn in your key, you’re done. there’s no way to go back to the room… without paying again. so my brother ended up having to pay yet another 80$ to stay for the rest of the night. doh!!
anyways, fastforward to osaka. we decide we have to see whats inside these crazy love hotels. the crazier the better. we just want to see the most bizarre stuff we can find. unfortunately, japan has been lately trying to clean up its image, so a lot of the love hotels have become rather tame and a lot of the really crazy rooms have disappeared. but, with a little searching online, we find a place. armed w/ an address, we haul our super heavy backpacks to go looking for it. well, due to japans absolutely whack crappy address system, we spend the next hour wandering atround aimlessly. see, the addresses here will be something like: 2-3-14 sennichimae dori. sennichimae is the street, but this doesnt mean that the address is on the street, it just means somewhere near it… like withing 4 blocks of the street. the “2” is the block number. but, the blocks are not in consecutive order. they are in the order that the blocks were built. so block 2 might be by block 7 and 4. plus, theres not really a way of knowing the number of any block anyways. so, you could be staring right at block 2 and not know it. it’s absolutely ridiculous. so you can even go up to someone who lives right on that street, and ask them were block 2 is, and they wont know. so having this address is like if you were back home and said that the hotel is “somewhere on elcamino real, or on one of the streets near it”. riiiiight.
after wandering around forever we finally give up. theres no way we’ll find the love hotel we want, so we just find the nearest one and go inside. the rooms on the menu all look rather tame, just like normal hotel rooms, but oh well. love hotels are usually fairly cheap, but this one costs 107$ for the night! ouch. oh well, though… we’re too tired to go anywhere else. we get a bit confused as to how to work the menu, so a guy comes out and shows us how to check in. hrm, so much for being descreet! in our room, we pay the cash machine and now we’re all set. so, the room is huge!! way bigger than all the hotels rooms we’ve had so far. it has an enormous tv that has a million channels, a lot of which are porn, and also you can choose from a huge list of different porn dvds, video games, etc. the room also comes equipped w/ karaoke and some microphones. also, there’s this huge slot machine in the room. like a real huge full sized one. there’s also one of those crazy massage chairs with a million different settings, a radio w/ a million stations, all sorts of different lights with various dimmers etc, and an awfully phalic looking back massager thingy. the room also had two minibars. one minibar had beer and different alcohols. the other one was stocked with vibrators, and all sorts of various sex toys. the room also came with condoms and a huge bottle of lube.
then, the bathroom was huge. gigantic bathtub w/ super powered jets. it’s cool cause the floor of the room has drains so you dont have to worry about the tub overflowing like crazy or anyhting. and in case you just couldnt wait till you got done w/ your bath for more porn, there was a tv in there as well. yes, these people think of everything.
btw, porn here in japan is , well, strange to say the least. first off, despite the fact that in some ways people here seem almost obsessed w/ sex as there are half naked women on the covers of most magazines, 8 story buildings selling nothing but porn, vending machines selling used panties (we didnt actually see these, but they exist), huge redlight districts, etc etc.. despite all this, when they show porn movies they have to have certain areas pixelated. what’s up w/ that? i mean, if you are an adult, and choose to actually see pornography or whatnot, should the government really not allow you to view certain bits? that seems ridiculous. but anyways, pixels aside, lots of the porn here is a bit disturbing. for one thing, it seems like pretty much almost all of it has the guy pretty much forcing the woman into having sex. this ranges from sexual harassment porn (man unzips fly. man pulls out his pixels. man runs and touches his pixels to very upset secretary who then is basically forced to have sex) to a particularly disturbing movie where two guys basically force a young schoolgirl to have sex w/ them on a train. basically, in pretty much almost every single clip the woman would be anything ranging from passively sad to absolutely miserable and fighting to break free. plus, there’s quite a bit of focus in this country on youth, and they just love the young schoolgirl thing. we even saw something where it looked like a little kids show, with the cartoon background and a woman dressed up in some animal costume… until the costume comes off etc etc. weird.
i guess i’m kind of straying from the subject here. so anyways, the room we stayed in was pretty cool and stuff, but it wasnt really anyithing all that crazy like we had read about… so the next day we set out on a mission to find another place. there was a hotel called the pamplona that we had walked by several times, so we checked that place out. the menu board here was definitely way more crazy. there were like hello kitty bondage rooms. there were rooms w/ crazy shackles and stuff. there was a room that a round bed that was inside a prison cage. this place was so hardcore! so, we wanted to get the crazy room w/ the cage but that one was hella expensive. so we got this other room that had this crazy jungle gym type thing around the bed. it sucks, one of the maiｎ things we wanted to do was take pictures of the crazy room, but all of the photos we took of the room came out lame. the room was pretty hardcore though. everything in the room was red and black. the lighting inside was all red so the room seemed to be almost glowing red. there were chains w/ straps at all the corners of the bed and then more chains attached to these poles along the wall. there were more of these poles hanging above the bed w/ a spring in the middle so i guess you could hang someone from there if you had something to hang them on. the whole scene was so surreal!! this room didnt have as many fancy amenities like the massage chair, tv in the bathroom, or slot machine, but it was definitely much crazier than the other room!
if you want to see some of the crazy rooms some of these places have, here are a couple links:
6/5/5 – 6/8/5
after fukuoka, we spent a few days in osaka. osaka is one of the biggest cities in japan next to tokyo and is also one of the most liberal cities here too. we met up w/ two of randalls friends here and hung out w/ them too which was cool.
the main tourism street in osaka is dotonbori. the whole place is packed w/ restaurants, shops, bars, etc. there are so many of them, that they have to really compete against each other in order to get customers. because of that, they are all extremely flashy and have huge glowing neon signs, gigantic mechanical robots hanging on their building, enormous billboards, etc etc. it’s quite a scene walking around there. restaurants have crazy stuff hanging in front of their shops like a huge octopus or gigantic crab. people are passing flyers out everywhere. music is blaring all around. pretty cool.
in downtown osaka they have this huge building called the sky building. it’s basically two huge towers that are connected by an observation deck on top. the cool thing about the building though is that you ride a glass see-through elevator to get near the top, and then you ride the rest of the way, between the two towers, in a see-through glass escalator. it’s really crazy taking this escalator between the towers, many many stories up above the city and being able to see all around. the views of the city from the top are really cool too!
osaka has a huge aquarium that has the largest tank in the whole world. they actually have a whale shark in there, and i think this may be the only whale shark in any aquarium ever. this thing is huge… like 18 feet long. plus there is a manta ray and all sorts of other crazy stuff in there with it. the aquarium also has all sorts of other tanks w/ stuff, including one that has athese huge insane looking crabs. one of these thing had claws that were like 3 feet long!! yikes!
we spent the rest of our time in hiroshima checking out hiroshima castle. the castle, like most of the other castles here, was actually a reconstruction of the origibnal. it looked really cool from the outside, but the inside was just converted into a museum, and not a very interesting museum at that.
for dinner, we got some indian food. it was so wierd! it’s always interesting for me to see how other cultures interpret different foods. for instance, we’ve now tried mexican food in several different countries, and it’s never been quite right. the indian food here was sorta reminiscent of real indian food, but the sauces all came in these weird pastel colors. all of the spice i think came from little red chili flakes, and the three dishes we got, despite their different colors, tasted fairly similar. still, it wasnt all that bad.
the nex day, we left randall’s uncle’s house to go to fukuoka. his aunt and uncle insisted on driving us to the train station. once we got there, they insisted that they wanted to see us off on the platform. this would mean that they would have to pay the minimum charge to get into the station. i cant believe they paid extra money just to see us off. randall’s aunt and uncle are just so incredibly nice. we were so glad that we stayed w/ them for a few days!
fukuoka is one of japan’s larger cities. after some delicious korean barbecue, we went to check out the asian art museum. this museum is exclusivlely for modern art, and i was really glad to see it since i really am into modern art but pretty much havent seen any since we left on the trip. after the museum, we found this store that sells all the crazy little japanese robots. they have all these cool dogs that can sense when you walk by and turn their heads. they can also fetch balls, respond to touch, and they can dance too. it was cool to check them out, but i think there’s still a long way to go before these dogs are really all that good. many of them kept breaking down, not working, stumbling around, etc. maybe in a few years, they’ll be much cooler?
it had been ages since we had been online (hence all my really late entries recently), so we found an internet cafe. i just cant get over how cool the net cafes are here. first off, they’ll have like 10 different kinds of free drinks ranging from sodas, to coffee, to cocoa. when you use the net, you get your own little booth and the booth will usually have not only a computer, but a tv and a playstation 2. you can also pick out dvds you want to watch, videogames you want to play, and all the walls are filled with shelves and shelves and shelves of manga. these shelves have a ridiculous amount of these comics, and usually the shelves reach the ceiling and sometimes even have ladders cause there are so many shelves. most of these netcafes have really cheap prices at night, so people will actually use them as a hotel and just sleep in their booth… the cafes even provide pillows, blankets, and even slippers!
fukuoka is famous for its ramen. it has some of the best ramen in all of japan. we found a restaurant recommended in the book and went to go look for it. of course the place didnt have a sign in english, so we had to walk around and try to match up the japanese characters in the book to the signs we saw on the street. it was tough, but we finally found it. inside, there werent any menus, just some pictures on the wall w/ japense above them. we pointed to a random one. when we got the ramen, we sprinkled these random unknown toppings on them and chowed down. it never ceases to amaze me how random our experiences are around here. here we are, eating some unknown kind of ramen, with unknown toppings, and all of this in a restaurant that we had to search for using japanese letters. the ramen here is made from stock using pig bones, so it’s a bit on the greasy side, but the broth is sooo good! super flavorful!
sleeping in a capsule
we had read about capsule hotels in our guidebook and had really wanted to try them out. basically, to save valuable space, these hotels, instead of having actual rooms, just have capsules built into the wall. these capsules can be stacked 2 or 3 high, and basically you just crawl in. they are high enough so you can sit up, but that’s about it. inside, you have a blanket, pillow, alarm, radio, and a tv. that’s it. oddly enough, the capsules dont even close. they just have this little screen that you pull down in front. since you dont have a shower or anything in your capsule, the hotels will usually have a communal bath/shower/sauna for people to use. usually these hotels are male only, but sometimes they allow females too, in which case the sexes are segregated on different floors.
we checked in, were given lockers where to keep our stuff (you dont bring anything w/ you to your capsule), and then went off to our respective floors. and this is where the confusion begins. most of the signs are in japanese, and i really didnt know the protocol for the bath system etc. when you sleep, you’re given a robe, so i thought i needed to get one to use between the lockers and the shower. i went to the room next to the showers, and tried to ask the attendant what to do. he spoke no english. in the end, i got a robe, little shorts, and a towel, and headed back to my locker. at this point, i realized that the robes were for *after* the shower, not before. instead of the robe, i guess you’re just supposed to wear a towel from the locker room to the showers. hrm. these towels werent really bath sized towel.. more like hand sized towels. i wrapped it around me and it barely reached all the way around… plus it only went down about a foot so it barely coverd my bits and pieces. yikes!
i felt *really* awkward walking down the hall like this. it seemed like this is what other people had done, but i was still really nervous. it’s one thing to commit a faux-pas by passing food incorrectly in a restuarnt, it’s a whole other story to do something wrong by getting butt-naked when you’re not supposed to be. that would be so much more embrassing. anyways, i walked into the shower room. crap. there was no one else in there. if there were other people, i would at least see what they’re doing and know what to do. *sigh*. oh well.. what can ya do? so i ditch my towel. so, i’ve never really been one of those dudes that has no problem wandering about wearing no clothes at all. in fact, that’s usually something i would tend to avoid. but, whatever, i guess.
there were all these little stools near the wall, each in front of a little handheld shower, soap, shampoo, etc. so i go, sit down, and start showering. it’s a bit weird showering sitting down instead of standing. at this pont, two other people come in. now i’m feeling even weirder. am i doing anything wromg? i notice that there’s a table w/ disposable razors. sweet!! i really need a shave! but, do i just shave here? what do i do w/ the hair? just rinse it out on the floor? is that weird? do i use this toothbrush to brush my teeth here? where do i spit? i decide maybe i shoudnt shave. sheez.. what am i doing here?! i’m kind of trying to peek around to see what other people are doing so i know what to do. then i start worrying that maybe they are wondering if i’m just hanging out trying to catch glimpses of naked dudes. at one point, one guy gets up and switches showers to one all the way across the room. crap, was that cause of me? am i weirding people out?
there are 3 huge baths in the room, but no one had gone in them. was it ok to just go in? i deliberated for a while, and then decided i would just go for it. the water was insanely hot, and it was really nice to just chill in there although i was still feeling nervous. eventually i got out, went back to the shower, and shaved after all. finally i left the showers, put on my little robe, and headed upstairs to my capsule. *phew* i had made it through the showers! upstairs, in the capsule room, people were snoring. lots of the people hadnt even put their screens down so you could see directly into their capsules. weird. i found mine. hrm. it looked really small. all of a sudden i started worrying that it would be hella claustraphobic. but i got in, and it really wasnt all the cramped. perfect size, i guess. i watched tv for a while, and then tried to go to sleep. it was at this point i realized one huge drawback. with no door, i could hear everything going on in the capsule room. at 3:30am, some dude’s alarm went off. he didnt switch it off. it went on blaring for hella days. great. i’m sure tomorrow morning there will be alarms going off every few minutes and i’d hear *all* of them. surprisingly though, i was able to sleep ok.
view from inside looking out
the next morning, we met up w/ randall and decided that we’d go see a baseball game at the fukuoka dome. baseball is a really popular sport here and we had been wanting to see a game for a while. the game we saw was very weird. at one point, they announced that there would be a pinch hitter and a girl came out on the field and tried to bat. later they had another pinch hitter who was this crazy looking guy and when he hit the ball, everyone in the audience blew up these yellow balloons and let them fly through the stadium. then, after the 8th inning, they had this really old guy, who had been the announcer during the game, bat. i dont know why. then, they just ended there and didnt even have a ninth inning. so weird. it was still really cool to check out.
after the game, we met up w/ adrian. he is one of my cousin’s friends who went to school w/ her in paris, and i had met him a couple of times before. he’s now teaching english here in japan. we went out to ramen with him and a few of his friends. the ramen place we went to was really cool. everyone sits down at a bar w/ lots of partitions. you fill out a form and get to specify exactly how you want your ramen: how spicy, fat content, saltiness, sweetness, amount of garlic, tenderness of noodles etc. when they serve you your ramen, they do this crazy bow and then close the drape in fron of you. it’s just you and your ramen. and the ramen was soooooo good!
we had been wanting to go out, so we got some recomendations from adrian. the area of town we were staying in, tenjin, was the main nightlife area of town. the whole place was full of clubs, bars, etc. the streets had tons of young japanese people wandering around searching for fun. we went to this one club called keith flack. it was ok, but there was hardly anyone there. the music was deep house, and although deep house is kinda cool, it got boring after a while. drinks were surprisingly cheap though at 5$ a piece. at midnight, we left and met up w/ adrian again. we went to a bar downstairs from keith flack and had some drinks and talked. it was pretty cool to be going out in tokyo. i just kept thinking to myself “what the hell? i’m here at a club, in tokyo, and tonight i’m going to go sleep in a capsule. so weird!!”
eventually we decided to go somewhere else, and adrian suggested a club called the “happy cock”. this place had a 10$ cover, but you get 2 free drinks with that. quite a deal! or, you can pay 30$ and you get free drinks all night. the club itself was pretty damn cheezy. the music was all the super cheezy dance hits mixed in w/ some trance. the place was a total pick-up joint. i guess fukuoka is close to a US marine base, so there were a bunch of marines there trying to hook up w/ local women. it’s funny, the bar actually has a sign out front saying that they only allow 20 marines into the club at once. i couldnt believe they actually have a quota on how many marines are allowed! i’m glad we were there just to see the crazy scene, but it definitely wasnt our kind of place. eventually we said good night to adrian and stumbled off to mcdonalds for a late night snack (open till 4am!)
then, back to the capsule to sleep!
there wasnt too much else to see by randall’s uncle’s house, so we decided to go sightseeing in hiroshima today. the first thing we saw there was the a-bomb dome. this was a building that was practically right under the atomic bomb when it was dropped. everything for miles around this building was reduced to rubble, but a large section of this building was still standing.
we then went on to check out the peace park, a monument to all those who died, and the peace museum. it’s so difficult to comprehend how much damage this one single bomb did to hiroshima. 140,000 people died in the first few days alone, and then many more died later from radiation etc. we saw this one display that was all artwork drawn by survivors of the bomb. it was such a depressing sight. tales of dead bodies everywhere, people with crazy radiation burns, families being reduced to nothing. one of the really eerie things were the many watches that were displayed in the museums here. all of the watches had stopped at exactly 8:15, the time that the bomb dropped. it’s so absolutely insane to think that in this one moment, a whole city was practically leveled and life stopped for so many people. everything just stopped.
in a lot of way, as an american, i felt really awkward walking around and looking at all this stuff. back in israel, when we had gone to the holocaust memorial, walking around i felt like i was one of the victims. of course, i didnt live during the war, but i am jewish, and a lot of victims fo the war were my people. here it was the opposite. all the dead here were *because* of my people. america is the only country *ever* to bomb a city w/ an atomic bomb. it just seems so shameful that we could do such a thing, and kill so many people, especially since so many of them were innocent civillians. walking around the museum, i almost couldnt look people in the eye. all the japanese people here, wandering through the museum learning about the devastation that america did to their city… what could all of these people think of us? as is always the case in tourist destinations here, we got interviewed by several junior high kids learning emglish. i was almost reluctant to tell them where i was from.
i’ve never been as knowledgable about history as i should be, but i learned some really disturbing stuff there about our decision to drop the bomb. the bomb was developed because we were worried that the germans were developing and a-bomb and we thought we needed one to protect ourselves from them. but then, the germans lost the war. we were left only fighting japan. at this point several factors went into play. our government needed some way to justify the 2 billion dollars spent on researching the bomb. if they used the bomb to end the war, that would justify the expenses. also, we wanted to end the war quickly, so that the russians wouldnt join in and spread communism. so we dropped the bomb. it’s so disgusting that 2 such political factors would motivate the decison to murder 300,000 people. ugh. but, at the same time… who knows. if we didnt drop the bomb, how long would the war have continued? how many more people would have died? it’s tough to tell really in the end whether the decidion made sense.
but things got even more depressing in a new exhibit next to the museum. this exhibit told of the a-bomb tests we did at bikini-atoll. basically, we tested this crazy huge hydrogen bomb, many many times more powerful than the bomb we dropped on hiroshima. the bomb spread radiation all over the damn place, and the islanders that lived there all ended up w/ deformities, retardation, burn scars, etc. this museum was so depressing, especially cause all of the victime here were completely innocent. the US had no problem with them, yet we completely ruined so many of their lives. the photos had captions, lots of them w/ quote from the people who said how much they hated our country for doing this to them. ugh.