It’s been a while since I last wrote here, in my defense I do have a litany of excuses – in chronological order: my iphone was stolen in Cambodia, I met a lovely lady in Thailand and forgot about the rest of the world for a while, I had an accident and broke my finger in the Philippines (more on that later).. additionally, I’ve rarely been inclined to spend too much downtime writing things up in an internet cafe. However, in Japan, internet cafes are often cheaper to stay and spend the night than hostels, which is where I am writing this from in Tokyo, instead of what I should be doing of course, sleeping.
It’s hard to convey how insane and entirely different Japan is from anywhere else I’ve been before.. it really feels like stepping into another planet! The pictures I’ve taken don’t really do it justice either, it feels like it’s something only one can get a feel for once they visit for themselves. Well, I’ll give it a shot anyway.
The first day I arrived in Osaka was a huge contrast to the craziness of Manilla in the Phillipines where I flew from. Or at least, a different kind of craziness i.e. Manilla was crazily chaotic, and Osaka struck me as… crazily organized.. gone was the belching catholic themed graffiti adorned jeepney traffic and noise, replaced by eerie silent straight roads and numerous small boxy cars. These cars as well as the compact squarish houses made me feel as though I’d entered some sort of cartoon!
Prior to arriving I had managed to contact a Japanese couple who provided board in exchange for working at their bar for three hours a night. The bar they owned was a great little place, with several fish tanks, including one where kids could fish out crawfish with fishing rods. Noco the lady who ran the place gave me a crash course on how to greet customers and serve them in Japanese!
The house we stayed in was in the red light district of Osaka a bit further south, where things got even stranger.. the district was full of old fashioned houses (many surviving from just after the second world war), where old fashioned prostitutes would sit on their knees and their minders/mamasans would beckon men in for business. It all looked very prim and proper! Sleeping with prostitutes is not my thing, but if I was that way inclined, I think Japan would be the first place I would want to try it out – just because I’m curious, would you have to bow before getting down to business? Would any other ritual behavior would be required? Would it be something like the tea ceremony?
We were told that the area was notorious for being dominated by the Japanese mafia i.e. the yakuza, who also supplied drugs to the guys who were obviously down on their luck, out of jobs. That explained all the old guys who wondered about the streets looking a bit zonked out, and why the area is often referred to as “zombie land”! Later on a night out in Kyoto, I joked to a Japanese girl in traditional dress that the cast on my hand was because the yakuza had cut my finger off (which is what the do to people who have misbehaved).. joke didn’t go down to well, she ran out the bar straight away!
Having said this, despite what I’ve described sounding a little seedy so far, one of the very positive aspects of my trip in Japan so far is how incredibly safe the country is. Even this red light district in Osaka felt less threatening than the most upscale neighborhood in Manila! A Japanese girl I spoke to said one reason she thought Japanese tourists get targeted by thieves abroad is because they’ve never had to imagine facing a similar situation in their own country!
From Osaka it was a short hop over to Kyoto, where I crammed as many sights in as possible during the short time I stayed there. I also saw some of the fires from the Daimonji festival, which I nearly managed to miss because some Japanese douche bag I met at a party led me all the way to somewhere which didn’t a good vantage point at all, it was just where a lot of people converge and he would have the chance to pick up some chicks. The fires light up for only 15 minutes, and part of the fun is seeing each one lit after the other, so thanks to him we missed most of that!
After Kyoto I was relatively undecided where to go, although I knew that I wanted to drop by Tokyo at some point, see the sights and meet up with a Japanese girl I briefly met on a plane to Brazil a couple of years ago.
So following the advice on hitchhiking found here I headed out to a service area on the outskirts of Kyoto.. I actually didn’t find it as easy as described, it did take me an hour and a half before someone offered me a lift (maybe because I look dodgy?). But someone did (Ken I think his name was) and he happened to be going all the way to Tokyo!
Once we approached Tokyo, traffic became quite heavy so I suggested to my driver that dropping me near a station was fine. So he did, and rather than travel into town and search around for a hostal or whatever, I thought it made more sense to try out some urban camping. So using offline maps and GPS I managed to spot a park nearby. Unfortunately it turned out to be a baseball pitch next to a school, but nearby was a forested area which looked ideal.
After setting up my tent I realized that I had actually pitched it next to some shrines and that it was actually part of a temple ground… whoopsy! Well I felt like I wasn’t encroaching too much on holy territory, so I decided to stay put. Managed to get a few hours sleep before a bunch of girls who must have spot my tent started screaming! Didn’t sleep too well after that, anticipating the police coming to move me on at any point, and every branch snapping in the wood keeping me on edge! Still, I did manage to catch a few zzz on the early commuter train in to the town center later on!
If one is ever in Tokyo on a Sunday, head down to Yoyigi park in Harajuku! This very funny website (which provides a great offbeat guide to the city) sums it up quite accurately I think:
This is where the rockabilly grand-dads do their famous dance on sunday (…) everyone who has a hobby too noisy to do at home, they all come to YOYOGI PARK. you will see a guy practicing a flugelhorn next to some girls doing judo next to some guys practicing theater next to a cameraman taking pictures of a model leaning sexily against a tree, next to a couple on a date playing badminton, next to some hippies with a drum circle. this is like every day. also this park is famous for straight people having public sex. although, this being japan, they are nice enough to not leave condoms littered behind.
I think I saw most of that apart from the sex bit, here is a bit of footage of some of what I saw:
Earlier on during the day I was walking around Shinjuku and came across some sort of kid talent street show on a synthesizer organ complete with foot pedals. Up steps this small girl who looks barely 5 years old.. I knew she would probably be awesome, but nothing prepared me for just how insanely good she was. Ridiculously good, puts my grade 8 credentials to shame! It took me a while to lift my jaw off the floor.