It was a sweltering July day riding on the Tokyo subway when an elderly man took one look at us and scarpered away as fast as he could. Initially I had been confused, I knew we were sweating like pigs, but so was everyone else. It wasn’t until I returned that I realised it had been my housemate Meghan’s tattoos that had scared him off – apparently only the mafia have serious tattoos in Japan. He thought she was a gangster. Because I’m sure there’s heaps of Australian members of the Japanese underworld…
Anywho lets start at the beginning, shall we?
We left for Tokyo on a Friday night, a fun task that involved me carrying all of my luggage to work that morning so I could leave straight away. Amusingly my luggage for two weeks was smaller than my colleague Andy’s was for his three day trip to Perth, though I’m sure he didn’t have to wash his knickers in the sink at any point during his trip. So I guess he won in the end…
The flight to Tokyo was pretty good, I even slept for most of it! I also discovered I don’t like Bloody Mary’s and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a shit movie. Landing in Tokyo on Saturday morning we got exceedingly lost at Shibuya train station, because the steward had pointed us in the wrong direction, then once we got to Komazawa Daigaku train station (aka Setagaya) we then proceeded to get lost on the way to the apartment, showing up over an hour later than I’d told the owner.
Our host was a very tall, quirky Canadian expat named Bruce, who’d been living in Japan for 20 years and owned several holiday rentals in the area. He quickly showed us around the flat and left us to our own devices. The rest of the day was spent getting lost another ten times trying to find the grocery store, being freaked out by a random passerby dressed in white, wandering around the Olympic Park park and enjoying some Italian for dinner. Whoever said Japan was expensive is an idiot, everything (especially booze) is super cheap.
Sunday heralded the arrival of our friend Ivee, who we met at Shibuya station. Thankful that we finally knew our way around the area, once she got settled in we headed to Harajuku to check out the park, the shopping and the 50’s dancers. Yoyogi Park is gorgeous and massive, full of over 100,000 trees all planted by hand around a temple. It’s like a forest, and once you’re in the middle of it you don’t even realise you’re in a big city. After some more directional failures we found what we had initially headed to Harajuku for: the 1950’s Elvis dancers. Basically it’s a bunch of fairly fit, middle-aged Japanese guys sporting quiff’s and dancing to surf rock and roll any damn way they want. Tanned and shirtless, they danced and threw beer at each other, combing their hair to maintain it’s perfection at every spare moment. It was a highly amusing way to spend an afternoon in the sun.
That night we headed to Earthdom, an underground music venue in Okubo to meet up with some new Aussie friends of ours, who Meghan knew over email but hadn’t actually met until the line at customs in Tokyo airport – Matt and his girlfriend (who’s name I have forgotten, sorry!). It was dark, smoky & seedy – the perfect punk rock venue. For the usually demure Japanese, it was very refreshing to see them screaming and throwing themselves around on stage.
Monday was spent wandering around Shibuya – getting your typical “big crossing” photos from Starbucks and spending way too much money at Tower Records (best store ever). We also hit up an art exhibition at Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills, which was really awesome and the viewing deck there was way better than Tokyo Tower’s. That night we had dinner in Shinjuku, went to a really dodgy Spanish bar and Ivee got her cat fix at a Cat Cafe. Several drinks and several inappropriate photos with life size Star Trek movie posters later, we headed back to the apartment.
The next day we explored downtown Tokyo, checking out the Imperial Palace and the museums at Ueno Park before meeting up for dinner and a night time explore of Shibuya.
Dragging ourselves out of bed at 5am to catch the early train to Osaka, we explored Osaka Castle and the massive shopping district down there, before returning to Tokyo to make an amateur zombie film in the backstreets of Setagaya, freaking out our camerawoman Ivee.
Asakusa & tourist trap heaven was our next day’s adventure, hitting up the massive temple and myriads of souvenir shops that lined the path towards it. After finding out our fortunes (the usual: new job, new relationship, be nice to your parents), we split up for an hour. I managed to eat as much random candy as possible (I LOVE melon soda, ice cream, red bean paste mochi’s) and managed to escape with no tacky souvenirs.
Next we went to Akihabara to do something weirdly Japanese – visit a Maid Cafe. This was one of the things Ivee really wanted to do, so I tagged along so she wouldn’t be by herself (though in doing this we left Meghan on her own for an hour. Oops). These cafes are very strange – the deal is Japanese people have a cuteness “fetish” (Lonely Planet’s words, not mine) – and basically you get served by girls dressed as French maid’s covered in bows and soft toys and they chat to you and feed you sugary food for an hour. Think of them as small time Geisha’s. Our maid Riku was nice enough, didn’t speak heaps of English but she made up for it with a lot of enthusiasm. We giggled, posed for photos wearing bunny ears and “blessed” our food to make it taste better. Everything was very bright and shiny, although still really fucking weird. We took our photos (which I swore I’d never let Ivee put on Facebook), bowed our thanks and headed back to Meghan and reality.
Harajuku is one of my favourite places from the whole trip and we went back to do some more shopping. We discovered the best second hand store (actually building full of second hand stores) ever, which provided us with hours of amusement and added to my future coffee table book: “Meghan in various hats around the world”.
Friday was a fairly chilled day – we split up and went shopping around Shibuya and went back to Harajuku for more crepes, shoes & H&M.
Saturday we caught the early train to Mount Fuji – Ivee was going to explore the Ice & Bat Caves around there, and Meghan and I were headed to the theme park Fuji-Q Highland I had spotted on my trip to Japan in 2007. Home to some of the highest/fastest/creepiest rides in the world, there was no fucking way I was going to miss it this time around! The most amusing part of the day was when we decided to go to the “Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear” which, despite the name, we thought might be funny.
We were idiots.
Fake abandoned two storey hospital. 700 metres long. God knows how many people dressed up as zombies and an average of 50 minutes to get through the whole thing? Oh and did I mention my fear of zombies? Hilarious…
We started out waiting for an hour to get in, lulled into a false sense of security by the lighthearted intro video of smiling women in mini skirts walking around well-lit hospital corridors to elevator music. Once we finally got in we were separated into four groups – ours being myself, Meghan and a Japanese couple. They leave you seated in a big waiting room, that’s barely lit and the echoes of the people already in the maze screaming hitting you every few minutes. There was nothing scary in there, but we had already begun to freak ourselves out by convincing ourselves someone was standing behind the curtains and was slowly inching their way out. The place even smelled like a hospital and I really have to congratulate them on their attention to detail.
Finally our group was lead into a small room and we were shown a creepy video (I suspect it was the horror movie that was shot there a couple of years ago) of women being attacked by zombies and dragged into basements. Sufficient to say we were freaking out. Then they split us up again, and the couple went on ahead after getting their photo taken. I was quite cocky at this point and knew what happened when the photo gets taken (I won’t ruin it for those who still want to go). After that the nurse handed us a torch and showed us the door.
We followed the arrows and climbed the stairs, me leading the way with the torch, frantically lighting up the ground on either side, convinced someone was going to grab my ankles. It was your typical abandoned hospital – beds, plastic sheeting everywhere, counters, creepy dolls lying around – which is hilarious now, but once you’re in there, you really start to freak out. The first major scare came when we arrived at the start of a long, dark hallway. I had read online what was to come, so we had the brilliant idea of turning off the torch so “maybe they wouldn’t know we were there”, and running down the hallway to the light at the other end. So we turned off the torch, grabbed hands, and began to run as if our lives depended on it.
They turned all the fucking lights off.
So we screamed like little girls, especially after we heard a zombie race out of the exam room and bolt after us, screeching (I don’t think he was expecting us to run). We got to the end of the hall and freaked out the couple from our group, who we’d finally caught up to. We joined forces for a little while, weaving through more exam rooms, locker rooms of dead ends and more long hallways together until Meghan decided she’d had enough and we overtook them to find an exit (there are several throughout the maze for wimps like us). Unfortunately the exit we’d passed after the first long hall had been the last one for a long time, and we had to complete the whole next floor before we found another one. We fell into the sunshine, laughing to cover up our terror, before doing the walk of shame past the people lining up to get into the maze to get our photo from the gift shop. We then spent the next hour half laughing/half freaking out, before meeting up with Ivee and heading back to Tokyo for a much needed drink.
Then it was Fuji Rock day!
The whole purpose of our trip to Japan was to go to music festival Fuji Rock in Naeba. Set in this gorgeous ski resort, the whole place is in the mountains, surrounded by forests and rivers. It was completely beautiful! All the camping was up on the mountain overlooking the festival site, which made me wish a little bit that we’d camped this year, and was a patchwork of multicoloured tents on the mountainside. When we got in it started to rain, so we donned our ponchos and took to the forest on the edges of the grounds, which gave us shelter and an amazing view of the stage. We spent the day exploring or hidden in our forest spot, watching a handful of English and Japanese bands. For a festival the place was spotless – manned recycling stations were everywhere and everyone was polite. No drunken fuckwits, no piles of rubbish or passed out chicks in short shorts and bikini tops. It really showed how shit some Australian festivals can be, especially in relation to basic common sense. The main band we went for was Mumford and Sons, who I was dubious about, but they were really fantastic live. Very happy and energetic, it was the best way to end the day.
And that was it. Ivee went off to Kyoto the next day and Meghan and I flew back home, wallets lighter and heads full of amusing tales.
And because travel is an addiction, we’re already planning our next trip to New Zealand! Lord of the Rings nerdiness will ensue…
That’s more than enough for today, enjoy. x
Listening to: Fall Out Boy
Gigs this week: Frank Sultana & the Sinister Kids
Watching: Warehouse 13
Reading: Brave New World
Current man-crush: Andrew Scott