It has been too long since I have made an entry to this blog. The best reason I can give is that Japan has consumed me to a point that doesn’t offer me proper opportunity to sit down and write. It is now with the setting sun of summer that I feel I am finally able to reflect on recent events. It has been a year now since I first touched Japanese soil, a statement that fairs no resemblance to truth in my mind. How I have come so far in a mere 12 months is mind-boggling. A year’s wealth of knowledge, of experience, of entertainment; Value far beyond a price tag. I have explored all the way north and all the way south of Japan, I have wined and dined with remarkable individuals, visited inconceivable, holy places, and developed my perspective of the world in such a manner that befits my ambitions prior to coming here. I am ever-grateful for this wondrous opportunity and what it has brought me.
So for as long as I have been here, there has been this hype around Universal Studios Japan, from my colleagues, my friends and my students. Finally the opportunity arose to visit the darn place and I must say that the hype is justified. A lovely couple from back home, Pietah and Peter (not kidding) came to visit, so we seized the moment and went to this wacky theme park. Although largely Americanised due to the Universal influences, USJ still certainly feels wholly Japanese. It boasts some hectic rides both from Universal pictures as well as Japanese film and television, especially anime. Our first and my favourite was The Harry Potter ride which is allegedly the best ride in its category worldwide, that category being “dark rides,” a rather esoteric yet surely valued category. Complete with fog, smoke, strobe lights, water spray and all the ups and downs of a roller coaster, I agree, it was fantastic and deserves that gold medal. There was also a Hogsmead township with the likes of Harry Potter butterbeer, Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, wands, robes and what have you from the film; such a trip down nostalgia road. I also want it to be said that the Jaws ride remains to date as one of the best rides in existence. They just retired Jaws in America so this was like getting a golden ticket for me. Listening and watching a high-pitch voiced Japanese girl narrate the whole boat ride and shoot grenades off the vessel made it only ten times better too. The shark still looks fake though…
Anyhow, here’s something interesting. If you take a train out in to the countryside of Kyoto, and then bus out further until there are no signs of house nor rice paddy, you will find an incredibly secluded space reserved for two things, ultimate Frisbee tournaments and weekend music festivals, the latter of which I was fortunate enough to attend. In preparation we bleached Tom’s head hair, my beard hair, and Chris’ bollock hair. Can’t imagine how the tingle I felt under my beard felt for Chris in his situation. Then, in the torturous heat of Kyoto summer, I saw a unique face of Japan, messy… yet still incredibly organized (you can’t really take the Japan out of the Japanese). We saw a number of Japanese DJs which was incredible, but more importantly, we got an opportunity to be degenerates beyond the Sauronesque eyes of our contracting organizations – yay. We met a cable acrobatic yoga instructing pirate, interviewed some B class celebrities, and found ourselves moving very slowly that Sunday morning. It was such a relief to find myself in a pit of sweaty raving lunatics after the ever so peaceful day-to-day of teaching life.
Dear Kentarou was a true gem on that trip, having organized a barbeque breakfast for us all amongst other things. He has been an angel to the lot of us kiwis here in the area and there will be numerous examples in this blog alone but have also been in past entries and will appear in future entries without a doubt. He took Chris and I to a Hanshin Tigers baseball game recently, a pretty big deal as an Osaka resident. The local team and heroes to many of my associates, the Tigers put on a good show, and we got to experience the tradition of fertilizing the sky as you can see in the video below. His lovely mother even gave us a t-shirt so that we could spread the fandom, so cute.
Kentarou also organized a beautiful birthday party for our dear Tess with a big feast of home-made Japanese cooking complete with lovingly hand-made tamagoyaki and an ensemble of mouth-watering condiments to assemble our bochi-bochi sushi. He gifted Tess a gorgeous kimono, put on a fireworks display, and then took us the next day to an art museum and pottery making class. What a stud muffin. Seeing the backroads of Shiga and meeting countryside Japanese folk is a totally unique experience coming from the city. What with the frantic pace I’m used to, arriving in the countryside was akin to lying down beneath a great willow tree to shelter from the beating sun… Serene.
But now for something closer to home. Atop the great hill that divides Minoh from greater Kyoto, deep in to monkey territory, sits the most divine of temples I have ever visited, known as Katsuo-Ji, Katsu, which means to win. This temple is adorned with small figures known as daruma, talisman-like dolls that bring luck to their owner, owners looking to win over their hopes and dreams with a little faith and imbedded luck from these symbols. They line every pathway, every wall, and every crevice, deposited by visitors from years and years past in the hope of a wish come true. Not only do they represent the wishes of the many, but they also modify in to a guiding force through the heavenly landscape and temple grounds. Moreover, this temple emits radiant beauty from its meticulously crafted structures to the asymmetrical layout of the ponds and rivers, the misty rise of water vapour and the soft hum of the surrounding mountains, all converging to create a holistic energy that emanates over its visitors.
Minoh sure is a special place. And albeit from the peaceful temples, people and nature, Minoh really knows how to put on a good time. This year I was fortunate to attend the Minoh Beer Festival with live performances from local DJs and a capoeira group. There I was also able to revel in the never-forgotten flavours of craft beer that Wellington has come to be famous for, and that I miss so. There was also the Minoh Street Matsuri, a local festival held on a cute cobblestone road where of course one can eat amazing food and gamble your money away for knick knacks, oddities and ornamentals. You can fish for water-dwelling creatures, or if you’re not that way inclined, bouncy balls and key chains. And when the yelling and screaming from local children and your own students draws a headache you can slip away to your favourite bar and develop a new one. Then of course there is the official Minoh Matsuri which fills a large park and creates more of the same mess that the previous weekend’s event offered. To up the ante, a stage was established so that obscure hyper-metaphorical dance performances could be held.
Which leads me to my next event, a beauty of a production known as Aircon. This event mixed live music with spray paint, good food, good drink, and bloody good vibes. This was also my first time seeing live hip hop in Japan which was ****ing cool man! Japanese hip hop artists kill it on the stage. It’s a genre that’s totally overlooked by foreign audiences and deserves more opportunity to flourish overseas. Artists like Kohh and Kid Fresino have become a huge staple in my listening diet and I hope to see more Japanese artist pick up traction in the future.
With all the new locations and events that I have experienced in the last year, it was nice to go back to Nara for the first time since I arrived in Japan. This time I would be going with a pair of Japanese girls who knew the city well and as such had prepared a far better means of getting around the city. We picked up some electric bikes at the station when we arrived and quickly made great time of our adventure, blitzing past the plebeian tourists on foot. Our first stop was a visit to a friend who is currently running a backpackers. There we had lunch and a few yarns, met an impressive surfer and a Swedish teenager tackling Japan on his lonesome. And then before long we found ourselves at a sake brewery where we sampled many a sake from many a barrel which left us a little worse for wear on the bikes. Colton was still able to scream down a hill with no hands though so it can’t have been all that bad. So Nara is a beautiful city, famous to tourists as the home of many wild deer who will bow for a biscuit. You can’t walk five steps without being approached by one in the parks. They are incredibly cute. We even saw a bambi, couldn’t see his mother though… Na jokes I’m sure she was around there somewhere. Had a lovely deer steak for dinner actually. Na na na, she was around, probably. We went for a big boost around the city doing a little perusing of the local goods (ice cream incl.) and then headed home for a feast at a good friend’s bar on his well-worn, much loved leather couch. Great day.
Anyway, to summarise, it’s been a wonderful year. I have a plethora of experience under my belt from all that I have seen and done. I am happy with the people around me, the chances that are available to me. Best yet, I am still hungry for more of what Japan has to offer, and as such, intend to stay here a while longer. I have signed on for two years and perhaps I’ll even make it three. It’s too soon to know for sure but in light of recent changes, I feel like the runway is being lit up to me for Japan. To think that it has been a year since I left New Zealand is strange. Tying the pieces together in my mind as to what has occurred in the time since I have left is difficult. In one sense of the matter, it feels like just yesterday that I was saying my farewells to friends and family at the airport in Wellington. On the other hand, because of the sheer amount of what I have done since arriving here, it also feels like a lifetime ago that I was in Okinawa, or in Hiroshima, or in Hokkaido. All of these separate trips were so eventful that time is beginning to have this vague definition to it. It’s kind of beautiful. I feel that my experiences this year are more valuable because of that fact. There is so much to look back on with a big smile, so much to be thankful for. I feel very blessed. So, with that all said, I think I will end my blog here with some last unmentioned moments. Thanks for reading.