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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

(A Remarkable Lack of) Fear & Loathing in Japan, Part 1

  

     A longtime friend of mine informed me last year that he would be getting married in Japan in May, 2015, which was at the time unfathomably far in the future. At first, attending didn't seem like a reasonable option: there was no way I could afford plane tickets, hotel rooms, etc. without racking up some unwanted debt, and I didn't even have a passport, having done all of my traveling to that point within the continental United States. Eventually, however, I decided to just go for it and make the trip happen, a decision which had nothing whatsoever to do with my girlfriend's desire to see Japan, no matter what she or I may tell you. So how did it go? I'm glad you asked! Otherwise I'd just stop writing here, and it would be a pretty crappy post.

Bon Voyage

     First off, let it be known that ANA Airlines is fantastic. Mind you, this is coming from someone who had never been on an international flight before, but still...keeping me from going out of my mind while sitting in a seat for 11 hours is quite an accomplishment. Lord knows my therapist does a miserable job of it.  And as far as in-flight entertainment goes, you'd be hard-pressed to beat this:


     So yeah, the flight went well, and Sheila and I left San Jose in the afternoon on Friday and arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday at Narita Airport with very little incident. Some would say that Valium, complementary airplane Asahi and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask on 3DS deserve some of the credit for the peaceful voyage, but that's all hearsay. Our initial foray into Japanese society, however, proved somewhat more perilous. You see, the Tokyo subway system is an incredibly elegant, efficient and easy to follow means of public transportation, the likes of which we poor fools in the Bay Area can only dream. However, my opinion of it on first blush would have been somewhat to the contrary, as our weary and inexperienced minds found the subway system to be a mind-bending labyrinth, complete with cryptic clues and leaps of faith.


     Our confusion was somewhat compounded by the language barrier: we asked a woman at the train station how to get to our hotel, showing her a set of printed-out directions. She provided us an ALTERNATE route to our destination, but we did not realize this, so our attempts to reconcile our directions with hers resulted in a near-double homicide. Cooler heads and the desire to shower prevailed, and after several hours of meandering we made it to Shinjuku. Knowing our hotel was somewhere in the vicinity and with my shoulder chafed from the duffel bag I was carrying to the point of bleeding, we happened upon an angel in the form of a somewhat uriney-smelling taxi and its pilot. 730 yen later, we were at our hotel, and were promptly introduced to our new overlord: the TOTO.


     This is a toilet that truly earns the slang term "throne." With its heated seat, built-in bidet and powerful flush, I can honestly say I loved this commode more than some of my family members. You could even make the case that I spent far more time than necessary sitting on it, time that I used to ponder if I was even worthy of sitting upon such a glorious can. Basically, the Toto (which is EVERYWHERE in Japan; this was in fact not the fanciest model I sat upon) gives me a new life goal, because I haven't truly made it until one of these bad boys is chilling in my lavatory. Every time I sit on a toilet these days and I don't feel the loving lap of a warm current of water, I feel a chill of rage deep within my bones.
     And then we went to sleep. Well, first we had some chu-hi, but I'll get into all THAT a bit later.

Beerfest A

     One of the oddest things about this trip is that the groom-to-be in the wedding that served as our primary motivation/excuse for going to Japan was actually going to be in California for our first few days overseas. In fact, we hung out the night before my flight out of San Jose, during which I was informed of a beer festival that would be happening the day after my arrival in Japan.


     Eric, the soon-to-be-wedding-having-guy, told me that his bride would be happy to accompany us to this ale-stravaganza, so I would have been a fool to pass up on the offer. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the belief that binge day drinking while coping with copious amounts of jet leg is a bad idea.
     Shaky notions of personal responsibility aside, the day was wonderful. After an early morning meal at Mos Burger, wherein I finally got my hands on a shrimp burger after years of sordid fantasies about eating one, our wonderful hostess for the day, Azusa, came to meet us at the hotel and we were off like the proverbial prom dress. The saying does not reflect my own personal prom experience in any way, shape or form, but that's neither here nor there. We took a train out to the beer festival (and let me tell you, it was such a welcome relief to not have to worry about figuring out directions for once). As the steel (aluminum? I'm not up on my railway construction materials) behemoth rumbled quietly over the lovely Tokyoscape, we discussed things like, you know, topics and stuff, and anticipated the upcoming festivities that we were sure to remember, up to a certain point.


      The Keyaki Beer Festival was certainly different than any beer festival I'd ever attended. The atmosphere was serene and orderly, to a somewhat bizarre degree. Nowhere to be seen were the aggressive drunks and queasy souses you might see at an unruly festival like those in the states. This one was positively ruly! We sat with a whole group of new friends, and since each of us had a grasp on the English language, we had a few laughs and more than a few drinks.


     My favorite among our beer clique was a young woman whose name I regrettably do not remember. She was, in a word, delightful. It is not to say that the rest of our party were lacking in the aspect of delight, but simply to note that her delightfulness hit supernova levels. She was very excited to drink beer and talk to Americans, and boy did we make her dreams come true. The best part was the wide-eyed, horn-like "WHAAAAAT?" that she would exclaim after one of us would drop a particularly fulminant truth bomb. We told her that we also have beerfest in California, but ours can last several days ("WHAAAAAAAT?") and involve people camping overnight and getting all dirty ("WHAAAAAAAAAT?"), but her explosive wonderment reached its most atomic after she returned from an excursion to pick up some junk food from "a place called [dramatic pause] convenience store!" She emptied a bag of gluttonous booty from her bag, all of which would be dwarfed calorically by nearly any single component of an average meal in the US. She mischievously wondered if our dainty Western sensibilities would be up to the challenge of trying something surely alien to us: squid jerky! When informed her that we had actually eaten it before in California, our friend "WHAAAAAAAAAAAT"-ed so hard I expected her jaw to unhinge and the top of her head to fall off.


     After all this, those of our party that remained for a while escorted Sheila and me to some hole in the wall place near our hotel. Their local wisdom opened our eyes to a wonderful establishment where we could eat wasabi octopus to our heart's content and, perhaps more importantly, get cheap highballs. Highballs, for those of you like me who didn't know they existed, are wildly popular cocktails in Japan that boil down to basically a whiskey soda. At this particular spot they were tasty, potent, and less than $2 each, so you might say that we ended up highballin' out of control. You might say that.


     And so our wonderful Sunday came to a close. We tried many delicious beers, met some cool people and collected only a mild sunburn. Undoubtedly everything would continue to go perfectly smoothly for the remainder of our vacation. Anyway, that's for Part 2. For now, check out my beer festival shirt!

If the suspense between installments of this travel tale is too much for you to bear, you can always buy a copy of Joey Marsilio's book, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, to pass the time.

2 comments:

garrettsteel said...

Binge drinking is always a fun idea. Not always a good idea, but always a fun one.

garrettsteel said...

Godammit, I meant to put down binge day drinking. Not just binge drinking.