Yamasaki Dreaming

Ah well I guess one missed day doesn’t matter much. At least my frequency is improving.

Anyway, as was mentioned in my monkey related post last weekend me and the actor David Bath went to visit Dave’s mate Steve in the frighteningly rural town of Yamasaki.

To be honest I did not actually think this was going to be much fun. The only thing I actually knew we were doing is looking at a bamboo forest and I had visions of pretending to be in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” that lured me to come. For the rest of the time I had no idea what was planned, but Steve had apparently given us a busy schedule.

We took the train to Himeji (which I didn’t realise was a big city. I thought it was just a famous castle. I really don’t know a lot about Japan do I.) and met Steve there to be driven to Yamasaki. DRIVEN mind you. Yamasaki appears to be the one place in Japan that can’t be reached by the train. It’s positively barbaric, I don’t know how people manage.

On the way there we drove past a couple of love hotels and the biggest Tanuki I have ever seen. Tanuki, for those not in the know, are Japanese mythological animals fashioned after the real tanuki or raccoon dog. Tanuki are friendly, fat, wear a straw hat, are usually depicted carrying a bottle of sake and a promissory note (like an I.O.U.) for the sake. If they put a leaf on their heads they can turn into anything they like, usually humans. They then try and by sake with money that turns into leaves shortly afterwards.

Oh and they have enormous testicles, which are apparently lucky.

When we got to Yamasaki and checked in, a process that apparently necessitated an explanation of where the café is that lasted half an hour.

“Come down the lift, step out the lift, then step forward and turn left and step forward again and there is a door on your left, go through it and step forward and remember to breathe turn left using the groups of muscles in your right leg, first lift your foot up, extend it, place it on the ground so that you should have legs stretched apart, then get your foot that is now some way behind the proceeding or right foot lift it up and extend it not just to match your right foot, although this is acceptable, but all the way past your right foot, continue with this process and you are in the café.”

Why did we have to go to a hotel? Well, because Steve’s room consists of a bed, masses of electronics and just enough space between the two to squeeze to the kitchen. It was one of those rooms where you’re slightly unsure if the floor is actually there. Oh and he had some pet frogs, and a dead pet beetle.

First stop, a local shrine. It seems that everywhere you go in Japan the first thing you do is go look at a shrine. Admittedly this was a very nice one, in a pleasant forest up a mountain. It had a lake outside it with turtles and was just generally very…shriney.

Oh, one thing. The pleasant forest did have signs up warning people not to step on the most dangerous snake in all of Japan, which lives here. Alas we didn’t see anything so exciting as an animal that could kill us. Steve has seen one in the past apparently, which spent the whole time Steve was there doing its best stick impression. The most dangerous snake in all of Japan is apparently terrified of everything and rarely bites things it isn’t trying to eat. Unless you step on it.

After the pleasant forest we went to one of Steve’s locals for dinner, consisting of a burger…..and rice. Something I mocked my friend Joe for eating for months. I still think it’s a weird combination. It wasn’t bad though.

Then we went to the monkey shrine. Words can’t do justice to monkeys so here are lots of pictures of them.

By now quite bored of looking at monkeys, and hungry, we set out for food at a local Izakaya, and damn nice food it was too. I had something called a dice steak. No, not diced steak. Rather you roll 2 dice and that’s how many pieces of steak you get. If you roll a double 1 they take a photo of you and put it on the wall. Now obviously I was hoping for an exciting result, either a double 6 or a double 1. Alas all I got was an 8, a fair bit of steak but not a great story.

We then proceeded (by now slightly drunk) to something called either a Gan Pen or a Kan Pen, basically Japanese speed dating. On one side of a table the girls, on the other the guys and every so often you move down. Now Steve, bless ‘im, has been trying to get his end away ever since his last girlfriend broke up with him. He’s a little bit obsessed by it even, and lots of the barmaids he knows in Yamasaki keep trying to set him up with women. So Steve had already been invited to this Gan Pen when he made his plans to invite us. In fact he had to ask permission to bring me and Dave along, which met the response.

“NO! If you bring the foreigners there won’t be any girls left for us.”

Fortunately Steve convinced the organiser that me and Dave had girlfriends (well we do) and wouldn’t take any girls. So we were grudgingly allowed in.

Now Steve did think that us three wouldn’t be involved in the actual dating business as such, but rather would be at a separate table watching Japanese guys try to use pick up lines (they’re remarkably unsubtle and I heard the Japanese word for cock more than once). No such luck, me, Dave and Steve all got seated at the table where the action was occurring and being exotic foreigners we drew more than our fair share of the attention. Something that was visibly pissing off the Japanese guys there. Steve was loving it though, and got 2 numbers.

Oh and I ate something called soft chicken bone, or chicken’s knuckles. Ready for it. Fried, battered chicken gristle. Now some JET’s had told me bout this beforehand and my reaction, like any sane persons, was, urgh! But actually they’re not that bad. I wouldn’t ever buy them myself but when they were in front of me….well I couldn’t stop eating them.

I will say this, all the asian JET’s absolutely adore them.

So having probably screwed up some desperate Japanese blokes attempts to pull we made our way to a “snack bar”.

Now at this point I should own up that I did know one thing about Yamasaki before I went there.

It is crawling with the Yakuza, or as Steve calls them to avoid saying the word yakuza, pineapples.

Now I have never, ever in my life been faced with a situation where I was in danger of meeting a gang member. Let alone someone belonging to an internationally famous criminal gang, and Steve was planning to take us to a bar that they run, quite openly apparently. The Yakuza are like a lot of Japanese “problems” an open secret. Everyone knows they exist but everybody, EVERYBODY pretends that they don’t. The Yakuza speak their own version of Japanese which is used in films bout the Yakuza, but if pressed a Japanese person will always say that they couldn’t possibly understand what is being said in those films.

Now the pineapples do generally restrict violence just to other pineapples. Nonetheless I wasn’t really in any mood to meet any pineapples, but according to Steve if you want to drink in a decent place in Yamasaki you need to go to a pineapple bar. So off we went.

“Snack Bars” are fairly cheap to buy beer in but give you a bowl of peanuts which can cost anything from 2,000 Yen to 20,000 Yen depending on how much the proprietor likes you. Fortunately the landlady, Miyuki, likes Steve a lot so she totally waived the snack charge and just let us drink as normal. In fact she dropped the charge for Karaoke too so she must like us.

Miyuki is one of the most outgoing Japanese people I have ever met. She’s loud, brash, rude and very funny. And according to Steve the most perverted Japanese girl ever. On one of his first nights in the bar he got a back massage from one of the barmaids. Miyuki called out from the bar, so that the whole room could hear, “she also does good dick massages too Steve”.

She was apparently on her best behaviour when we went, but she did do cheeky girls on the karaoke.

And what a karaoke! It had a feature called “pervert mode” that rated your singing performance and then stripped blocks off a picture of a naked lady. The higher your score the more you got the see. My Score of 84 doing Elton John’s crocodile rock let me see some nipples but alas no one scored highly enough to uncover the downstairs departments.

By this stage we were well and truly hammered.

So of course the sensible thing to do is to recruit a load of Steve’s mates and wander up a mountain in the dark looking for Ghosts.

The Japanese lads with us did their very best to scare me and Dave, trying to convince us that ghosts were real and what we were doing was really dangerous (bollocks) and actually I think they believed it. Japan is quite a secular country generally but it is very, very superstitious and I think stuff like belief in ghosts is taken a lot more seriously than back home.

Still they weren’t taking it very seriously at all and were mostly laughing at the, by now totally gone, gaijin drunks.

I frankly was more scared by the mountain edge and the combination of alcohol and the dark meant my fear of heights kicked in big time and I did my best to keep everyone away from the edge. I realise I was being paranoid and annoying but I like to think my fears were proved right when Steve fell off the mountain.

Yes he fell of a mountain.

He went over a bandstand, which unbeknownst to him had a sheer drop behind him, fell down and landed on a hillside, twisting his ankle.

So by now, injured, scared, tired and very, very drunk Steve receives a call from the owner of another snack bar demanding that she pick us up and not letting Steve walk into town. Steve acquiesced and we descended to find a Jeep waiting to take us all back.

I have never been so sure I was going to die in all my life.

That Jeep was HURTLING down the mountain, in the dark, with no road barriers, in the dark, on a mountain!!! A MOUNTAIN! For the first time since I was a child I shut my eyes, held on for dear life and refused to open them until the Jeep stopped. Dave has a photo. The Japanese lads thought this was hilarious.

And this other woman, well I have no idea who she was but she was forceful. She all but made us go into her bar for another drink, a drink that, having just consumed heroic quantities already, and then having my stomach shaken violently in a Jeep, I really didn’t want.

I had it though and then next thing I know I am somehow back at the hotel and I go to bed.

The next day was infinitely more sedate. It was necessary, everyone was hungover. Everyone except bloody Steve.

Regardless, after a breakfast consisting of…um, tea, with cream in it, we set off to go up another mountain. This time on a monorail.

Apparently Yamasaki is trying to turn itself into something of a tourist attraction and has recently installed a few touristy things in order to encourage visitors. I would think a train stop would be the number 1 priority there. This monorail was one of them, along with a sort of ecologically friendly visitors centre at the top. When we got there it was hosting a gardening club and I assume it does other things.

The view from the mountain was phenomenal. I realised Japan was mountainous but I never realised just how mountainous it was. On all sides, for as far as I could see, it was just mountains. Stretching on to more mountains and yet more mountains. Hundreds and hundreds of them. It was beautiful and awesome (in the original sense) and just generally wonderful.

It was of course at that moment when the camera in my battery died.

Back in the visitors centre we amused ourselves by staring at the biggest most evil looking spider I have ever seen. It was yellow and black with a green body and a red head, poison colours if I’ve ever seen ‘em. Oh and it was very sharp and pointy. We three were all debating if it was poisonous or not when an old man picked it up in its hand and started using it to scare a small child. Well that was enough for Steve who demanded he got to hold it. We attracted a small crowd, mostly children and had endless fun trying to catch webs and then dangle it in the face of squealing delighted kids.

I tell you what, its webs were strong. Hours later Steve was still picking them off his clothing.

Bored of this we attempted to decipher what some of the signs meant. One was clearly demonstrating that the building used Solar Power. But another one, to do with water, was puzzling us. We all got that first few parts but there was one picture, with a tank filled with oysters that was confusing. Was it saying that oysters were used o filter the water? Well at that moment a helpful old man came over to explain what the sign meant. He started talking to Steve in Japanese and gestured at the toilet. He flushed the toilet, Steve left to go look at the Spider again and then the man looked up at me expectantly with a big grin on his face.

There is nothing quite so surreal as standing in a toilet cubicle with another man who has just flushed the toilet and is now smiling at you.

Which is all you’re getting tonight. Bed is calling me. I shall finish my Yamasaki adventure briefly tomorrow hopefully.

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