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Monkeys

I apologise but this post gets a wee bit poetic and flowery in the middle.

Momijidani is one of Japan’s two famous “viewing” seasons, the other being hanami in Spring. Momijidani means to go view the beautiful maple leaves that turn Japan’s forests into beautiful vistas of red and gold every autumn.

One of the most famous sights for Momijidani is Miyajima Island near Hiroshima. The island is covered in a wide variety of maples and even has a park dedicated to maple trees.

My girlfriend being wiser and more sensible than I rightly thought that it would be a great place to spend a long weekend. And she was right.

I don’t really have a lot to add about Miyajima since the last time I wrote about it. The floating torii is still a truly amazing sight. The view from the top of the mountain still offers a stunning panoramic vista of the surrounding area and the dramatic, moody mountains that burst from the sea like monsters rising from the depths. The climbed down is still pleasant and calm and takes you through beautiful primeval forest. There are still monkeys, deer and monkeys and deer together. The town of Miyajima is still charming and old fashioned and a delight to stroll through. It is, basically, still my favourite spot in Japan.

The main changes this time were to the climate and the amount of people in attendance.

Obviously it was autumn and as I said we had gone there to admire the autumn leaves. And they are definitely worthy of admiration. Autumn has always been my favourite season in Britain for the combination of the nicest temperatures of the year (September is warm but not so warm that you sweat from walking), the confluence of several festivals such as bonfire night and Halloween (which obviously isn’t a big thing in Britain but is to a horror movie buff like me) the beautiful crisp quality to the air and the glorious colours of the trees.

Japanese Autumn lacks the festivals and is still so wet that it jumps from hot to cold almost immediately but it more than makes up for it in the quality of its leaves.

I mean, wow! Words fail me.

The amount of forest in Japan helps this effect too. Japanese cities are largely devoid of trees (although Hiroshima is an exception) but just beyond every Japanese city is a dominating mountain range covered top to bottom in ancient forest. These forests are mostly a lustrous dark green but they are dotted here and there with bright apple reds, fiery oranges and sunflower yellows. In autumn every view in Japan gains a breathtaking multi-coloured backdrop.

Chief and most important of the autumn trees are the maples, the momiji which the season gets its name from. Not only do these trees effect the most dramatic change and most exciting of colours (just look at some of those reds and let your jaw hang loose in wonder) but the shape of the leaves further enhances their beauty. Symmetrical, angular, intricate, eye catching the classic maple leaf shape is the perfect canvas on which to display these autumnal compositions.

Autumn also grants the surrounding view a wonderful mist. From the top of the mountain the surrounding islands which rise so magnificently from the waters are draped in a mysterious fog. Thin enough that it doesn’t obscure the view but just thick enough to lend the islands an air of mystery and a vague ethereal quality.

Put basically Miyajima looks really pretty in autumn.

However, unfortunately, the Japanese people are well aware of this and they flock, in their thousands, to come see it.

This is a constant problem for the traveller in Japan. There are just a lot of Japanese people. And lots of these Japanese people want to do the same things as you. The Japanese are very good at enjoying their own country, much better than Brits are, and they love to travel and see the sights in Japan.

So you can be sure that at any major festival or any scenic spot that is particularly associated with a season there will be other people there in their thousands getting in your way and spoiling the view and the quiet.

Frankly I’m used to this by now and having to struggle through enormous crowds of people no longer bothers me quite so much as it did but it can still rankle sometimes, especially when we had to wait more than an hour for the cable car to the top of the mountain. Nor did I have the island entirely to myself last time either but whilst last time on my climb down the mountain last time I saw 3, maybe 4 people in total this time around I passed a group of 3 every 10 seconds.

The food is still awesome too. I introduced Fran to the delights of barbequed oysters. She didn’t like them and so I got to eat hers as well. She has no idea what she’s missing, they were tasty and juicy and perfect and meltingly delicious. I want some more just thinking about it.

And momiji-manju, basically tai-yaki but in the shape of momiji leaves, is still the finest invention in the entire history of Japan.

Some of the things I have talked about recently on Mummyboon have cropped up again in the news in short order so I figured I’d take the opportunity to follow up on them.

The saga of the mega-monkeys (or metabo-monkeys*) continues as the keeper updates us all on how their diet is going. Apparently it has been 2 months since they were put on a healthier diet of grains, vegetables and small fish and less bananas and sweet potatoes. The caloric intake of the monkeys ahs been cut by as much as 60% and signs and barriers have been erected to stop people throwing food to the monkeys. The keeper claims that there has been a noticeable improvement in the health of the monkeys but it certainly isn’t evident from the above photo.

That might be because some people are STILL feeding the monkeys! In fact the keeper is still finding candy wrappers and peanut shells in the monkey area (it isn’t a zoo but a park so the monkeys aren’t in cages). This is despite the high profile media attention the fat monkeys have been receiving and the fact that they clearly have obesity problems. I honestly cannot believe some people. They are either incredibly naive not to realise that the signs and warnings are in place for what is quite a serious health problem or are some kind of sadist that is actually trying to kill the monkeys. Knowing the general character of Japanese people I’m actually going to vote for the former.

*This is another great Japanese news story recently. The government have been trying to increase the Japanese peoples’ awareness of the health risks or obesity by renaming obesity/being fat as being “metabo.” Their hope is that “metabo” doesn’t have the negative connotations of obesity so people will be more confident seeking out medical attention from their doctor. They’ve published a fact sheet telling people when they qualify as being “metabo” and they hope that the “metabo” members of the population will feel less stigmatized and will seek medical attention earlier and with less fear. I have only two real thoughts about this. Firstly, that this is easily one of the stupidest things I have ever heard of any government doing and secondly that I have no idea why the Japanese government feels the need to create such a program when it has one of the healthiest populations on the planet.

Also it seems that the BBC has bought the rights to air “Tunnels”; the Japanese TV show that features the “human tetris” short I mentioned last month.

I reckon that this is probably going to be part of some “Tarrant on TV” style clip show making fun of Japanese TV (as is only right and proper. The international media gets Japan horribly wrong a lot of the time but Japanese TV deserves everything it gets) however I would be thrilled if the BBC are planning to produce their own version of human tetris.

Hrmmm, bit short. Tell you what, let’s talk about a uniquely Japanese phenomenon.

Everybody loves a good TV theme tune. Many’s the time I’ve had discussions with my friends about what the best them tunes of all time are and we’ve spent happy hours humming them away. However, with a few rare exceptions TV theme tunes remain as just that and rarely does a good tune cross over and become a genuine pop hit.

Not so in Japan. Most of the theme tunes for popular anime and dramas are done by established pop acts and the theme tune becomes a chart song, even an album track usually. In fact, some TV shows thrive purely on the strength of a really good song. Anime themes are everywhere in the pop culture of Japan. As song choices in computer games, as karaoke songs, as adverts, as number 1 hits and indeed as the theme tune to anime shows.

So here are a few of my personal favourite anime themes.

Let’s start with my all time favourite and the only one I have ever been known to sing at karaoke. “Flying in the Sky” from G-Gundam. My undying love for the sheer unbridled creative stupidity of G-Gundam has been mentioned a couple of times on this blog. Yes, this is the show with the giant robot fish.

However my love for the theme tune is entirely un-ironic. This is the best cartoon theme tune the world has ever known. It’s epic, ballsy, soaring and unbelievably 80’s. And most importantly it features Japanese people (or drunken gaijin) screaming “Flying in the Sky”, “Shining Finger” and “Bright you now” with pure unbridled joy in their hearts.

If this song doesn’t make you happy then you and I can’t be friends anymore.

Another popular karaoke song with my friends and the opening theme tune to “Full Metal Alchemist.” This is by the brilliantly named “Porno Graffiti” which I once thought my students were pronouncing as pornography. This has an insanely catchy tune and some of the most esoteric lyrics I have ever heard.

One of the many opening themes that Naruto has had and my personal favourite. The song is a bit shouty but it fits the character really, really well and I’m a big fan of the guitar work.

In contrast here is the first opening theme for Naruto. I can never decide if I like this song or not. It sounds sort of vaguely Billy Joel-ish but sung really badly.

Then he says “I waana rocks, rocks to the chest” and I burst out laughing.

From Cowboy Bebop. I hate Jazz and even I have to concede that this is amazing.

I am not hugely familiar with Fist of the North Star and this theme is not particularly inspiring (at least not until the Japanese Shirley Bassey kicks in and then it briefly turns into Led Zepplin) but I do know that it is incredibly fun to yell “You Wa Shock!”

This is only an anime on a really thin technicality (it was a French/Japanese co-production) but it squeaks by being bloody awesome. I opted for the longer song in favour of the actual opening theme with the proper lyrics. Why? Because more Ulysses 31 is always a good thing.

I guarantee that at some stage tomorrow you will yell either “uly-ey-ey-eysees” “bright you now” or “you wa shock!”

Hiroshima Day 2

The plan for Day 2 was to get up early, head to Miyajima Island to climb Mt Misen and then spend the rest of the day on Miyajima getting some photos of the “floating torii.” Reportedly, one of the three most beautiful and most photographed views in all of Japan.

Of course the problem with this is that I lost my camera. So I had to hang around in Hiroshima until 10 o’clock when the shops opened, find an electronics shop, buy a camera, charge the battery and then head to Miyajima. I eventually arrived at about 1 o’clock, a good 3 hours after the planned time.

However, whilst I was not too pleased about having to fork out for a camera and being late any residual anger I had left me the minute I came into view of Miyajima.

It’s wonderful.

The ferry that takes you to the island crosses in front of the famous floating torii on its way there. Unfortunately for me the floating torii only floats during a high tide and as I approached it was low tide and the torii was surrounded by nothing more beautiful than sand and tourists. Even so it was still an impressive sight. Elegantly constructed and massive it dwarfed the people surrounding it and is immediately eye catching.

I was going to have to wait until high tide to see the torii but I had to climb the mountain straight away if I wanted to have a chance to visit anything else. Pausing only to feed my complaining stomach some yakitori (which was delicious and juicy and the best I have ever had) I headed off to Misen.

The first stage of the climb requires leaving the small town that surrounds Itsukushima-jinja and the torii and heading up the slope to the cable car. The town of Miyajima is phenomenally touristy but still really nice. Moving away from the main shopping arcade it’s quiet, decidedly old fashioned and full of winding narrow hilly streets, interesting little shops and handsome older Japanese style buildings. Oh and there are tame deer wandering through the streets too which adds a certain novel charm. Pretty as it was it was also bloody steep and I was knackered just reaching the cable car.

On the way up the mountain I saw what may be my 2nd favourite sign so far in Japan.

The second stage of the climb is to get on the cable car which, yes I realise, is a bit of a cheat. Time was a factor though and I resolved to take the scenic route down. The cable car ride was absolutely stunning. Miyajima sits at the entrance to the Seto Inland Sea, which isn’t inland at all but is between two of the main islands of Japan. The Seto Sea is full of tiny but tall mountains formed from volcanoes. They rise out of a perfect blue ocean like the teeth of some great monster. Small islands you could walk around in an hour but impossibly tall and pointy for their size. They’re absolutely gorgeous, some of the most captivating scenery I have ever seen.

Eventually we got to the top of the cable car where I was greeted by what is easily my favourite sign in Japan so far.

MONKEYS!

Yup monkeys. Deer too. At the top of the cable car there is a rock park with a small observatory that is full of macaques and deer. I love monkeys. These were far less terrifying than the ones in Yamasaki too as they weren’t circling us to try and steal our food. It was a bit freaky though when one nearly fell on me after leaping off a roof.

Also how cute is this sign.

As it was spring time there were lots of little baby monkeys running about too. I saw one incredibly sweet little thing climbing out of a hole. When his mother spotted me with my camera she immediately swept him up in her arms and turned her back to me.

This pair on the other hand had no shame.

And may I just go on record as saying that distended monkey nipples are some of the most disturbing things I have ever seen.

Shudder!

Although I could have stayed all day I had a mountain to climb. So I embarked on stage 3, up the path to the peak.

The path to the summit wanders through a primeval forest that is pretty dark and absolutely full of animals. May favourites were the frogs that made a noise like a video recorder rewinding. Not that that means much to many of you young whippersnappers but trust me they sounded exactly like a rewinding video.

After about 20 minutes I reached a temple dedicated to Kobo Daishi, the monk responsible for inventing kana. The main claim to fame for this temple is that Kobo Daishi once ate at this spot on his way up Mt Misen on a pilgrimage. The cooking fire he used is apparently still burning and the focal part of the temple is a shed containing a small fire and an enormous cast iron pot. Highly doubtful that a priest would have an enormous cast iron pot which he just left behind but interesting nonetheless.

I thought that this temple was at the summit but I spotted a staircase and guessed that I needed to keep going. Then I came to an open plain with some rocks and figured I’d reached the top but no, another staircase. This happened about 5 or 6 times before I eventually, mercifully came to the actual summit.

Whereupon the grey clouds that had been doggedly pursuing me all day parted and I stared down upon one of the most serenely beautiful things I have ever seen.

The view was amazing. As I mentioned last post no matter how high you climb in Japan you can always see mountains and I could here. But their character was totally different to those I had seen on my way here. The mountains on the land are soft, dark green and wave like. The whole landscape is little more than a bumpy plain of dark green hills. Here the trees were bright green and contrasted against the absolutely glorious blue of the sea. And they didn’t roll but jutted straight up in the air. I could see all the way to Shikoku!

I just sat and stared for ages. A good half hour easily, with my lower jaw hanging heavily down. I was dumbstruck.

Then I spotted that there was an observation tower and more stairs to climb. *sigh*. I climbed it but the view was not significantly improved by the extra 10 ft of height.

Underneath the observation tower was a house on a hillside with a little café attached. I went inside and got a beer and some crisps and ate staring at the sublime vista. The man who served me was one of the smiliest men I have ever seen. I assume he lives near the top of the mountain, or at least spends most of his day there and the smile is the result of the absolutely stunning scenery.

And then it was time to head down.

Just as I was about to set off I passed a couple just reaching the peak. The girl was wearing enormous high heels, real stilettos. God only knows what she’d done to her feet on the climb up.

There are a couple of different routes down the mountain but the one I wanted to take passed a shrine on the way down. The colourful shrine of Daishoo-in which promised a koi carp pond, a Zen garden and basically everything one could possibly want in a shrine.

Unfortunately that route was shut so I instead headed off back through the forest.

It was shockingly quiet. Japan is so full of background noise that I can never get used to the moments in its countryside that suddenly goes quiet. It’s like stepping outside of the real world and into some fantasy setting. I half expected a kappa to leap from the water at any second.

The path followed a stream down to the base of the mountain. Periodically at points along the stream there was half a dam across it made of stones. I discovered at the bottom that these are actually erosion defences. In the 1930’s buildings at the bottom of the stream and much of the scenery of the forest was destroyed by a freak monsoon that caused the stream to burst its banks and flood. The town of Miyajima embarked upon a plan to stop this happening by installing some flood defences. However they faced the problem that all of the flood defence ideas would involve building some kind of dam that would detract from the beauty of the area. Then they hit upon the idea of disguising the dam to look like a traditional Japanese garden. And it works! The garden at the base of the mountain is lovely and completely hides all the flood defences at the bottom and the dams going up the mountain are shaped to fit into the surrounding area. It’s a rare example of local government actually improving on something and getting it right.

According to the “lonely planet” guidebook the descent takes “a good hour.” I managed it in nearly half of that and I wasn’t exactly running.

At the bottom I made my way quickly to “Itsukushima-jinja” before it closed. Itsukushima-jinja is the shrine for which the island is properly named (Itsukushima) and is the shrine that the floating torii marks the entrance too. It is a very unusual shrine in that it is mostly not on the island at all but rather is constructed like a pier jutting off the beach. The reason for this is that the god the shrine venerates is the entire island itself, which is considered to be holy. Because the island is so holy common people weren’t allowed to set foot on it. They had to cross over from the mainland, pass through the floating torii and worship on the shrine.

Although it looks quite nice from a distance and is quite unusual the actual shrine itself is pretty dull and doesn’t boast any interesting relics or statues. The one feature that I did enjoy was this bridge that joins the island to the shrine. In older days messengers from the Empress Suiko would cross this bridge to give messages to the shrine. The bridge is actually so steep that it can’t be crossed normally and special ladders are needed. I love that, a bridge that you can’t cross. How fantastically pointless.

The other thing the shrine offers is a good view of the famous floating torii. By this point it still wasn’t quite floating so I decided to have a wander up to it to see it up close.

It is, I can report, very big. Although it isn’t the biggest torii I have ever seen. On the arms about halfway up the torii are piles and piles of rocks that tourists have thrown up there. I have no idea what the point of this is but I decided to have a go too. I overshot the arm completely and splashed in the water opposite, startling an American gentleman who was lost in admiration for the torii.

As time was getting late I set out to find two things. Food, and a giant rice ladle.

Now the giant rice ladle was a bit of a whim. On my way up the mountain I had glanced at a map that marked out a “big ladle” as a site of interest. It wasn’t marked on my map though and now that I was searching for it I couldn’t find it or the map I had seen. After a brief search I gave up and went off in search of oysters.

Hiroshima as a whole is famous for sea food and Miyajima specifically for barbequed oysters. Whenever I have eaten oysters in the past it has always been raw and they have always been disappointing little blobs with the exact texture and flavour of an enormous bogey. I had never had them barbequed before and OH! MY! GOD! Why on earth don’t we cook oysters in England?! These were juicy, delicious and sweet. Like giant mussels but oh so very tasty. I am sorry to say that I gorged and went back for seconds.

No sooner did I seat myself for seconds than I glanced up and spotted that all this time I had been engrossed in my oysters I had failed to spot the giant ladle.

Well actually it’s more of a spatula, but I’m sure we can all agree it’s a very big spatula.

Full on oysters I sought out ice cream to wander along the beach with. As most of the day trippers had gone home by this point a lot of the shops were closing up but I found one woman with a wide selection of ice creams.

Including wasabi.

That would be horseradish ice-cream. How could I refuse?

The wasabi ice cream was unusual but not unpleasant tasting. It had a sweet and creamy taste but a fiery hot after taste. The effect was to make you want to eat more ice cream because every bite demanded some cream to cool your mouth down. Despite this I couldn’t finish the ice cream and so I fed the remains to a deer. Deer will eat anything; they’re like giant pretty rats.

To rid my mouth of the taste of wasabi I sought out another thing Miyajima is famous for. Dorayaki in the shape of a maple leaf. Only I had it taiyaki style. That means deep-fried maple cake filled with anko. Scrumptious. The outside was warm and crunchy then a layer of gooey warm cake and finally a layer of warm oozing sweet anko paste.

I think if offered it, I would eat taiyaki every day. It would make me very fat but very, very happy.

In fact I liked it so much I had two.

And now finally the tide was in so I set off to get some shots of the now floating “floating torii” and then headed back to the hotel.

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.

Short post tonight as I am sick as a dog. I really do want to get into the habit of doing a post every night though (except weekends) so here is a video to entertain you all.

But first the backstory.

Me and David Bath (usually referred to as “the actor David Bath”. Which is a great nickname but a bit difficult to type every time) went to vist David’s mate Steve in Yamasaki. Yamasaki is pretty much the middle of nowhere, so far away from anywhere else in fact that you can’t even get there by train. This is simply unthinkable in Japan. It is bloody bueatiful though. A small town (well officially it’s a city but it really isn’t) surrounded on all sides by mountains. Even if you climb up the mountains all you can see for is yet more mountains stetching into the distance. It’s got phenomenally nice views.

But the main reason we went there is that Steve is lonely because he doesn’t really get along with the other Gaijin in his town. Thus he doesn’t get a chance to speak English much unless he comes to Kobe or Osaka to meet Dave or his other friends. For a change we went to visit Steve and had, unexpectedly, a really fantastic weekend.

The highlight of which was easily when Steve took us to a monkey park. Now when I say monkey park I don’t mean some sort of fenced off area. Oh no. This is a shrine, up a mountain and all around it are monkeys roaming freely. You can touch them if you want, and they can touch you.

And rather stupidl Steve had wandered up there eating a bag of pretzels.

The monkeys wanted the pretzels.

Now unfortunately the video doesn’t really demonstrate quite how scary this was. The monkeys really were screaming at Steve and were trying to surround him on all sides. They were clearly scared of him as every time he moved they backed off but we were a little bit scared of them too. I mean who knows what a monkey is going to do. They genuinely were trying to grab at the bag and were getting very close. Eventually Steve confused them by putting the prezels inside his shirt, a technique that totally fooled the monkeys which then lost interest in us entirely.

Oh and I found out what the float thing was all about earlier in the week. I shall be posting all about that tomorrow night. After that more stuff from this weekend including lots more monkey videos.

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