Monday, February 18, 2008

Naked Man Festival

It must have been a few days after my birthday that Dave sent me the e mail, because I was still recovering from our trip to Tokyo. I opened it up and scanned over the text saying, “We have to go to this,” and then clicked on the hyperlink that followed. The article that popped up blew my mind. Apparently the third Saturday in February is famous all over Japan for the Hadaka Matsuri, roughly translating to “Naked Man Festival.” A town that boarders Hiroshima named Okayama, plays host to roughly 9,000 participants every year with ever more spectators. The basic idea is to get dressed up in a loincloth and cotton socks, run through freezing cold water, and then try your best to catch one of about 30 lucky wooden sticks called “shingi” without getting killed. Last year some one died from “complication” after getting trampled in the mosh pit of people grabbing for a shingi.

It took me about ten minutes to decide I was going to participate instead of just watch. Then it took another 2 weeks of pushing, teasing, and name calling before I convinced Dave that experiencing the worst shrinkage of his life would be worth the memory. So after some careful planning and budgeting we jumped on a train headed for Okayama on the morning of February 16th.
new digs
(Emperors new clothes)
It took about five and a half hours just to get to
Okayama station, another thirty minutes to check into our hotel, and thirty more minutes to grab a quick bowl a ramen. Due to a late start and we barely caught our bus, but when we arrived at the event at 9:30 PM we found out our group may have jumped the gun a bit. The shingi wouldn’t be thrown until midnight but we were all wrapped up in our man thongs before 10. We stood around in the dressing tents while other guys from the group ran to the shrine, through the water, to the temple, and then back. For the first hour they were fine, but as their beer shields began to fade they started to complain. By the time we were suppose to make the final push at 11:30 most people wouldn’t shut up about how cold it was.
(Dave gets the wegie of a life time)
bring it
(Our new friend told us we had to take this picture. )
The circuit is simple.
First you run from the main street, over a bridge, through a gate into the temple grounds. There is a large raised platform, the size of a basketball court, overflowing with people. Once inside the temple grounds you turn to the right, climb up a small flight of stairs, pass through a tori gate, and make a horseshoe run through waist deep freezing water. After you emerge from the water you huddle together and head behind the raised platform to another set of stairs. These lead up to the section of the temple where you pray. Back down the steps and completing a full circle of the temple you come to a stop at the base of the platform. This is where the battle will begin.

Climbing up the steps is simple enough, but to make your way into the throng of crazed Japanese men all vying for a chance to catch one of the small shingi or the possibility of grabbing what I like to refer to as the “mega ultra shingi,” is no simple matter. The small shingi are about the size of a 10-inch wooden ruler, while the mega ultra shingi resembles an oversized baseball bat and apparently is worth $10,000. If you get your hands on a small shingi you still have to
fight your way out of the crowd and I mean fight in a very literal way. If you are some how lucky enough (maybe un-lucky is the right word) to catch the mega ultra shingi, and you did not come with a rough and tumble posse ready to throw down, then you are in for a world of hurt.

I consider myself lucky to have left the Platform of Doom without a scratch on me. Some other foreigners I encountered on my way back were not so lucky. Two guys I met from Iowa fell down and were trampled. When I saw them in the tent they both had road burn on their ass cheeks and were shaking with fear. The following is a direct quote “I have never been that close to death in my life. I though my life was over. I am not cool right now man, I am not cool.”

We boarded the busses back to town around 1:30 and got back to our hotel just before 2:00. Even though we were exhausted from the days activities, we decided it wouldn’t be a real weekend without an after party. So after a quick Italian shower and some cleaning up we spent the next hour searching for “Friends Bar,” the first Canadian bar I have ever been to. After a map with horrible directions and several Japanese people steering us in giant circles, we found ourselves in a bar with about 100 other foreigners, a dance party, a dog, and an all you can drink special. Just as the evening was starting to look up the sound system died and we headed back to the hotel for 4 hours rest before catching a train back home at 10:30.

This is probably the only time I’ll be a part of this festival. It was far too much standing around and waiting, and the danger on the platform felt very real. As scary as it was at times it was definitely worth it. One more Japanese experience to put in the books/blog.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Tokyo Birthday

Tokyo is Tight
As you may or may not know my birthday is February 1st. Last year I didn’t really do any thing significant while in Japan so this year I decided that it would be proper to go out and do it right for once. My Japanese teacher has a son who spent the past 4 years going to school in Tokyo, and he suggested that we go spend the weekend in Tokyo with his girlfriend and her friends. I called up my buddy Dave and after some booking arrangements we hopped on a bus and headed north.

We rolled into Tokyo around 6 in the morning and headed over to Tsukiji fish market. This is possibly the largest and highest quality fish market in the world. We saw so many creatures of the sea I couldn’t even keep track. Everything you can imagine from Tuna to giant octopus tentacles was available for sale and fresh as can be. We grabbed some fresh sashimi before heading over to the Sony showroom in Ginza.

Sony recently came out with an amazing new screen less than a millimeter thick and, besides the PS3 being a bit of a flop, they tend to come out with more and more cool toys to play with. We spent about an hour walking from the first floor to the eighth checking out how rad HD handi cams are and watching some strange new speaker system called
Rolly. Took some pictures and then had to run to meet my Japanese teachers son for lunch.
Dave and I showed up about 10 minutes late to Shinjuku station (home to the busiest intersection in the world.) to meet my friend Tom. He claimed that the ramen restaurant we were going to eat at was famous in Tokyo. In the ten minutes it took us to walk to the shop the shop went from being famous to being the best ramen in Tokyo and finally declared the
Best Ramen in Japan. We had to wait for 30 minutes just to be seated. I was expecting a lot and was not disappointed. Big chunks of pork, great vegetables, and some original sauce combined to make for the best ramen I have ever tasted.
It was already a spectacular day but it was only half over. It was 1 o’clock after we finished eating lunch but it felt like we hadn’t slept in days. Tom and his girlfriend showed us to a sauna with hot baths, cold baths, massage chairs, and a capsule hotel. We took a two hour break and then headed off to Harajuku.
As much as people may want you to believe that Harajuku is crawling with crazy girls dressed up in a wide variety of costumes you are more likely to see foreign tourists, Japanese tourists, and locals walking around with cameras gathered around the one or two girls dressed up in costume. There are a few sweet shops and an enormous toy store called Kiddy Land filled to the top with crazy toys from all over the world. I recommend this place to any one and everyone who ever visits Japan. They had everything from rainbow bright to strawberry short cake. Memories.
Tom had to go meet up with a friend so his girlfriend took us out to dinner before the party. We spent three hours trading stories and drinking shochu (I see it as Japans answer for vodka, but it makes the bold statement of being hangover free.) before we met up with Tom. We grabbed a few more drinks waiting for their friends to show up and got prepped for going out to a club. Two more friends showed up and then it was off to our first club.
The first club was pretty big. I had never been to a decent club in Tokyo before, but this place was packed with people dancing and two rooms complete with dancers on stages keeping the party going. Tom introduced me to a few people he use to work with before we took off to a different club. It was about 1 in the morning by the time we walked in the door and the party was just getting started. There were 3 floors, all packed with people dancing and having a great time. Daves birthday gift to me was a big red novelty bow tie that he insisted I wear the entire night. Maybe it was the company, or the drinks, or the club, or the big red bow tie, but what ever it was the time I spent in that club from 1 till 6 was one of the best nights I’ve ever had in Japan, which means I can also credit it with a top life moment. On the pitchfork scale this night gets an 9.1/10.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Ah the joys of posting all my business on the internet for everyone to see. I really do enjoy being this transparent. First of all let me apologize again for not doing this sooner. There are many things that were not documented in my past year of living in Japan that really should have been, but I’m picking up the slack and showing you the best of a winter in Japan.

This winter started off with a visit from New Zealand. My buddy Dave works with a Kiwi. This guys friend came for a two-week visit to see what he could see so I tagged along. First on the list was Koya san (Honorable Koya Mountain) This is the where one sect of Buddhism took root in Japan. Many of the buildings here are close to a thousand years old. We stayed at one of the many monasteries on the mountain where we were treated to vegetarian Buddhist dinner and breakfast followed by chanting for an hour at 6 AM.


Rock Garden


It took 5 hours to get back home but we decided dinner and karaoke were both a good idea. Karaoke is kind of a big thing in Japan, in case you didn't already know. It was a decent night, although I still don't understand why everyone is so obsessed with Linkin Park.???
Karaoke with Yoshiko and Bevin

Check 1

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The first

So I know I should have done this about 2 years ago but I finally caved and decided to write a blog on my life in Japan. I just realized that I have too much going on over these next 2 months not to write about it. Soon I will be updating you on all the great things in Japan. Any thing from a crazy party weekend in Tokyo to a naked man festival in the middle of winter. Expect the unexpected and then some. Hope to have something good soon.

-Japan Jason