Do you ever think to yourself – “God, how truly wonderful it would be if I buried myself underground, lived off of nuts, roots, and water, whilst ingesting poison for three years and three months?” Well, someone in Japan did. “Hold my beer,” they said as they put the masochists of the world to shame.
The practice of sokushinbutsu (buddhahood in this very body) was thought to have been brought over from China by Japanese monks. The practice begins with the monk slowly reducing their diet from grains such as lentils, rice, soybeans, and sesame, to eating only nuts, grass, and roots found in the local mountains, thus removing any body fat, and helping prepare them for the mummification. They also ingest a poisonous tree bark which, besides from slowly killing you, also has the added health benefit of drying out your organs so they don’t decompose once you become an undead holy husk. Once the monk feels they approach death, they go in an underground pit where they chant the nenbutsu (a buddhist mantra). Eventually, they would also abstain from water, helping further shrink and dry out their organs and body. This process would take usually take around 3,300 days. There would be a small bell in the chamber, and the imprisoned monk would ring it every morning to signal he is still alive. When he stopped ringing the bell, the other monks would know he is dead. They would wait three years and three months, and then proceed to clean and dress the monk in new robes. The self-mummified monk would become a holy relic at a temple, where people would come to pray for health, guidance, and good fortune.
“Cool story, but why though,” I hear you ask. This particular sect of buddhists believed that by doing this practice they would become one with the cosmic Buddha, and their sacrifice would help alleviate the misfortunes of those living around them.
The most famous of these monks is probably Tetsumonkai. He famously killed a Samurai, who, while drunk, dismissed Tetsumonkai’s warnings that the dam at the local river was about to collapse due to a recent flood. The two fought and the samurai was slain. To escape punishment for his crimes, he became a monk. He was a devoted monk, and as early as his 20s, he had decided that he wanted to become a sokushinbutsu in order to help the people. When a nearby volcano erupted and showered the surrounding area with ash, many people got an eye disease. He took his own left eye out and cast it into the Sumida River as an offering to the deity of Mt. Yudono so that the people’s eye disease may be cured. At the age of 71, or 91, texts differ, he began the process of becoming a sokushinbutsu.
There are 18 of these mummies across Japan. The most famous of these can be found in Tsuruoka, Yamagata prefecture, Japan. They can be found at Dainichibo, Honmyou, Kaiko, and Nangaku temple. There are monks present which will tell you the history of the sokushinbutsu. Unfortunately for you English-speakers, that’s only available in Japanese. However, there are English-speaking staff at Dainichibo who can give you know-how of what’s what.
Monks changing the mummy’s robes.
Talisman containing a piece of the mummy’s robe.
Tetsumonkai’s robes are changed every 6 years by local monks. You can view the ceremony, however, the changing of his underwear is done behind a screen, presumably to preserve his divine, uh, integrity. Though you would think once you’ve starved and poisoned yourself for years, died and become a god, a little exhibitionism wouldn’t be a problem, but hey, we’re all slaves to propriety it seems, gods and all. The old robes are cut up into small pieces and put inside talismans you can purchase to secure your health and good fortune – the latter seeming rather superfluous, as once you know what these guys went through, any fate seems a fortunate one in comparison. Mission achieved, I guess.
In my third year of living in Japan I felt like the common adventure would no longer cut it. It was time for true adventure. An epic worthy of tales. So I set my humble sights on visiting the tomb of our lord and saviour. Apparently, contrary to popular belief, he hadn’t died on the cross and gone to heaven, but instead come to live out his life in Japan until the ripe age of 106. The rascal.
Aomori prefecture is the northernmost point of mainland Japan. Roughly a 9 hour drive from Tokyo, it is a tranquil slice of countryside. Scenic rice paddies enclosed by rolling hills and mountains covered in lush green forests. It’s no little surprise then that Jesus Christ decided to move there rather than be nailed to a wooden cross. There, in the village of Shingo, you’ll find not one, but two graves. One for Jesus, and one for his less known brother, Isukiri.
Legend has it that Jesus was never in fact crucified. It was his brother, Isukiri, who switched places with him at the last moment, and took his place on the cross. Casually, I might add. Jesus then took a lock of Mary’s hair and Isukiri’s ear (we can’t judge him for being creepy, he is the Lord’s son afterall) and moved to Japan where he diligently studied the Shinto faith, married a Japanese woman, had three children, and died peacefully at the age of 106. Supposedly the people of Shingo village are his descendants and are supposed to resemble him in appearance.
These beliefs stem from what are known as the Takenouchi Documents. They are cult texts which frankly make scientology seem dull and plausible by comparison. According to those texts, before history, the world government was located in Japan (who would have guessed). Then, the 5 great holy masters of the world, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Shakyamuni Buddha, Confucius and Lao Tsu were born into the 5-coloured races which are just branches of the Japanese race. They went out into the world for study and training. Taking that in mind, I imagine the rest of this article will seem sane in comparison.
There is a little museum dedicated to the history and belief of this particular sect. In it you can find the will and testament of Christ, a history of how he came to Japan, as well as some creepy dolls.
will of Christ
will of Christ
So that’s how it happened…
I didn’t have the heart to tell the little lady working there that Jesus, having come probably from the Middle East, was as likely to have had blue eyes as the cat-robot Doraemon. What particularly impresses me is the route Christ supposedly took. Apparently after the Jews didn’t take to the Shinto faith he went from Alaska to Japan. But how he got from Judea to Alaska is not even mentioned. I’m pretty sure there weren’t boats that could make a trip across the Atlantic back then. Then again maybe he just walked, who knows?
The icing on the cake, in my view, is this plaque that the government of Israel donated to this site to authenticate it. I’m sure that the people of Israel, who might or might not still hold a grudge towards the Christian faith for the upheaval of their own religion, were absolutely chuffed to authenticate something so bizzare and stupid with regards to the Christianity. I can just imagine some rabi who gets all kinds of letters everyday proclaiming witnessed miracles and holy acts reading this letter sent from Japan no less, proclaiming this version of events. I’m sure the explosive laughter from his office must have been mistook for pure religious extacy.
If your lust for crazy is not sated, feel free to experience it yourself. There’s a Christ festival held on the first Sunday of June every year.
Made of cement, steel beams, and industry, the small island of Keihinjima doesn’t look like much. A mere twenty minutes away from Haneda airport, it is an artificial island created for iron manufacturing and recycling. Grey streets, warehouses, and shipping containers dominate the landscape. And the only pulse that can be heard is that of metal and the heavy machinery that works it in the warehouses spread across the island.
Despite this, in this unlikely place, the youth of Kaihinjima have decided to reclaim this space as one for art and expression. In 2016, the Buckle Kobo creative hub decided to transform their metal home into a melting pot for contemporary music, film, art, and expression.
With just a few sound systems and projectors, the empty warehouses transform into clubs, filled with sound, light, and people. And the empty streets suddenly have a new pulse.
The streets are lined with artisanal food and drink vendors, offering everything from cheese and avocado koroke to nutella latés. Performance artists roam the streets singing, dancing, and toying with various forms of expression. Paintings and art installations are aplenty. Some seek to please the eye, while others strive to express the sense of identity the people of Keihinjima have with metal work.
This guy had rigged a tower for himself, from which water was constantly pouring. It was supposed to be a commentary on rising sea levels.
A cool-looking guitar under an even cooler looking umbrella. Later, the owner, dressed in a marvellous oufit, picked it up and played through the streets.
I think these spinning wheels were somehow powering that old T.V.
This art piece was called “Tectonic Bottle”.
A DJ had an entire rig made of old throw-away metal parts.
Tekkojima Iron Island Fes
Van with syren ponies, because why not?
This lady devised a way to use barcode scanners to make music from thrown away electronics.
Manikin fashion exhibit.
The Tekkojima Island Festival was a fantastic experience. Every year they have more and more artists showing up. Some of Tokyo’s most innovative and creative musicians, film makers, artists, and performers make an appearance. It is truly a wonderful thing to see, how a community can so drastically transform itself into something so colourful and lively.
I’ll let their promo video have the last word. If you’re ever in the area this time of the year, do yourself a favour and make an experience. It’s definitely one of the more authentic festivals out there.
Having recently reached the second year of my life in Japan I had developed a more refined taste for attractions and adventures. Well, perhaps not more refined, but rather more demanding. If you threw the word “island” at me paired it with just about any animal in front of it, I would probably be there faster than a salaryman slurps raamen, or an NKH man knocking at your door.
For some time now I have had my eye on The Hakone Open-air Museum. It’s an attraction located in the southern mountains of Kanagawa. It is roughly a 3-4 hour trip by train from central Tokyo. It is an open-air park in the midst of beautiful, lush mountains. There’s a great variety of sculptures and art installations all across the park. If you appreciate sculpture or just artistic expression in general, this would definitely be a good go for you. As an added bonus, there’s a little Picasso art gallery in the middle of it, so if you’re a fan, you got two reasons to go. “But I want three!” I hear you ask. Well, just a short bus ride away, there’s a Little Prince museum which has sculptures and installations from the book, as well as photographs and excerpts of the author’s work.
The sculptures are the main focus of the Hakone Open-air museum. There’s a great variety of the themes, styles, and materials used. Sadly, no photographs are allowed in the Picasso museum, so you’ll have to find out for yourselves 😛
Dress up fab Friday night
AND HIS TRUSTY SIDEKICK!
The world-famous “WUT?!” pose.
Nightmare rabbits throwing down!
Interactive art – best art.
The Little Prince museum is a short bus ride away. Unlike most such museums which are just a giant box with cool stuff inside, this one is made to look like a little French villa. It’s adorned with roses and gardens along the way. There’s even a section of it that’s made out to look like a French street. There are statues of the characters strewn around the gardens. And once you go inside you can enjoy a vast variety of content. There are photographs of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. There’s detailed maps showing the flights he used to take across Africa, and the nature of his adventures. There are manuscripts, doodles, and illustrations. There are descriptions of both his early and later life. And all this along dark and intimate rooms and hallways painted in backdrops from his most famous book.
Again, sorry for the lack of photographs from the inside of the museum. Many of the rooms forbid it. It’s probably for the best, though. This is something better experienced than seen. If you’re ever in Hakone, don’t think twice. These two attractions are well worth the price of admission, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything quite like them anywhere else.
Isn’t it awfully nice to have a penis?
Isn’t it frightfully good to have a dong?
It’s swell to have a stiffy.
It’s divine to own a dick,
From the tiniest little tadger,
To the world’s biggest prick.
Well, Japan definitely seems to think so. Vagina demons, penis black smiths, and lollypops. Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, today we look at the penis festival that is Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of The Steel Phallus).
This tradition started in 1969. It is an annual festival held near Kawasaki, Japan. Though it is on April first, make no mistake, this is no joke. Some serious penis tomfoolery goes down every year on this auspicious day.
The legend goes that a demon fell in love with a woman and lodged himself inside her vagina (as one does). She was a strong woman, a confident woman, and not the type to let a little pesky vagina demon get in the way of her happiness. So she found a man, married him, and come the nuptial night, the demon bit off the man’s penis (as one does). However, she was not deterred. She found herself another man, and went on to marry him as well. Come the nuptial night, however, the demon bit off the man’s bits again (as one does). Having had enough, the woman sought the help of the two blacksmith gods enshrined in Kanayama shrine, Kanayamahiko and Kanayamahime.
“Bites off me man’s bits, he does, filthy little demon dude,” she said.
“Most uncool, and heinous,” said Kanayamahiko.
“Most heinous, and uncool,” added Kanayamahime.
Together they fashioned an iron dildo of supreme godliness and craftsmanship. They gifted her the dildo, which she used to smash the demon’s teeth (as one does). The demon fled her vagina, and she was free to marry again without the worry of a demon biting off her man’s fun bits. And all lived happily ever after, except of course the demon (for he had no teeth), and the first two husbands (for they had no penises).
Shrine of the two blacksmith gods.
Annual wishes for fertility, safe childbirth, and protection from STI’s.
Tell us why this man is sad in the comments below!
The legendary iron penis
Shinto priestesses doing calligraphy
Now, I know what you’re thinking – “Vulgar nonsense!” Well, honestly, with the exception of a few comedic liberties, that is actually more or less the story. “LIAR!” you say; well, feel free to Google it yourself.
In the absence of vagina demons, these days the festival celebrates fertility, safe childbirth, and a protection from STI’s. It is a very light-hearted festival, nowhere near as serious as some of the other more popular Shinto celebrations. People wear penis hats, suck on penis lollies, and take turns petting giant stone and iron penises for good luck. It is always heavily attended, and a lot of fun. You can get all kinds of fun merchandise, such as penis towels, penis t-shirts, penis key chains, penis candles, or penis stickers, to round off your day.
The whole crew sucking lollies.
Some foreigners who got properly in the spirit!
And now for the bums.
Masked penis man!
Having some fun with a big, black D.
Thumbs up for the penis hats!
For those of you with children, don’t be discouraged. This is not at all considered a lewd or adult celebration. There are children present, and it is considered very normal.
I absolutely recommend this experience as it is very fun and silly, but also a rare look at the bawdy aspects of Japanese culture and mythology that we don’t often get to see.
It was a time of unrelenting heat. It was a time of ever-present humidity. The summer was upon me, and it found me with no plans how to best spend it. So I sat beneath a tree in the local park to meditate upon this serious matter. As sweat poured down my body, and the infernal song of hundreds of horny cicadas dominated all manner of sound, a truly profound thought came to me: go somewhere even hotter. Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, today we look at Okinawa.
The islands of Okinawa have always held an attraction for me. Japan has no shortage of history and culture by any stretch of the imagination. And even so, The Ryukyu kingdom stands apart in my eyes.
The Ryukyu kingdom came to officially be in 1429. At the time, there was no trade agreement between China and Japan. The Ryukyu islands situated between them proved a great middleman of both trade and culture. While the two nations couldn’t openly trade with each other, they did so through the Ryukyu islands. The islands became a melting pot of culture. The earliest forms of Karate were born there, inspired by Chinese Kempo. The Ryukyu kingdom thrived on trade, and it continued to develop its own unique culture that was neither Japanese nor Chinese, but a thing of its own. In 1879 the Ryukyus officially became the prefecture of Okinawa, but their culture and heritage strongly endures to this day.
As a long time student of Karate, it was my Mecca. It was the birth place of Karate along with Kobudo – the use of traditional weapons such as the nunchaku, sai, bo staff, tonfa, and kama. And after a year in Japan a pilgrimage seemed overdue.
A comfortable two and a half hour flight later I landed in Naha. The first thing I noticed, literally as I walked out of the airport air-conditioned doors, was the wall of heat. The air was just moister and hotter than anywhere I’d ever been before. And that’s saying something from someone coming from central Japan. That being said, three or four hours later I no longer noticed it. Vending machines are accessible virtually everywhere, so as long as you stay hydrated and pace yourself, honestly it’s just fine. If you’ve heard any horror stories about unimaginable heat and humidity, dismiss them. Don’t let them sway you from an otherwise awesome experience.
The second thing I noticed was how little like the rest of Japan Okinawa looked. If the Japanese signs were to poof out of existence and I had to place my best bet on where I was, I’d have wagered maybe northern Spain, Monaco, or Greece. The streets are wider. There are gardens, flowers, and vegetation hanging out of balconies and adorning street corners. Even the buildings themselves are colourful and the architectural designs vary greatly. A very sharp contrast to the concrete and homogeneous jungle that is Tokyo.
If you’re a museum junkie like myself, you will probably find the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum to your liking. The exhibit has a great collection of old Ryukyu documents, pottery, works of art, and so on. It gives you a decent idea of what life was like six or seven centuries ago. Also, once you’re done getting your history fix, you can just hop on over to the other side for some art. There are regular art exhibits in the very same museum from both contemporary and historical Japanese artists. No pictures allowed there, unfortunately. But hey, you have eyes.
For you would-be warriors out there, there’s two facilities worthy of mention. There’s the Budokan in Naha. If a samurai was transformed into a building, it would literally be it. They have classes and seminars on just about every Japanese martial art imaginable. They are open to foreigners as well. Just keep in mind to pay attention to the etiquette, as you are in another country. If the sensei at said classes are willing to share their culture and tradition with you, the least you can do is reciprocate with respect and humility.
Also, freshly opened this year there is the Okinawa Karate Keikan. A facility truly devoted to the preservation and continued influence of Karate. Masters from different styles come to teach there, predominantly the more Okinawan-centric styles. If you train a different style, don’t let that discourage you. The differences in the styles are pretty small. For the most part you can follow along without too much difficulty. They are very welcoming to foreigners, and some of the younger black belts there speak English and really go out of their way to help you and welcome you.
The facilities themselves are ideal. Large, well-lit dojo with plenty of room for large classes. There’s a garden around the facility if you want some time to collect yourself after a hard work out. And then there’s Shuri hall – a room made in the style of traditional Okinawan dojos. It is used for special ceremonies and important black belt rankings. As a practitioner of Karate, it felt difficult not to be in awe and in love with the place. A lot of time, work, and thought clearly went into making it a Mecca for Karate-ka, and even with my high expectations, there was no room for disappointment. Also, it is worth mentioning that they hold a week-long Karate seminar every summer, open to foreigners from all over the world. The classes cover several different styles of Karate as well as Kobudo. 10/10.
So, you’ve just finished a vigorous session at the Mecca of Karate. What next? How does one Karate even more? By stopping by the Dojo Bar for a drink, of course! Located conveniently in Naha, it is a hub for fellow Karate pilgrims.
The DOJO bar is unique in Okinawa, perhaps in the world. Okinawa is the birthplace of karate and kobudo and the DOJO bar is a tribute to that heritage and a gateway for visitors to the island, its people and its rich fighting arts culture. We offer a truly special place, open and easily accessible to all, across cultures, countries and styles.
Of all the tourist attractions in Okinawa, I feel like one’s actually worth its salt. I am talking about the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. I’ve been to a great number of aquariums, and while most of them are decent, I would say they barely cover the price of admission. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It is by far the best and biggest I’ve ever been to, and I’ve visited a good amount. Also, while most aquariums are just giant boxes, this one is designed beautifully. The tanks are all underground, and above ground you have beautiful winding gardens with the ocean as a backdrop. The selection of marine life is spectacular. There is a whole host of species which are only native to Okinawa. So you’re not just seeing pretty fish, but you’re getting a good idea of what the surrounding waters hold. Pictures speak louder than words, so I’ll let them do just that.
I visited the Okinawa theater, where you can see some classical Japanese plays. I also went to see Okinawa World where you can explore some pretty cool limestone caves. I saw the shrines, the castles, the beaches. But honestly, the best part about Okinawa is, well, Okinawa. Unlike most big tourist places there aren’t many attractions and things to do. Rather, the atmosphere and the place itself is the attraction of Okinawa. By all means, I urge you to see some of the beautiful temples and castles. But make time for Okinawa itself. Go to a few Jazz Bars (one that comes to mind is Parker’s Mood) or workshops. Strike a conversation with some of the locals. They’re more than happy to exchange a few words with a foreigner, and you’ll learn much more about the real Okinawa from them than any other museum or castle. The transportation in Okinawa is pretty limited, so if you have an International Driving Permit (IDP) or a Japanese license, just rent a car for a few days and drive around the island. It doesn’t take more than three hours to go from North to South. Take the ferries to the smaller islands, and just soak in this awesome and truly unique place!
Oh, and last but not least, as promised – a vast abundance of Shisa stone doggos!
Mr. Author Guy, say I’m in Tokyo and I want cool venetian masks, dimmed lighting, jazzy tunes, finger painting, and awesome people but I don’t want to pay more than ¥2001? Say no more, young rascal, Mr. Author Guy’s got ya. Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, I recently had the opportunity to partake in just such an event – The Tokyo Moonlight Masquerade. Hosted by the Spectrum Series (which I urge you to find on Facebook), The Moonlight Masquerade is an event hosted four times a year in Tokyo. It usually features some of the best local artists and musicians. And I’m not talking paint-by-numbers musical acts either. You will hear a great blend of local indie talent blending and fooling around with everything from jazz to blues, to soul, to funk, to rock, and everything in between with their own creative twists. This particular event hosted (in order of appearance) SOU, Xandra Corpora, Audible Bond, and The Roamers. We also had the very talented Ayaka Nakamura do a live painting while the acts were performing.
First things first, we can’t take anything away from the venue. The event was hosted in the Aoyama Moon Romantic club. This mystery little hut of awesome is hidden away in one of the small alleys of central Tokyo. You can find it here. It’s named for the giant moon that usually decorates the stage. It’s just big enough not to be crowded and just small enough to be intimate. The people are warm, the drinks are cold, and the vibes are right.
The night opened up with SOU, a guitar and drum duo. They were a perfect opening act. Their music started out slow and haunting. Melancholy and dissonant guitar melodies slowly drew us in as the atmosphere in the crowd started building up. The drums and the guitar both picked up the pace to make up for some truly spectacular climaxes. You couldn’t ask more from an opening act.
Xandra Corpora graced the stage next. And the only word that comes to mind is “wow”. She was a summer storm of energy. To my ear she did a blend of blues, blue grass, soul, and funk, but all in her own bombastic way. Her voice was absolutely explosive as it dove through melody lines and trills. Just everything about her performance fizzed with energy.
And a little taste of her sound:
Next followed Audible Bond. Whatever Xandra did in energy, Audible Bond did in smooth. Their blend of chilled out jazz, soul, and R&B brought us down and hypnotized us as they went through their numbers. Their energy was great, they pulled the crowd in, and their music lacked for nothing. If you ever have the chance to see them, do. The forty minutes of your life that you’ll never get back will be well worth it.
Here’s a little snippet of their sound:
Last, but certainly not least, The Roamers filled the stage. If they were a drink they’d be an aged, dry whiskey. Classic, tested, and plain good. They rocked the stage with their funk music which would invariably find its way to some pretty dirty rock sections. And it was always the perfect blend of it, too. You’d have the funky bass and drums accompanied by the vocals which tantalizingnly threatened to go out of tune and never did, and just when you got into the loop, they’d darken it with some heavy guitar. It was a marvelous fusion of sound and style.
Here’s a taste of their funk:
And the unsung hero of the night – Ayaka Nakamura. Japan based artist, she soaked up all the evening’s vibes and sounds, stirred them with her imagination, and infused them into her live art. She painted along the musicians all night, and the result was truly spectacular.
So if you are visiting Tokyo or are in the area and have a love for all things artistic, you’ll be well out of your mind not to check this event out. From my experience, the people are there are as varied, awesome, and creative as the music on the stage. Make sure you don’t miss the next one 😉
Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, today we take a look at Mount Takao. It stands apart from other mountains in that it has dildo-nosed demons, known as Tengu, glorious snow monkeys, and numerous shrines and gardens. Frankly, it is one of my favourite places in Japan, and it is absolutely gorgeous in the fall.
Entrance to Mount Takao
Fall colours – Mount Takao
Mount Takao is located in Saitama, about a 40-60 minute drive/train from Tokyo. The easiest way to access the mountain is through Takaosanguchi station, on the Keio-Takao line, located conveniently at the base of the mountain. There are convenience shops nearby, so I wouldn’t worry about stocking up on provisions. There are plentiful snack booths, souvenir shops, and washrooms along the way. Though be warned, it can be quite crowded during the weekends during the fall period. That being said, the further up you go the crowds tend to disperse a bit.
There are several trails to choose from. Most people take trail #1, which is more or less a straightforward path to the summit of the mountain. You can reach the summit in about 90 minutes if you keep a constant pace, maybe 120 minutes if you take the odd break here and there (and really you should, the place is beautiful and worth your time). The beginning is pretty steep, but don’t be discouraged, after about 30-40 minutes the elevation levels out for a very pleasant hike. However, along the way many other trails intersect and you can easily spend an extra few hours exploring the mountain. There are many different shrines hidden along the mountain, gardens and gazebos for some relaxation and contemplation, as well as simple, lush natural beauty covering every square cm of this gorgeous place.
Good luck stone – you can put lucky ¥5 coins at the base.
Beaked AND Dildo Tengu
Now, I know what you’re thinking, he promised us monkeys. SNOW MONKEYS! Worry not, nature’s little agents of chaos are here. There’s a little enclosure halfway up the mountain where you can see these little dudes. It’s about ¥400 for adults. You can go in and have a look at them, and I THINK you can also buy food to feed them, but I don’t rightfully recall. If Japanese people in uniform start talking to you in a stern tone, then you might not be allowed to feed them – play it by ear. Credit must go to the following blogger (http://crystaltjapan.tripod.com/letsgototokyo/id25.html) for the photos, alas I didn’t actually go to the enclosure this time by way of democracy via my monkey unappreciative friends(?).
Monkeys at the Mount Takao enclosure
Monkeys at the Mount Takao enclosure
Also, Yakuo-in temple is definitely worth visiting. It is a historic temple more than halfway up the mountain. It was established in 744 and later restored in the 14th century. It was considered a holy site, and many people would make pilgrimages to the temple for enlightenment. Tengu statues stand guard around the temple looking menacing. The Tengu are servants of the gods, often depicted holding uchiwa (Japanese fan) which they use to sweep away misfortune and bring good fortune. They are guardians of the mountain, looking to help the good and chastise the evil. Also, they have dong-like noses, just saying.
Yakuo-in Temple Tengu
Last, but surely not least, there is the summit. It’s a wide resting area with benches, gazebos and a restaurant. There’s even a little bit of a park branching off to the side if you feel like turning a few idle pages or just sitting down to enjoy the presence of the mountain. The view from above is quite lovely, you can see distant mountain ranges in Saitama which make for a scenic peisage. Also if you linger ’till dark you can see the local towns lit up beneath the mountains.
View from Mount Takao at Halfway Point
View from Mount Takao Summit
Saitama Mountain Ranges
Anywho, that is my tale of dildos, monkeys and beauty. If you are in Japan I strongly recommend you check it out. This is by far one of the best experiences you can have in a day.
T’was the season for masochism, my dear gents, ladies, and other such creatures. T’was the season for atonement. The credit of all my youthful transgressions finally reached its limit and demanded payment. Carelessly leaving the seat down, blissfully j-walking, not offering my seat to the pregnant, one-legged, old lady on the train. Alas, my sins caught up with me. And lo, the gods decided it was time to get their pound of flesh.
And so Zeus said onto Hypnos, “Make his dreams swirl around the distant peaks of Fuji. May he perilously yearn for its cloudy heights.”
And so Hypnos said onto Zeus, “How binding should I weave these dreams.”
And so Zeus said onto Hypnos, “I ‘unno, enough?”
And so the spiteful Hera added her 2 cents, for she was bored “Oh, make him do it in one day. Like make him think it’s actually a good idea. And have him go down on the same day, too,” she added thoughtfully, twirling her hair.
It was then that Boreas and Zephyr, Zeus’ sons, stopped playing Xbox and joined in, “We could throw some harsh wind his way,” Said Zephyr.
“Real harsh shit,” added Boreas.
“And rain,” concluded Zeus, “shit is always more dope with rain.”
And so with the divine tides against us, my two friends and I made our way to Mount Fuji.
We spent the first night at a hostel in the city of Fuji. I will drop its name here, for it’s well worth a recommendation. This cozy little nook goes by the name of NASUBI, Mt. Fuji Backpackers. It is conveniently close to Fuji station, a mere 9 minutes, and 15 minutes from Shin-Fuji station. You can get a shuttle bus that will take you to the base of Fuji from either of those stations. The hostel itself is clean and cozy, and as spacious as you can get in Japan. The host was absolutely the best part of it. He seemed to have either discovered the secret to happiness, or he was permanently stoned. Then again, maybe those two intersect. But seeing him roll the perfect cigarette on the porch one evening, I am inclined to place my faith in the latter. He spoke good enough english to answer just about any questions we had about acquiring gear and the how-to’s of climbing Fuji. Also, he just gave us some free rain jackets right before we left, because peace and love, why not?
Also, to further esteem this hostel in my views, there was an N64 set up in the common room with just about every Mario World classic you can hope for. Nothing bonds world-wary travelers like breaking language barriers through competition in the age-old past time of gaming. Until of course, every language boils down to its most essential word, in our case being “fuck,” in the case of our two newly found French friends “putain,” and our one Israeli friend “ha-matzav-khara.” Ahh, Mario World, destroyer of friendships.
So the next day we headed towards Kawaguchiko station, roughly an hour and a half away from Fuji city. On our way, we made a slight detour at Shiraito falls, which we were told were quite beautiful, which toats were.
The lush Shiraito Falls.
The lush Shiraito Falls.
The lush Shiraito Falls.
Me, before my joy and happiness were taken from me.
Will, when he still had hopes and dreams.
Lon, before his inner child was destroyed.
After that pleasant detour, we were filled with the beauty of the Shiraito falls and we eagerly awaited grander beauty and sights on the distant Fuji. How naive, how very young we were.
We took the bus from Kawaguchiko station to the 5th station on Mount Fuji, which is where most people will start their hike. If you have need of equipment, worry not, there is an equipment renting shop right across Kawaguchiko station (which opens at 1PM). For the most part, you need warm clothes, a head-light, and a rain & wind jacket. During the summer season, you can have a 30°C temperature at the base, and 5°C at the summit. So make sure you bring warm clothes. Also, I strongly, STRONGLY suggest that you stock up on snacks and food at a convi store before you head towards Fuji. Everything is exceedingly expensive along the Yoshida trail. A bottle of water will cost you 600 Yen, when it’s a mere 100 Yen at a convenience store (around $7 dollars and a $1.50 respectively, to the non-Yen savvy). Even cup noodles are sold for 600 Yen a piece along the resting huts, demonic amusement dancing in the eyes of the vendors. Then again it could have been the lack of oxygen and exhaustion, who knows?
As a person who is in average shape, or maybe just slightly above, I found the climb towards the summit to be one of considerable difficulty. The trek to the Seventh station wasn’t bad. It’s a bit steep, but you start getting used to the elevation bit by bit, and frankly, the surroundings are quite beautiful. There’s still plants and lush greenery along the path, and with the mist that was clinging to the mountain that day, it was quite the sight.
5th Station. From here you can grab lunch, souvenirs, omiyagee, each quite pricy.
The beginning of our ascent.
A resting hut along the trail. There is quite a few of these along the Yoshida trail.
So, first things first. Most people want to climb the summit in time for the sunrise. In order to do that, you have start your climb at around 10 PM (from the 7th station). If you have more money to spend, you can start at the 8th, 9th, or 10th station, each becoming more expensive respectively. We paid around 8000 Yen (~$90) each for our stay at the 7th station, and our accommodations made dodgy hostels look like palaces. Imagine a large living room, lined with 2 levels of beds along the walls. They fit about 200 people, so you are crammed like sardines to the point where you can barely turn in your own little space. You can’t really get any sleep as people are constantly coming and going, so it’s more of a resting spot before the big hike. I understand that this is a big tourist attraction, a world wonder and such, but paying 8000 Yen for that kind of experience definitely left a sour taste in my mouth. All the more because Mount Fuji is a world heritage site, and therefore, supposedly has international sponsorship.
So after our fretful rest, we packed our bags and started on our merry way. Past the 7th station, the scenery became more rocky and volcanic. The elevation was steep, and it definitely pays to stop and catch your breath every 15 minutes or so. There’s always people in front of you and behind you, which normally I’d dislike in any other situation, but having people there with you really helps. I could easily have seen myself giving up if it had only been me and my mates, but when there’s this constant stream of people going through the exact same thing as you are, it really drives you to keep going. There’s definitely a group effort/mentality aspect to the climb. You see that they too get tired, they too stop for a break, and they too choose to persevere. You exchange smiles along the way, in on a joke that you’re all sharing, and you trek ahead as comrades.
I hope you’ll forgive my lack of photographs here. Since it was pitch dark, full with mist, and I had no tripod. So, I was unable to take any good photographs during the evening part of the climb. So words will have to serve where pictures fail. By midnight, we were above the clouds. You can’t really see anything in the distance because it’s too dark. However, the stars are all AROUND you. Not above, but around. You feel like you’re in the center of a great dome of stars. They are really clear in the night sky, with no light pollution, and you feel like you are right next to them. The sight renders the meaning from the word “beauty”. And always behind you and in front of you, you can see little dots bobbing up and down, the other climbers tracing serpentine patterns in the mountain with their head-lights. And they grow more numerous and frequent as the climb goes on, until they reach the edges of your vision.
A little bit before the top we reached a pair of Tori gates. From a distance I thought they were covered in frost, but up close it turned out that people had wedged coins inside the pillars themselves for good fortune, as far as I can guess.
The last one hour of the climb was probably the hardest and steepest. At parts you have to use your hands to navigate and balance yourself across difficult paths in the rock. Also, a pinkish glow had started to set on the horizon, a timer reminding us that the sun was hot on our tail and we needed to pick up the pace if we were to greet it at the top. Goverment employees were stationed every 100 meters or so to make sure everyone was OK and to give encouragement to the climbers, egging them on to try just a little bit more.
At around 4:45 AM we reached the top. We were greeted by a fierce wind and fierce cold to boot. Zephyr and Boreas probably taking the piss. However, even their godly douchery couldn’t subtract too much from the beauty that eventually greeted us.
The sun coming up as we climb.
View from the summit just before the sunrise.
Sunrise on Mount Fuji.
Crater at the summit of Fuji.
And so we make our way back from Mordor.
And they lived happily ever after? “Hahhahahaha, NO!” said Zeus as he chuckled like a child burning ants, which resembled humans on top of an anthill which strongly resembled a mountain. As the sun rose, the temperatures started climbing again. And as the clouds are now below you as opposed above, you get cooked something fierce. To add insult to injury, Hephaestus seemed to have joined in on the mortals roast, because the path back from the summit could only have been carved by a sadistic Greek deity. A serpentine path is carved into the volcanic rock all the way back down to the 5th station, at a very aggressive dissenting slope, made up of nothing but medium-sized rocks and sand. That’s IT. There is no reprieve, no flat paths for your aching joints to recover, just 5-6 hours of a constant decline over the most uncomfortable, and eventually painful, terrain you can imagine. It no longer becomes an issue of stamina or muscle strength, but just a sheer, relentless battering of your joints and feet. Again, I feel very fortunate to have experienced Fuji’s beauty, but for a site that is so famous and so well-funded, that was simply unacceptable. I can only imagine that the person responsible for planning the dissenting path strongly hated all things with feet, and was in a hurry to get to the sake bar before it closes. So he carved the most senseless and uncomfortable path in the rock and then ran away laughing maniacally, knowing he contributed to the maiming of millions of feet for the centuries to come.
We drove back on the same day, half awake in our car, hopefully eyeing the desolate roads for a welcoming “Ramen” sign where we could hopefully recovery some of our sapped strength. All in all, it was a great experience, if not an altogether pleasant one. I have read my fair share of Fuji articles by now, and I felt compelled to give my account as a great many of the other ones out there are definitely written with rose-tinted glasses. But you have the good, the bad, and the ugly, and in the end, it’s all one big experience.
Hope this was helpful!
And so, Zeus having tortured the poor mortals to the full extent of his amusement returned to his daily life, which mostly consisted of stroking his epic beard, hurling the odd lightning bolt, and trying to impregnate mortals under every which guise in existence. And all was well.
Well, ladies, gentlemen, and other such creatures, yours truly recently deigned to make the trip to the glorious city of Osaka to fulfil a geeky dream long overdue – visiting Harry Potter World. I got lost in those magical books many years ago, enjoyed the films, and longed to be able to walk down the streets of my imagination. So, with three weeks off and a summer to spare, I decided to go make that dream a reality in Japan’s Universal Studios.
The jury is in. Woody, much cooler than Mickey.
The streets of USJ, made to literally look like studio sites and retro America.
Background: Winnie The Woodpecker entertaining tourists. Foreground: The majestic oba-san in her natural habitat.
After a three hour walk through most of Osaka (in the hot sun at 35°C), I finally saw the gates to the promised land.
Crowds, crowds, crowds (and yes, more crowds).
I bet you can hear the music playing, can’t you?
The studios are very epic, I’ll give them that. Even shrivelled up as a raisin, dehydrated and dead on my feet, I couldn’t help but being taken aback by the scale of this park. Epic score music from Universal classics blasted from HQ speakers, reverberating off the walls, buildings and statues of grand proportions capturing the eye to better draw out the imagination. As a 26 year old, this theme park is hardly made with my tastes in mind, and yet I found it entertaining and interesting. I can only imagine what it must be for a child.
As I said, I mainly came to USJ for Harry Potter, so I didn’t explore too many of the other rides and areas. That, and mostly my foolhardy attempt to walk across Osaka during noon on a hot summer’s day, pretty much set it in stone that I was passed out on a park bench, chain drinking water and Pocari Sweat, surrounded by my elders three to four times my age, silently shaming me for my weakness.
However, the promised hour came at last (for you actually have to book a time slot in which to enter Harry Potter World since it is so busy), and I raised my soggy bottom from the bench and made my wary way to the entrance. As tired and sweaty as I was, I couldn’t help having my spirits lifted by hearing the Harry Potter soundtrack being carried invisibly through a clearing in the woods. I was first met with the famous Ford Angela, at which point I felt myself grow ten years younger, skipping class in the school lunch room to read Harry Potter for the first time. And then… Well, pictures speak louder than words.
First glimpse of Hogsmeade.
Our lovely turquoise Ford Angela.
Some goodies I snagged for myself – a Marauder’s Map that opens up with little pop-ups, a Chocolate Frog (must-have), and Peppermint Toads!
That’s Sirius Black is who that is!
Hoggy, Hoggy Hogwarts!
Butterflies were aplenty in the stomach when I saw the winged boars.
Our favourite red steam engine.
All kinds of yummy goodness.
All the Harry Potter merchandise you can want – robes, shirts, sweaters, scarves, key chains, wands, necklaces, etc.
Prisoner of Azkaban’s Monster Book of Monsters
Ollivander’s wand shop.
The Owl Post. You can buy little stuffed owls here, as well as other letter-oriented merchandise.
I found Arnold!
Quality Quidditch Supplies.
The Hog’s Head.
You can drop by the Three Broomsticks for a nice meal – they do a lot of traditional British dishes to give you that proper Hogwarts experience.
Zonko’s Joke Shop.
This one caused some serious geek chills.
On top of all that, there was also an AMAZING 3-D ride in the actual Hogwarts castle. Unfortunately, no phones or cameras were allowed inside, so I can’t show you any pictures, but as far as amusement rides go, this one was top dog. You take a nice walk through Hogwarts castle at first, seeing some classic sights such as the Mirror of Erised, Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, the portrait of the Fat Lady, and many more. Then you get on this 3-D ride which takes you on an exhilarating flight through and over Hogwarts castle, a fight with a Hungarian Horntail, several dementors, the Chamber of Secrets, and Aragog’s lair. Five minutes never went by so quickly.
All in all, an absolutely great experience. I hear tale that the one in Orlando is even more impressive, so I look forward to making that comparison some day. In the meanwhile, if you are considering checking this out, let me make a few suggestions. Preferably, do this sometime outside of July and August. For one, it is ridiculously hot during those months in Japan, and even more so in Osaka. Furthermore, USJ is still one of the premier attractions in Asia, so people from China, Korea, and South-East Asia also pour in during the tourist season. I definitely had a great time, but there was a lot of times I felt hurried to get in and get out due to the vast crowds constantly pouring in and out of every attraction. It is really, REALLY crowded. And if you can go in the winter, I imagine it would be nothing short of magical, what with there being less people so you can take your time being absorbed into the world you know and love, but also imagine a Hogsmeade covered in genuine snow. Also, don’t forget to book yourself an Express Pass way in advance so you don’t have to wait 1-3 hours per ride. My friends got there at 10 AM and they were already sold out. So you can get a pretty good idea how busy it can get.
Anywho, that’s my little bit for that adventure. Hope I perked someone’s interest!