Heartbreak Hotel, Suspicious Minds

By refusing to accept that I needed only the one drink for the road home, the sake dens of Shinjuku had conspired to turn the soft grey evening sky into an over-optimistically bright sunrise. And this was my cue to find a bed for the what remained of the morning. I waved goodbye to my drinking buddies and escorted my travel companion down the road to Kabukicho. There was no point going to a hotel: I would be allowed just 4 hours sleep before checkout. The best proposition, I figured, was to find a Love Hotel where you could stay for any length of time no matter when you checked in.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

It didn’t take long to find one in Japan’s largest red light district. Leaving my companion outside I ventured in and was met by the proprietor: a squat, unsavoury gentleman who appeared to think it necessary to wear Aviator sunglasses in what was already a pretty dingy reception. To his credit, I soon realised that he was in fact wearing ordinary glasses turned tan by his smoking habit.

Whilst keeping an eye on my companion outside, I negotiated a room for 7 hours. The proprietor, aware that I was somewhat distracted, then happily allowed me to retrieve my companion. We entered and stood in the lobby: just me and my suitcase. The proprietor looked at the case, then at me, then where he supposed my mate should have been stood, raised his index finger and said “One? A room for just one?” in an over exaggerated quizzical tone. I replied “Yes, is there a prob…” at which point he lifted his arms, showed me his dismissive jazz hands display to reinforce what he said next: “That kind of thing is not welcome here. Go, go try elsewhere”.

Perhaps someone out there with more experience in the world of the Love Hotel (or a more vivid imagination) can suggest why a single man was denied a morning’s stay?

Gamer – 1

A good tour of Japan should always include a visit to the Mecca for gamers. Often just called ‘Gai-sen’ (ゲーセン) by the younger patrons, the ‘Game Center‘ (ゲームセンター) is like our good old Video arcades… but on steroids. From Sapporo to Nagasaki, people flock into windowless, five storey high buildings; cramped with state-of-the-art video game machines. A wide range of amusement offering roughly 10 minutes of thrills for a reasonable hundred yen.

Overdose

Japanese entrepreneurs took the matter seriously when in 1978 ‘Space Invaders‘ was released. It’s fame swiped across the country resulting in a shortage of 100 yen coins nationwide! Following this success, Japan gave birth to hardware and software companies with international pedigree such as Nintendo, Sega and Capcom to name a few.

Nowadays, good ol’ Pac-man has retired and it’s a new breed of machines that takes the lead. More beautiful, more fun and more intense, the new generation of games is tested on customers of the future. Some of them though are purely designed to fit the Japanese market; games totally offbeat for the novice westerner. Fear no more as we will unveil the mysteries of Japanese gaming.

Vive la (geek) revolution!

Let’s start with, probably, the most Japanese of all.  It’s concept is very easy to grasp: imagine you are a typical ‘salaryman’ coming back from a hard day of work just to find your ungrateful family not giving the slightest attention to you… wouldn’t you feel like going berserk? Now you can with “Cho ChabudaiGaeshi!” (超・ちゃぶ台返し!). Insert a coin and release your stress by flipping the table (Chabudai) over, breaking everything in the room!

Wander through Kyoto…

If you haven’t been to Kyoto yet, you need to go. It’s the second most visited city on the planet… after Mecca. It is full of World Heritage Sights, geisha, great food, over a thousand Buddhist temples and hundreds of Shinto shrines. In Kyoto you can be wandering around a neon fashion district with high tech shops one minute and discovering an alley way with old wooden houses and lined with red lanterns the next. In Kyoto you can go temple hopping during the day and bar hopping by night. Whether you are after the best of modern Japan or want to see Japan’s more traditional side, you will find it in Kyoto.

This video on youtube is a great first taste of what the city has to offer.

A monk at the vending machines

Running with the gods

It was 5:30pm on a warm Wednesday in the small town of Aso on the island of Kyushu. I was drunk, drenched in sweat, and on the verge of a coronary. I was also missing one of my recently purchased and highly treasured flip-flops. I was in crisis. So, how did all this happen? I had been carrying the gods around at a Shinto festival.

Despite carrying the gods of Aso around all afternoon, I never got to see them. The mikoshi, portable shrine, holds their spirit. An elaborately decorated and prized object, each mikoshi weighs around 400-500kg. Carrying one around, even with seven strong shoulders to assist you, requires strength and commitment. I had neither of these attributes.

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