Well this may be another shameless travel post but I bet you will survive. About a month ago my friend Luke was in Seattle visiting from Japan. He said, “Devo” I said “What?” He said, “when you coming to Japan? ” how about next week I joked. Well, there I was, the very next week.
I arrived Tokyo and had a very short time to change planes so I barely had time to look out of the windows of the airport. It was by all accounts, hot. I took the next plane to Sapporo and hopped a train from the airport into town. I tried desperately to memorize the kanji (Japanese letters) for Sapporo so I knew where to get off of the train. I secretly like it when I cannot understand the signs because it means I am somewhere I’m probably not supposed to be. My flash memorization worked and I met the fabled Luke with his friend Shun a few minutes later.
They took me to Shun’s house where his mother Hiroko, quite possibly the most boisterous, energetic and kind 52 year old lady I’ve ever known, met us at the door with equal parts hugs and broken English. She had made a big dinner in celebration of my coming. It was “oishii” (delicious.) Some sort of ground meat stuffed inside of a cabbage leaf, an amazing salad that had greens in it I had never tasted, and a number of other wonderful dishes. Luke and I ate our fill and then the beer came out. Now I can drink a lot of beer and Kirin is light in flavor and alcohol so it is no difficult task, when Hiroko opens a new one for you as you set down the old one, to drink too many. I slept well that night.
When I arose the next morning, I was about to take a shower when Nozomi, Hiroko’s sister said, “Don’t shower we are going to the baths.” And so we did. Not, however, before she fed us an amazing breakfast of curry rice; incidentally some of the best hangover (futsukayoi) food on the planet.
Japanese baths are quite the experience. You go in, take off all of your clothes and get a tiny little towel to cover your unmentionables. From there you shower sitting on this little stool and then hop in the baths. It was amazingly relaxing and just what the Devo ordered after a long plane ride. Shun and I went in the sauna and challenged each other to stay in longer and longer. I of course lost this battle. Luke intelligently abstained from the sauna. When we met back up we decided to go into the electric bath. It was the strangest sensation I have ever felt. Somehow they were pumping electric current out of jets on either side of the bath so when you got in, you were lightly electrocuted. Ding, chicken’s done! It kind of hurt but the Japanese are a long lived and learned culture so I just went with it. What good for the Shogun is good for the Geisha right? Shortly after being electrocuted we showered up and left the bath where there was cold beer waiting for us. This was around noon. I love Japan.
Soon after the bath we went to the Hokkaido Jingu (a large Shinto shrine) where a wedding was actually taking place. Luke was surprised because he had been there many times and never seen a wedding. I am still convinced Hiroko arranged the event for me. At the shrine they gave us these little soba cakes full of bean paste that were warm and comforting. Snacks and beer. That’s just how you roll in Japan.
Since we hadn’t eaten for a full 20 minutes it was time to go to get Yakisoba noodles. We went to a place where they make it right in front of you, flinging pots and colanders around like was their job…oh, I guess it was. Of course, it was super oishii! At this point I was genuinely concerned that I was going to have to start refusing food for fear of intestinal rupture.
Later that night Luke and I walked to an area of town called Tanuki Kogi. It is a sweet outdoor shopping mall with a retractable roof. Tanukis are animals that have magical powers in Japanese lore. Their most notable ability is to shape-shift their testicles into things…oh and they have a gargantuan set of them. You can’t make this stuff up.
Luke and I then got another Sapporo beer along that mall and headed back to meet up with friends. It was a birthday celebration for Lucas San (which is what the locals call Luke) and some other friends so they want to go to a place called Round1.
Turns out Round1 is an all night sports / gaming/ karaoke extravaganza. It’s kind of like the ball pit at McDonlads but for drunk adults. We played games all night. One of the highlights was a place where you shoot balls at each other with little railing mounted ball guns. We then proceeded to sing karaoke until 6am. It really just devolved into Luke and me singing duets. We nailed “Landslide,” but was there ever any doubt?
On our walk (of shame) home in the morning Luke introduced me to the most amazing snack food ever, Onagiri! Basically it is just a triangle of rice, stuffed with fish and healthy dose of amazing, all for about a dollar that you can get it at 7-11.
We spent the next week or so gallivanting around Shakaotan which is the small town where Luke is ensconced most of the year. We ate at local restaurants, the highlight of which was when we had fresh squid that the owner cooked in front of us and umi (raw sea urchin). We cooked for ourselves as well. We drank like warrior poets.
One day when Luke’s work schedule was particularly light we headed to the tip of the peninsula. Through a tunnel and jutting from the sea we found an amazing rock formation. He and I spent the better part of the afternoon circumnavigating the rock clinging for life, all the while with the possibility of falling into the sea, uncomfortably visceral beneath us. Never the less, we survived and honestly I do not think I will ever forget climbing around that spire.
Once our week was over we headed back to Sapporo to meet up with some friends to watch a Lebanese girl sing some amazing singer-song-writery soul-filled lyrics. There may have been some drinking involved. The next day we headed to Rusutsu, a theme park with some new Polish friends we had made the weekend previous. There were very few people there so we got to go on the corkscrew ride 3 times in a row! Sweet mother of god it was fun.
After a long day of hanging out at an amusement park the only thing for it was to head to a swanky Sapporo club and dance the night away. Consider, regardless of skill level, it danced. There exists somewhere in the whiles of the inter-webs a video of Luke, Tomo and me doing the Gangnam Style dance, before it was cool!
The next thing I knew we were in a Karaoke club and I was singing “A Whole New World” (the Aladdin part) with a Japanese girl who was…”Nailin’ it”! I mean look at the adulation of the crowd! We sang, what little was left of the night away and emerged from the club to the morning sun. We made our way to Hiroko’s house just in time for me to make the last train to the airport…