Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Overjoyed for Obon

Thus, my glorious Obon vacation comes to an end. In Japan, there are three confusingly, possibly wonderful, one week long holidays that occur during the year. Obon is the one that happens in summer. ALL of Japan gets off. This is both awful and horrible. My take on the actual holiday is that it is a time when your dead ancestors come down to Earth to chill. You stick toothpicks in a cucumber which represents a horse and more picks into an eggplant which represents a cow. Your ancestors take the horse down and then the cow back - the cow is slower so the spirits can take their sweet time back to paradise. So yea, a week off work.

Still new to Japan, I did what any man would do, everything. I filled out my week quite masterly to the point where I have to stretch 20,000 Yen (~$200) out for a week and a half. Oooops. If times get hard, I still have US banks. There are no worries here, I don’t regret any decisions made during Obon.

During my Saturday night’s izakaya drinking celebration, I got invited to my very first Japanese BBQ. This took place the very next day along a river. There are several similarities and differences between American and Japanese BBQs. First off, no burgers or dogs. I know right? The grills here are round and more like tables than those rectangular hot boxes we think off in the states. A combination of delicious chicken, meat, vegetables, and even fish are thrown onto these grills. Everyone who goes splits the bill the host paid for the supplies and everyone bring their own beer. Quite honestly, a perfect afternoon. The BBQ was followed by evening drinking at an izakaya and then night drinking at a bar. Beers were had. Ever feel hungover before you go to sleep? Yea, that.

The next morning… Tokyo! Yuuuup, Tokyo take two! Once again I met the same friend/co-worker who took an entire day to show me around once again. Since she had never had chocolate chip pancakes before, we remedied that first thing with an overwhelming stack right off the bat. While they were absolutely delicious, my rapidly shrinking stomach couldn't finish them. I felt both horribly ashamed and proud of my weight loss progress. In Tokyo you can truly find anything.

Which is a perfect transition into my next reason for coming to Tokyo - to find s@#$ I can’t find elsewhere. My goal was to find hiking boots. Where I’m living, I couldn't find anything bigger than 28 cm. I wear 30.5 cm. My gracious guide used her connections of professional hunters (not even joking) to recommend places we could try to go. While the selection was still slim, boots were acquired. I did pay WAY more than I wanted but as the old saying says, beggars can’t be choosers. I was just happy to finally have boots for all the future hiking to come (this is foreshadowing).

We met another for a little something Japan likes to call a maid cafe. For those who know know, for those who don’t, buckle up. It’s basically a cafe where high teen to early 20’s Japanese women dress in maid outfits, act all custey, and call you master for the entirety of your stay. That’s only the beginning. They “cast spells” on your food and drinks, draw art in coffee foam, and charge you to take pictures with them. Now, this leads me to a certain observation I made during my time at this establishment. A business man, probably in his mid 40s, full suit, briefcase - paid a maid to play Connect Four with him. This is something I witnessed.

Next stop, Mexican! Before you judge me, Mexican (not to mention GOOD Mexican) has been previously impossible for me to find in Japan. Leave it to Tokyo though, no problem whatsoever. Now just the two of us again, we ate and we drank. To say tequila shots were had and margaritas were drank would be a gross understatement. It was glorious. Imagine craving a food/drink you thought was temporarily removed from your life suddenly could be had? You are going to cradle that and keep it close. This is what happened. It was like being able to eat a Dodo egg again. The food was great, drinks were perfect, and the company was spot on. While speaking English, eating/drinking Mexican, and being served by American bartenders - it was a surreal moment where I had to actually remember I was in Japan - Tokyo of all places. A gerat f@#$ing night.

If you recall, my last trip to Tokyo was cut short by a need to catch the last bullet train home. I cut out that pain this time and got myself a 3000 Yen, step above a hostile, “hotel.” My room was bed and some outlets. This, not a complaint. What else did I really need? Sure it was a shared bathroom but whatever. For that price, a steal. My plan for the following day was to just explore Tokyo on my lonesome and see what I could discover. Instead, I chatted up a guy from Colorado and a woman from Holland in the lobby of the “hotel.” I told them I was going to check out the Ueno Park museums and they were all aboard. So yea, I was in Japan looking at a Cleopatra and Egyptian exhibit. After some coffee, watching a street magician, going to museums, eating lunch, and visiting the Imperial Palace, we all split up and went our separate ways. My way was home.

The NEXT day (Wednesday), I woke up early to take an hour train ride to Shizuoka City. There I met my Australian friend from initial training. We had hiking on the mind. Now, with 100% new boots. We took one train stop and about a 40 minute walk to arrive in Mariko. Here we did, well, pottery. Mariko has all sorts of arts and crafts you can pay to do and have professionals show you how to do it. I have to admit, pottery was pretty fun. It will take two long months until I get my “beautiful” “cup,” but I’m excited for the day! The people who helped up were very kind to deal with our poor Japanese skills and even worse pottery abilities.

It was a short walk to the mountain range from there. The mountain range was your stereotypical rolling green mountains you see in movies. Instead of taking the simple paths, we sort of went our own way in attempt to discover whatever lays hidden in the trees. We found rusted belts and machinery for sending carts up the mountain to collect oranges. Other than some long forgotten farming tools and sheds, I wouldn’t say we “discovered” all that much. The hike was good but it was bloody-damn hot. The summers here are no joke. Everything they warn you about is true - it’s brutal. Once our water ran out, we returned down from our adventure, grabbed a local bus, and went our separate ways.

The following day I rested and slept in for the first time all break. Why? Well, the next day would be one of my greatest adventures to date - a little place called Mt Fuji. While this climb did occur on Obon, it deserves it’s own post and should not be jammed in with the rest of the week. So next time, Fuji-san.