Pit Stop Aomori

The shinkansen never ceases to amaze me. Tokyo-Aomori in slightly over three hours, comfortable seats and some peace and quiet. I’ll elaborate on the peace and quiet later.

The first thing to notice when getting off the train in Aomori was that it was cold. I had had high hopes that going to Japan as late as May would be enough for even the northern parts to have some summer-simulating qualities, but my shorts and fivefingers –based outfit was greeted with a windy 5°C Celsius. And although the ryokan I was supposed to stay at being located only a couple hundred meters from the station entrance, I still managed to spend 15 minutes looking for it. This should not surprise anyone who knows me.

Once found, though, the ryokan was great. The owner lady knew of my arrival and didn’t even care to see my reservation or payment receipt. She showed me to my room and soon brought me a couple of black sesame sembei and hot water to make tea with.

Green tea and sesame sembei

Apparently the only photo I took in while in Aomori. I obviously need three tea cups.

The room was slightly cold but nothing the heater couldn’t have fixed. A wireless connection was available as well, so nothing to complain about. Through the all-seeing eye of the World Wide Web I was able to identify the #1 restaurant in Aomori, Ippachizushi, which was located just a few blocks away. I went on a stroll and ended up walking around Aomori for a bit before reaching the main street and realizing there was nothing to see. The entire city was closing down around 6 pm. Sushi was all I had left.

Ippachizushi was a very traditional looking sushi restaurant with chefs standing behind the counter conversing with customers and, in my case, staring. Which is also why I didn’t dare immortalize the scene with the means of photography. Patrons had no plates, all sushi was placed on the counter in front and could be picked from there piece by piece. There was no english help anywhere and no menu, as was to be expected.

I realized immediately that my rusty Japanese wouldn’t have allowed me to order more than a few varieties of nigiri, so I decided to go all in and get whatever they recommended off the menu. The osusume of the night ended up being the matsu set, valued at 2100 yen. After asking what the clam sushi was called (=hotate), I ordered an additional serving of what had turned out to be my favourite and downed it all with a draft beer. The bill rose to 3310 yen, which was really reasonable for a good selection of sushi (and beer, never forget the beer), especially with the current exchange rate.

Mental note: I would be very interested in knowing what the naming convention for sushi sets are. This is not the first time it goes Umi < Take < Matsu from cheapest to most delectable.

Despite the pristine decor (I have to hit myself for using that word) and friendly staff, I was ever-so-slightly disappointed in the actual sushi. It was no doubt fresh, but the taste itself being very subtle, the amount of wasabi that had been put on the nigiri by the chefs themselves was enough to hide the actual flavors of the fruits-de-mer. Nevertheless, I went back to the ryokan on a full stomach and with a warm feeling inside, and began thorough research on the next destination – Hakodate.


Japanese train manners are, as George W. Bush would say, exemplorary. Not only are there constant reminders over the speaker system to put phones on silent (or manner mode), travelers never even raise their voices for conversing. Naturally ignorant gaijin are the exception to the rule, but I don’t have that much to say to myself so this time I have had no problems following these unwritten rules.

On morning trains, everybody is deathly silent. The only time any noise is heard is in late evenings when the weary salarymen begin to relax a little and a growing percentage of the passengers have imbued themselves with the power of alcohol. What I hadn’t seen before, though, was a sign on the back of the folding table warning passengers who have computers not to disturb others, whilst specifically mentioning the sound from typing on the keyboard.

So there I was in a train going 300 km/h and yet everything was so quiet you could disturb the whole car by the admittedly raucous action of typing.

In contrast, the traditional Japanese way of handling long train rides is as follows:

  • Buy bento box and / or beer at station,
  • Eat and drink
  • Fall asleep for remainder of journey
  • ???
  • Profit

Should the sleeping part fail, at least train-folk keep quiet. Optional actions include but are not limited to: relaxing in awkward positions, removing one shoe or staring at the scenery without so much as budging. Forever.


Hotto Koohii and Tonkotsu Ramen

5th day in Japan. The past few days have been spent in Tokyo visiting old places, meeting new people and getting in touch with old friends.

My plan today is to leave for Aomori as soon as I get a taste of Muteppou, which I have literally been dreaming about during these last two years. We left Basti’s place early as he left for work, so I had to find something to kill time with until Muteppou opens for lunch at 11. Unfortunately, Numabukuro station and its surroundings don’t offer much entertainment around 9 am on a Tuesday, so my last resort to escape the wind and pointless roaming was to enter the only premises available for idling, a McDo.

I haven’t been to a McDonald’s in a year or so, but I now wish I would have. The coffee here tastes even worse than home, thus relieving me of any creeping homesickness. Actually, at a different cafe, the coffee labeled ”American coffee” in Japanese was translated as ”weak coffee” in English. Admirable honesty. They could further improve it in the future and go with ”bad coffee” instead. But then again, I drink cold coffee from aluminum cans when in Japan, so the nadir has to be here somewhere.

To avoid walking around with a full travel backpack, Japanese train stations luckily offer coin lockers that can be conveniently used at any time for a small fee. These things are absent from all European locations I’ve visited due to the terrorism scare.

Once done with the ramen I will continue the journey towards areas that no man has gone to before. Sabae was a refreshing sight, and I would have gladly spent more time in the eyeglasses capital of the world, but unfortunately Golden Week thwarted those plans.

Looking forward the situation is clearly better. After three nights of modest ryokan living booked in Aomori and Hakodate (one and two nights respectively), I will move on to Sapporo (probably three nights), dissect the place and return south promptly in order to get a glimpse at Kyushu before facing the inevitability of an expiring rail pass. Obviously Kyushu would have been a better choice this time of year in any case, but I refuse to give up on Hokkaido. So why not both?


Ura-Nihon Detour

Four hours of Sabae

After landing at Kansai Gaidai International Airport, I knew that the day would be fraught with peril. Due to issues mentioned in the previous post, I had a limited window of opportunity to visit Sabae before returning to the shinkansen tracks and continuing towards Tokyo.

I handed in my voucher at the airport Japan Railways office to get the actual rail pass, which is unconveniently large for any normal pocket. It was significantly smaller two years ago when Joona had one so why they changed it I have no idea. The cardboard parts protruding from between my passport just get destroyed in my pocket.

Using the rail pass makes you feel very special when traveling, because it robs you of the ability to ever use normal train gates again like ordinary folk. Instead, I now have to take the small alley reserved mainly for people who have inquiries about the most mundane issues, get the attention of a clerk who then proceeds to quickly glance at the thing I’m waving (not a euphemism) and lets me pass without actually checking anything. I’m confident I could show him a Mother’s Day card and I would have no problem traveling the country. But I digress.

Sabae station view

The view from Sabae station

I arrived in Sabae after a couple of hours on different trains (KIX Express to Shin-Osaka – Kodama Shinkansen to Maibara – JR Hokuriku Line to Sabae) and Shingo came to meet me at the station with his little brother. We went for lunch at a nearby place he recommended and I chose to try a typical Sabae dish, Echizen soba. In all its simpleness the dish consisted of cold soba noodles with bonito flakes on top, a daikon-based dipping sauce and a small variety of tempura sides (crayfish, onion, zucchini). My first taste of Japan in a long time. First taste besides the beer I just had to buy earlier at the station anyway. It’s part of the shinkansen experience, and I refuse to be culturally blind.

Despite my previous 18 months of experience in mainland Japan, prior to going to Sabae I had never been in a private car before (Okinawa stories had one, though). With this kind of luxury at hand, we drove to allegedly ”the only thing to see in Sabae”, the Megane Museum i.e. the museum of eyeglasses. Sabae has a long history of eyeglasses manufacturing, and Shingo’s grandfather was one of the pioneers in the trade. Besides an interesting look into the history of Japanese eyeglasses, the museum also offered a refreshing introduction to the latest Engrish.

Eyeglasses Engrish

Well, I never!

The museum was of modest size, so we still had time to spend before my self-imposed time limit of catching the 16:45 train back to Maibara. By sheer luck there was a matsuri ongoing in the city where normally ”nothing happens”, so it was time for some festivities. We downed cans of Asahi Dry and nibbled on some fried squid tentacles (gesoage) and yakitori before visiting the Sabae Zoo to see the famous red pandas of Sabae. The red panda is a ubiquitous city mascot despite the animal having nothing to do with the region. But then again, Finland has the lion, so I probably shouldn’t say anything.

Gesoage and beer

Festival food

We returned to the station for a parting photo and quick coffee, and back I was on the train. Staying awake until Tokyo proved to be very difficult at this point. I drifted in and out of sleep until I finally reached Shinagawa station and contacted Basti, who had kindly offered to let me stay at his place in Tokyo. We went for a quick beer (or 4 as it turned out) at a nearby Izakaya before going home. I spent the next 12 hours in a deep coma.


Plane Drivel

Everything in here (on the plane, not Japan) is boring, so I guess it’s time to finally get back to this. We are now five hours in on the flight to Osaka; I’ve finished watching a couple of episodes of The Big Bang Theory as well as the 90s movie classic The Mask. With the entertainment system running seriously low on comedy shows, I set my eyes on a Chinese movie called Lost in Thailand, which is currently on pause.

The leg space is horrendous, as is to be expected, and despite a couple attempts at airplane quasi-sleep, the land of dreams keeps eluding me. I could have made good use of an ostrich pillow. Due to these unfortunate circumstances, an all-nighter is in order. It will get me back in the habit of writing down notes about my oh-so-exciting life and prepare for the morrow.

In other news, the needless stress I’ve caused myself by taking a 24-day vacation in Japan outside of the regular, or generally accepted Finnish holiday season of July will not end once I land. Due to another holiday season.

Only a an overly optimistic moron would land in Japan during Golden week without preparing a place to stay well in advance. I started browsing hotels around 24 hours ago just to add that label to my résumé. Ban-fucking-zai!

No shirt, no brain, no hotel. The two options left to me were either booking a king deluxe suite from the Hilton Osaka – half my entire budget for the trip – or jumping straight on the shinkansen and riding to Tokyo for the night.

Unlike my previous visits to the land of the rising sun, this time I’m a full-fledged tourist, which means I have access to the much coveted 21-day JR Rail Pass. It will allow me to abuse any and all JR trains for 3 weeks while also helping me travel light: with an empty wallet.

The plan for the first insomniac day is to get to Sabae in Fukui prefecture, go for lunch with Shingo, an old friend I haven’t seen in four years, and continue straight to Tokyo before the sun sets. The exact itinerary for spending my rail pass is yet to be decided, but rest assured it will be in shreds by the end. And so will I.

North Japan has been intriguing me since I began planning a vacation to Japan back in 2003, so Aomori-Hakodate-Sapporo and back is something I’m currently envisioning. Then I could finally lay that matter to rest.


Where have I been all your life?


I’m back in Finland and Joona is busy “sliding east” so if someone hasn’t noticed it yet, this blog is on hiatus until further notice. Updating will resume whenever something truly interesting happens. In the meantime, for those interested in the adventures of random Finns in Japan, I redirect you to our friend Tommi’s blog about livin’ it up in Nagoya (Also found under the “Links” section).


After sitting in the morning sun enjoying a nice cup of espresso, I went to do my Sunday morning shopping at the ever expensive Meidi-ya Hiroo department store. The arctic temperature in the store was a nice change of climate from the 30 degrees celcius and suffocating Honshu humidity levels present outside. Purely by accident I stumbled upon a rare endemic dish that I had needed to try: the tokoroten.

Why wouldn't people want to buy a living blue jelly for ¥100?

Originally I was introduced to the obscure stuff by the equally bizarre Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo tv-show. Unfortunately, all relevant videos on Youtube are Spanish dubs so I won’t be linking any here. Considering the character of Tokoro Tennosuke, who was made entirely of tokoroten, failed to sell himself at the supermarket for a mere ¥10, I was surprised I needed to pay ¥315 for a batch of three small cups in the real world. Then again, it was Meidi-ya whose slogan is “We love overpricing”.

3-pack of un-snacks

Tokoroten is a weird beast, which, besides the anime reference, was the main reason I needed to try it. Consisting practically only of water, the dish has lately been advertised in Japan as a diet food for the very same reason, because it’s water (Japanese wikipedia indicates the water content to be 98-99%). To water is added agar, and the gelatinous end result is shaped into “noodles”. Therefore stuffing yourself full of tokoroten before a meal can fill your stomach with water jelly, thus decreasing your hunger and making you eat less actual food. That wasn’t really my goal, but I had no option but to try the stuff nevertheless.

Maximum texture, no taste!

The pack I bought also contained a vinegar dipping sauce as well as small bags of sesame seeds for seasoning. A few slurps and it was gone. Being as the tokoroten itself doesn’t taste like anything, it was exactly like eating textured water with vinegar, an experience best described as unproductive. According to the Japanese, tokoroten is great in the summer as you can cool yourself down while having the illusion of eating. I personally prefer to keep my water as a liquid and my food as an energy source. No wonder Tennosuke was so unpopular in Bo-bobo. It’s not really worth much more than ¥10 a cup. I won’t be buying it again but I still have two cups left in the fridge so it seems I’ll be eating some more water in the days to come.


Reclaiming ‘Nerd’

Man, it’s good to be a nerd these days.

I recently had one of my pseudophilosophical meditation moments and came to think how hard it would be to have to hide or downplay a part of your personality continuously. In particular, I’ve been intrigued by the people I know who still feel the need to avoid talking about their more nerdy pastimes in order to avoid ridicule, or at least in order to believe being able to avoid ridicule.

I don’t think nerd is an all-encompassing term. It can be used to characterize a certain amount of interests, hobbies and attitudes towards things, but I fail to see how, in its present usage, it could ever include all the traditional negative meanings the word supposedly implies. I like to use nerd as a quick description of myself, and then later elaborate on as to what about me actually fits within that definition. Nerd is so loosely used nowadays that it really doesn’t mean much on its own. To some, simply knowing what a motherboard is will be proof of nerdhood, while others will require you to have been a part of the cabal and have glasses repaired with duct tape.

Personally, I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my life to always have found friends that shared some of the same hobbies and passions as I did. I was never bullied at school, and was never a recluse or even anti-social despite being a weirdo. Disclaimer: I don’t think weirdo has a negative connotation either. Partly because nobody has ever, to my knowledge, stamped the term nerd on me as a viciously negative label, to this day I utterly fail to connect it to the pool of detrimental personal traits. Again, I have been extremely lucky in this respect.

It really happens

Even as a kid, I clearly identified the things I enjoyed, and those I didn’t. Through sheer coincidence, I always received enough support around me to be able to relish my hobbies without being afraid of people not liking me. Or being able to effectively ignore those who did. Granted, I always did other things to complement the nerdy stuff. I’ve always liked sports, and immensely enjoyed football, basketball, floorball and every other team sport we played at school. This allowed me to avoid being profiled as something or other and let me fully enjoy all aspects of whatever struck my fancy.

During the France years, I don’t remember anyone ever ridiculing me over playing video games or studying, which is what I did most of the time. I liked those things, and everyone else seemed to readily accept that fact. Back in Finland in ’98, one of the first things I noticed at school were how getting good grades could get you criticized and badmouthed. This felt weird at the time; the experience at my school in France had been abundantly different. Either the shift was culture-related, an extension of Finnish jealousy, or the same thing would have happened wherever I had been at that age. “Someone is better at school, let’s make him feel uncomfortable.” That sentence did not specifically apply to me.

In the last years of primary school in Finland, I managed to gather a group of friends around me who generally enjoyed the same things as I did, something which allowed, among other things, for my general nerdy nature to flourish. We created a self-sustaining circle of people large enough to support each others’ non-conventional hobbies and shield us from the criticism of others – or at least make it less poignant. I was properly shielded. As long as there were other people who accepted what I did and liked to do, life was relatively easy.

Joona and I attended a couple of Java programming courses at the university of Helsinki at ages 14 and 15, respectively. Despite being called boy geniuses by a friend’s dad, the boy couldn’t keep up with the genius. While Joona attentively listened during lectures and passed both courses with the highest grades, I mostly slept in my seat, wrote down funny quotes from the lecturer and failed both classes. I’m pretty sure not everybody at school was pleased with us leaving two times a week during normal classes to go to the university, but I was absolutely oblivious to whatever comments may have floated around behind our backs. Sometimes it pays off to be socially as blind as a bat.

© Penny Arcade

My life in this fluffy duffy Turingian world of charm continued well beyond the age where I was old and confident enough to stand by my beliefs and fields of interest no matter what other people around thought about them. In high school, during military service or at the university, it has come as a surprise to nobody that I’m a nerd. It’s not something I shove down people’s throats, but I’m not trying to hide it either. Why? Because I’m proud of it! I have things I like, and I like liking them. Either deal with it or don’t deal with me. If someone thinks less of me because I like computers, video games and comics, they either need to be educated slightly on the issues or, if that fails, they can fuck off for all I care.

My closest group of friends still comprises mainly of the people I got to know during my primary school years. The sense of security and acceptance derived from such a close-knit group of friends allows for a very strong sense of self-esteem – even bordering on arrogance in certain situations.

As an interesting anecdote, we got a reminder a couple of years ago of how some people, especially those young and confused enough to still look for their place in society, have a tendency to interpret the word nerd as an insult.

It was probably 2008. We were playing Mölkkygolf, a Big Bang Theory-like but purely Finnish sport, in a public park, during a warm summer night. When I say night I positively mean night, not evening. After a while, a cohort of drunken teenage mutant ninja turtles girls strolled past us. While most of them were wary and preferred to keep their distance to a gang of older weirdoes who were throwing wooden blocks towards other wooden blocks in the dark, one girl was intrigued by the admittedly crazy looking game. Whether this interest was genuine or purely alcohol-induced is hard to tell. Actually it’s not hard to tell at all. The latter. Concerning the obvious questions as to what the hell we were doing in a park at this time of the night without copious amounts of alcohol (we only had a few beers), our immediate answer was that “we’re nerds, it’s what we do”. Since that one girl wanted to try the game, we quickly explained her the rules, the basics of which she never properly grasped, and thus she partook in our Mölkkygolf match for a few rounds until eventually growing tired of it.

Upon leaving with her merry friends, she shouted back in our direction: “You’re not nerds! You’re actually really nice guys!”, as though those two things were mutually exclusive.

Without a second of reflection, I retorted – and I wasn’t the only one: “Of course we’re nerds!”

Befuddled, she quipped with one last fading cry from the distance: “What!? So you want to be nerds!?”

Yes. Yes we do. That’s who we are, and we like it that way.


Instance Noodles

You Are Not Prepared!

I spent most of the midsummer days preparing to move house from Nakamurabashi to Hiroo. After a tedious dragging of luggage around the city on Saturday, I relaxed for a couple of hours before heading to Heiwajima Park for a Finno-Swedish midsummer party complete with bonfire, sauna, barbecue and drinks. As I couldn’t be certain whether or not anyone would be attending, I entered the premises empty-handed and needed a quick trip to the ever-so-useful nearby Don Quixote to replenish my resources.

During the long evening I managed to meet several nice and interesting people. Besides encountering a couple of Japanese girls who were part of the national women’s floorball team (out of maybe 100 practitioners of the sport here in total) and were moving to some kind of Köping in Sweden to get better at the trade, the evening was a relatively standard Nordic estival drinking session. In addition, it served as a catalyst for some more culinary adventures. The rest of this post will be a storyteller’s nightmare, mainly because I will be posting pictures of unrelated ramen dishes in a seemingly arbitrary manner until my phone’s memory is empty again.

Becoming a Pastafarian

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to avoid my weekly Muteppou trap and found a new tonkotsu ramen place worth visiting, Yottekoya at Ebisu station. Their tonshio (pork-salt broth) ramen was excellent, and I went out on a limb again by purposefully ordering the dish with double chashuu slices. Although I have no complaints about the rest of the bowl whatsoever, what really made my day were the said thick slices of pork. Extremely tasty and fatty, they had been lightly broiled and were by far the best chashuu in any ramen restaurant I’ve visited so far.

My only regret that day is that I managed to bypass another type of broth on the menu until after I had finished my bowl: The ジェノバラーメン (Jenova ramen). That’s my own romanization. There is close to no chance that the meal was actually referring to the Calamity from the Skies, but as a Final Fantasy reference-nerd I now have two reasons to return to Yottekoya, pronto.

Salivation, salivation, salivation is here.

My next ramen discovery had been sitting next to my home station of Nakamurabashi the whole time, but I had never been courageous enough to enter the small, homely shop before. Also, it had been closed most of the time. I don’t even know the name of the place. Faithful to my ways, I ordered the tonkotsu bowl with double chashuu slices and dug in. Although the food was enjoyable, the shop could not keep up in quality with the more famous ramen restaurants. The chashuu was straight from the refrigerator and tasted like anything I could have found in the nearby Seiyu supermarket. The broth was quite salty and the noodles were closer to the instant variety than fresh ones. All in all a decent bowl of salt and grease after a night out, wouldn’t return for taste.

Full speed ahead, captain.

Returning to the midsummer weekend, one of the Finnish attendees who had lived in Japan for north of 10 years told me about a famous Hakata ramen chain called Ichiran. Supposedly “the best”, Ichiran takes the antisocial aspect of ramen eating so far that restaurants give a small walled piece of counter to each visiting enthusiast. Functioning in a way similar to horse blinders, the visual and physical seclusion from the outside world ideally allows for people to concentrate solely on the greatness of ramen. The idea intrigued me.

Yesterday, during my afternoon exploration walk in Azabu-Juban and Roppongi, I eventually realized I was close enough to the local Ichiran branch that I could try finding it without a map. Long story short, you don’t find stuff in Japan without a map. What did happen, though, was that I walked past a very appetizing noodle shop called Kohmen. I thought it was a tsukemen shop, but what I ordered, the 熟成光麺(jukuseikohmen) with all toppings, was something I can’t quite define. Noodles in a standard ramen broth, with all toppings set aside on a separate plate. Kohmen’s homepage qualifies the place as a Chinese style noodle shop, which basically translates to ramen. Only the presentation was different. And since I just shoveled all the toppings straight into the broth bowl anyway, the difference was limited to Kohmen dirtying one extra plate.


As a disclaimer, I was pretty damn hungry. The light, salty broth and thin, curly noodles tasted excellent and fit perfectly together. The plate of toppings included half of a 味付け卵 (seasoned egg), two thick slices of fatty chashuu, bamboo shoots, spring onion slices, a sheet of nori and some crisp, oil-cooked garlic slices. I was also allowed to choose one additional item from a service menu and opted for an extra egg. Other choices included an extra serving of noodles, a small bowl of rice, a small dessert or something weird that was sold out but had been left on the menu to make children cry. I could still have used more toppings, but the quality of the meal coupled with its reasonable price (¥990) made me a believer. Upon leaving I also received a ¥100 coupon to make sure I return to Kohmen. That would not have been necessary.



Binks’ Sake

Once again my plans to waste the evening doing something more or less productive were thwarted by an impromptu invitation for a sake tasting event. Opportunism kicked in immediately. As for this post, it is published a week later than the actual occurrence. I really need to get it out now in order to be able to focus on other things, such as Juhannus.

Considering the tickets for a large tasting event offering 450 different brands of nihonshu from all over Japan normally cost ¥3500, free tickets were gladly accepted and put to good use. With a fellowship comprising of 6 Finnish trainees we made our way to Ikebukuro to Sunshine City, and ventured deeper into the labyrinth until we found the designated tasting area. We were all given small sake cups with a nice smiley face drawn on the inner bottom. Whether inner bottom is a universal concept or only exists in my imagination is a matter of debate.

I smile for your sake!

Liquor & Guessing

The layout of the tasting hall was incredibly plain, yet practical and very efficient. Long tables housing dozens of bottles of sake each were laid out by region around the exhibition area. We were given pamphlets naming all regions and sakes. Unfortunately, even with our combined efforts we only managed to decipher the readings for about 20% of the text offered to us.

Tasting factory

Near the entrance, a young attendant overheard us speaking demonic and made a vague attempt to help us, enthusiastically pointing at Kyushu bottle number 2 while yelling “zwanzig!” in my face. Clearly he had lost his mind. Later on, I attempted to gain insight to which of the sakes were supposed to be better than the rest. I asked one of the most connoisseur-like (read: tipsy) looking people and he pointed me to a sake brand from Yamagata prefecture, called the Juuyondai (十四代), one of the few names I could actually read. Unfortunately, as it genuinely was one of the more famous brands at the show, all the bottles were empty.

As with all self-respecting wine tastings, there were spit buckets available. Unfortunately, using those equals immediate relinquishment of Finnish citizenship, so we needed to stomach all the content we tried. This wasn’t too hard as the instrument used to measure sake into the cup was a pipette.

It's super effective!

No matter how hard I tried finding subtle taste differences between brands or even regions, a task that became more an more difficult upon ingesting a significant amount of alcohol, the only thing I could be certain of at the end of the journey was that they were all, in-fact, sake. I need more practice. After having had our share and tried everything we collectively could, we decided to continue the evening at a nearby izakaya. Kokutou umeshu was involved. Fin.


Deer Diary

Eventually, I came to the decision that despite having been there before, there was no way to skip going to Miyajima, being as Hiroshima and Miyajima traditionally work as a team. Like Batman and Robin. Or Starsky and Hutch. I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore. I was reluctant to pay for another night at the hotel, so a plan was established to head to Miyajima immediately after the workday ended on Thursday. Leaving my gear at the hotel and swiftly switching footwear to the godly FiveFingers, I was ready to undertake the 40-minute tramride to Miyajimaguchi. One additional ferry trip later, I disembarked at Itsukushima (Miyajima).

You shall not pass!

The view was inherently different than the last time I visited, in January 2009. At around 18:40, there was nobody to be seen on the island. The once abundant snack shops on the coast had vanished, and all restaurants were closed. One lone deer was wandering in front of the ferry station. I immediately preferred this scenario to the tourist-saturated daytime. Watching the sun slowly set, listening to the birds singing and talking to the deer felt almost therapeutic compared to the hectic nature of peak times. I was getting hungry, but decided that if I were to attempt climbing Mt. Misen I would need to do it as soon as possible to avoid getting lost in the dark mountainous forest, or sylvan mountain depending on the point of view.

Ca va être tout noir!

Ta gueule!

After having chosen one of the three available paths (Daishō-in) and hiked until about halfway towards the top, I realized that it was going to be pitch black in about ten minutes and there were no lights anywhere on the path. At that point I came back to my senses. A steep mountain path, in the forest, on a remote island, a couple of kilometers from civilization where nobody can hear my screams is not the place I want to be at when darkness comes. Although I guess from that altitude my screams could have been heard pretty well.

Unfortunately, they would most likely only have contributed to creating a legend, a local equivalent to the bête du Gevaudan, if you will. Then years later, when my bones are found, investigators would determine that I was killed by the aforementioned beast, oblivious to the fact that I was the beast.

I lost my train of thought and can’t afford another ticket.

After the quick descent, I walked through the empty residential area before stopping for some scenic photography involving the famous floating torii.

Well, it was low tide so it's not really floating

Unlike I had previously thought, there were some souvenir shops still open well after 7 pm, most selling the standard tourist crap and culturally mandatory omiyage: Momiji Manjū. I ended up buying a couple packs for the office. The ferry back to mainland was empty and to my misery I discovered that the dinner buffet would be over by the time I arrived back at the hotel. Luckily, an Ippudo branch shop was found a couple blocks from the Crowne Plaza. The rest is history. As well as indigestion.

Here’s a local curiosity, taken in front of the toilet at the Miyajima ferry port. People stared at me for photographing a toilet gate. Thrice. What’s wrong with that?

I dread the day when some knobhead will decide that this is discrimination

-Momiji “Antti” Manjū