Highway tunnels in Japan can be really long, have an emergency lane and escape routes clearly marked and illuminated. I don’t know where they lead, but they appear to go deep into the mountain, maybe to an underground city full of ramen houses and maid cafes.
Bow before entering.
The Shinkansen is pretty awesome and operates with accuracy that’d intimidate a Swiss clock. But it’s really freakin’ expensive. A trip from Tokyo to Osaka, for example, is twice as much as the same flight on ANA. The service, as is standard in Japan, is top notch as well. White-gloved attendants bow as they enter and exit each car. Also, the highway bus service is almost just as accurate, arriving at rest stops and destinations at precisely the specified times. On the other hand, in Pennsylvania I’ve witnessed an Amtrak employee yelling at and threatening a passenger over a seat. Let’s not mention its recent safety record or inability to depart or arrive on time.
Please read the etiquette manual located in the seatback.
Train tracks in Japan, unlike in Philadelphia or countless other shitholes, are not littered with trash and in fact appear so immaculate and perfect it’s like you’re in a model railroad or diorama. Except for having to navigate the occasional vomit as you’re boarding the metro late at night. Which happened to me twice.
No credit card required.
Love hotels can be really posh and fancy or really shady. They’ve got TVs in the shower room and everything from lotions to hair straighteners to select shampoos can be rented or borrowed. And they have really big televisions. In others, so I’ve been told, you can pull your car into a space, a garage door closes, and the door to your room is right there. The door will open again after you’ve paid. Cleaning staff are also not supposed to look directly at you, and some counters have a window to pay but the staff will never see your face. Now don't you jump to conclusions.
One, two, three, four.
There’s a punk scene in Japan. I recently discovered this as I auditioned for a band (I got the gig) in Tokyo that was looking to replace its drummer who moved home to Ireland. The people look the part, although they are infrequently rowdy or obnoxious. Promoters and booking agents are similar to the ones back home. They expect the bands to do the promoting, paying, and playing while they sit back to collect money and not pay out at the end of the night.
It doesn’t look so big from here.
I booked a hike of Mt. Fuji, which I haven’t done yet. The other week on my way to Nagoya our bus passed by it. My depth perception must be wildly inaccurate or the size of Fujisan just throws everything out of whack. As the highway circled around this iconic formation, I couldn’t help but think I was looking at a cardboard cutout. The sky, the mountain, the land around it all seemed surreal and flat, as if the image had been painted instead of really existing. It seemed both enormous and conquerable at the same time. I felt as though, had the bus pulled over for a photo op, I could have jogged up to it for a quick selfie. In reality it’s pretty big, and its nearly perfectly symmetrical arch isn’t for high heels and pretty boys. And I don’t often take selfies.
Just sing, sing a song.
Forget baseball. Karaoke feels like Japan’s national pastime. There are probably more karaoke bars in Japan than there are churches in the bible belt of the US of "my god is smarter than your god" A. I have myself gone to karaoke half a dozen times or more, mostly with friends but also on two separate dates. Most recently I was in Nagoya and, having lost at darts to a cheerful and unassuming 34-year-old, I apparently wanted to prolong the beating and opted for karaoke from our list of possible follow-up activities (alternatively I could’ve – should’ve – chosen bowling or billiards). So we went to a karaoke bar for two hours. I was told my voice is small (quiet) and I need practice. I was also told I lost. Apparently we were competing there as well.
Nagoya seems like a nice city and I had considered it as I was job searching recently. I have now visited twice, and while I don’t know my way around at all, I get the impression it is a pretty chill place with some size but not the craziness of Tokyo. My karaoke friend and I visited Inuyama Castle, a little ways from Nagoya but a beautiful national treasure (one of only five castles with that designation, another being Matsumoto which I visited back in February) that has been well-preserved over the centuries despite Japan’s history of war and natural disasters.
Throw your hands in the air, gently.
I recently went to a concert in Takasaki, which is a little over an hour away from me. The band I went to see was The Pillows, a Japanese rock trio that sounds a bit like the Pixies. They even have a song called Kim Deal. The doors opened at 5:15pm and the show was scheduled to start at six (it did) which I think is awesome. Rock 'n' rollers that aren't on rock 'n' roll time. I arrived in Takasaki early and had lunch then wandered the streets for a while. I got to the venue 15 minutes before the show’s start time, and there was no line to wait in. That’s because everybody had already gone inside and found their places in the room. In addition to the cost of the ticket I was required to purchase a drink at the door for 500 yen. I was given a drink ticket to get a drink I didn’t want at a drink bar I couldn’t find. Them’s the rules.
I would guesstimate the room’s capacity to be around 500 or so. It wasn’t a really big room but it was pretty crowded. While we waited for the show to begin every audience member took a place on the floor, forming neat rows with a fair amount of personal space considering we were at a rock ‘n’ roll show. When the lights went down and the band took the stage everyone applauded and cheered. The band started and heads began to bop. Soon almost everyone had an arm in the air, pumping along to the rhythm. Now, I’m used to tight fists punching the air with enough conviction and aggression to break down a door or knock out a hipster with access to mama’s credit card. But there were no fists. Just a bunch loose hands that kind of flopped around at the wrist – some with an index finger extended to declare “number one!” or “I have an idea!” and some with all five fingers extended as if to throw magic fairy dust around the room. This was clearly not my hometown.
When a band member would step away from his stage marker and move toward the crowd, they would cheer and applaud. They weren’t jumping off the stage or necessarily taking a solo or anything, just stepping closer to the crowd. This excited them to no end. When the singer would shout in the mic, “Hey!” between verses, everyone responded in kind with a “Heeeeeeeeeeeyyy!” as if it was rehearsed. The band was tight, the sound was great, and oddly I saw nobody being thrown out by security, walking out with a bloody nose, stage diving, punching someone or getting punched by someone. Was I really at a rock concert? I could no longer tell. The sounds emitted from the stage would suggest I was, yet the audience’s behavior would suggest I was really at a craft fair.
Near the end of the show I stepped into the lobby to cool off as the room was crazy hot from all the hand flopping. I was able to freely walk around with no intimidating meathead bouncers eyeing me down. I could actually leave the venue and walk back in without hassle. There was nothing indicating that reentry was prohibited, which I found interesting since anybody could have easily walked in off the street and not been questioned. I have a pair of tickets to see this band again near the end of July, so I’ll compare the experience to this one.
In the timeless words of Garrison Keillor: be well, do good work, and keep in touch.