On something of a whim I found myself making the hour long trip to Kawasaki last weekend. In my search for ever more obscure and/or zany pastimes and atractions, I had heard of an interestingly themed arcade there. Game centres (as they are generally known) are certainly nothing new in Japan, and given the country’s penchant for jaw-dropping absurdity when it comes to institutions like restaurants and hotels, I figured that this particular establishment was not to be missed.
The number and quality of the arcade machines could not be faulted. Indeed, they have an entire floor devoted to darts, snooker and fake race betting. The strangeness came in the décor, being as it was an apparently very faithful reconstruction of the (in)famous Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong.
Large and lithe alike danced wildly, thumped rhythmically glowing boxes and buttons or twiddled knobs with that calorie-conserving efficiency that only a practiced gamer can call his own amongst delicately hand-painted and rusted street signs, individually torn fliers and speakers playing distant Chinese chatter and rat squeaks. The floor changed from bare concrete to plush patterned carpet with alarming rapidity once I walked past the escalators. Evidently the Japanese proclivity to thematic extravagance doesn’t stretch that far.
Every last detail was thought of. Plug sockets and vending machines had been covered with grimy sheet metal. Tiny windows opened out onto the main square, revealing tiny bedrooms and kitchens. Steam from leaky pipes hissed loudly as unsuspecting would-be photojournalists strolled beneath hidden motion sensors embedded in the rough concrete ceiling. The effect was eerie and strangely awe-inspiring
Given that the city was demolished in 1993, this strange arcade is the closest many of us will ever get to experiencing some part of what that bizarre few hectares must have been like (minus the smells, crowds, real rats, heavy drug use, gang violence, prostitution and claustrophobic reality of the place, of course) for those who lived there. I suspect, however that Dance Dance Revolution would have been a little harder to find.
In times of old, there was a demon with very sharp teeth. It fell in love with a woman, but this went sadly unrequited, with her resolving to wed a human companion. Seized by bitterness and anger, the demon secreted itself in a very particular orifice, and, upon consummation, forcibly cleft that one appendage which all gentlemen hold dear from his body. Apparently taking this disconcerting event rather more stoically than her (soon to be ex-)husband, the woman remarried, only to realise the effect of those precisely-placed dentures once again. The woman was understandably somewhat miffed that two in as many grooms had run screaming from her bedchamber trailing blood and masculinity, so she paid a local blacksmith to construct a (rather optimistically sized, I must say) phallus made of iron. The demon, fooled, broke its teeth upon’t, and left the woman forever, presumably leaving her to convince a third man to become her husband. Thence onward, the event was commemorated annually as Kanamara Matsuri. Ladies and gentleman, I give you,
The Penis Festival
Yes indeed. Three Brobdingnagian bishops were paraded through the temple grounds and down the street, amid great cheers and cries of happy laughter. Unfortunately I took an unexpected detour to Haneda Airport, meaning that when I did arrive I was forced into the most tightly packed crowd I have ever experienced. I think it’s safe to say we all learned something about fluid dynamics and crowd psychology that day. There were three in total, the first, which seemed to be metal (but not the John Thomas of the tale), was pulled by burly men. The larger pink pecker by blushing women, and a final wooden wedding tackle by older representatives of the community.
I was lucky enough to find myself standing right next to the stone torii (gate), opposite some ironic Frenchmen and with a clear view of each manoeuvring love muscle. This was the main commemorative event of the festival, and having already missed the daikon (radish) carving competition I let myself be carried in behind the stately procession of pork swords and into my colleague James. We solemnly prayed for fertility and delved in against the jubilant crowd.
A slight hush was apparent around one hut in particular. Upon entering, we saw not only hundreds of charms depicting historical and anime characters doing unspeakable things, but also the legendary longfellow itself. As hinted before, it was of a prestigious size, rising majestically a foot and a half from an anvil and about the width of my neck. The mechanics hardly bear thinking about.
Whilst James was buying himself some 金玉 (testicles) sake, my attention was drawn to the many people indulging in rather anatomical lollipops with absent-minded nonchalance, which was in itself more shocking than the objects themselves. After a long queue, I was able to purchase a couple of ‘kings’. Unfortunately, they were all out of ‘queens’.
Alas, when the rain came there was little to be done but meander home. If only for a few hours, the experience had been one of blissful juvenility mixed with knee-jerk conservatism at seeing an enormous wooden wonder weasel bestraddled by young children. However, when duty called I was only too happy to oblige.