I returned (properly) to Tokyo for the first time in several years with Jaz at the beginning of the month. It rained almost constantly and we were liberal with our wake-up times, so you’ll have to take my word for it that we had a lovely time. As we were staying in Kōenji, I could take her round my old haunts, which meant UFO Club and Penguin House, primarily. The former hosted a mod event at which we both felt very underdressed.
A chocolate pizza in Harajuku also featured, which had to be tasted to be believed.
Unfortunately, the big achievement of the month has passed that window where I could actually inform you about it here, but what the hell, here’s that sweaty picture once again for luck.
Yes, I ran a half-marathon, and did so in (just) under two hours. This was a bit over a week ago at the time of going to press. Unfortunately, while the post-race hobbles wore off after a day or two, the shin-splints which have remained steadfast since January returned in full force a few days later after a moderately-active 15 minutes running around with some 10-year-olds. The lack of running goal means I can and have put it to rest until I’m properly recovered.
Unfortunately the same had to go for kendo, at least until next week. I’m a little worried about how I’ve come across to the higher-ups, turning up for two sessions then disappearing completely. Thankfully my landlord is one of them, so I’ve hopefully been able to stave him off with an explanation for the time being.
What better way to rest my legs than by walking up a mountain and along a gorge? So went the thought process that weekend when I returned to Yamadera for the third time with some friends: Jess, Evan and Andréanne. The original plan had been to join up with a larger group of Yamagata JETS, but a mishap with the station we were supposed to be meeting at caused us to work in reverse, climbing Yamadera then tacking Yamadera Gorge second.
The views at the top were predictably beautiful, and I managed to get one more page of my temple passport filled by a monk who blessed the book with a hoarse growl before handing it back to me. Although I maintain that Jess’s assertion that Yamadera is an hour long and difficulty hike is utterly unfounded, the ease at which we climbed when the temperature was in the mid teens (as opposed to the low thirties) is testament to the power of the climate.
I had seen Yamadera before, but the gorge was a new experience for us all. Jess and Andréanne got their first sight of real life genuine Japanese monkeys and we all slipped at least once on the thin ledge that constituted a path. Nevertheless, the water was clear and cold and especially as the afternoon wore on the whole experience was utterly beautiful. Then someone had the idea to take a photo on the train tracks (because “you can hear them coming”) before we all had to scatter from the oncoming ‘waterfall’ that had been growing louder in the distance.
The next day, Andréanne, Evan and I participated in some ‘German Health Walking’ in nearby Kaminoyama after Andréanne was roped into participating by her employer. Cue two hours of very gentle walking with stops to check our heart rate every hour, and many comments by the old people who seemed the only other real participants. We got a free blood pressure test and udon out of it, however, so all was not lost.
Last night I went on my first pub crawl, or 酒番所 (sakebansho). This was rather different from those as I understood them in England, where some friends and I would tackle several bars along a route hopefully pre-defined by natural barriers or ancient fortifications.
The sakebansho, on the other hand, was an enormous, and mid-week, affair. About 150 people packed into a community centre and were assigned to one of about ten groups, which were in turn split into teams of four to five. I was with Brian and two junior high school teachers. Our five stops were marked out for us on a map, and we were free to choose the order as long as we went to the highlighted one first. Having paid up front, a drink and a snack at each was provided, and we had to be back by 9pm for a prize draw.
Akayu is not wanting for drinking places. Unfortunately, almost all of them are スナック (snakku) bars. The shadiness of such places varies wildly, but in one we were greeted and served very intently by two women in very very short dresses. It’s rather difficult to write about without sounding either overly prudish or a little seedy, but suffice to say the regular bars had a more comfortable atmosphere.
One highlight has to be the traditional-feeling and very pleasant bar who cheerfully served us snails. The pictures below prove that I did, indeed, eat it, though I wouldn’t again.
Come 9pm we gave the numbers attached to our lanyards to the organiser, who began the prize draw. At least three numbers were within one place of my team’s, but regardless we missed out on many bottles of wine and a significant amount of beef. Thankfully ramen and another drink or two afterwards washed away most of the injustice we felt.
As part of the current lessons on countries and travel for my Year 6’s I decided to set the record straight on what ‘England’ is and how it relates to the UK, which they (and some teachers) had never heard of. As far as I can tell there were no real winners in the map I drew.