Tokyo

20160412_135826

So, it’s been a few months since I started this post and it kind of fell by the wayside. Nevertheless, better late than never, right?

 

***

 

I love Tokyo for many reasons; it’s glowing lights, it’s thriving population, it’s fancy technology and ridiculous fetishes. This city, I feel, did not suit Beth so well. Whilst I loved getting lost in the busy streets, strolling randomly and delighting in the high energy, Beth crashed pretty hard after the challenges of Korea. Still, there was magic yet to be discovered in the Ghibli Museum, and we got to access the rooftop garden now that it wasn’t snowing! It was wonderful becoming immersed in the beautiful hand-drawn art that made up the animations. The movie theatre with Sumo Mice (Chu Sumo) was fantastic, and well worth the trip for me (even though it’s the second time we’ve seen it).

20160408_170941

 

I also had the immense pleasure of returning to Tokyo Disneysea. We started the day in very high spirits (hearing those Disney tunes at the train station literally got me skipping), and I fully embraced the Disney spirit. Better still, Craig got picked by the infamous comedic cleaner for one of his spontaneous skits (the gargling one!). Man, Westerners have all the luck. Once more we plunged 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I admit lost some of its magic a second time around, though was still fantastically atmospheric. We trekked to Ikspiari’s Disney store so that Beth could accomplish her long held dream of acquiring new tsum tsums, and then parted for the day so that she could rest. When Craig and I got back (after a three hour detour for Starbucks), we watched a pretty cool wire-fu musical in the Mermaid Lagoon before finding ourselves by the bayside for a musical light parade. It turned out to be one of the greatest shows of all time with water, fog, laser beams and hot air balloons, and an epic story involving wicked witches and Sorcerer Mickey. Although it was an incredible spectacle to see from afar, I felt a little detached from the action. And just as I had the thought, the witch turned into a dragon and started coming through a magic doorway, breathing fire and threatening to destroy Imaginationland, and Mickey blasted it back through the portal with magic spells. It was freaking amazing to feel the heat and the involuntary shiver of fear as the park faced its obliteration!

20160409_201725

 

Beth was still feeling pretty run down the next day, and Craig had other adventures to undertake, so I ventured back to Tokyo Disneyland for a solo adventure. I have to say, it was a very different experience going by myself, and I loved the freedom of going on whatever rides I wanted. And what rides! Star Tours, to my surprise, had done away with Darth Vader force-choking the ship and had received a makeover to star Rey, Finn, Poe and BB-8 flying the Millenium Falcon to reach the Rebel Base! (The guys in the queue in front of my were having an in-depth discussion about the Prequel movies, and I very nearly launched into my usual “Jar Jar Binks is a Sith Lord!” theory, but I restrained myself for the pleasure of passing as a non-English-speaking Japanese.) I passed by Thunder Mountain several times throughout the day, and when I finally plucked up the courage to line up, they had closed it for maintenance. Happily, I went to the much gentler Winnie The(r) Pooh ride, which was as captivating as it was charming. After some exploration I finally figured out how to get into the heart of the Disney castle itself, marvelling at the million little details that made it so regal and scoffing as a little girl dressed as Snow White tried to put on Cinderella’s glass slipper. It also must be mentioned that I came across a shooting gallery where I noticed a lady with gold and silver badges out the front. She explained that if I shot a Perfect 10 I would earn a silver, and if I hit the randomised LUCKY! target I’d get the gold! Moments later I walked out with this little beauty.

20160410_124742

 

Surprisingly, my absolute favourite part of the day was discovering a magic shop where a lady holding a tophat whilst a miniature Winnie the Pooh performed magic tricks. As he casually connected and disconnected solid steel rings, breaking and reforming pencils, making Olaf’s head disappear in a hollow box without room for escape, making coins vanish out of the hands of children who clutched them tightly and generally defying every known law of physics, I couldn’t help but call out in surprise every few minutes. After long consideration, what I enjoyed most about it was that I prided myself on my intelligence (#Ravenclaw) and each of those tricks absolutely flummoxed me. I found great delight in my inability to figure out even slightly how they worked, and I’m rather sorry that I didn’t buy any of them to take home with me.

 

Adventures in Shibuya and Shinjuku saw us drawn to that magical Lofty wonderland, eating Coco Curry (a laughable amount of hotness after my conquest of kimchi jjigae), and asking a cute waitress about pudding parfait. Travelling solo, I had the pleasure of wandering through Ueno Park with its gilded pavilions in Japanese-speaking ravens. I also accomplished one of my great achievements of the trip by cracking 1000 points in the Toylets, which took several bottles of drinks and staggering down the streets looking for the arcade as I desperately tried not to pee myself. (In fact, I made this journey twice, having discovered the first time that the Sega arcade in Shibuya had been permanently closed down.)

 

This blog has waited quite long enough, so I’ll end by summarising my adventures thus: Japan is truly the land of my soul. I can’t even begin to describe how much it feels like home, even though I don’t really speak the language and can only begin to understand the crudest of customs and values. It’s been a great pleasure revisiting these stories and going through the photos, and I hope my journeys take me back once again to the Land of the Rising Sun.

20160325_124731

I Seouled Out, Gangnam Style

There were more differences between South Korea and Japan than I had expected. Beth, Craig and I stayed in a super nice apartment in Gangnam, and to my surprise, not once did I do the Gangnam Style dance while there. (In fact, when I started singing it quietly under my breath I felt a sudden rush of shame and trailed off awkwardly.) We were living a street away from K-star Road, the road where most of the major signing companies for Pop stars had their offices, and crowds of people (particularly young girls) would hang out in nearby restaurants and cafes waiting for a glimpse of G-Dragon or Miss A. It was a really flashy area, and I loved the little conveniences like having a PIN code lock the door rather than a mechanical key, and heated floors being standard for an apartment. I could have done without the only window in the bathroom opening straight onto the street though. Got mighty foggy in that poorly-ventilated room, because I dunno, I found it kind of weird staring at passersby while I showered.

20160405_195831

Good Onew!

 

I didn’t have much of a plan for where to go or what to do in Korea, but Beth tracked down a few of the restaurants she really wanted to try (courtesy of Eat Your Kimchi) and we travelled to Itaewon, Myeondong and Hongdae in our journeying. I wasn’t really into doing much shopping (and there was quite a lot of merchandise advertised by SHINee and other big name K-pop stars), though I enjoyed wandering through the markets. One of my favourite finds was a small arcade that allowed us to shoot BB-rifles at various-sized targets (so damn satisfying. Happy to see my accuracy is continuing to be above average) and hosted a unique machine that measured the force of an uppercut. Here I am pictured impressing these girls with my intense power.

20160406_141621

 

Of all the really excellent food we had (excepting a chicken and beer restaurant, where I may well have been put off fried chicken for life due to the sheer quantity of the stuff), my biggest cullinary accomplishment was ordering and eating kimchi-jjigae. Keep in mind the only reason I wanted fermented cabbage stew was because it’s one of the four Korean phrases I know how to say, and it turned out to be one of the spiciest things I’ve ever been exposed to. It was a hell of a battle, and several paper towels drenched with sweat later, I conquered that sucker and could readily have taken a bite of the sun to cool my palette down.

20160405_205809

 

The highlight of the trip by quite a landslide was attending the Global Starcraft League tournament. I had not expected to be into Starcraft (though I was prepared to get swept away by the hype of it all), and when Craig showed me a few games and I got surprisingly into it. Poor Beth had to put up with a whole lot of jargon as Craig and I got into passionate discussions about’lings, banes, medanks, DT’s, Artosis Pylons and the like. By the time we arrived at the studio, I considered myself well versed in the ways of the Star Potato, and I had a heightened appreciation for the intense skill these world-class players exhibited as they performed hundreds of actions per minute, their hands moving in a frenzy on the mouse and keyboard. Craig and I had also come prepared for the moment the camera would turn to the audience (in between or at the start of matches), and we clutched our Hot 6’s for three hours before we got our international broadcast debut. When the camera cut to us, 15 000 viewers saw us raise our cans of energy drink, clink them together, and then scull them. I couldn’t help but grin as the Korean commentators stopped mid-sentence to go “WOOOOOOOOOOOOAH!” in appreciation and talk excitedly about us, presumably saying we were the first audience members to acknowledge the sponsors. The English commentators stopped talking about the game for several minutes while they applauded us and extolled the virtues of drinking Hot 6. On Twitch, the chat stream was filled with accusations of being sell outs, which I will happily claim. To view the moment yourself, click here! https://www.twitch.tv/gsl/v/58917017?t=165m16s

20160406_193045

Craig and I were buzzing with energy for several hours. He actually couldn’t sleep at all that night. HOT 6!

 

Overall, it was a great couple of days in Korea, and I’m really glad I went. I have to admit, I’m also not particularly keen to return. The culture is more distinct from Japan than I realised, and I have to say the many differences was quite off-putting to me. For instance, the difference in courtesy between the two countries was astonishing; salespeople in Japan almost always bow and call out irrashaimasse! to greet you, whereas salespeople in Korea seem to either follow you around, literally pushing menus and products in front of you, or otherwise ignore you indifferently. Admittedly, I did find it charming many people put their other hand under the elbow of their extended arm when giving or receiving something. In the end, I think it was a combination of the little things (like the language not sounding pleasant to my ears) and the big things (like little old ladies elbowing me as they passed despite plenty of room to walk around me) that make me hesitate to return some day.

 

Stay tuned for stories of our imminent, and grateful return to Tokyo.

Kyoto and Osaka

Last time we were in Japan, the house we rented in Kyoto was probably my favourite place to stay; it was nestled in the charming cobblestone streets beside a small river (which hosted several herons), our neighbours were separated by thin bamboo fences and there was this sweet old lady who sold traditional Japanese sweets at the end of the lane. Combined with the tatami floors and sliding paper doors, it was quintessential old Japan.

This time around we were a little less fortunate in our choice of accommodation. We were charmed by the few pictures on airbnb, and the description of a house surrounded by nature with a nearby bamboo grove and views of the forest. However, we didn’t realise it was a half hour walk to the nearest convenience store, or the major bus stops, down a very steep hill and through winding back alleys. Without the benefit of a pocket wi-fi, it was a terrifying journey to try and find our way to a main road to buy food and find our way home in the dark. However, Craig lent us his spare wi-fi from his accommodation and by the end, I found it quite charming (even enjoying the long walks and the challenge of the hill). Over time, the sakura trees, the beautiful neighbourhood shrine (apparently cared for by gigantic koi and a patient heron) and the numerous tanooki made me realise how beautiful an area it was. It also forced us to catch buses, which turned out to be a delightful experience in itself (as I bore witness to a 12-year-old girl who used her smart watch to send photos to her New 3DSXL. Oh Japan).

20160330_103223

Our neighbourhood shrine

One of my favourite places in Kyoto was Gion, so full of people (especially tourists) and so full of life. Beth and I returned to that enchanting Baskin Robbins for Easter special ice cream, we drummed in the arcade (next to some seriously hardcore guys who I’m pretty sure were actual taiko drummers because they brought their own sticks) and I bought a whole bunch of Japanese merch: a coin purse, a carry bag and so many tabi. We also hit up the Uniqlo there and bought half a new wardrobe, always a pleasurable experience.

20160328_175130

 

Visiting the Inari Shrine and climbing Mt Inari was also an experience I wasn’t able to have last time. It was such an enjoyable challenge to physically climb a mountain, and I was delighted at how quickly the crowds died off when it got slightly challenging. It was so special moving through those thousands of toori and then off the beaten tracks into the quieter paths through the forest. Some of my favourite memories were stumbling across semi-hidden shrines, a locked cabin, a path through the bamboo and a hidden bloom of sakura amidst the canopy.

20160330_155856.jpg

Of course the highlight of this section of the trip was a visit to Universal Studios Japan, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter therein. You can read a more detailed blog of the latter here. As for the rest of USJ, it was quite a wonder in itself. The energy was high (although we did stumble across a few people napping, in the midst of thousands, during a very noisy parade where paper was being shot from cannons nearby them) and there was much to see and do! True of any theme park, the wait times were lowest just before closing.

The thing I loved most (apart from the WWoHP) was by far the Resident Evil Escape Room 2. It was much more of a production than I expected, with very hot actors playing badass commandos or terrorists, with real fire and some pretty incredible costume and make-up work (she started cutting off his ear!). The puzzles themselves were super fun, though the zombies didn’t scare me much because I knew that they weren’t actually allowed to touch me so I didn’t take them seriously when they stormed down the corridor, just moving so I was out of sight so I didn’t waste any time avoiding them. As for the puzzles, set across four floors (though we weren’t able to access two of them initially), they were way harder than Craig and I were capable of solving. Out of respect for the creators, I won’t share any of the solutions here, but suffice it to say it needed some extremely clever thinking, some keen observation skills, and some manipulation of the apparently mundane props you were given to point to subtle clues. In the end, about a dozen of the hundred people solved all the clues. Craig and I couldn’t even get past the first (and easiest) puzzles for the “alpha” password. (Incidentally, if anyone out there has solved the six clues for alpha and can tell me how to solve the last one, I would be forever in their debt because even now it’s driving me crazy.)

20160402_155626

Craig and I thought we were soooo clever, trying to find the password before the event started. We had no idea how out of our depths we were.

We also took the liberty of visiting an old haunt while in Osaka; Hooters was actually a lot better than I was expecting. Being married now, the appeal of alcohol and large-breasted women, that smoky den where a guy could spontaneously drop to the floor and do push-ups with a cigarette in his mouth, no longer struck me in quite the same way. To my surprise, it was actually really nice having a conversation with the waitress who went out of her way to have a longer chat with us, and it was probably the most Japanese we’d ever spoken in one sitting. It turns out that Maco-chan left shortly after we visited two years previous, and when we joked about seeing Kae-chan in two more years time she told us that she’d have started her new job as a flight attendant for Japan Airlines and she’d see us in the air instead. I was so glad she got the job she set her heart on!

20160402_221314.jpg

It was also a pleasure to return to Ginkakuji and the Philosopher’s Path, this time with Bethwyn who was feeling well enough to join us. I became profoundly thoughtful in the quiet wabi-sabi gardens of the Silver Pavillion, and delighted as we strolled down the tetsugaku no michi. I returned to the second-hand kimono store and acquired a yukataobi and hakama to my great delight (where an obaa-san came up to me and said “Kakkoi!” while I was trying some stuff on). The cute river-side cafe we stopped at for lunch was visited by a guy in a white suit with a TV crew who agonised over their food-porn shots, and to my amazement as I passed him to find a bathroom, he said in perfect English and with dulcet tones to rival George Takei’s, “Through here, on the right.”

20160403_162711

It was with a surprisingly heavy heart we left Kyoto, and in a perfectly Japanese fashion, too. Our host had called a taxi for us to pick us up at 7am, and at 7:00 exactly I slid open the front door to see if they had arrived yet. Standing in the rain with the boot of his car open, umbrella at the ready, was our taxi-driver. I hastily got the rest of our stuff together and he took the luggage out of my hands to load himself, and then covered the frame of the car door so we didn’t bump our heads as we climbed into the back seat. With his crisp white gloves, he took us directly to the station in record-time, and after he had unpacked our things, he took his hat off and bowed deeply to farewell us. Nothing describes Japan so perfectly as this, where almost everyone I’ve met has taken deep pride in their job (no matter how modest) and put their heart and soul into doing the best work they could.

Stay tuned for our next leg of the adventure, this time into Seoul.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

True to form, I’m now in Tokyo and have quite a bit to catch up on. However, I just want to take a moment to blog specifically about a certain theme park and had, shall we say, an enchanting time. (This is the first of what I’m sure will be many bad puns.)

 

For those of you who don’t know, Universal Studios Japan hosts the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a recreation of Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley melded into one glorious wonderland. To be honest, with the haze of stress leading up to the wedding, standing in Diagon Alley in wizard robes was one of the only clear visions I had for what I hoped for on the honeymoon. Guys, let me tell you, it far exceeded my expectations. So wondrous was the experience that Craig and I deigned to repeat it the next day, buying additional full-day passes just to return to those wondrous cobblestone streets.

 

Having secured our ticket for the timed entry (we arrived at 12pm and the earliest we were allowed into TWWoHP was 5:10pm), we strode through the enchanting forest (with the crashed Ford Anglia and real birds living in real pine trees) and came upon the entrance.

20160401_170721

The sign reads “HOGSMEAD: PLEASE RESPECT THE SPELL LIMITS”

 

Jubilant, positively elated, I took a photo with the first cast member I met. He spoke with a heavy English accent (which I suspect was affected, but that only served to excite me further) and complimented me on my hat. It was an excellent start to the adventure.

 

The moment we enterred Gladrags Wizardwear, Craig claimed to be a super keen Hufflepuff despite failing most of my quiz questions (such as “Name any spell. Expellimarmus doesn’t count.”) and bought a full set of Hufflepuff robes with matching scarf. Beth and I decided not to get sets of our own (I thought they weren’t particularly flaterring, and Beth wasn’t sure when she would ever wear them.) Despite not wanting to be seen wearing them in public, Craig professed being a hardcore Hufflepuff, and our second day was largely spent scouting for other Puffs (“Badger badger badger!”) and letting them know they weren’t lonely potatoes in a world of lions and ravens and serpents. (To be fair, the other Puffs were delighted to see Craig as well, and their mutual Huffliness lead to some great conversations.)

20160401_172537

 

Another great highlight of the experience for me was attending Ollivanders wand shop. We were ushered into a tiny room full of dusty boxes where a lady explained in Japanese that we would be witness to a sorting ceremony today. She ushered us to go on through, and there was a confused murmuring at exactly where we were supposed to go when we were all packed into the closed room. Then she said, “Ah!” with an apologetic bow and opened a secret door behind the store shelves. To my great and lasting delight, Bethwyn was selected by Garrick Ollivander himself for her first sorting. He spoke a delightful mix of English and Japanese, and set up a very special sort of atmosphere in the dim candlelight as he went from box to box and explained the properties of each wand to Beth. He asked Beth to cast a few spells before wondering aloud if a certain wand might suit her best. The music swelled, light illuminated her from all around, her hair blew back in the breeze as she beheld the wand that chose her: she purchased it as soon as we left the demonstration room. To my amazement, Craig wasn’t remotely interested in purchasing a wand (despite his robes having a special pocket designed uniquely for such an instrument). I took about half an hour, pouring over the descriptions of each of the woods and handling them. I found with resounding satisfaction that the vine wand suited me best, to my surprise, being perfectly balanced and elegantly pointed. It reminds me very much of a jian, and I expect it only obeys those who wield it with a certain finesse.

20160403_205541

My wand, vine, 15 and a half inches.

 

Dining at the Three Broomsticks was a welcome affair. Although the food was pretty ordinary, and the serving sizes a little on the small side for your standard English pub, the drinks were mindboggling. Sadly, the secret menu item “pumpkin fizz” turned out not to exist in Japan (or, perhaps, I hadn’t tapped my wand on the right brick before enterring) so I settled for a butterbeer instead. That turned out to be the single best hot drink I’ve ever consumed. I tried the cold butterbeer which was delightful but not transcendant, and Bethwyn’s pumpkin juice, which was overly sweet even for my tastes. Craig ordered a beer from the Hog’s Head, which tasted like ash to my tastleless tongue.

 

I also had the pleasure of attending the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride around 8pm when the wait-time was advertised as 50 minutes but actually took around half an hour. It was quite wonderful meandering through the castle, though there was something disappointing about the Japanese dubs for Dumbledore, Harry and Ron (a rare thing for me to say, because I previously believed Japanese dubs improved any experience). I ended up going on the ride with two cute high school girls who screamed the whole way through it. I can’t really describe how awesome it was to see a dragon breath fire, or how shocking it was to be spit on by an acromantula, or how terrifying it was to glide under a swarm of dementors while I whispered “expecto patronum, expecto patronum, expecto patronum!” under my breath. Afterwards, when Harry (that badass who hit a dementor who was reaching for him) saved us, and Dumbledore congratulated us on winning the Quidditch Cup, I felt both very proud and slightly queasy. Thankful for solid ground, I stumbled off the ride and laughed with the two girls about how scary it had been. The staff guided us to what I thought was the exit, but turned out to be the start of the ride again – they were giving us another free round because they were about to close. Back on it I went, partially so I could continue my conversation with the two girls, and partially because it was too embarrassing to try and leave. I thoroughly enjoyed it a second time, though afterwards I felt nauseous for hours.

20160401_182428.jpg

 

As for loot, I picked up some ballpoint quills, a Ravenclaw notebook, a Ravenclaw scarf (which Craig refused to wear, despite the freezing weather), exploding bonbons, fizzing whizbees, Honeyduke’s best chocolate, a truly sublime cauldron cake, a Marauder’s Map mug (with feet that appear when you add hot liquid to it!). I also picked up an incredibly beautiful time turner necklace for Beth, who wasn’t well enough to join us the second day we went, and of course my wand, which I kept within arm’s reach as I slept that night. I also persuaded Craig to by a love potion from Zonko’s to give to the first cute Hufflepuff he saw, and my heart swelled with pride as he chatted with a young lady for some ten minutes in broken English while leaving me forgotten on the curb.

 

All in all, a truly wonderful place. I didn’t realise quite how much I loved Harry Potter, that building block of my childhood, until I started re-reading the books in preparation for this trip and revelled in the fandom once again. Those were precious memories from what is, undoubtedly, the most magical place on earth.

20160401_182550

Hiroshima and Miyajima

So once again, it’s back to the land of the rising sun, this time wearing my wedding ring for realsies! Beth and I are honeymooning here, and gratefully, Craig has agreed to third-wheel with us for part of the trip. Our days are both restful and exciting, and (once I got over the stress of flying and the culture shock of not being able to speak most of the language) I’m glad to be back.

 

The first city we stayed in was Hiroshima, and I’m grateful that we chose to spend a few extra days there this time. I think it was important to have a little more time so that we could unwind, as well as see the sights. I’ve since realised that, while it’s awesome to go to a new country and experience as much of it as possible, some of those experiences are allowed to be the very pleasurable act of sitting down after many hours of walking, seeing and doing. It seems married life has tempered me somewhat!

 

Hiroshima is beautiful. The roads there are ubanai (mad-cat dangerous), though the city has more open space than somewhere like Tokyo I think. We stayed in some backstreets not too far from the train station, and I really liked the quiet neighbourhood (though I suspect it didn’t like us as much as we laughed and played and dragged our luggage like noisy birds through the street at night).

 

We found our way to Hiroshima Castle, a beautiful place where we saw our first ever cherry blossoms in the peaceful grounds. We visited the shrine there where I did the closest thing to a proper hand-cleansing ritual (which I’ve learned through studying tea ceremony), though I hadn’t yet hastily googled how to pray properly. (Incidentally, it’s bow twice, clap twice, pray, bow again. It changes depending on the shrine though.)

20160325_124715

In the Castle proper they had an exhibit of samurai weapons and armour which I poured over in great detail. Poor Beth and Craig left me quite behind, just like in the ninja village of Iga where I was overtaken by the next tour group. The view from the top of the tower (and through the hatches for rifles to be poked out of!) was quite delightful, and it was a great pleasure to drink hot cocoa up there in that bracing castle air.

 

We also returned to Nagata-ya for Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which I have since learned is rude to refer to as “Hiroshima-style” (because it implies that there are other, possibly more correct styles), and is certainly not supposed to be flipped. I managed to finish mine, as well as pieces of Beth’s and Craig’s (not to mention some truly exquisite umeshu and smooth-af sake that made me slightly woozy).

 

We caught up with our good friend Aury and hit up Miyajima Island, which we didn’t get the chance to do last time. I never really got over how cute the deer were, and I was delighted to see one sniffing a toddler, reaching around him and pulling an open bucket of biscuits out of his backpack and then eating them while his family watched on in terror and delight. However, when a deer tried to eat Craig’s momijimanju (maple-leaf pancake) and head-butted his leg, I was so enraged and offended that I nearly head-butted it back.

20160326_113235

 

I also had one of the best experiences of my life: dressing up in full samurai armour, being handed a sword and then posing for photos with three other guys in armour. After a quick photo shoot, one of them asked if I had maybe 15 minutes to go for a walk to take more photos, and I readily agreed. While the photos were fun, what made the experience so precious to me was strolling through those ancient streets, my armour clattering as I stepped, peering through the slit between my mask and helmet, keeping my sword close to me as we passed through the crowd. As we walked, exclamations of “Samurai ga!” and “Sugoi!” came from all sides, and my companion couldn’t resist posing for more photos as he greeted people continuously with a friendly “Konnichi wa!”

20160326_123304

The island itself was truly beautiful. Flooded with tourists as it was, when we left the busy (delicious and attractive) streets and headed toward Mount Misen, it was like passing into another world. Seemingly empty ryokan were scattered by ancient shrines. A teahouse serviced by ladies in kimono, with a sliding door to enter stood nearby a sparkling stream. The design of the garden was so exquisite that, when I descending under the bridge on some artfully placed stones, I crossed the water and came up the bank on the other side without ever really thinking about the path, just looking for convenient places to put my feet. I was only when I reached the other side that I realised that the path had been sculpted very deliberately all along, and that it had been made so perfectly and so subtly that I wasn’t even aware it was there.

20160326_145003

Unfortunately, Beth became suddenly and seriously ill as we were climbing the mountain, and we didn’t have the chance to get to the ropeway (which I hoped was a cable car). Perhaps someday we’ll return to Miyajima for a deeper immersion into those quiet woods.

 

We’re on the way to Kyoto now, which I’m sure will be quite an adventure because our house (for the first time) is nowhere near a train station. Learning to catch buses (hopefully with the aid of googlemaps) will be a new challenge, and one I’m looking forward to.

 

Also, I can’t wait to get more Japanese arcading going on. Last night I found a game that let me punch a T-rex so hard its face fell off. I can’t wait to get back to a Taito station (or better yet, a Sega arcade with Toylets!) Ahh the pleasures of those smoky dens and all the taiko drumming my blistered hands can withstand. See you soon!

Painballing

I may have discovered a hidden talent of mine. Yesterday I celebrated my last week as an unmarried man by gathering my close male friends and shooting them with projectiles that travelled at 329km/hour. I had only been paintballing three times before then, with some measure of success but nothing outstanding. However at Paintball Skirmish (pretty good prices and a good variety of games, even if some of them were only a minute long) I seemed to find my calling.

 

I daresay I was the best player on the day: I usually shot three or four people per match, and I only got eliminated thrice in the ten games. I think my surprising success was due to an innate tactical knowledge, the ability to adjust strategies on the fly, and general skill with the paintball gun.

 

My previous experience had taught me that the trick to paintballing was to move frequently and be where the enemy did not expect you to be. The other 27 players largely found some cover, hunkered down and leaned out of cover to take pot shots at each other until someone got hit. Because headshots didn’t count in Paintball Skirmish, I felt safe to poke my head above a barricade and just survey the situation without fear of being eliminated. When I saw the opposition hide, I would move when they weren’t looking and catch them off guard.

 

Through this strategy, I was able to get well under the three meters required to force a surrender by charging around whatever they were taking cover behind and yelling “SURRENDER!” at them while shoving a gun in their face. (The last two of these was because I had run out of ammo and figured it would be more fun than waiting for the game to end.) While it was risky to be standing up exposed to the opposition team, waiting for the other person to throw their hand up and leave the field, no one shot me while I did it. I think the helmets of the other players (and the stress of the game) gave them tunnel vision, and they didn’t notice me taking out their team mates until I was in their face as well.

 

I found it very easy to use the paintball guns as well. Other people commented that the balls didn’t fly perfectly straight, and that it was hard to hit a target even if you were aiming right at it. For some reason it didn’t bother me the same way: I would take one shot at a target, adjust it based on that ball’s trajectory, and then usually hit the target with maybe one or two additional correcting shots. While they were haphazard, there was a general sense of direction, and I was even able to factor drop into my shots and fire over targets to hit people hiding behind them. It was easy to shoot one-handed as well, leaning my gun out of cover and then taking a few well-placed shots at targets. Through this skill, as well as moving from cover to cover, I single-handedly hit all six of the targets the fortress was attempting to defend.

 

I sucked a little more in the last few games, getting hit in the leg while behind cover. Not really sure how it happened, but kudos to whoever nailed me. The very last round where everyone was told to just get in there and discharge all their remaining ammunition at each other sucked royally. Because there were no longer any teams, there was nowhere safe to hide: I was constantly flanked, and his starting the game while I was standing in the middle of the field certainly didn’t help my cause. It was from this round that I acquired all my of bruises, one of which raised a lump on the back of my head. It was fun, but in the future I think I’ll avoid being shot from all sides.

 

Overall, definitely something I’d love to do again and see if I can improve on my tactical practice and skill. I’d like to try paintballing where headshots count (because it makes it riskier to survey the field) and see what difference it makes!

When Men Were Kind, Their Words Inviting

I had a friend, once.

 

In high school, Jecht was the rock that kept me from drifting downstream, never to be seen again. He was, at first, my only friend, my only ally against the crushing waves of opposition I faced. He offered me kindness when everywhere else I turned I received scorn, or worse, indifference.

 

I loved him from those early years, and I looked up to him. He inspired me to be as strong, talented, indeed as handsome as he was. There was nothing he could not do: literally everything he tried he excelled at (as far as I knew). In all the things I prided myself on, he bested me with little effort, and it both tore me apart and filled me with admiration. Such adventures we had together, exploring the limits of our human capacities, executing Operation Spiky Pineapple, jumping off balconies and waking up in the early hours of the morning, tanto in hand. He introduced me to more friends (by proximity, I suppose), and I felt nourished and included in ways I hadn’t experienced in years.

 

After high school we drifted apart. He wasn’t on social media as far as I knew, and eventually he stopped replying to my occasional calls and messages. I was worried at first, and then I realised he had probably changed numbers and forgotten to tell me.

 

One night when I was at a party (one of the only ones I’ve ever attended), I heard he had just arrived. In spite of myself, I was nervous he had been avoiding me and procrastinated seeking him out. By the time I’d plucked up the courage to speak to him, he had left. I have a fleeting memory of him walking away without turning to look at me.

 

Some time later, I happened upon him while ordering dinner: he was the waiter! When he saw and recognised me, we smiled and laughed and talked like times gone by. We taught me new things about The Legend of Zelda, my great love, and I became self-conscious of the way my unruly hair was, and how daggy my outfit appeared. I felt like I was fourteen, and he was a man, and I was greatly pleased that I had been mistaken about our friendship and that we were just as close as ever. He gave me his number (his old number! He’d never changed it!) and I walked home elated. I texted him that night and waited for a response.

 

A response never came. Months passed, and in desperation, I asked one of his friends how he was. It turns out his mother, whom I was very close to, had fallen very ill and he had not seen fit to tell me. I messaged his girlfriend on facebook asking for his new number, and she told me he didn’t want to speak to me at the moment. I racked my brain for a reason for this, if I had offended, neglected or upset him somehow, and could produce no possibilities. A year later, I messaged her again and asked if I had done anything wrong, and her silence was just as confirming as his.

 

I never did find out why Jecht stopped talking to me, though I’ve dreamed of him several times. I recall dreaming that I went to his house, his old house where so many memories were made, and seeing him and his brothers and being greeted like family again. I woke up with tears in my eyes when I realised it wasn’t real.

 

Last night I dreamed I saw him again, and I told him everything I’ve written here. He was angry, in the dream, but willing to explain why he had been avoiding me. He started telling me a complex metaphor that I didn’t understand before we were pressed to move, and the situation required us to stop talking. By the end of the dream, he hadn’t been able to tell me his reasons, though he had told me he was willing to give our friendship another chance. I thanked him for the opportunity, and woke up feeling… sad.

 

Jecht was one of the defining people of my life, there for me at a time when I was vulnerable, and there to inspire me at a time when my identity was impressionable. I wish I could stop dreaming about him, to let him go lovingly so that he stops wounding my heart with what could have been.

 

They are just dreams.