Camping, Sake, and Naked Irishmen
Originally written October 12, 2006
Good morning (or night to most of you),
I have finally recovered from the long weekend and I am proud to report that I have lived to tell the tale! For some reason I remember having the weekend as a time to rest from the work week and not the other way around, but that does not seem to be the case lately. About once a month we have these extended weekends for various bank holidays, etc so we put our fate (again) in AJET, more precisely in Hayden (remember the picture of the Kiwi passed out at 6 PM on my stairs during the typhoon party? same guy), and took off for a weekend of fun in Hiroshima to absorb some more radiation and sake.
Well, at least that’s what he told us. The itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Drive to Yamaguchi, crash at some JETs’ places.
Day 2: Drive to a campsite near Hiroshima for day, sleep in tents.
Day 3: Drive to Hiroshima for sake festival, sleep at hotel.
Day 4: Drive back.
Now here is what “actually” happened:
Day 1 (Friday): Drive from Nagasaki to Yamaguchi (first city on Honshu, the main island) in two vehicles-a rented van with 10 or so people and the other 4 in Larisa’s car. The trip was supposed to take 3 hours but only took an hour and a half. David did his best to spice up the trip by proffering his buttocks to the other vehicle in an ancient Irish right of passage called “mooning.” We had been promised a good time and places to stay from the Yamaguchi JETs. Unfortunately the 5 rooms we were promised were reduced to two. After several hours of Karaoke we crashed, packed in like sardines in one of our two allotted apartments. I slept on this weird sort of cushion/couch deal. The apartment belonged to a pretty chilled Californian named Sterling (and no, he didn’t get it when I inevitably said, “Like Sterling Marlin?”) and he was a pretty cool host. Upon our arrival, he took us to a Karaoke bar where there was much merriment to be had.
Day 2 (Saturday): We woke up in some sort of Karaoke haze/hangover. After Karaoke there is only one thought that surfaces, “Did I really sing that?!? And that can be any number of songs (ex: “Did I really sing White Snake?” “Did David and I really sing ‘Don’t Go Breaking my Heart?’ I hope I wasn’t Kiki Dee.” Further, it must be noted how the film Old School has forever shaped the Karaoke experience). We wound up (after great effort and unceremonious “goodbye’s” to our gracious hosts) at a place called Sunday Sun, which can only be described as a Japanese Denny’s. After some pancakes and french toast we hit the road again. David, in a (successful) attempt to stave off the impending hangover kept drinking and was back to his mooning ways in no time.
The area where the camp was located was really quite stunning. There is so much development in Japan that you can pretty easily forget that nature exists here as well. Colin, David, Erica (an American from North Carolina) and Susie (a Brit) went on a fairly long hike after our arrival. The area was fairly mountainous so the views were fantastic. We got back in time for the bar-b-que and (aside for David) we were the only sober people at that point. This is when the night turned down hill for me. I would think that at a certain point (sometime after or perhaps even during college) they would get tired of binge drinking. I have no problem with the occasional heavy night but EVERYNIGHT? Ugh. Now, I did not completely abstain but at no point did I find myself peeing off the top of a jungle gym in the center of camp. It got to the point where people were flat-out pissing me off. However, we did hold an impromptu poker tourney and I made a good bit of cash by the end of the night, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.
When we turned in, none of us had the slightest clue that this might be the worst night of sleep of our lives. The tents were situated on top of a hardwood floor (for some unknown reason) and with added discomfort of the cold we really could not wait for the morning to arrive. At one point Fleur ended up using my calf as a pillow-I was going to object but her head did provide a good bit of warmth so I let it slide. I woke up with rather large bruises from the hardwood-on both hips, my elbows, my knees, etc. and sandwiched between Colin and Fleur who were both using me for warmth. Good to feel loved. David, on the other hand, slept like a baby even though we had to move him during the night because he was lying diagonally across the tent. Only on Tuesday (ie: after he sobered up) did he admit to having some bruises from that night.
Day 3 (Sunday): Once again I was the first to rise and once I unwedged myself from between Fleur and Colin I went out for a nice walk. In stark contrast to the previous day the sun was shining and the weather had warmed considerably. When I arrived back at the tent site people were just beginning to stir and I knew I was in for a long wait. One of the many reasons I hate large groups is the sheer amount of time it takes to get anywhere. Eventually we hit the road only to find that the camp site was really no where near Hiroshima. Oh, and the sake festival wasn’t in Hiroshima either…and it ended at 5 PM. So we, under the impeccable leadership of Hayden, got to Hiroshima…and got lost finding our hotel. They eventually gave up and parked the cars (only to find out much later that they had missed the hotel by all of a block), and we took a train to the sake festival for a whole hour and a half. I was so exhausted, hungry and pissed off that I decided to fore go the sake altogether. I’m not sure where this other city was, but it was nice and they had a baseball team called “The Victorys” which I got a kick out of and not only because it was misspelled.
When we got back in Hiroshima there was a rumor circulating that there was a Subway sandwich shop nearby. I could hardly contain my joy. This rumor was confirmed by both the hotel concierge and one of the Hiroshima JETs. Although they did not have a meatball sub on the menu, I was more than pleased with my ham and cheese foot long. The girl that we went with nearly gave me her half-foot turkey sub, but Colin in a move of ultimate betrayal said, “well that’s dumb, why don’t you just save it for later.” Which, is precisely what I would have done. Colin then asked if I would have felt dumb carrying a half a sandwich around with me all night to bars and what not, but I care not about embarrassment-especially when it comes to good food. The better question would have been, “would everyone else feel dumb when I was eating a turkey sub the next day and they weren’t?”
The aforementioned bar, called “Shack” was easily the nicest surprise of the weekend. Most bars in Japan (especially in the Nag) are tiny, but this actually passed as a legitimate bar. Having stopped up for food and coffee I had found my second wind! After grabbing a scotch on the rocks and talking to Colin for a few minutes I noticed a dude and a cute girl waving frantically at me. It was smokey and I certainly didn’t recognize the cute chick so I looked behind me to see if it was a mistake, figured it was and went back to drinking. Here, it should be noted that I had been mistaken earlier in the day by a couple of British JETs-one of whom looked strikingly like Matt Damon-if Matt Damon were about 6’3″.
I was on the train coming back from the sake festival and this guy came up to me and said, “Hey! you’re the bloke who was doing the drumming!”
He turned to his friend, and his friend agreed.
“No, that wasn’t me.”
“Yeah, you were on the stage…”
“At the festival?”
And so it went for several minutes.
Anyway, back to the main story-so after a few more minutes I go to get another drink, walking past the people who had obviously mistaken me for someone else when I hear, “ZACH!” I looked up, and sure enough, it wasn’t a mistake, it was Ross (Paul’s Friend) who I had not seen since Tokyo. Great, now I felt like a jackass. I excused myself to get another adult beverage, then worked my way back and had a nice chat with him. He too was up for the sake festival but had gone the previous day which made a whole lot of sense in retrospect. We agreed to crash each others’ places at some point in the year and parted ways again.* I returned after several more drinks and slept like a baby in the comfort of a legitimate hotel (even if I did sleep on the floor again because of our Leader’s insistence on saving a few extra yen).
Day 4 (Monday): Once again, I was first to rise and I made my way down to the coffee shop next to the hotel for some breakfast in peace. I had some overpriced fruit and coffee and read the newspaper-it was great. When I arrived back at the hotel I noticed that the internet in the lobby was free (both as in cost and absence of anyone on the computer) so I jumped on to catch up on sports. Anyone watching at the appropriate moment would have seen my chin physically drop-Tennessee had dropped 51 on Georgia in a surprising come-from-behind win. I was so thrilled that I spent several minutes texting the first couple of verses and the chorus of “Rocky Top” to Dan (along with the final score) out of sheer joy. I had to share it with someone. Dan, being from a) not UT and b) England did not understand whatsoever.
Eventually we worked our way back onto the road. This time David (who was still drinking) made his way to the van which was fine because that gave us more room in the car. The plan had been for me to also switch over to the van because Fleur had to pick up some packages from Fukuoka, but I would wait as long as possible because there is only so much Guns ‘n’ Roses and Bryan Adams (two of Haydens favs) a man can take. After less than half an hour on the road David and Aaron were completely naked in the van. I spent much of the drive sending Colin remarks via text message (a la The 40-year-old Virgin), “You know how I know you’re gay? You are in a van with two naked dudes.” I judged his lack of responses as a sign of his displeasure. Well, they ended up forgetting about our little agreement to switch cars so I guess the last laugh was on me…
…How do I tell this story? Well, first it must be noted that Japan inspects everything that comes into the country. And second, that they have rather odd laws about what is and is not allowed in. Anyone recalling the Beef Jerky Incident knows what I am talking about. Well, Fleur’s mother had sent a lot of her winter clothes along with some food including this herbal tea from South America called “Coco Tea.” Her doctor had recommended it. Well, apparently the Japanese government was not so keen on the idea of the tea getting into the country and spent the next 2 HOURS investigating the matter while Larisa and I waited in another room. They reluctantly let her go, but would not allow her to take the boxes and she has to go back again this weekend for an investigation. She was crying when she got back to us as they kept telling her that she was in “trouble.” Whatever that means. They told her as much this week as well. I keep telling her that if they were going to arrest her they would have already done so, but this doesn’t seem to comfort her much. Not that I can blame her in the least bit. In the end, I’m glad that I got stuck in Fukuoka because I at least have a much better story to tell. How this crazy story will end, I have no clue-so please stay tuned. Oh, and please don’t send me tea.
Well, we got back rather late on Monday night completely exhausted from the long weekend. I think we all decided this would be the last such weekend of debauchery for a while and parted ways. It was a long, strange weekend and I have finally learned my lesson to never let Hayden plan as much as a trip to the park in the near future. I have turned my attention to our next big break over winter holidays and the “Golden Week” in May.** This time I will be planning the trip and with only a handful of carefully picked friends. The great thing about organizing something like this is a) no one wants to do it so they implicitly trust you (bwahahaha!) and b) you can do what you want. Everyone, send love and look for another e-mail soon on the unexpected difficulties of teaching at elementary schools!
From The People’s Socialist Republic of Japan with love,
*Editors note: I’ve neither seen nor heard from Ross since this random meeting.
**Editors note: No such trip was planned.