Archive for category Team Awesome Sauce
It was a lot of fun rewriting the posts about my friends’ visit to Japan. My original blog posts ranged from two sentences to a paragraph each, which was not nearly long enough to properly describe the events. Using a combination of my original blog posts, pictures from the time, and recent conversations with some of the guys, I was able to flesh out some of the details.
There are a few small things that got missed in the daily updates:
Flounder stands out: Flounder was stared at almost everywhere we went because he was gigantic compared to most people. He actually started counting the number of people staring at him on each day. He was in the double digits but stopped counting when we walked by a few hundred elementary school kids.
So much Playstation: We played a lot of Playstation while working off our hangovers. The most popular game was WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain. I only had two PS2 controllers, so two players had to use PS1 controllers that we borrowed from Lux. Since taunts were only usable on the PS2 controllers, we had to impose a house rule banning them.
Hippies like gyoza: Hippie took a serious liking to gyoza from Shop 99 – the awesome 99 yen store near Hello House. I have never seen someone so enthusiastically demolish an entire package. “I like dumplings” because his catch phrase for the trip.
Laryngitis: I had a bit of a sore throat when the guys arrived. They bombarded me with so many questions about everything around us that I actually lost my voice completely a few times in the first days of their visit.
Are we there yet: On our many train rides, the guys would annoy me by asking which station we needed to get off at. Then they would ask how many stops were left. Then they would ask me which station again. Then they asked how many stops now. It was a variation on the classic “are we there yet”. I told them to just get off the train when I did and to stop asking questions.
To stop this game, I got off the train unexpectedly at a station on Odakyu line with no explanation. All of the guys followed me off the train and then I jumped back on suddenly. They all scrambled to get back on the train before the doors closed. I though this was hilarious. They didn’t appreciate the humour.
Representing Canada: Like most Canadians, we proudly displayed the Canadian flag in our travels. However, all the flags got put away when we were drinking and acting like idiots. This was something we learned in our fraternity days – don’t act stupid while wearing fraternity letters.
Not everyone can read Japanese: On one of our Tokyo adventures, I needed to hit a bank machine. I told the guys to meet me at the coffee shop across the street. They asked which coffee shop. I told them it was the only coffee shop on the street. They still didn’t see it. At this point I realized the problem: the coffee shop sign was in Japanese and I was the only person who could read it.
Thailand: If you are standing on a train holding on to the handle and someone asks you what the capital of Thailand is, you are about to get punched in the junk.
The final word:
It has been ten years since my friends came to visit me in Japan. We don’t always see each other very often, but when we do we always have fond memories of our 17 day adventure in Japan. We have all grown up since that time and now all have real jobs. The crazy guys who had a non stop karaoke, video game and booze filled vacation are now a professional accountant, an elementary school teacher, a train conductor, a corporate account manager and something to do with military intelligence. Hippie and I were in each other’s wedding parties and I look forward to setting up play dates with my newborn son and Flounder’s soon to arrive baby.
If I hadn’t joined a fraternity in University I likely would never have met Code Red, Green, Hippie, or Flounder. There are some people who say that joining a fraternity is just a way to buy some friends. If that’s the case, I didn’t pay nearly enough.
Today my friends all returned to Canada. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the terrible travel agent booked Flounder on a flight leaving Narita airport at 2:00pm for Chicago, while Code Red, Hippie and Green were on a 4:00pm flight to Chicago. Hippie lost his ticket, so we decided to all get to the airport early so he could fill out some paperwork at United Airlines and get a replacement.
The guys had spent nearly all of the money that they brought with them from Canada, so we decided to take the less expensive, slower route to the airport. We took the Odakyu line from Noborito to Shinjuku, Yamanote line to Nippori, then Keisei line to the airport. This route takes twice as long as the Narita Express, but only costs half as much. Taking giant suitcases on busy trains is never a fun experience.
On the Keisei line we were seated next to a father and his young son. The young boy kept staring at our group, especially Flounder. Flounder turned to him and said “hi”, which caused the boy to hide behind his father for the rest of the train ride.
When we arrived at the airport, we all went directly to the United Airlines departure area. Hippie explained his situation and paid to get a replacement for his lost ticket. When talking to the staff, they looked up the tickets for the other members of the group. It turns out that the travel agent had moved Code Red, Hippie and Green to the 2:00pm flight without telling them. If Hippie hadn’t lost his ticket then he, Code Red and Green might have all missed their flight home! I wish I knew the name of the travel agent so I could publicly shame them here.
Everyone got checked in, and I said goodbye to my friends before they went through the security gate. The past 17 days had been a lot of fun, but I was ready to get back to my regular life in Japan. Also, my liver needed to recover from the never ending deluge of inexpensive beer.
I left the airport to start the two hour trip back to Hello House and proceeded to have one of the laziest, most relaxing days I had experienced in a long time.
The guys are leaving tomorrow, so after returning from our rainy day in Kamakura, everyone slowly started packing. We also watched the hockey game on the Hello House TV (Calgary lost again) and tried to finish any leftover alcohol from Canada.
All of the guys booked their flights through a travel agent in Green’s home town in northern Alberta. The travel agent was a friend of Green’s father. For some unknown reason, the travel agent booked all of the tickets from Winnipeg to Chicago to Tokyo instead of the faster, easier Winnipeg to Vancouver to Tokyo. Also, not everyone was on the same flight home. Flounder was flying solo at 2:00pm, while Green, Code Red and Hippie were on a 4:00pm flight.
During the packing, Hippie couldn’t find his ticket. He carefully checked all of his bags and still couldn’t find it. We searched my room that Hippie and I had been staying in from top to bottom – no ticket. Flounder, Code Red and Green searched through their room and suitcases carefully – still no ticket. After about an hour of careful searching, we took to the phone.
Due to the time, we couldn’t get in touch with the airlines. Green called the travel agent and someone in the office answered the phone. Green explained that he and his friends were in Japan, leaving tomorrow, and one of them lost a ticket. The travel agent told Green that they were closed and hung up on him. Hippie then turned to his last resort – calling his parents for help.
We got a call back at 4:30am from Hippie’s father who had just talked to United Airlines. Hippie could show up at the airport with ID and fill out a lost ticket form. He would receive a new ticket in exchange for $100 US dollars. Hippie was not thrilled about having to pay, but was happy that we would be able to go home.
It turns out that Hippie losing his ticket was a good thing for the whole group, but we didn’t find out until we got to the airport…
(2014 Update) It’s hard to imagine that only 10 years ago it was that difficult to get in touch with an airline.
Today was the last full day in Japan for my visitors. Breaking with our trend, we all actually got up early. The plan for the day was to meet The Penpal and her friends in Kamakura and see some of the sights. It was raining steadily as we left Hello House for the station.
We met up with The Penpal and friends, and got a quick lunch before sightseeing. During lunch, Flounder was trying to teach some rude English to the Japanese people in our group. He was trying to convince them that “motherf**ker” was a commonly used word between friends, and provided various examples. I think Flounder believes that we all live in a 70’s blaxploitation film.
After lunch we started our sightseeing at Hachiman-gu shrine. Despite the rain we saw yet another traditional wedding. From Hachiman-gu we walked to Daibutsu. By this point the rain was bucketing down and we were all soaked, even with umbrellas. Almost nobody carries an umbrella in Winnipeg, so Code Red, Hippie, Green and Flounder were all having umbrella fights as we walked.
At Daibutsu we spent most of our time under cover trying to stay out of the rain. Since the rain didn’t let up, we decided to go back towards the station and find an indoor activity to do. We went to – you guess it – another game center. The game center had a large selection of print club machines. Print club machines are large photo booths that are popular with teenage girls. You can take your pictures with various backgrounds and then draw on the pictures or add cute pictures. At the end the machine prints out copies of your pictures. We loaded all 8 guys in our group into the print club machine and took some ridiculous pictures. After the game center, we found some nearby karaoke where we sang and ate.
We returned to Hello House soaked to the bone after a fun day. Going to Kamakura is always good, but today was was even more exciting because I got to introduce my girlfriend to my friends.
I had to work today, leaving my visitors to their own devices. At work I had a one on one class with a kid known around Kawasaki NOVA as “Notorious”. I expected the worst and was pleasantly surprised.
When I returned home, I found the guys drunk and grumpy from a bad experience in Kabukicho during the day. Apparently they went out to see strippers. In the strip club they ended up having some drinks and singing karaoke with one of the dancers. When it came time to settle up the bill, there were charges for singing with the dancer on the bill. Some of the guys didn’t want to pay, as they were not told in advance that there would be any charge. To avoid an argument with the establishment, Flounder settled the bill and then tried to get the rest of the group to pay him back.
The money was the main reason why everyone was grumpy, however we were all at the point in our vacation where we had been spending entirely too much time together. Being with the same people 24 hours a day for two weeks is a whole lot of togetherness.
In the evening, Code Red and Hippie stayed at Hello House, while Flounder, Blue and I went out with Lux and some of the other Hello House residents to a nearby izakaya for beer and grilled mochi.
(2014 Update) I have heard a few different versions of what caused the money dispute at the strip club, but this version seems plausible. Since I was at work and all of the participants were drunk, it’s possible that I will never know for sure. Not surprisingly, there are no pictures from that day!
I had to work today. The guys went to a sword museum in Tokyo, and then met up with me outside Kawasaki station at the end of my shift. They all requested another night out in Shibuya. We spent our time in game centers and then went back to Don Quijote, this time sober enough to fully enjoy the experience. Green and I both bought small beer chilling machines which claim to cool a beer from room temperature to drinking temperature in 90 seconds. For the price of 2000 yen this seemed like a reasonable gamble.
We got to Shibuya station a bit early to avoid any chance of missing the last train. Our route home was the always crowded Keio line to Shimokitazawa, and then Odakyu line to Noborito. When we got to the platform we saw the second last train loading up. It was literally wall to wall people. This gave us a chance to see Japan’s famous train pushers for the first time. They are railway staff that push all of the arms and legs into a crowded train car so the doors can close. If you want a true Japan cultural experience, you have to see the train pushers in action.
We went to the front of the line and waited for the last train of the evening to arrive. We were in the last train car standing against the back wall of the car in a row. I regretted my purchase of the beer cooling cube as I had to awkwardly straddle it while the train car filled up. By the time the train was ready to leave, the train car was packed like sardines and we were pressed up against the back wall. Due to my awkward straddling position, a nearby drunk man tried to use me as a seat.
As we got moving, a drunk woman crawled between Flounder’s legs and started looking like she was going to be sick. Flounder described the situation to me as “It’s like a game of leapfrog, but nobody’s jumping!”. Everyone in the area who could understand language was laughing at the situation.
When we got closer to Shimokitazawa station, I instructed the guys that we had to get off the train quickly and run to Odakyu line. I let them know that we only had a few minutes to make our connection before the Odakyu line left. I made very clear to them that if they didn’t get off the train before the doors closed, that they would have no way of getting back to Hello House.
At Shimokitazawa the doors opened and a crowd of people started flowing out of the train. Japan is a usually very polite and orderly country, except on crowded trains. When the train is crowded, anything goes. Hippie, Code Red, Green and I all forced our way off the train, but Flounder was trapped behind a man who stood directly in the doorway with his arms crossed.
Flounder yelled out “I can’t get off the train!”. I replied “you HAVE to get off the train NOW”.
Flounder, hearing the urgency in my voice, decided that desperate times called for desperate measures. He tried to go left – not enough space. He tried to go right – too crowded. He then grabbed the door blocker by his elbows, picked him up, and carried him off the train.
The door blocking man was furious at being picked up like a toy and moved out of the way. He turned around angrily and found himself staring directly into the middle of Flounder’s chest. As he slowly looked up at the giant smiling gaijin, he decided that he wasn’t all that angry anymore and quickly got on the train without a word. The nearby people on the platform thought this was hilarious. Flounder simply shrugged and told me “you said I had to get off the train now”. We all continued laughing as we ran for the Odakyu line to catch the last train back to Hello House.
Description on the beer cooling machine:
Drinking a glass of beer helps yourself release fatigue and mental stress after you come back home. Just pull down the lever and get a chilled canned beer for your relaxing time. COOLING CUBE creates a healing time and space beyond reality for you. Since 2002.
(Author’s note) My memories of the evening are a bit fuzzy, and the notes from my original blog post are vague, so I am doing my best to reconstruct the events.
After witnessing the 20 Frosty challenge in the morning, we all had a relaxing afternoon at Hello House before heading out in the evening for Thursday evening karaoke. Green was still not feeling well, so he was a lot more restrained than usual. I believe the rest of the group decided to do some pre-drinking at Hello House.
We rode Nanbu line to Kawasaki and then took Tokaido line to Yokohama in order to meet up with my usual Thursday evening karaoke group. When everyone assembled, we all walked to Big Echo. Unlike the previous week, Code Red had left his video camera back at Hello House.
We had two fun hours of karaoke, making good use of the “all you can drink” policy of our karaoke room. Green was not drinking much, so Flounder, Hippie, Code Red, and I all decided to pick up the slack.
During the evening, one of Jem’s roommates, let’s call her Rana, was flirting with Code Red hard. Code Red was wearing a t-shirt featuring Stewie from Family Guy. On the walk back to Yokohama station, Jem’s roommate told Code Red that she really liked his shirt, and wanted to trade. Code Red did not want to trade his Stewie shirt for Rana’s shirt. She kept asking, and he kept refusing.
At this point, Green, Flounder, Hippie and I decided to act like helpful gentlemen and get Rana the shirt she wanted. We grabbed Code Red and pulled off his Stewie shirt while we were walking through the shopping area of Yokohama station. We handed the shirt to Rana, and then she proceeded to remove her shirt to give to Code Red.
While Code Red was shirtless, we all started slapping his exposed back, leaving huge red hand prints. Yes, this is the kind of thing that drunk frat boys do when they like each other.
Unsurprisingly, the spectacle of a shirtless gaijin guy being attacked by his friends while a gaijin female removed her shirt in a major train station attracted some attention. We received a lot of stares and laughs from people passing by, and also got noticed by the train station security staff, who watched us carefully as we bought tickets and waited on the platform.
Although he probably could have turned the “give my shirt back” game into a night outside of Hello House, Code Red instead insisted that he get his Stewie t-shirt back before our train came. Rana reluctantly agreed and they again swapped shirts.
At some point during our excitement, we actually lost Hippie for a few minutes. I can’t exactly remember the details, but he did turn up before the train left.
Through most of our adventures so far, Green had been the drunk crazy guy. With Green taking it easy, we all stepped up our game. As it turned out, our group was better when we only had one designated drunk crazy guy rather than four.
Today was a nice, hot, sunny day. Just after noon we went to the nearby Wendy’s near Mukogaokayuen station. We all had lunch, and Green decided to get a Frosty from the 100 yen value menu. A Frosty is a thick 100 yen chocolate milkshake that comes with a spoon.
Green made a big deal about how delicious his Frosty was, and how he would enjoy eating another. Flounder asked him if he could eat two more Frosties, and Green said that he could. One of us asked if he could eat three more Frosties, which again got an affirmative response. This started a process of escalation, and after a few minutes Green had agreed to eat 20 Frosties in one hour. The rules were clarified: the 20 Frosties would consist of the one he had already eaten, plus 19 more.
Hippie, Code Red and I also wanted to have a frosty each, so I taught Green how to say “22 Frosties please” in Japanese. He walked up to the counter and said “ni-juu-ni Frosty kudasai”. The lady at the counter was naturally confused, thinking that Green actually wanted two Frosties. He tried again, and this time the lady held up two fingers to confirm. Green called me over to translate. I explained in my best Japanese that my friend really loves Frosties, and he is actually trying to order 22. She started laughing and then proceeded to start filling up 22 value size Frosties from the machine. The machine actually ran out half way through, so we were sent to the table with half of our order with the other half coming shortly.
The timer started and Green impressively started eating. He raced through Frosties two to ten in a blur of plastic spoons and ice cream. At the end of the tenth frosty he was starting to shiver, both from the large quantity of ice cream that he was eating, and also from the large air conditioning unit that we were seated under. We agreed to move the challenge outside in the sun. By the time we got outside, Green was looking a bit, well, green. I told him that I would be impressed if he could eat just two more Frosties. He picked up his spoon, and slowly, painfully forced down Frosties number 11 and 12. At this point he said he was done, and the rest of us worked on eating the remainder of the Frosty order.
After a few minutes of letting our food settle, we got up to walk back to Hello House. Green suddenly announced that he didn’t feel well and then proceeded to run behind Wendy’s to unload 12 Frosties at high speed, along with his lunch. This magical moment was captured on video camera by Code Red. Green survived the walk back to Hello House and then proceeded to sleep for about three hours.
Kids – don’t try to eat 20 Frosties in an hour. They look small, but the volume adds up quickly.
After visiting some of the man made attractions in Nikko, we decided to visit some of the natural attractions. The Nikko area is famous for waterfalls. There are many famous falls in the area, but we decided on Jakko Falls because it was one of the closest to our current location. It looked pretty close in Flounder’s lonely planet guidebook, but the distance was actually 3.5km from Tosho-gu.
We started walking along the road, noticing that we were starting to walk slightly uphill. With only Lonely planet as our guide, we missed a turn and started to second guess our route. Some road signs were misleading and we ended up making a few small circles before finally finding a sign for Jakko falls showing that we still had 2km to go.
We were all tired by this point, but decided that we weren’t going to go back until we found waterfalls. We turned off the main road and started walking up a narrow road towards the falls, this time at a much steeper angle. Code Red, Hippie, Green and I were doing reasonably well with all the walking, but big Flounder was continuously falling behind. Every five minutes or so we would stop, have a nice cool drink, and wait for Flounder to catch up to us. When he caught up we would start walking again. This was great for us, but the one person who really needed to take a break was walking continuously.
Our 2km walk included a 300m vertical climb. By the time we got to the falls, we were all sweaty and tired. The falls were impressive, and we all had a nice relaxing rest near the bottom while getting splashed with cool mist. There are likely more impressive waterfalls in the world, or even in the area, but after all the walking we truly appreciated Jakko falls. We earned our view.
After a break we started our 5.2km walk back to the station, which thankfully was downhill the entire way. We walked back towards the main road in great spirits, singing Weezer songs at the top of our lungs and listening to them bounce off the nearby mountains. My apologies to the few houses in the area for our impromptu musical performance. By the time we got back to the station we had walked a total of 11.5km, not counting our walking around at Tosho-gu or our time getting lost while searching for Jakko falls. I think we all slept on the train back towards Tokyo.
Special Bonus Story: On the last leg of our trip home, Flounder started to let us know that he needed a bathroom break, and it wasn’t something that could be dealt with in a standing position. Most train stations in Japan only have the terrifying squat style toilets. I asked him to describe his level of distress on a scale of 1 to 10, and he answered 7. I tried to convince him that he could make it all the way back to Hello House.
A few minutes later the distress level had skipped 8 and was now firmly at 9. Getting back to Hello House and its safe conventional toilet was no longer an option. After getting some basic instructions on how to use the squat toilet and which train to take to Noborito, Flounder rushed off the train somewhere on the Odakyu line to find a washroom.
We got back to Hello House, both laughing at Flounder’s situation and worried that he would get lost somewhere in Tokyo never to be seen again. About 15 minutes later he showed up, smiling and relived. We all excitedly asked him about his brave experience using a squat toilet. His response: “Bullseye”.
(2014 Update 1) Always wear comfortable shoes when sightseeing in Japan. You will always end up walking more than you expected. Having a device with a GPS is also incredibly helpful.
(2014 Update 2) It took me another year before I finally had to use a squat toilet in Japan. I have already written up the post. Trust me – it’s going to be a good one.
The site of today’s adventure was Nikko, a famous tourist area north of Tokyo. Nikko is most famous for being the home of Nikko Tosho-gu, a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu. It is known as one of the most impressive shrines in all of Japan.
Since our train ride was an expected three hours, we actually got an early start to our day. Our goal was to get to Kita-Senju, where we would board a limited express train with reserved seats. Unfortunately when we got to Kita-Senju, nobody could give accurate information on what to do next. I asked five different people and got five completely different answers. With minutes before the train left, a train station employee rushed us to the platform without tickets, but got us to the wrong train. We eventually gave up and took the regular express train towards Tobu Nikko station.
Going to Nikko was the first time that we actually got out of the greater Tokyo area. It was strange to finally be out of the grip of the massive city. The city itself is surrounded by mountains and trees, and was further from the ocean than I had been in my entire time in Japan. The weather was beautiful, and we happily started walking the 2.3km from the station towards Rinno-ji temple.
Rinno-ji is a complex of 15 Buddhist temples founded in year 766. Highlights include 3 large gold leaf Buddha statues and a large meditation garden. The buildings we saw were the oldest I had seen so far in Japan – nearly 500 years older than the Daibutsu in Kamakura. It really is an awesome experience being in a place that has been around for 1200 years. Canada is a fairly young country, so the “old” buildings are in the range of 300-400 years old, mere children compared to the structures in Rinno-ji.
After our time wandering around Rinno-ji, we headed towards the main attraction – Tosho-gu. We walked for another half kilometer from Rinno-ji to the main gate of Tosho-gu, the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu. I was looking forward to this as Tokugawa Ieyasu was one of my favourite figures from Japanese history. He continued the work of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi in restoring a central government in Japan after over a hundred years of warring kingdoms. Tosho-gu was built in 1617 and dedicated to Ieyasu.
Unlike many plain shrines in Japan, Tosho-gu is showy and elaborate. Detailed, colourful carvings cover every wall and gate. There are beautiful statues everywhere. Tosho-gu is also home to the famous wise monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil). I could post all of our pictures and they still wouldn’t do the shrine justice. It is quite simply a must visit place in Japan.
We explored the entire shrine, and took a brief rest near the resting place of Ieyasu himself. By this time we were all getting hungry, and left the shrine in search of food. We ate delicious noodles at a small soba and udon stand outside of the shrine. Our day was fantastic already, but we weren’t done yet.
(2014 update) Rinno-ji is closed for restoration until 2020. If you are in Japan and have the time to make a day trip from the Tokyo area, go to Nikko. Seriously.