To start at the beginning: At around 7pm on the night of Christmas Day 2004 I began my latest travel and holiday experience -- a 10-day vacation from my regular collection of jobs in Tokyo Japan. Initially I had planned to go clubbing with my lesbian cousin K. who lives in London but who can speak perfect Japanese, and who wanted to spend Christmas in the Land of the Rising Sun. She wanted to check out the girly clubs and bars in Tokyo, and we had made many email plans to hit Roppongi, and go shopping in Shibuya, and so on. I was calling it the "Lesbian Christmas", and I hoped it would give me fertile material for a raunchy website. My cousin, unfortunately, has a tradition of disappointing me. I even went to the trouble of setting up this website -- lesbainjapan,html -- in anticipation of our visit. I spent a couple of feverish days improving my Japanese because she is fluent in the language, and I wanted to show that I was not just another ignorant gaijin. But she flaked me out, as she has flaked me out before -- in fact, the entire reason I live in Japan is that she seduced me into moving here, and then flaked me out and left the day before I arrived. Nonetheless, in the late hours of Christmas Day 2004, at the time we were due to go clubbing in Roppongi, it became clear that she either hadn't arrived in Japan, or she had arrived and she couldn't or didn't want to see me. Perhaps the latter two are both true, in that indeterminate feminine way of thinking. It became clear to me that the Lesbian Christmas wasn't going to happen. I began to worry that I would spend 10 days hanging around the house, feeling sorry for myself. I had to come up with an alternate plan!
Before going on, in this paragraph on the right-hand side you will see an ad for Korean Ginseng Drink. This little wonder, available around the world in your local Korean grocery shop, powered me throughout the Lesbian Christmas holidays which were to follow. Even now as I type this blog entry, listening to K's 7th Avenue, I can feel the power of Ginseng surging through me. It is a smart drug of excellent quality. The music sounds so clear and so full, I can hear every note. I was lying in bed earlier watching the snow fall from the sky, and it was an amazing experience -- like watching a snowfall for the very first time -- vivid and intense. Given the heady schedule I have decided to give myself these holidays, Ginseng is what I need to boost me up when I am waiting for a train at 6am on a cold platform, or staying up all night in a club. I recommend Ginseng for anyone travelling because it will not only give you an energy rush, it will smarten your perception and increase your appreciation of the beauty of the world!
Anyway, after a Boxing Day spent moping around the house wondering what had befallen K., I pulled myself together, and decided to make my own fun for the holidays. I went to the JR ticket office at Shibuya Station and bought the Seishun 18 Kippu, an excellent five-day pass for rail travel in Japan. This is great value for budget travellers -- it only costs 11,500 yen for five days of unlimited rail travel. The only hitch is, you have to ride the slow trains. From Tokyo, for example, it would take roughly nine hours and typically one to four transfers (in winter: read long waits on draughty platforms in the middle of nowhere) to reach Kyoto. On the mighty shinkansen bullet train such a trip would take less than three hours, but the ticket costs more than five times as much. It is all about the trade off between time and money. Actually, I am short of both at the moment, but I do enjoy slowly rambling through the more obscure corners of Japan. So I bought my Seishin 18 Kippu, and on Wednesday, December 28, in brilliant sunshine and under a wide blue sky, I took to the tracks. Perhaps the subtitle for the next part of this story should be called: AIMING FOR MATSUMOTO.
Armed with my "Spirit of Youth" pass and fortified with a bottle of Korean Ginseng Drink, I headed to Shinjuku station and transfered to the Chuo Line. My first stop was Takao, west of Tokyo, the hometown of my Australian buddy Chris Mae. I sent Chris a keitai mail, but there was no response, so I changed trains and continued moving west, towards Ohtsuki. By about this time the Ginseng I drank several hours earlier had come online, and I began to feel an amazing sense of clarity. It was like my vision had improved, and I became struck by the beauty of the sunlit world passing outside -- the deep brown rugged hills and mountains, covered with forests of dry pines. Sunlight streamed all over me, and energy perked me up -- I was filled with a sense of ease and the simple happiness of being alive. Next stop was Ohtsuki ("Big Moon" in Japanese), where I changed for the train to Koufu ("First Capital" in Japanese). After some appealing views of the mountains and valleys packed with small villages and towns, I arrived at Koufu, which I believe is the capital of Yamanashi Prefecture. I spent an hour or so looking around -- not much to see, but some nice mountain peaks in the distance -- and a relaxed country town feel.
According to the Prefectural authorities: "Kofu City, the capital of Yamanashi Prefecture is located almost in the center of the prefecture, surrounded by Japan Southern Alps and Oku-chichibu mountain ranges, some of the mountains are as high as almost 3,000 meters. The city is a hometown of Takeda Shingen Ko, the renowned general of the civil war period in the 16th century. Kofu City was flourished as a castle town, posting station and commercial center. Currently, Kofu City has been developed not only as the economic, cultural and industrial center in Yamanashi Prefecture, but also is endowed with nature, including the most beautiful valley in Japan, Mitake-Shosenkyo, and the citizens are proud of its seasonal beauty."
To be honest there wasn't that much to see, and after about an hour or so, I was ready to move on. A conundrum: at this point the line forked, one route going down to Fuji (offering promising view of the venerable old volcano), another heading off to Matsumoto. I had of course made reaching Matsumoto my mission for the day but had become despondent -- it was already getting late and Matsumoto seemed further away than I had expected. In the end, I took the train as far as Nirasaki, a beautiful tranquil little mountain town with stunning views, and decided to turn back. Another seven months would pass before I had another chance to return to this part of the world -- and this time I would be able to make it to Matsumoto! But for now, I had to abandon my Matsumoto ambitions. In the process, I began a brand new and probably more interesting adventure.
Anyway, returning to Tokyo, almost by chance, I bumped into my aforementioned Australian friend Chris at Takao. He gave me some good news -- his brother Garnet (my old college buddy and petty criminal/guerilla movie director) will be in Nihon in time for New Years Eve festivities! It will be something to look forward to!
Later that night, back in Tokyo, I finally got word from my cousin K. She was in Japan after all, and claimed she had lost my phone number, which is why she could't get in contact with me. An unlikely excuse! As she was leaving Japan to return to London the next day, it would be impossible for us to meet, she said. Whatever. I can still enjoy my Seishun 18 Kippu, and party with Garnet and others in Roppongi on New Years Eve. I know who my friends are!
I used the second day of my Seishun 18 Kippu to tour the snow country of Niigata Prefecture, getting as far as Koide, one of my favourite regions of Japan.
The snow I had savoured in Niigata Prefecture moved towards eastward, and dumped itself on Tokyo, turning the normally grey monotone streets an alluring shade of white. It was an amazing New Years Eve, and I cemented it with a visit to my friend Chris's pad in Takao. His brother Garnet and eccentric mother Elaine were there, and after a satisfying traditional Japanese New Years dish of toshi-koshi soba and pickled Polish mushrooms, Garnet and I headed into town, to celebrate the coming of 2005.
As New Years parties typically are, it ended up being something of a disappointment. Maybe I am just over the sleazy nightclub scene -- over getting jostled around in smokey, overcrowded clubs. Suffice to say, we visited Club Vanilla (formerly Club Pylon) in Roppongi, and the music sucked, and I saw at least one hand-job taking place on the dancefloor. I went home, and slept all day. The following night (January 1) I made some magic happen in my life, and I manifested a date with the beautiful M., which will be probably held on January 9 or 10. I was surpised -- my recent magic-making attempts have failed recently, but it seems the Slump has come to an end, and a new age of manifestation has begun. And it will be so good to see M. in a week or so, and to think that we have a future together, where I thought there was no future before.
For my next two Seishun 18 Kippu adventrues I decided to head south, principally because I had never travelled more than a few hours in that direction (apart from a shinkansen trip to Nagoya in 2001).
Atami has been described as a a popular onsen resort (which) has lost the luster it had during the bubble era days when it was a favorite get away for honeymooners and Tokyo executives with their secretaries." I agree it does seem a little jaded, and the beach is nothing spectacular -- in fact nothing is very spectacular there compared to some of the great beach resorts of the world, but by Japanese grime standards, it is not so bad. Further along the Tokaido line the train heads inland, and the mildly gorgeous ocean views morph into craggy brown mountain slopes, vegetable fields and little rusty looking industrial towns. It is amazing how rapid the transformation occurs, from the affluence of the greater Tokyo city region, to the drab reality of rural Japan. Nonetheless, the mountain views can be striking, and none more striking than that of the grand-daddy of them all, Mt Fuji.
After a short time on the rails, the venerable old Fuji gets bigger and bigger, and you realise you are actually skirting on the massive southern rim of the volcano. For a better view I stopped off at a little town called Fuji, a fairly worn-out rustbelt habitation featuring a rustic pathway leading through some fairly comfortable sunshine, towards the snow-decked volcanic cone. It was cool to walk along it among the sparrows and soft winds, for half-an-hour or so.
Another attraction of the Tokaido line, which I first visited in early 2001, is the historic city of Odawara. According to the Hakone Fuji website: "This old castle town (of 170,000 souls) serves as the main gateway to Hakone district. Facing Sagami Bay, the city commands a fine view of the sea. About 10 minutes walk from Odawara station is the Odawara Castle-site Park. There you can visit a five-story donjon (main structure of the castle), which was restored in 1960. On exhibit inside the donjon are various historical items connected with the old town, ancient suits of armor and swords, and folk arts and crafts. In the park there is a zoo, a recreation ground and a folk craft museum. The coastline between Odawara and Kozu is fringed by old pine groves, offering good swimming sites in summer. The donjon and park are open daily 0900 – 1630."
Some authentic lesbian hangouts in Tokyo (almost all of then clustered in the 2-chome district of Shinjuku, which me and my cousin managed to visit two years later, in the blustery winter of 2006/2007: