Category Archives: Japan

Bombshell Rock

We arrived in Hiroshima on Friday September 9th, by local trains as always. The distance was surprisingly much shorter than expected, and so we traveled for only 3½ hours! On the train there was the funniest sign ever:

Some kind of sign telling people to remove backpacks inside the train not to bother other people. The big square at the back of the middle guy is not a window, but his own backpack!!! Hahaha! Hope those piercing eyes gave him a lesson.

Arriving in Hiroshima, I already had some sort of creepy feeling crawling in my skin… everything was beautiful  and new-looking; I couldn’t help myself thinking how weird it was to walk in streets where 65 years before, everything had been wiped out in a matter of seconds…

Anyway, on the first night, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice hot bowl of ramen, the last one of our Japan trip. I got one that was kimchi (Korean spicy pickled cabbage) flavoured – since we are going to South Korea next. It was delicious – and hot as hell!

SO yummy! There were huge pieces of kimchi thrown straight in there. Hell yes!

The following afternoon, we went to visit the Shukkein garden, which dates from the 1650’s. It was nice looking, but I much preferred the one at the Hikone castle. Here are a few photos anyway:

The garden with loads of concrete bridges

Tiny tree growing on big rock

One of the concrete bridges from far. You can see big apartment buildings over the garden, which kind of kills its relaxing atmosphere

And then, on the way out we saw a bitter preview of what we were going to see the following day. Total atomic destruction:

The garden after the atomic bomb. Notice how only the concrete bridge is still standing up! It was at 650m from the hypocentre.

Next day, we went to the memorial park, where Hiroshima downtown was located before the atomic bomb landed. Pretty much everything was wiped out and burnt/melted, except for a tiny amount of buildings, including what they call today the A-Bomb Dome:

The A-Bomb Dome, once a cultural and artistic center that was turned into an administrative building during the war. It was at around 150 meters from the hypocenter. The city of Hiroshima kept it in its original state of destruction to remember the atrocities of August 6th, 1946.

Another part of the A-Bomb Dome. The metallic black poles were recently added to support the fragile frame of the building. Obviously, all that were inside of this building when the bomb dropped, were burnt to a crisp.

A monument to the deceased in the memorial park. You can see the top of the A-Bomb Dome in the very distance. See how beautiful and green the memorial park is?

While walking around in the park, we encountered a Bouddhist fire ritual, which is usually held annually to appease the souls of the A-Bomb victims and lead them on the path to nirvana. They were beating drums and singing sutras in a hypnotic way. It kind of sounded like North American native pow wow music.

The “Agon Shu” ritual. You could write a wish as well as a prayer to the victims and throw them in the fire.

Throwing the sticks into the fire

We then visited the Peace Memorial Museum, where was presented what happened exactly during WWII and how the Americans went to bomb Japan. What I liked is that Japan didn’t hide anything – they showed that they were very cruel with other Asian countries (China, Korea), but that bombing them was totally unjustified because they were in a very weak state and pretty much ready to surrender.

They showed many artifacts and striking photos. The following might be quite shocking and not for the weak of heart…

Hiroshima downtown being targeted for the dropping of Little Boy

A model of the bomb dropping on the city of Hiroshima. The bomb exploded 650 meters up in the air.

A man’s watch, which has stopped tickling when the bomb exploded at 8:15 AM.

The A-Bomb Dome and the total destruction of the downtown area

“Once upon a summer day
In their midst, a mushroom grew
They never saw
They never, never knew
They’re walking on the street
Making shadows on the wall
They’re sitting on the steps
Melting into stone
Children of the mushroom
Aren’t we all, aren’t we all”

– Flower Travellin’ Band

Indeed, as the song says, the atomic bomb was so strong and so bright that it actually “bleached” concrete, and created shadows of the people and objects who were standing in the way. The heat of the explosion went up to 5000°C

Fused roof tiles due to the heat. Tiles melt at 1200 to 1200 degrees celcius, showing how hot the fire was!

Melted glass bottles

Fused sake cups

A kid's tricycle. The 3-year old kid was riding it during the explosion, and got insanely burnt and died shortly after.

And what totally freaked me out is the fact that the radiation actually made the skin of people who were close to the center melt!

People with melted skin (real-life reproduction)

But the heat also had bad effects on the skin, like the following poor woman’s face:

Obviously she didn't survive past a few days

The blast made everyone feeling thirsty and hot – some of them threw themselves in the river, others drank black rain, which fell 20-30 minutes after the explosion. (Heat vaporized large amounts of water from the local rivers, which is drawn up into the radioactive cloud, making that rain extremely radioactive.) This poisonous rain gave people non-stop diarrhea for 3 months, and in some cases, leukemia and other forms of cancer.

Black rain stains on a white wall

As you can see, this museum was really heavy on us both, and we were truly shocked from all the things we saw. Can’t believe that there was an OTHER bomb dropped on Nagasaki! It had the same effect as this one, killing 70 000 people on the shock, and eventually another 70 000 people from the after-effects. Damn.

To brighten up our stay in Hiroshima, we went to the Miyajima island, which has been a sacred island for centuries. We had to take the tram, and then a ferry to reach the island.

A girl sitting in the tram. Look at those ugly nerd glasses! They don't even have lenses! This is the huge trend in Japan right now. What a way to ruin your face hahaha

The ferry with beautiful mountains in the background

Miyajima has been considered a holy place since the beginning of Japanese history. In the past, women were not allowed on the island and old people were shipped elsewhere to die, so that the ritual purity of the site would not be spoiled. Nowadays, they are trying to keep it looking traditional, although we did see a few big hotels and commercial streets. Sacred deer wander freely through the streets and parks…

Myself and a cute deer!

The island is home to the Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The landmark here is a gigantic ancient otorii, or dramatic gate which is classified as one of the Three Scenic Views of Japan.

The Miyajima otorii gate at high tide

And more deer were hanging around the area, obviously attracted by yummy things tourists were giving to them.

One hell of a happy deer in front of the gate!

In the past, common people were not allowed to walk on Miyajima island, so to allow pilgrims to approach, the shrine was built like a pier over the water; so it would appear to float separate from the land. It therefore existed in a liminal state between the sacred and the profane.

The floating shrine

One of the corridors

The otorii viewed from the shrine

Inside the shrine, where shinto ceremonies are held

Happy looking 9-tail lion

We then ascended the Mt Misen mountain, which is the highest of Miyajima island. It was really really challenging as the humidity and heat made us sweat like pigs. I think it was around 32 degrees out!! Anyway, it was totally worth it. Nobody was as crazy as us, so we were pretty much alone on the trail the whole time haha. It took us about two hours to ascend.

A beautiful trail on Mt Misen

On the side of the trail near the top were a bunch of small funny looking buddha figures:

Buddha!

Near the top were some really beautiful temples. You could hear some monks chanting with their strange hypnotic voice…

Temple near the top of the mountain

And finally, we arrived on the top. We rewarded ourselves with a shredded ice treat, and enjoyed the beautiful views:

Top of the mountain

View of the sea from the mountain. It was absolutely breath-taking!

We then descended the mountain, which took us only 30 minutes haha, it was much easier than going up. We pretty much ran the whole way down!!!! After this, we visited the rest of the island, and did a bit of window shopping.

A huge and tall pagoda!

A deer wanting to go inside a store hahaha

A funny drugged-out Hello Kitty stationary set

The local food specialty are oysters as well as bean-stuffed maple cakes. They were really killer – kind of tasted like a fluffy waffle with ultra-sweet beans inside of ’em:

Japanese maple leaf (momiji) cake

The inside of the cake

Another local speciality are …rice scoops! That’s right! You can buy tons of rice scoops from all the local merchants. They even have the world’s biggest rice scoop for everyone to see haha:

World's biggest rice scoop! How useless hahaha

After our big day, we needed a nice satisfying dinner, so we had Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. This time, instead of putting all the ingredients together to make some kind of pancake, it was all layered so you could taste everything separately. To be honest, I really loved the Osaka-style okonomiyaki, but my favorite was this one! It was so tasty… oh man, I am craving it this very moment. Argh!!!!

The guys making our okonomiyaki's

The incredible result...

....layers of yumminess!

After the food, we were able to witness the spectacular and famous Miyajima sunset. It really created a nice and serene atmosphere. It was beautiful!

Miyajima sunset

So, that’s pretty much the end of our trip’s Japanese leg! We really really enjoyed our stay here. I wish I had had more money to try more cuisine and buy more records, but we’ll come back one day for sure. Speaking of records, here are our final Japanese scores pics:

Vinyl scores!

CD scores! (Shown here without cases)

Oh yeah, and I had bought a yukata (informal kimono, for summer festivals and such) in Kyoto, so here is a photo of myself in it haha

Yakuza-style Annick!

We had to wake up really early to take next flight to Seoul, South Korea and we finally saw the rising sun in all of its glory… Good bye Japan, and see you some day!

The rising sun on our way to the airport

This post is dedicated to my mother, Ginette, who have been operated this morning at the hospital. On pense à toi très fort mom, et je sais que tu vas aller bien très bientôt! Bouddha me l’a promis! xxoo


Black Fire

To be ultra cheap, we traveled from Tokyo to Kyoto using a special train pass called “Seishun 18”, which caters to college students on vacation that want to travel for less. The tickets are effective during Japan’s three major school holiday periods, and are offered for 145$ for 5 days (used randomly during a specific time period). The catch is that we can’t use bullet trains or any form of rapid trains, so we have to stick to making transfers on different local trains that stop at every station. It thus took us 9 hours to get to Kyoto, instead of 2 hours on the bullet train (costing 170$ per person!), but it was a very comfortable ride.

Seishun 18 ticket with three days used

Kyoto
August 8th

We arrived pretty late to our hostel and we were showed to a total Japanese style room, with futons placed on tatami floors. We slept like babies haha, they were surprisingly comfortable! I much prefer those to cheap and totally used western mattresses with springs sticking out of them.

So, speaking about Kyoto… Located in the Kansai region, it is the seventh largest city in Japan and has 1/4th of its national treasures, featuring countless shrines and temples, and seventeen sites recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Japan’s oldest traditions, such as the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and geisha schooling also originated in the city. Its architecture is a mix of old and new; you can easily see temples neighbouring gigantic buildings or shopping centers.

Some old building with modern development around it

Funny modern engrish advertisement found in a shop

We had a really cool toilet in our hostel, and I had to take a video of it. Check out the technology! And I didn’t even mention that you could adjust the water pressure and angle of the cleaning jets!

Our hostel was located near Gion, which is the very famous neighbourhood where you can find geishas and maikos (geishas in training). The street itself is really nice and old-style looking, but the rain probably scared them (and potential clients!) away:

Gion street view at night

And during the day. Always raining!

Japanese bath house entrance. Went there again hahaha

Unfortunately, we soon learned that a typhoon was coming our way (hence the rain), so we had to limit our sight-seeing to only a few places before the city is completely devoured by heavy wind and rain. We decided to go to a tea ceremony and visit the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine.

The Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine (a total tongue twister to pronounce) was started in the 700’s-800’s, and mostly serves for worshipping Inari, the patron of business.

Entrance temple

Large sized Japanese school girls at the temple haha

Some water for purifying the hands, face and body. People drank from that stuff.

Worship altar

The overall sounds were really cool. Surrounded by nature, you could hear cicadas – but also Shinto priests reciting prayers and people ringing bells in hope of their wishes being realized (the “Black Metal” style distortion is actually the sound of the cicadas):
http://annick.blackwidowpromotions.net/intothevoid/temple.mp3

Here, Inari is considered to be the fox god living on the mountain where the shrine is built. He is not only the patron of business, but is also the protector of rice, cereals, prostitutes and firemen. He is also worshiped for fertility. Alas, Inari is also capable of bewitching or possessing people by taking the shape of Buddhist monks or hot chicks!!!

The evil looking Inari fox!

Since centuries, Japanese businesses have been donating burnt-orange-colored toriis, which are some kind of portal gates. Their cost varies between 5000$ and 13000$, and they are supposed to attract wealth.

Toriis leading to the main shrine

Entrance to another torii tunnel

Often, businesses will have their business name carved onto those toriis. We even found a tattoo parlor!!!

You can walk up to 4km through those toriis, and “tunnels” are separated by smaller smiles for personal worship.

Offers to Inari, including rice crackers, rice and sake

Old man worshipping Inari

People praying

It was very humid and hot, and I kept on being bitten by evil Japanese mosquitoes, so we didn’t do the whole 4km walk up to the mountain. It was still a really nice experience. I wish we could have visited more things in Kyoto, but the weather was just terrible!

So yeah, as an avid tea drinker (tea drinker and hell raiser!), I’ve been wanting to experience the ways of tea in Japan for a long time. Usually, these things cost around 30-40$ and are very formal (you gotta know a bunch of rules and formal Japanese sentences/words etc) but luckily one of our hostel workers found us an ultra-cheap tea ceremony experience. So, for 6$ each, we not only got to experience the ceremony – but we got to make our own tea too!!

You start by eating a Japanese “sweet”, a little dessert usually made of sweet bean paste covered with some jelly stuff. Those sweets usually reflect the seasons – this one is for summer, representing a pure lake with leaves flowing.

Modern tea-pot heater. Traditionally, the tea pot heats up with charcoal.

The tea ceremony is not just about drinking tea, it’s almost like a martial art… you got to connect with the spirit of the tea. You appreciate your host, and your host shows you respect. You worship the tea bowl (really!), and thank the gods for the matcha  tea you’re about to drink. Matcha is a fine ground, powdered, high quality green tea and not the same as tea powder or green tea powder. It is usually very expensive and is highly antioxidant (up to 137 times greater than the amount from green teas!!!).

Our host showing us how to prepare matcha tea, using a whisk.

Usually, matcha tea is very bitter – but when you eat something very sweet before, the taste is much much smoother!

My own matcha tea! See how it has nice cafe-latte style bubbles? This is how real matcha is supposed to look like.

Posing with the tea mistress!

It was a total ritual, and we really enjoyed it! But unfortunately, we were already caught in the start of the typhoon, which broke one of our umbrellas on the way back home hahaha

François holding on!

The weather channel announced very heavy winds for the next day – so we pretty much stayed at home and rested haha

Solar winds are blowing. Neutron star controlling! ...In fact, turns out the wind wasn’t that bad on the actual day, but it was still not a very good time to go out.

To comfort ourselves during the storm, we bought some cheap 250 yen (about 3$) bento boxes. They were yummy as hell.

Yakiniku (sautéed meat), with rice (topped with pickled plum to represent the flag of japan), and some pickled things.

More bento! Notice how everything is deep fried. Everything cheap is deep fried, making eating healthy very hard when you’re broke!

Hoshikawa
September 4th

From Kyoto station, we took a bus to Yokkaichi (big town in the department of Mie), and then a few trains to finally arrive in Hoshikawa:

Mie bus! Only 50$ for a return ticket, compared to 121$ using the bullet train. Oh yeah!

Inside the bus with the Japanese countryside

A view of an over-flooded river (due to the typhoon!) from a train window. Turns out 36 people (mostly old folks) died in that typhoon in a region closer to the sea!

So you wonder, why Hoshikawa? What the hell is so special there? Well, it is the village of my good friend Masaki Tachi, also known as Gezol from SABBAT/METALUCIFER. I started writing him when I was 18 year old, and featured SABBAT in my first ever issue of MORBID TALES fanzine. Never have I thought that one day I would visit the address that I would write on envelopes!!

Gezol is not only a great musician and vocalist, but he is also a master hairdresser. He’s been in the business for 12 years, and owns his own hair salon called “Merci”. A long-time dream of mine was to get my hair cut by his own heavy metal master hands… a dream that got finally realized!

Merci hair salon

Getting my hair washed by Gezol’s assistant

Gezol demonstrating his masterful hair cutting skills

Getting a Japanese perm

Waiting!

The result!!!! A totally trendy girly Japanese hair style! Hahaha

After that, we went to eat some udon noodles in a nearby restaurant. Mine was served in a soy sauce broth with a half cooked egg and a strange paste of Japanese potatoe (which had the constituency of snot!!!). The thing on the right side is a rice triangle covered with sweet fried tofu. Really yummy.

Udon noodles! I love Japanese noodles. There are sooo many different types!

In the evening, we went back to Gezol’s place and watched metal videos all night; SATAN, SORTILÈGE and RAINBOW live gigs. Gezol’s living room was the most metal living space I’ve seen, with LPs hanging on the walls, old posters on the ceiling, a beer fridge and a gigantic, absolutely maniacal record collection.

Gezol – notice the killer SABBAT EP’s on the top of the photo!

Ceiling covered with posters

Watching KIT live bootlegs

Beerway to heaven

Arghhhh!!!!!!!

The next day we woke up in the morning to go to Hikone castle. Japanese ROAD TRIP!!!! Blasting our way through the Japanese country side, we arrived at the castle in the early afternoon.

ROAD TRIP!!! ...in Gezol’s evil car!! Hahaha

Japanese cemetery and country side

Some kind of farming facility on the way to Hikone castle

Of course, we had to eat something so we stopped at a highway-side truck stop restaurant. They are far from what we are used to in America…

You choose what you want to eat on a big machine, then you bring the coupon to the restaurant desk

Tuna sashimi (raw fish)! François’ plate

Donkatsu, battered and fried pork covered with an omelette, served on top of yummy rice and paired with a nice little soy soup and some pickled veggies.

They had the funniest “how-to” icons in the restaurant’s western-style toilets!

HAHAHAHA!!!

They even had a fake flushing sound button on the toilets, I suppose to hide embarrassing farts or diarrhea

You can even adjust the sound, depending on the sonic level of the disaster!!

So anyway, back to Hikone castle. We first visited the museum, which was located in the administrative building, Omote Gotten.

The inside of the building, with traditional tatami floors and sliding doors.

A small garden

Zen garden – see how the rocks have a wavy shape? It represents a river with small waves

After the museum, we went to the castle itself:

This small fortified structure called “yagura”, is actually a corridor bridge which can be demolished in emergencies. It leads to the castle.

Hikone castle, myself and Gezol! The angle is weird and the castle looks tiny, but it is actually really huge (three stories tall).

The Hikone castle is a stunning 400 year old structure. It has been valued at 350 000 kokus (one koku – the amount of rice to feed one person for one year!) Its first lord was Ii Naomasa in 1601 and last, Ii Naonori in 1860. It is considered a national treasure.

The Hikone castle looks beautiful but it is actually quite deadly. There are tons of holes from the inside for shooting from rifles without being seen from the outside, as well as hidden hiding places:

Some of the castle tower’s 75 shooting holes (these ones can be seen, but normally they are covered with plaster so they can be broken in case of emergencies)

Hiding place, leading to a hidden room. This one could fit 5 people.

View of Japan’s biggest lake from the top of the castle

Located on the castle grounds is “genkyu-en”, an old Japanese garden, built by Naoki (fourth lord of the clan). There are ponds, nine bridges, and tons of trees. Really nice place! The cicadas were singing really loudly.

Myself and François on one of the bridges

ARGHHHHHHHH!!!

Some little houses that look like they are floating. Notice the castle in the background!

Weird crooked trees

Myself and François again

Afterwards, we went to eat dinner in a food court. I had some fried noodles with octopus “balls”, which I ordered from this place:

They gave me this thing to call me when the food was ready. WTF!

The meal. It was yummy as hell.

Inside the balls!

And for dessert….

Blue (remone??) flavoured shaved ice topped with ice cream. Lovely.

Matcha flavoured shaved ice topped with whipped cream!

Some kind of round croissant thing called “shiro noir”, which you poured some maple syrup onto.

Obsessed by shaved ice!!!!!!!!!!

We also visited some kind of joke store which had INCA COLA!

Inca Cola in Japan??? Wow! You've got to be shitting me!

Some really really creepy toys

Even creepier things.

So that’s pretty much it for our small stop in Hoshikawa! We had a real good time. Thanks a million for everything Gezol!!!!!!!

We woke up pretty early the next day to travel to Osaka. We had to take the bus back to Kyoto, and then take the train to Osaka. We had to eat lunch, so we bought some sushi:

Yummy assortment of sushi for around 7$. Not bad for Japan!

And we saw some really expensive fruit in the grocery store:

About 110$ for 6 peaches...

100$ for a melon!

Osaka
September 6th

Arrived in Osaka, we went to do our groceries in a 100-yen shop. We only had a microwave and hot water available in the hotel, so we took some cheap-ass already prepared food for the new few days:

Instant ramen, microwaveable rice, curry sauce, meat balls in sauce, beefsteak in sauce, onigiri, Chinese dumplings, canned fish, veggies, corn soup, bread, marmalade and 100% pure orange juice! The things you can find in those shops are mind blowing!

The following day was our intense record shopping day. Tokyo and Osaka are THE two best cities for metal record hunting in Japan.

We started at the legendary Rock Stakk records. Owned by Miki, a totally maniacal Japanese headbanger, Rock Stakk has been opened for 5 years now. It’s going very strong as there were almost always people when we were there! The store was full of killer metal, and it took us at least 3 hours to go through it all. They had vinyls, CD’s, VHS tapes, shirts, DVD’s, patches and pins. I scored the classic Heavy Metal Force iii compilation LP (CASBAH, JURASSIC JADE, SABER TIGER, X, etc…) and… a Japanese version of JUDAS PRIEST’s Turbo. Yes, a guilty pleasure!

Outside Rock Stakk. It was hard as hell to find, but totally worth it!

Vinyls, DVD’s, CD’s...

More CD’s!

Check out the rarities! ELIXIR, ATTENTAT ROCK, CHARGER and SABBAT 7”’s!

The VHS section!

Tape section. You could find old original demo tapes (including a SABBAT one!), some ancient releases (think brand new, un-opened 80’s SACRiFICE, CANDLEMASS and DARKTHRONE tapes...) Really killer section.

MIKI!!!!!!!!

We then went to King Kong Stones records, where Jacky War works. They had mostly punk LPs, but we scored FLOWER TRAVELLIN’ BAND’s Satori there!

LP section

They also had tons of other music styles

New arrival CD’s

With Jacky!

We then had a small snack. Some of those killer octopus balls once again! This time, with bonito (fish) flakes:

Almighty octopus balls!

Next shop on the list was Time Bomb records. They have a very good punk section, as well as alot of extreme metal (black, death, thrash) CD’s and LP’s:

Time Bomb records outside sign

Black Metal CD section

Vinyl section

After was S.A. Music, a small metal-only shop with very good NWOBHM, Doom and Black metal sections. They had a small second-hand LP section that had some really crazy rarities!

Inside the store

Patches

Cathedral signatures!

Finally, we went to the last shop, Wild One, which was recommended to us by Jacky. I never heard of this one before, and honestly was quite surprised! They specialized in metal, heavy rock, prog and rock – carrying extremely hard-to-find LP’s, 7”’s, CD’s and boxsets. They had a really incredible NWOBHM selection as well as some hard to find French Metal and Italian Metal (PAUL CHAIN’s Ash MLP!!!) Of course, the prices were really out of range for us (they had eBay prices). And unfortunately the guy didn’t want us taking photos of the inside of the store, but I still snagged that one:

Wild One record shop. Not to be missed on your metal hunting trip to Osaka!!!

Around the place, we found some funny business signs:

A massage service offered by women dressed in school girl uniforms

Deadly Italian dining!

To reward ourselves after a day of hunting, we met up with Miki of Rock Stakk and went to eat the local speciality, okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese-style pizza. The “crust” is made by a mix of cabbage, batter, eggs and green onions and other things (mine had meat)

You top it with whatever you want. My toppings were bbq sauce, mayonnaise, spicy mustard, bonito flakes and green onion flakes. YUMMY!

Eating the Okonomiyaki.

We then went to a cool tiny bar called “CRUNCH”, which is owned by a guitar collecting trannie metalhead. She said she owns 40 guitars, 5 of them were in the tiny bar!

Bar owner, and bar. The place was FULL of CD’s and DVD’s... it was really intense!

Miki playing with one of the guitars

The three of us!

François with bunny ears

The next day, we went to do some karaoke with our friend Sylvain, who is a Quebecer metalhead whom I knew from my days as a Katacombes DJ. He lives an hour away, and he showed us the way of metal karaoke:

Walking around in Osaka’s Tombori neighbourhood

Our group at the karaoke place

So, we had unlimited beer for one hour, and sang songs from Judas Priest, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, Metallica, Accept, The Ramones, and Motörhead. It was amazing!!!!

François singing some Rainbow

Singing ACCEPT’s Fast as a Shark!!!!!!!

JUDAS PRIEST’s Exciter!!!!!!!

They even had NAPALM DEATH’s “You Suffer” in karaoke… hahahahaha!!!! They repeated the song three times but I missed the first one haha, it was too fast!

So, that was our trip to the Kansai region of Japan! Next is Hiroshima, where we will stay for 5 days, and surely see some atrocities… catch you latör!


War Metal War!

On August 23rd, we were brought to the Lima airport by Marcos, who waited with us until he couldn’t stay anymore. It was nice to see a familiar face before our long flight to Tokyo!! Thanks for all, Marcos!!!! Our first flight left at 2AM with the Chilean company LAN, which had movies we could choose from, food in porcelain, real utensils as well as free booze! The flight took around 9 hours. Unfortunately, the second flight from San Francisco on United Airlines was total economy; it had no leg space, no movies, nothing, for 11 ½ hours. They fed us, of course, but it wasn’t super luxurious or anything like the other one, haha. The plane itself was super huge though, I think they call it a Boeing 747.

Inside our plane to Tokyo

We arrived in Tokyo 24 hours later, on August 25th, 2PM local time. We pretty much skipped half a day, but slept a big majority of the time in the plane so we arrived in mint condition. But now, we had to figure out the local trains and subway to get to our hostel. Check out the nightmare we had to face:

Tokyo subway station map. We actually got a bit lost but found our way back in no time. We eventually figured it out - it is easier than it looks!

The first time we wanted to do was get a nice hot bowl of noodle soup, which we did! I got some beef soba with a half-cooked egg, and François got some cold soba noodles with tempura stuff:

My bowl of soup

François’ food

Although everything was salty as hell, the food was to die for! It had so much flavor and everything! I had high expectations for my first true Japanese meal and was very much satisfied.

In the late evening, I went to a Sento (public bath house with spring water). That experience was quite strange at first because as you know, you have to be completely naked and freshly washed/dried in order to bathe! I went with another girl from our hostel who knew the bath house etiquette. I got used to it after a while (although a lot of people were staring – I was the only white person in the place) and it ended up being really cool! Inside there were three baths – one really hot, one really cold and another hot one with Jacuzzi style water massages. I left with really beautiful skin because of all the minerals of the water! Sorry, no pictures for that one hahaha!

Anyway, our hostel was located in Asakusa, a Tokyo neighborhood famous for its traditional “Edo” (old name for Tokyo) style streets and temples. Walking around there was like being in a samurai movie; the restaurant and shop signs are written in calligraphy and everything looks so ancient! We were right next to a very famous temple called “Sensoji temple”. It is apparently the oldest in Japan, dating from the year 628.

Kaminarimon gate with a huge lantern

Main temple (doors closed)

Impressive 5 story pagoda

Charms to be bought for luck or other wishes

Myself in front of the Kaminarimon gate

People writing wishes on charms

Funny racoon dog gods, which had their own temple dedicated to them (they are the gods of entertainment)

The temple dedicated to the racoon dogs. The “swastika”is a Buddhist symbol and represents dharma or balance. It can mean love and mercy or strength and intelligence.

The Asakusa neighbourhood also featured the Asahi brewery, which is shaped like a beer glass with foam. Beside it is a weird sperm-like golden thingie.

Famous Asakusa landscape

On Saturday, there was a fireworks festival in Asakusa that attracts annually around one million people to the area. Excitement was in the air – and we walked around to see what’s going on!

Sensoji temple with gates opened and tons of Japanese tourists and festival goers

Incense burning for purification

Another very pointy looking temple

The local food specialty is the rice cake, cooked in front of you to be as fresh as possible.

A man flipping hot rice cakes

The result

And there was a bunch of other food sellers on site

Man cooking fish with hot stones

Two women in yukata (informal kimono), walking around the temple area

Yasuyuki (ABIGAIL/BARBATOS/TIGER JUNKIES) came to meet us to start some record hunting. We took a photo in front of the temple gate:

Myself and Yasuyuki! Arghhh!!!

First shop we went to was Record Boy. Located in the district of Suginami, it was really hard to find due to being completely hidden and without an outside sign (it costs too much apparently). On top of that, there was a summer festival going on in the area, which limited our access to streets.

Some ladies with kimonos and tacos on their head, taking part in the festival

We finally found the shop, and it turned out to be absolutely killer as expected! had a very good variety of GOOD metal and punk CD’s and LP’s from all over the world, as well as some patches and shirts. I bought tons of Japanese metal re-issues there. Their “rare” vinyl section was more than tempting, with unbelievably killer albums but I knew I had to keep my money for other things.

Myself and Satoru (the record shop owner) with the Record Boy sign

The inside of Record Boy

The punk wall

Some classic BM items

After this, we went to Nat records/WAREHOUSE – which are located in Shinjuku. They are two stores that are joined together, and cater different musical genres. Nat records is more metal/punk and Warehouse is psychedelic, proto-metal and everything else… so the two really complete each other.

Inside Nat records. You see here some new and used punk and metal vinyls.

The excellent re-issue of PAUL CHAIN’s Detaching from Satan

Our very own album! Killer!

After this, we went on to the Shinjuku branch of Disc Union. They are a chain of record stores scattered all around Tokyo. This particular one had 3 floors; one floor with used metal CD’s and vinyls, another with new metal CD’s and vinyls, and the last floor sells punk/crust/hardcore stuff.

Walking around in Shinjuku. This is what my idea of Tokyo was!!

The sign of Disc Union

The used metal section of Shinjuku Disc Union. It was fucking intense man, it took me an hour just to go through one fourth of the floor! Unfortunately, all I wanted to buy was way over my budget.

A classic 80’s Japanese metal compilation vinyl. I wish I could have bought it, but it was at 100$!

Some used CD’s... all originals of course!

Check out the size of this Diamond Head section!!!!

VENOM/EXODUS/SLAYER combat tour tape, probably the most legendary of all metal VHS! Sold for 120$...

The “new” metal floor

They even had a WINO section!

Honestly, in Japan, if you are looking for an album, you will find it – but you will need to pay the price if it is rare (that’s the down side of it!). I never saw such a variety in my life!! Apparently, Osaka record shops are even crazier… so I guess my wallet will suffer very much in the next few weeks haha

We visited the streets of Shinjuku with Yasuyuki; he brought us to the famous red-light district. I thought it was going to be super dirty and chaotic, but it was really orderly – like most Japanese things are!

Kabukicho street. You see here signs for restaurants, porn shops, bars with half naked girls dressed in army suits, karaokes, love hotels and “snacks” (bars ran by the yakuza, with escorts costs an arm and a leg!)

We were hungry as hell after our long day of record hunting! We went to eat ramen, and tested all their varieties:

RAMEN NEVER DIES!!!!!!!!

Miso ramen

Yasuyuki loudly slurping the noodles (that’s how you do it in Japan – the louder the better!)

Soya ramen

They included some yummy fresh tofu with the soup

After this, we went to Tokyo’s only metal bar, “Godz”. We stayed there for one beer only, as they played shit music (at least we requested some Angel Witch and Candlemass!) and the beer was way too expensive (8$ a beer for like 300ml). Screw that! So we bought a last one in the department store and drank it in the metro on our way back. Did I mention that it was totally legal to drink in the streets, subway AND stores there?

Tokyo subway party

When we came back home to Asakusa, the fireworks were finished so people were going back home. The subway exit was absolutely crowded but the policemen took care of discipline and everything went very nicely.

People making out on the bridge on our way back home

Some kids lighting fire crackers in a back street

The next day, François and myself went to visit the Yanaka Cemetery in Ueno, the Onshi park and its temples. Seriously, there are temples everywhere we walk, but these ones were located near a pond, so we wanted to check them out.

François with some gate thingies, doing a typical Japanese pose

Some lotus flowers growing in the pond

A dog with sunglasses!!!!!! Sunglasses!!!

A Buddha with a bib. I really don’t know why he’s wearing that!

A really cute tiny temple

Some really ancient stone lanterns

A temple on the way to the cemetery

The cemetery was located in a large garden, with tons of loud crickets and beautiful green trees. Unfortunately, it was also filled with mosquitos so I got eaten alive. I must have gotten 15 bites, which grew each to a diameter of 4 inches (I got an allergic reaction – my body doesn’t know these moquitos yet so it reacts strongly!). In any case, it was kind of worth it to see the cool Japanese tombs and hang out with ghosts:

A tomb with some beautiful evil-looking calligraphy

More Japanese tombs. Don’t they look really different from the ones we are used to?

Some tombs affected by the earthquake

Some gigantic stone with cool calligraphy. Look at the characters on top – they look like alien writing or something

We then came back home, had supper, then met my friend Mirai (SIGH/CUTTHROAT) for a little drinking session at a traditional Japanese bar (Isakaya):

VOÏVOD worship with Mirai!

The Isakaya

That evening was really fun – you could order beers from a computer screen and the host would bring them directly to your table. Also, did I mention that Japanese beer was amazing? They served Kirin the whole evening, and it was such a feast!

Oh yeah, on the way back home, we noticed a beer vending machine on the street! How cool is that?

Asahi beer vending machine!

Our final day in Tokyo started at 5:30 in the morning. We wanted to visit its famous Tsukiji market – biggest and busiest wholesale fish/seafood market in the world, moving 700,000 metric tons of fish per year!!! Unfortunately we weren’t free to walk around too much or to buy fish directly from the sellers, but that wasn’t our goal anyway… we wanted to try the world’s freshest tuna sushi, at a famous shop called Daiwa Sushi! The Tuna is fished at 3AM – 50km from Tokyo’s shore, brought here at 5PM, then the best Tuna fishes are auctioned around 6:20 and we are able to eat it at 7AM. So, that’s what we did!

Market workers, bringing boxes of fish around

Daiwa sushi, located in the Tsukiji market

Our table at the sushi bar

The sushi chefs

We ordered two medium-fat tuna nigiri sushis each (the best and most prized parts of the tuna). “Chutoro yottsu nigiri kudasai!” With our fingers, we took them and flipped them upside down in our mouth, so the fish touches the tongue.

Our breakfast sushis

The fish was really tasty, and melted in the mouth like butter. By far the best tuna sushi I’ve ever had in the past!!! Unfortunately, two wasn’t enough to really have the full experience (I would have loved to eat a lot of it to really explore the taste!) but we stopped at two each. It’s a really good thing that we did, because the bill turned out to be 40$!!!!! We didn’t see the menu, and we knew it was going to be pricey, but not that pricey! We are always trying to save money, eating 2$ lunches and all, and here we are – eating two bites each for 20 times the price. Haha. Ahh well, it was still a very exciting experience.

So we explored the area a bit… there were merchants everywhere selling sushi preparation material, seafood, veggies, tea and other stuff.

Okra veggies. These ones were placed so perfectly!

Sushi knives

Fish byproducts, cooled down with dry ice!

Sea creatures (the crabs on the left were alive)

Dried squid

Japanese style meat. These cuts come from the south.

More meat. Look at that awesome texture!

For lunch, we had to be cheap-asses again (especially after the wallet disaster of this morning!) so we feasted on convenient store snacks:

Some kind of triangular gigantic sushi with cooked fish in the middle. Really yummy. I think they are called “onigiri”

Two cheap mochi-type desserts. The outside is sticky rice, and the inside is sweet bean paste. The green one is tea-flavored.

When you bite into it! They were so good!!!!!!!!

After lunch, I had a nap in the park, Japanese style. Going to bed at midnight after a night of drinking and waking up at 5:30 for two days in a row is hard – especially that I’m still recovering from the 14-hour time difference with Lima!

Park nap

We wanted to visit the Imperial palace, but unfortunately it was closed to public on that day… but at least we could still see the famous main gate stone bridge. It was really beautiful, total postcard scenery!

Nijubashi bridge

Myself in front of the bridge

In the afternoon, we met up again with Yasuyuki, and went to another part of Tokyo called Shibuya. I think they have the biggest metro station in Japan! The area outside of it was like New York’s time square, but much more Japanese:

Shibuya!

We went to our last Tokyo record shop, the Disc Union Shibuya branch. It’s hard to believe, but it was actually better than the other one in Shinjuku!!! What made it so great is that they had 50% sales and cheaper prices. I bought quite a few sweet rare LP’s and a Japanese metal comp from the 80’s (on CD). They had of course alot of collector’s items, like this Heavy Metal Super Star ABIGAIL “Live in Osaka” boxset:

Yasuyuki posing with the weird lingerie boxset

Some CD’s inside the store

Vinyl scores in Tokyo

CD scores

While walking around, we saw a very strange thing… a gigantic truck advertising phone sex!

If it wasn’t for Yasu, we wouldn’t have known what all this was about haha

We then visited Meiji Jingu, a shrine in Shibuya, which featured a nice long walk in the forest (!!!). It was hot as hell so we decided to bring some beers with us again… hahaha

Yummy Asahi beer cans!

François and myself in front of a wooden gate

Some sake barrels at the entrance of the temple hahaha

We bought a wooden plate (plate for making wishes, and hung on the temple grounds) and made our own special wish:

Asking buddha for more beer!!! Haha

Yasuyuki with myself, again!

Afterwards, we walked to Harajuku, which is a shopping neighbourhood for young Japanese people

Famous street of Harajuku

Funny sign on a store... what does it mean?? Haha

We then had to part with Yasuyuki to go meet up some friends so we took the subway, and experienced a real Japanese rush hour!!

It still wasn’t enough to receive the “white glove” treatment (staff stuffing people into the train cars)

We met with Yukino, Yuno, Kanae and her fiancé. I met Yukino and Kanae about 10 years ago in Canada when I was doing volunteering one summer, and we kept in touch since. We went to another Isakaya, and had one hell of a gigantic feast!!! We had edamame, sashimi, teppenyaki, fried cheese, cheese balls with salmon eggs, bibimbap, curry with cheese, fried gyoza and a nice salad. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of battery power so I couldn’t take photos at all of this extremely amazing gastronomic event. NOOOO!!!!! But Yukino and Kanae lent me their iphone so I could still take a few photos:

Yukino, Kanae and her fiancé. Check out the table - we had so much good food arghhhh

After the supper, we went to one of those “purikura” machines, which is like a photo sticker booth. A really popular totally Japanese thing that has been going on for more than 10 years:

This one purikura machine made our eyes look bigger than usual! This photo is already a classic hahahaha

Overall, our stay in Tokyo was really short, but it was so filled up that we feel like we stayed here for a good two weeks haha. We really loved that city, but it was one hell of a challenge to be careful with money. We discovered a few tricks (buying food at 100 yen shops, walking instead of taking the metro, buying beers in the convenience stores), which we will now use in the rest of Japan… hehe

We are in Kyoto now, and then going to Mie and Osaka. More news in a week!