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
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.
Large sized Japanese school girls at the temple haha
Some water for purifying the hands, face and body. People drank from that stuff.
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):
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$, and they are supposed to attract wealth.
Toriis leading to the main shrine
Entrance to another torii tunnel
Often, businesses will have their business name carved onto those toriis. We even found a tattoo parlor!!!
You can walk up to 4km through those toriis, and “tunnels” are separated by smaller smiles for personal worship.
Offers to Inari, including rice crackers, rice and sake
Old man worshipping Inari
It was very humid and hot, and I kept on being bitten by evil Japanese mosquitoes, so we didn’t do the whole 4km walk up to the mountain. It was still a really nice experience. I wish we could have visited more things in Kyoto, but the weather was just terrible!
So yeah, as an avid tea drinker (tea drinker and hell raiser!), I’ve been wanting to experience the ways of tea in Japan for a long time. Usually, these things cost around 30-40$ 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$) bento boxes. They were yummy as hell.
Yakiniku (sautéed meat), with rice (topped with pickled plum to represent the flag of japan), and some pickled things.
More bento! Notice how everything is deep fried. Everything cheap is deep fried, making eating healthy very hard when you’re broke!
From Kyoto station, we took a bus to Yokkaichi (big town in the department of Mie), and then a few trains to finally arrive in Hoshikawa:
Mie bus! Only 50$ 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
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
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!
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
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!
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...
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.
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!
They also had tons of other music styles
New arrival CD’s
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
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
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!