I hope everyone had a great Christmas and a fantastic new years! I myself spent the holiday season snowboarding in Hakuba, Japan and indulging in duck pancakes in Beijing.
We had an excellent time away and experienced everything that both Japan and China had to offer.
We arrived in Tokyo and were greeted with icy winds and a chilly 4 degrees. We reached the Intercontinental at 1am after a great dinner with a friend of No.13’s that he met while he was on exchange in Australia from Japan for Rugby many years ago. We dined at the restaurant that the fight scene from Kill Bill was filmed at and enjoyed a meal of traditional Japanese fare.
After a wonderful night’s sleep we spent the next day wandering around the Shibuya, Ropongi, Harajuku. We were lucky enough to get a glimpse of the animae pop culture that is the Harajuku girls in their own environment. The lengths that they had gone to were pretty amazing, and the effort they had made with regards to their costumes and the transformation from typical Japanese school girl to characters like Sailor Moon was out of this world. The Harajuku is not a myth ladies and gentlemen, this coterie of costumed teens exists and thrives in the back lanes of this area. They are so good at disguise that even No.13 was a little intimidated by their authenticity. Think Japanese Halloween mixed with the equivalent of Australian emo culture.
That evening I was left to my own devices as a corporate function left No.13 otherwise occupied. I ambled the back alley ways of the city’s center with my 550D snapping the overwhelming lights and crossways that are trampled by the stampede of Japanese teens pouring out for an evening of shopping and drinking.
Curiosity getting the better of me at every vending machine full of ladies used underwear for the bloke that can’t get his own souvenirs, hot and cold drinks, t-shirts, umbrellas and anything that one can imagine…an Asahi perhaps?
Standing at the intersection that featured in the film Lost in Translation, I witnessed a brawl between 2 rather intoxicated Japanese teens. The passion and aggression that was exchanged between the two, contradicted the otherwise gentle and reserved nature of Japanese culture and kept me and my warm ho-cho encapsulated for all of 3 minutes before they got tired and rolled away.
The very next day No.13 and I awoke to our 4am wake up call and slipped on our thermals for a morning at the Tsukiji Fish Markets – the largest seafood market in the world. It was still dark and the air was fresh to say the least.
In 1923 the Great Kanto earthquake devastated a lot of Tokyo, including its original fish market. As the city was rebuilt, the market was moved from Nihonbashi to Tsujiki and these days the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s system of wholesale markets includes more than a dozen major and branch markets, handling seafood, produce, meat, and cut flowers, Tsukiji being the largest of all!
We wandered around the massive grounds almost being plowed over by mini forklifts driven by weathered Japanese men kitted out with beanies, face scarves and thick gloves, their trays full of fresh fish and seafood caught only hours earlier, much of it still flapping. We came across a taxidermist with a stall full of stuffed polar bears, huge turtles and the biggest eagle looking thing I have ever seen. Zebra skins and antlers stapled to his walls, covered in a kind of plastic you might see on grandma’s couch.
We stopped to have a sashimi breakfast, sliced fresh off the biggest salmons and tunas we have ever seen. The fish melted in your mouth and had the most amazing flavours I’v ever come across. A bowl of miso soup and what felt like several kilos of the freshest sashimi I’v ever had later and we were off to meet our friends and board the bullet train to Nagano for some snow activities.
The travels consisted of snow…snow and even more snow. Everything covered in the most amazing white powder. Arriving at the Sierra Resort, Hakuba and being fitted for our boarding gear, we were ready. I had booked a lesson with a pro-snowboarder for my first day and had such an awesome time that we decided to book him again the following day so the boys could learn some tricks…180 backside grabs and stuff like that (if I sound like I know what I’m talking about, I apologise, it’s all fluff). 4 days on the slopes had left us battered and bruised but with giant smiles on our faces.
I am even proud to say that this so called ‘Prudence’ got her gear off and had the full Onsen experience and a positive one at that! I am not usually a ‘naked’ person, even having lived for several years with the most naked individual I have ever met, still has not crushed my prudish ways. I think clothing was invented for a reason, so were towels, underwear and pajamas and for this reason in intend of utilizing them…in all styles and colours.
With this in mind, the very thought of getting my gear off in front of several strangers petrified me. As a teen my mum used to call me ‘Purple Pubes’ because she thought I had something to hide. I always locked the bathroom door and after the age of 5, decided that bathing with my younger sister was simply unacceptable.
Nevertheless, I sucked it up in the name of a cultural experience and birthday suited-up…Japanese style! Can I just say that slipping your frozen extremities into a steaming outdoor mineral bath is a challenge within itself, without having to keep all your ‘bits’ from the prying eyes of others. All I kept thinking was; “If only I had another pair of hands to cover my bum and boobs” and “Don’t slip and fall…don’t slip and fall…because that would really mean the end of your privates being the world’s best kept secret”.
All this aside, sitting in this tub of water filled by a mineral hot spring, that’s claim to fame is having properties that help with respiratory issues and skin conditions. If you know me, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that my only thoughts regarding the ‘skin condition aids’ is “how many people with skin conditions have been hanging out in this thing?”. Hmm. In an effort to overcome these head noises about lepers, titties and the many different ‘hair styles’ I surrounded with, I made sure I went back to that Onsen…every day and am quite proud to say that I miss it!
Making our way back to Tokyo for our friends birthday, we met for dinner at the Park Hyatt in the New York Bar where Lost in Translation was also filmed. We were presented with a carol singing choir and a jazz band whilst overlooking the entire city (watch the movie). We indulged in $60 hamburgers and Amaretto Sours and of course birthday cheese cake. It was a truly great way to end the first leg of our Christmas trip.