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Now onto the weekend of April 4-6, an action-packed three days full of events ranging from ridiculously awesome to just ridiculous. On Friday morning I headed into Tokyo to discuss a full-time position offer, and after that I headed back home to get ready for the big day. Steve checked out of his hotel and met me in Chiba, where we cabbed his luggage to my apartment, where he would be staying that weekend. That night was the first 2008 reunion at the rightfully legendary Y’s Makuhari. We had a pretty good turnout, with A-Team representatives, old friends, new friends, and of course a big grilled fish head.

Y's Mug ワイズバー 幕張テクノガーデン店We showed up before opening at 5:30, hanging out in the lobby with a decent number of middle aged salarymen, all waiting to enter paradise as well. Matsushita-san opened the place up and gave us a wave. He was telling some of the staff (Kanda students) that we’re the ones responsible for popularizing Y’s with the foreign students and probably Kanda students in general. Amazing. The place was probably busier that night than ever, since April is the start of the academic and fiscal year, meaning there were a lot of companies having welcome parties for new staff members. All of the private rooms were full, every table was packed, and even the counters were populated by tons of young Japanese workers all wearing the same suit. We weren’t able to get the usual middle counter, but I guess it was permissible this time. Steve and my friend Jini were the only ones who had never been to Y’s before, and they were both very pleased I think. It’s hard not to be.

After closing the place out around 10, we headed out towards Kaihim to try and find a karaoke place. There was a slight mishap and delay due to Steve’s glasses, but it was temporarily remedied with some 7-11-purchased scotch tape. Unfortunately, all those new company employees wanted to do karaoke as well, meaning that both King Arthur near the station and the place in the new shopping center were totally packed, and we were out of luck. We ended up cabbing to the big place near Hongo station and doing an all-nighter there. The group had been reduced to about half since a lot of people didn’t want to stay out all night. It was a fun night but the cold walk to the station at 5AM is never pleasant.

On Saturday after waking up in the afternoon we had a pretty lazy day in Chiba. We took Steve’s glasses to the Megane Super (メガネスーパー) glasses shop and they did a free and quick repair job that was of course not perfect, but it was a lot better than scotch tape. Went to Bochi Bochi (ぼちぼち) for dinner, letting Steve try okonomiyaki and natto. I don’t think he was a big fan of the natto, but most foreigners aren’t. I sure hate the stinky stuff.

Sunday was another busy day, waking up around 8AM to head to Kawasaki, which is south of Tokyo. It was the first Sunday of April, meaning that it was time for the 2008 Kanamara Matsuri (かなまら祭り), the Iron Penis Festival that I went to last year when Ari was in Japan. I didn’t think I’d end up going again, but with Macie and Steve both here, it was time to go see the giant pink penis float again. This year was very much the same as last, but it seemed like it was a lot busier. There were people all over the place, it was super crowded and still just as loud and lively as before. Konosuke had never been to this before either, and even being Japanese he was pretty surprised that such a weird, messed up event happens in his country. It was my second time and I’m still finding it difficult to believe. And hey, let’s make a quick collage!

川崎 かなまら祭り 2008 金山神社

So that was that.

Mayor of Namjatown ナンジャタウン 池袋 餃子スタジアムAfter the Penis Festival, we headed up to Ikebukuro to go to Namjatown, the “Golden Saucer” of Tokyo. In addition to the usual zones like Gyoza Stadium and Ice Cream City, there was a Cheesecake Expo going on and some other new stuff. It was great to see the mayor and the Namderbirds. Going with a big group to Gyoza Stadium is always a good idea because that way you can try a lot of different kinds of gyoza (pot stickers/Chinese dumplings). There was an awesome one made with a beef filling that I don’t think I’ve had there before. We walked around some of the amusement areas that I’ve never looked at before, and they were kind of interesting. Not interesting enough to pay for, but they were free so it was all good. After Namja we went across the street to The Lockup Ikebukuro location, giving the visitors a taste of a weird Japanese theme restaurant/bar.

So pretty much after that there wasn’t anything as special, at least with me. Macie left on Tuesday and Steve headed down to Kyoto on his own. He came back at the end of the week and left the following Saturday. I was still busy doing work and job interviews and stuff, but I was able to make it to the airport with both of them.

It was good to have visitors! It is tiring though, haha. But anyone else who’s going to come for a visit, let me know and I can help you out. I’ve got a decent amount of free time until June when I start the new full time position and have to go into Shinjuku everyday to work.

If you want to see some pictures from the places we went, there on the Pictures page.

Phalluses and Flowers

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This past weekend was both frighteningly weird and super cool. Scary because of the Kawasaki Penis Festival I went to, and super cool because I finally got to see what all the fuss about sakura/hanami is for.

Ari’s flight out of Japan was actually on Monday and not Sunday as he had previously thought, so I met up with him, Bryan, and co. on Sunday morning. What would cause me to get up early on a Sunday morning? We had plans to go to the Kawasaki Kanamara Festival (川崎かなまら祭), which is a somewhat famous fertility festival south of Tokyo in the city of Kawasaki. This is the kind of weird thing I have seen snippets about for years in travel books, Japanese crazy fact websites, and also on a few travel programs. Thus, I had to go to see this for myself. I was not really prepared for just how weird this event was. The festival has been going on annually for a few hundred years, but it is now complete with live music, performances, cross dressers, and food vendors selling various snacks in the shape of a male organ. I don’t feel like explaining much of the history of the festival itself, although Metropolis has a really good article on it which you can read here.

After our group arrived at Kawasaki Daishi staion (川崎大師駅), which is about 20 minutes south of Shinagawa, we followed the crowd down the street. We were less than a block away from the station when we heard drums and saw an even bigger crowd all cheering and clapping. They were looking at some kind of parade or procession. Then we saw it. I can’t really explain the feeling of seeing this in the middle of the road. I’ll just show you a picture and maybe you can feel some of the shock and hilarity that I felt:

Look closely

Look under the blooming sakura trees and past Ari’s head. Can you see it? Let me zoom in for you:

yep, a dong Yep, that’s a penis. A giant pink statue of a penis. And as we walked down the street it was bobbing up and down towards the temple area. Did I forget to mention that this is a legitimate Japanese festival tied to a Shinto shrine? So this was actually the mikoshi (portable shrine), a giant penis.

As we entered the temple’s courtyard area, you could see people all over the place with food shaped like penises; lollipops, popsicles, even bananas. It was really frightening since both women and men were eating these things. This festival also had a large amount of foreigners, who probably like us, were there just for the tourist aspect. There were all kinds of people at this festival, even tons of children. Seriously, why would you bring your kids to this place? So weird. This penis temple is also right next to a kindergarten, so I suppose this town is used to it. But still, kind of disturbing. One of the other mikoshi at the place was a smaller black penis inside a mikoshi-style roof.

About a half hour after we got there, maybe 1PM-ish, they started the live entertainment. Now, this wasn’t really some kind of dirty perverted festival so don’t worry, there weren’t strippers or anything like that. Quite the opposite. First up were hula dancers, all old women at least in their 60’s. Next was some band who played covers of songs like Johnny B. Goode and a ton of Elvis songs. There was a tarp in the middle of the temple grounds where a group of old men dressed as women were having a picnic. There were children dancing around with a drunk guy who was double-fisting beers. There was an old man in a cowboy hat carrying a little dog standing next to the US Confederate flag. Does none of this make sense!?!?! I hope not, since it didn’t make sense to me and I was actually there. Also the sakura trees overhead were blooming. Overall this was probably the weirdest place I have ever been in. I’ll put up a bunch of pictures later on my Pictures page, but for now here is a quick collage:
Weirdest time of my life
I hope that collage helps show you some of the absolute chaos that was happening at this small Japanese festival in Kawasaki.

After Kawasaki we headed up to Ueno Park for some hanami (花見), or flower-viewing. Japanese people are crazy about the sakura (桜/cherry blossom) flowers, and every spring when these flowers bloom for about a week or so the entire country tries to go see them. Usually “see” them means having a picnic under them and drinking and eating the entire day. It was around 4PM when we arrived in Ueno Park, and the place was absolutely packed. There were thousands of people coming, going, and sitting to see the trees. Most of these people were already wasted by 4PM. It was really interesting to experience, and the flowers really are beautiful. I kind of understand why Japanese people like them so much; especially in a place like Ueno Park where they have so many trees it looks like a white forest above you, it does feel a little surreal. And when the wind blows, the petals fly off and make a cool spring snow-type of image. Not much else to write here since it’s 5AM and I’m pretty tired. I will post some sakura pictures sometime soon as well, although for now I will finish this post with just 1 夜桜 (night sakura) picture, which actually looks pretty good, despite the fact that my camera takes terrible pictures in the dark:

Sakura trees at night in Ueno Park
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