Yokohama Oktoberfest

October 5, 2008

This week sees the return of Yokohama’s annual Oktoberfest celebrations. The German beer festival has already begun and will continue until October 13th near Minato Mirai station. It’s held in Aka Renga, the “red brick warehouse” which holds a peculiar fascination for the Japanese, but look like, well, an ordinary warehouse to me.

The Oktoberfest is always good fun, as only drinking prodigious quantities of beer can be. The organisers have even flown over a thigh-slapping German oom-pah band to entertain the boozers, resulting in the incongrous sight of men in lederhosen wandering around the futuristic streets of Minato Mirai.

You can buy German potatoes and sausages, and the selection of beers on sale is always terrific, (although, there is a confusing system whereby you have to pay a deposit for your glass, presumably to prevent drunk people from stealing the fancy tankards as souvenirs.)

The event gets more popular every year, and is heaving with revelers on weekends (many of whom tried to strike up conversations with me in German, but were disappointed to discover I’m English). This is fun, but the long lines for the portable toilets can put tremedous strain on a bladder bloated with pints of lager. I recommend going along on a week-night, when you can urinate with ease and, if you’re lucky, you might actually be able to sit down for a while.

Here’s the official website.


Random Ramblings

August 30, 2008

Here are a couple of stories that I wrote but forgot to post in the winter. At the time I was perusing the tabloids and news-sites to find funny tales of drunken scandals in the Land of the Rising Sun. But there weren’t that many!

Youths Throw Mayonnaise at Coming of Age Day
The annual coming-of-age-ceremony takes place in January each year. It’s a traditional event where those who are 20 years old that year celebrate their adulthood by dressing up and attending a special ceremony in their local town hall. The streets are brightened up by beautiful girls in fur stoles and luxurious silk kimonos that cost their parents a small fortune.
Historically, the students spend the day posing for photographs and sitting quietly, listening to numerous speeches by local dignitaries. (These speeches are, by all accounts, extremely boring.)
Now, in the West, if you filled a hall with thousands of adolescents and told them that they are now allowed to drink, smoke, and pretty much do whatever the hell they like from now on, all hell would break loose. If the newspapers are anything to go by, things seem to be headed in that direction in Japan too these days. Each year, there are more and more headlines about the drunkenness and debauchery of the new adults.
Indeed, each year I look aghast at the 20-year-old girls sat in bars, dropping cigarette ash and slopping red wine onto their priceless kimonos.

The most ridiculous incident I read about took place during the speeches this January. Two boys had obviously taken to the newly-permitted booze-guzzling, like ducks to water, and had been knocking back the beverages before the event. Bored to tears by the monotonous speeches, the pair of delinquents crashed the stage and started throwing mayonnaise at each other. To a room of 20 year olds, the sauce-splattered tearaways’ slapstick routine was probably far more entertaining than the actual speeches, but the older generation didn’t see it that way.

I’m just pleased to live in a country where mayonnaise slinging still makes the headlines!

Drunken Molesting Demon.
One of Japan’s most bizarre events is the annual Namahage festival in Akita. Every New Year’s Eve, a group of men wearing terrifying monster costumes visit all the local children at their homes and scare the shit out of them, threatening to take the little rascals away if they are naughty or disrespectful. With their grotesque masks, straw raincoats, wooden knives and haunting cries, the Namahage bogeymen are sure to subdue even the most rambunctious toddler. Good work, guys!
(Personally, I think this would be a good solution to the escalating juvenile delinquency in the West. Send guys in Freddy, Jason or Pinhead costumes around to scare some sense into young Timmy. “If you don’t eat your vegetables…I’LL TEAR YOUR SOUL APART!”)

This year, however, proceedings didn’t go according to plan. Thanks to imbibing way too much booze during the festivities, one of the Namahage fellas caused quite a scene. He got so utterly smashed that he somehow stumbled into a women’s public bath, still in his creepy costume, and started groping and chasing the naked ladies around. The poor women must have horrified. He was trying to “give them the willies,” so to speak. It sounds like a Benny Hill spoof of “The Ring”.
The lascivious loon got a severe telling off, but got off with a slap on the wrist after saying sorry. The lesson is- if someone wants to get away with groping ladies, they must be wearing a ridiculous costume. It worked for Benny Hill!

More at Japan Probe.

Sangenjaya Samba Festival

August 28, 2008

On Sunday I stumbled upon the annual Sangenjaya Samba Festival near my house. Hundreds of colourfully-costumed Brazilians and locals were exuberantly dancing down the street. There were lots of head-dresses and g-strings, a sci-fi themed performance, a sumo ritual, some guys having a pillow-fight while doing the samba, and even some bored-looking boy-scouts used as security! Weirdly enough, I seem to happen upon at least one samba festival every year, and this was significantly more impressive than the tiny, incongrous little event I ended up at last year, in the small Kanagawa town of Mitsukyo. Here are some snapshots I took on my phone.


April 10, 2008

Kawasaki City’s annual penis-celebrating fertility festival, the Kanamara Matsuri took place on Sunday and was as crazy as ever. A highlight was the appearance of Gachachin, a grotesquely mutated phallic version of the popular cuddly character, Gachapin. Gachapin usually looks like this:

…and this is Gachachin:

Truly, deeply warped. He looks like the bad-trip hallucination of Sigmund Freud watching children’s television on mescalin.
I wonder if we can expect to see more of Gachachin in the future?
I, for one, would like to see him do battle against Flesh Gordon.

Penis Party 2008

March 19, 2008

The first Sunday in April is almost here, which means it’s almost time for Kawasaki’s notorious Kanamara fertility festival, at which an enormous pink penis is paraded around town by transvestites, vegetables are carved into phallic shapes, and crowds nibble on pink schlong-shaped lollipops. Before you sigh “those crazy Japanese people,” I should point out that these days the voyeuristic, giggling Western tourists outnumber the locals.
Festivities take place on Sunday April 6th, at Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine in Kawasaki from around 10AM to 4PM. To get there, take the Daishi Line to Kawasaki Daishi station. Go out of the exit and you’ll see Wakamiya Hachimangu shrine across the street, to the right.
Tel: (044) 222-3206
You can read a story I wrote about it last year, with accompanying photos, here– which is by far the most popular blog entry I’ve ever written (it’s been seen by about 100,000 people). Below are some new pictures that I didn’t post last year.

St Patrick’s Day in Tokyo 2008

March 12, 2008

St Patrick’s day is always a big event on the drinking calendar, and in Tokyo, the city of convenience, it will be celebrated a day early, on March 16th, so people can get smashed on a Sunday instead of a Monday. There will be a parade at lunchtime on Harajuku’s Omotesando street, which invariably seems to feature some Irish wolfhounds, a few baton twirling cheerleaders, a brass band, a giant inflatable pint of Guinness, a man inexplicably dressed as Sherlock Holmes with a dyed-green handlebar moustache, and a drunk football team in green T-shirts.
This is a great day to visit the city’s Irish pubs, which are guaranteed to be packed with cheery, red-faced revellers swigging stout, whiskey or lager with green food-colouring in.
Here are some pubs you could try:
Dubliners, which has live Irish bands, and is offering shooters of Jamesons and Baileys for 500 yen (in Shinjuku: 2F Shinjuku Lion Hall, 3-28-9 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku, Tel: (03)3352-6606; or in Shibuya: 2F Dogenzaka Center Bldg, 2-29-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-Ku, Tel: (03) 5459-1736)
Paddy Foleys, Tokyo’s oldest Irish pub, which has Irish dancers (B1 Roi Bldg, 5-5-1 Roppongi, Minto-Ku, Tel: (03) 3423-2250).

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2008

Today is Valentine’s day. In Japan this means men are lovingly showered with gourmet chocolates and gifts, and women get absolutely nothing at all. Yes, the roles are entirely reversed, like in some weird parallel universe! At home I’d be lucky to get anything more than a card on February the 14th, but that’s not the case here. When I was working for a conversational English school, Japanese housewives and schoolgirls would indulge me with boxes of expensive chocolates and home-made cakes. While this is brilliant news for me, it’s an utterly crap day for Japanese women.

The concept has been freakishly warped en route to Japan. March the 14th is “White Day,” which is when men, in turn, are expected to buy presents for the women who gave them chocolates. By then, of course, there’s no risk involved! A guy can give a gift to a girl, safe in the knowledge that she is keen. There’s no embarrassment, rejection or hurt pride (unless, of course, you’re a Japanese girl.)
So, in a curious twist on traditional romantic roles, the men take on the timid, submissive role, while all the boldness, risk-taking and chivalry is done by the ladies. Gotta love this country!
And they wonder why so many Japanese girls run off with foreign men.

What am I doing tonight? Well, my boss has decided to have a leaving party for a co-worker, and I have to go. On Valentines day of all days! Clearly he has all the romantic instincts of a nine year old misogynist. If I had called my ex-girlfriend in England on Valentine’s Day and said “Sorry, let’s cancel dinner tonight, I’m going out drinking with the boss!” I would have arrived home to find my clothes and belongings strewn all over the front lawn, shortly before having my balls ripped off with a pair of pliers. Evidently, Japanese wives are endlessly patient. And at least, if hubby spends the most romantic day of the year out boozing with his pals, it means the wife doesn’t have to spend all day slaving in a hot kitchen, baking chocolate cakes.
Ah, Tokyo, city of romance.