Friday, May 22, 2009

Sanja Matsuri



This is one of the biggest festivals in the Tokyo area. It honors the 3 dudes who founded Senso-ji, which is probably the most famous temple in Tokyo. If you come to Tokyo, and want to get all that creamy culture goodness that you read about in your guidebook, this place is top of the list.


I'll be honest, I suspected that this was just like every other festival out here, with hella people carrying shrines on their shoulders. Which is cool and all, but unless you are one of the people carrying the shrine, it gets less exciting each time.


I'd read that a lot of Yakuza gangsters come out for this event. After all, Asakusa is the old entertainment area of Tokyo. If you wander off the main road, you'll find a plethora of pachinko parlors, sport books, porno theaters, and right across from said porn theater, a god damned amusement park. I remember my first week in Japan, some of my co-teachers took me to Asakusa, and I was like, "Holy shit, uncensored porn movie posters directly across the street from a children's amusement park?!? What's up with this place?" They saw nothing strange in the situation.


So I'm looking for Yakuza, who dress down to loincloths, their huge tattoos visible for everyone.


But... nothin.


Yeah, I know tattoos are kind of a secret thing here, but wiki-fucking-pedia even said this was an event to see them at.


So I fell back into routine festival behavior. Wander the streets, take photos of interesting people, eat some fried sea creatures.


Gotta admit it though, all these kids are hella cute.


In the end, no tattoos.


But I did see...


Maybe not gansta tattoos, but that's some gangsta ASS!




Monday, May 18, 2009

Design Festa 2009

The Design Festa is a big art / creativity / expression / selling shit thing held twice a year in Tokyo. Anyone can set up a booth, so that means you have hella random things going on. I've read about this event many many times, and finally went.

But on the way there:


The anti STD campaign isn't supported by a government health board, but by Soft On Demand, a porno company. There should be a big Yokoso Japan sign next to it. Seriously, the powers that be are on terrorist alert status when someone might have the H1N1 flu, but when it comes to sexual health, this country is a big ostrich with it's head in the sand.



If you read English language Japanese blogs, you'll probably find every single one talking about the Design Festa. It's advertised every single week in Metropolis Magazine, which is Tokyo's shitty English language magazine. Regardless, every foreigner sees this magazine. And every foreigner has a shitty blog. Here's my shitty account of some things I saw.


The first place I went was all dudes trying to sell design t-shirts for like $50 each. These knit hats were pretty fresh though, and the nose made a squeaky sound. Does it get better?


Yeah, traditional looking Japanese chicks with machine guns. There was a lot of art with cute Japanese schoolgirls, or geishas, or salarymen, with guns or swords. I think this has been a theme for the past 5 years around these parts though.


I didn't budget any money for this event, but I totally should have bought one of his masks.


The sign wants me to sit. SIT DOWN!


Hot Traxx you say? I'm listening. Let's see what kind of music... The first track was a Soulja Boy jam. Dammit DJ Yuma. I guess technically that is a hot traxx, so you win this round.


All kinds of animal skeletons and... dead baby mice preserved in bottles. But if you look closer, there are little tiny crowns on their heads. Everyone polled (2 people so far) think this is some naaaasty shit, but I dig it.


Snot bubbles.


I've never before seen two people minding their own business as hard as these two. They were busting a flow, but without speaking... and there was no music. Freestyle rapping mime robots. And like no one was interested in it. Some dude dressed as Jack Sparrow was being mobbed for photos left and right, but not these guys.

Photo bonus! I spy a bag of robot snacks on the ground.


A lot of things were just plain pretty, and not about getting me to buy something.


An illuminated wall of glory holes. And, for some reason, only girls were peeking inside.



A tiny little world made from cardboard cuttings.



Dude had a bunch of old school gameboys hooked up to a sampler and was producing some quality sound. All the other sound instalations were just noise bullshit, but this guy took it to the next level.

Also I think we have the same Uniqlo track suit. Pimpin!



So, yeah, you should go to this event. It's only 1000 yen. If you want to buy funky design shirts, funky buttons, dead things passed off as art, amateur overpriced silver jewelry, hella postcards (seriously every booth had postcards for sale), or some crap ramen... Design Festa is your one stop shop. It seems small from my photos, but there were thousands of exhibitions here. So go already!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Good Luck at Zenkoji


Once every seven years, go to Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City. Then:










Repeat every 7 years to achieve maximum levels of good luck.

Ride Report: Tokyo to Nagano and Back

Tokyo ----> Nagano

Golden Week is a great and horrible time to travel. Great because you have a week off. Horrible because so does everyone else. Some friends of mine had a nice ride down to Shikoku, hundreds of kilometers away, and they spoke of bumper to bumper traffic all the way from Kobe. After reading some ride reports on Gaijin Riders and SBK Japan (message boards for gaijin riders in Japan), it seems like it was worth it though.

The mountains are good.

Me? I opted for a short trip up to Nagano to sample some mountain roads and chill in onsens with a buddy who lives there.

It's me!

Took the expressway to Ome, which is where the city traffic ends and mountain roads begin. Took the 53 up to the 299. Ah, the 299, my old friend. More on that in a second.

Cloudy, but beautiful.

The 299 is described in my motorcycle atlas as a fairytale road. I drove it once and, yeah, its pretty damn great. Over 2 years ago I planned on driving the 299, but ran into this sign:

Closed for winter. May is in no way winter...


Shiiiit, under construction for 4 month! I could have easily squeezed around the barrier... but a night in a nice hot spring sounds better than a night in jail. So, yeah, I was forced to take a detour up the 45 to the 93. Not too bad though, since I found this lake with the most amazing blue color.

Yep, cherry blossoms are still blooming up in the cold.

It's actually a lake made by a dam. But this is Japan, and this is the case for almost every lake. Don't get me started...

Too cold for a swim though.


Also found gorges and waterfalls.




Check out this rickety ass staircase.

Ended up in Usuda and took a minute to mail my friend and rest my ass at this big temple. Not pictured is a giant observatory that looks like a rocket. I'm thinking this is one of them crazy Buddhist cults and the "rocket ship" is there to take the believers up to the Hale Bopp comet next time it comes around.



I planned on riding some back country roads west into Suwa, then heading north to Chikuma, my destination for the night. This was a recommended route in my touring book. The back roads were amazing. It was just a long, sweeping road along a river and rice patties. But then there was a left turn. And another left turn. I barely noticed.

In the distance... is that another rocket ship? This cult must have some serious cash! It wouldn't surprise me. But, no, I had just managed to take a 1 hour loop back to where I started.

Only dry place was inside a tunnel.

At this point, it was starting to rain, I was hungry, and I could get to Chikuma in about 45 minutes on the expressway. So I did just that. Suwa and the Venus Line will have to wait for a better day.


FYI, Chikuma is cozy as hell. Lots of onsens. Also, the short ride up the 498 and down the 55 is a blast. Amazing views amid the apple orchards. Also rainy so no photos.



Nagano ----> Tokyo

I took a different route back. The 144 to Karuizawa, then the 54 East to Maebashi. The weather was drizzly, so not many photos.



Passed by lake Haruna and Ikaho Onsen. This stretch was good riding. I stayed at Ikaho Onsen a few years back. It's recommended. The center of town is pedestrian only, and everyone is wearing their yukatas after taking a long soak in the bath.


One of these things doesn't float.


Excellent roads, though the wierd speed humps get a little annoying.

In Maebashi, I wanted to go up and down Mt. Akajo, at least I think that's the name. 赤城 for all you Kanji readers out there. It's a stunning mountain because of it's gradual slope up to the top. Took the 4 up and the 16 down. Apparently you can see the lights of Tokyo on a clear night from here. It was NOT a clear day. And I had no intentions of sticking around until night. It started raining more and more, and the temps were about 7 degrees Celcius.

For riders who want to do this route, don't take 4 up and 16 down. Take 16 up and 4 down.

You see, most mountain roads will have a curb number on each turn. I counted over 130 turns on the 16. Each one was almost a u-turn, followed by about 10 meters of straight, followed by another u-turn. Goofy as hell, but no fun going downhill in the rain. Bring fresh tires.

In Maebashi, took the expressway home. Had some ramen at the rest stop, but you can read about that at my ramen blog.


All in all I rode about 650km. My plans to ride through Suwa, Shiga, and Kusatsu, all recomended places on my map, were cut by the crappy weather. Hopefully I can do these soon. As soon as I can get my ETC unit...