Japan – Day 3

Several days after my last email and in that time I’ve basically seen more of Japan than I have proportionatly of Australia. It is becoming increasingly obvious that there is basically no way I’ll be able to describe all the stuff that we’ve seen – even seemingly mundane things like going into stores is an experience all in itself. Basically, everyone is just going to have to come here and investigate for yourselves.

Day Three in Japan was a relatively relaxing one – we didn’t have anything planned for the day, so Paul took us to the local batting centre – a facility with a bunch of automated pitching machines that you stand in front of and they hurl baseballs at you at velocities approaching that of light speed. You simply feed in 100 yen pieces and the balls just keep on comin’.

We each had a couple of rounds with some success with pitches that ranged between 90 and 110 km/h. After we’d figured we’d mastered the intricacies of baseball, we upped the speed to 130km/h. Unfortunately, balls at this speed are harder to hit than you might first think. While we didn’t managed to cop any hits to the head, our egos suffered irrepairable damage as we failed to connect solidly with even a single hit between us.

After this, we’d planned to play some tennis, but this was ruled out as the courts were all full. Instead, we went for a bit more of a drive and checked out a bunch of shops – as noted above, a great experience and something you could easily spend a day doing.

This seems like a good point to bring up the Japanese fascination for manga (comics). My interest in Japanese anime (cartoons) and manga has, to date, been small enough to fit inside a matchbox without taking out the matches first. Now that I’m actually here, seeing it first hand – well, I guess it hasn’t changed much. Not being able to understand any of it is probably somewhat of a limiting factor.

However, both Paul and Aaron have always been interested in both manga and anime, and as a result we’ve spent a lot of time going to various bookshops. In fact, in three days, we visited the same bookshop once a day. Now, to be fair, it was a pretty big bookshop that seemed to have a big range of books (even some English books!), but my eyes now start to glaze over when we enter a bookshop. Its fun to walk around for a while and check out all the various bits and pieces (manga comes in a simply massive range, including some that are quite disturbing), as well as Japanese music CDs (J-Pop) and things like Japanese versions of Western CDs and DVDs (Queen is apparently big over here at the moment and several Queen CDs are prominently displayed in various stores, which is great to see).

Despite my complete inability to understand anything in manga short of coming up with my own stories whilst looking at the pictures, I bought a couple of books – one from a popular anime series and another which looks like some sort of World War 2 history book, which I thought would be interesting to go through to see a Japanese/manga take on World War 2.

After this, we made our way home and went out to an all-you-can-eat-and-all-you-can-drink restaurant, which was great. Some of the food we ate was completely unidentifiable, but fortunately we had some Japanese people with us who were able to label it for us. Here’s a tip for English speakers in Japan – if someone offers you ‘taco’, don’t go thinking you’re about to get a nice Mexican dish – its the Japanese word for ‘octopus’.

We ended up with mostly non-seafood dishes, much to my relief (though I did try a battered prawn-type thing which was great), and overall had yet another excellent meal. Photos are available somewhere (they’ll be in the ‘day 3’ folder when I get around to sorting them out). We also drank heaps of the great Kirin beer, which helped get us ready for another fine Japanese tradition – karaoke.

I’d never done karaoke before, and Paul had told me that it was essentially inescapable, so for a couple of weeks before I left I’d practiced a few songs so I could do them at least somewhat in key. Fortunately, just like in Australia, when it comes to karaoke, actual talent has nothing to do with having a good time. We ended up staying for almost three hours.

Karaoke in Japan is a massively different experience from what I’m used to (namely, going to the RE and watching Will sing). Instead of being in a public area, karaoke places have a number of small rooms which you ‘hire’ for a couple of hours. Each room is private and (thankfully) soundproofed enough so that you can’t hear anyone else in the other rooms wailing away. A big screen TV and a massive sound system provide the phat beats. A phone on the wall allows you to call up reception and they will BRING YOU BEER, arguably one of the greatest systems of all time. A book of songs roughly the size and weight of the Brisbane Yellow Pages lists everything on offer in your karaoke machine, and you select what songs you want punching them in on a remote control.

Basically, there is a whole infrastructure in Japanese society which appears to be completely devoted to providing and supporting karaoke throughout the land. You can’t walk a block in the cities without seeing a karaoke bar somewhere. Its a pretty amazing system which results in a fun time for all, especially after drinking (and whilst consuming) a large number of beers. Will would love it. Photos are available to serve as proof that I actually took part because I’m sure noone will actually believe me.

Overall, another pretty good day of Japanese experience. The next installment should be available shortly (the reason its taken so long for this one is because we’ve been travelling for the last few days, but more about that later!)

Day 4 was mostly a day of recovery so we didn’t do much, but we did go for a great drive north, so stay tuned for details!

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