Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Blizzard Strikes Takayama!


Here in Takayama, we are in the midst of what I will be the first to call a blizzard. It has been snowing all weekend, and is supposed to keep up for another three days. Even the locals say this is a lot of snow, for this time of year. They weren’t expecting this much snow until January! Hyuk hyuk hyuk. I shiver in my boots and try to smile as I blunder my way through this winter wonder land.
The local temple, mid-blizzard.

There are rules to the snow, things that only those who live in it would ever learn. I am learning them, day by day, though its not a gentle education.

Rule #1 No one will teach you how to drive in the snow until you demonstrate you cannot drive in the snow.

Remember: slow, steady, and don’t worry when you wife comes home ten minutes after leaving for work, sweaty and with a pounding heart because she couldn’t drive up the twisting driveway to school. No one can! She ended up having to take a cab who refused to drive up the same driveway because of—you guessed it—the snow! Sure, our car has four wheel drive, but no one told us that until it failed it to make it up the winding driveway of blind turns that busloads of children somehow traverse without death.

Rule #2 There are laws to shoveling the snow.

What some may see as a simple chore I look at as good exercise and loads of fun. There is a tiny creek that runs alongside our street that has yet to freeze. All the shoveled snow gets dumped into it and washed downstream. I find this fascinating. No matter how much snow I dump in this inch or two of running water, it melts away and vanishes! I’ve tried damming the creek with snow, slush and ice, but nothing stops it! On and on its run, enabling my play. After thirty minutes of shoveling, I’m not left with a huge pile of snow, but clean streets! I worry what will happen if this stream freezes (which seems inevitable to my ignorant Texan sensibilities) but until then, it’s shovel! Shovel! SHOVEL!

Bearded Kaiju, seen here stealing snow.
I know I’m not alone in this passion. A friend told me her dad is so passionate about shoveling the snow he shovels his roof. That sometimes she’ll wake up to find he’s shoveled his walk as well as all the neighbors. She said her neighbors fight over where to put the shoveled snow, but it sounds more likely that they’re arguing over who gets to shovel what. Every morning, senior citizens take to the streets with shovels and straw hats, eager to out shovel each other. I want to join them, but I wake later and thus am left with already shoveled streets.

But no bother! We’re in the middle of a blizzard! There’s enough snow for everyone to shovel. But apparently, that is not the way of things. After my wife’s harrowing drive to work, we set to work shoveling out our street, a sort of cul-de-sac with six houses on it. After thirty minutes the neighbor came out to question what the hell we were doing. My brave wife tried to explain we found it interesting (an adjective the Japanese love) but we were met with a blank, untrusting face. We tossed our piles of snow in the creek and got the hell inside, moments before a friend of the neighbor showed up, probably to watch the barbaric foreigners shoveling someone else’s snow. We’re actually fairly certain she called our landlord to come plow our driveway (he showed up as I was writing this). This is the same guy who painted our parking lot rather than telling us where to park, so it seems likely, either that or he saw us shoveling and got jealous.   

Rule #3 Snowball fights are always OK.

I’ve started snowball fights with my wife, five year old school children, drunken friends in the dead of night, and strangers in restaurant parking lots. Always the first snowball is met with disbelief, and then quickly followed by a return volley and a smile. Snowball fights build relationships and lessen stress. Snowball fights turn the world around you into a battlefield of the gentlest kind. Enjoy them, relish them, for you’ll need some way to fight against all these damn rules. And remember, snowballs translate far better than a stolen snow shovel.

J. Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama, Japan with his darling wife. Read more about the snow or about that time his house was almost washed away.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

This is the Most Snow I've Ever Seen!


To a Texan boy, there ain’t many things more magical than snow. My family’s from Michigan, so I have a few pieces of memories of holding a snowball or watching in horror as one of the neighbors bashed my father’s snowman with a skateboard. But I moved to Texas for kindergarten, so most of my memories of snow involve cars crashing and making 11 inch snowmen that melt before noon.
To a Texan, even this pile of garbage is beautiful under fresh snow.

Takayama, Gifu has changed all that. It began to snow in earnest last Friday. My wife and I rushed outside for the smallest of reasons, to take out the garbage, to check the mail, always after bundling up under too many layers. The snowflakes that day seemed bigger than my hand, huge, silent masses of fluffy ice that were thicker than any fog. They would fall for a spell then stop and melt away before another flurry would begin.
What little snow that did stay on the ground I scooped up and hurled at my students. Though I gave the five-year-olds a ten-to-one distance handicap, I still managed to hit each of them with far more snowballs then they hit me. Ah to have eye-hand coordination. The game only stopped twice, once when I chastised a child for throwing balls made of slush and rocks instead of snow (I’m from Texas, and that don’t seem right) and once when the whole gang of them chastised me for some egregious sin I will never understand. Still, we all returned to the warmth of the school smiling.
vThe next day the snow committed to covering the landscape. The snowflakes shrunk to a tenth of their previous size, and instead of falling heavily for twenty minutes at a time, they fell unceasingly for twenty four hours. By the next morning the entire town was covered in (gasp) three or four inches of snow. I began to chant “this is the most snow I’ve ever seen!” unceasingly.
It was perfect really, for that day was to be a white Christmas. Though it was still early in December, the English school where we work was hosting a plethora of parties, and lucky for us they’d all be decorated with the most festive of precipitations. We pulled our scarves closer to keep the errant snow flake from finding its way in to our coats, and unloaded the car.


The highs and lows of Christmas cake.
The party went by without a hitch, well, mostly. The games flew by. We served the Christmas cake, which in japan is a shortcake with pineapple rolled into a spiral around whipped cream and is not as good as it sounds. The kids, high on the cake, crashed into eachother like reindeer. Finally the big moment arrived: Santa was here! He stomped into the room with his hat pulled low. The youngest child was terrified and screamed at her mother for putting her on Santa’s lap. The older kids screamed “Joe-sensei!” and Santa looked around confused. The oldest kids waited in line, mumbled ‘merry Christmas’ and made off with their haul of goodies. But most of the students seemed genuinely convinced that of course ol’ Europeon Saint Nick would make it to an English school’s Christmas party in early December. What else does he have to do this time of year?
After that we braved the snow again, this time through enormous windows at the Japanese restaurant that was hosting our adult students’ Christmas party. We sat and chatted about the weather, about skiing, about what exactly I was about to eat. All the while I stared out the window as the snow kept falling. We ate and we drank until the restaurant turned out the lights illuminating the trees outside, and my beautiful panorama of leafless cherry tree branches and dense piney shrubs felt all the colder.
We left the restaurant and made for the nearest karaoke bar, though not until I chunked a few snowballs at the ten year old kid who was trying to peg his mom while she waited for dad to get the car. I consider it a success, because by the time we turned the corner, the entire family was furiously pelting each other with snow.
We tromped through the snow in single file, the man in the front breaking trail for us. I love the way snow sounds when it crunches under foot. It’s the sound of something miraculous compressing into something bland and pedestrian. It must sound like the opposite of diamonds being made.
I marveled at the town I thought I knew so well. Where were the streets? The sidewalks? Where were the trees I’d spend so many hours painstakingly cataloguing, learning which would bloom in spring and which would put on the most impressive shows of fall foliage. Under the snow, they were all the same: slumbering giants with nothing to do but shoulder the weight and the cold until spring. 

These are my best friends as usual, giggling like a schoolgirl,
 asleep, and brooding over booze and cigarettes
The snow still seemed magic when hours later I watched it fly by as a taxicab drove us home from our last stop of the night, a Dutch Christmas poetry party. The snow hadn’t even lose its splendor when at the party I drank too much and had to sit outside in the cold and sober up. My friends found me out there, without a coat or a hat, and challenged me to make a snowman the next day. They’re good people.
 
I managed to make that snowman (with more than a fair amount of help from my darling wife) and still the snow seems magic to me. Today the temperature is rising to a whopping 44 degrees Fahrenheit, and the snow is melting. But even this is beautiful. The sounds of water dripping, of branches snapping up after losing their melting weight echo through our town, and it makes me appreciate the transient beauty of snow. Even in Texas I understood that snow could change everything overnight, but here that realization seems even more present.

When the snow falls, another city awakens: a city where teachers attack their students with weapons made on the street, a city with the paths of human and beast laid bare for all to see, a city where even the trees dream. In this city spring may come for a day or two, but always the threat and beauty of the snow lies at the top of the mountains, threatening to come down and stay for the winter.
I for one, can’t help but invite it in. But let’s see how I feel in February.  
 
Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama, Japan with his darling wife. Though he's excited for the snow, he still fears the coming months. If you liked this story, please +1 and share with your friends!
 
 
 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Japanese Thanksgiving


A psychedelic Japanese Indian, an Israeli from Ukraine and a vegetarian Dutch English teacher walk into the coolest bar on earth for thanksgiving dinner. Elvis Presley croons “Blue Christmas” as the bartender sips his whiskey and asks, “Hey, where are the Americans?”

We, of course, were an hour late. I tried to blame my Latin wife, an always successful strategy with my family in Texas, but the Eurasians were having none of it.

Nolico the psychedelic Japanese Indian pushed her headdress aside as she danced in her seat, “You said seven, it’s eight. This is magic quiche Eric made!” I took a bite, wondering if it would make me wiggle and groove as much as she already was. 

Alex the Ukrainian Israeli cursed us, “Damn Americans think they’re so important. Would you like some Ukranian salad?” he heated up a pan for fresh falafel, “If it is not good, then it is Russian salad.” 

And Eric, the vegetarian English teacher asked if we had brought any chicken and apologized for being on time.

The coolest bartender in the world laughed and sipped his whiskey.

These are my friends in Japan. And they’re good ones. I’ve already told you a little about Alex, the Ukrainian Israeli that witnessed medestroy a restaurant, and I’ve told you about Kensei, the bartender sippingwhiskey and the coolest man in Japan, so today, I’ll tell you about Nolico and Eric.

Nolico is the best dresser in town. Half as a joke, Raquel said to dress up as Indians for Thanksgiving dinner, so Nolico came with feathers in her hair and a headdress. She vanished at some point in the night, and reappeared with dozens of locals. Japanese people of all ages poured through the door. Nolico shouted hello and fed every single one of them while the rest of us jabbered away. But Nolico’s greatest strength is that she married Eric in Holland on the back of a bicycle, and has managed to stay married to him for more than fifteen years.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Eric, he’s just a bit sarcastic. He spent thanksgiving dinner convincing everyone in the bar my wife was british, and then convinced an older Japanese man that she was flirting with him, and the old dirty bastard tried to steal a kiss right in front of me (fortunately his friend whacked him on the head before I had to intervene and end my stint in Japan in prison). So, quite wisely, I don’t believe anything Eric says anymore. He recently tried to explain his behavior by enlightening my about Dutch Christmas.

Dutch Christmas is celebrated on December 6th, and came before American Christmas. It is celebrated by reaching your hand into a mysterious box filled with something revolting, and then--I don’t know--I guess just having a gross hand for the rest of the night. The pinnacle of the celebration is the stinging poems people write for each other in some kind of horrid secret Santa ceremony. I’m fairly convinced this was all an elaborate ruse told to convince me to write a vicious poem about either his best friend Alex, or his wife Nolico, but in honor of Eric, I wrote one about him.  

The Lying Dutchman


Eric is a giver, of facts that are not true
He’ll pour you beer from your own bottle, convince you that the sky’s not blue,
If you go with him to eat-it’s fine. He won’t eat that much
He’ll drink instead, and quite a bit, and then ask you to go Dutch
 
That means he’ll pay for half the meal, a steal! A deal most kind!
But he won’t pay a single yen, he’ll let it slip his mind
Nolico his gracious wife, she’s the one that pays,
Eric wouldn’t dream of it, don’t trust a word he says
 

Eric threw a party, on the day of Halloween,
For his friends to come, they had to pay, a thought- to me-obscene!
Every year he goes to Holland, so if he’s not around
He’s charging his own students for a tour of his hometown,
 

When my friends came to visit, I asked sir Eric-chan
To come on out and meet them, to see what’s going on,
He came out alright, he did! For two minutes, or was it three?
We were drinking whiskey, so Eric had some tea
 

The man, he is a teacher, a giver oh-so-wise,
He wants to quit--don’t think he won’t--once he gets his prize,
Though the two of us are rivals, we both teach English for our work,
Eric wants me to teach his classes, what a lazy jerk!

 
We’re working on a project because Eric begged me, ‘please’,
While I give my sweat and blood he just insults my Japanese,
It’s fine, I think, I don’t speak it well, his criticism’s fair,
 Though when I mess up, he laughs so hard that those around me stare,
 

But I wouldn’t trade him for a better friend, an easy find I’m sure
I’d have my pick of better dressed, more handsome, more demure,
There’s kinder folk, with finer taste, men I’d friend with ease
But Eric laughs when no none does, at childish jokes like these
 

Merry Christmas Eric! Don’t worry about giving me a gross box or anything!
 

Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama Japan and goes drinking with all these lecherous cretins when he’s not teaching English. If you enjoyed this post, why not write a dirty poem for one of your friends?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I got #2 problems living in Japan


My wife just burst into our living room, furious.
“Did you use the last of the toilet paper?”
I admitted I had and asked, “What’s wrong with the washlet?”
“The drip!” she said and scowled and marched back down stairs.
Toilets in japan are like something out of a science fiction movie, perhaps 2001. They can be either intimidatingly futuristic or unapologetically archaic. The toilet in our house is equipped with an adjustable seat warmer, two flush settings, and a water jet that can wash your ass in three different places with five different power settings. Despite this marvelous piece of technology, my wife still prefers toilet paper.
“It just doesn’t feel clean without it. Plus there’s the drip-dry.”
I am decidedly in the other camp, and see the minute you need to air out as a minute of quiet bliss. I have not used toilet paper in our house since we’ve been in Japan, and am not look forward to digging around my butt crack with thin tissue when I get back to the U.S. of A. It’s unsanitary, ineffective, and a huge waste of resources. The Japanese bathroom experience is superior. They even have a little faucet on the back of every toilet, so you can rinse your hands with the water that fills up the toilet tank. Not that you need to, because you don’t have to worry about getting shit underneath your fingernails.
That is, if you’re at home.
Taking a dump in public takes far more courage. Some toilets are the sleek futuristic models, but most are barely a step up from a latrine, just a trough in the ground with handles to hold on both sides. You’re not even supposed to face the door, you’re supposed to squat facing the wall, while the guy in the stall over sits atop a porcelain throne. I have no idea how a people so accustomed to a robotic butt butler can transition to keeping their balance while their cheeks dip so precariously close to cold porcelain.
What’s worse is that the food in Japan is far from fibrous. I was eating the hipster veggie diet when I lived in America. Kale, chard, and spinach, all from our garden, with a healthy dose of brown rice (sounds fibrous to me) and the occasional bowl of raisin brain. Now I eat primarily raw fish, white rice and miso soup with a single leaf of seaweed. This means I’m far from regular, so when duty calls, I make for the nearest bathroom for fear of losing my golden opportunity.
I’ve been lucky. Normally I can just clench it and wait the guy in the good stall out, but all good things must come to an end.
I might’ve lasted longer if my know-it-all friends Tam and Cole weren’t in town from the States. After three days of their badgering about the toilets, I found myself above the only vacant trough. Their words of wisdom raced through my head. “Dude western style toilets cause you hemorrhoids,” “Yeah man pooping in a squat gives you a more complete poop.” On and on, as if they’d lived here for years. Still I found strength in their words, gritted my teeth, and grabbed hold of the railings so as not to lose balance. It went successfully. I told my friends and they looked shocked. “Whoa, like, how was it?”
What do you mean how was it? You were just singing its merits!
“Yeah but like, I’ve never used one.”
Goddamn know-it-all Americans. But at least they give me courage while I dangle above the squat toilet that has haunted me the most, the one at work. I would think that an English language school of all places would have a western style toilet, but of course that’s asking too much in this paradox of a country.
So I squat, and I shit, and I miss my Washlet and its multitude of features. I don’t care what my wife says. I’ll take the drip-dry and a newspaper over a deep-knee bend any day.
Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama Japan with his beautiful and patient wife. He would like to apologize for the potty-humor, but can't promise it won't happen again. If there's something you'd like to know about being a foreigner in Japan, say so in the comments!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Desolation Row


Kensei is the coolest man in in the world
He wears Texas Tuxedos without a trace of irony.
He’s on the cover of the local magazine.
His title says “Rock” Division on his business card.
He puts whiskey in his coke just for the flavor.  
He runs the greatest bar in Japan, called Desolation Row. A great name, made better because inside you can hear anything ever sung by Bob Dylan, down to the bootlegs.
After all, Kensei is the coolest man in the world.
Desolation Row overflows with vinyl. If it rocks, Kensei’s got it. I’ve cheersed beers to more American classics than I’ve ever heard in bars in the states (no Lady Gaga for Kensei, ever.) His favorite (obviously I hope) is Bob Dylan, but I’ve listened to the Boss, Tom Waits, Muddy Waters, and my personal favorite, Earl Scruggs. That Kensei has Earl Scruggs is not unusual, but that he has my favorite record, The Kings of Bluegrass is what sets him apart from anywhere else I’ve ever been. And when my friend Alex asks to be the DJ and exclusively plays the Beetles and Bluegrass so the two of us can dance behind the bar while Kensei refills our Jack Daniels, Kensei does so with a smile and a nod of his head.
But its not just the drunken parties that make Desolation Row so great. The space itself is beautiful in a hole-in-the-wall kind of way. Most of Desolation Row is filled with the bar itself: a six inch slab of an ancient Japanese tree. Ask Kensei about it and you’ll find that though it weighs a ton, it traveled to Desolation Row from Kensei’s old bar, a herculean feat Kensei probably did with ease. Handmade shelves are crammed with vinyl and CDs. The back of the bar is a cozy space that features a Botsudan, a traditional Japanese shrine for dead ancestors, but don’t worry, Kensei got it purified before he got it put in his bar. You can normally find the tourists lucky enough to find their way down to Desolation Row clustered around it, because having something like that in a bar terrifies the locals.
The locals tend to crowd the bar and pick Kensei’s brain. Kensei knows all, from American Western movies to the best hidden bars in Kyoto, not that you’ll be able to find them, because you’re not as cool as Kensei.
Kensei is the coolest man in Japan.
 
 
This weekend I had the honor of seeing his personal library. Kensei mentioned it once and I’ve been hounding him since. HE agreed to take me on Sunday, even though we’d harassed him to opening his bar the night before and demanded free beer for having to wait. Still, Kensei met my wife and I near the city library, a place I would find had less than half of the English selection of Kensei’s collection. We strolled towards the temples in Takayama and found his library nestled above a babbling creek, hidden beneath beautiful maples on an ancient road once home to the famous carpenters of Takayama. He ushered us across his personal bridge with a laugh, then revealed the contents of his library.
 
The fact that I could only read a tenth of the books in no way took away from the experience, for his English selection would take years for me to read. Capote, Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, Joyce, King, Dickens, Austen, Wells, and more, all crammed together between thousands of Japanese books. I filled a bag, then topped it off with a few classic Hollywood western movies and was then was bestowed his favorite book. Bob Dylan’s autobiography, Chronicles: Volume one.
“It starts when he’s a kid, but kinda jumps around when he gets to New Orleans, not in sequence you know? It’s a good book.”
Of course that’s his favorite book. Kensei is the coolest man in the world.
And of course Kensei will know more about classic everything than I ever will. I was lucky enough to see his library, an experience I found he hasn’t shared with many, and an experience I will treasure forever (or until I finish my bag of books and beg to return).
But Desolation Row will forever be my favorite place in Japan. Stop by if you come to Takayama, I’ll be the guy with a beard not making room for you at the bar, after all there are chairs by the Botsudan, and I got some books to discuss.
Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama with his wife, who Kensei likes more than him anyway. If you enjoyed this story, read more about parties at Kensei's, or come see us at Desolation Row

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tokyo Nights


My two best friends came to visit us in Japan, and the trip started of disastrously. They were supposed to fly in from Tokyo to Nagoya, but in a desperate effort to make it to a Halloween party, I had them catch the shinkansen so they could get here sooner. That’s right. In Japan, trains are faster than planes.
After an hour of waiting I abandoned my car in the passenger pick up area and started making laps around the train station. I yelled their names and clicked my tongue until my mouth was sore. After two hours I asked the shinkansen operator if a typhoon had washed the train into the sea. After three hours and a fresh patch of gray hair in my beard, I contacted the police. They took me to the station master who, after 20 sweaty, agonizing minutes, gave me the microphone for the PA system. This was my one and only chance.
“Tam Tran and Cole Welsome, this is Joe Mitchell. Please come to the Station Master’s office,” boomed throughout Nagoya station. I had done it and I collapsed from exhaustion, if they were here, they’d find me.
Seconds later, someone knocked on the door and the police opened it to the two smiling faces of my best friends. They looked like they’d just awoken from a pleasant nap, and indeed they had. Turns out I’d send them to the wrong connecting station in Tokyo, and they’d just barely made a train and arrived in Nagoya moments before. So I’d ruined our chances of making the party and probably taken a few years of my life, but, on the other hand, if the station master had let me use the PA any sooner, they wouldn’t have been in the station to hear it, and I would have abandoned them for a stiff drink.
We still made it to the after party at the Karaoke bar, where they met Chaba (dressed as a woman and armed with a gun) and sang Takayama to sleep with Tam’s throaty rendition of Weezer’s sweater song, and Cole’s always stunning performance of “Witchy Woman.”

We spent a few days in Takayama, mostly enjoying the fall foliage and playing with monkeys and squirrels. We ate at all our favorite restaurants. Tam and Cole seemed most impressed with the curry restaurant we’d never been to before, though it made Raquel feel sick. You can never please ‘em all.


We left for Tokyo to make our reservations for Yazuda sushi. It was divine. Even after I told Yazuda-san himself I had eaten tuna liver in Takayama, and he (not so politely) informed me that tuna guts are always dumped into the sea, and in a mountain town like Takayama, it was far more likely that I’d eaten bear liver than tuna guts, it was still the most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten. I ate twice as much sushi as Tam and Cole, and they were forced to watch as me and the man who’d replaced Raquel at the 8 seat restaurant (she refused to eat sushi two days in a row) grunted our appreciation as we stuffed our mouths with the likes of sea urchin, needlefish and the best shrimp, EVER. Only when Raquel strolled in, after waiting on the steps outside the restaurant for an hour, did we make our exit. High on omega-3’s, I passed out in a stinky fishy mess, and we reconvened in the morning.
The next day we killed time with a giant Gundam until our reservation at the Robot Restaurant.
A note on themed restaurants in Tokyo:   
1. Cat cafes have far too many rules. Don’t pick up the cats, don’t let the cats sit on table, don’t touch the sleeping cats, don’t chase the cats, on and on and on. I found a cat who liked tummy-rubs, so it was still worth it, but for the tourist visiting Japan, avoid the cat café. You’ll have far more fun tormenting your own ball of fur when you return home.
2. Not all maid cafes are created equal. Raquel and I went to a maid café on our last visit to Tokyo, and loved it. The maids taught us all kinds of cute tricks, and the place was filled with all sorts of people, from Japanese bikers to British grandmothers. The maid cafe we took Tam and Cole to was empty except for a few single guys who spent a little too much time there. It was still overwhelming and we ended up paying too much (I wanted the maid dance instead of the photo, damn it!) but thus is life in Tokyo.  
3. The Robot Restaurant is awesome. The Robot Restaurant had it all: Saxophone wielding angels and robot guitarists who played nauseating renditions of James Blunt songs, drummers on ten foot tall dueling robotic platforms, a giant sequined horse, even a chain gun-wielding Rita Repulsa (my first crush) who was eaten by a huge jungle snake. The show was so good that one of the local crime lords came out, complete with 5 hired escorts and two bodyguards. I heard someone complain that the crime lord’s women got all the popcorn, but I’d rather be popcorn-less than a prostitute any day.
You haven't experienced James Blunt until you've seen it performed by robots.

We went shopping in Akihabara the next day, and I watched the chaos of Tokyo slowly blind my friends. They started strong, but by the evening Cole was complaining that the claw machines were a conspiracy and Tam looked like his beloved sage grouse, paralyzed by bright lights. We dragged them to Karaoke and plied them out of their daze with alcohol, otherwise I think they would’ve ended up in a puddle, trying to hide from the lights and the Japanese and the consumerism beyond anything Austin has to offer. But we had fun. Cole found a vending machine that served hot corn drink and drank way too much of it, and Tam and I danced to some street music, though when I blinked Tam had been replaced by a Japanese man furiously dancing with my crotch. I found my friends and we got the hell out.
We made the mistake of taking them shopping again the next day. Tam shrugged compulsively as shop owners made him clean their store fronts and Cole proclaimed he’d rather people watch than shop, though his back was turned to the seething crowd behind us. Raquel, oblivious to their plight, shopped like a fiend until they abandoned us for the nearby Meiji Shrine.
The magic of Tokyo is the juxtaposition of it all. On one side of the tracks is the busiest shopping district in Tokyo, on the other an ancient mystic forest, swirling with mist and sacred temples. I found Tam underneath a Torii gate, clearly looking relieved to be somewhere he could hear birdsongs. Cole had left him for a bathroom, so we set out into the park, hoping to spot a giant white tongue clicker. Meiji shrine and the park around it is beautiful, like something from another time. We saw three weddings, a collection of flowering bonsai trees, and woman who could make birds land in her hand. Meiji Shrine is magic.  
I asked them what they thought of it all, of Japan, of Tokyo, and of Takayama. I think Cole said it best. “Japan is different down to the smallest detail, but the big stuff’s all the same.”  
And it’s true. Everything is different in Japan, the stores, the restaurants, the games, but it’s still all the same, clothes, food, distractions. Like everything about the modern world, Japan has the rare ability to overwhelm but is usually underwhelming to a fault. But the great thing about it is when the flashing lights are too much, and there's too many people all around you, you can head for the wild that’s always pressing in on the cities and escape, as long as you’re willing to follow your friends.

Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama Japan with his darling wife, and already misses his friends. If you liked this story, +1 it, or read more about Tokyo, or Japanese food.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bromance on Ontake

Mt. Ontake recently erupted and still smolders.
We climbed a volcano close enough to Mt. Ontake to see the smoke rise from the recently erupted volcanic sister. As the tour bus rounded a bend in the road and the plume of smoke appeared, the passengers all gasped and shamelessly snapped pictures. I was sitting next to Raquel and a seat over from the other half of a budding bromance. Had I known that the proposal would lead to undressing and bathing with fifty other Jpanese men, I might not have accepted the offer to climb Mt. Norikura. But I didn’t know where this bromance was going to take me, so away we went.  
I am no stranger to the bromance. I’ve had them start in high school classrooms from shared chuckles or in a bus when a bearded man noticed I was reading his favorite book. My most recent bromance began at work when a coworker mentioned he had nine pets at home. I simply had to know more! I typically think of bromances as two men try to feel eachother out to see if there’s more than just sparks and if a true relationship can be kindled. Sometimes a bromance blossoms into something longlasting, but what happened with Mr. Tomodachi was something different. It was all over so fast, and I have nothing to show for it but memories.
After agreeing to climb the mountain together (We had already forgotten about our wives) we ate a bowl of noodles to build up our strength. Tomodachi-san and I both ate are soup much too fast and were forced to make small talk and giggle while our wives finished their meal.
We set off after that, Tomodachi-san plowing ahead and me trying to keep up. We’d wait for the women ever so often, I’d snap pictures, the women would catch up and with a cry of ‘daijobu!’ Tomodachi-san and I would set off again.
The bottom part of the trail up Norikura is a breeze. It’s all gently rising switchbacks that take hikers past fields of shrunken pine bushes and snow hiding from the end of summer in the shadows of boulders. Tomodachi-san told me he’d once bicycled up from the very bottom of Norikura, the part of the journey where we’d rode the bus. Needless to say, I was impressed.
The trail grew steeper and became little more than a pair of guide ropes framing volcanic gravel and boulders in a jagged line towards the peak. Tomodachi-san never slowed; he only paused to wait for his wife now and then. He told me he was sixty-three and I simply couldn’t believe that he still looked so young.
But you have no gray hair! I exclaimed
He smiled, tickled that I’d noticed.
We reached the peak and snapped pictures of Mt. Ontake on the horizon. We were a little unnerved watching a recently erupted volcano while we stood on its sister, so we headed back down.
We stopped only to have a snack once the trail levelled out. While we ate Raquel spotted a stoat and Tomodachi-san’s wife saw a magnificent bird that only lives in those mountains, but Tomodachi-san and I only had eyes for eachother. 
Back on the bus, Tomodachi-san asked if we’d like to go to an onsen together. I had been looking for an excuse to go to a traditional Japanese bath, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. What better way to cement a friendship than getting naked together? Raquel was less enthused, but still agreed that at least we’d have genuine Japanese people with us, and there was less of a chance we’d get thrown out for our tattoos.
At the onsen we separated to go to the respective gendered pools. I shucked off my clothes, and Tomodachi-san led me to the showers. I found a stool and a showerhead amongst dozens of other naked men who were all eagerly soaping their pits and rinsing their balls. They all scrubbed with unbridled enthusiasm. It’s taboo to bring dirt into the spring-fed baths, and they’re serious about it. Scrubbed clean, we headed outside for a hot sulfurous bath.
A pool in the crater of Mt. Norikura. Onsen are spring-fed
pools heated by the volcanoes everywhere in Japan.
“Atsui! Atsui!” Tomodachi-san said as he sunk into the steaming water. We soaked in the bath as naked Japanese men gossiped around us. I don’t speak much Japanese and Tomodachi-san didn’t speak much English, so we just sat in silence, enjoying the fall colors and each other’s company. An older patron rose from the pool as we entered. His balls dangled so low I could see them from behind.
After a few minutes I understood why so many men were getting up, shamelessly stretching and moving to other pools. The water temperature and mineral composition of each pool was different. We were in one of the hottest, and it was filled with white mucous-like flecks that made it look like egg drop soup. We ambled over to another pool that was cooler and looked more like ocean water. It was there that Tomodachi-san asked me who my best friend in Takayama.  
I told him it was Kensei-san, the most badass bartender in all of Japan. Tomodachi-san didn’t know him though. He revealed that he knew my boss Iwamaya-san, and seemed relieved that he wouldn’t have to share me.
“Friends?” he asked me, and touched my shoulder.
Friends, I agreed and clapped him on the back.
We finished our soak and headed to the waiting room to meet our forgotten wives. They weren’t there yet, so we sat down and waited.
I went to get tea and returned to find Tomodachi-san laying down, staring up at the ceiling. I laid down too, relaxed by the mineral springs and the warm light coming from the rafters of the hotel.
“Joe-san?” Tomodachi-san asked, and I rolled over to find him staring at me, his head propped up on his arm, like a tween at a sleepover ready to reveal her big crush.
“Today, a secret?” he asked, and put two fingers to his lips to ask for silence. “Iwayama-san” he said, and shook his head no. I was confused, but hadn’t been planning on revealing my intimidate day in the mountains to my boss anyway, so I agreed.
Our wives returned, Tomodachi-san swore them to silence as well, and we parted ways. Though I have his phone number, I can’t imagine actually calling him. But maybe that’ll change the next time I need some fresh air and a good soak.
Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama, Japan with his darling wife who’s his actual best friend in town. If you enjoyed the homoerotic vibe of this piece, you might enjoy grunting with gaijin, if you want more about the natural splendor of Japan, why not find out the insects of Japan.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Horror of the Lion-dancers


A Lion-dancer nibbles the brain of a defenseless child.
This weekend we witnessed the horror of a Lion-dance festival. Thirty beasts moved in unsettling synchronized steps, then turned their snapping jaws on the crowd. Some of the adults offered their own flesh, but the most delicious morsels, the children, were unwillingly sacrificed to the monsters. Kids watched in mute horror as parents carried screaming children to the jaws of the hungry, dancing lions. Dazed, the children didn’t think to protest until their own parents lifted them and carried them to their doom. They’d scream, punch with their tiny little fists, cry for help, but to no avail. The only escape was through the jaws of one these beasts. The Lion-dancers would nibble at the screaming child’s brains, their parents would laugh and maybe snap a picture, and then the ordeal was over.
Do you want a snack? Parents would ask their traumatized little ones.
I needed this festival. As the trees turn orange, and Halloween approaches, I’ve been feeling a bit homesick. There’s still bags of cheap candy in the stores in Japan, but everyone assures me that, no, there will be no trick-or-treaters. I always hiked miles as a kid, jacked on high fructose corn syrup, daring my friends to go grab candy from the abandoned house with a strobe light flashing eerily, only to pee my pants as a masked killer rushed us from the hedges. Later, too old to trick-or-treat I dressed as a scarecrow on my front porch and grabbed unsuspecting victims or simply hid inside the door, waiting for the perfect moment to strike as my wife doled out candy.  So alas, I was quite sad I wouldn’t get to scare any children this year.
 
It seems that duty lies with the Lion-dancers.
My first experience with the Lion-dancers was at the kindergarten where I teach. The teachers stopped class and dragged the kids out to playground while the principal locked the doors to prevent the kids from hiding in the building. Six men came out, dressed in traditional Japanese garb. They played an eerie melody on shrill flutes that wormed its way into my head. One child was already crying, and soon the whole school was sobbing. They knew what was coming. Only I was ignorant of the terror.
The Lion-dancers made their entrance. As for costumes, I’ve seen far more convincing at Haunted Houses. A Lion-dancer is obviously two men, a sheet, and a red lion/dragon/dog mask with a moveable jaw that one of the dancers snaps in time to the music. The Lion-dancers hopped and their jaws snapped to the beat. The kids tried to scoot away, but their cruel teachers, (myself among them) didn’t let them.
“They’re just people,” I cooed in a foreign tongue.
Then the Lion-dancers rushed forward. The kids ran. Teachers stopped as many as they could. I managed to snag a few and held them down as the Lion-dancers approached, jaws snapping. We took turns dragging the kids forward towards their hungry jaws. The Lion-dancers would politely nibble each child’s skull--melting them into a sobbing wreck--then abandon them for their next victim.
I actually had to teach them English after this traumatizing experience. The kids looked like hell. Their hair was tangled, their clothes dirty from running and falling in the path of the Lion-dancers. They sang the alphabet through tear streaked faces. They needed a nap or a stiff drink.
I told this story to one my most gifted students and she explained the horrific custom. A bite from the Lion-dancers bestows wisdom, so schools hire them to terrorize the children and parents drag their children to festivals to be bitten. Lion-dancers were soon going to visit her high school and she doubted she’d be able to face them. When she was little, a Lion-dancer came to her door and chased her through her house until it cornered her under her bed. Her parents dragged her out and offered their screaming child to the monster. This student is seventeen years old and she’s still terrified of the things. The terror of the experience must be proportional to the intelligence bestowed, because she’s one of my brightest students, and I have heard no story more terrifying.
Back at the festival, the Lions left and were replaced with a slow procession of children. They moved
The young samurai of the festival
across the stage in a hypnotic dance. There were tiny girls in kimonos, boys with spears, hammers and umbrellas, and samurai. After the trauma of the Lion dance, their performance was relaxing and absorbing. They moved with the surety of tradition, each verse another step in their dance.
These weren’t the same kids whose parents drag them to these festival. These were performers, a part of the festival, perhaps the children of the Lion-dancers. These were the children who made the festival exist, the kids carrying the tradition. But there were only so many of them. The rest were from all over the city, brought here to experience the purest of emotions, terror, and in doing so, perhaps plant the seed of distrust in their parents that would one day grow into full-fledged rebellion and drive them from their homes. After all, they weren’t part of any traditional dance, they were victims of the slaughter. City kids with videogames and ramen noodle shops and no roots to their past, save this one, the one that might drive them farther from tradition than their own terrified parents already are.
But I don’t think it will.

There’s something about terror that transcends culture; people the world over value fear. Be it the Brothers Grimm, Freddy Krueger or Lion-dancers, adults get a sick pleasure from traumatizing their children. Parents, camp counselors and big brothers the world over recognize this. Some part of us wants to be scared, that’s why we ask to hear ghost stories and to see scary movies. Fear awakens something in us, something primal, but perhaps it must be balanced by silly masks and obvious costumes, so we can still sleep at night in a house with the true masters or terror: our parents. 
Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama Japan with darling wife, and looks forward to carving pumpkins and handing out candy despite the lack of trick-or-treaters, damn it. Read more about a genius Japanese students, or other weird Japanese festivals. And please +1 if you liked this story!  
 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Takayama Matsuri


The shrill trill of flutes, ancient yatai, and the greasy smell of festival food all competed for my attention. I had been looking forward to this festival since we arrived in Japan.  

The story goes the emperor of Japan hired carpenters from Takayama to build his palace, as they were the best woodworkers in all of land. And though they built his beautiful home, they were still required to pay heavy taxes. Unhappy with this state-imposed robbery, the carpenters melted all of their money into gold leaf, traded their skill for silk, and made the most beautiful yatai in all of Japan.   

And yet, something about the festival, like much of Japan, is an unspoken bond between the ancient and the modern, (another contradiction for my regular readers). In the states, there are no festivals like this, no ancient rituals to the gods. In the states, people crowd around to see musicians play guitar, while at the Fall Festival, they crowd around to see puppets. And when the puppet fails to swing out to the last rung of the monkey bars, a man in a hood carefully moves it, strings be damned, and the crowd giggles at this failure of ancient technology and snaps pictures on their cell phones.

The old and the new blend together seamlessly in japan. Even the crowd seemed a mix of the centuries; there were tiny children and doting grandparents, uniformed teenagers daring each other to dip their toes in the river, Tokyo fashionistas in too-high heels, and Europeans crowding around the only gyro stand in all of Takayama. Though we were all there ostensibly for the yatai, I think that we, like people throughout the ages, truly enjoy festivals for the food.

This is what my students told me after all. “The best time to go is 10am.”

Really? Why’s that?

“That’s when the food stands open.”

The food was also part ancient tradition and part modern artifice. I, being the foolish foreigner that I am, headed straight for the enormous spiked sea snails an elderly man was grilling. Shocked that I wanted one of these horrifyingly large mollusks, he carefully picked a juicy one and handed it over with a tiny wooden spear for me to gore it with. I wandered off, cradling my meal and looking for my wife. I founder her grinning ear to ear as she held a big, round orange and sucked the juice from it. Drinking orange juice straight from the orange looks like something traditional, but it requires a specialized blender to liquefy the fruit’s insides and not damage the peel. The ancient and modern blended yet again. Eager to show her up with my far more bizarre festival fare, I speared my snail’s firm flesh and took a bite.

It was the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten. Ever. I am not one to be squeamish. I dine on all manner of sea creatures, from unagi to urchin. I’ve eaten cartilage, raw scallops and garden snails by the bucket. I once slaughtered a guinea fowl only to dine upon its heart and gizzards. So I think I’m more adventurous than some (certainly than my wife, who thinks a cucumber on a stick is the epitome of exciting food) but this sea snail was horrible. It was bitter, bitter as the smell of burnt matches. It was huge and impossible to tear apart with my teeth. I’ve had snails before, and always the intestines are removed, but not for this guy. As I gnawed at the snail’s flesh and attempted to force it down my throat, I saw centimeters of curled up blackness approach my mouth. It was too much. I spit it out, ashamed of my shortcomings, and begged my wife for a drink of orange juice.

I gave up on traditional food after that. I queued up with the Europeans for a gyro, bought a bag of tiny pastries that are somewhere between a baked donut and a funnel cake, and a skewer of delicious hida beef. The gyro was strange, the sweets gave me a bellyache, but the hida beef… oh yes. Hida beef is richer than the emperor. Hida beef is succulent rivers of fat between tiny islands of muscle. If hida beef is the solar system, the planets are the meat, and the enormous space in between is grass fed, pampered perfection. Satiated, we went off in search of the parade.

The parade is a fantastic blend of the ancient and the modern. Around a dozen men haul each yatai down narrow Japanese streets. People lined up, eager to see this procession. One man screamed at the rest to get out of the way while a bumbling police officer continued to let cars drive towards the approaching yatai.

Some of the elaborate floats have children perched atop them, some venerated members of the community, but the tallest float had the greatest rider. He perched atop the very tip of the yatai, and did not come down, not even when they tilted the entire structure back on two wheels so they could maneuver it around a corner. He carried a pronged stick, and used it to prevent electrical wires from snagging on elaborate gold sculptures or electrocuting anybody. His presence, more than anything else at the festival, made me appreciate the blend of the ancient and modern. This route has changed little over the years. And yet the festival evolves. It has too. Water damage and theft might have once been the greatest threat to the gods within the floats, but now
this man must ride the yatai to prevent death by electric wire.

And the festival participants take all this in stride. There is no contradiction between the old and the new, no need to silence your cellphone in the presence of the divine. There’s a coexistence between the ancient and the modern here that is as puzzling as it is refreshing. I can see a seven eleven from the temple near my home. Apartment buildings fight rice paddies for space; neither is willing to move, and neither has to. Instead both ways of thought, tradition and progress, grudgingly accept each other and force each other to evolve.

It’s strange and a little unsettling, but it’s beautiful and makes for better festival food than sea snail.
Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama Japan with his darling wife. If you enjoyed this story, why not drunkenly tell your friend about it at the bar, or hit the +1 button?

Read more about Festivals, food, or fun in Japan.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cultural Contradictions.


“Does Japan have any contradictions?”
My brother asked me this a while ago. I shrugged in reply, not sure where he was going with this.
“You know like how America is obsessed with freedom but has more people in jail than China.”
Ah yes. Cultural contradictions. Like how Americans spend time and money on their front lawns and then hide inside their homes.  Japan has them in spades. They love nature here, and also everything being individually wrapped (and I mean EVERYTHING. I've opened a bag of peanuts to find bags of peanuts inside.) But the most obvious contradiction is their relationship with gambling.
Ask a Japanese person about gambling and they all say the same thing “Gambling is illegal in Japan.”

What about pachinko? 

“Eh… that’s different.” My boss told me gambling with pachinko works something like the electoral college system does in America, its participation by proxy. If you win at pachinko, all you can do with your tub of ball bearings is trade them in for a Pikachu doll or a tea set. You leave with your doll, confused by the whole experience. Why was it so stressful? Why were there people chain smoking at eleven am? What just happened to your money? But on you way out a man from the small store next door calls you over and offers you a nice stack of cash for your doll. You hand it over and thus, gambled by proxy.
Contradictions are everywhere, and not just perpetrated by the Japanese. Most of the ex-pats here pine for the home they’ll never return to. I'm guilty of this as well. I spent last Saturday with a man from Holland complaining about how lousy the beer is in Japan while we drank delicious shochu- Japanese moonshine- that his wife had infused with sour plums. We always want what we can't have. Maybe that's the contradiction of desire.
Safety is a contradiction in Japan. Japan is a very safe place, but never have I felt more consistently in a state of danger. Takayama is supposed to be very safe, it's not near any fault lines or in danger of being hit by a tsunami, yet they use emergency broadcast speakers every day, a safety feature that would do little to save my English speaking ass. And yet, when Mt. Ontake erupted, less than 30 kilometers away, all my Japanese friends told me not worry, we were upwind from the deadly plumes of ash. Finally, a genuine threat, and for once I felt safe.
There’s even a religious cult (hey that’s what the locals call it) that is centered in Takayama because its perceived safety. They picked a city an island plagued with tsunamis, typhoons, earthquakes and volcanoes, for safety. Maybe they worship the contradiction.  
One of my students, an incredibly gifted girl explained it to me.
“Do you know this place?” she asked, and drew its recognizable roof and the peach atop it. I nodded. It was hard not to know it. The temple is huge and is visible from almost everywhere in the city.
“They believe it is like the story of Noah, do you know it?”
I feigned ignorance and sat in amazement as a Japanese high school student told me a parable from my own culture.
“Noah got two of every animal and put them in his boat . It rained, and everyone died, but Noah and the animals were safe.”
I got chills. I’m not religious, not in the least, but it was amazing to hear a story I'm familiar with told to me by someone who didn’t grow up knowing it. It gave it a certain magic that fairy tales possess. 
“They believe their temple is the boat.”
Wow. Bravo. A perfect parable. Made magical to me because it was told in a foreign land. Contradictions abound.
But what do you think? I asked her.
“Well, Takayama is very safe.”
“Yes, yes, yes but do you believe these people were chosen by god to be safe in their ark?” Hey, its not often you get to talk about metaphysics with a high schooler. She smiled devilishly. This is what she had been waiting for. 
“No. I think they’re just the animals.”

I just set her up for the punchline. This enchanting story of religion and survival was just a rouse, another brilliant contradiction,  made sweeter for involving a familiar ancient religion and the fools that believe it.

Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Japan with his darling wife. If you liked this, why not read more about foreigners or the floods he barely survived?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Raquel Rides God's Wooden Penis


The gyrating yoga instructor knelt and stroked the enormous wooden cock. I adjusted my loin cloth, then took a pull from the bottle of sake and watched in horror as the yoga instructor (penis-priestess?) pulled my darling wife closer and closer to the huge wooden wiener. Raquel shook her head, trying to protest but the cult of the phallus must be appeased!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I had no intention of wearing a loin cloth and stoically standing around with twenty other scantily clad Japanese men as my wife did gods-know-what to a ceremonial baby maker. That morning we’d watched kindergarteners compete in Sports Day for goodness sake!
Chaba had invited us to this ‘party,’ and sent us a flyer detailing the event. If I’ve ever felt a there’s a reason to learn Kanji, it’s to not unknowingly go to a men’s fertility festival. True, the poster had pictures of shafts of flesh carved from shafts of wood, but I thought the party was just near a penis shrine or something.
Instead I arrived to find the only other American shucking his clothes and slipping on a ceremonial loin cloth.
“Come on Joe, man up! You don’t go to penis party in the woods and not dance around naked!” Steve is nothing if not encouraging.

But he makes a good point. Life is better if you participate. So I purchased a ceremonial loin cloth, declined an invitation to help put it on, and slipped into the tent. I tied the string around my waste, pulled the long rectangle of fabric through my legs, around my manhood, and tucked the remainder of the over the string so the cloth dangled oh-so-eloquently in front of El Torito. 
I emerged from the tent clothed only in the loin cloth, shoes, and my watch. Raquel tried valiantly not to melt into a puddle of giggles. Poor Raquel. What was to come was far more bizarre than any loin cloth. Steve asked how it felt and I admitted it was pretty nice. It’s totally adjustable, so no matter the size of your little guy, he’s comfortable, and standing around in a loin cloth is less awkward when everyone else is doing it. Sure, I was the only guy with a beard, chest hair, or tattoos, and the only other American understood everything they were saying, but hey, I belonged. 
The man leading the ceremony (a bartender in the city park that I’ve bumped into at the grocery store) chanted from the top of the hill and Steve and I marched over to watch Japanese men meticulously tie a five foot penis to a wooden frame. The penis was frighteningly realistic. It even had a crack down the side that resembled a bulging vein. The package secured, we all grabbed hold of the frame and erected the penis into the sky.
We marched up the hill, the leader calling out Japanese sexual innuendos and us responding, Yatai! Yatai! We lifted the penis above our heads, rattled it, shook it, sang to it, and spun it in circles. Appeased, the penis-priest commanded us to march back down the hill. We followed a man twirling fire and the yoga instructor as they danced down the hill, beckoning to the dong.
At the bottom of the hill, we set the five-footer down near a fire pit and got down to the business of drinking. The leader pulled out a huge bottle of sake, took a long pull, and passed it around the circle. The last man spit a mouth full of sake into the fire. The alcohol made the flames burn brighter as he anointed a new, smaller cock with more sake. The bottle was set aside, and we formed a tight circle.
Suddenly we were all bent over, each man facing the barely concealed ass of the man in front of him. Before I had time to understand what was happening, the man behind me passed the three foot model between his legs, and into my arms. I caressed it, gripped it hard, and gave the cock to the ass in front of me. The cock went around and around and we all moved with it, careful to never let it touch the ground as we ceremonially fucked each other’s butts.
The yoga instructor wiggled her hips, cheered the cock on, and at some point dragged Raquel into the circle. We passed the penis around the two women as the yoga instructor danced, and Raquel made sure she kept her hands clapping, busy, and away from the damn thing. 
But alas, her humble protests were in vain.
The leader called for us to stop and we returned the three footer to its rightful place next to the booze. We passed around another huge bottle of sake and chanted “Yatai, yatai!”
Then the chanting stopped. The yoga instructor pulled Raquel to the five foot veined behemoth we’d marched around with earlier. She cooed to it and continued to wriggle her hips as she pulled Raquel down next to it.
“She wants you to ride it.” Steve said.
Thanks Steve, but we figured that one out. Raquel shook her head as the woman tried to explain that it was for strength, and fertility.
“But I don’t want a baby!”
“Don’t worry,” she said, “this ceremony is good for a year.”
Drunk on sake and testosterone I offered my poor wife no escape. Gambare, I told her, do your best.
The only other woman at the festival, a mother with a tiny baby who looked nearly as uncomfortable as Raquel was pushed forward. Like deer cornered by a pack of wolves they looked for an escape. But seeing none, they surrendered and straddled the boner.
The leader called for the old heave ho, and the men all dropped to their knees and grabbed the frame that now held not only a monstrous penis, but a mother, her baby, my wife, and the excitable yoga instructor. I pushed my way next to Raquel, concerned for her safety instead of her embarrassment, and we lifted them all into the air.
They rode the cock as we wiggled it, shook it, and rattled it at the heavens. We briefly set it down and Raquel protested, “I don’t want to ride the fucking penis!” But the gods weren’t yet satisfied, so we hoisted them back into the vagina that is the night sky. There was more shaking, rattling, and a heart stopping moment where the men opposite me didn’t quite lift their side high enough and the riders almost tipped into the fire. We decided to call it quits.
We returned the penis and our sacrificial women to the earth, and I followed Raquel as she scampered off into the night.
The men lit up cigarettes, cracked beers, and put their clothes back on. The die-hards stayed near a fire and continued the ritual: they carved a daikon radish into a penis, danced to house music with a sperm cell, and fed us rice balls as they pointed flash lights in our faces and stared at us without blinking. I was the first man offered a rice ball, and had no idea what to do, so I ate it, unsure if I had just completed a ritual, committed an egregious taboo, or consumed ceremonial semen.
Even at penis parties, I think the old ways are best. I never doubted what I was doing as I hoisted my wife into the air riding that phallus. It was for fertility and strength and was undeniably hilarious. In contrast, the techno sperm dance and rice ball stare off were confusing and uncomfortable. That’s the strength of traditions that last: we keep erecting Christmas trees or penises because it feels right. All that modern stuff is just pissing in the wind.
Chaba offered us lodging in his tent and Raquel looked at me with murder in her eyes. Neither of us wanted to see any of these men in the light of day, so despite not getting any photos, we made our exit.
After all, we had a fertility ceremony to complete. 
Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama Japan with his darling (and undeninaly patient) wife. When he’s not making love to the heavens, he’s a teacher of all things. If you liked this story, read more about Chaba, or cultural acceptable nudity in Japan!