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Yakuza Moon

I opened one of the albums on the table, and looked at photos of what must have been the tattoo master’s work. One in particular caught my eye. It wasn’t just a tattoo: it was a piece of art using the human body as a canvas, with delicately curving lines representing graceful koi leaping up a foaming waterfall. I’d grown up surrounded by men with tattoos, starting with my father, and I’d never felt there was anything wrong with having one. Ever since I was a kid I’d loved to draw, and I was sure I’d been inspired by the beautiful work of art on my father’s body. But nothing had ever spoken to me like the work of this tattoo master.

Shoko Tendo, Yakuza Moon

I don’t know why I chose this quote, as most of the book is about Shoko’s addiction to drugs, a series of violent, especially brutal relationships, and her struggle to “grow up”, even in her thirties. There’s not much substance here, IMHO, but I have to say the insight into the yanki lifestyle (punk kids) was an eye-opener: never in my life had I imagined any kids in Japan behaving so disobediently, skipping school, inhaling paint thinner, ordering gang members to rape girls…

Every time I consider getting a tattoo I always come back to my first concern: Japanese hot springs. If I were denied entrance to even one, it wouldn’t be worth it to me just for a little piece of macho art. Do women really go for that on guys? Discuss.

The latest episode of South Park tackles the Japanese whaling practices – absolutely hilarious. Apparently they hate whales because they believed a whale and a dolphin flew the Enola Gay to Hiroshima. Definitely check it out.I started out small in my Japanese travels: walking behind Saijou Station to the local Shinto shrine; discovering the AEON supermarket open 24-hours; only then venturing “way out” to Hiroshima City… for 35 minutes and 570 yen of travel, you’d think I’d know there was more to see. Eventually, as my language skills developed and I read more about some of the sights within ferry, train, and biking distance, I grew more comfortable trying my luck on the road. Despite everything I managed to see in two years, a huge list remained, giving me a reason to come back.

1. Watch Yabusame


Horseback archery. Some of those riders are amazingly gifted. There were a few yasubame events in Kagoshima Prefecture, but I wanted to see one of the famous shows at the Tono Matsuri in September. Tono, in northern Honshu, is insanely remote.

2. Ski in Hokkaido

My Japanese skiing experience is limited to Mizuho Highland in Hiroshima Prefecture, but I always longed to try out the mountains in Hokkaido.

3. Visit Cape Soya

Like Alan Booth, I’d love to see Japan from cape to cape. Scratch Sata off the list after my cycling adventure last year

4. Tanabata Matsuri in Aomori

The biggest of its kind in Japan.

5. Hike ALL of Kirishima

I did get to do a day trip to Kirishima, but missed out on several of the key peaks and hot springs; It’d be great to camp in that area.

6. Visit the North Coast – Matsue

I know there’s not much to see if you follow the coastline from Shimonoseki to Matsue, but that’s precisely what I wanted; not even trains run east to west that far north.

7. Run the Yoron Marathon

I was signed up for the 2008 Tokyo Marathon, but as you may recall, I shattered my wrist about two months prior to the start. There are several Japanese races I’m proud to have competed in: Miyajima 10k, Nagasaki Bayside Half Marathon, Hiroshima Peace Marathon. I wrote about the Yoron Marathon as my choice race for Asia in a recent Vagabondish article

8. Eclipse Ceremony on Akusekijima

Akusekijima is a small, small island in the Tokara Chain in southern Kagoshima Prefecture. Every year in late July, the island brings back its traditional ceremonies – dancing in big wooden masks – for the coming of the solar eclipse. I missed the greatest eclipse in the history of time on July 22nd, but we’ll see what the future holds.

9. Visit a Tea House in Kyoto

This would be expensive, unlikely, and probably not live up to its expectations. Still, if I had the right Japanese friends or business associates, I’d love to drink and eat in a Kyoto tea house with real geisha (not the watered-down version they use for tourists). Maybe Sayuki would take me?

10. Finish the 88-Temple Walk in Shikoku

I walked this Buddhist pilgrimage ikkoku mairi, one prefecture at a time. Tokushima-ken was mountainous, difficult, and extremely beautiful… but I only finished 23 temples. 65 more in my lifetime…

11. Be a Guest in a Japanese Home

I’ve been a guest for lunch as part of my osettai on the Shikoku Henro Trail, and received an offer from a kindly old man in Sapporo, but have yet to really experience everything one can in a full tatami-mat, doting mother, rebellious daughter, steaming bath, amazing dinner Japanese home.

12. Cherry Blossom Festival in Okinawa

Well, I suppose just visiting Okinawa would be enough… if I could kayak around Zamamijima. I never really got the full hanami experience, either: sitting down with friends with some yakiniku and sake as the pedals gently fall.

13. Spend Money on a Hostess Bar

Yen yen ya’ll. Guess that expression doesn’t work cross-culturally. Let me first point out I have no desire to look for a date in a hostess bar… but I can’t help it, I’m curious. Curious to see what these modern-day teahouses offer to the working man (and woman). Unfortunately, unless I happen to have several thousand dollars I’m willing to blow on wine, karaoke, and the company of an attractive woman in the floating world, it just won’t happen. Closest I’ve come is reading Bar Flower by Lea Jacobson.

14. Learn to be Fluent in Japanese

Pretty self-explanatory. My language skills, though enough to get me around, weren’t exactly on the level of a Japanese intellectual.

15. See the Lantern Festival in Nagasaki

The ceremonies in Hiroshima were very awe-inspiring. I’d really like to know if there are any differences with the August 9th events in Nagasaki.

16. Shame an Evangelical on a Crowded Street in Japanese

I hate missionaries, Evangelicals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Hate them. Hate. Clear enough? I managed to steer clear of them the majority of my time in Japan, but every so often… well, let’s just say if I had the Japanese skills, the time, and the right inclination, I wouldn’t hesitate to loudly stuff that religious nonsense down their throats.

17. Do more Volunteer Work

Volunteering an orphanage in Aira was a rare opportunity, one I’d gladly repeat.

18. Study Aikido

A lot of the marital arts were tempting (with the exception of sumo), but I think aikido is the best fit for me. Of course I know I can look for a training group outside of Japan, but still…

19. Eat Ikizukuri

Sashimi is usually prepared in restaurants from a live animal, but, once served, quite inert. Ikizukuri is something very different. It often begins with a diner choosing a live fish, which a trained chef will then carefully slice up and present – the heart still beating as you take a bite.

20. Yell in a Kabuki

Unlike in many western dramas, Kabuki plays encourage audience members to participate by shouting out names and answering characters’ questions. Now if I only knew what to shout…