Japan 2010: 19 - Where I Have a Rude Awakening




I opened an eye. Everything was dark, the merest hint of moonlight filtering in through the thin curtains.

'Click...... slurp',

I rolled over and lifted my body, narrowly missing the air conditioner unit just above my head. It was three in the morning, and I was at the hostel. I had acquired the top bunk in the corner next to the air con. Maybe it was that.


My disoriented mind woke up enough to realise that the noise wasn't coming from above my head, it was from down below. I rolled over and peered through the gloom. Everything was still, from what I could see. The bunk below me was occupied but motionless, and the one across the room had a single figure on the bottom under a duvet. Someone further into the darkness was also sleeping in the third set of bunks, but nothing seemed to be coming from there either. In fact, the noise had stopped. I turned over and closed my eyes again.


Oh for heavens sake. I turned and looked again. Was it the heater? There was an oil filled electric heater sat across the window. Maybe it was just chugging and glugging into life? But again, the noise had stopped. Oil-filled heaters aren't sentient. Not even in Japan.

I turned over and it began again. This was no coincidence.


Oh no. My brain was becoming increasingly confused and thus interested in the situation, and because I have an analytical mind, it was trying to imagine what would be making such rhythmic sounds that stopped whenever I tried to see what it was. It didn't take my mind long to come up with an explanation.

Fully awake now, I slowly peered over as the clicking and slurping became increasingly squelchy and the tempo began to increase as if reaching a crescendo. There weren't many things in life that require such repetitive movements, so when I looked over to where the sound was coming from - the bottom bunk across the window - I was expecting some furious duvet movements. Strangely, there were none. In fact, I thought I could see one of the guy's hands sticking out of the duvet looking innocent and quite motionless.

I was getting annoyed. I got up, padded down the bunk bed stairs and headed off to the toilet. Partly because I had a call of nature, but partly to let the little git know I was onto him, and people were moving around in his presence.

The rest of the hostel was silent and dark. Automatic lighting came on as I entered the communal bathroom area. It was about half past three in the morning according to the clock. I sat on the loo and pondered. What sort of masturbation makes such noises? And how did he manage to do it one handed without any visible movement? Was he some sort of octopus-man? I didn't want to think about these things, but my mind had already followed a train of thought and it wasn't going to stop until the situation had resolved itself. I headed back again none the wiser, but maybe my moving around had put him off.

An hour or so went by, and just as I was dropping off,

'Cliiiiiiick............. sluuuuuurp',

Slower and more laboured this time. He was trying to hide it. And by doing it slower, the slurping became more disgusting, and there was some squeaking of plastic on plastic mixed in. Did he have.. a device?

My mind unhelpfully conjured up such a device. An image of a tube onto the end of which was a rubber pipe, and attached to that was a squeezy ball thing to give some sort of pumping effect. That would have explained about everything. He was a mucky little perv trying out his new Oriental sex toy when no-one was awake to hear him, except I was awake and by now pretty angry. Purposefully mid way through a click-slurp cycle, I thumped the sturdy wooden bed strut next to my head, and then glared over it to see what reaction it had.

No pair of beady eyes stared back at me, but it had stopped the noise. For a few minutes.

Again, I thumped the bed strut and stared. Again, it stopped.

At the third strike, I had had enough.

I still wasn't 100% sure this guy was the culprit, or even if he was doing what I thought he was, but I was ready to chance my arm. As soon as it began, I was bolt upright. I flew down the bunk steps barely hitting a rung, and stooped over his duvet, which had now gone very silent.

'PLEASE. STOP. WANKING!', I semi-shouted.

There was a nervous rustle under the sheets and a face popped out. There was a very large and angry looking foreigner staring back at him with wild eyes and the nasal respiration of an angered cartoon bull.

'...sorry', he said feebly.

'Thank you', I said, without really expecting to. I turned around and stomped up to my bed. The remainder of the night (now the morning) was thankfully peaceful.

I woke properly at 7.30. The duvet across the room was motionless and nothing was visible. He was clearly embarrassed about the whole thing, and probably suspected the others had heard the situation as well. After a quick wash I packed up all my things and went downstairs. The reception opened at 8am, and I asked the guy behind the counter to put my bags in their locked room rather than leaving them in the dorm. I didn't want wanky device guy attacking my stuff in my absence out of resentment or malice.
Hotel Review: K's House Backpack Hostel Mt. Fuji (2700 yen/night, 1 night)
Ignoring the night antics of some visitors, K's House is a really nice hostel to visit and perfect for going sightseeing around Fuji (although a bit far if you're thinking of climbing it). Friendly staff, lots of info about the area and a load of facilities - and now it even has it's own bar. It's pretty cheap even for a Hostel, but you can pay a bit more and get a more private room. Internet: free, Towels: 100yen, Laundry: 200yen. Ring them for pickup from the station (10-20min walk depending on baggage) 8/10

Out of everything I could have done at Fuji, time had put some pretty strong restrictions on me. I would have to do whatever I was going to do before 11am, which is when the bus went to the station. I didn't fancy lugging my things up that steep hill (I'd remembered how bad it was when I did it before) so the bus wasn't going to be missed. I had put my name down the night before. This left really only one thing to do - go get a decent picture of Mt. Fuji, and the best place to do that, was at the top of Mt. Tenjo.

The ropeway to the beginning of the Kachi-Kachi trail up the mountain was out of action the last time I had visited, so it seemed like the ideal thing to do in the time I had, especially as it was so close. It wasn't the most exciting thing to do but the most achievable. My mind was made up.

According to the flyer, the first trip up would be at 9am, so I had a little time. I got a cup of tea and sat in the communal area once more. Before long, another guy came in who I recognised from the night before. He was Toby, and he was in the bottom bunk in the darkened corner of the room. Conversation began light about where we had been and where we were going, before Toby segued the conversation towards the antics of the previous night. Turns out both Toby and Wanky had been staying at the hostel for a few days, and each day he had been hearing the 'click-slurp'-ing every night. And he thought it was the air con too. I said goodbye and I hoped my outburst would put paid to things.
Outside, the air was cold, it had been raining, and there was fog. Lots of it. I couldn't see the majestic Mt. Fuji last night because it was dark. Today, it was completely hidden from view by fog. I took the long way round to the ropeway, across the Kawaguchiko bridge and round the lake coast, taking some moody mist-dominated pictures as I went. The summer had ended and the autumn was fast running out of steam. I passed by beds of dying flowers and greying grasses, their seeds wet and drooping from the rain.
Rounding the curve of the lake, I peered on the ground and saw a fabric camera case. It was thoroughly wet from the rain the night before and thus it's owner was long gone. It wasn't big enough for my new camera I had brought with me, but my old one should fit OK. I looked around furtively and no-one was about. Despite my conscience telling me to place it on a nearby post in case it's owner re-appeared, I squeezed the worst of the water out and pocketed it.

The ropeway entrance was up a small track off the main road, nestled snugly between a couple of hotels. Annoyingly, I had just missed the first car, which was now heading up to the summit, so I got my ticket and waited in the second one for it to leave. After about 10 minutes, it was clear that I was the only punter, so they let it go.
The trip up only took a couple of minutes, and gave nice views of the lake below, except for the dirty great cables in the way. And Fuji was still hiding.

At the top, I was greeted by a raccoon and a rabbit. The raccoon was wearing a heavy backpack, and the rabbit was stuffing yet more things into it. The raccoon seemed happy to shoulder this burden, but I don't think we're getting all the information on the relationship here.

Climbing up a set of steps I reached a plateau. A large platform covered in wooden decking, with an observation tower and some toilets. A love heart shaped frame provided a perfect photo opportunity for tourists as it would have framed Mt. Fuji perfectly, had it been there. Around the place were several other statues of the same raccoon and rabbit pair in a variety of japes, seemingly the character ambassadors for the area, trying to enthuse the kids into going exploring. However, each successive statue started to tell a darker story about their unhealthy relationship.
Over near the picnic area, poor Raccoon sat lonely, his rabbit friend disappeared off somewhere else, leaving him with his thoughts, and maybe some bruises. An expression of deep loneliness and regret lay behind his eyes. Over by the observation platform, Rabbit was treating Raccoon to what I can only describe as an aggressive sexual act, the pained and tearful expression of Raccoon saying it was not consensual. As if to bring the torture to an end, poor Raccoon ends up tied to the ceiling by his legs in the toilets. If I were still a kid, I'd be scarred for life by the story they were telling me.

I abandoned my search for more chapters in their sordid relationship, not wishing to look any more for fear of coming across a scene where Raccoon exacts a bloody and fatal revenge by bludgeoning the damn Rabbit to death with a lump hammer, posing forever over the mangled body letting out a primal scream of long-dreamt freedom. I took the trail up from the platform which was headed by a picture of them both happily about to start the climb themselves, best of friends as ever they were.
The ground was slippy underfoot, the trail heading steeply through the trees, the gnarled roots threatening to loosen the dirt steps and trip you up on the first opportunity. A little way up, the canopy above disappeared and an abandoned building - maybe a shop/museum mix - emerged out of the fog.
Carrying on upwards, the forest reappeared. Snaking my way up still further slippy logs and roots and through leafy mud, I eventually reached what appeared to be the summit. A small stone shrine sat waiting for someone to take notice of it.
All around was dead silence. There were no birds singing, and there wasn't even any wind. The mist created a spooky gloom, through which the darkened branches of the trees cut a shape, it was atmospheric and beautiful, and reminded me of the opening forest scenes from Princess Mononoke. But it was hard to convince myself that the trip was worth it.

I turned round and slip-slided back down to the observation deck. Still Fuji refused to show itself, so I sat down on the platform steps and waited for a bit, in the hope that it would peek out and I'd get some pictures before I had to leave. It was about a quarter to ten, so no chance to do anything else. I was stuck.

Slowly, some people made their way up on the ropeway, and populated the deck. Many were the older guard, who had come out of season to get a view without loads of kids running everywhere. A couple looked up at me and shared some amusing observations about the missing mountain in commendable English.
For the next half hour I scrutinised the shapes that came and went in the clouds and fog, trying to decide whether the constantly morphing shapes within were the outline of a mountaintop or not. In the end, I came away disappointed. My time had run out and the clouds had beaten me. I took the half past ten ropeway back to ground level.

Back at the bottom, the tourist shop on the street below beckoned. If I didn't buy something here, then everything else would be Tokyo-related, so I popped in to see if I could find something, and then rush back in double-quick time.

They had so many different boxes of sweets and cakes and biscuits, it took me longer than I wanted to choose. Finally I settled on a couple of boxes for no-one in particular (they're good presents for when you forget about someone) and then headed out of the door at a rush.

Five seconds later, I was spread out face down on the ground, my clothes soaking up most of a handily-placed puddle. There was a graze on my hand and a rip in my jeans, and the cake boxes were out of the plastic bag and across the road. I could feel a camera-shaped indentation on my stomach and I groaned at the prospect. I got up, noticing just behind me the bump in the road I had tripped over. Fortunately my camera was in my fleece pocket rather than round my neck and had largely survived, although the screen was now covered in scratches. Maybe this was the karma kicking in for nicking the camera case.

I got up and dusted off the grit, and squeezed as much water out of the fleece as I could, then half ran, half limped back to the hostel to catch the bus.

I had ten minutes when I got back, so got into the bathroom and tried to make the best of things. I washed my blooded hands and tried to get out the gritty water from my clothes, and put a bandage on to reduce the flow. When I'd done all I could I resurrected a few ounces of dignity and headed out to get the bags with as calm an expression as I could manage.

The people carrier was empty but for me, and the driver made a little smalltalk, though I was not much in the mood. Especially when, after I said I was going to stay my final couple of days in Otsuka, (a neighbourhood in Toshima), he said, 'why on earth would you stay there, it's awful'. Well, it was too late now. I just wanted a place to stay that was cheap and on the Yamanote line, and the hotel I had chosen was both these things. I sat silently after communicating this and waited for the station to appear on the horizon.

Inside, I bought a ticket back to Otsuki station (1110yen) and passed the time before the train arrived looking through the station gift shop (again). I settled on their nice but thin Mt. Fuji photography book (1250yen), and then had a Tempura Udon (700yen), which they had in stock this time (nice but I preferred the curry one). I did my bit to point an American guy towards the hostel, and then boarded the crazy mountain train once more, although not before being burned for an extra 300yen ticket because the train I was taking was an express. Grr.
Last time I had taken the express (the one with the crazy cartoon mountains on it), it was in a poor state inside. But they had fixed the televisions this time, and it showed an airplane-style journey along the route. Fortunately, the express missed out most of the stations on the route, although it had to keep to the same speed on the track line as it was heading through so many little towns and villages, so there wasn't much benefit.

The JR trains were a welcome sight once more, and after waiting a quarter hour I was on one and heading for Shinjuku once more. Otsuka station was a couple of stops away on the Yamanote line, and then once at the hotel (apparently, only a few blocks away) I could put down my things and then not worry about them again until I was ready to leave for the UK.

Shinjuku was it's usual hyper-busy self, and it was nice to get through it and up to the relatively quiet Otsuka station, four stops clockwise around the route. My lugging time would shortly be over it seemed.

I exited the station. It was raining. The hotel was thankfully quite close, but when I got to the counter inside and checked my wallet, it was lacking in cash. I needed 13000 yen to cover my stay, and I needed to find an ATM.

The hotel had handily provided a map, but I could see no Post Office on it, so I relied on the 7/11. It was across the station and into Toshima, and quite a trek. Perhaps foolhardily, I didn't leave my backpack with them.

The rain became heavier, and my backpack soaked it up. I was tired and aching, and this damn 7/11 was nowhere to be seen. When I eventually found it and entered through the doors I was soaked and less than cheerful. I got out 20,000yen and retraced my steps back, getting slightly lost on the way. Not. Happy.

The room was small and grey, barely big enough to fit a bed in, and there was a few years of dust and debris behind the heater. But it was functional and a welcome sight given what I had been through to get here. I showered and changed, and put up my dirty clothes to drip-dry in the bath, which was a bit naughty but I was past caring by this point.

I laid on my bed writing my diary and considering my next move. It was 3pm, and if last time was anything to go by, I'd be needing an extra case soon. Tokyo last time round was an exercise in propping up the economy with large amounts of tat purchasing, and it seemed quite likely I would be doing much the same this time. After all, tomorrow I would be visiting the Ghibli Museum again, and I know how much of a hole Mama Aiuto's wares burned in my wallet last time.

There was only one place I knew would have a decent range of luggage, and that was good old Don Quijote, a chain of shops that sold absolutely everything. I had been introduced to the Shinjuku store the first time on coming over, and now I would return.
They're dotted all over Tokyo, so I decided to visit the Akihabara branch. Arriving at Electric Town once again, it was still raining heavily, so my progress was hampered by using the intervening shops to try and keep dry. In amongst the anime and electronics shops was the Sega Arcade, a multifloored plaza containing the latest arcade games, as well as whole areas dedicated to the classic stuff.

Arcades in the UK are a pale imitation of what they used to be; most of the video games have gone from them, the 20p stand-up cabinets replaced by a mixture of fruit and gambling machines, and any open areas dominated by large £1/£2 a go driving/house of the dead sorts of games. Give me back the early nineties any day.

But Japan is different; their arcades take into account the desire for the old and the new, and they often sit together; the old JAMMA boards stuffed into a generic large-screened sit-down cabinet, or even better, a 1001-game compendium where all but the most obscure titles can often be found. I spent a good hour or so catching up on some Super Mario Bros, Gradius 2, R-Type, Parodius and Ikaruga, and if I hadn't have run out of 100yen coins, some more besides (although I was quite annoyed I couldn't find Raiga anywhere).
On the upper floors, past the photobooths and trinket vending machines stood the latest cabinets. The future, it seems consists of networked cabinets where players actually log in with accounts so they can build up stats.
Huge arrays of multiplayer cabinets with queues stretching back, and high-definition monitors set up around the walls showing the action from a spectator's view, often huge arenas where player mechs were fighting it out in a sort of Japanesey-fied Call Of Duty situation. Some cabinets (such as the Square-Enix Lord of Vermillion machines) were so new they were guarded by staff and I wasn't allowed to take pictures.
I managed to somehow tear myself away and got to Don Quijote's Akihabara store. It was in a block of buildings that I hadn't explored up til now, so I'd missed it at the start of the holiday. The first five floors were your typical DQ fare - stuffing as many things as possible into every available corner. On the 6th floor was another arcade, and floors 7 and 8 were host to some ticket-only event which the likes of me could not possibly attend, as was suggested to me by the polite but firm attendants at the top of the escalator.

I descended back to the shop and found a few things, including a suitcase for 4990yen, (which was bloody expensive compared to last time), plus some bags of sweets, an Akihabara Station towel and mug, and an Evangelion-themed box of chocs for friends. I was already down another 11000yen and I'd not even been to the money sink that was the Ghibli museum yet!

As the rain battered down still further, I flitted between shops and returned to Super Potato once more, and since I'd received requests for them, I bought a couple of reconditioned N64 pads (about 2000yen each) and a mint copy of Pilotwings 64 for 50yen (they had stacks of them)!

As the shops began to close down, I flitted between the ones still open, as the rain continued to batter downwards. Model shops, anime, arcades, souvenirs, and more. But by 10pm I had had enough and was on the train back to Otsuka, the rain finally abating. Rather annoyingly I headed down the wrong road back to the hotel and was greeted by.. a post office not more than a block away from where I was staying. I could have got my cash there instead of trudging through the rain. Sure enough, it was on the hotel map, but some genius had decided to take the post office sign and integrate it into a smiling face for me, thus making it less apparent. Thanks.

I sat eating pringles on my bed, grumbling and leafing through the dog-eared Tokyo Film Festival brochure I had picked up on my first day, trying to work out which I would be seeing tomorrow. My new suitcase had been given a trial by fire as I had moved all the souvenirs collected thus far into it. The backpacks were breathing a sigh of relief, but the new case was 95% full. Would all the inevitable tat that I would be powerless not to buy fit in tomorrow as well? Only time would tell. I looked at my grazed hand and rued the way this day had turned out. It had been a mixture of bad and worse. Tomorrow could only get better, couldn't it?

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