Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Beer Festival

Matt came for another visit on the 25th, just leaving last week on the 13th. By the end, I was tired as hell and sick to boot. Now I think I can write a little about it, weekend by weekend.

I had already decided on our plan for that first weekend more than a month prior, when while reading the Daily Yomiuiri newspaper I found an article about the Japan Beer Festival. Over 100 Japanese microbrews? We were there before Matt had even finalized his plane ticket.

So we went to Osaka for the festival and paid 3,000 yen for a 4 hour nomihodai (all you can drink) of more than 100 Japanese craft beers. They tried to handicap us a bit by only providing a 60mL cup, but that proved a futile gesture. Within the first half-hour, we had already sampled all of the beers. By the end of the first hour, we had decided on our favorite brew and taken up permanent residence at their table. By the second hour, Matt had installed himself behind the counter of the brewery booth - despite the continued protests of the woman distributing the samples - and we made a vow to this boisterous Kansai woman that we would drink all of her sample bottles ourselves.

Kansai people - that is, those from the Kansai region of the main island that encompasses Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe - deserve their reputation as a fiery lot though, as you can see in the next picture. As they finally closed the show down and forced us out, we stumbled out with a few souvenir bottles and our skateboards. I think we were able to skate about 10 feet in a looping, parabolic shape before tumbling to the ground. Matt also managed the impressive feat of forgetting he had put this glass bottle in his back pocket, and cut his hand open right good. This would prove to be only the first of many, many falls. Eventually, after we patched him up, we headed off into the city.

We skated around the bright lights of Osaka, dodging frightened old women and chatting up various impressed locals. Later we went out for sushi at one of those restaurants with revolving belts, and, though I only vaguely remember this, I believe got kicked out after we started chucking pieces of tuna against the walls to see if they would stick. I guess it was just that kind of night. Eventually we made it back to a hotel.

The next morning we awoke to find ourselves covered quite evenly with bruises and scrapes. Matt's hand was killing him and I had a nice imprint of a button from my jeans etched into my hip like a head of branded cattle. Pulling it together, we eventually set off to see Himeji, the most impressive castle in Japan. A World Heritage Site, it did not disappoint, to be sure; a massive complex but with a rugged beauty and white exterior that lends it the nickname, the "white heron" castle.

The castle is also known for the maze-like path that leads to the main keep. The path circles around in a spiral with many dead ends, leaving any potential attackers open to constant attack from the surrounding walls. Himeji was never actually attacked however, so this design remains untested. I should say, "had never" been attacked, because Matt and I took it upon ourselves to take up the task it seems lesser men wilted at. Fortunately, this sign's improper use of indefinite articles (climbing "a" wall is prohibited, sure, but how are we to know which wall? It could be any wall, anywhere, right?) left us able to climb without fear of reprisal, as well. I think a young Japanese boy said it best who, after spotting us, cried out "NINJA!" Unfortunately, there were no more samurai sentries left in the castle to come to his aid when I fell upon him like cold, black night, cutting his scream off abruptly with a jab to the windpipe. When in Rome, you know?

We climbed several flights of steep stairs, pushing aside Japanese women, children, and the elderly in our wake as we made our ascent to the top. I fell prey to one of the other hidden defenses of the castle when I cracked my skull repeatedly on the low hanging doorways throughout the building. I definitely would not be the ideal person to storm a castle in which I would have to stoop down the entire time, leaving my neck generously extended for anyone who happened to have a really sharp sword or two in hand. As always seems to happen when I travel in Japan, I was embarrassed to be tired at the end when I saw how many old women past 70 had made the trek seemingly unfazed.

Later that afternoon we dropped in at Kobe - a charming city - and were, as you see here, greeted by many an adoring female admirer. We skated around, soaked up the local color, watched a terrible street band perform, and ate the local specialty, okonomiyaki, which is kind of a pancake with cabbage. We hopped a train back to Hamamatsu that night and laughed at how we had been in three major cities in that one day. In a reoccuring pattern for the trip, I arrived at work the next morning exhausted while Matt went off exploring somewhere else fun. He was, however, always kind enough to call me in between classes to tell me about all the fun places he was visiting. Thanks, buddy.

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