Mandy Mand in Japan - Summer Hols in Okinawa and
Sadly, you're not supposed to stare or even
look at the monkeys...
This month I've had
a liddle companion who flew all the way from blighty to help me get up
to all sorts of merry mischief making - hurray. So lets start from the
very beginning because to quote Julie Andrews - 'It's a very good place
you managed to survive my last rambled World Cup special you may
have remembered at the bottom I mentioned going on me hols for a
Destination - Okinawa - a small Island off the coast of Japan which
has only just recently been given back by America although, in spite
of this, 80% of inhabitants on the Island are in actual fact - American...Army
boys to be precise - yayyyyy!
The Island is a
perfect paradise with beautiful white sandy beaches peppered with palm
trees. The life guards are almost black in colour due to spending most
of their time lazing around in the sunshine listening to hip hop with
pretty hardcore lyrics blasted out throughout the tannoys.
It was actually quite amusing to see liddle old grannies, babies and
kids splashing around happily in the pool whilst some guy was hip hopping
out the 'F' word in almost every sentence. I guess its a good job some
folk don't understand English! The whole atmosphere in Okinawa is so
much more laid back compared to mainland Japan. Hotel Staff wear Hawaiian
shirts, buses turn up when they want to and traditional Okinawan music
is hauntingly beautiful.
I'ts also a popular destination for young married couples with sproglets.
Babies are the 'in' thing this summer - every dad is holding one (Lois
Vuitton bag in the other). Whilst I spent lazy days drooling over the
cute babies in the pool with floppy hat and bathers (the baby - not
me) my flatmate, I later discovered was busy drooling over the dads
- who - like their sprogs - were equally as cute!
So off to sunsoaked beaches we flew for four glorious days of lazing
on the beach, drifting aimlessly out to see in a beautiful pea green
boat, dozing on a hammock, sunset strolls, soothing massages, scrumptious
food and generally winding down from the stressful everyday life of
Well that was the plan!!! What actually happened was that we spent the
first two days getting hideously sunburnt until we resembled something
like two oversized very pink lobsters having difficulty walking. On
the third day we decided to take it easy by staying out of the sun in
order to give our poor skins a break.
Actually - we had no choice as Typhoon number 5 decided to hit the Island.
Hurrah!! typhoon tastic! This was my first ever typhoon and something
I really wouldn`t want to experience again in a hurry. Boats, benches,
peddle bikes and sun beds were all tied to trees to prevent them blowing
away. Most of the holidaymakers we had flown in with had scarpered early
leaving the hotel somewhat of a ghost town.
Fortunately we had American Army TV and radio to keep us sane and in
touch with the latest typhoon news It was touch and go as to whether
we would actually make it home in one piece as all flights were cancelled.
We therefore spent the entire 4th day of our hols sitting in the airport
waiting for a plane to take us back to the mainland.
The Japanese people put on a special concert at the airport for us with
traditional Okinawan music and dancing. There was even a gold dragon
running around scaring all the liddle kids which was nice! We were given
free food vouchers and so after nine solid hours of waiting and eating
the entire salad bar we finally got a flight home though the taking
off part was a little hairy to say the least -major turbulance.
Back on dry and typhoon free land (for the moment anyhow!) it was only
a matter of days before Paul from Blighty flew over to stay for two
Armed with 100 million hair products which I had requested from Boots
(poor thing even got stopped and questioned at customs over it!!) I
managed to get some time off work to get in a bit of sightseeing as
well as show off my fantastic Japanese speaking skills.......well..'`thank
you' and 'goodbye' is a pretty good start! From then on it was sign
language all the way - hurray!
We visited some old Japanese castles - 'himeji-jo' which is beautiful
on the outside and wooden on the inside with a very grumpy old guy who
shouted at us for not taking our shoes off. I guess the poor slipper
attendant didn't really have much else to do so we went along with it
and climbed millions of stairs to to the top of the castle. The view
was pretty spectacular and overlooked the whole of Himeji - moats and
Another castle we visited was 'Osaka-Jo' which - would you believe -
has elevators on the inside! They think of everything these folk - yay!
We visited various Japanese temples, had fun in Universal Studios Japanland
and climbed up Monkey mountain in Arashiyama, where, with a bit of luck,
you get to hang out with the chimps. Sadly, you're not supposed to stare
or even look at the monkeys as I guess the poor guys have got a bit
of an insecurity complex going on - either that or they were having
a bad hair day.
Anyway,from the top of the montain you got a fantastic view overlooking
Kyoto, which is my favourite part of Japan, and at the bottom of the
mountain is a beautiful river where you can ride in a boat or laugh
at the local fisherman who squat in the middle of the lake to fish -
its a pretty bizarre yet wonderful sight!
On Sunday night - which is by rule, the Nova teacher's big night out,
as everyone finishes early -
I introduced Paul to the local beer garden which is on the roof of a
major department store (13th floor - ooer!). You eat and drink as much
as you like for a mere price of roughly 15 quid but it closes at 9.30pm
so by the time you`ve downed as many white wines tumblers and pints
of Chu Hi`s (equivalent of alcopops) as you possibly can in order to
get your money`s worth - 9.30 is not a pretty sight! but hey the evenings
not over yet, as its then off to Kareoke for another two hours of drinking
and singing as much as you can.
By the time we had finished drowning our singing talentless sorrows
with old Rick Astley favourites and '`we will rock you' numbers we were
in a pretty messy state! I completely forgot what town I was in and
consequently missed the last train home.
Think I remember wailing down the phone to a friend panicking as to
how we would get home until she kindly pointed out that I only lived
just 5 minutes down the road and could easily catch a cab!
Initiative skills and compass reading brownie badges would have been
certainly ripped from my camp blanket as I had completely lost all knowledge
of who I was, where I was or even what country I was in - for some unknown
reason - I found myself speaking fluent Greek to the train guard - crazy
You will be relieved to know however that we managed to make it home
in one drunken piece and stay away from gutters - but that's another
So thats just a few wee snippets of the month so far this summer but
don`t think you`ve got away lightly - as there`s more to come - yayyyy!!
MANDY MAND AND PAUL IN TOKYO
caught the bullet train otherwise known as the 'Shinkansen' (fastest
train in the whole wide world - whooosh!!) up to Tokyo which only
took a record breaking faster than the speed of light whopping 3
hours - yayyyy!!.
From Tokyo station we headed to a city called Asakusa which was
to be our base for the next couple of days.
Tokyo is made up of cities within a city if you get what I mean and has
sooo many people. In one city - Shinjuku over 2 million people pass through
the station every day - thats more than the population of Manchester.
It certainly makes you feel very small - eek!
We started the day up bright and early at 8.00am - a time which I had
convinced myself was just a myth but soon discovered that it actually
does exist - arrgghh!!
First stop - Tsukiji - to see the famous fish market.
Unfortunately we missed it! It begins at 5.30am (that ones definitely
a myth) so by the time we arrived - everyone had packed up left a sign
saying 'gone fishing' an all - gutted - in a fish gutting type of way.
Oh well! - soon cheered up when we got to another city called Ginza for
a spot of shopping. Wandered into 'Tiffanys' where the entire shop staff,
all immaculately dressed, bowed in unison and remained in that position
for the entire length of our wander round the store. It wasn't until we
walked out of the shop that they stopped, relaxed, and got out the vacuum
cleaner to hoover up our flip flop prints on the carpet - honestly.
Fell in love with a beautiful pair of sapphire earrings for just six thousand
quid - bargain.
Unfortunately we were on a tight schedule and it looked like customers
had to be taken into an interrogation room before they bought, so we decided
to give it a miss as time was ticking by. They looked pretty cheap anyway
- sigh! Next stop - Shibuya - the land of love hotels! Located on a hill
top a wacky assortment of hotels rent their rooms out by the hour and
cater for all your fantasy requirements.
From gothic cathedrals to Turkish temples, outer space, floating aquariums,
dodgem cars, disco kitsch, the wild west and a huge swimming pool the
hotels are tourist attractions in themselves.
You can wander in and out of each hotel checking out the various rooms
on offer which are displayed in a photograph format on the wall of the
foyer. As the Japanese are very shy and modest creatures, booking the
rooms is a very discreet process. Simply select the room you want and
press the appropriate button located near the pic. From there the light
on the pic goes out. If the light is off it means its already in use.
A little old lady sitting behind a small net curtained window hands you
a key and payment is made at the end of your stay.
in Japan is the keyword here hence the number of vending machines
selling beer, cigarettes, porn mags, sex toys and schoolgirl knickers.
Japanese people tend to shy away from confrontation which is why
love hotels and vending machines are the perfect answer for these
remarkable shy business men folk in this sadly disturbing yet ever
popular sex industry. (my old university tutor is gonna kill me
- have used the word `shy` three times and its only cos I`m having
trouble thinking of another word - sorry Sam - will try harder!)
Next stop, Shinjuku where we took an elevator up to the 45th observatory
floor. From here you can see the whole of Tokyo including Mt Fuji on a
clear day. The view was pretty fantastic and even more so when we found
a restaurant on the 29th floor in the building next door.
As sunset drew in - Tokyo came alive! Dark grey concrete buildings were
adorned with a dazzling assortment of bright neon lights and the ugly
grey buildings transformed themselves into a beautiful world of illumination
- the Tokyo I had always imagined.
We ended the day in Roppongi which is backpackers paradise. Door men (all
Australian) jump at any western backpacker (carrying Lonely planet guide
books - its a dead giveaway) that crosses their path and pull the usual
stunts to drag them into their bar where EVERYONE is western!
It actually made quite a nice change to sit and relax in a bar without
having to worry about your arrigatoes and konbanwas! I guess this place
has made me realise that sometimes you can have it too good and can easily
become ungrateful for what you've got, i.e ability to speak English.
Last stop was a Motown bar where we watched the oddest of western men
paired up with very beautiful Japanese women desperate to find a geigin
girlfriend - the story is all too familiar in Japan. On our third day
we explored Asakusa which was our base for our stay. In Asakusa stood
a beautiful old traditional temple, Senso-ji, also known as Asakusa Kannon-do,
which was guarded at the entrance gate by two giant devilishly evil scary
guys kept in cages.
They are statues incase you were wandering and in desparate need of a
good dust! The temple was much more like the Japan I love. A beautiful
long shopping arcade painted in red and decorated with lanterns and all
sorts of greenery led up to the temple entrance.
Admittedly the shops were pure Japanese tourist tat selling essential
take home gifts like miniature plastic temples, fans, chopsticks, lanternes
and even fake wigs to wear with your Kimonos. There was even a man selling
pasta who was actually sitting in his counter with smelly feet ON the
pasta - mmmmm!! delicious!
Couldn`t quite believe this beautiful temple stood right amongst the busy
tourist mecca of Tokyo as it felt like a different world entirely. The
only real giveaway was the fact that nearly everyone there were western
and it was photo tastic - hurray!! From Asakusa (are you guys still reading-
we decided to leave the mad world of Tokyo behind us and head to the mountains
for a spot of solitude and relaxation. We caught the Shinkansen (whooooosh!)
from Tokyo station and headed west to Odawara in Hakone - the land of
Mount Fuji san.
Here we checked into a beautiful guest house in the middle of the mountains
complete with natural hot spa. The spa is a kind of hot jacuzzi without
the bubbles and when I say hot - I mean hot as the water comes directly
from the volcanic mountains above.
Hot spas, or Onsens as they are more comonly known in Japan are extremely
popular as a weekend activity for many Japanese familes. They can be found
scattered all over the country and it's an incredible feeling especially
on a cold day as your whole body is immersed in this tremendous heat whilst
a cool breeze blows soothingly across your head and shoulders. Armed with
towels, camera, tins of beer and choccies we opted for a midnight dip
and went star gazing.
Sadly no stars and the water was so hot that it took half an hour to dip
your big toe in! By the time we had managed to bravely plunge ourselves
into the scalding hot waters beneath - our choccies had melted and skin
turned the colour of a beetroot but it was certainly a fiery experience!!
So on to Mt Fuji. For a good view of this active volcano - which the Japanese
believe will errupt anyday now - you'rr supposed to get up bright and
early at 5.00am. Bugger that! Sadly by the time we went in search of the
great mountain in the sky, clouds had covered it but hey! - we knew it
was around here somewhere and ther was plenty more fun to be had - such
as taking a ropeway (4km cable car ride) up to a very smelly mountain
top called Owadakani.
`A volcanic cauldron of steam bubbling mud and mysterious smells` said
the book. Actually it smelt of egg - and badly!! Once you've killed all
senses in your nose whilst staggering to the the top - people are then
mad enough to sit and tuck into a feast of eggs which are cooked in the
mud. Surely the smell is enough to put you off eggs for life nevermind
eat them! Not being able to stand the smell for oooch lets say 3 minutes
- we pegged it as fast as we could (have never seen Paul move so fast!)
and hopped onto a bus which took us to Lake Ashi. The scenery was breathtaking
and in true Japanese style, amongst all this wonderful natural beauty
stood a bright red gawdy pirate ship - pure Peter Pan styley.
Not sure how the pirate ship related to bubbling hot volcano springs and
lush green mountains but hey this is Japan - the land of cute kitsch!
I resisted the urge to put on an eye patch and shout `oooh are me earties!`
and instead, took in the magnificent view before making our way back to
Kobe! Tokyo certainly is a fascinating place full of excitement with something
going on at every street corner and down every dark alleyway - go with
an open mind and you never know what you might find. It can also be a
little too much at times. Being a bit of a country bumpkin me, I think
that if Nova had sent me to Tokyo to work then I would have cried - its
pretty overwhelming In comparison.
Kobe, where I live, is just that little bit smaller and the people are
much more friendlier.
They spend that little bit more extra time on you and will hapily stop
to help you without trying to show off their pretty lousy English speaking
abilities. Kobe is also near the sea which is perfect especially now the
weather is soooo hot! We`re hitting an average of 36/37 almost every day
and it's a little bizarre because, due to air conditioning being blasted
through every train, building and subway, its actually hotter outside
than it is in! You have to go outside to warm up - huh??!!
August is the hottest month and also a very special month for just a couple
1)Its firework festival tastic ness! Street parties are taking place everywhere
with kids dressed up in ukattas (summer kimonos), lanterns are lit, beer
is drunk, singing and dancing making it one big party!!
2) Another good excuse for a party (you know whats coming!!!!) is that
Mandy Manbd hits the fab age of 26 this month on the 12th of August -
hurray!!! birthday tastic! (Happy Birthday from
Will be having a party in our local hairdressing salon. Yep! - you read
right!!! Hairdressing parties are all the rage over here, shampoo, conditioner,
mousse, lather, wax and all - its gonna be quite a hair raising experience
- ho ho. The only problem is that my birthday falls right in the middle
of `Obon` - a festival where everyone goes home to visit family graves
and remember the dead. It's a pretty spiritual affair but - hurray!! my
birthday will most certainly be high in spirits - spirits of the alcoholic
variety that is!
Will report back with all the drunk and debauched gossip next month. in
the meantime have fun, stay out of trouble, have a drink or two on me
for the 12th and stay away from bad egg jokes - or I`ll crack another
another one - ho ho ho.
Loads of love and cuddles from Mandy Mand xx
N.B Mandy Mand is currently being treated for bad joke and cheesy pun
syndrome due to the dramatic heat which is affecting her brain and causing
her hair to turn blonde - a dose of heat mags and special K bars should
fix it - thanks for your patience in this matter )
© Mandy Mand 2002
Cup Fever Continues
soccer hooligans went crazy and threw themselves off the famous Totomi
bridge into a river in the middle of Osaka
MAND IN JAPAN
you MUST have at least one Louis Vuitton bag, a Tiffany's necklace
and of course that essential pink sparkly phone!
I realised that wearing a black and white polka dot lace thong was not
the best move!
Hollywood to Dollywood
folk looked on in horror - tragic thing was that these weren't actually
hooligans but English teachers from Australia
about Japan in Hacktreks
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