Vicious Vacation

The Top Fourteen Metal Things I Did in Japan

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IMG_6548I’m home from my trip to Japan! It was one of the most intense, gratifying and exciting traveling experiences I’ve ever had — six cities, 14 days, several dozen amazing meals and an endless supply of new sights and sounds — but I’m definitely glad to be home to a place where I can order food via means other than pointing and gesturing to a meticulously made plastic model of the dish I’d like.

I’ve got so much I plan on sharing about this trip in the way of life, food, more food, even more food and metal, but for now here are the top fourteen metal activities I did in Japan:

14. Bullet Trains (Shinkansen):

They’re as fast and awesome as you’d imagine — far and away the best way to travel long distances across Japan. But the header of this paragraph could easily just be “trains,” as in all of them in Japan, even the ones that don’t exceed speeds of 200mph; trains go EVERYWHERE, they’re ceaselessly on-time, easy to navigate (even if you can’t read Japanese) and affordable. Here’s a video comp I made on a shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Odawara, set to Marty Friedman music (naturally):

13. Onsens (Hakone and Shirahama)

Nothing beats winding down from a long day of hiking and sight-seeing by getting completely naked with a bunch of Japanese dudes and letting your pain melt away in traditional Japanese hot baths. Furthermore, doing so OUTSIDE while overlooking an incredible mountain, valley and ocean vista — something about standing over that ledge with your dong hanging out just feels so empowering!

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12. 5am Sushi Breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market:

Sushi in Japan is a no-brainer: that expert touch by the people who invented it really makes a world of difference, and pretty much all the stuff we get here in the U.S. has been frozen before you eat it, so it’s that much fresher in Japan. While all the sushi I had in Japan was better and fresher than 99% of all sushi meals I’ve ever had in the U.S., it doesn’t get any fresher than right at the source: the Tsukiji fish market, the massive, bustling hub of Japan’s fishing industry in Tokyo. We didn’t get there in time to sign up for one of the limited spots at the famed tuna auction, but we did treat ourselves to a delightful omakase meal (the chef decides what you eat) at one of the fish market’s small sushi institutions, Daiwa, with just nine seats at the bar. Nothing wakes you up quite like a fresh roll of uni.

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11. The Great Buddha (in Nara):

So massive words (and pictures) can’t even describe. I have about a dozen shots with varying poses of epic worship and awe, but my iPhone did not appreciate the lighting.

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10. The Deer Park (also in Nara):

Approximately 1,200 deer live in this sprawling public park in Nara. They’re not only tolerant of humans — a far cry from the skittish animals we’re used to encountering — they’ll come right up to and take food out of your hand. Those antlers though!!

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9. Shrines and Temples (Kyoto)

Kyoto was largely spared the wrath of war-time bombings, so centuries-old shrines and temples survive in excellent condition. They’re everywhere — walk a couple of blocks and you’re bound to stumble upon one — although the big daddies with the most impressive architecture and gardens lie in the foothills on the outskirts of the city. “Epic” is way overused as a descriptor in metal circles, but man… walking around these ancient places of worship just makes you feel completely magical.

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These students interviewed me for their English class!

8. Funny Japanese Signs (Everywhere)

They’re probably not funny in Japanese, but the English translations get me every time. I took photos of as many of these as I possibly could.

 

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7. Takoyaki (Osaka)

Takoyaki (octopus dough balls) are the street food in Osaka, a city known for its abundant street food. Kinda like pizza shops in NYC, each establishment has its own slight twist on the same idea, but it’s guaranteed to be dynamite wherever you decide to stop. We tried at least three (but who was counting?) and they were all amazing.

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6. Don Quijote (Tokyo)

Kind of like a CVS, supermarket, hardware, electronics and Halloween costume store all rolled into one: it’s like a kitschy version of a department store full of chotchkes, clothes, snacks and other random miscellany. Besides great deals on Green Tea Kit-Kats (!!!) there were tons of bizarre items to gawk at here, but this one by far stole the show:

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5. Rock Rock (Osaka)

As far as truly “metal” experiences it was hard to top this one: Rock Rock is a legit metal bar. The walls are lined with polaroid photographs of the hundreds of famous bands who have come through, and we most got a kick out of the pics from the ’90s showing super-young versions of faces with which we’ve since become familiar.

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4. Hanshin Tigers Baseball Game (Osaka)

Sports fans of any ilk that visit Japan owe it to themselves to attend a baseball game. It’s unlike any sporting experience I’ve ever had: the fans have specific cheers for each individual player, thousands chanting in unison as they go bananas throughout every at bat; the vendors sell squid and chicken skin teriyaki (among other Japanese treats); a sacrifice bunt elicited the loudest cheer of the game; and the atmosphere just oozes baseball… it was wonderful. All anyone wanted to talk about upon learning I’m a Mets fan was Tsuyoshi Shinjo, an experiment in Mets history I’d rather not rehash. I made some very drunken friends after the game who couldn’t get enough of my beard:

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3. Dinner with MetalSucks Reader Ayato Y. (Tokyo):

MetalGF and I love meeting MetalSucks readers abroad, and reader Ayato Y. was kind enough not only to get in touch and offer help getting around the city, but to treat us to an incredible dinner at a 6th floor izakaya restuarant in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Highlights included some kind of egg and seafood custard, fried pieces of octopus, copious amounts of sake and, of course, great company.

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2. Visiting Friends in Wakayama Prefecture

MetalGF and I spent two nights in the towns of Kamitonda and Shirahama in Wakayama Prefecture, one with our friend’s family and one at a super-luxe members’ only hotel. Eating amazing home-cooked Japanese barbecue whilst over-looking endless rice paddies and soaring mountains was a highlight of the trip, as was getting hammer-smashed on shochu (sweet potato liquor) with the family, despite speaking less than a few words of each others’ languages.

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1. Meeting and Hanging Out with Marty Friedman (Tokyo)

Our half-day with Marty provided the perfect introduction to Japanese music and the culture in general. We accompanied him to a lecture he gave to American college students visiting Tokyo, went out to lunch for delicious sea eel, accompanied him to a photoshoot and spoke all the while about his life in Japan, the J-pop scene and his new album. I’ll be writing more on this in the coming days and weeks.

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