Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Welcome Mr. Daniel. He have been expectant of you

Today was my final morning with Mika and her sister and sister's fiancé. They have been so hospitable to me, allowing me to stay at their house, eat their food and butcher their language. Their bread here comes in smaller loaves but the slices are much thinker. A little confusing, but a good analogy for Japan: even though the country is about the same size as Victoria, the cities are bigger than anything in Australia. Hopefully my Gaijin presence can help Mika's dad accept Adam (Mika's Gaijin boyfriend in Adelaide). I said my Sayonaras and was on my way. On her way to work Mika dropped me off at the station and instructed me to go to the wrong platform. It was a mistake that turned out to be a blessing as it took me back to the main station and I boarded a Shinkansen to Nagoya. Rather than taking a couple of hours, within 45 minutes I was wondering around Nagoya in the hot sun looking lost and bothered. I had read in Lonely Planet about a place to stay and decided to take it up on the advice, only to choose the other suggestion at the last minute in the book as it was closer to the city centre.

One piece of advice about Nagoya though. This month Nagoya plays host to World Expo 2005. If you are not here for World Expo, and you are gaijin, you're going to get fleeced. This place has geared up for let's screw the foreigners and is doing so left, right and centre. The youth hostel I'm staying at is 1000 yen more than usual; Nagoya castle walks mysteriously doubled it's price about 3 weeks ago; all free tour buses to outlying factories (Toyota & Asahi) have been diverted to Expo; and the locals are sick of stupid gaijin asking stupid question in a stupid language they don't (and shouldn't have to) understand.

After reading this you could be fooled into thinking it's all gone to the dogs here, which in some ways it has. On the flip side of this however there is much fun to be had if you're prepared to make the effort. Lonely Planet has moulded, saved and helped plan many holidays for westerners. The ability to have a writing style close to that of a friends travel emails from abroad allows the reader to relax into the idea that these suggestions are coming from a loved one rather than a brochure. It is on this principle we must approach all said suggestions with care. On the advice of LP, I decided to make my way out to the Asahi brewery and get the free tour of the factory.

It starts with a phone call in a public phone booth. "mooshi mooshi – insert bad Japanese for "do you speak English? When is the beer thingo?" – I gave my name and the booking was made. After killing some time (oh man I wish Katamari Damacy came out in Australia), I followed the directions in the LP and headed for the main station of Nagoya. According to the guide, a free shuttle bus leaves every couple of hours to the Asashi factory. No dice. All buses diverted to Expo. Fuck. It's 1:30, I need to be there for the 2 o'clock tour, the train ride is 15 minutes and according to LP it's another 15 minute walk to the factory. Fuck. I get off the train at the right stop and by a stroke of luck I was able to spy the big Asahi sign on the distance. I walk double time in the direction and end up circumnavigating the entire perimeter of the factory before discovering the entrance near the station. Fuck. I walk up to the gates not seeing any English signs or anything that would hint of a tourist-like affair, and it's 2:10. The guard at the gates looks me up and down, steps out of his little windowed box and approaches me. Fuck. "Mr. Daniel, we are to be having expecting you". Close enough. I follow his gesticulations until I end up at a tourist friendly looking building. I am greeted by a young girl in a red uniform with a cute little hat. "Welcome Mr. Daniel. Right this way";. I get corralled into a large waiting room with display cases of the many goodies that Asahi breweries sell and several rows of backless and personless chairs. Great, the tour has started without me. Fuck. I dump my bag and sit waiting for the usually 200-stong tour to return to rub their collective beer experience in my face.

"Ok, shall we start the tour Mr. Daniel?" Huh? Turns out World Expo has watered down the tour to a much more reasonable number today.... just me and my personal tour guide, Emi. It was great. I got to chat to her about beer, Australia, Japan and compared beers from other countries. It turns out that while Emi needs to tow the company line, she has tried and does like Coopers. She knew about the secrets behind Vegemite and described the taste of it as Matzui. The tour itself wasn't that interesting, but did make for some cool photos and useless facts. And after the 20 minute tour, I sat down for the 20 minutes taste test. This is where one can sample as much of the product as you can in 20 minutes and I decided to do just that. Emi joined me (on soft drinks), and ended up practicing her English on me for about 40 minutes, totally forgetting about the time restrictions. Before I was too drunk to remember any Japanese, I got some suggestions on what to see in Nagoya without having to travel too far.

With a photocopied Japanese UBD/Melways I made my way out of the factory in an "I haven't eaten much and I've had 5 (or was it 6?) beers" haze. I found my way to the Nagoya castle, which has limited time only Expo pricing for the castle walks, which could be as easily seen from an adjacent building's 2nd storey balcony. I decided to look around the surrounding gardens, take some photos and sober up. I ended up spotting another gaijin in the park and begun chatting with her. She turned out to be one of the representatives for Lithuania's Expo exhibit and she was on her day off. We wandered around for a bit, met up with a friend of hers from Osaka and went for Sushi. After food we spent about an hour looking for a café, and ended up going back to the Nagoya station for Starbucks. Balls. We ended up comparing our concepts of Normal with each other and talking about the quirks of Japanese culture. It's good to talk to people who have a grip on the English language. It helps to regain a little sanity (which a lack of is still fun) in this crazy place. I return to the Youth Hostel, at 10:05pm. Their showers close at 10pm and they don't let you have a shower in the morning. Fuck. They charge extra for towels and give you a tatami mat to sleep on. Fuck.

So I'd just like to say thank you to Lonely Planet for the Asahi suggestion, and fuck you Lonely Planet for the shithole I've forked
out 3500 yen to stay at.

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