Tag Archives: Japan

Escape From Tokyo

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There was a loud knock outside my capsule, and when I poked my head out I almost headbutted a policeman. He was crouched down in front of where I’d been sleeping, thrusting his Tokyo Police badge in my face. Behind him stood two other men, dressed in suits, arms crossed, stern looks across their faces. It was not the best way to wake up on my final day in Japan.

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Three days had passed since my friends were arrested for assaulting a Nigerian conman, and I’d spent that time exploring Yokosuka and traipsing around Mount Fuji’s suicide forest. As interesting as those places were the fate of the two Aussie backpackers I’d met on my first night in Tokyo was never far from my mind. I’d been reading up on Japanese prisons, and the reality of incarceration is shocking. For starters, simply being arrested leads to a mandatory three-day evaluation period. It doesn’t matter if you’re innocent, if the cops take you in, you won’t be seeing daylight for 72 hours. In reality, however, this three-day period is almost always extended to 23 days, which is how long the police can detain a suspect for without charge. If I hadn’t gone for that burger, and had been taken in when my new-found friends had been arrested, I would have almost certainly been kept in for the full 23 days, even though I’d done nothing wrong.

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The 23 days are supposedly used for investigating the case, and the police must be bloody good at their job, because they have a 99% conviction rate. In Japan, the police can’t be seen to make mistakes, so pretty much everyone who is arrested is found guilty. To achieve this, cruel mental torture is used to attain confessions. Inmates are kept awake for days at a time, screamed at, mentally abused, and shaken like Mount Druitt babies. Basically, any abuse that doesn’t leave physical scars is used. Westerners are only allowed to speak when a translator is around (you guessed it, they’re never around), the menu consists of one handful of plain rice a day, and the sleeping arrangements involve a rug on the floor and some sawdust for a pillow. It would be a horrendous situation to find yourself in.

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While Japanese prisons are almost completely devoid of bashings, shankings, murders and inmate-on-inmate bum sex (that last one might be a negative or a positive, depending on your outlook on life), the conditions are more like a concentration camp than a western prison. No contact with the outside world is allowed, and officials from foreign embassies find it hard to even visit. Through the entire investigation, the prisoner remains guilty until proven innocent (yeah right, like that’s gonna happen!).

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And things don’t get better at the end of the 23 days. After being found guilty, foreigners are sent to an immigration processing centre until all the necessary details have been sorted out and fines paid. This usually takes another four to eight weeks. Before finally being deported, most westerners lose between 15 and 20kg. With the way I’ve been going at touch footy lately, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but I get the feeling that foreign inmates in Japanese prison lose a lot more than a few kilograms. I didn’t know those boys very well, but they seemed like fun-loving, free-spirited dudes. I’m not sure they’ll be the same people when they get out. The Japanese penal system is designed to break people.

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I crawled out of my capsule wearing only my undies, while three cops looked me up and down. Around us, businessmen and hungover travellers stopped and stared at me, perhaps wondering whether they were witnessing my last moments as a free man. My mind raced and spun; I was pretty sure that the police were here to ask about Jimmy and Joey, but I wasn’t certain. Maybe they were here to arrest me for something I’d done while drunk, or had me confused with someone else? After what I’d read, I knew that even if they just wanted to take me to the station, I was in for a bad time and probably wouldn’t be going home that night. The three men spoke in Japanese and then the one in the middle, obviously the interpreter, spoke to me in English.

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After confirming my name and details, they started asking about the events of that evening. While the interpreter was pleasant, and the cops weren’t intimidating, I was under no illusions that it was anything other than an interrogation. They asked the same questions over and over again – which bars did we go to, what were we drinking, who did we meet – and I found it difficult to answer because I barely remembered a thing about the night because I was so smashed. They seemed surprised that I hadn’t been there to witness the fight. Maybe that fact was the only reason they didn’t arrest me on the spot, I don’t know.

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I was doing everything I could to answer their questions, but they kept asking me about Jimmy’s wallet. I told them I knew nothing about it, but it was a topic that kept coming up. After a while, I found out the reason; apparently Jimmy’s wallet had gone missing, and it had been found in my locker at reception. Of course I knew nothing about it, and to this day I’m not sure if they’d made that up to give them a reason to arrest me if they felt like it, or if it had simply been a misunderstanding downstairs. Either way, that could’ve so easily led to me being locked up.

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When they had everything they needed, the cops took a photo of my passport and then took a number of photos of me. They now had the means to prevent me from leaving the country, but I feel that their reasons for photographing me were more sinister. I get the impression that they probably took the photos of me back to Jimmy and Joey and lied about what I’d said, in order to get them to confess. Whatever the story, I was happy when the police left. I spent the rest of the day just killing the hours until my flight back home at midnight. I couldn’t enjoy the day at all, because I was still worried that I might be stopped at customs, and felt bad knowing that those boys were going through hell. Even a visit to the world’s smallest Godzilla barely put a smile on my face. Bloody hell, the real Godzilla is 50m tall and this bastard’s the size of a moderately-sized dwarf.

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I did make it through customs and I did make it home, but the experience gave me plenty to think about. I put myself in a stupid position by getting so drunk in a country with an aggressive police force who rely on WW2-era interrogation methods to abuse foreigners who flout the law. My life as I know it went very close to ending and, while I did nothing wrong, it was my poor decisions that placed me in that position. Being Drunk and Jobless is fantastic, but maybe it’s time for me to stop being Completely Fuckin’ Shitfaced and Jobless when travelling through countries that are looking for excuses to use and abuse me for three or so months. But now, reliving these events has me fanging for a beer. And that, my friends, was my trip to Bali, South Korea and Japan.

I was one hamburger away from spending three months in a Japanese prison

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I loved my time in Japan, and had heaps of unreal experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s a strange country full of strange people who do even stranger things, but it’s also an exciting land that must be explored. There are mountains and beaches and temples and cities that spread out forever. But as interesting as Japan is, after three weeks in The Land of the Rising Sun, I wanted to head back to Australia. However, I went very, very close to not being able to do that. I was one drunken decision away from spending months in a brutal Japanese prison. I’m writing this from my balcony in Australia, safe and free, but the other people in this story aren’t so lucky. I sometimes exaggerate in order to create a better story, but everything you’ll read here is 100 per cent true.

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It all started as I was walking back to my capsule after spending a half an hour in a communal bath with a dozen middle-aged Japanese businessmen. I know, it’s a cliche way to begin a story, but it’s the truth. I was climbing back into my coffin after a long day of exploring Tokyo when a young bloke poked his head out of the next capsule and gave me a cheeky smile. His mate poked his head out of a capsule opposite us. It was like something out of The Brady Bunch.
“How the fuck are ya, mate?” one of them asked. It was the first Australian accent I’d heard in a month. Ten minutes later, me, Jimmy and Joey were out on the street, drinking Chu-Hais in Shinjuku, while businessmen and people dressed as robots streamed past us.

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The wild start of the night was an indication of to come. We won stuffed toys from grabby machines, struck out at a baseball batting range, and rampaged through 7-Elevens and Family Marts to buy Chu-Hai, beer, and meat on sticks. Outside one of the stores, Jimmy found the hat he’d been wearing three nights earlier when he’d been picked up by police. It was crusted in vomit. He dusted it off and popped it on his head. We had another Chu-Hai.

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Showing poorer judgement than any of my ex-girlfriends, I followed the boys into a backstreet strip club. We barely made it out alive, after the titty bar turned out to be a cockroach-infested apartment full of huge black men who wanted to rob us. We stumbled through restaurants staffed by robots, danced with homeless men in poorly-lit parks, and tried to pick up beautiful Japanese women with our slurred Australian accents. After weeks alone, it was good to be with people who knew how to have a good time. It was good to be with friends, even if I’d just met them.

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We ended up at a karaoke bar in the notorious Golden Gai district, a clutch of narrow alleyways full of bars and nightclubs. I can only remember snatches of what happened in there – I sang with Tokyo businessmen, bought shots, tried to pick up women. One of my new best friends – either Jimmy or Joey, who knows? – passed out in the street outside. More drinks were poured, more songs were sang, time slid past, songs were sang, drinks were sang, poured, passed out in the songs, drinks. The world spun around me. I was happy to be alive, happy to be in Japan, happy to be going home in a few days. I wanted to go paragliding and sit on the beach. I wanted to kiss that pretty German girl in the corner, and did. I wanted another shot. I wanted another shot after that. Jimmy (or Joey) was tongue-deep in a French girl. I fell and knocked over a tableful of glasses, pulled some Yen out of my pocket and thrust it at the owners. Everything slipped away into a blur of neon and bad singing. I needed a burger, so I fell out the door, telling Jimmy (or Joey, or both) that I would be back.

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I don’t remember buying the burger. I don’t remember if I stopped to talk to people, or to piss in a doorway, or to play pachinko. I just know that I got that burger from some God-awful convenience store and carried it back to the bar, ready to down more shots and drape myself over more best friends. But when I got back to the bar, it was surrounded by 40 police officers and hundreds of onlookers. Jimmy and Joey were struggling in the middle of a sea of blue. They looked up and called for me. I’ll never forget the look of terror and confusion in their eyes. When I saw them, I dropped the burger. I was immediately sober. Well, as sober as I could after 12 hours of drinking.

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Stupidly, I tried to get near them, but was pushed back by a cop. The boys were yelling out for me to help them, asking what was happening. I was helpless, and so I told them to go with the police and that everything would be alright. I thought it would be, I really did. But I was wrong. They were bundled into one of a dozen cop cars and taken away. I could only watch. I bought another Chu-Hai and drank it while the crowd dispersed and the dark sky started bleeding red.

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A Canadian guy told me what had happened. One, or both, of the boys had hit one of the Nigerian hawkers who plague the Shinjuku area. He knew nothing more than that, but told me that they’d probably be locked up for a few weeks, or a few months. I told him he was talking shit, and took another swig of my drink. I didn’t realise that they wouldn’t be back at the hotel the next morning. I certainly didn’t realise how close I’d gone to having the life that I know taken away from me forever.
“You were with them?” asked the Canadian. “Shit, you’re lucky you weren’t arrested, too. The cops here aren’t exactly careful when it comes to arresting gaijins.”
If I hadn’t gone for that burger, and had instead stayed at the bar, I would’ve been arrested, even if I hadn’t done anything. Guilt by association is a real thing in Japan. I wandered the streets for a while and then passed out in my cubicle. It was small, but at least it wasn’t prison. I thought it was the end of the story, but it was only the beginning. Things were about to get much, much worse.

To be continued…

A Lonely Place to Die

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The Japanese are a funny bunch. They love eating raw fish, go mad for baseball and hardcore pro wrestling, can’t go a day without singing karaoke and are obsessed with giant robots. It sounds like an idyllic lifestyle, so it’s surprising that their other favourite pastime is committing suicide.

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More than 70 people kill themselves in Japan every day, and its been an important part of their culture for thousands of years. Suicide is tolerated by Japanese society, and is seen as a reasonable reaction to failure. If we had a similar situation in Australia, there’d be no football players left in Cronulla Canberra. Death is a part of everyday life in this country, and Aokigahara is where more Japanese have ended their lives than anywhere else.

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Also known as The Sea of Trees or The Suicide Forest, around 100 people die there every single year. It’s been a popular place to shuffle off this mortal coil for centuries, with the number of deaths rising in recent years after being popularised by a number of films and books. The forest sits in the shadows of Mount Fuji, and so I made it my final destination on this leg of the Drunk and Jobless World Tour

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Fuji is fucking incredible. I first saw it while travelling from Kyoto to Tokyo by bus, and was amazed by the size of it. I assumed it was about three or four kilometres away – it was actually 35km from me. It’s massive, majestic and beautiful, and it’s not hard to see why it’s become the symbol of Japan. The second time I saw it from the window of a bus was minutes before I alighted at Kawaguchiko Station, ready to start my journey through a mythical part of the world.

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The Fuji Five Lakes are scattered around the foot of the behemoth, and provide the perfect setting to peer up at that majestic mountain. I was hoping to climb Fuji (it’s only 4km high – what could possibly go wrong?) but the walking trails are closed for all but a few weeks a year, and there aren’t any cable cars to the top, but looking up at it from Lake Kawaguchi was enough to fill my heart with wonder. It’s a delightful lake surrounded by European-style chateaus and steep, tree lined cliffs, with a nice path rambling around it. Pushbikes are available, but cost upwards of $30 Aussie for a few hours, so I just made the most of the pegs God gave me and strutted around like a latter-day Michael Jackson.

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The lake and mountain were beautiful, but that’s not what I came for. It was time to head out to Aokigahara, which sits on the banks of Lake Sai, a few kilometres to the west of Kawaguchi. I expected the bus to be full of curious sightseers, but it wasn’t. I was the only person who got off at the bat cave that lays on the outskirts of the trees, and when I walked over to the small information centre and asked for directions to the suicide forest, the woman just shook her head and walked away. I guess she’d seen too many people head into the forest and never come out. Maybe she went to call the police. Whatever the reason, I headed off, found the entrance to Aokigahara, and walked into the green.

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It was a bright and sunny day outside, but that didn’t matter once I got in amongst the trees. They’re so thick that they blocked out the sky, and tangled together to make it appear as if I was making my way along an endless wooden corridor. There wasn’t a sound. No animals or birds live in the forest, and the wind has no hope of penetrating the thicket. I didn’t dare leave the path – those who do rarely find it again. As I walked along the dilapidated walkway, the only sign of humanity was broken signs strewn along the dirt. I can’t read Japanese, but it wasn’t hard to work out what they were; last-ditch attempts to stop people from killing themselves. I delved deeper into the forest.

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I hike and bushwalk a lot, and so I’m used to being in remote places by myself. Aokigahara, however, is different. It doesn’t feel alive in the way that most forests do. Instead, it feels frozen in time and very, very sad. I found myself becoming depressed just being in there, for seemingly no reason. The dark things that have happened there will remain forever. The pain and desperation of the thousands who have walked into those trees is still there. I walked in hoping, morbidly, that I might find some sign of those who had gone before me. A discarded shoe, an abandoned book, anything, Withing 15 minutes, the thought of finding something like that made me feel as if something was crawling around inside my skull.

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I hurried along he path, wanting to take everything in but not wanting to see anything. Out in the distance, amongst the scrub, I occasionally saw flags, shirts, and other personal items. I didn’t dare look too long in their direction. In places ribbons streamed out from the path, winding through the trees and out into the darkness. Those who walk into the trees to end their lives usually leave them as guides for rangers, so that their corpses can be found. Before I visited Aokigahara, I intended to follow one of those ribbons; once I was in the forest, I didn’t dare to.

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Once I was nearing the exit of the forest, I started to relax. It was almost over. And then I heard a crashing sound from the bushes around me. I’m used to such sounds in Australia, where kangaroos and brush turkeys are constantly following me around, but the way it tore through the silence terrified me. I turned and strained my eyes in the darkness, seeing a mop of jet black hair bobbing through the trees in the distance. My heart was racing, but I knew I had to the find the person. Maybe I could step between them and tragedy.

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Moving silently through the forest, I kept my eyes on the figure. It was a young man, probably no older than 18. I called out to him moments before tripping over a fallen branch and plunging to the ground. When I got back up, the man was gone. I ran to where I’d last seen him, but there was no one. Small caves were carved into the ground, but he wasn’t in them. I hadn’t heard him run, but he was gone. I sat down under a to catch my breath, while the world swam in front of me. For a whisper of a moment, I felt something brush against the top of my head. I looked up.

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None of this seems real now. I look back on it and laugh, because it couldn’t have happened. But it did. When I looked up, for the briefest time I saw the young man hanging from that tree, his feet dangling by my face. I got up and ran, and when I looked back there was no one there. Sitting here, I wonder why I didn’t go back and investigate, but deep down I know the reason – I was fucking scared. That forest is strange and scary and full of ghosts, and it caused me to see something that I wasn’t prepared to see. Some places have been home to so much tragedy and sadness that those events change them forever. The thin fabric between reality and nightmare tears, and terrible things climb through. That’s how it is in the Aokigahara forest. It’s a bad place, a mad place, and a very lonely place to die.

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Searching for sailors in Yokosuka: Real life Shenmue locations

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Back when I was a young fella, and still had hopes and dreams that hadn’t been beaten into submission, I spent my days wandering the streets of Yokosuka, Japan. I got into fights, rode motorbikes, chased crooked travel agents, and collected toys from capsule machines with my much younger friend Tatsuya Yamamoto. They were dark days, as my father had recently been murdered by a Chinaman and I was struggling with my sexuality, but I made it through it all with the help of my friends Fuku-san and Guizhang, as well as my girlfriend Nozomi.

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I should probably point out that this is all part of the award-winning Dreamcast video game Shenmue, which I played a lot back in 2001. My father is still very much alive and currently renovating Port Macquarie’s Fantasy Glades amusement park, and my sexuality has never been in question. But as a kid I loved living the life of Ryo Hazuki in the midst of a sprawling martial arts quest, so when I visited Japan it was, in part, to visit Yokosuka. Even though it wasn’t really my father who was murdered, I needed to find Iwao Hazuki’s killer – and that meant heading to the seediest streets of Yokosuka in search of sailors.

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A few years ago I visited the locations from Shenmue II, including Aberdeen, Kowloon and Guilin, and loved seeing the similarities and differences between the game world and the real world. Yokosuka is a little over an hour from Tokyo, and the buildings never stop the whole journey. A sea of grey slid past the window until, finally, I rolled into Yokosuka and stepped out into a land that I’d never been to, but which I had spent so much time in. It was pouring rain, but nothing could dampen my spirit as I walked past the harbour that plays such an important role in Shenmue.

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The bulk of the game takes place around Dobuita Street, and it’s only a short stroll from the station. When I got there, it felt incredibly familiar. The game was made 16 years ago and set 14 years before that, but the feel of Dobuita carried through all of that and welcomed me. Yokosuka has long held an American military base, and Dobuita Street is where Japanese and American cultures melt together to create something truly unique. Jacket shops and bars are clustered together to create a place unlike anywhere I’ve been before.

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Any place full of American culture must have huge, heart-wrecking fast food, and Dobuita is no exception. There are plenty of burger shops, but one serves a meal that would stump even the chunkiest Yank. The 7th Fleet Burger costs around $60 Australian and has more meat in it than my ex-girlfriend did while I was at work. I’m sure if I’d waited around long enough I would’ve seen some poor bastard get wheeled out of there on a trolley, but I had a murder to solve.

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I figured the best place to find sailors would be by the water, so I headed to the harbour, where the legendary battleship Mikasa floats proudly. Built in the late 1890s and first put to use in 1902, it remains an impressive ship, but it was an absolute beast back in the day. The pride of the Japanese fleet, she rumbled with the evil Russians for years, causing all sorts of problems for the vodka drinkers. According to signs on the ship, the Mikasa basically destroyed Russia without any trouble – I’m not sure that’s quite true, but the ship is still an incredible sight.

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I didn’t find any sailors out there, however, and trudged dejectedly into a nearby disable toilet. To my surprise, I found a number of sailors in there and they were quite pleased to see me, but it was at that point that I realised I didn’t really want to find sailors after all.

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As day turned to night I headed back towards Dobuita street, and when I spotted an empty carpark I decided it was as good a place as any to work on my karate moves. I was a martial arts prodigy in my younger years and could’ve become a master if I’d pursued it, and it felt good to bust out some roundhouse kicks and dragon punches. Then a Japanese woman came over and asked me if I was having a seizure, so I stopped.

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One of Shenmue’s most-loved characters is Tom Johnson, an African American stereotype who spends most of his time dancing out the front of his hotdog truck. I was gobsmacked to find a truck that was strikingly similar to Tom’s, selling delicious kebabs instead of hotdogs. Tom wasn’t grooving in front of it, but I didn’t let that deter me, and cruised over to throw out some of my best moves. Just as I was getting into ‘the orangutan’, a very angry man poked his head out from the truck and told me to go fuck myself, which is certainly not something that happened to Ryo. I assumed I’d misheard him and kept shakin’ my groove thang, but when he pulled out a large knife and thrust it in my direction, any miscommunication was cleared and I left.

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On the train ride home, I reflected on how much fun I’d had in Yokosuka. I’d spent 16 years wanting to come to this place, for no reason other than a video game. And it was everything I’d hoped it would be – for a few hours, I was able to feel like I was in the world of Shenmue, without getting my head kicked in. Sure, Yokosuka doesn’t offer too much for the average tourist (although there are worse ways to spend a day – and it’s certainly better than Kyoto), but to me it was the most special place on the planet. I didn’t get to root Nozomi and no children asked me to wrestle, but I loved Yokosuka!

The Tokyo Brave

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When I came to Japan, I never thought about going to Tokyo, because it got destroyed by Godzilla. But then I got talking to some idiot in a park while I getting to drunk and he told me it was only a movie, and Tokyo’s still there, so I headed over to check it out. Fortunately, the drunk was right, otherwise I would’ve had my head bitten off by a giant lizard. Although, honestly, sleeping in a capsule hotel was probably just as bad.

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You’d be checking out early if you saw that crawling towards you

I wanted to get a good view of the city and see if I could see any hot chicks wandering around, so I headed up the top of the Metropolitan Government Building, which is only a short walk from where I was staying in Shinjuku. It has twin viewing platforms at 202 metres above the ground, and the best thing is that they’re absolutely free. Seeing as every other attraction in Japan requires a mortgage extension before even getting close to it, that was a deal I couldn’t pass up. The view turned out to be pretty bloody good, too.

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A shitload of earthquakes have left Tokyo tilted as fuck

I’ve got great vision (so what they say about wankin’ ain’t true) and I saw a good sort catching some sun in Yoyogi Park. I figured that, at best, I’d score a root, and, at worst, I’d get to explore a park with a really funny name, so I headed over there. It’s full of trees and is a nice break from the city, but Yoyogi Park is also crawling with people, and I got into trouble for sitting on a rock, so it’s not exactly the greatest place in the world (that would be the space between Shion Fujimoto’s legs). Oh, and when I got down there the ‘good sort’ turned out to be a 90-year-old Japanese dude in his undies. Maybe what they say about wankin’ is true.

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My Cleo Cosmo Bachelor of the Year nomination photo

Shortly after escaping the park, I was pleased to bump into one of my favourite Japanese pop groups, the Sushi Dolls – BANG! The BANG! bit is part of their name, by the way. I wasn’t saying that I went up and shot them. I had a brief dalliance with the lead singer, Yuki, a number of years ago whilst we were both working as erotic dancers on Pacific cruise. She ended up leaving me for Pablo, a heavily-tattooed South American billionaire with an impressive collection of designer hats, and I was left heart-broken. I waved at Yuki, but she just turned to a large security and five seconds later I was being escorted out of there. Call me, Yuki!

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Just to be clear, I didn’t bang any of the trannies or the ugly ones

With my arm possibly broken and my nose bleeding, I blindly staggered towards Shibuya, an overwhelming mixing pot of hip teenagers, techno music, never-ending traffic jams, gigantic video screen, lost tourists, and street dancing. The blinding lights and deafening sounds further disoriented me, and I found myself in a dead-end lane, accosted by a street-wise youth gang. They started pushing me around, hassling me in Japanese. I feared for my life, and did the only thing I could think of – I danced. I busted out some really special moves and did a few handstands, and it was obvious that the toughs were very impressed. They started cheering and clapping, and when I finished, covered in sweat, they called me a legend in broken English and offered to buy me lunch. I pointed at Godzilla behind them and got the fuck out of there.

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Facial hair is stringently regulated here

I ran so fast that I made it out to the site of the 1964 Olympics which, unlike Sydney, is actually pretty close to the city. I looked around for the stadium, hoping to get a photo in front of it, but all I could see was some fat bloke in a tractor.
“Hey, Shigeru!” I yelled, taking a swig from my beer. “Where’s the fuckin’ stadium?”
The bloke stopped the tractor and climbed down, throwing his helmet to the dirt. “My name no Shigeru,” he fumed. “My name Ryu, like popular Street Fighter II character.”
“How do you do, Ken?” I asked, but the joke went over his head. “Where’s the bloody stadium at?”
“Up you arse,” he snarled, then spat at me and climbed back into his tractor. Well, that was rude.

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I win the gold medal for sexiness

Turns out the original stadium got knocked over so that they can build the new one on the same spot. Well, they could’ve told me that before I travelled 10,000 kilometres to see the bloody thing. I’ll be writing a very strongly-worded email to the boss of the Nipponese Tourism Council. Prepare yourself for that, Gilbert Yamanoke!

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The crab has three major segments to its life cycle

The sun goes down quicker than any of my last six girlfriends in Tokyo, and by five in the arvo the sky was dark and the streets were ablaze with neon. I wandered into the streets of Shinjuku, swept along by the tidal wave of people, accosted by dozens of Nigerian touts, assaulted by sights and sounds that can’t be seen or heard anywhere else. Tokyo really is as over-the-top as it seems in movies, and Shinjuku seems more like a carnival funhouse than a place that could actually exist in the real world. It’s insane.

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More lights than a bloke with an anorexia fetish

I bumped into a couple of Aussie blokes and we got smashed on Chu-hai in the streets, played baseball, escaped from brothels, sang kareoke and tried to pick up women. Then it got weird and violent and scary. It was a night that left two men stuck in a Japanese prison for the next three months, and me wondering whether I’d be able to go home. But that’s a story for another time. Trust me, I’ll tell it.

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Kyoto – the Canberra of Japan

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Kyoto has thousands of years of history, beautiful temples, and many links to a long-forgotten world when samurais roamed the land and ninjas chucked shurikens at any dickhead stupid enough to walk past. And while I respect that, I also found it to be one of the most boring cities I’ve ever visited. No, it’s not as bad as Huddersfield, but it’s also not a place I’d care to return to.

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The main things to see in Kyoto are the temples. There are heaps of them dotted around the place, and it’s a unique experience to see these ancient buildings popping up amongst a modern city. Many were built more than 1000 years ago (although most have been rebuilt more recently), which makes them a similar age to the stupas of Bagan, but the experience of visiting the two sites couldn’t be more different. Whilst the ancient Burmese city has barely been touched by the cruel fingers of modern life, Kyoto is now home to 1.5 million people.

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The thing is, the first temple is interesting, the second less so, and the third as boring as batshit. They mostly look the same, and all are crawling with disinterested schoolkids and tourists who look as if they’re only traipsing from site to site out of a feeling of obligation. Some of the temples cost money to get into, but fuck that, there are enough free around, so put your money towards beer and chicken nuggets instead. Trust me on this one – I’ve got a degree in history, so I’m an authority on these sorts of things.

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There’s just not much variety between the various temples. The ancient Japs should’ve shown a bit more creativity by having one shaped as a banana, or one with heaps of naked chicks drawn on the side, but instead they just sorta went with the same design over and over. They were repeating themselves like a drunk in a bar.

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The best way to describe Kyoto is that it’s a lot like Canberra. Sure, there are worthwhile things to see but, like the Australian capital, none of them are really all that interesting. Kyoto’s temples provide no more entertainment value than Canberra’s National Mint, Lake Burley Griffin or the Rock and Bark Museum – and that’s saying something. And at least Canberra has a really shit surprisingly good football team.

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Kyoto even has a tower that’s every bit as underwhelming as Canberra’s Telstra Tower. The Kyoto Tower is only 131 metres from top to tail, but it does light up like a UFO at night, which is pretty cool. By the time I rocked up I was on my third Chu-hai and, believing a group of children dressed as Pokemon to be invading space aliens, started shouting for everyone to run away. I caused a mild panic and several dozen Asians were trampled – the majority not to their deaths – and then, after becoming bored with the situation, bought some friend chicken and went back to my room to watch a few episodes of popular reality television series Catfish.

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Kobe kapers

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Like most people, I always assumed that Kobe is just the name of that black basketballing man, but it turns out it’s also a city in Japan. After spending the night on a ferry fighting off the advances of a derange cuddle buddy, I was glad to reach dry land, and set out into the breaking dawn to explore Kobe. Like most Japanese cities it’s big and busy and impressive, but this place sets itself apart by being wedged between steep, forested mountains and the effulgent ocean. Effulgent, great word!

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Wondering why all the buildings are at an angle? earthquakes!

My first port of call (pardon the hilarious pun!) was the Kobe Port Tower. At 108m, it’s even taller than the basketballman of the same name, and would surely be the first thing knocked over by Godzilla, Mothra or Gamera should they ever turn up. I wanted to go to the top and have a look out at the waking city, but it was unfortunately being used to shoot scenes for the popular Japanese soap opera That’s So Yamamoto!, so I just had to stand at the bottom, gazing up in wonder, listening to a little bloke explain how wonderful the view is.

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That’s what I think of your fuckin’ tower!

There’s a maritime museum right next to the tower and, while I didn’t go inside, there are some cool exhibits out the front. There are a couple of fancy boat prototypes that look like they’d be better suited to visiting Uranus (Oi! Up the back! Stop giggling!), and the view along the harbour is pleasant enough. I mean, it didn’t blow my mind, but it’s not like I saw dead bodies floating in the river or anything.

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An alien lives inside it

I’ve been staying in shared accommodation for the past week or so, and the lack of ‘me time’ has obviously lead to me feeling a bit frustrated in the penis region. The situation wasn’t helped by the number of naked – and stunningly attractive – statues scattered around Kobe. I didn’t even attempt to stop myself from feeling them up. I mean, if they’re going to stand there with their tits out, they’re asking for it, as far as I’m concerned.

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With the harbour marked off my checklist of things to see, it was time to head for the hills. The Nunobiki Falls aren’t far from downtown and are considered national treasures, and the 20 minute bushwalk from Shinkobe Station is a good way to escape the city. For the more adventurous, the trek continues to the top of the mountain and gets pretty bloody steep, and it was made more difficult because I had my entire worldly possessions in my backpack. For fat cunts – or those smart enough not to trudge up a mountain on a hot day – there’s a cable car.

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Where are all the naked waterfall girls?

Bizarrely, there’s a traditional German house and a lovely beer garden at the top, looking out over the city. Thursty from my hike, I smacked my lips, trotted up to the girl at the counter, and ordered the biggest and coldest jug of beer they had. Imagine my heartbreak when she told me they didn’t have any beer, but she could pour me a cup of peach tea if I really wanted it. I shook my head sadly and wandered back down the hill with tears in my eyes and pain in my soul. I mean, I bought a beer from a convenience store when I got to the bottom and drank it in a park, but it just wasn’t the same.

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Seconds before showing off my bratwurst

A ferry unusual evening

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Japan isn’t a big country, but you’d be bloody tired if you tried to walk from one end to the other. You’d probably also get attacked by wolves and Godzillas, so it’s best to make the most of The Nippon’s world-class public transportation network. Everybody knows about the bullet trains, but they’re bloody expensive, so when I needed to get from Miyazaki to Kobe, I decided to go by overnight ferry. It was an eventful evening.

The ferry is actually a pretty fun way to travel between the islands of Kyushu and Honshu. When I stepped onboard the massive ship, I was pointed towards my sleeping quarters, which was a big open room with hundreds of tiny mattresses on the floor, somw occupied by sleepy Japanese people. It’s a bit like having a giant slumber party, but instead of Fantales and pillow fights there’s sushi and respectful quietness.

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My luxurious accommodation for the night

There was plenty of space so I chose a mattress in the corner and settled in. More Japs dawdled in, and I soon realised they had absolutely no interest in spending the night near me. They’d walk over to my side of the room, see there was a white dude, and then cram into a spot on the opposite side. Alright, maybe the fact I haven’t washed my clothes in three weeks had something to do with it, but I’m claiming racism.

After watching the ship depart the port, I checked out th eonboard services. It was what you’d expect; pachinko machines, some video game cabinets, and a hot chip vending machine. That’s right, a HOT FUCKIN’ CHIP VENDING MACHINE. The Japs really do have everything. For the record, the chips tasted like chicken scrotums.

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Works better than Metamucil

When I returned, a very unusual man was sitting cross-legged on the mattress next to mine, watching me with hopeful eyes. I did my best to ignore him and plonked myself down, but the unusual man just turned to me with a smile.
“I’m Casper Yamamoto, pleased to meet you,” he nodded. “We’re going to be sleeping buddies.” With that, he gave me a huge hug and then sat back and started smiling at me again. He wasn’t even blinking, just sitting there looking happy.

“Look, Casper, mate. I don’t need a sleeping buddy, and even if I did, it wouldn’t be you. I’d go for one of those Japanese sheilas with the big tits, not someone who’s fat and balding and most likely an advocate for the legalisation  of rape. No offence.”

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Casper the friendly Asian

Casper looked crushed,then immediately perked up. “Me no speaky Engleeee,” he exclaimed in an exaggerated accent, then cuddled me again. I grabbed my bag and headed to the other side if the room, but the locals started yelling at me and throwing their slippers, demanding that the white devil stay away from them. Inslunk back to my corner and lay down next to Casper, who just sat there, smiling and not blinking.

I passed out watching TV and woke up a few hours with Casper clinging to me from behind. His grip around my body was as firm as a vice, and it was abundantly clear that he had an erection. I was disgusted and tried to get away, but he wouldn’t let go, saying, “Cuddle buddies… CUDDLE BUDDIIIIIIEEEESSS! Now wrestling buddies. WRESTLING BUUUUUDDDDIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEESSSSSSS!” as we rolled around on the floor. The commotion woke up the sleeping Japs, who became enraged, hurling empty cups of noodles and chopsticks at us and spitting all over the place. Still, Casper wouldn’t let go.

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Me in happier times (after spilling a beer on my shirt)

I’m not a violent person but I don’t enjoy being molested, so I started throwing elbows behind me to take down the hug-crazed psychopath. I felt one blow connect, then another, and after a third Casper finally loosened his grip and fell limply to the carpet. The crowd gasped as one, stepping back from Casper’s broken body.

I looked down at Casper, covered in blood and semen, and saw not a monster but a lonely man who wasn’t hugged enough as a child. I saw weakness and vulnerability, a symbol of society’s failures. The crowd wept and supported me as Casper was carried off into the night, and I decided to catch the fucking train from now on.

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Peace returns to the strange Asian sleeping room

Island time

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This is the Japanese island of Aoshima and yep, that’s the sun – a first for my trip through the Nippon! Today I lay around on the sand while the locals gawped at me, pretended a large stick was my penis, and attended a shrine said to help single blokes find wives. Personally, I reckon having a decent personality and a large penis would have a higher rate of success. My typing finger got bitten by a crab, so enjoy these wonderful photos instead.

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Aoshima

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Japanland’s cities are great fun to explore, but there’s only so many skyscrapers and karaoke bars I can see before feeling the need to get the hell out of the big smoke. So I packed my kimono and caught the bus over to the beach village of Aoshima, on the eastern coast of Kyushu. And I’m glad I did, because this place is wonderful.

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I was hoping to spend a few days on the sand doing nothing, but I’ve been smashed by the Weather Gods for the past month and so wasn’t surprised when it started bucketing down. I’m staying in a traditional house with paper walls and I thought the fuckin’ thing was going to get washed away. I figured I could either hang around and wait to drown with the handsome Asians I’m sharing my room with, or grab a feminine hygiene product umbrella and head out into the Big Wet. So that’s what I did.

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Despite the atrocious weather, Aoshima truly won me over. It’s not far outside of Miyazaki, a city of 500,000 people, but offers the old school Japanese experience I’ve been looking for. There’s a cluster of ornamental houses with funny roofs and pushbikes by the front doors, a fishing harbour and beach that has probably looked more inviting at other times. I just walked around, listening to the sounds of birds and neighbours chatting, while the rain continued to fall. It has an atmosphere and feeling to it that I’ve not experienced anywhere else, and I love the place.

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There’s a hill at the south of the town with a Buddhist shrine at the top, so I climbed up there. Of course, I didn’t take the proper path, I took one that had been closed due to storm damage. I had to clamber over fallen trees and past mudslides, but the view from the top made it all worthwhile. Through the drizzle I could see epic mountains, temples and other mysterious sites. Being in Aoshima is like being on another planet – it’s great!

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