After a couple of weeks in the States during winter break, I was ready to head back to Japan. I got back on January 6th. My original plan was to just relax and do a whole lot of nothing until school started on the 10th. However, that soon changed when I got invited by Masa to go on a road trip to Okayama with him, Andre and Koko literally the night before my flight. While I knew it was crazy to even consider going on a road trip the day after I get back, I really love to travel and I was going to be traveling with people that I rarely see. Andre usually does all-nighters (that I tend to avoid), Masa is someone I just recently met and Koko seems to do her own thing with her own group of friends. So I said yes. Before I knew it, I was packing as soon as I arrived in Osaka for my next trip—I had to be at the meeting spot at 7:40 AM. Fortunately, I didn’t get lost and was pretty wide awake. After everyone arrived, we got in Masa’s car and headed toward Okayama.
I’m not too familiar with Okayama. All I know is that it’s famous for the Momotaro legend (link) and that’s about it. I like to visit less popular places though because it’s quieter and you are bound to find something unique to do—I believe that every town has at least one special thing to offer.
It takes about 3 hours to reach Okayama so the trip itself wasn’t too bad. Andre brought his own mix of music CDs that mostly had songs from the 90s on it; it brought me back to my middle school and high school years, which was kind of amusing. The rest stops in Japan are very clean—I wish they were like this in the U.S. There are a lot of them too—the group had to stop quite a bit along the way and I noticed it only took a few minutes get to one every time.
Anyways, before we reached our hotel, we went to this Brazilian theme park. It sounds extremely random and it was. There was next to no one there, making it pretty quiet and sad. We were given New Year’s hats to celebrate; nobody was wearing them except for us. Andre took a picture of our shadows and it really looked like it was a KKK rally about to begin:
The rides themselves were very, very sketchy looking. They were really rusty, squeaky, and the paint looked very dated. Here are some pictures of the “rides” up close:
For those who don’t know, I’m not a ride person. At all. When I was a kid, my dad tricked me into going to a bunch of rides that scarred me until now. My stomach is also pretty sensitive with G force; I will usually freak out if there is a slight sudden dip on an airplane flight, elevator, etc. I explained this to them and they seemed okay with it. Masa eventually started to encourage me to get on one after I told him I actually managed to do the log ride at a Six Flags a few years ago. Part of me wanted to do it too for some bizarre reason. Eventually, I picked the tame-looking white roller coaster that only had one drop to ride on. The moment the staff put the guard over us, I was already regretting my decision, I wanted to get out but we were already on our way up. I’m sure Andre (who was sitting next to me) got a kick of me chanting to myself “Why did I do this, why did I do this, why did I do this”. Masa took a picture right before the drop; my expression speaks for itself:
As expected, I screamed the entire way down. Roller coasters just yank you down, I don’t know how people can handle it! After the drop, I was laughing out of fear but also enjoying the view before we were going through sudden turns and minor drops again. The ride itself was really short even for a roller coaster ride—we were back at the start within 20 seconds or so. I survived! It was fun but I think that’s the only roller coaster I can really ride; any other ones that have more/deeper drops and loops would cause me to faint. Needless to say, it was a milestone for me as it was the first roller coaster I have been on!
After the ride, we headed to the lonely Ferris Wheel to enjoy the view. Here’s a picture of Andre and Masa being dorks (as usual):
And Koko and I:
Here’s one of the view from the Ferris Wheel:
There was a bungee jump that Andre decided to try out. He had never bungee jumped so he did it for kicks. It looked really unsafe because of all the rust and dirt. He somehow lived. Here’s a video of it:
We went to various other places in the park. There was a tiny playground that we played on for a bit. There were some more amusing moments like Koko and Masa racing each other:
Masa failing to get on the little horse:
Andre planking between two statues:
Our next stop was the park’s skating rink. Originally we were going to go to the ice skating rink but noticed that the ice was half melted; you could see tons of puddles on the rink. We decided to opt for the roller skating rink instead. I’m pretty bad in skating but it was still fun. I fell at least five times but I was improving by the end of it. The funniest moment for me was when I finally was able to skate at a normal speed without looking too awkward. My friends cheered for me and I raised my hands in victory—only to fall down the second I lifted my hands. It doesn’t get any better than that. Here are some pics from it:
We then went to the park’s game center/arcade. The game center was amazing. It had a ton of games I was looking for. The grand prize for me was the infamous table flipping game:
A couple of years ago, this arcade game came out and got some attention in the game community for its silliness. The game puts you in frustrating situations in which you cannot control your anger anymore. This is where the table comes in. Waiting for the right moment (to cause maximum damage), you flip your table as hard as you can and watch the mess ensue. You will see people getting hit, objects being destroyed, etc. It has got to be the best stress reliever ever. An instant replay plays at least 3 times showing you how much things you hit, usually in slo-mo and in bullet time. The more things/people you damage, the more points you get. Some of the situations you are put in are at a funeral, having dinner with your family, a reception desk, etc. The one I had to pick though was the classroom scenario. You play as a homeroom teacher trying to control your rowdy kids who are doing nothing but slacking off. This situation is basically my work life in Japan. With all my might, I flipped the damn table and watched all my students get smacked, desks break, discovered an observation teacher hiding in a closet, etc. I ended up getting in second place for my destruction. I’m sad that the game was found in the most obscure location in Okayama but at least I got to play it once. It is everything I had hoped it to be.
There was also a Fist of the North Star boxing game:
This is one of my favorite arcade games because it’s very over-the-top like the show. Watching Kenshiro scream “ATATATATATA” while you’re throwing hundreds of punches is always a good time.
There was also a Golgo 13 sniping game that I’ve been looking for:
Golgo 13 is an anime/manga that features a stone-cold assassin that ends up in nearly impossible situations to kill his target that usually involve one shot from his sniper rifle. This is pretty much the same in the game; you are only given one shot to shoot certain targets. Although it’s difficult, it’s a fun game if you’re a fan of the show.
To be able to run into three of these games in one game center was unheard of. I wanted to play more but I knew my friends didn’t want to lounge there for too long. Despite the theme park being pretty small and kinda depressing, we had a blast. We left and decided to head to our hotel.
After checking in, we decided to go Kurashiki , which was right next to our place. Kurashiki has a small town feel but it’s really pretty because all the buildings there are traditional. There are a lot of little shops, a nice river as well as a temple:
There was also a cool candle shop. I’m not really a candle person but the designs the staff make here were very impressive:
We headed to the temple but it was already closed. It did provide a nice sunset picture of the city at least:
The ceiling of one of the buildings had a picture of the Chinese Zodiac which I thought was pretty cool:
After walking around a bit more, we bought some beer and wine to celebrate the New Year’s and chatted while watching Pulp Fiction. After that, we were off to bed.
The next day we decided to visit the outlet mall. The outlet mall wasn’t exactly great because everything was still super expensive despite the crazy savings they were having. I only ended up buying some fingerless gloves and some earbuds for my iPod. After eating lunch, we decided to check out the shrine Andre wanted to visit.
The drive to the shrine didn’t look too bad at first but after we passed through the initial huge gates, we were deadlocked for at least 30 minutes. It was a tiny two-way road so we were forced to stay until we finally reached an intersection. We had 3 kilometers to go until we decided to give up. We stopped by a park on the way back. Combined with the nice weather, it was very peaceful:
After that, we were on our way back to Osaka. I took a few pictures on the way back as the sun was setting and I’m a sucker for the sky:
Here’s what my field of view looked like for 3 hours in the car:
Masa was kind enough to drop me off at my house. Even if we only went for two days, I’m really glad I went on the trip. While I know Masa will be around, Andre and Koko are leaving in the summer. Actually, a lot of JETs I have come to known are leaving when the year is over, which saddens me. Oh well, that’s life for you. I’ll just have to make the most of the next 6 months!