December 25, 2012

Kentucky Fried Christmas (Now with more monkeys!)

Today I picked my dad up from Narita airport. He's coming to visit for the last 10 days of my trip and we're starting off our adventure in Fujisan, followed by Nagano and then Tokyo. It was a strange experience heading back to Narita, and because he took the same flight I did, I returned to the same exact terminal and exit where I had begun my journey. I revisited the currency exchange where I had traded my USD for Yen and passed the Post Office in the airport where the SIM card and mobile WiFi I had ordered were waiting. Hard to believe that less than 3 months ago I had walked through the same doors of customs not knowing how exactly I was going to do anything while in Japan. 

We had a series of trains from Narita to our hotel in Fuji which gave us a nice chance to catch-up. The only time I had been to Mt. Fuji previous to this trip was on my first visit to Japan, which we realized was 10 years ago, during our quest for roller coasters. One of the stops on this trip was Fuji-Q Highland in order to re-ride the coasters we had ridden a decade earlier (51), as well as the new ones that have opened (we're slowly closing in on 500 coasters). At some point on the train we realized it was Christmas Eve and sort of nodded in acknowledgement. There's a major lack of Jesus here in Japan (and also in our lives) so Christmas Eve here is not terribly exciting.

Our Christmas destination
Christmas joy
Catching up over a glass of green and orange
Oh, this was gonna be good
I think they overestimated attendance
Yugi and George

I feel ya
This little guy had great posture!
Classic Yuji! 
This constitutes acting like a Ninja, because we all know Ninjas are known for keeping good lookout
Alright, that's pretty cute
Impressing us with his death-defying leap
Ascending the mountain
Take it!
Kinky rabbit...
Mt. Fuji is exactly the sort of mountain you'd expect in Japan: perfectly formed and picturesque 
Oh don't act innocent, ya sadistic fuck
This is a museum...
Racist? Creepy? Or both?
No thank you
Again, Racist? Creepy? Or Both?
The winner of the pervy Santa contest
We sat and watched a THRILLING performance by one of these mechanical organs
What is this place?!
Reunited and it feels so good
$35 for a single piece of KFC chicken. God Bless, Japan!
Kentucky Fried Christmas
The entire trip was worth it for this plate

But the next day, Christmas, well that's something to look forward to because here in Japan, Christmas is often celebrated with a feast of Kentucky Fried Chicken! We woke up the next morning excited for the delicious meal that awaited and set out to work up an appetite.

As is customary in Richard fashion, before we even checked into the hotel he was already perusing the pamphlet display that advertised all the activities and excitement that the area provided. No less than half of the adventures we've been on during our travels have been a result of a colorful pamphlet in a hotel lobby. Among these colorful pamphlets was one called "Happy Monkey". No question about it, we were going there!

So we caught the sightseeing bus from the hotel and set out around Kawamaguchiko lake to find the Happy Monkeys. We were dropped off at a parking lot where the attendant ushered us through the empty lot and into the gift shop where another employee pointed us to the ticket counter. There we purchased our tickets and went into the theater to discover we were the only guests in attendance. 

Let's do some math: Both monkeys had one trainer each plus there was a sound person working the show, so those three combined with the parking lot attendant, the gift shop merchant and the ticket booth girl means there were no less than 6 employees putting on the show. For just two people. The tickets were $15 each (how is a live monkey show less than a movie in Japan?!) so that means the humans were each earning $5. But once you figure in the operating costs and the high wages the monkey union probably demand, I'd say these people were making… nothing. But just like the monkeys, they were happy!

The show consisted of two monkeys (Yugi being one, but I didn't catch the other one's name as we weren't formally introduced) performing various tricks including but not limited to: riding a ball around the stage, using stilts, jumping over a beam and pretending to be like a ninja. To say the experience of sitting in an empty theater while two monkeys and two trainers perform their hearts out was bizarre would be the greatest understatement in the history of statements. Throw in that the show was in Japanese and that the monkeys were wearing human clothes and would occasionally get up right in our faces and you've got one of the most insanely weird Christmases to date!
If that was all we did on Christmas, it would have been enough, but as we would soon find, that was just the tip of the iceberg in insane.

The sightseeing bus passed a rope car that travelled up a mountain and allowed guests unobstructed views of Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawamaguchiko. As we were passing the station, Richard and I realized we had been in that exact area 10 years ago. "Wasn't there some sort of sign above the cable car with a raccoon-type creature?" he asked as we rounded the corner towards the station. As soon as the words left his mouth, there appeared a large sign advertising the rope car with what can only be described as a raccoon-type creature!
So we of course had to return and retrace the steps we had taken before. What we had forgotten was that there is some Japanese fable about a rabbit and the raccoon-type creature that is animated as you ascend the hill. I'm not sure what the moral of the fable is, but from the looks of the animation, it's don't fuck with sadistic rabbits:
As we were enjoying the views of Fuji, Richard looked up a museum which he had seen a sign for outside of the Happy Monkeys theater. Something about a music museum? Sounded boring since Japanese music is not terribly exciting and any museum way out in the woods of Mt. Fuji would probably be doubly-so. Well as it turns out, there was indeed a music museum, but it was not a Japanese music museum but instead a Music Forest Museum of Antique Mechanical Musical Instruments all housed in a series of buildings which resembled Fantastyland at Disneyland. And we thought the Happy Monkeys were the highlight of Christmas…

It is completely unclear to us as to how any of these instruments made their way to Japan, yet alone Mt. Fuji. We also couldn't figure out how exactly this place stayed in business or why it was modeled after what we assumed 16th century Italy looked like. But even more strange to us was why the Happy Monkeys, who were literally a stones throw away, didn't team up with the Museum Forest Museum to create some grand show. Monkeys play organ grinders, right? Well this place had hundreds of organs! If you're reading this, Happy Monkey, talk to your management and bring up the idea of changing venues.

In the excitement of the day we had nearly forgotten that it was the 2012th anniversary of our lord and savior's birthday! We reflected on the day, asking What Would Jesus Do? and were able to say, without hesitation, that he'd cap off a day of monkey performers and mechanical instruments with some Kentucky Fried Chicken (81). You got it, Jesus!

There are a few different origin stories about how and why KFC became a Christmas tradition here in Japan, but the one that I think makes the most sense is that the Japanese wanted to recreate a traditional American feast, but because so few people have ovens here that are capable of baking a ham or a turkey, they turned to chicken. And because Christmas is a predominantly American holiday (because God blessed America) the Japanese turned to KFC as it represented all things America. KFC does several menu options during Christmas but their specially prepared Christmas feast always sells out without the need for promotion and I'm sorry to say we were unable to reserve our own. But we did manage to get a festive bucket, a Christmas cake, and a collectors plate!

I really love Christmas in Japan: there's not a single manger or reference to Him, everywhere you turn Christmas music fills the air but with the distinct absence of boring tunes like "Little Drummer Boy" and "Silent Night", they take decorating and light shows to the next level, and of course, they finish the day with KFC. Americans marvel at the Japanese rail system, work ethic, and cutting edge technology, but what I really think we should be admiring and mimicking is the way they celebrate Christmas.

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