Somewhere during hurried TSA screening at LAX on my way to Tokyo last week I lost my belt leaving me to arrive in Japan with extremely saggy pants.
An enthusiastic Nicky met me after customs, but all I could obsess on was keeping my jeans from dropping in front of hordes of innocent Asians. Even though I had not seen my son for almost three months, I found it virtually impossible to focus on his words. I sensed I was about to flash an entire nation.
Nicky joined me as we scoured the shops of the Narita Airport in search of a replacement belt. Nicky is like a bloodhound when it comes to this sort of assignment. Within seconds he scanned past endless racks of charmingly gift-wrapped pastries and squid-flavored snacks to zero in on a shelf full of belts… all perfectly sized for the average Japanese and not for an American roughly the dimensions of Godzilla.
I bought a belt anyway thinking I could suck in my gut enough to make it to our hotel. After hours of train travel we finally arrived at our accommodations at Mt. Fuji, where I unharnessed the strap unleashing my massively aching girth.
For our travels the next day I used a scissor to drill a hole further down the length of the belt. It was a makeshift relief that allowed Nicky and I to safely revisit an amazing theme park, Fuji-Q Highland, without fear of mooning the other guests or of me passing out from too much girdling.
10 years ago a twelve year-old Nicky and I had explored the roller coasters of Fuji-Q Highland nestled against the backdrop of beautiful Mt. Fuji. Here I was with a dashing, confident 22 year-old man that vaguely resembled that orange-dyed, spiked-haired, young kid from a decade ago.
There was something truly magical in knowing that he had blossomed into such a fine young gentleman. And something even more enchanting was to be as connected to him as we had been in our younger incarnations. We were still cracking the same jokes, making the same insider observations. Nothing a drop or specific of our love and bond had diminished.
In some ways things had improved. Each of our roller coasters seemed more exhilarating than they did 10 years ago. I think back then we were on such a quest to cram in as many coasters as we could each summer that I sometimes forgot to actually enjoy them.
Also, back then Nicky was basically my hostage. 12 year olds don’t make plans, book hotels, set itineraries. He was my tagalong. This time he was fully there by choice. Though he was more distracted this go-around (sending emails, texting, checking Facebook), it somehow meant more to me that the moments we did spend focused, one-on-one were by his election. Nicky really did want to hang out with his old man with the hand-punched belt.
When we returned from the theme park Nicky discovered belts my size in the hotel gift shop. As I discarded the hole-drilled version, I came to appreciate how much a properly fitting strap of leather can really make a difference in one’s life.
The next day was Christmas, or as it is known in Japan, “December 25.” As a non-believer, there was something really refreshing about spending entire Christmas in a country in full swing void of the all-pervasive religious trappings that annually makes me feel like an outcast as a heathen in America: The Land of the Faithful. December 25 in Japan is just another day sprinkled with a few randomly decorated trees, canned carols and blinking lights.
And Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Yes, KFC has become THE one tradition to celebrate Christmas in Japan. Something about a home-sick westerner living in Japan in the ‘70’s craving his holiday turkey. Tom Turkey is not beloved in Japan so he had to settle for a bucket of the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices. It caught on. And now Nicky and I were finally able to celebrate Christmas in a manner much to our finger-licking liking.
We also spent Christmas taking in a two-person, two-monkey show performed for two audience members (Nicky and yours truly). Nicky did a fairly amazing job summarizing the theatrical marvel of “Happy Monkey” in his blog. All I can add is that the adages “There’s no business like show business” and “The show must go on” rang particularly true even in performing chimp shows on Christmas Day out by a lake in Mt. Fuji, Japan. No one in the show, human nor simian, modulated or improvised a lick despite the fact they were performing to a virtually empty two hundred seat theatre with just two Yankees sitting in the front row not understand a word they were speaking. It was performed broadly and with such gusto that if there had been someone perched in the back row actually comprehending what was going on they would be bowled over in hysterics. For Nicky and me, it was an awesome front row view of live theatre we will never forget.
We also discovered the Kawaguchiko Music Forest, a museum devoted entirely to antique, wind-up, mechanical instruments. It was set in a sprawling lakeside estate modeled after a centuries-old European country villa. There was one steam-powered organ so large it took up the entire wall of a massive ballroom. When it played, it was like living inside a Mighty Wurlitzer. There were rooms and rooms of player pianos, giant music boxes and old-fashioned instruments performing tunes from gigantic metal discs.
Everything about this place spoke of Old World extravagance and decadence. And to be honest, everything about it screamed of gay. I mean hardcore, old school, Liberace style gay (which reminds me, when Liberace died my mom revealed she didn’t know he was gay, she just thought he was “fruity”, which I guess to my mom’s generation was gay minus the sex). In any case, this joint looked liked it cost some eccentric and fabulous somebody a pretty penny to ship all these massive, delicate treasures to Japan and build a sprawling complex to house them for the awaiting throngs, which of course consisted of barely a dozen more people then had just viewed the “Happy Monkey” extravaganza down the road.
|Not even Liberace would own this|
In America, this would have been some cheesy roadside attraction along the interstate with countdown billboards heralding your arrival. In Japan, it was all delivered with such expense and refinement that we had to admire its commitment to excellence oblivious to it relevance to more than a handful of coin-operated music box enthusiasts.
Nicky and I followed up Christmas with a journey through the mountains to discover the legendary Onsen Snow Monkeys (and for me, legendary meaning they were featured in a movie, BARACA). It was quite a schlep from where we were initially dropped off and after about 45 minutes of wandering through a winter wonderland of snow-covered trees and babbling brooks I was getting a bit cranky and prepping myself for a disillusioned letdown.
|Hiking to the monkeys|
However, as we turn a corner on our forest trek we came across the stars of the mountain… the bathing beauty chimps soaking in their hot spring hot tub. Since there only about 150 monkeys in this tribe, one has to assume we were seeing some of the chimp dudes from the film reenacting the two things for which they are most famous: soaking with Zen-like bliss and picking bugs off each other.
It really was one of the most beautiful and spectacular things I have ever witnessed firsthand… dozens of monkey in the wild taking a public bath with absolutely no concern for the human shutterbugs snapping away mere inches away.
After such wonders of nature, it was time to experience the complete opposite. With my pants complete secured under the support of my new belt, Nicky and I ventured off to face the urban madness of Tokyo.
I had no idea what was to await us, but I did know it would be good…