Inner Child


This blog entry about the events of Thursday, September 23, 2004 was originally posted on October 03, 2004.

DAY 341:  Slurping your noodles in a restaurant in the Western World isn’t exactly proper manners, but in Japan it is actually encouraged; the intake of air is supposed to enhance the flavor of the them.  Slurping is something that I believe is an intrinsic habit of human nature — it is upbringing in a non-slurping society that trains us not too.  In Japan it was great to get back with my inner slurping child; there’s something about it that just gives you that innocent unrestricted sensation that kids have before they get too old.  Eating soba noodles the Japanese way made me feel blended in with the locals, until I was told I was resting my chopsticks on the wrong thing.

“Uh, that’s an ashtray,” Liz informed me.

Liz and I were in a noodle shop in the small town of Chuzenji, about a 30-minute bus ride up the mountain from Nikko, along a crazy curvy road with twenty hairpin turns in a row.  We had come to see the natural sights in the Nikko area and if possible, Japanese snow monkeys — monkeys I had wanted to see since they appeared in the opening scene of Baraka.

The sound of slurping noodles turned into the sound of rushing water at Kegon Falls, one of Japan’s three great waterfalls, taking water from the nearby Lake Chuzenji down 318 feet off the edge of a cliff to a river below.  We took an elevator down to an observation deck for a spectacular view (picture above) — for Liz it was the first time seeing the entire falls on a clear day; usually it was shrouded in fog and mist.  To the side of the falls was an impressive display of cobalt rock formations — but alas, no monkeys.  The only monkeys around were the cute stuffed ones at the nearby gift shop.

Cute images aren’t just a thing for kids; in Japan they seem to just be a social norm for any age as childish as it may seen, and it was evident with the picture of a fireman in a samurai outfit on a public manhole cover to mark its use for the fire department.  The manhole was on a road along the shore of the source of Kegon Falls, Lake Chuzenji, a scenic lake (also monkey free) with many different kinds of paddle boats for rent — the more popular ones in the shape of big swans.  The lake was the perfect place to chill out and watch the fall foliage begin to change color (just ask the French), or to visit the nearby Futara-san-jinji Shrine, another Japanese Buddhist shrine with temple buildings with guardian demons and a tower with a big bell that every Japanese tourist constantly rang after I rang it the first time that morning.  Nearby was a little memorial area of small statues representing dead children in the area.  Loved ones dressed the symbols of their fallen kin to keep from getting cold as if they were still alive — even after death, the memory of children never fades away.

“JAPANESE HONEYMOONS ARE FIVE DAYS and three of those are spent shopping for gifts for friends and co-workers,” Liz told me.  Although Nikko was just north of Tokyo, it counted as “going away,” which meant that she was to follow the Japanese custom of bringing back various snacky treats for people in the office, and more importantly, the group of old ladies in the suburbs that she taught English to once a week.  Perhaps Liz spent a little too much shopping for them — one minute exactly — because we had missed the 12:59 train back to Tokyo.  Why they didn’t schedule a train for exactly 1:00 p.m. I don’t know.

Since Liz had to be in Tokyo for a class to teach, we had no choice but to upgrade to the next train available, a direct train with cushioned reclining seats.  That train would leave from a different station one stop away, so we went there and waited for it to arrive.

We were the only two waiting around on the platform when a bubbly female conductor in uniform approached us.  Apparently the woman was excited to see foreigners and wanted to practice her English.  “Where are you from?” she said in her Japanese accent with a big welcoming smile.

“Canada,” Liz answered.

“Look, magic!” she said with the enthusiasm of a little schoolgirl on a sugar rush.  She pulled out a little rectangular stick a little bit bigger than a match with two dots painted on both ends of the front.  She did a little magical motion with her hands, shook the stick downward and “magically” moved the dot on the left side to the right.  Even though the trick was easy enough to figure out — she simply twisted the stick to show us another side — her enthusiasm made us laugh in “amazement.”  She reciprocated with one of those cute and bubbly girlish laughs, the kind that the obligatory Japanese actress judge on Food Network’s Iron Chef always seems to do.  She ran away like a little girl down the platform as if her magic trick to us was something she snuck in behind her bosses back.

A couple of minutes later she was back waiting to supervise the arrival of the next train.

“Do you have any more magic?” I called to her.

Excited to entertain us again — it must have been boring working there on a lonely platform in the middle of nowhere, so she probably took any advantage to entertain — she took a 1000 yen note and held it in front of her face.  “Look,” she instructed.  She folded the bill downwards then sideways and back out again to magically make the bill appear upside down before our very eyes.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the otherwise lame trick because it was the same trick my brother and I used to perform for each other whenever we got bored in church.

The conductor giggled her bubbly Japanese laugh and then ran off again like a little hyper girl to attend to her duties.  The Tokyo-bound train arrived shortly afterwards, and playtime was over.  We bid her goodbye and got on the train.

OUR TRIP TO NIKKO AND THE COUNTRYSIDE officially ended a couple of hours later when we were back in the madness of Mega-Tokyo, a madness so hectic that it probably sucked away the inner child in most people — even the real little schoolgirl on the city train that was apparently too tired to even think about slurping, monkeys or magic.

Next entry: Goldilocks and The Three Bowls

Previous entry: See No Common Sense

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Comments for “Inner Child”

  • First! Now Im starving for soba noodles.. Thanks a lot! Hey, link for fireman image on manhole got cute stuffed monkeys instead!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/03  at  08:46 AM

  • Damn! That’s some serious passing out on the train! They certainly overdo the homework over there in japan.. you should teach them to live a little while you’re over there!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/03  at  08:49 AM

  • The Jizo statue has an interesting story to it. Hope you get a chance to head to Kamakura .. Awesome site ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/03  at  04:40 PM

  • shut the heck up oogy…you don’t call “first!”

    anywayz…i agree. those soba noodles looks great.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/03  at  05:24 PM

  • Beautiful picture of the falls, thanks as always. The “just ask the French” picture doesn’t go anywhere…

    Those soba noodles DO look good… trying to figure out if there’s a spot near my work for that… I’m inclined to think no… buggers.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/03  at  05:30 PM

  • yo WHEAT….what are soba noodles made from???


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/03  at  06:17 PM

  • NOELLE - Ask the French fixed.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/03  at  09:26 PM

  • I am so pleased to hear that you are also a fan of the hilarious English speaking commentary on the original Japanese version of Iron Chef.  Now that is quality television!  I love it to no end, especially as material to endlessly annoy my girlfriend as I speak in the overly exagerating Iron Chef manner about any (always unrelated to cooking) topic. 

    P.S. That photo of the schoolgirl on the train is the perfect one to show any kid from the US the next time they complain about having too much homework.  Great stuff…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/04  at  03:35 AM

  • Did anyone ever see the epp of Futurama when they spoofed Iron Chef?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/04  at  08:17 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Goldilocks and The Three Bowls

Previous entry:
See No Common Sense


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