Taking a Japanese Bus Tour

Rule #1: Beer Helps

So I went on this Japanese bus tour last weekend. I don’t really know why. Apparently Japanese people are wild about the bus for some reason, and so I figured eh, maybe it’d be cool. The whole thing started when my iPhone vibrated and The Tanuki was on the other end shouting in rough Japanese,

“Found a great bus trip! You up for it?

I call him The Tanuki after those adorable statues you see in front of rural Japanese shops, grinning like mad above a pair of giant testicles. This is actually a Japanese “thing,” and unfortunately, it rather accurately describes my acquaintance. What can I say, we take a lot of baths together. I know that sounds kind of gay, but that’s how Japan works, with men going to hot springs and getting all naked together. Anyway, the dude’s got giant balls. That’s what I’m saying.

Those notwithstanding, I’m always suspicious of The Tanuki’s ideas, ever since the night he passed out drunk in a karaoke club and I had to sing until dawn with this old bat at the bar. He does stuff like that a lot, but at least we have something in common.

“Bus?” I said, “to where?”

“rnmunmrasan,” he said. “Know it?

“Yeah no, not exactly,” I said.

“It’s near sassafrasasasan.

“Oh, okay,” I said, “And what’s there?

“All-you-can-eat nmunm.

“Say what?

“nmunm!

“Uhh . . . drinks included?

“Yup, for eighty minutes.

“How much?” I asked.

“7000 yen. Next Saturday. Call you later!”

And he hung up.

The Fog of Japan

If you live in Japan, then I know you know what I’m talking about. Lots of time is devoted to going somewhere with someone to do something, without ever being really sure about any of it. So then later I had to explain this to Akiko.

“Let’s go on a drive tomorrow,” she said.

“Can’t,” I said. “I promised The Tanuki I’d go on this bus trip.

“The guy with the big nuts?” she asked. “To where?

“Um, I don’t know.

“Who else is going?

“Yeah, I’m not really sure.

“Are you staying overnight?

“Mmm, don’t think so, but possibly.

“Well if you don’t know where, why are you going?” she demanded.

“I guess to eat something.

“What?

“Maybe crab or something, I think.

“When do you leave?

“Um, in the morning, I’m pretty sure, but he didn’t really say.

“How can you live like that? Do you know anything? Do you even know my birthday? Do you even know my last name?

“Yeah, it’s got like ‘rice field’ in it, and something that looks like ‘fire.’ Ummm . . .

“I’m not speaking to you any more,” she said, and hung up. That happens to me a lot. I wish Japanese people would work on their phone skills.

One Long Japanese Bus Tour

I was still trying to suss out her name as I boarded the tour bus the next morning. The Tanuki was there, along with this dude Imada-san. I was mumbling “Hmm, fiery rice field . . . rice fields ablaze . . .” as Imada-san handed me a beer.

I looked around. “There’s no bathroom on this bus,” I said.

“Ah, good point,” he said, and took the beer back. “Better drink sake instead.”

It was 8 a.m., and by 8:30 the three of us had knocked down a bottle of sake, at which point we launched into three tall beers.

The thing about Japanese bus tours is, if you can’t understand Japanese, the tour guide’s explanations are just a lot of noise. But if you can understand the language, well yeah, okay, it’s actually about the same. It’s always some middle-aged lady droning on for hours like, “See that hill? It used to be a castle a thousand years ago. And on your left—-okay, that’s parking lot, but it used to be a village like a million years ago, with a bunch of huts where the CostCo now is.” Wow, bus tours are fascinating. Now you can be glad you spent ten years learning Japanese.

So we drove around, a lot. I guess that’s kind of implied. Finally we stopped at this factory and ate ground-up fish, and peed. Then we drove over some mountain and on this big highway somewhere eating fish cakes and drinking beer. Then we stopped at some flower orchard and looked at flowers and peed some more. Then we ran out of beer, so we switched to malt liquor. Then went to sleep, woke up, drank some sake, and stopped for lunch. At which time we peed again.

Time in Japan

The thing about Japanese lunch is, you have a full hour to eat it, so you know what that means. The moment the tray hits the table in front of you, you must devour all food items as quickly as possible. I crammed in a mouthful of rice and fish, slugged down a cup of miso soup, and started shoveling in pickles and salad. Already I could see The Tanuki was way ahead of me, but I was beating Imada-san, so I felt okay. We were at this table with thirty other people inhaling lunch like mad, because you don’t want to be the last one done. I don’t know why. That’s just how it works in Japan. I was chopsticking like crazy, plus we’d ordered three big bottles of Kirin, so I was trying to slug that down but the rice kept blocking it. Then just when I figured I was going to finish on time, suddenly Imada-san pushed his tray forward and announced, “Ah, I’m full!”

The bastard. Half his rice and fish were still untouched. He and The Tanuki then proceeded to slam the remainder of their beers and sat there looking at me, waiting. They had nothing to drink, nothing to eat, and nothing to say. They just waited and looked at their watches. And they looked at me, and they said nothing. I quickly grabbed everything in front of me, pickles and rice and fish and salad and shoveled it all in my cheeks and kept cramming like a chipmunk, then poured in the rest of my beer and said,

“Rezzgo.”

At which point we all jumped up, walked thirty feet, sat down at another table and ordered beer and dried squid. I was still chewing salad. The tour guide said to be back at 12:30, and when we finished our beers, it was 12:20. Well, ten minutes to spare, I figured, so that’s good. But when we got back on the bus, everybody was already sitting there silently, waiting for us, staring. So then we drank a few malt liquors, fell asleep, woke up, drank a couple more, stopped at some museum, saw art, and peed.

Then we got back on the bus, at which point I had a revelation. This happens a lot when I drink, which is the great thing about alcohol. Like, let’s play a game, okay? Okay. I’ll say a form of transportation, and you say the first word that pops into your head. Ready? Airplane.

“Fast,” you’ll say. Okay, that was an easy one.

Train.

“Orient Express!” Well, that’s two words, but I’ll let it go, ’cause I know what you mean.

Bus.

“Oh God, please kill me now. Just let me pee first.”

Right? Like who’s ever said, Let’s go Greyhound!, and you’re like, The bus? That freaking rocks! Yeah, no one ever, because the bus is like getting a lobotomy on wheels plus a bunch of snoring old people. Okay, maybe that’s not much of a revelation, but hey, I was drunk. Anyway, I guess I should have thought about the whole bus thing before signing up, but well, eh, life’s full of regrets. Whatever.

Japanese People Love Strange Things

But Japanese folks, man, they adore bus trips. They’ve got all these colorful flyers talking about how you can see tons of historic places and visit museums and orchards and fish factories and basically they’re just throwing together a bunch of shit that you wouldn’t want to do anyway but everyone’s like Wow, a fish factory, awesome. Yeah, the trip was so awesome that eventually the sun went down and all the stars came out and still we drove over mountains for like two more hours and The Tanuki kept making this joke about tying a rubber band around his dick because he had to pee so bad and then finally we stopped for dinner, which was an all-you-can-eat and drink buffet. I was completely full and ridiculously drunk and all I really wanted to do was lie under a table and sleep, but since I’d paid like seventy bucks I figured I might as well get my money’s worth. You can’t argue with economics.

You know how people say Japanese folks are all polite and everything? Yeah well try putting a steaming plate of crabs in front of them with an 80-minute time limit. Elbows and crabs went everywhere as all these grannies grabbed massive armloads and started clawing back to their tables. It was ugly. I tried to reach over this old broad and she snatched a crab leg out of my right hand, so I went left under somebody’s uncle who pinned my elbow in a kung-fu maneuver until Boom, instantly all the crab was gone. I was like, daaaaamn, Japanese people. Meanwhile I looked over at Imada and The Tanuki and they were already at a table with about sixteen beers, furiously slicing up crab legs with scissors. Freaking pros.

Eventually more crab arrived, of course, along with piles of fresh sashimi and scallops grilled in their shells and vinegar-glazed gyoza and ramen noodles in miso broth and potato cheese balls and we all had half a dozen more beers and went to the bathroom two more times and then got back on the bus and immediately fell asleep. Then suddenly we were back at the station. I sent Akiko a text.

“Made it back,” I said.

“Welcome home,” she replied. “Can you come over?

“Okay,” I said. “Give me like five minutes. The Tanuki and I are just gonna have one more beer.”

Then three hours later, I started heading her way on the last train. I was all full of crab and beer and felt immensely happy. Oh man this, I thought, has got to be the greatest way to travel ever. Gotta love the train. And I was so naturally relaxed that I fell asleep and missed my stop and had to take a taxi to her place. But still happy. At least it wasn’t the damn bus.

24 Replies to “Taking a Japanese Bus Tour”

  1. Here I was…. Lying on my bed thinking about the vagueness of life, the universe, green-haired ladies and all you do after you had a hardcore drinking binge the night before. While my room seemed like a giant whirlpool of spinnin death I did the only thing thing that could bring me back to life. Okay, 2 things:
    1. Beer
    2. Checking if Seeroi san had been getting into any shenanigans he would like to share.
    Wrote something like japashnrri7.cium while squinting at my laptop a couple of times.
    And after nearly 15 minutes of failed attempts my persistence finally payed off in the form of a giant pile of condensed wisdom turned to pixel awesomeness!
    What I’m saying is… as per usual I:
    1. Enjoyed every letter of it
    2. Wanted to hug my monitor
    3. Got freaking starving(all that awesome food you write about -.-)
    Thanks for making my day man.

    Now an introduction:
    I’m a guy from Bulgaria who recently got into studying Japanese.
    Have been reading your articles for more than an year now, as a mostly silent observer.
    My usual pastimes being..um… well.. breathing and checking your web every day!
    Really nice to see so many of your articles coming up lately.
    How come? Is it because you have more free time? Have more to say? Or just bored as crap?
    At any rate food beckons.
    Laters

    1. Man, that’s really heartwarming to hear, which is a good thing since it’s cold as hell in Japan right now. I had to walk like ten minutes through the freezing rain just to get some Korean soup. And why is it that all Korean food tastes like kimchee anyway? How is it possible for an entire nation to have only one flavor? Anyway, it was pretty delicious and then I came home all shivering and saw your comment and that really warmed me up. Well, plus I blasted the heater, but still.

      So yeah, I’ve been trying to write more. I’ve always got about a million things I want to say about Japan, since it’s a complicated and fascinating place; it’s just finding the right way to say them. And seriously, having support from folks like you is a huge factor. I guess the other component is effective time management. That’s the term I like to use, because it sounds way more professional than saying I wrote most of this in the corner of a dingy izakaya with a MacBook Air, two bottles of Asahi, and a quarter bottle of shochu, not to mention a plate of mackerel sauteed with sliced vegetables and covered in savory sauce, a bowl of oden, and a plate of cold tofu with these little fish flakes on top. Hey, I’m multitasking. It’s a skill.

      So thanks again for your comment. Keep reading, and I’ll keep writing. Just read slower. Thanks.

      1. When it comes to cuisine, if America’s the jack-of-all-trades that’s picked up bits and bobs here and there while gaining experience in a variety of fields but mastery in none, Korea finished it’s PhD in kimchi 10 years ago and is on its fourth post-doc in the area. Just like how a someone may be a genius in his field but completely incompetent when it comes to picking out matching clothes, Koreans know a billion awesome meals to make with kimchi, but if you show them a pizza, they stick corn and unshelled shrimp on it and serve it up with a side of pickles.

        1. Yeah, agreed. I love kimchee, and can see why you’d want to add it to everything. I guess I don’t really need much variety, so it’s reassuring to see there’s an entire country that feels the same way.

    1. Thanks much. I also cracked up a lot while writing it. And since I was in an izakaya, a lot of the other diners kept looking over, like “what’s the white guy laughing about?” But after about two beers, everything seemed hilariously funny. Of course, it always does. Then I had to edit it pretty heavily the next day, as per usual.

  2. I don’t like those bus tours.
    I was forced to do one once and it was just as horrible as I expected it to be.
    I don’t like travelling in a huge group with lots of people I don’t know and rushing from one spot to another.

    1. Yeah, but hey, that’s real Japanese culture. And what better way to experience the nation than being packed into a tiny capsule with thirty Japanese folks who say nothing to one another for an entire day? As they say in Japan, “Let the good times roll!” What—They don’t say that? Well, anyway, I’m sure they think it. Party on, you crazy Japanese people.

  3. “The Tanuki kept making this joke about tying a rubber band around his dick because he had to pee so bad”

    Oh man, that made me laugh out loud at my desk. My boss next to me gave me the evil eye.

    Man you guys really drank a ton of booze on (and off) the bus!
    I’m curious to know just how drunk were you by the end of the day?

    1. Yeah, I’m a little curious about that myself. I did manage to also fall asleep in the taxi as well, which is rare. But once I got to Akiko’s place I felt pretty excellent, even if halfway thought the night I did wake up thinking I was still on the bus. Long day.

      Probably the best part of it was how Imada-san left. Once we got off the bus, he just stumbled toward the station without a word and disappeared into the crowd. Not a Well, see ya later! or a hand wave, he just kind of evaporated. So Japanese.

  4. Rofled out another CM I see and it was really sick in the best way, ya know. It brought back memories… I once had to ride several different Gray-hound buses from San Diego to Washington D.C. and it took 4 days of total misery (at least there weren’t any middle aged obasans droning on about the scenery). Everyday it was eat drink potty… over and over again and we didn’t have any alcohol to make the trip smooooother. It was one of the worst experiences of my life after having endured USMC boot-camp.

    Life ends up being nothing but cycles of eating drinking and then disgorging those remnant solids and liquids in various and sundry places; but among all of that mundane living crap, I hope you had the chance to make some small progress on your book. I really want to see you become a success before something happens to Japan or me (the Chinese are coming – oh my). Come on and step up to the plate (I mean the baseball metaphor not the food plate) now and get that home run hit and finish your book.

    Selfishly, I would really love to add you to my list of famous authors that I met before they hit it big. Of Course, you will be the first author that I actually got to encourage to write, the other three were already writing (but not yet recognized publicly for their talents) before I met them.

    That reminds me, I’ll tell, you about the time I met Homer Hickam before he wrote his book “Rocket Boys” (later renamed to “October Sky” and made into an Oscar winning movie of the same name). I was a reliability Engineer on the Solid Rocket Boosters for the Shuttle and one of my friends had a wife that worked for a large company called SCI. They had gone to a picnic of sorts on a paddle-wheel boat over the weekend (unfortunately named the Scitanic) when a thunder storm hit suddenly and a micro burst capsized the boat (I later found out that my friend and all but one of his family members drowned). After hearing about this incident I drove down to the river where it happened and was trying to ascertain my friend’s condition to see if I could help. While standing on the bank, a diver came up from the surface and was towing my friend’s now lifeless body and that man was Homer Hickam. Later I talked to him about what might have caused the boat to capsize and he told me how the boat had already been cited for being top heavy after modifications were made to the original hull. This was in 1984.

    A few weeks later I saw Homer at the grocery store and we talked again about the boating accident and I found him to be so engaging that I started asking him about his background and after meeting his wife I was just so impressed with their positive nature and humanity. A few months later I saw Homer at a local bookstore “Little Professor’s” and he was talking to the owner, whom I knew as a friend of the family. I found out that Homer was writing a documentary book, called “Torpedo Junction” about all of the shipwrecks off Cape Hatteras which told the story about the U-boats that sank hundreds of US ships off the East coast during the first few years of WWII. I was a WWII buff yet I really had no idea of the success of U-boats off our coastline, so I asked him about writing a book and he told me you have to find something that is an interesting story and something that you really like talking about before you put it to paper. You like to talk about everyday Life don’t you Ken (in the most interesting and hilarious ways)!!

    The funny story is how he wrote that book “Rocket Boys”. After his success at writing about the shipwrecks for national Geographic, the Smithsonian magazine asked him to write a series of articles about his work in the NASA neutral buoyancy tank, where Homer worked training the astronauts how to accomplish space walks and satellite repair work in simulation. He was late for his second article because he had gotten the bends on a practice dive he made in the Gulf of Mexico, so they asked him if he had any story that they could use that could talk about his background and he just happened to have an article he had previously wrote: a true story about how he won the national science fair and got to meet Dr. Von Braun, which led him to work for NASA. The article was published and within 3 weeks he had made a deal to make a movie (from a fleshed out book) and the movie hit the screens within three or so years of him writing that article. He’s writing full time now and you can find more out about him at http://homerhickam.com/

    Just recently I saw mention of Homer on a Japanese anime called “Uchuu Kyoudai” or Space Brothers and told Homer about it and he was delighted that his history had become part of the teaching lexicon of Japan. I also hope that one day you (Ken) can become part of that same lexicon as a teacher of humanity and life!! I’ve certainly learned a lot from reading your blog and participating in the discussion here… Thank you very much for being a source of enjoyment and entertainment Ken Seeroi!!

    1. Wow, what a great and tragic story, Bud. I actually just watched the movie “Uchuu Kyoudai” about a month ago on DVD, so I feel we’ve almost come full circle. Now, if I’d just write that darn book . . .

      Well, let’s see what the holidays bring. I’ve got a couple of weeks off so maybe I’ll just lock myself in my apartment, drink a ton of coffee and grow a giant beard. Not that I’ll write anything, but at least I’ll look amazing, which is all that really matters. Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. Haha, Mr. Tanuki surely gave you some great time 🙂

    I’ve seen those tour buses passing by, and not sure if I ever wanted to be in one. Always seemed like I would miss a lot of things I want to see (countryside is full of gems) and will see a lot of things I’d rather miss (toilet line at the stops)

    It would be cool to go straight to the crab and sashimi place, get full, and then wander around the neighborhood.

    Have other people in the bus been enjoying themselves though? And how come no onsen stop? That would be a great addition, IMO!

    1. Okay, two things, and thanks for bringing them up.

      One is that we actually went right by some sort of famous onsen and the tour guide was like, Oh, there’s the so-and-so onsen and everybody was like Woooow. Then she said, But we wont’ be stopping there and everybody was like Ooooh. So I thought that kind of sucked, although it probably saved the lives of at least three dudes who would have otherwise died face down drunk in a giant hot tub.

      And secondly, yes, we could have just gone straight to the crab place and gotten the same exact deal for 30 bucks. There was a big colorful sign at the entrance saying 80 Minutes, All-You-Can-Eat, 3000 yen! And I was like, Please tell me you’re kidding. You mean we drove all day long in circles getting drunk and exhausted when we could have just come here and had dinner like civilized human beings? And I looked around the restaurant and there were all these normal folks who’d been having a pleasant time until some giant tour bus arrived and the doors flew open and everybody started decimating the supply of crab legs. And suddenly I was one of Those People. Oh, the irony. That is irony, right? Well, anyway, it was something, and next time, yeah, I’m just going out to dinner, by train.

    1. Funny, that’s the same joke Japanese people make about foreigners. It’s like white people are always walking around with cameras, taking pictures of stuff like street signs and cats. I guess it’s a Wow-look-I’m-overseas thing.

      Granted we didn’t really go anywhere that stunning, but pretty much nobody took any pictures. I guess if you’ve seen one fish factory, you’ve seen them all.

  6. Hi Ken.. Greeting from Indonesia.. Awesome article, as always. Been reading your blog for almost a year now. It’s really amazing how can you picture this kind of story. I always giggles everytime I read your articles. Can’t wait for another one.

  7. You’d do excellent if you were to do business here in China. Those guys drink like there’s no tomorrow. They be busting out 60% white spirits (bai jiu) and each person would drink like half a bottle.

    So here I am, an American with absolutely no drinking skills trying to get past the bitterness of a cup of Qing Dao.

    Oh well…

      1. See now, I actually like Japanese beer. I think I’m probably the only one, but all the stuff people drink overseas is unbearably sweet. I used to be really into microbrewed beers, but somehow my tastes have changed. Probably eating too much dried squid.

        One of the big challenges I have when I go to the U.S. is finding a beer that’s not all brown and sugary, or else looks exactly the same going in as it does coming out. Mostly I just switch to wine.

        1. Ken,

          Check out Sam Adams Craft beer the next time you come state-side; there’s gotta be one of their 70-some varieties that you’d like:

          https://www.samueladams.com/craft-beers

          As you move the mouse over the different beers on this site, an explanation of their flavoring is given; it’s a pretty amazing to have that many different beers and they were all developed as part of micro-brewing experiments. Many of these variants are somewhat hard to find and are seasonal. For some reason, I’ve always wanted to try the Cherry Choclate Bock beer, but I can never find it in stock. Some of them even taste like Ale, Cider and Wine and its really quite amazing! There’s one brewed just for you Ken and it’s called the “Vixen”.

          FYI, Most places that carry Sam Adams have between 5-30 of their different varieties (it’s mainly inn the North East US more than anywhere else and might not even be on the West Coast), and I doubt you can find it in Japan?! The Nippon Beer Company, Ltd., a Japanese imported beer distributor based in Tokyo used to have the rights to Sam Adams sales in Japan, but that was fifteen years ago and before Sam Adams came up with all the new styles and craft beers. Someone I know said they had Sam Adams at the Tokyo Disneyland in the international restaurant area, but I can’t guarantee that… good luck finding it.

          There is one style of Sam Adams beer, called Utopia – released every two years; each batch is aged in sherry, brandy, cognac, bourbon, or scotch casks for up to 18 years. Each installment also contains a touch of maple syrup and each bottle costs over $150.00 – that’s only 700 ml. I think it’s the most expensive beer in the US!

      2. Next time I go on a business dinner, I’mma open a big ass bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream…hahahaha…its pretty good! Chocolatey n minty, goes down smooth with a little bit of a fiery kick. Perfect.

        1. I’ll second that one Ricky, I’m Scotch-Irish and I love Bailey’s Irish Cream. I think that’s why I wanted to try that Sam Adams Cherry Chocolate Bock Beer, thinking it might be a cheaper way to taste some Bailey’s…LOL!

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