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Hot Spring in Summer
Sunday, 20th August

Ever wanted to see an old, sweaty, naked Japanese man? Or maybe a whole bunch?
Come on, who hasn't?
Well, they're surprisingly easy to find in this part of the world. All one needs to do is take a trip to the local onsen (bath house), have a dip, and feast your eyes. It's a veritable visual buffet of sagging, liver-spotted skin, just waiting to be gazed upon.

Well, you can do that if you like.
Last Thursday, my friends Moe, Shinya, Li and I trained and hiked our way to a secluded, mountain-side onsen. There was ample opportunity to take a peek some guy's shining, septuagenarian bot-bot (even for Moe, who's a girl), but that wasn't what we were there for. Nope, we were there for nice relaxing bath, and hopefully some cultural enlightenment.

Cultural Note: In Japanese culture, onsens (literally: hot springs) are way of life for many. In fact, public bathing in a natural hot spring, with its generous minerals and sulphuric smell, was the primary or even sole method of cleaning oneself for some people in early 20th century Japan. Post-war reconstruction led to modern plumbing, and a general migration to occidental bathing practices - however, they have had a resurgence in recent years. In fact, onsens are so integral to Japanese life, there is even a symbol to denote them on maps and roadsigns.

Our onsen adventure began with a train ride to a secluded station. First, we had lunch at a cozy little restaurant nearby. Being secluded and on the side of the mountain, the prices were a bit... steep. But, the meal was really tasty. I had some sort of soba noodle soup thing, containing 15 different species of mushroom, all picked from the surrounding area. Or maybe not. Either way, it was veritable cross-section of Japan's fungal diversity. It's no wonder mushrooms play such a large part in the Super Mario Bros franchise.
We washed it down with a mouthful of chikara mizu (strength water), fresh from a mountain stream, and embarked upon our thrilling hike to onsen happiness.

The hike was longer than I thought it would be. It was also uphill. However, the scenery was really pleasant, and despite the vicious insects threatening our precious orifaces, we saw some really beautiful sights. Scenery you just can't find in Australia, and some (at least to me) really unique trees and assorted shrubbery.

Trees and assorted shrubbery.

More of the same

Me trying not to look like a dick, failing pathetically.

Nice bit of landscapey action.

On the way, I learnt that we had left Fukushima Prefecture at one point, and were actually hiking through the wilderness of Yamagata. Yamagata Prefecture, particularly it's charming accent and scenery, was immortalized in the Japanese box-office smash, 'Swing Girls'. At least it was in my mind.

We also saw three dead snakes and a crushed mouse. We couldn't figure out what the snakes had died of, but one looked like it had tiny bullet wounds, it was weird. The mouse, on the other hand, had obviously met its fate under the tyre of an oncoming car (or crushed underfoot by some sadist). I made sure to document it for posterity. Click on the mosaiced version for a clearer, larger version.
Suitable as a desktop wallpaper.

Eventually, we made it to the mountain side onsen place. An hour and a half of walking had finally gotten us to our destination. By that time it was 3:45pm, and the bath shut at 4. Great.

Moe went off somewhere (maybe to the female onsen area, I dunno) while Shinya, Li and I disrobed and went into the male onsen. Unisex onsens do exist, but generally aren't used by anyone under the age of 60.
It is important to wash yourself before you enter the actual hot spring. There are facilities to the side, either a shower or a bucket of water. Make sure to clean and rinse yourself properly; take dirt or soap suds into the onsen with you, and you will suffer for it. Underwear and swimsuits are strictly banned in an onsen, though you are allowed a small towel for modesty. My towel was much bigger than regulation - about twice the size of a tea towel. I noted disappointment on the faces of fellow bathers wishing to catch a glimpse of the impressive foreigner's undoubtedly enormous samurai sword.
"No towels in the water," Shinya said, thereby forcing me to display my wondrous gift to the awaiting onlookers. Imagine my surprise when nobody gave a shit.

Fig. 1
Speaking of male nudity, I was fortunate enough to look to my left at the precise moment an elderly fellow was bending over, knees fully spread, to pick something up. I got a full, unhindered view of the top of his behind, his california roll, and all glorious points inbetween. One could not help but be reminded of the crude drawing we used to do in primary school, of the sun shining on a snow-capped mountain, that, after adding another line, changes into a man bending over in the shower (see fig. 1).
Though it was just a mere glimpse, it remains etched in my memory and shall haunt me for the rest of my days. It is hard for me to do, however I hope that relating my harrowing experience to others will act as some sort of catharthis.

The rest was all sort of a blur. We got out and got dressed in the changeroom, where I was surprised to see a mirror strategically placed in the hallway outside that allowed a full view of the activities if the door was open. No-one peeked at my junk (I think), but after I was dressed and outside, Moe managed to inadvertedly see a 70 year old man putting on his undies. Hoorah!

Refreshed, we all eventually hiked back to the train station, and made our way home.

O take me home,
To where I rest m' mind
From the snakes of Yamagata
Be they bullet-ridden or seen from behind
The mushrooms were nice
As was the view
That was my adventure
To a house of

"Poetry" by Matthew Strain. Yu means 'hot water' by the way.

* * *

Waraji! Waraji! Waraji Matsuri!
Wednesday, 9th August

There was a cool summer festival on the weekend. It was hot, yet enjoyable.
Click the above for more pictures and words!
Or alternatively, click this!

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Bloody Hot
Monday, 7th August

Summer holidays have finally arrived, and with them comes the end of uni for a bit, and outrageous weather. It's really hot and muggy. Like one guy used to say, you have to fart for fresh air.
I was super number one busy with assignments of late, so I didn't have the energy to update this.
Anyway, read this story I wrote a while ago.

The Golden Elevator
Written: Bloody ages ago

This is the place that I left:

Good old Northgate station. Not much more than the place where the Shorncliffe and Caboolture lines meet (or diverge), but there's also a partially functional cold water tap and a well-stocked newsagent open 6-9am weekdays. If you can't find it there... try somewhere else I guess.
Northgate station is about 2 minutes walk from my house. My old house. Trains run regularly to the city, and usually depart a mere 30 seconds before you arrive at the station.
Australia caters well for the handicapped community. Everywhere you go there seems to be ramps and elevators for the less able-bodied among us. Northgate station is no different: Three elevators service platforms 1&2, 3&4 and the Gympie St Entrance, and a ramp takes care of the opposite entrance. These elevators are not strictly for the handicapped - I myself have been known to take one when I just couldn't be arsed taking the steps.

A few weeks before I left for Japan, I disembarked the train right in the front of the elevator. My calves were tight after a long day of walking - the stairs were just too far away. The elevator beckoned me towards it.
I opened the door to notice the faint yet unmistakable dog-blanket smell of a poorly-tended public lavatory. I thought nothing of it and walked inside, selecting my level. Two.
The doors shut and the motor started. The lavatory smell hadn't abated. It hung in the air like an angler fish waiting to be gutted. I inspected the cross-hatched metal floor. Shiny. A little too shiny, as if it was covered in some sort of thin liquid. Water?

Piss. I was standing in someone else's piss.
Some stupid arsehole pissed in the elevator.
Thank God I wasn't wearing thongs.

I endured it for the 2 seconds it took to get to my level (two), then got off, leaving Converse-shaped piss-prints on the concrete behind.

Thanks for the memories Northgate.



Images (most of them anyway) and words Matthew Strain 2006.
Additional translation by Shitagi Dorobo