Thousands of Miles from Home


Ben VS Japan Part 1: Takamatsu

About a month ago I was informed of a large Rotary event that would be taking place in the port city of Takamatsu on Shikoku Island. Although Tamano is very close to Takamatsu (a mere hour's ferry ride) my Rotary club was not invited to attend the event. But with a little help from my friends (and Joe Cocker) I received an invitation to attend/infiltrate the function (or at least the exciting parts). As a result of attending said Rotary function, in the past 24 hours I have seen some of the most eclectic, erratic, and cosmopolitan set of Rotary events and Japanese nightlife available. Certainly, an excellent time was had by all. My only regret will be slightly censoring the recount of the evening to protect the innocent and underage.

The journey started when I left Tamano by ferry a little after noon on the 5th. I was greeted in Takamatsu with remarkably clear weather considering the massive blizzard that had overtaken Tokyo earlier in the week. Micah, Shaun, Carter, and Urte, who I intended to meet later in the day, were in meetings until the evening so I took the chance to explore the sights and sounds of Takamatsu on foot. I found a small make-your-own udon/soba noodle shop to sufficiently gird my strength for the rigors of Takamatsu.

Takamatsu is known for it's massive shopping center with over 800 shops, restaurants, and various stores spanning multiple streets and alleys, which crisscross the town. I spent a small amount of time window shopping, but decided the Tokyo shopping centers would be a much better place to find clocks that tick backward, anime plush pillows, and other various Japanese novelty items. Instead, I walked toward the large mesa to the west of Takamatsu port called Yashima. You might remember Yashima as the sight of the last ditch effort in the battle of Genpei in 1185. I talked with people along the way and stopped in small stores to check out the local flavor. At one point I walked into a massage parlor, which happened to be filled with old women, but exited without sampling the trade. On the way back from the mesa I found a Kendo arena and stopped to get some pictures of the students practicing. Outside Takamatsu's Symbol tower I met a guy and girl doing BMX street tricks and chatted with them for a while until it started to get dark.

About dinner time I was thinking about searching for a reasonable place to find some food but Micah sent me an e-mail saying the conference was over and I could come to the Ana hotel for a banquet. Not knowing quite what to expect I easily found the hotel (one of the largest buildings in Takamatsu) and entered through a set of large sliding doors. Scouting the room I instantly spotted a ton of rotary members (usually very old and very male) wearing nametags and the occasional "Miss America" type name banner on their shoulder. Being a foreigner I was able to stride right up the escalator to the third floor and into the largest banquet hall I have ever seen in Japan (imagine a ludicrously sized hall, then double it, and you will probably approach the dimensions of the hall for the Rotary banquet). And food. Ah yes...the food. About ten long tables were dressed with eats and cookery from around the world. At the other end of the room, more tables with enough cakes and fruit for dessert to feed a small army (or about 500 Rotarians). I met Micah in a corner table with Carter, Shaun, Tom, Urte, and his host counselor, Yamamoto-san. There was also a new exchange student from Australia named James who recently came to Japan. Yamamoto-san welcomed me to the party and told me to eat whatever met my fancy. I couldn't believe the good fortune.

Sometime during the feast, Micah and I left to run across a 4-lane bus road to a convenient store and purchase deodorant. I left my "lumberjacket" in his room with the intention of blending in a little better with the well-dressed Rotary crowd and went back down to the party. A dance troupe of about 8 women had just started performing on a stage in the banquet hall. It began innocently enough, some kicks and twirls here and there. They invited Rotary members (quite intoxicated by that point) up on stage to perform the "Mexican Samba" with some of the dancers. It was then that I witnessed the most hilarious moment in Rotary performance history when an old man (I would assume some sort of District Governor) came to the stage wearing a napkin/tablecloth around his face (not quite all the way around his head, but sort of tied together under the nose). He proceeded to do the most outrageous beer-inspired dance I have ever seen. Urte, Carter, Micah, and I quickly volunteered to go up on stage with him and the other dancers for a round of "Mexican Samba."

Following the samba the dances became increasingly more risque. Skimpy cop outfits with guns and cosplay maid uniforms would be two costume changes that come to mind.

After the Rotary event came to a close some exchange students went to their hotels to drop off their bags before "a night on the town" in Takamatsu. Yamamoto, apparently feeling generous that evening, gave Micah, Urte, and I 10,000 Yen and told us (with a slight twinkle in his eye) to have a good time. Micah suggested using some of the money to buy him a sweater or tie from a fancy department store.

The evening moved quickly from that point. Some Rotary members asked Micah and I go come with them and the GSE (Group Study Exchange) members from the US to a small bar. We picked up Carter along the way and spent some time talking with the guys from GSE (and a Ukrainian waitress in the bar who asked us all about Rotary Exchange) before deciding we should probably go and spend our money in a place not so full of old people. We finally found James and went to a small Tiki/Reggae bar to wait until Urte met us.

The group set, James, Micah, Carter, Urte, and I looked for a place to spend the evening. After some shady bars, we almost accidentally found a dance club called Cludy-1. There was a cover charge but we took a peek inside anyway. There were only a few people and it was decided we would wait a while before hitting the "Cludy." To burn some time (and wait for Neil and John who were coming from Tamano to party with us) we went to a place called "Once Upon a Time" and listened to Miles Davis and some smooth jazz until the clock struck midnight.

Meeting Neil and John in front of the club, our massive group of Gaijin entered Cludy-1. Somehow (perhaps extreme luck) we picked a good night and there were DJs from Kobe and Himeji spinning Trance and Rave, and a decent amount of Japanese were present as well (most of the other palces we had been that night were rather quiet). I can't say I've been to many Trance parties but I do love to dance so we spent most of the night in the club before stumbling back to our respective hotels. Even though the club was only half full, how could I possibly not enjoy dancing next to crazy Japanese guys and girls to DJ Spiritual walker (aka yuki vortex), Nao, and Mintama (aka DJ mind warp)? It was amazing! I lost track of Neil and John by morning but early e-mails to my keitai reassured me that they weren't dead in a gutter somewhere.

I went to breakfast with Micah which was interesting due to lack of sleep, and became even more amusing as we piled onto a bus with the rest of the Shikoku exchange kids for sightseeing at Ritsurin Kouen and the Takamatsu Contemporary Art Museum (sightseeing after all night parties seems to be a specialty of Japan Rotary). But a fun time was had by all and the cherry blossoms were starting to bud at Ritsurin. Micah and I shared our usual ice cream before piling back on the bus to return to the Ana Hotel. I ate another free meal with the Shikoku rotary kids then said goodbye until our next crazy meeting.

If anything, this trip continues to prove how excellent the Japanese Rotary program can be (and why Contemporary Art Museums are more fun after little to no sleep). I felt completely welcomed even though I wasn't specifically invited and had a killer time.


  • Spring Break in the future may pale in comparison.

    By mom, at 8:41 AM  

  • Quite frankly, most any weekend night here can ultimately achieve spring-break potential... you create your own destiny...

    the future is so bright, I gotta wear shades :)

    By neil, at 7:45 PM  

  • Wow, sounds like a really great weekend! One question though....what is the rotary???

    By Anonymous, at 11:46 PM  

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