Monk’s Trail Race overcomes a tough run

Poor Minobusan cannot catch a break. The Shugyoso Monk’s Run Trail Race profiled in 2014 was cancelled in 2018 due to major typhoon inflicted damage on the Minobusan~Shichimensan trail. Denied use of the full course, race organizers made do with mini races covering usable parts of the trails. This year’s challenge was greater than ever: the COVID crisis almost cancelled it altogether.

To keep it alive Rev. Yuji Komatsu of Takeibo and the resourceful Shugyoso organizers opted for a 17 km ‘mini course race’ up and down Shichimensan this year, limited to 50 runners each on November 21, 22, 28, 29 with COVID protocols in place to limit crowding. It’s an encouraging sign that all race slots sold out.

The first race on November 21 went very well. The weather was clear and warm. Organizers did a good job taking care of the race and racers. Everybody was relaxed and enjoyed a good time. Final race results ranking the best times of all 4 race days are posted on the Shugyoso FaceBook page (Japanese).

If all goes well the road linking Minobusan and Shichimensan will be completely repaired and once again open for Monks Trail Race event.

The course this year is half of what it usually is, up the Omotesando trail of Shichimensan and down the Kitasando trail

In case you wondered why parasols for men are a thing this summer…

Parasols are a standard Japanese summer item for women but I was scratching my head when I saw men using them this summer. Was it the heat? Was it something else? I searched online and soon found the answer: COVID and face masks.

You see men don’t mind tan lines in the usual places but face mask tan lines are to be avoided at all costs. Japanese guys apparently have it tough these days because Japanese women are incredibly picky. Guys have to have just the right muscled physique but not too much, face hair is okay but body hair is no, and no face mask tan lines.

I don’t know about you but I take comfort in people caring about appearances despite all the chaos that is 2020. A little dose of normal helps the day go down.

Tanabata and Obon

Many festivals are canceled this year because of COVID but you can still go to a local shrine or temple and tie your Tanabata wish to the bamboo. It’s always fun to read what other people have wished for: good health, happy family or the very appropriate ‘go away COVID’.

In the old lunar calendar Tanabata and Obon came together, 7/7 and 7/13 respectively. The western calendar mixed things up in the Meiji era because both events herald the last hurrah of Japanese summer and fall during the western August when calculated by the lunar July. This is why the events are July in Tokyo and August in the countryside.

There are plenty of hot days after Obon but summer feels done, you can feel wisps of autumn in the night air. The Japanese enjoyment of seasons is never the full gaudy glory but in catching the first faint whispers of change.

The Toilet Tech Gap

Ken Bolido recently bought a Washlet for his employer Austin Evans. The Twitter video of the unveiling unlidding is funny but got me thinking: what’s the toilet tech gap at other gadget sites? Inquiring minds want to know. It’s hilarious to think that all those high tech review sites with high tech equipped studios, have low tech toilets.

In Praise of Disappearing Japan, served on pizza toast

Pizza toast and Neapolitan spaghetti made with ketchup are Kissaten staples, don’t forget the Tabasco

Alan Booth’s The Roads to Sata created a modern English language book genre, Disappearing Japan. It’s an endangered species that has been disappearing for decades, aka “the real Japan.” Whatever that is.

I read Roads to Sata long ago and liked it, but that was before I had experiences to compare, i.e. a frame of reference. Later on after many adventures working summer mountain lodges in the Southern Alps I read Booth’s companion book Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan and liked it, much less. Travel books and writing are like travel companions, most of them drive you crazy, only a rare few make truly good life long companions. After 30 years in Japan I don’t care to travel with Alan Booth anymore or emulate his gimmicky patchwork style that mixed evocative narrative hooks with black comedy, embarrassingly wrong cultural “insights” and a decidedly narcissistic take of Japanese history that cleverly camouflages good old western style cultural snobbery as ‘outsider viewpoint’.

The Alan Booth Japan travel writing style is alive and well in Craig Mod’s I Walked 600 Miles Across Japan for Pizza Toast, it shares the same kitschy patchwork walkabout formula explaining Showa era Kissaten culture. It’s not my cup of coffee but it’s a fun informative read for people who don’t know Japan or haven’t lived here long. Brushing past a few embarrassingly bad ‘hooks’ like the Pachinco mamas leaving infants in the car parking lot reference, old timers probably see a different narrative lurking in discarded details like the abandoned but unexplained karaoke parlor coin laundry picture, a quirky Gifu sight familiar to anybody who knows that area and history.

Kissaten culture will not disappear. I like pizza toast, blend coffee, neapolitan ketchup spaghetti, green cream soda with a glow in the dark maraschino cherry, oshibori and nice clean glass ashtrays. Lots of people do and the growing number of older people in Japan with lots of time to kill need places to go. I remain hopeful that visitors to Japan will venture out of overpriced Starbucks and discover the joys of classic Japanese Kissaten.