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Monday, July 16, 2018

Exploring Japan, Vol. 6 - Animal Cafes!

You can’t really talk about weird fun in Japan without talking about themed cafes.  For those that don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, there are three types.  One is called an Animal Café.  These are generally places where you can go to interact with animals that are so tame that you can hold and pet them.   What makes the place a ‘café’ is that there are drink machines on site and you are usually given a token or ticket that allows you one drink from the machine. 

The second type of café is a full on restaurant who has given themselves over to a specific theme.  Imagine a place where every inch of decoration and all of the service staff dedicate themselves to portraying a prison setting, or a 17th century gothic church.   The final type is very similar to the themed cafe only it also involves a crazy/outlandish show.  As you can see just by those descriptions, there’s a wide variety of places out there you should check out if you visit.
In fact, this topic is so big, that I have to split it into three posts, so let’s begin with Animal Cafes.   

Say that you’ve spent your whole life loving owls despite the fact that they're silently judging you as illustrated above.  That's one very judgmental owl.  But hey, you don't care!  You’ve bought shirts with owl designs on them.  You’ve had favorite mugs decorated with owls staring at you.  In fact, even though you had a bad experience owning a parrot, if it were possible to own an owl that would let you pet it, you’d probably give it some consideration.
The problem is that owning an owl is a hell of a commitment.  You’ve got to feed them mice.  You’ve got to groom them and care for them, plus they live a long time!  Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you just had a place to go where you could pay someone $5.00 and pet their owls instead?
You’re damn right it would be!  

That’s what makes Forest of Owl in Asakusa such a great place!  First of all, there’s no time limit on your visit.  Many places will charge you by increments (15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.).  Forest of Owl also doesn’t limit themselves to just owls.  They have meerkats, snakes, lizards and even parrots, almost all of which you can pet.  The owls are scattered around on various branches and rails throughout the café.  There’s a path you follow that makes its way completely through the room so you’ll see everything on display.  The owls also have convenient signs telling you if they don’t like to be touched or if they love being interacted with.

Karen got to experience something she never thought she would when she walked up and got to pet a gigantic horned owl as well as barn owls and others. 
The thing is, themed animal cafes are in almost every part of Tokyo and they run the gamut from cafes full of rescue dogs to cafes of cats and rabbits.  I’m highly, highly allergic to cats.  If I even pet our neighbors' cat while outside, my hands immediately start to itch.  This really stinks because I grew up around cats and actually like them.  

It’s worse for my wife and daughter though, because they never get to experience being around cats due to my allergy.  In Japan, the problem is solved easily.  I sit outside and play on my phone while they spend a little time in a cat café. 

The cats here are treated like royalty and the majority of them absolutely love the attention.

Ever wanted to actually hold and pet a hedgehog or a fennec fox?  Of course you do!  Visit the HARRY hedgehog café in Roppongi and you can hang out with this guy.  

They have a rabbit café next door also and if you think for a moment that all of this is just a giant waste of money, think again.  Animal cafes are typically the cheapest to get into and usually there’s no reservation needed although you may have to wait a little while if it’s a peak time.   The standard admission is usually between $5.00 and $8.00 U.S., but in some cases like the cat café in Hirajuku, it’s only a few bucks for ten minutes.  That will get you ten minutes of petting cats plus a drink.  Not bad at all!

Animal cafes are also excellent because they are stress relievers.  There is no way you can spend 30 minutes in a café where a Fennec Fox is running around and not walk out with a huge smile on your face.  It’s physically impossible.
Other focus on a specific area instead of a specific animal.  For instance, the Subtropical Teahouse in Yokohama houses iguanas, bearded lizards, turtles and snakes.  It’s like going to an indoor petting zoo in the Amazon.  Seriously, if there's a smallish non-venomous animal that you're a fan of, there is probably an animal cafe that will get you close to it.
So if you are in Tokyo for even a few days, make a tiny window of time and visit one of these places.  They’re a lot of fun and an experience you generally won’t find anywhere else.
Next week, we’ll talk about themed restaurants and visit some with maids, butlers, mad hatters and train conductors. 
See you then!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Horror Histories Vol. 10 - The Hills Have Eyes (The REAL Story)!

Okay, here’s a great one for you.  We’ve talked about Wes Craven before in this column but that was about the inspiration behind A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Years before that seminal movie premiered, Craven had already hit horror-gold with a movie called The Hills Have Eyes (1977).  

Spoiler Alert:  Don’t read further unless you don’t care about major plot points being spoiled for you.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is the story of a family on a trip to California who venture into an off-limits, wooded area.  When their car breaks down (as always seems to happen to people in these types of movies), they are hunted and killed by a vicious family of cannibals who live there.   It’s a very fun film if you like horror.

This is a case though of the inspiration being even more horrible than the film it inspired.  Believe it or not, The Hills Have Eyes is based on a real family who lived in Scotland in the 1500’s.  Wait till you read this!

Alexander “Sawney” Bean was born in East Lothian and was raised by parents who were both honest, hard-working people.  Once he was old enough to start seeking his own path in life, Sawney did not feel the same way.  He hated honest work and soon found a woman who shared his dislike of it.  They sought out a place to live and soon found a cave by the ocean near Bennane Head.  The cave ran very deep (200 yards) and at high tide, the ocean prevented people from going inside.  It was located between two towns (Ballantrae and Girvan) which meant there were often travelers passing nearby.

Alexander and his (presumably) lovely bride began attacking people who traveled the road at night.  They would rob them of supplies, murder them and eat them.  They actually pickled the leftovers. 
Wait, it gets better.  

What do you do with yourself when you're living in a cave and making other humans a staple in your diet?  Well you start a family of course!  The two produced eight sons, six daughters, eighteen grandsons and fourteen granddaughters.  Obviously there was a fair amount of incest involved here so you can imagine what the offspring were beginning to look like.  I told you, this story is even more frightening than the film it inspired.

As you may have surmised, for them to create a family that large, they had to have gone undetected for some time.  You’re right!  In fact, they successfully lived, undiscovered for over 25 years.  They only attacked at night and while local townsfolk arranged searches and hunting parties to try to find who or what was killing travelers, they were never found.  

While the hunting parties had seen the cave, they'd determined that because of the location and the water level, it must be uninhabitable.

The Bean clan’s luck finally ran out when they attacked the wrong guy.  He and his wife were riding back from a local fair and when the Beans attacked, they found that their prey was actually combat trained.  The husband fought them off with his sword long enough for another group of travelers to come along.  The Beans scrambled into hiding but while they’d managed to kill the man’s wife, he was still alive.  He told the authorities what had happened and soon, King James VI of Scotland organized a 400 man team along with bloodhounds to bring them to justice. 
What did justice look like in the 1500's?  Basically, it involved rounding all of the Beans up and killing them.  They were first brought to prison in Edinburgh and then the men were bled to death. I won’t tell you what was cut off but I will tell you it was painful and you can just use your imagination from there.    The women and children (again, all cannibals) were burned alive.

Someone should make a movie about something this wild, right?  That’s exactly what Wes Craven said to himself when he heard the legend and once again, a horror classic sprung from his head.  I know I say this every week, but I highly recommend this film.  It doesn’t have the greatest production values, but it is effective and if you just can’t bring yourself to watch a low-budget horror film from the ‘70’s, then check out the remake from 2006.  I like the original better but this one is no slouch.
See you next week and until then, stay on the major roads. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Exploring Japan Vol. 5 - Aokigahara Ice Cave

So as I mentioned last week, we didn’t necessarily want to go to the well-traveled paths of the Aokigahara forest for obvious reasons.  That’s why, when my wife found out that there was a company who would take us on a less popular path and let us explore an ice cave, I jumped at the opportunity.  In fact, there were really only three things I insisted on doing while in Tokyo this last time:  Aokigahara, the Kappa Derra Temple and the festival at Asakusa.  Other than that, I told her I’d follow she and my daughter wherever they wanted to go.

The ice cave sits in a giant hole in the ground about a quarter of a mile from where our guide parked the van.  As you can see from the picture above, I wasn't lying in the last post when I said there was basically about 12 cm of soil for these trees to grow.  Everything beneath that is rock and in this case, the roof of this section of the cave fell in hundreds of years ago and left openings on either end.  In the picture above, you are looking at one end that has limited access.

The other side (where we entered) is much bigger and accessible without ropes or climbing gear, however the path down isn’t for everyone.  First of all, you have to make your way down a rocky ledge to the cave entrance.  Then, you climb down a bamboo ladder to another ledge inside the cave.  

From this point on, your guide will tell you to always use three points of contact as you move through the cave because instantly, there is ice.  The cave goes back pretty far and as you go, you’ll begin seeing the occasional sign of civilization. Sometimes, it’s just a survey marker.  Other times, it’s a rock with a cylinder shaped scar on it from dynamite charges.  

Later, you’ll pass what looks like the remains of a bamboo cart.  Pretty soon you start to think to yourself, “Wait a minute.  How long have people been coming down here?”
Well, the answer is pretty much since people started settling the area.  A couple of the businesses that were run from the cave are an ice business (that’s what the bamboo cart was used for) and a man who used it to store silkworms.  The latter figured out that because of the temperature in the cave, the silkworms produced four times as much than when they were kept topside. 

The amazing thing is how far back you find these bits and pieces.  It doesn’t take much traveling until you are completely in the dark and if not for the lanterns on our helmets, we wouldn’t have been able to see much of anything.

Oh, and if you’re over five feet tall, you’ll definitely appreciate the hard hat.  It’s not that the ceiling is low (it’s not).  It’s that because of the “three points of contact” rule, you’re hugging the walls pretty closely and it seemed like my head scratched an outcrop above every few steps.

Once you get back that far, you’ll start to see some really cool stuff.  First, the ice is crystal clear and absolutely beautiful.  Next, as you look up you’ll see what look like stalactites, but they’re actually just very large icicles.  Back in the cave, we found some that had fallen and shattered. 

You can also ask your significant other to recreate the poster from John Carpenter’s The Thing.

I have to say, that of all the days we were in Japan this last time, the visit to Aokigahara and the ice cave was my favorite day. 
We spent about an hour in the cave itself, maybe a little longer.  Once out, we hiked back through the forest to the van and our guide dropped us off at the bus station so we could catch a ride back to Tokyo. 
Now, if you happen to end up at the bus station, you’ll find a small snack bar where they serve Mt. Fuji Volcano Chicken.  Get it.

Sure, it looks burnt to a crisp, but it’s really just fried chicken with a squid ink batter.  It was delicious and really hits the spot with a cold beer after you’ve been climbing/hiking around.

Next week, we’ll get back to the city proper and start exploring the café culture in Tokyo.  Get ready for strange animals, stranger themed restaurants and a little bit of Ultraman!
See you next week!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Horror Histories Vol. 9 - What if the Xenomorph from Alien (1979) was real? (Pssst... it kind of is!)

Alien (1979) is widely regarded as one of the scariest movies ever made.  While multiple sequels have watered down the overall series, the original still holds up and the Xenomorph (as the alien is referred to) is one of the most original monster creations ever.  The screenplay was written by Dan O’Bannon from a story he co-authored with Ronald Shusett and while the inspiration for the story itself comes from various sci-fi and horror works, it’s the actual creature life-cycle and design that really captured people’s imaginations.

So for this post, I want to introduce you to the horrific animal that inspired the Xenomorph.   For those that haven’t seen the film, I’m about to drop a major spoiler so just stop reading here. 

Want to continue?  Here we go!

The most infamous scene of Alien is the chest burster scene.  The Xenomorph life-cycle starts in an egg.  What emerges from the egg attaches to the face of a host.  It then plants an embryo in the stomach of the host and detaches.  The host walks around a while feeling okay until the embryo begins eating its way out to horrifically gory (and fun if you’re in the audience) results.

To see the animal that inspired that lifecycle, we need to travel down to Australia where as far as I can tell, everything is poisonous and wants to kill you.  Allow me to introduce you to the Spider Wasp.  

In particular, say hello to the Huntsman-killing Spider Wasp of Australia.  To put things in perspective, you need to know what a Huntsman spider is.  Here’s a picture.

Now, to put that in perspective, those legs are anywhere from 6 – 9 inches from tip to tip.  This is not a small spider we’re talking about here.  Which brings us to the Spider Wasp.  It’s not a small bug either and while its name would suggest that it eats Huntsman spiders, that’s not entirely accurate.  An adult female wasp will swoop down and sting the spider, paralyzing it.  The wasp then lays eggs in the Huntsman’s abdomen, however it makes sure not to damage any of the spider’s internal organs.  Once that happens, the eggs hatch and the baby wasps feed on the still living spider from the inside out. 

Here’s a fun picture of an adult female wasp dragging a paralyzed Huntsman off to be turned into a living incubator. 
See what I mean about these not being little animals? 
So yeah, have fun with that nightmare and while you’re at it, check out Alien if you haven’t seen it in a while.  It’s one of the best sci-fi movies in the history of film and still packs a horrific punch almost 40 years after its original release.

See you next time!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Exploring Japan, Vol. 4 - Aokigahara Forest and Japanese Ghosts!

For the first three installments of this series on Japan, we looked at sacred shrines. For this one, I want to talk about a place that’s considered just as spiritual, though much more mysterious.  This was a place that's been on my "Weird Places Bucket List" for most of my life.  It's called Aokigahara ("Sea of Trees").  It's a huge forest that sits at the base of Mt. Fuji and it's considered one of the most haunted places on Earth.  

According to legend, the forest is unnaturally quiet, compasses don't work correctly, the trees are misshapen and there are holes and hiding spots for spirits and demons everywhere.  Very few animals dwell in the forest and it's incredibly easy to get lost if hiking on your own.

Now, some of you will also have heard of Aokigahara because of it's more recent (and unfortunate) nickname, "The Suicide Forest".  Please understand that I'm not at all interested in that side of the forest's reputation.  I have no desire to stumble across a dead body.  What fascinates me is that this entire forest has been considered haunted for hundreds of years, much longer than the "Suicide Forest" nickname which didn't come around until well after WWII.  

So my question going into this was, "Why this place?"  What is it about Aokigahara that makes it different from all of the other forests in Japan and is there any truth to the stories of it being ominously quiet, compasses not working, etc.

I'll get to that, but first we have to talk a little about Japanese mythology.  Anyone who’s seen The Ring or (my favorite) The Grudge should know that ghosts feature prominently in Japanese stories and legends.  The type of ghosts featured in those films is what is called a yūrei.  They are people who died while experiencing a huge anger or a deep sadness.  Their spirit is motivated to stay behind in order to resolve those feelings and until they are satisfied, they cannot move on to the next world.  If you look at the picture below, you'll see that the ghost in The Ring (above) is pretty much modeled straight from the traditional depictions of a yūrei.

Typically, they wear a white robe (akin to the burial robes of Edo-era Tokyo) and have wildly disheveled hair.  According to Japanese legend, Aokigahara forest is a magnet for them.  It’s filled with yūrei who roam the forest looking for mischief and that’s the crazy thing about Japanese ghosts.  They’re not just there to jump out and say, “boo!”  

According to legend, the yūrei will actually attack and kill the living.  So with the forest supposedly teeming with these vengeful spirits, the question arises again, why here?

Well, this forest actually is pretty different.  Most of it has to do with the geography.  Aokigahara basically exists despite all odds being against it.  Back in 864 A.D., Mt. Fuji spilled tons of lava through the valley where the forest is now.  That lava hardened into rock and absolutely nothing grew there for centuries.  Over time, small plants like mosses and lichens began to grow. Larger plants came later and eventually, the forest as we see it now sprung up.  The thing is, there’s not an abundance of rich soil for trees to take root.  In fact, our guide explained that the average depth  before you hit volcanic rock is only about twelve centimeters.  That’s nothing, and yet there are gigantic trees all around you!

So let me dispel a couple of legends now.  First of all, the forest is not creepy.  It's absolutely beautiful but in a way that is definitely unlike other forests I've visited.  Among the legends about this place is one I particularly love.  It recounts that the trees walk around at night and take root in new places under the light of the moon.  You can see why when you look at these insane roots like in the picture above.  With no place to grow underground, the trees take root anyplace they can.  They grow in, on and around each other and as other pieces rot away, you're left with what look like legs.  The thing is, all the trees grow like this which makes walking through the forest incredibly difficult.  Nothing is flat and if not for the well maintained path, hiking would be a real ordeal.  

Additionally, that jumble of roots and rocks makes it difficult to see what's really ahead of you.  As Karen said to me while we were hiking, “If you walked twenty yards off the path and laid down, I’m not sure anyone could see you.”

Second, compasses have no trouble here as long as you're not laying them on the ground.  Because of the type of rock under the forest floor, a compass can give you a bad reading if you just set it down, however if you are holding it in your hand, it reads perfectly.

Let's talk about the legend of Aokigahara being unnaturally quiet and lifeless.  This one has some meat to it.  I’ve done a fair amount of hiking and camping in my life and I’ve never been in a forest as quiet as this one.  I started paying attention almost as soon as we entered the path and for the entire time we were there, I don't ever remember hearing bird calls.  Upon returning and looking into it a little more, I found that wildlife here is, in fact, very limited.  There are some deer, lots of insects and yes, some birds, but not as many as you would think.  

Depending on your train of thought at the time, this can be either eerie or peaceful.  To me, it was the latter, but once the sun goes down, who knows what I’d be thinking.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room.  Yes, this place is sometimes referred to as “The Suicide Forest” and the reason why is a bit of a “chicken and egg” scenario.  According to legend, those who take their own lives become yūrei, therefore suicidal people come to Aokigahara in order to be near the spirits of others like them. 
People who come here to die often tie the end of a spool of ribbon to a tree trunk and then unspool it as they walk into the forest.  They reason that if they decide against suicide, they can find their way back.  If they decide to go through with it, others can find their belongings and notify their kin.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t really want to be walking along a path and find a ribbon.  How would you react?  Do you follow it in hopes that maybe that person hasn’t done anything yet and you can talk them out of killing themselves?  Do you follow it knowing that you may find something truly gruesome at the other end?  Could you live with yourself if you didn’t follow the ribbon at all?
These are the kinds of questions I didn’t want to have to answer, so we didn’t go to the parts of the forest where most people visit.  Instead, we booked a guide and explored a lesser visited trail and a humongous ice cave.  Which is why I'm wearing the bright red outfit below.  I swear this isn't a fashion statement.

Next week, I’ll take you down below the surface of the haunted forest and into a cave that stays icy year round.
See you next week!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Horror Histories, Vol. 8 - The Blob (1958) vs. The Philadelphia Police

I know what you're thinking when you saw the title for this week's Horror Histories column.  

"Seriously?  There was an inspiration for The Blob that involved the Philadelphia police force?"

Well, to put it bluntly, "Yes."

For those that don't know, The Blob (1958) stars a young Steve McQueen who must lead the charge to stop an alien invader unlike anything we ever expected.  It's a blob of matter that consumes all living things in its path.  As it eats, it grows and if not stopped, it will devour the planet.  A 'B' movie in almost every aspect, it's considered a classic today thanks to tense storytelling and great performances.

The film starts with a meteor plunging to Earth.  It's found by a local man who tries to pull it out of its small crater.  When he does, it cracks open and the blob attaches itself to his hand and begins to eats him.

Eight years prior, a real life incident where a man stuck his hand into a blob of purple jelly from space actually happened.  In 1950, two Philadelphia police officers saw something they said looked like a parachute falling from the sky.  They drove to the area where it landed and found a purple jelly-like substance about six feet in diameter covering the ground.  They reported that it gave off a strange mist.

That's when one of them did the unthinkable and stuck his hand in it.  He said it left a sticky residue but otherwise caused him no harm.  Since they realized what they were going to have to report made them sound crazy, they radioed for backup. Two more officers arrived and also witnessed the jelly though it had begun to disappear.  The FBI was also called but by the time they got there, the substance had dissolved completely into the ground.

The officers filed a report and it was picked up by local and then national newspapers.  Most treated it as a joke and even though the incident was referred up to the Air Force to investigate, they politely declined.

The whole incident stuck in the mind of Irvine H. Millgate and years later when he was trying to come up with a good story for a low budget science fiction movie, he used it as a jumping off point.  To date, no one knows for sure what the substance was that the officers found.  

Pretty creepy, huh?  Well, if you're looking for more creepy stuff, head on over to my Amazon Author's page.  You'll certainly find something there.

See you next week!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Exploring Japan, Vol 3: Sanja Matsuri at Asakusa Temple

Okay, let’s switch gears here.  We started out with a shrine to a water monster, then went to a shrine with a 1,200 year old flame.  This week we’re going to party, but we’re going to do it like no party you’ve likely ever been to before, because Asakusa Shrine is host to one of the biggest Shinto festivals in Japan.  In fact, it’s estimated that between 1.5 and 2 million visitors attend it every year. 

It’s called Sanja Matsuri (“Three Shrine Festival”) and we’ve made it a point to be there two years in a row.  It’s three days long and is in honor of three men.  Two were fishermen and one day, they caught a Buddhist statuette in their nets.  A third man heard about it and when he spoke to the brothers about what they caught, they converted from Shinto and dedicated their lives to Buddhism.  All three went on to become highly regarded and so they are celebrated each year.

In last week’s post, I mentioned that the Japanese tend to blend both Buddhism and Shinto together and this festival is a perfect example of that.  The main temple that the festival occupies is Buddhist and named Senso-Ji , however the festival itself is Shinto in nature.  It revolves around three mikoshi that make their appearance on the final day.  A mikoshi is a portable Shinto shrine that is built to house a spirit or diety.  It’s generally used to house the spirit while it’s moved from one location to another, like from a main temple to a temporary location and back again. 

For the Sanja Matsuri though, the three spirits are put into the mikoshi by a Shinto priest and then given a grand parade around Asakusa!  The mikoshi are carried through the streets while huge crowds follow. 

It actually all starts on Friday with a gigantic parade.  It features dancers, musicians, performers and city officials.  Later that evening six smaller mikoshi representing the central neighborhoods in Asakusa begin their trek around the city.  It takes anywhere from 12 – 15 people to carry one of these and they carry them for blocks, bouncing, and chanting along the way.  This is a small taste of what’s to come.

The following day, over 100 mikoshi from all 44 districts of Asakusa are paraded around the area, again each carried by 12 – 15 people. 

The picture above is of a small mikoshi that's actually pulled by children.  This was the atmosphere the day we stumbled on the festival.  We’d taken a bus tour of major sites and it had been informative but overall underwhelming. Our tour was supposed to allow us to visit the temple itself but the festival was so huge that our guide recommended everyone just rush up, look and come back to the bus.

Instead, we told our tour guide, “Just leave us.  We’ll find our own way back.”

For the record, we highly recommend ditching tours if you see something really cool.  It will almost always result in a great story at the very least.  That day was no exception.  We had basically crashed a gigantic party and had no idea what we were seeing.  As we joined in, locals were more than happy to help us understand what was going on. 

We learned how to get our fortunes by shaking numbered sticks out of a container and then pulling the paper fortune from the correct drawer.

We also learned that when you get a bad fortune, you tie it to the rack nearby so that you can leave it behind you.  For the record, my fortune actually told me to "go back to your homeland".  I tied mine to the rack and ignored the advice.  

We followed the mikoshi around and were just awed and overwhelmed by the amount of people who all seemed to be having a genuinely great time.  It left a huge impression!

That's why this year, we made it a point to be here on the last day.  The final day of the festival, the three main mikoshi housing the spirits of the men being celebrated are paraded through the streets.   They are decorated with gold sculptures and cost in the neighborhood of $400,000 each.  They also each weigh around a ton and it takes 40 people to carry one. Once they've made their way completely through the streets, they're brought back to the temple and the spirits are transferred back to their usual homes.

Yes, that's a cat in a kimono being pulled along on a skateboard.  I can't tell you how awesome the people watching is at this festival!

We also encountered a number of people who started up conversations in English, asking whether we had come specifically for Sanja Matsuri or if we had just stumbled on it.  When we told them we'd planned our trip around the party, they were very enthusiastic and excited.  In other words, we made a lot of new friends and that's the best part about travel.

There are tons of food stalls, kids games, and sights to see.  There’s also lots of Taiko drumming and music, plus generally everyone is in a great mood.  It’s a big party after all!

Crab on a stick anyone?  They offered three sauces and I can vouch for the spicy one.  It was fantastic!

How about the Japanese version of the kids rubber duck/fishing game?  Whatever you scoop into the bowl, you get to keep.

If you don't want the crab, noodles, omelets or fries/chips, there are plenty of sweets around, including chocolate covered bananas, cookies, sugary drinks and even ice cream.

And don't pass up the chance to try to catch a goldfish on a piece of rice paper.  It's a traditional game that's much harder than it looks.

Another thing of interest to anyone who is on the fence about going is that at this festival, Yakuza members are very open about showing their tattoos.  So if you have even a remote curiosity about what someone in the Yakuza may actually look like, here’s your chance to see them without being on their bad side.

If you’d like to attend yourself, the festival takes place the third weekend of May each year and it’s within a few hundred feet of the Asakusa subway stop.  

Seriously, if you ever get the chance, don’t miss it!