Sunday, 29 July 2007

Roots of Extravagance

I'm FINALLY done with my Japan trip, and have probably managed to scare away all potential readers who complain about lengthy entries and all. Well, I'm sorry if descriptive writing is not your cup of tea, and I'm sorry if you're not interested in Japan or travelling, and I'm sorry for.. actually fuck it.. I'm not sorry for any of the above.

But anyway, for the remaining readership of 5 (as in ppl who REALLY read and not the illiterate "oooh.. look at the purdy pictures" browsers); as promised, my entries from now on will be shorter (I hope), lighter, and perhaps more contemporary. No, I still don't intend to make this a blog purely a contemporary journal of my life, as I still intend to fold space and time and dig up the memories seared onto the deepest recesses of my subconscious and blog about them, including random things and thoughts that run through my dark mind and soul. But alas, patience is a virtue, dear friends, and all that would have to wait; for tonight, we celebrate the contemporary.

The Bible says that a Curse lasts for 3 generations, and if extravagance is a curse, then I'm sure as hell that I am not the root of the curse. As proven tonight, it has to be my father, so going by the logical chain of thought, I would be the 2nd generation, or perhaps the 3rd, if my grandfather was cursed with extravagance too; but that I doubt. Anyway, I digress, the main point here is that, the dysfunctional family of mine savoured a scrumptious dinner at the Top of the M earlier tonight.

Chic and Sleek

Situated at the 39th floor of the Meritus Mandarin, the Top of the M is a restaurant that has won numerous accolades for its food and ambiance over the previous decade. Serving a menu of French cuisine, the dim candle-lit ambiance set under the concept of a revolving restaurant which gave a panoramic view of the Orchard skyline, was more than fitting for a romantic night out (as I had leveraged to my advantage in a previous romantic encounter). A bonus to the ambiance was the Three-man band who went table to table to serenade love songs or the like at your request, a seeming rarity in restaurants these days (again, I have used this to my advantaged before as well, but oh well, all under the rug now). But romance was not the order of the day, celebration was. The celebration of a belated birthday dinner for the Brothers of Destruction, and an even more belated celebration for the graduation of the Count himself, my father's pride, most talent son, heir to the throne.. blah blah.

See the Pride in my Father's Eyes

As part of the celebrations, all manner of beasts were invited to join in the festivities. Vineyard snails (Herb and Garlic Escargots), Fresh Oysters, Lobsters (Bisque), Lamb (Rack) and Cows (Tenderloin Beef and Veal) all presented *ahem* noble sacrifices to the Count's family as part of the festivity. Of particular note were the Escargots and the Oysters. I had previously encountered the Escargots, and they rekindled my love for them as I savoured the essence of the herbs and garlic baked to perfection in a pan with fitting holes specially designed for the snails to be at their aromatic best. Each bite of the precious 6 escargots sent a titillating sensation of aromatic flavour through the millions of taste buds.

The oysters efforts were equally noble; looking refreshing on a platter of ice, the oysters showed off their smooth moves by sliding out of their shells into the dark intestinal abyss of the Count. They say that freshness is measured by the ease of which the meat is able to slide out (spot the innuendo), and the oysters tonight were all evidently fresh and supple.

Brothers of Destruction of French Appetizers

The individual main courses were in the staple of small-serving-French-cuisine, but in cases like this, the quality counts more than quantity. While not as mind-blowing as the appetizers, the main courses still did manage to hold their own and proved more than satisfying. The medium beef tenderloin was appropriately red and juicy, providing great ease-of-cut using the knife, yet not excessively bloody.

The perfect finish came in the form of a VERY aptly named The Seven Sins; 7 different chocolate delights served on a long platter with enough endorphins to probably put any gal off sex for a month, probably. Consisting of Chocolate Creme Bulee, Chocolate Muffin, Chocolate Mousse and an assortment of lesser known French Dessert Delights, the platter was delectable to say the least, with each bite off the different desserts sending a chocolate-flavoured orgasm through the nerves on my tongue, followed by an endorphinic post-orgasm high obtained from chocolates; playing up to my sweet-tooth's fancies and leaving me one happy Vampire.

The Seven Sins never looked this Deadly

The bottomline: $467. But the experience of celebrating your two proud son's birthdays, the pride of celebrating your eldest son's graduation, and a compensation to make up for years of bad parenting: Priceless.

Mother still Visibly Distraught over the Prices

Father moments before he saw the Bill

Father really knows how to throw a feast it seems, and gave words of wisdom on the way back to the car. "I believe that the money was well-spent, after all it was to mark your graduation after so many years, and its only fitting that you enjoy yourself and have a good dinner." Well, aside from finding out where my extravagance came from, I'm quite sure that tonight, I saw hints of where the Experential in me came from too.

My Kisses taste like Mint-Chocolate

Friday, 27 July 2007

Vampire in Japan: Day 12 - Closure

23rd May 2007

Tokanso Hotel: Waking of the Shogun

Sleeping early the night before apparently did little for my fatigued corpse as I still found myself dragging myself out of my little traditional floor-mattress when awoken by the Chinaman. A morning walk-through the little garden that the backdoor of our room opened into presented me with a scene of peace and tranquility, only found in rural areas away from the claws of modernism. Birds chirping, grass rustling in the morning breeze, sunlight seeping in through the tree branches; the scene looked like it was straight out of Snow-white, all we needed was the opera-shrieking soundtrack.

Shogun in the Garden

Never has the Yukata looked SO Sexy

The hardcore Onsen fan in me had me sitting in the Onsen all alone first thing in the morning, as I relished the final hot bath to be had for a long time before heading back to the room to see the breakfast already nicely laid out on the table. The sheer variety and the quality of the spread was on par with the scrumptious dinner the night before, further solidifying a Vampiric Recommendation and reinforcing the value of the hefty price-tag paid for the stay.

Final shopping in the make-shift store at the centre of the lobby had me buying a key chain of the 3 Nikko monkeys, in hope of performing some voodoo on the little bastards who robbed me of my strawberries the day before. A boarding up the bus and a 2.5-hour train ride back to the metropolis marked the abdication of my vampiric rule as Shogun as I saw the beautiful landscape that I had given up rule over.

The Land that I Lost


Ginza: The Prodigal Son

Arrival back at the Metropolitan capital had the Tripartite parting ways again to tie-up our last-minute loose ends. The Chinaman's quest was to purchase the Kendo stuff that he had failed to do previously; Bob wanted to take a look around Tokyo Station, where all the major subway lines interlocked; while I decided to head down to Ginza, to visit the exclusive Burberry's boutique to pick up a Japan-exclusive Blue Label for my mother. Burberry's Blue Label is a sub-brand of Burberry's that is exclusive to Japan and aims for a more casual (read:lower-priced) market than its normal black label cousin. Yes, I am a filial son despite the HUGE argument I got into with her to get her to lend me the funds to stand on the soil that I was on.

The stubborn mule in me had me using blind navigation to get to the store once I had alighted at the Ginza station. But the filial heart had a stake cleanly driven through it the moment I reached the store to find some ridiculously insane price-tags. So much for filial piety I guess, the reality of materialism still overrules it at the end of the day. Determined not to let my 1.5-hour solo flight go to waste, I wandered into the same Toy store again to pick up more trinkets before heading back to Asakusa.


Asakusa: 45 minutes too Late

Taking up Bernard's suggestion of picking up souvenirs from the streets along Asakusa Temple. A wall-scroll for the Father, figurine for the Mother and trinkets for the babes who would kill me if I returned empty-handed; I did all my souvenir shopping in 20 minutes before rushing back to the meeting place only to see Zombie Bob already there. The Chinaman was nowhere in sight as I repacked all my luggage and divided them for flight purposes. Even after which, the Chinaman was still nowhere in sight. Starting to worry, Zombie Bob proposed, "Tell you what, if Zhenfeng doesn't appear by 3.45, I give you the ticket and you go off first." Aww, the spirit of camaderie and friendship is a beautiful thing isn't it?

45 minutes later, the Chinaman's rear silhouette finally ascended from the escalators, carrying 2 huge paper bags. I'd bet the stupid fool got TOO absorbed in his Gundam that he totally screwed the timing. Funny man, scrimping on whatever he could over the last 12 days just so that he could buy 2 Gundam models.

Wasting no time, we rushed to the station and opted to take the rather comfortable Skyliner to head towards Narita airport.


Narita Airport: The Departed

The 1-hour Skyliner ride was comfortable to say the least, as we were at the airport before I even really fell asleep. Decided to take a photo of the other parts of the Tripartite. These were the two people I had spent the last few days with, through good times and bad, through laughter and tears (ok, no tears, but a little conflict); I can only say that I was glad that I had some form of company (yes, even Bob, at least for the last 2 days) with me for probably what was the best trip of my life. It was good to share all those funny moments with the Chinaman, to have a companion to talk to and discuss about the buildings, the sights the sounds, the chics; and it was good to have Bob to... well... uh... play navigator (even though there was at least one time I was quite sure a few of us wanted to strangle him). Either way, thank you to the both of you for the memories shared.

Bob and the Chinaman

The airport provided the final haven for last minute shopping, as I loaded on the food stuff using the last of my yen. Tokyo Banana, Seafood rice-crackers, 3 different flavours of Mousse Pocky, Cheesecakes, a Japanese brand handbag and a T-shirt were the last avenues of my expenditure before the 7-hour flight back.

Sin Harvest

The flight back was a lot more full than the flight there, so that meant that we all had to keep to our designated seats unlike the flight there. The plane taking off into the sunset-sky was an accurate depiction of the closing of one chapter in my life.


Penny for my Thoughts: Reflections

The graduation trip marked the end of the academic chapter in my life. I had to be prepared to usher in the 5-day work week in contrast to the 3-day week that I had been spoiled with for the majority of the last 4 years. No more 3-month long summer vacations, as I had to brace myself for only 14 days of rest a year. A setting for new friendships and maybe politics were to be expected, as I would struggle to keep the ties with the existing friends afloat. But the most important thing had to be taking the big step into being classified as a fully-grown adult, as I was about to cut off the apron strings and walk into financial independence, after a gruelling 25-years of having my pocket money at the mercy of my mother's whim and fancy.

7-hours is a long time as it gave me more than enough time to think about the experience I had in Japan. Firstly, BEST.TRIP.EVER period. The scenery: breathtaking, the food: superb, the chics: sizzling.... makes me wanna migrate there. The entire trip gave me a deeper insight into the Japanese culture and Japanese people; something that I probably couldn't appreciate or understand the last time I was there when I was 3, and the only thing that I cared about was why was Mickey Mouse speaking Japanese.

Secondly, was the company. Like what I said on Day 7, I was glad to have the company that I had on this trip; probably no other group was more apt to celebrate a graduation trip with, and I can safely say that I gained a deeper understanding and built a stronger relationship with each and everyone of them during the trip (though what happened after is a slightly different story). The 2 people that I had grown closest to from the trip were definitely Sujun and the Chinaman.

I was glad that the trip was structured the way it was structured. While the tour put me on auto-pilot mode most of the time, it allowed us to see the more crucial sight-seeing spots of the cities we visited. In other words, it took us to the more commercial places that give you touristic credibility for visiting Japan. The extension on the other hand, was a totally different chapter.

It taught me a lot of things, the most important of which is independence. The independence of having to read up, do your research, figuring out where to go and how to get there, planning accommodation and all, and even more so, the independence of travelling alone and self-navigating. It had always been at the back of my mind that I would wanna travel the world someday, backpacking across different parts of the globe. But somehow, in my melancholic picture of freedom, I only saw 1 figure in that image, me. For some reason, I never saw myself really travelling with anyone else, and just being totally comfortable with myself.

This trip, with the backpacker's hostel, self-navigation and (especially) going solo, only served as a meaningful personal prelude of the things that await me in future travels. The sense of adventure, the wide-eyed amazement, the observations of the culture and the architecture, the way of life of the locals, and most importantly, the satisfaction of the experience of travelling. I was glad that I had extended as it really presented to be a totally different dimension of Japan, and more importantly, travelling in general. It left confidence and inspiration lingering in my soul as I set myself the person goal of trying to travel twice a year..

In the end, the bottom-line of the entire experience has to be that: Travelling is a Passion. One that is almost comparable to gaming for me, and for those who know me, they will know that passion to me is a strong word, one strong enough to stir my soul.


Friday, 20 July 2007

Vampire in Japan: Day 11 - Pilgrimage

22nd May 2007

Asakusa Station: A Morning at the Butcher's

Stirring out of the sweetest 45-minute slumber ever had me telling the Chinaman that "I didn't wanna get up" and that the Capsule was surprisingly comfortable, like ABSOLUTELY comfortable. He quickly brushed it off as either because the last few nights at the hostel were much worse or that I was absolutely exhausted from my escapades the night before that anything I slept on would probably be heavenly to my weary corpse. But I really loved the (short) rest and would gladly opt to stay in Capsule hotels for future budget visits to Japan.

He decided to head down to the station first to meet up with Zombie Bob while giving me more time to drag myself out of space and prep for our upcoming pilgrimage to Nikko. Fatigue had me too tired to do any form of styling that day, so I decided to rock the Red-neck trucker cap and jacket look instead (complete with unshaven stubs), which contrary to popular fashion belief, turned out much better than I had anticipated.

Linking up with Zombie Bob and the Chinaman had us settling some luggage issues before boarding our 9 a.m. train. Due to my debacle the night before, I had to pay an extra 400 yen to open my locker just to see my huge luggage for 3 seconds before paying another 400 yen to lock it up for another day. The Chinaman and Zombie Bob were a lot less practical as they opted to lug their HUGE suitcases to Nikko, proving to be a hassle on the 6-carriage train.

In fact, it was this very same hassle that had two scurrying Japanese Obaasans asking us to move the huge luggage off the chair so that they could rest their aged butts. And in typical Japanese hospitality, the two Obaasans struck conversations with us in simple English and Japanese, while showing signs of their grand-maternal instincts by touching our forearms while they conversed with us. Well, at least they offered delicious rice crackers to the Chinaman and I in exchange for the fresh young meat they savoured.

I recollected my escapades of the night before to the Chinaman, only have his shake his head in disbelief again and again. The rest of the 2.5 hour train-ride had me out stone cold (not to mention I could have sworn I was in deep sleep with my mouth sending out an open invitation to the flies), making me miss out totally on whatever countryside scenery there was to be seen.


Nikko Station: The Simple Life

A sharp tap on the shoulder had me stirring out of my deep slumber as I stumbled my way out of the train onto the platform. When we turned around, we realised why the China-gal who coordinated our trip to Nikko at the agency the day before warned us solemnly to stay in the first 2 carriages of the train. Apparently, the train carriages break off at different stations and only the first 2 carriages actually end up going all the way to Nikko. A seamless linking and breaking system that we didn't even notice till we alighted.

Exiting the station, we were greeted by a quaint country-side town. A roundabout in front of the station probably marked the centre of the town, littered with souvenir and sundry shops surrounding it, and a bus stop at the heart of the roundabout. Nikko was a small country side town, relatively untouched by modernisation, leaving its scenic backdrops preserved for the touristic revenue that sustained the town. It was probably the kinda town in which everyone knew everyone else, everyone played a role in the town's welfare as a whole; the simple communal life, the anti-thesis of the individualism-driven motivations of the rat-race society in bigger cities.

The order of the day had us navigating towards our accommodation as our first priority, to drop the excess baggage. A 10-minute bus ride had us alighting one stop too late (or was it too early), and we had to ask the amiable grandmother tending a corner shop for directions to our inn. A little navigation through the quiet streets with the two fools dragging their huge suitcases took us to the entrance of our Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn).


Tokanso Hotel: Ready a Room at the Hotel California

The silhouette of an aged-man loomed outside the entrance of the Ryokan, staring ahead at a distance. Seeing us approach from a distance, the well-dressed man approached us asking "Rooi-san?" Clean-shaven and hair neatly slicked back, the man had the uncanny air of a butler. Letting us know that we couldn't check in our rooms just yet, due to hotel policy, the Butler (which was probably the hotel owner in actual fact) had us leave our luggage at the counter as the smiley-faced receptionist (probably his wife) did the necessary paper work to check us in.

In traditional Japanese hospitality befitting the decor of the interior of the building, the Butler showed us around the small but cosy hotel area, pointing out the bath, room and shop areas (which was sticking out like a sore thumb in the middle of the lobby), before letting us know that they were expecting a group of school children for the night from an excursion. Lucky Jap kids seemed to be a lot more fortunate than the miserable local kids, I remember back in my day, a pathetic trip to the zoo or the museum was already considered a big hoo-ha, and here, they get out-of-town experiences. Maybe that's why our kids grow up to be such miserable people.

Going the extra service-mile, the Butler then asked us where we were headed, and offered to give us a lift back to the town central to catch the necessary bus to start our pilgrimage of the sights Nikko had to offer. Small town buses had intervals of eternity between each bus, so much so that the Tripartite had more than enough time to grab a sandwich-lunch from the nearby 7-11 and finish it before the bus even arrived.


Kegon Waterfall: Way of the Samurai

A 45-minute scenic bus ride up the winding hills took us past the rather famous Turtle Inn, to a crossroad at a hilltop. The Tripartite unanimously agreed on making the Kegon Waterfall our first stop of the pilgrimage.

The Coke Product Placement on this Blog is Shameless

We crept up on to the ledge of the platform, and through the bushes, we spotted a glimpse of the glory that awaited us. The mouth of the Kegon Waterfall, with its beautiful blue waters cascading downwards into an unseen abyss. The greenery surrounding it only proved to make the sight more astounding than it already was, making picture perfect shots.

Postcard Picture Perfect

Creeping up to the viewing platform gave us a full frontal of the beauty before our eyes. The svelte stream of blue water slipping through the rocks and sliding down a stretch of seeming eternity. Crashing roars of the waters heard coming from the bottom of the fall proved to be a majestic, yet soothing sound. There is something about the sound of water that soothes the soul, and the Japanese have harnessed this fact to achieve a state of Zen. And as far as Zen was concerned, the sights and sounds of the locale provided a full-out outer-body Zen-like ascension into Nirvana all over again.

And they said that I couldn't pull off the Cap look

The bird's eye view from the top of the platform only painted the bottom of the waterfall as a blurry image of rocks. The quest for achieving the highest level of Zen possible meant that I had to find the most rupturing angle in which to view the waterfall, and that justified a 500-yen trip down a 100m lift to the bottom of the waterfall to get a different perspective. The lift ride proved to be slightly unsettling, being squeezed between an entourage of noisy Japanese school kids and a solemnly quiet Zombie Bob.

Full Frontal

The scenery that greeted us at the bottom of the waterfall was straight out an a Samurai anime / flick. The impact of the cascading water breaking upon the multiple rock layers, dividing at each layer. The water continued to stream down a series of rapids before successively following down another 2 or 3 sub-falls. The inner samurai within me painted a perfect spot under the waters to meditate in order to obtain my inner peace. But the cruelty of reality had me forsaking the idea and attempting to find some solace in some Chocolate-coated strawberries instead.

The Closest I get to Becoming a Meditating Samurai


Lake Chuzenji: Grand Theft Evo

Touted as having amazing spring time scenery from the brochure given to us, the Tripartite then decided to retrace our steps to the crossroads to grab a slice of lakeside scenery. While not as breathtaking as depicted in the (probably heavily photoshopped) touristic promotion photos in the brochure, Lake Chuzenji still managed to ooze a serene sense of calm and tranquility.

Makes me feel like I could Walk on Water

I staggered to the lakeside platform to strike one of my trademark poses against the scenic backdrop. My China-camera-man was still at parodying the "Se.. No.. Posu" habit that the locals displayed, when I felt something snatch at the plastic bag with the chocolate-coated strawberries I had placed behind me to obscure it from the camera. Thinking it was some Jap kid's idea of mischief, I turned around slowly, only to see a bastard baby monkey run by, a momma monkey holding MY plastic bag, and a pappa monkey that looked me in the eye and gave me a scornful growl which sounded a lot like "Fuck Off" to me.

Caught in the Act

But the reality of evolution-superiority quickly showed as after the band of robbers so effectively pulled off an organized grand theft from the Count, they reverted back to their primal selfishness as the momma monkey went on to use all available limbs to open the box of chocs and savoured it. She must have thought it was damn heavenly as she repeatedly used force to deny her bastard-young of the goodies, slapping him in the head a few times while pushing him away, all this while the bastard-father stood watch. In the end, the little bastard was only left licking away at the wrapper.

I can see the Guilt in their Eyes

The irony of the entire event had to lie in the fact that the official mascots of Nikko were actually 3 monkeys (of which I bought a little trinket of), and my actual encounter gave that little trinket and the mascots a whole new dimension of personalized meaning to me.

Capturing the Essence of a Classic


Nikko Shrines: Divide and Conquer

Another 45-minute journey down the winding roads was accented with the bus driver stopping at scenic spots at the top of the hill for us to catch scenic shots of the landscape below. I guess even the bus drivers take their jobs seriously over there.

A look down Mother Nature's Cleavage

Arrival back at the town centre had us heading for the formation of traditional Japanese shrines with a race against the clock. With only approximately an hour plus to spare, we had to divide our time amongst 5 shrines. And division was the rule of the day, as the Tripartite divided to conquer the shrine cluster. Of the 5 shrines, I only had time to pay pilgrimage to 3 of them, including the Rinnoji Temple in which we started from. While the Chinaman decided to take a tour of the insides of the religious building, I made alternative plans.

I believe "Holy Shit" is the right word here

I made the furthest shrine, Taiyuin, my priority, as the brochure proudly announced it or something in it to be a national treasure. Besides housing great religious importance and traditional dressed priests and priestesses, the formation of shrines were also said to house the burial site of the legendary warlord, Ieyasu Tokugawa. However, it costs us an additional fee to pay our respects to the great warlord if we so wanted to do so, and the only respect the Tripartite had was for our thinning wallets, so none of us actually caught a glimpse of the tombstone.

One for the Road

The layout of each of the shrines was somewhat similar, at least for the two that I visited. Entering the shrine always led to a flight of stairs on the inside, the only difference being the orientation of the staircase. A climb up the flight of stairs took one into the inner sanctums of the shrine, in which you were required to remove your footwear in order to view the exhibits, being weapons, armour and other furniture that belong to the warlords of old. As the pillar of Shinto worship is towards the possessions of the (great) dead, I believe that these artifacts were made national treasures for this reason probably.

While I probably could hardly appreciate the religious value of the contents of the shrine, the thing that I had appreciation for was surely the Zen landscaping. Looking like an overgrown garden of well-pruned Bonsais, the white pebbles and stone lanterns added a finishing touch to the traditional Japanese landscape design.

Buried in the Beauty


Tokanso Hotel: Living it Up at the Hotel California

Divide-and-Conquer proved its weakness at the end of our pilgrimage as I had a hard time linking up with the other parts of the Tripartite. I could have sworn that they went into one of the shrines but I didn't see them exit. Considering that the shrine was closed, I thought they had left and started to skirt the vicinity for them. Gradually, my skirting area expanded and before I knew it, I was walking on the outer fringes of the shrine formation, along the main road. About 2o-minutes in, I decided to make a U-turn and retrace my steps. Call it sixth sense, but it was not long after I did that I spotted the two of them at the opposite end of the road.

Reunited and realizing that we were at the same junction that the old granny who gave us directions earlier, a familiar right-left-right took us back to the Ryokan. With the room ready for check in, the Butler's wife proudly showed us the room that we each paid 8,800 yen ($114 SGD) for. The room was reminiscent of the one that we stayed at on Day 3, sans the beds, with a larger bathroom and a little tea table against sliding doors that led to a little garden. Our idea was to stay in a Ryokan in Nikko, as we figured that if any place deserved the traditonal Japanese accomodative experience, there was no other place better than a scenic haven like Nikko to experience it.

Considering that we had time to spare before dinner was to be served, the Tripartite decided to take our baths in the Onsen after a long day of travelling. After 12 days and mulitple Onsen baths, I FINALLY managed to find one that was empty enough for me to sneak a few shots of the bath proper. As we sat in our baths, looking at the little garden through the windows, it wasn't before long that we realised that perhaps someone standing in the garden could look through the same window at us in our full glory. Bearing that in mind, we chose a strategic well-hidden corner of the bath to loosen our bodies and minds.

A dizzying stumble back to the room later had us giving the green light for dinner. That was when we started to realise the full value of the extravagant price that we had paid for the room. A kimono-donned maid knocked at our door not long after we arrived back in our room. Pushing a huge trolley outside the door, the maid started to set the table for our dinners, bringing in dish after dish after dish. After over 10 trips in and out of the room, dinner was served, and the variety and spread were more than fit for kings, not to mention the standard being up to mark as well.

The Kangsanagi Shogunate

A hearty meal was companied by hearty conversation and heartfelt laughter among the Tripartite (yes, even with Zombie Bob, who had proven to be more than tolerable over the course of the day). The end of the dinner marked a further justification to the extravagant price tag as another maid came in to do the cleaning up for the Shogun-worthy meal that we just had. She was visibly amused when we questioned her about the yellow lemon-scented fluid served in a wine glass, only to have her tell us that we was actually a type of lemon-wine.

The extraordinary service continued as they even had a man-maid specially come in to help us set our beds for the night on the tatami. While waiting for him to finish, we decided to take a little walk out of the room to browse through the make-shift souvenir shop at the lobby (while still dressed in our Yukatas.) The Butler wasn't lying when he said that they were expecting a school of children as a throng of them were running around the lobby area, with souvenirs flying off the shelves like hotcakes and the Butler and the wife grinning from ear-to-ear with each successive click of the cash register; tourism at its finest indeed. We knew better than to rush with excited school children for souvenirs, so we decided to wait till the morrow. The man-maid signalled to us to let us know that our beds were ready. There was probably no night life to be had in a place such as Nikko, but just as well, since we were all exhausted enough to turn in at a record 10.45 p.m. I, for one, wasted no time in entering the Japanese dreamland for the last time.