Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Pornstand in the Middle of Nowhere

After school let out last Friday I stuffed a sleeping bag and extra socks into my pack, strapped it to the back of my bike, locked the door and pedaled hard with the sinking sun on my shoulders, towards the high mountains and clear rivers of Eastern Hokkaido.

Many things about Japan seem backwards to Americans. Backwards not in the uncivilized sense of the word (although a visitor to the New Years Naked Man festival might disagree), but in the sense that reality in Japan is often contrary to the ingrained beliefs and expectations of the American mind. In Japanese, "I will go to Sapporo tomorrow" becomes "I tomorrow Sapporo to go." People drive on the left. It's rude to wash in the bath, and polite to eat noodles with hearty slurping sounds, the louder the better. Even the geography of Hokkaido itself is backwards. The vast majority of its citizens live West of the central Daisetuzan range, and daydream about the open range of the Wild Wild East when stuck in traffic during the Monday morning commute.

So East I went that afternoon, racing up the main street of of town, through the New Utashinai tunnel and down, down, down to the banks of the Ishikari river. The sky was hazy, the air thick. Behind me, the sun was visible only as a pale yellow smudge struggling to penetrate countless gray layers of haze. Cicadas screeched constantly in the underbrush of the roadside. It felt like summer in Beijing, where air pollution has relegated blue sky to the television screens and glossy magazines where well dressed families proudly show off their new minivans, sportscars and SUVs.

My legs and lungs felt strong, so I stood up and pumped through the uphills instead of switching out of third gear. In less than 45 minutes I coasted into central Ashibetsu and stopped for a Snickers Bar, the first 20 km of the trip under my belt.

Ashibetsu is yet another former coal mining city struggling to reinvigorate its economy in the face of steady population decline. While Utashinai's strategy of transforming itself into a idyllic Swiss village to attract tourism is a little unrealistic, the Ashibetsu city planners must have been on crack when they gave their city a makeover for the 21st century. the grand strategy focused on three projects, which, like Utashinai's Swiss scheme, were intended to attract tourists from the far corners of Japan to this gritty mining town in the hills of Central Hokkaido.

The three projects selected by the city planners involved constructing a massive Chinese pavillion with an adjacent bathhouse decorated in classical Roman style, erecting the largest statue of Buddha in the world and recreating an entire Canadian village in an isolated mountain valley on the far edge of town, even going so far as to hire real live Canadians to live there, modeling Canadian culture for the millions of tourists expected flock to these attractions like bears to pickles. Ten years later the pavillion still stands, but the Buddha isn't the tallest in the world anymore, the Roman baths are moldy and the Canadians have all gone home. Faded billboards with chipped paint still advertise Canadian World across central Hokkaido, and there is no one to stop the curious traveler from poking around the general store, chapel and green gabled houses, but the place is falling apart from neglect, and frankly, I find it too creepy to visit.

One of the novels bouncing around the dustier corners of my mind takes place in Canadian World. A kind-hearted woman from Ashibetsu attends a U.N. conference in New York, where she is moved by the plight of orphaned child soldiers in Central Africa. The children are unwanted by their countries and have no families to welcome them home, dooming them to short, violent lives wandering the African bush. The kindly woman, Mrs. Sato, thinks of the abandoned village in her hometown, the houses, the general store and the public square with its big, red maple leaf standing empty while these African children sleep nervously on the ground, clutching their AK-47s and listening for the footsteps of leopards. Mrs. Sato returns to Ashibetsu a woman on a mission: determined to convince her town to adopt as many of these African children as Canadian World can hold. The same city officials who thought up the theme park in the first place, eager for some positive publicity, quickly agree to her plan, and soon a planefull of skinny teenagers fresh from the Congo jungle arrives at the empty valley in the Hokkaido mountains. Post-modern hilarity ensues.

I left Ashibetsu behind and followed the river into the green hills that lay between me and the Furano, where I hoped to find a meal and a place to sleep. Apart from a few workers stringing up netting to control rockslides, I had the hills to myself. Late evening light glowed on the far side of the river, forming a soft, quiet wall of hazy green. Rounding a corner, I was surprised to see a small shed with on the edge of a dirt parking lot, decorated with large, bright ideograms that I couldn't read. No one was around. Needing a rest anyway, I pulled into the lot and poked my head into the shed. Three vending machines stood against the the back wall. Vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan, selling everything from jars of whiskey to eggs. There are even vending machines on top of Mt. Fuji (the job of restocking these machines is always given to the newest employee of the Suntory company).

Seeing vending machines in the shed was not a shock. The shock came from the picture of a schoolgirl lifting up her skirt and peeing that was next to a button marked 3000 yen. The peeing schoolgirl was joined by tentacled space aliens attacking animated schoolgirls, dildos, cock rings, bottles of lube and hundreds more photos of tits, asses, dicks and smiling schoolgirls. Magazines went for about $7, dildos for $30 and videos ranged from about $25 all the way up to $100 for a title that advertised itself in English as hardcore, uncensored and underground.

No doubt hundreds of junior high school boys had made the long bike trip up this mountain road over the years, saving up their allowances for the thrills promised by the hundred dollar video. I could also picture their fathers, too embarrassed to frequent the porn section of the local video shops, making hurried pit stops on solitary drives back from Furano. With visions of tentacle porn, giant Buddhas and Canadian flags caroming around my skull, I pulled back onto the deserted road and pedaled off into the fading light of a Hokkaido summer day.

part two coming tomorrow...


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home