[So I'm going to tell the story of my trip to Osaka and Kyoto. But the only time I'm going to tell the truth is when it's surrounded by square brackets.] Actually, everything you're about to read is totally true.
So Girlfriendoseyo and I decided to take a trip to Kyoto this Chusok weekend. Chusok, as everybody knows by now, is a hugely important Korean national holiday to mark and celebrate the introduction of Spam into Korean cuisine. We all eat budaejigae or other spam dishes, and have a little ceremony to remember all the poor ancestors who couldn't eat Spam, and eat some traditional, pre-spam-era Korean food in all its blandness, to remember life before spam.
In Japan, they don't celebrate spam. Instead, they rub balls on their faces.
And their stomachs. However, rather than having a national holiday for it, people just do it in their spare time. This was at a little shop Girlfriendoseyo and I found in Osaka.
The real reason we went to Japan, however, wasn't just to avoid Korean holiday traffic -- Highway Rest Stop food is another staple of the Korean Chusok holiday, so the highways around Korea clutter up every Chusok with people heading out to the highway to buy tapes of Trot music, bad renditions of Kalguksu, and walnut bread and delimanjoo.
Actually, it started three weeks ago, when girlfriendosyo's brother got news that his wife's sister, who lives in Osaka [that IS true, though we didn't get a chance to meet her] had gotten into some bad business with the Yakuza, and had gone missing.
This is part of the ransom note. As you can see, the regional yakuza chief in charge of the kidnapping is actually a nine-year-old white girl who is so popular, they use her face on "smile enhancement product" packages. She's perky... but ruthless. She once killed eight people in a bar with a pool cue and a box of wet-napins. Actually, the wet-napkins were mostly for cleaning up.
Anyway, THIS guy (below), who also needs help with his smile because of his apparently too-small Japanese mouth, took down the dictation from Molly's ransom note, which basically came down to " better come get your sister-in-law-in-law, or we're going to turn her into a cyborg assassin using hacked cellphone technology and parts of an I-phone".
This was bad news for us: first of all, because we don't have i-phones in Korea yet, neither Girlfriendoseyo, nor her brother, nor I knew how t hack the i-phone.processor. Secondly, it's really hard to get your hands on airplane tickets during Chusok [plus, the travel agency was the most useless one I've ever heard of]. Fortunately, by stealing the wait list for a flight, and intimidating random people with threats and dirty cellphone camera picturs until they canceled their reservactions, girlfriendoseyo and I wheeled and dealed our way onto a plane.
After a quck lunch at a pastry-shop like this one, from Osaka's food market, and four kilograms of raw vegetables to counteract that ridiculous glut of cream, we headed out.
The top-notch, super-secret Yakuza-fighting equipment we'd brought along drew a fair bit of attention among the office workers in downtown Osaka, but fortunately we could stow it while we ate Okonomi yaki. (The samurai sword is beneath the bags.)
As you can see, it cleverly disguises itself as a regular bench when not in use tracking illicit communications between gangsters.
Even though we hid our weapons and spy stuff, one yakuza assassin DID manage to track us to downtown Osaka. We think the description, "Look for a hot Korean la-hay-day and a curly-haired bignose in a cowboy hat" gave us away... even though my Tillye hat is an Outback hat, not a cowboy hat. After a short battle involving hurled chopsticks, flying elbows, a vinegar squirt-bottle, and a gucci sweater ripped off a well-dressed terrier, I managed to slash open the assassin. I had no idea Girlfriendoseyo was so accurate with her deadly trachea blows, nor that she could fold a napkin into a crease sharp enough to draw blood, and weild it with such deadly skill!
Here are his innards, looking surprisingly like the delicious yakisoba we'd polished off just minutes before the attack.
We had to clean off the hot-plate before the guy brought out our Okonomiyaki. The Oknonomiyaki, we ate undisturbed.
[the food was good. Every time I go to Osaka, I'm eating this dish, just like every time I go to Andong, I'm eating Jjimdalk, and getting a big bag of stuff from Mammoth Bakery for the ride home].
As you can see, the storefronts and entrances were full of mechanical surveillance pigeons "roosting" and waiting to give the Yakuza news of our location. Fortunately, through a combination of stealth, speed, and an automated dummy made out of parts of a dismembered Hello Kitty animatronic store-window doll, we managed to give them the slip. A contact in Kyoto claimed to have information for us, so we headed over there as quickly as we could.
[this bakery had a line from The Lord's Prayer" in it -- "donne-nous aujourd'hui notre pain du jour" means "give us this day our daily bread" -- I was intrigued to see a LOT of French in Kyoto -- signs, restaurant names, foods; French was everywhere. I'm curious about the history of that.]
At Evans Shop (below), a man in a spinning bowtie beckoned us to enter the storage room with him, where he explained that, at great risk to his person, he had obtained news about Girlfriendoseyo's Brother's Wife's Sister. She was being kept in the penthouse suite of a hotel in central Kyoto, and forced to oxygenate Yakuza Boss Molly's fishtank with a swirly-straw. A strange punishment indeed, but a fortunate turn for us, as the sister in-law, in-law hadn't been injured yet. We asked him the name of the hotel and just as he was about to tell us, a poison dart hit him in the jugular, and he fell to our feet.
We ran down this street, into a network of back-alleys... bad idea, in retrospect, when being chased by ninjas who know the city well, but we were in a hurry, and didn't have time to discuss things.
Thanks to girlfriendoseyo's spectacular night vision, and my own skill with lawn darts (which I carry with me whenever I'm on a dangerous mission) we managed to locate and, um, bulls-eye most of the ninjas waiting to ambush us in shadows before they could get to us.
The back streets were picturesque, and I'm afraid I may have accidentally "tagged" a few non-ninja couples in my effort to take care of all the black-hooded assassins... but we survived the night. The task of the next day was clear: to identify which hotel penthouse she was in, and bust her out, as stealthily as possible.
[Marutamachi and Karasumaoike areas: amazing side-streets]
The hotels and restaurants in this area didn't turn up much... though we had a few bites to eat, and twisted some arms and fingers getting information about gang-owned hotels in the area. Some were quickly eliminated as possibilities, but other candidates sounded promising. Then we got attacked by a few gangs who didn't want us interfering in the business of their mobster overlords.
[turns out the Korean wave has reached Indonesia in the form of Bali bali culture. Haw haw haw.]
Although the trained assassin Orang-utans and battle drones made things difficult, fighting them off in such a pretty setting was fun. At one point, an Indonesian street gang joined in to help us battle their rival gang of mecha-droids, but once we wandered into the Iron Sushi Chef's turf, the Indonesian gang didn't dare confront those long-knife-wielding cooks.
[Across the river, in the Motomachi area]
A moment of rest in the middle of a tough evening.
[more of the motomachi area]
You can see how the many shadows meant a lot of great hiding places for ninjas and snipers. Fortunately, our senses, heightened by adrenaline, never let us down.
Finally, a fish vendor helped us with some crucial information about penthouse fishtanks, and a swirly-straw artisan's delivery-girl confirmed the location for us. The next morning, we would strike. However, to be well-rested, we walk some pretty streets,
took some photos for our cover story,
And went to bed after a quick visit with a gadget-builder I know in Kyoto, to stock up on super-badass equipment.
[I liked the level of green-consciousness in Japanese cities, and the actions they'd taken to make living more sustainably an actually feasible possibility for citizens]
[this bike garage was one example of that]
[every cultural stereotype in Japan, in one place... all that's missing is a samurai sword and maybe a giant robot]
He gave us a Hello Kitty Geisha doll that had heat and echolocation sensors inside, which could locate every living being within a 30 meter radius.
[what home is complete without cloth, stuffed sushi replicas, really?]
And some smoke pellets, noise-makers, chaos toys, magnetic pulsars, and flares for distractions.
The next morning we mad our move.
Despite being well guarded by mullets,
we forged a pass to get into the compound by impersonating a pair of schoolgirls.
[I liked the tickets to get into the Golden Pavillion]
With a careful blend of stealth and decisive violence, we found our way through the hordes of bodyguards...
to the penthouse where my sister-in-law-in-law was confined.
The approach was booby-trapped, but Indiana Jones reruns were enough to get by them.
After we found her, we snuck her out, disguised as construction workers carrying loads of supplies.
[This was at Ryoanji Temple - loved this place]
Boss Molly's bodyguards came out with knives and swords; after the forest sword fight, all the middle-range branches in the area had been lopped off. It was very conscientious of the bodyguards not to actually cut down the trees, though. These Japanese are getting so environmentally conscious! I never thought I'd live to see a sustainable gang in my life.
This cute couple was collateral damage. Too bad. I liked the guy's shirt, and his kind of bookish air.
[I could find this spectacular pagoda on google maps, but I couldn't find back its name. There were monks there, singing.]
Finally, we found the control tower that had been sending "kill" orders to every assassin robot and automated killing machine in the whole darn city. A few well-placed wires cut, and a transmission antenna maimed, and we didn't even have to burn down the wooden cultural artifact in which it was built.
Our getaway car.
[I was intrigued by all these cube-shaped cars... does anybody know why blunt-fronts are the new rage in Japanese cars? Is it something about the aerodynamics, or just the interior space?]
[White duck in pond]
This duck decoy concealed my final communication with my contact in Kyoto: his help with maps and information about Boss Molly's resources were extremely useful, and he also lent us a really great DVD we watched on Saturday night.
This forest was a hiding place where we stayed for about four hours when the hunter/killer droids and fell beasts were a little too hot on our trails. We covered our tracks and hid in a tree.
[I like mottled sunlight on moss. It reminds me of BC]
This was the path down which the last stalker disappeared, before we could finally head out for the airport.
You wouldn't know it, but this entire gate actually turns into a giant mecha robot. But he's good. Backed us up in a pinch. Japan is awesome!
Nice detail work, even on the giant mecha bots.
[these monks were chanting at the temple's closing time. It was awesome]
[This temple - don't remember the name - was the most serene: actual monks were studying/practising there; that might be why it had that atmosphere that the others kind of lacked.]
This moat is the final resting place of Yakuza boss Molly. Frustrated that her legions hadn't finished us off, she came after us herself. For a nine-year-old, she was super fast, and it took Girlfriendoseyo and me all our talents to stop her.
[loved how the couples were spaced out, almost exactly equal distances from one to the next]
This was the riverfront where I accepted the Hara-kiri of Boss Molly's three top lieutenants. Their shame in failing to protect their boss was only reconcilable through a samaurai death.
It was in the Gion area that we finally tracked her down. She had been disguised as a geisha, and we wouldn't have recognized her at all except for a large mole on her cheekbone, the shape of which even the Geisha makeup couldn't hide. Not to mention, the white paint on the back of her neckline was shaped like that of an apprentice geisha, while her hairdo was that of a full-fledged geisha: the kind of lapse that was a dead giveaway to an observant eye.
After not much more work, we pulled her aside and got her onto the rooftops of the neighborhood, where we navigated above the labyrinth of alleyways, and found our way back to our hotel without any of the ninjas finding us. We found shelter in this Shinto ... it might have been a shrine, it might have been some kind of a school ... until we could catch a ride to the airport. Of course, we had to take regular transit -- all the express buses and trains were being watched.
Also: to combine cheesy North-American coffee puns with an Asian health-food buzzword, I saw this cafe: