It was the first Thanksgiving I was spending away from home. My friends and I had our first 3 day holiday since arriving on the island of Kyushu, Japan as conversational English teachers, so we decided to take our first real road trip together to Mt. Sakurajima, a very cool and very active volcano.
Since we didn't have much money, we decided to stay in a "Love Hotel". They were super secretive hotels all over the place that charged by the hour (akin to the 4 hour short stay at the Grantmoore on the Berlin Turnpike, just without the jacuzzi and champagne). They usually had names like "Hotel Liberty" or "Hotel USA"
My favorite love hotel name of all time was called "Hotel 2 in 1".
A visit to a love hotel was an adventure in itself. It worked like this; You would drive through a giant flap (like at a car wash) and into a darkened underground private parking space. They thought of everything to ensure your privacy: you could even place a barrier in front of your car to hide your license plate. You pay in advance for the number of hours you intend to stay by putting money in a vacuum tube that gets sent to the office like a bank drive-through and then the tube returns back to you with a room key so you can walk directly up private stairs into your room.
Ideally, you would never have to see anyone during your entire check-in or stay, but if don't think the love hotels' usual clientele included threesomes of 21 year old American girls who can't read instructions written in kanji or speak or understand any Japanese. Inevitably, and much to our amusement, we always ended up playing charades with the incredibly confused love hotel office workers. This made love hotels a staple and a highlight of our travels during the year.
So after staying up late with giggling fits at "Hotel White House", we hit the road early the next morning to head to the volcano. We were winding down a road through a forest and saw a lone car parked on the side of the road.
And then I spotted it.
"MONKEY!" I yelled, having become recently obsessed with the ones who swung limb to limb in my calligraphy sensei's backyard. I watched them with amusement while practicing the same words "bride" and "wedding" over and over again (Sensei said he wanted to make sure I got the most important words perfected first). Apparently I was bit slow to catch on to the technique as a left hander being forced to paint with the right because I swear I worked on those two words all year long.
We pulled over and got out of the car, and watched as the man fed a monkey by hand. I was entranced. I was watching someone feed a wild monkey on the side of the road in the middle of a forest in rural Southern Japan.
On Thanksgiving Day.
The monkey was curious, and stopped begging for snacks to check out us newcomers. He didn't seem phased as he looked at my friends so we inched a little closer. As we approached, he seemed to notice me. Or more specifically, he noticed my hair.
|With my sister the night I left for Japan.|
My long, very blond hair.
He shrieked at the top of his lungs, and ran up into the top of the man's car. Then he took a running leap.
RIGHT. AT. ME.
Stunned, I pushed him off.
Everyone started at me and my friends were laughing. I think one of them started to ask "what the..." but she never got to finish because the monkey had turned and beelined back to the top of the car again.
I backpedaled quickly as he once more got a running, jumping, flying start and leaped across the air to land on me and SINK HIS TEETH RIGHT INTO MY FOREARM!
My friend screamed "It's your hair! The monkey hates blonds!" as we ran to get back into the car while the Japanese man was doubled over, laughing hysterically and yelling "Gaijin!" (foreigner).
So as soon as we composed ourselves, we took a detour to find an international phone so we could call our friends and family to tell them happy Thanksgiving and share our story about the monkey who hated Gaijin.
And as much as I couldn't wait to go climb the active volcano (the entire reason for our trip), the love hotel and the wild monkey who bit my arm by the side of the road are the most vivid memories I have of that road trip, and they are a reminder that it's often the unscripted, unplanned and undocumented moments that are the ones we end up remembering and appreciating most.
Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy ALL the moments.