Aso is a small city, a city that you can drive through without knowing you had in fact been in Aso. Aso is also a region in the center of one of Japan’s main islands called Kyushu. Mount Aso, is the region's tallest volcano, and is still classified as active. The area is characterized by vents, crevices, and fumeroles in the Earth that emit toxious gases, people with asthma are advised not to go to the area, as the fumes could catalyze an attack. It is pronounced like the words “Ah” and “so” put together, and is not to be confused with asshole, though ironically enough, they do have very similar descriptions. Aso attracts tourists from all over Japan, the area is verdant and the volcanoes and mountains are an omnipresent and mostly silent reminder of the power of Japan’s natural landscape.
It is in my opinion the most beautiful drive in Japan during the summer, though my experiences are limited. The bamboo thrashes and spears above the vaulted mountain highways, the towns are few and far between, and the barely adequate roadways are rarely busy.
The Aso area is also home to an annual psychedelic trance (psytrance) rave. It is one of the largest illicit gatherings of the year, for this particular sub-culture of Japan. It is nowhere near the scope of say a Burning Man, but the ambiance of the location more than makes up for the lack of scope. The party is referred to as the Mystical Village.
As my friend and I drove around lost for a few hours we became slightly acquainted with the area, and though the town nearest the Mystical Village was much like any small town in Japan, a five minute drive outside of the town center yielded only small roads caked with rice paddies on either side.
The party was situated two thirds of the way up a mountain, somewhere in the Aso range. I don’t know the name of this particular mountain, but it was apparent it was part of a chain, as there was nothing but mountains in every direction. As I said, two thirds of the way up the mountain, a natural plateau, like a public pool diving board, darted out of the mountain.
As we approached the mystical village, the shape of the rave was slowly revealed to us. The area closest to the entrance, which was darted with the occasional evergreen housed the dozens of tents being set up by the excited ravers. The party extends for 48 hours, without any lapse or break in the music. Immediately next to the camping area were two already disgusting bathrooms, and then after a choke point in the trail, everything opened up.
The main area of the rave was the flat, cleared area of the plateau, measuring about 50 yards wide, and 200 long. The circumference of the area was ringed with temporary shops setup to dispense overpriced water, beer, and ramen. About 30 feet from where I was standing a massive teepee of firewood was being erected in a one foot deep pit, ringed with stone blocks. The fire pit had an approximately ten foot diameter.
Past the fire pit was a small teepee that housed some of the sound equipment, and a projector which shot something equivalent to the windows media player visualizer on a huge swath of the forest canopy at the edge of the clearing, behind the DJ teepee. The DJ teepee was about 100 feet from the mixing board, and the space in between was the grass carpeted dance floor.
My friend, B, and I spent a few hours exploring the party and eventually we managed to track down some spirit inducing hallucinogenics. What follows now is my journey through this mountain rave, copied and edited from a journal I was keeping for the duration of the trip:
Between the five of us there were 3 hits of acid 5 tabs of mdma and a few joints. Thinking that all of those substances had led us to a less than insane state of being, we endeavored to find more and better drugs. The circumference of our “quest” would span about a thousand square meters, and 2 to 300 partygoers. By the time the five of us had covered half the distance between the DJ and the firepit, K realized that she had lost the other girl in the group, even as I was still explaining the purpose of our journey was to procure more drugs. The three of us circled the fire and made our way back toward the music. B went to find the dealer we had established a distribution contract with, I held an anchor position somewhere on the dance floor, and P, who wanted the molly in the first place, realized he was cold and went to grab a sweatshirt. When B gets back with the dealer, I am the only one left standing there.
“What the fuck happened?”
“Dude, the drugs are working.”
Eventually, after the dealer left, P returned, with of all things, a sweater on. The dealer was re-summoned, and money was once again traded for something as paltry as a great service to mankind. The crowd dispersed, and the evening continued.
As I sit here writing this journal a fantastic thought is flying through my mind…
That thought however, will be forever christened into the either, because I got distracted by a dancing Japanese guy, wearing only a cape and leather pants, who just handed me a bottle of Jose Cuervo and a joint, breakfast is served.
About an hour ago I took a walk out to the car, I shouldn’t have to remind you of how Odysseus was lost half a lifetime on less epic ventures. I rolled out of the immediate area: consisting of a huge stone ring, encircling a ten foot fire pit, surrounded by a grass field, of which a small part was a dance floor, surrounded immediately by 20 kilometers of calderas and mountains in the middle of an active volcanic region. I went down through the parking lot, through the entrance, and to the car; but that in itself would not be a story.
The sky was showing signs of light, ever so slightly in the bruise of dawn across…
Well, between wanting to tell you that story and now, it seems like I’ve created whole new ones. At 6:15 in the morning I am sitting on a bridge with a head full of acid, at a rave that will continue for another 24 hours. What has happened in the interim is that B had popped another pill and we decided to walk to the car again. We are going for the specific purpose of procuring his sunglasses to guard him from the morning sun. When we got to the car we remembered that we had purchased strawberries some hours before, and oranges, so we began eating and walking back. Halfway up the hill, B tries desperately to recall if he remembered to get his sunglasses.
Meanwhile…I’m about two miles from there. This distance is calculated using a scale devised inside of my own head, with unlimited time and resources. So we’ll have to give or take about a mile and a half. Looking at my pocket watch I realize it’s only 6:30, I haven’t gone far.
As I was hiking up the mountainside a wall materialized from a ray of sun passing through a small cleave in the foliage, the very air is a net composed of the objects in the impossible distance. Walking through it I know I am creating smoke with my eyes, as if the nutrients from the plants were descending down silk lines to me, and I fed.
The music’s gentle rythms are urging me forward, but considering the music is currently a rather hard set of psy-trance, I am beginning to appreciate the distance I am making from the rave. I can safely say at this moment, standing on the crushed pebbles of a forgotten road, atop a volcanic mountain, that I am the only one here.
I have for the time being, hunkered down on a termite eaten bench halfway between the music and the mountaintop, so I can recount said adventure to the car…
As I descended from the music like a golden god the sky was in that typical coquettish state of not knowing whether it was coming or going; whether the night was still hungering for darkness or was ready to concede to something as simple of a floating ball of billions of nuclear explosions. The dawn waited, crouched behind the passenger door, waiting to put a fresh dent on the Suzuki Alto of my consciousness.
…sorry again for intruding but I’m currently in a wholly unsustainable level of complete bliss, alone, in the middle of the woods, in Japan, and I can still hear the fucking music. The tiny red dust mites of the forest, and the tiny red dust mites scattering from my eyes into the trees, and this notebook, and the sky are all the same.
I’m afraid before we get back to the story I have a whole other crises to deal with. As I strolled further up the mountain the music disappeared. The problem I find myself faced with at the moment, laying on top of a chipped and decaying concrete footpath in the middle of the forest, which is in itself just a speckled zit on the massive back of a 30 square kilometer active volcanic region, in the middle of Kyushu, one of Japan’s four major islands, at precisely 7 AM, is that I had set a goal, to walk a distance great enough that I would not hear the music anymore, and the problem lies in the fact that now that I’m here…I can’t hear the music anymore.
I press on, it is, apart from all other things, a beautiful morning for a hike.
The bumblebees are fucking enormous, the proportions are completely unnatural, it looks like they’ll just drop out of the sky at any second. Imagine a Carnival Cruise Ship suspended in the air by helicopter blades.
I am beginning to form the opinion that nobody has walked this way for a long time, but I keep going. I am hundreds if not a thousand feet above the party, but I have traveled around to a point where I am directly above it, and as a result can hear the music again, though the people dancing now look like wild colorful blades of grass. Now that I’ve got hiking music again, it’s time to take an inventory: green tea, cigarettes, a lighter, a pocket watch, and hold on…let me see if acid is still around.
The ground is a green, shimmering combination of liquid and tentacles, he’s still here. Shall we press on together?
I am Adam, but where the fuck is Eve?
Now I’m no snake-eater but I am a seasoned hiker, and I can recognize when a trail is leading nowhere, but right now nowhere is everywhere.
Wait, wait, no, hold on, I’m on acid, this trail does actually go nowhere, I will now have to turn around.
Well, maybe not turning around, in the 360 degree conventional sense, but turning is involved, it’s definitely some kind of directional shift in the progression of the hike. We’ll simply refer to it as “left.”
After I make my “left” turn, the woods begins to block out the sun, to the point where I almost need a flashlight at 8 in the morning, and though I could continue on in a daring machete wielding fashion, I decide that course of action might be better left to a far soberer, or far far more drunk individual.
I have had about enough of nature, is all this incessant beauty really necessary?
I was wondering some minutes ago if the acid had finally run out of steam, so I took a random picture with my digital camera, I then watched the digital version of the image go jungle crazy on the back of the camera. It’s still going strong.
When walking through a wilderness that seems wholly insurmountable, there’s nothing quite like walking a path of dead leaves to make a person feel like a god, one of the lesser ones anyway. Perhaps the god of stale bread?
The sun wall has again appeared, it’s moving everywhere, all around me. I am almost back down to the bridge again. I will have to take a shot at explaining this thing adequately.
I can not describe the futility of trying to put all of human thought, and desire, and emotion onto the page, and despite the fact that this morning’s adventures will amount to nothing more than an acid head’s field trip, I have the intense desire to devote my life; here, three days after my 23rd birthday, to that insatiable goal, knowing full well that never being able to reach it, is the only reason to try.
Anyway, I’m off the mountain, let me try to accurately describe one of the most intensely visual experiences of my life with some adjectives.
Climbing down the trail the canopy began dropping to about eye level, spears of bamboo shot across the width of the trail and light was carving its way onto the bamboo. The bamboo stalks became like shower rods, and the air became curtains, dancing and curving curtains of air before and behind me. The light and dust mingles until it becomes as solid and ethereal as crossing the plane of existence and at the same time denying that the boundary exists.
When I came to Japan one month ago, I didn’t like memoir. I didn’t and still don’t consider myself a memoir writer, however, I can’t deny that life is flashing by at impossible velocities in both directions. I can sit here in a shell and analyze the world around me, create philosophies from rearview mirrors, and fiction from tail lights, or poetry from the overwhelming blindness of a moment of flashed high beams. All of these are to be counted among the most noble of pursuits, but right now all I can do is stand up and hold my thumb out to the passing traffic.
…but enough with the acid induced melodrama, I returned to base-camp, and by the way, a psytrance rave is a bad-ass base camp, with a chest high bamboo walking stick the forest had lent me. I had a new appreciation for my surroundings, this plateau was a small slice of Earth where the laws of the universe were put on hold for a day or two. Leaves dropped and suspended in the air, the existence and absence of God was proven and disproven hourly, the clouds linked hands to block the sun, and the music never died. The music was the only solid object in the world, while everything around me twisted and distorted, people and worlds, the music remained fixed and unassailable. And if music was the world, dancing is what made its axis spin, and so I did, and so it did.
But like all realities, I began to tire of the music, its primal thuds seemed to better explain the darkness, the closed spaces, and the looming unknowns around us. The afternoon was time for enlightenment, for more airy discords, the mountains and villages far below, the purple flowers ringing the rave, these things were mounting a fresh assault on the sense, and the primal drumming of last nights bass would not suffice to repel them.
So, in the name of enlightenment I will finally endeavor to tell you about my Odyssey to the car, that first time, a small story which has until now managed to elude us. I don’t remember the purpose of the venture, but it hardly matters, I think the drugs were simply requiring a journey of me. I passed through the community of tents, lit up with their lanterns like an insane suburb, and pressed on through the first parking lot. After I’d passed the idle cars, although nothing at the time was quite stationary, and headed down the hill toward the entrance to the Mystical Village. It was on this hill that something extraordinary happened. The music continued to pound in thuds and thumps on my right side. Water was trickling and running on my left side. Cicadas were buzzing all around me. Leaves were crunching under my feet. Trucks were screeching over my head and to the left on the highway. The last bats were swooping above me, while all the birds were greeting the day. This at first was a cacophony of sound. I raised my left hand. The water, and trucks and chirps syncopated. I raised my right hand, the psytrance, the broken twigs and leaves, and the birds and the bats syncopated. For the rest of the walk, I was the greatest conductor the universe had ever seen, all sounds from man and nature were relegated under my control, all formed parts of this my masterpiece. My opus was being written and played before my very feet. The universe was a pattern of notes that only I had the score to, and I was sharing it with everyone around me. Though to be fair, I was the only one who could hear it.