"Beware of the monkeys! If you are carrying food or bags, these monkeys may bite and scratch at you. Because it is an extreme safety hazard, please take care when eating and drinking outdoors."
Nikko is famous for the "See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil" monkeys at the Toshogo Shrine. No one knows where the saying originally came from, but it's said it comes from there because of a carving of three monkeys located there to visually represent the proverb. The saying in Japanese is "見ざる、聞かざる、言わざる" (mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru) which in old Japanese pretty much translates to the same thing in English. Nowadays they don't really use the "zaru" ending to say "don't," but a long time ago that was the case. Unique to the Japanese saying, however, it is also a play on words, because "zaru" means monkey, leading many people to believe that Toshogu Shrine is where these ever so clever and wise monkeys originated. Whether the ancient proverb means to not be a snoop and a gossip, or whether it means to stay away from evil is also still a debate, but this post is not about the monkeys, which is much too deep and meaningful for anything this blog wants to do with. This blog post is about a vending machine I found in Nikko. Take a look!
It does have a couple normal things, like the plainly advertised "お茶," or simply put, "tea" in the top left. In the top right there is another fairly normal drink sold in Japan. However, in between those two things, and below, are some pretty interesting things up for sale. Next to the tea there are some fried apples. Yeah, don't ask me. Next to that are some kitkats, individually wrapped inside a glass jar. I bought those for 200 yen, just for the novelty of it. Next to the kitkats there are some rice crackers (I think? I kind of forget) which isn't really weird, but still... it's the first time I've ever seen them in a vending machine. What is really odd though, it's what's below the top row. Here, what we have is some ramen, yakitori (fried chicken, usually on a skewer,) curry udon, and oden, which is a sort of soup, usually served with various seafood (bi)products... kind of like a fish hot dog soup! Yummy! To make a long story short, I was hungry. Not hungry enough to get overcharged at a restaurant geared towards tourists, but apparently hungry enough to try a highly processed, canned soup sold out of a vending machine. I really don't know how hot of a seller canned ramen from a vending machine is, and I'm really not sure how often the vending machines get replenished, but I'd prefer not to think about that. Trying to talk myself out of buying what I knew would probably be the most unhealthy thing I've ever bought in Japan, I thought, "Unfortunately, there is no microwave..." LUCKY for me though, it was advertised as "あたたか〜い！" (atatakaai,) or "hooottttt!" Then I thought, "How am I supposed to eat it??? Just drink it from the can?" Again, LUCKY for me! It came with a foldable spork! So really, I had no reason to not buy it, besides the impending heart attack.
I gave the vending machine (which is a RIDICULOUSLY long, six-syllable word in Japanese by the way - 自動販売機 - jidouhanbaiki) my 350 yen for the ramen, and 200 yen for the kitkats. I saved the kitkats for later, but consumed the ramen immediately. I cracked it open, unfolded my spork, closed my eyes, pinched my nose, and... it actually wasn't bad! I mean, it wasn't the best ramen in the world by any means, but believe it or not, it wasn't the worst I've ever had either. I wouldn't recommend anyone to eat it except for the novelty of it, but it actually tasted ok. It was satisfying, in the way that only the greasiest, most worst-for-you foods can be. And if you say you don't understand what I mean, then you're lying. Most everything that is bad for you is satisfying in some way or another, whether it be a Big Mac, a can of ramen, or whips and chains. Pick your poison.
After consuming the ramen, I felt so good that I had to share my experience with someone, and the closest "life form" was a carved, wooden bear protecting the Nikko Natural Science Museum.