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Infiniti Brand Journey: Hakone


After today I can put “light stunt driving” on my increasingly-nonsensical resume. We spent the day filming the Infiniti cruising around the cloudy mountain roads near Hakone and Ashi no Ko lake, parts of which required me to navigate the car through perilous curves and tricky situations. At high speeds, I had to drive the car within two feet of a van containing a camera crew hanging out the back, which ended up also letting us test the impact radar. That warning sound meant I was in range of the perfect shot. I will sleep well knowing I successfully managed not to crush anyone’s legs.

The only appropriate soundtrack for this work was Big Star’s Radio City, which I chose for the rock’n’roll but soon discovered was a good fit due to the substantial number of lyrics about automobiles. Later on I went with Shugo Tokumaru’s Exit which worked better for the lush, gothic drag outside of Ashi no Ko.

Just one week ago I earned my Japanese license (and yes, Japanese authorities, purchased the magnetic stick-on “wakaba” virgin driver mark for ¥600), and thanks to this driving school I am being paid to attend, I feel like a hardened semi-professional. Soon I will be as expert as the locals who like to ride around with no headlights in the fog, whip around blind curves at 50 kph and generally drive down the middle of the pavement with no grasp of the “lane” concept.

I have never understood the appeal of Hakone, mostly due to the silly pirate boat tourist traps of Ashi no Ko and the strip malls of Gotemba. Maybe it was the weather when we got here but I immediately decided that the window view outside of my room at “Super Hotel” — which does for business hotels what Hanamaru does for udon — was the “saddest in all Japan.” Gotemba Premium Outlets, for all its high priced luxury goods, embodies the suburban consumer ennui at heart in the pejorative use of “American.”

But we are here to shoot ryokan, and when you actually go inside, the area starts to makes sense. The rooms are designed to not just be an escape from fast-paced Tokyo life but also the other customers. “Hotels” are relatively social, with the bars and lobbies and afternoon teas, but ryokan are focused around the indulgence of true privacy. Sure, some of this is for the people who don’t want to be seen: the VIPs need their own special entrance, and the halls are intentionally labyrinthine to make sure guests who are there with women other than their wives do not have to face public judgment. But even the casual guest profits from this well-curated sensation of isolation. The modern-day luxury ryokan surely demonstrates that the Japanese, like everyone else, put a premium on the ability to get away from the madding crowd.

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W. David MARX
May 20, 2010

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

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