A.D.M. Was Here: Japan (日本), Part One

Long flight, long subway ride, getting lost for a bit—still fun

Two years after I graduated from UCLA, I went to Tokyo to do stuff (super secret stuff—don’t ask). Aside from going to Canada as a kid, this was my first time out of the country, and it was pretty exciting. It was probably a good thing that my anime-nerd phase had ended about four years prior to this trip. Otherwise, my head might have exploded from all the awesome.

I undertook my first fourteen-hour flight with Korean Air. This was pretty much just before the major airlines started providing screens for every passenger, so my choice of entertainment was limited to whatever they had up on the large-ish screen up front (I’m pretty sure the TV I’m sitting five feet from is larger than the screen they had—higher resolution, too—ah, the past and its crappy technology). They started with an American movie, then switched to a Japanese one, then a Korean one. If I recall correctly, the last movie had no subtitles and no dub option on the headphones, so I had to actually try to sleep for a while. It sucked.

Somewhere in Tokyo

Is this Shibuya? I forget.

Being a cheapskate, I opted to be on the subway as much as possible making my way from Narita Airport into Tokyo proper—all while dragging my luggage around. I got off at the Aoyama-itchome Station and proceeded to wander for an excessive amount of time looking for my hotel—and, yeah, still dragging my luggage around. Locals watched me and pitied me as I backtracked two or three times (marveling at the tiny cars that hadn’t yet become abundant in California) until I finally got my bearings and found my lodging. It even started to rain a bit near the end of the ordeal.

The first of many acts of idiocy abroad . . .

Still young and charged from being on my first international excursion, I didn’t let the rain stop me from venturing outside. I checked Google Maps for a place to eat, borrowed an umbrella from the front desk, and wandered over a few streets to a little ramen shop.

Well, in Japan, some of the cheaper eating establishments have you order through what I would describe as a vending machine. It’s a box near the entrance that you put your cash into, press the buttons for what you want to eat, and then it gives you a ticket with your order on it. Then, you’re supposed to hand that ticket to the cook-person who prepares and/or fetches your grub.

Being a noob, I totally bypassed the vending machine thing and just sat down and had my first experience in which a local tried to explain stuff to me in English because I couldn’t be bothered to properly learn the language of the country I was visiting.

Yeah, that wasn’t embarrassing at all.

Obnoxious American-ing: convini hopping

In Tokyo, it’s legal to walk around with an open alcoholic beverage in your hand, so long as it’s not a glass container (like Vegas, I guess). Notably, local Japanese folks generally don’t eat or drink anything while they walk from place to place.

Being Americans, my friends and I (and sometimes a random person from another country) had no qualms about walking around and getting sloshed (of course, being politer than most, we didn’t cause any trouble aside from calling attention to ourselves by simply having drinks in our hands). What we’d do was decide on a destination to walk to and intermittently stop by convenience stores for more drinks until we got there. The journey was definitely more important than the destination.

Roppongi VS Shibuya

Most of my time in Tokyo was spent in either Roppongi or Shibuya. The first reason being that I lived for a month by each of them, and the second being the fact that these are major hubs for drinking.

Roppongi is generally known for catering to foreigners. You can tell by the ridiculous amount of obnoxious dudes on the street trying to get foreign men to go into their strip club. Solicitors aside, there were a few awesome bars in the neighborhood that we frequented. I think having women in the group helped a lot with getting favorable treatment (from male and female bartenders alike).

Sadly, the only bar I can name right now is HUB: The English Pub (yeah, that’s really what it’s called). Having been to at least two dozen pubs in England (which vary quite a bit), I think I’m in an almost-decent position to say that HUB has earned its name. This English-style pub in Japan is where I started liking fish and chips (nope, not London).

There was also a particular club we made repeat visits to in Roppongi, but I didn’t think it was particularly awesome.

Condomnia in Shibuya

The most important store in Shibuya: Condomania.

Overall, I preferred to do my drinking in Shibuya.

Shibuya is home of that famous crossing that shows up in a bunch of movies, and is known for its shopping (clothes, mostly). As far as the nightlife went, it’s supposedly more of a hangout area for locals than foreign folks (but still foreigner-friendly, in my experience). One of the obvious positives of Shibuya is that there isn’t a bunch of annoying solicitors harassing people to go into strip clubs. Shibuya felt cleaner, and I simply had better experiences there.

Clubbing over there is different . . .

I noticed that in Japanese clubs (and later in South Korea), people often faced the same direction whether or not there was a live performer. Usually, they were staring at an empty stage. Weird, right?

I didn’t understand this type of clubbing for a long time (not until I went to South Korea where the clubbing culture is somewhat similar). As I understand it now, the male approaches the female from behind, and the female’s friends either give a green light or shoo the sucker away.

Oh, and another thing I noticed is that people are friendlier in clubs outside of the United States. In the States (at least in California and New York), guys tend to be unnecessarily antagonistic toward one another. In pretty much every other country I’ve been to, people treat strangers almost as if they came to the party together (i.e., not like jerks). Maybe that’s why other countries can party until 5 AM while most American cities kick us out at 2 (’cause we’d just start punching each other, otherwise).

Cute girls in french maid outfits = awkward

For those of you who don’t know, a maid cafe is an establishment in which all the employees are women dressed in french maid oufits (with short skirts). One of my friends wanted to give it a look because of the novelty and dragged me and another friend along with him to Akihabara (the center of anime and video games). We paid for the expensive drinks to have the supposed pleasure of sitting there. One of my friends hilariously wasted his time trying to hit on one of the maids before we fled back out into Akihabara, then ran further back to the much more comfortable Shibuya and Roppongi.

A few wasted trips

Lost in Translation Hotel Bar

While in Tokyo, I went to that hotel bar from Lost in Translation. It was nice and fancy. Sadly, it wasn’t so great for two reasons: (1) my friends dragged me there in a last-minute manner so I was super out of place wearing my t-shirt; and (2) I hadn’t seen Lost in Translation before going there, so it was basically like going to any other overpriced lounge.

Mmm, tuna.

Mmm, tuna. Actually, I have no idea what kind of fish that is.

Tsukiji Fish Market

The Tsukiji Fish Market has the freshest sushi in Tokyo proper. However, even the freshest fish tastes like whatever when you’re coming straight from seven hours of bouncing around at the club.

Tokyo Giants

We also went to a Tokyo Giants game. For some reason I was rather sleep deprived at the time (judging from the rest of this post, probably because I’d been up drinking), and drifted in and out of consciousness after I’d finished a really crappy hot dog. I think the Giants won.

I’ll have to give these places another go when I go back (well, maybe not the Tokyo Giants).

Too much awesome

I'm pretty sure this sign is saying that if you feed the birds they will poop on you.

I’m pretty sure this sign is saying that if you feed the birds they will poop on you.

It seems I did a lot more in Japan than I thought when I started writing this post. Haven’t talked about everything I want to talk about (e.g., my bullet train trips out of Tokyo where, notably, I wasn’t drunk all the time). So, I guess this will be a subseries. Stay tuned for Japan, Part Two.

I’ve grappled with myself a bit on whether to write about places I’ve been to, particularly if it doesn’t relate so much to any of the topics that my blog is supposed to be about: writing and fiction. Ultimately, I lawyered the crap out of myself and came to the conclusion that my travels influence my writing through the people I’ve met, things I’ve seen, and my failed and pseudo romances (not sure I’ll go into detail on those—crowdfund/kickstarter me to write a travel memoir and maybe I will—give me money!). Also, this can serve as a half-assed travel memoir, which is definitely writing. So, there.

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43 thoughts on “A.D.M. Was Here: Japan (日本), Part One

  1. I see nothing at all wrong in writing about your travel experience on a writing blog. Were they alive today, I can’t imagine a writer like Paul Bowles or Hemingway writing a blog that didn’t include their travel experiences. I found it quite interesting.

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  2. Glad you decided to share your travels. I’ve never been to Japan and it was interesting reading your experience there.

    The dragging of your suitcase around sounds just like my adventure in Italy. I was dragging my suitcase around Vatican City looking for my hotel until I caught a ride from a nun. And I almost stayed at the convent over the hotel. Looking back now, I wish I had. That would have been a once in a lifetime experience.

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  3. This was a fun read since Japan is still an unchecked box on my travel list (along with the rest of Asia). I’ve wanted to go there since reading James Clavell’s “Shogun,” which from what I understand, the atmosphere is a little different now. But I can’t say for sure…did you run into any petty feudal lords and head-chopping samurai?

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  4. Great post! I’ll add to it isn’t it weird that they eat no less spaghetti there than in italy. Isnt it also weird how many tall asian men there are in tokyo, contrary to the genetally accepted notion that japanese are short. Its also crazy clean and people are crazy polite, some roads are crazy narrow, i guess like in some european cities, and you’re just convinced the cabby is gonna get you stuck in between building with no way out. Also 7/11 in Japan puts U.s. To shame! 😛

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  5. P.s. I stayed in the lost in translation hotel room and sat on the windowsill lol, it was very poetic. The funny thing is if you want to but cubans from that hotel and tell them you’re going back to the states they shred all the fancy packaging and box and wrap them in crinkled newspaper w twine, lest you get stuck in costoms…it worked!

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  6. I can’t wait for part two.

    I felt like I was in Japan while reading this post of yours. I think you should continue enlightening us with your travel stories. I love travelling and the only way I can fulfill my cravings for travelling is by reading about it. Keep it up.

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  7. I’ve lived in Japan for five years now, visited Tokyo almost a dozen times and never been to Roppongi because it has that image of being just for foreigners. If I wanted to meet foreigners, I wouldn’t have come to Japan, and I certainly didn’t want to meet girls who just wanted to be with a foreigner for the novelty of it. The rest of Tokyo is pretty cool though. We have many HUBs here in Kyoto. It’ s a lot like my uni days.

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  8. I love your writing style. Your time in Japan sounds like it was awesome trip. The way you wrote about it I think would make an excellent book. Maybe not a straight up travel memoir, but a psuedo-fiction travel memoir with the main character having an adventure schlepping through Japan getting drunk. Keep your voice. I really do like the style here.

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  9. I agree with Robert – I like your voice.

    Tell me – I was intrigued by the idea of the Korean clubs where everyone faces the same direction and the ‘male approaches the female from behind.’ It sounds like some kind of board game. And I have a question – if it’s her friends who get to decide whether to let him through to get close to her, and they say no, does he have to wait until everyone’s facing the other way again before he can have a second choice from the same group of girls? It sounds a bit like What’s the Time Mr Wolf!

    I hope you keep writing – even if I visited Japan I would not experience it as you have. Thank you for writing it up.

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    • Yeah, I’m sort of thinking the approach-from-behind thing was sort of just a coincidence. I mean, if everyone’s facing forward and you’re a dude looking to hit on a woman, you’re not going to meet them by walking backwards. I suppose you could awkwardly face away from the stage and have people look at you funny.

      Oh, and I’m guessing that if a group of girls say no, they’re not going to switch to a yes when you change targets.

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      • But there might be some sort of Machiavellian trickery going on – a guy approaches your friend from behind, so she can’t see him. You fancy him, so you tell him, no, he can’t approach your friend, but you give him a welcoming smile. The ways of love are winding.

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  10. This was such an interesting post to read! I studied Japanese for a long time, started in Grade 5, and have been really wanting to go to Japan! Unfortunately, money is short for the time being, so I’ll just have to satisfy myself by reading other people’s accounts! Look forward to more!!

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    • I only studied Japanese off and on for about two years in total. I know very little.

      For the most part, as it is with most countries, people speak enough English that you can get away with not knowing any of the native language. It’s just better to know a few words so you can at least know they’re not making fun of you.

      Actually, I got lost once and ended up in a small town where the cab driver didn’t speak as much English and I had to speak some Japanese to ask about some stuff.

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      • They study english as part of their curriculum, though some are more proficient than others.

        But, it’s pretty normal for tourists not to speak any Japanese, and still manage.

        I just really enjoyed studying the language. It’s pretty interesting!

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  11. Unrelated comment:

    For whatever reason WordPress keeps burying, then unburying, then burying and then unburying your latest post. Sometimes I’ll see it, other times I won’t and the top of my FireFox browser will say “(1) Blogs I Follow”.

    There are some meaningful issues with WordPress that make it a less-than-ideal platform and frustrating. If I (or anyone else) miss something that’s been written this is why.

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  12. Pingback: The Most Interesting Blog Posts | Sanam's Views

  13. Your blog does indeed make for an awesome travel memoir.Reading about how you felt stepping into new situations is a wonderful reminder that change can be a valuable experience. I also got a kick out of the seagull sign as it made me laugh. I’m looking forward to exploring more of your blog. Thanks for sharing!

    -Dale

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