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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.