Archive for May, 2014
During the day we hung out in my room playing Playstation games and generally recovering from our adventures so far. In the evening we had plans to go to a family restaurant in Machida. Most family restaurants in Japan feature a “drink bar” for about 200 yen. A drink bar is a self serve soft drink area where you can enjoy free refills of coffee, tea, sodas and water. This particular restaurant also featured a 600 yen drink bar with alcohol. You read that correctly: for the low price of 600 yen a customer can mix their own cocktails. I think the intent is for customers to have one or two drinks with dinner, but there is technically no limit.
Yes, this does sound like a terrible idea in the making.
Lux and Zoe were going to accompany us to the restaurant. Before we left they took me aside and expressed concern that my friends would be in the restaurant all night taking advantage of the unlimited alcohol. They suggested telling the guys that there was a one hour time limit on the drink bar. I disagreed and tried to explain that the idea of a time limit would only lead to problems. I explained that I knew these guys, and a time limit would be a challenge to them. Lux and Zoe continued to disagree with me, so eventually I told them I would play along, but I assumed no responsibility for the outcome.
We all boarded the Odakyu line for Machida, and explained the “rules” of the drink bar. The guys were all very excited and started asking questions about when the one hour time limit started – from the time we sat down? from the time we order? I told them I would get the details at the restaurant.
We got a table for 7 and placed our orders. As soon as the orders were taken, everyone rushed the drink bar and started mixing drinks. We started slowly, with everyone checking their watches. By about the 30 minute mark there was always at least one of us refilling their drink at any time. For the last 10 minutes I am pretty sure that Green did not return to his seat at all. We all left full of delicious food and booze for under 2000 yen per person.
When you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short time, you can go from feeling completely sober to drunk in a matter of minutes. This happened for most of us on the walk from the restaurant to the station. We passed two large gaijins walking in the other direction. Code Red asked if they were Canadian like us, and the said that no, they were American Marines. Code Red responded “Go Yankee Go!”, to which Flounder added “home”. Our military friends did not take kindly to this, and suggested they would meet us later. Code Red, missing the implicit threat in the comment, answered “awesome! We will see you guys later!”. The marines clarified that it would not be a pleasant meeting. I believe Hippie and Code Red tried to apologize as we continued walking away.
By the time we arrived at the station, we were drunk and belligerent. While we waited on the platform, I noticed that a few train security officers watched our group from a distance. They seemed relieved as we boarded the train and ceased to be their problem.
When we returned to Hello House, Green removed his shirt and started walking around the house. Lux and I hung out on the stoop reflecting on the amount of alcohol that we all drank for 600 yen each. Eventually one of the other Hello House residents, a gay British male, came to the stoop to complain about Green walking around shirtless. His comment was “nobody wants to see that”.
Video games, cheap alcohol, pissing off Marines, train security, and unwanted shirtlessness. All in a days work.
After a few hours of electronics shopping, we stopped for lunch at my favourite place near Kawasaki station – Becker’s Burgers. Becker’s was one of my favourites both because it was extremely close to Kawasaki NOVA, but also because they had pretty good burgers, if a little small by North American standards. The guys were all happy with Becker’s.
After eating, we went to a nearby video game store to look for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The newest chapter in the Grand Theft Auto series had been out for over a year back home, but had just finally been released in Canada. I found the game quickly, and we spent some time looking at the huge selection of giant robot games, RPGs that would never be released overseas, and pachinko video games.
While I was paying for my purchase, Flounder started playing a nearby claw machine that was loaded with folded pieces of paper. He caught one, and opened it to find Japanese writing that we couldn’t read. I showed the paper to the girl at the counter, and she told me that Flounder won a video game. We got to pick a game from “level 2” of the prizes. Since Playstation 2 Games from Japan won’t work on a North American Playstation 2 without modding, Flounder let me pick and keep the game. I chose a Japanese baseball game that looked pretty cool, because it was probably the easiest for me to start playing with limited language ability. We also got our picture on the wall with the rest of the prize winners.
We returned home to Hello House and spent the rest of the day playing Grand Theft Auto and having a few beers. Good day!
To recover from our long day out in Tokyo, we decided to walk around the my school near Kawasaki station. Our first stop was my usual internet cafe. The guys had never been into a manga / internet cafe before, and were impressed by the setup and the free drinks. If they could read Japanese we would have likely spent the day reading comics. Everyone made sure to send email to friends and family back home. Remember young travelers: always make sure your parents know you are safe and healthy, especially when it is your first time to be on the other side of the planet.
After catching up on email, we went to the big Yodobashi Camera near Kawasaki station. As we walked in, we passed a security guard who casually made a comment into the radio on his shoulder. He then proceeded to follow us around the store to keep an eye on us. Apparently when five young gaijins walk into an electronics store, they are up to no good.
Being five white guys who live in Canada, none of us had ever been followed around a store by a security guard before. I think the guys would have been more upset about it if they weren’t distracted by the huge selection of cool electronics in every direction. We literally examined EVERYTHING in the whole store, from TVs to video games to musical instruments. Generally the consumer electronics you can buy in Japan are at least several months ahead of what you can buy in Canada.
While walking around Yodobashi camera, you can’t escape the horrible store theme song, which is the famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic” aka “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”, but with lyrics about the store and what they sell. This also happens to be the same tune that Delta Upsilon Manitoba borrowed and turned into a song called “I Don’t Want to be a Phi Delt”. Phi Delta Theta was the second largest fraternity in Winnipeg, and were sworn rivals of Delta Upsilon. As we walked around, the guys started singing the modified lyrics. I won’t post the lyrics here, but there are verses about Phi Delts not being very fun, insinuations of what happens at a Phi Delt initiation, and derisive comments about Phi Delts’ skill with the opposite sex. I was happy that most of the people around us couldn’t understand English.
We likely spent almost two hours exploring Yodobashi camera, with our personal security guard casually following us around at a distance, but trying not to be too obvious about it. At one point we all turned and waved at him, which actually got him to crack a smile. We paid for our purchases and left allowing the security guard to return to his post and wait for the next batch of suspicious looking foreigners to follow around.
(2014 Update) Looking back, I have mixed feelings about the whole experience. I understand that theft is a big problem for stores, and they should be able to take reasonable precautions to protect their assets. Also, our personal security guard was never in our face, he was always a reasonable distance away, casually walking nearby. In my three years of living in Japan, this was the first time that I was ever followed around a store. I think I would feel a bit better if I knew that he followed us because we were a group of young males and not because we were a group of foreigners, but I will never know the true motive for sure.
There is racism in Japan, just like in every country. Being a white guy in Canada, I have never obviously been “profiled” before. It is an unusual experience to say the least. My friends and I simply ignored it because we were all short term visitors in the country and wanted to enjoy our vacation. However, if I was living in Japan full time I would not enjoy this kind of experience at all.
I wish I had some kind of clever way to end this post, maybe something with an uplifting message of peace, unity and brotherhood for the people of the world. Unfortunately I don’t, this whole topic is way more than a simple travel blog can handle.
Be good to each other.
After our long day out in Tokyo, we got a very slow start to our Monday. We were all hanging out in the room that Flounder, Code Red and Green were sharing, talking about our upcoming plans. The room had a Japanese style closet with sliding door. Code Red moved his futon into the closet and turned it into a private bedroom. There were a lot of “in the closet jokes”. Code Red didn’t care, because the sliding door gave him some relief from Flounder and Green’s horrific drunken snoring.
In the previous evening, we purchased a number of sex cans (that’s the nicest way I can describe them) from Don Quijote. We opened one of them up to inspect it, and in doing so accidentally removed the label. It was a plastic can with a pink sponge on top. In the middle of the sponge was a hole. Inside the hole were various flexible bumps and other textures, as well as a lubricant. If you need a description of what a sex can is used for, you are too young to hear a description of what a sex can is used for.
Lux and Katsuragi came to hang out with us and ask us about our plans for the day. While we were talking, the plastic can caught Katsuragi’s attention. She asked what it was, and nobody said anything. She then put her finger into the hole on top. At this exact moment, one of the guys caught the fantastic picture above of Lux’s expression of horror. Katsuragi came to a sudden realization of what the product was for, and then chased me down the hall attempting to rub the can lube from her finger on my shirt.
Totally worth 600 yen!
After getting a taste of beer at Shakey’s Pizza, we decided that we would really enjoy some more beer. We boarded the Yamanote line and headed for Shibuya. The area around Shibuya station is always entertaining for visitors. Between the massive crowds of people, the tall buildings, the giant video screens, the lights, and the noise it is a great way to get overstimulated. After wandering around for a while we headed to GasPanic for cheap beer.
As much as some people talk badly about GasPanic (with good reason), it is easy to find, has cheap drinks, and has no problems with five casually dressed, thirsty foreigners. We managed to find a table and ordered two pitchers. Green used one of the pitchers as his own personal drink, while the rest of us filled our glasses from the other pitcher.
We hung out at GasPanic for a some time getting more than a little drunk. It was a Sunday night, so GasPanic was not exactly lively. I convinced the group that while we were in Shibuya, we could be having more fun at Don Quijote. The problem was that I was full of beer and don’t know Shibuya well. It took several wrong turns, but we finally found the giant smiling penguin and proceeded to enter the most fun store in the country.
It is not terribly surprising that 5 drunk 20 something males will eventually end up in the adult toy section. The guys marveled at the wide variety of products available. They were particularly interested in the disposable sex cans for men. At this point I decided this would make the best souvenir ever and generously offered to buy some for them to take home. While Code Red, Flounder and Hippie went to other parts of the store, I got Green to hold out his arms and proceeded to stack up 8 sex cans. Since we didn’t want to keep walking around the store while carrying the sex cans, Green and I started to make our way towards the cash register. Finding the way out of DonKi is difficult at the best of times. Finding the way out of DonKi after several beers is even more challenging. On one of our many wrong turns Green dropped the entire stack of sex cans all over the floor. The other shoppers looked on in amused horror as he tried to gather them all up again while I stood by and laughed.
I paid for the sex cans, then Green and I met the others outside. We were getting pretty close to the last train, so we decided to call it a night and returned to Shibuya Station. From Shibuya we took Yamanote line to Shinjuku, then boarded Odakyu line towards Noborito. On the Odakyu train, Flounder was standing and holding onto the train grip. Two Shibuya girls were standing next to him. For those who don’t know, Shibuya girls are fashionable looking young females with fake tans, coloured hair, and lots of accessories on their phones. Without any warning, one of them reached over and started stroking Flounder’s arm hair. He looked down and said hi. She looked up at him and said “You are jumbo”. Flounder calmly replied “I’m from Canada. Everything is jumbo in Canada”.
Not wanting to be left out, Green reached into his backpack, past the 8 sex cans, to find my copy of “Making Out in Japanese“, a hilarious phrasebook for casual Japanese in different situations. He tried out a few lines, but his pronunciation was so terrible that the Shibuya girls couldn’t understand what he was talking about. Most notably, he attempted several times to say “kiss me” which is pronounced “key-soo she-tay”. Green kept reading the romaji as “kiss-oo shitty”. Green finally got fed up and just pointed at the line in the book. The girls thought this was hilarious and then sat down and started reading the book while laughing at the most ridiculous phrases.
Nobody ended up getting any kisses, but we got several pictures with the Shibuya girls while they were laughing at Making Out in Japanese. We got back to Hello House and hung out with Lux explaining our awesome day in Tokyo.
After an eventful afternoon at Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi park we were looking for some food. Not knowing what our options were, we decided to wander around Harajuku looking for food that would make everyone happy. I am good with almost anything, but two members of our group didn’t like fish. There were nearly unlimited options, but as soon as we saw a sign for Shakey’s Pizza our minds were made up. Mmmmm pizza!
Harajuku is home to one of the few Shakey’s Pizza restaurants in the country. In addition to some familiar pizzas that we could find at home, they also offered Japanese style pizza covered with corn and seafood. We paid good money for some small but delicious pizzas.
When considering our drink options we found a menu item called “Tower of Beer”. Naturally we had no choice but to order it. The Tower of Beer is tall glass cylinder on a base with a spout. It holds an impressive 4 litres of beer. When divided 5 ways it is not a lot of beer for each person, but the experience of the Tower of Beer is totally worth it. All of the other beer drinkers in the restaurant were drinking out of boring regular glasses. Our beer was in a TOWER.
At some point Hippie went off to find the washroom. He came back extremely excited, and informed us that the bathroom had one of Japan’s famous high tech toilets. A Japanese high tech toilet is a toilet with a control panel that operates various features such as adjustable strength water jets, air fresheners, heated seats, and sound effects to cover up any bathroom noises you are making. After Hippie’s announcement, everyone in our group took turns trying out the high tech toilet. We ended up monopolizing the men’s washroom for the next 15 minutes.
One of the best things about being in a foreign country is that almost everything is a bit different, so even mundane things like ordering beer or using the toilet can be a fun adventure. Just remember to stop the bum spray before you stand up – trust me.
On Sunday there is always something interesting going out near Meiji Shrine. Instead of our usual breakfast routine, we all grabbed convenience store breakfast and got on the train. From Noborito we took the Odakyu line to Shinjuku, then took Yamanote line to Harajuku. At Harajuku we walked out towards the entrance of Meiji shrine.
On the bridge towards Meiji shrine you can find a bunch of cosplayers hanging out. Most of the cosplayers were dressed as anime characters or members of visual kei bands. The costumes were all fantastically detailed. For some reason there were also two people dressed in Nazi uniforms. You simply could not do that in Canada (or the US, the UK, etc etc). There were a lot of cosplayers, but apparently if the weather was nicer there would have been many more.
After the bridge, we toured Meiji shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife. Meiji Shrine was under construction from 1915 to 1926, with the main building being destroyed in World War II and rebuilt thanks to a public fundraising effort in the late 50s. The shrine and grounds are impressive, giving you the feeling that you have escaped Tokyo. We were lucky enough to catch parts of a traditional Japanese wedding while we were there.
After the Shrine, we wandered around Yoyogi Park, which is always lively. I lost track of how many bands we saw playing. There were also some girls singing and dancing along with Japanese pop music. Hippie was the only person brave enough to attempt to talk to them afterwards. We stopped for a quick snack at a takoyaki stand. The guys heard “tako” and thought Mexican food (taco). They were a little surprised to see the fried dough balls filled with octopus and covered in sauce. Everyone tried one, but once again Hippie was the hero eating two octopus balls at once. Naturally we made several immature jokes about this.
On the way out of Yoyogi park, we saw the famous rockabilly dancers that show up every weekend. They have leather pants, sunglasses, and crazy pompadours, and dance to loud rockabilly music while drinking beer. If you are ever in Yoyogi park on the weekend, you can’t leave until you see these guys.
The first part of our day at the Shrine and park were pretty fun, but we were just getting started. More to come!
(2014 Update) Check out this post about Yoyogi Park with awesome pictures on a superior blog here: http://lifetoreset.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/rock-and-roll-at-yoyogi-park/
In the evening we decided to head out for some adventure. We started in a small game center (arcade) in Noborito. It was fun, but the selection of games was lacking. Seeking bigger and better things we got on the Odakyu line for Shinjuku.
Shinjuku at night is amazing. All of the tall buildings are lit up brightly, and the streets are full of people looking for restaurants, bars, and other good times. We spent some time in a big game center, with the main attraction being the awesome Taiko drumming game “Taiko no Tatsujin” which is pictured above. The game was a huge hit, and anyone from a complete beginner to a taiko master could enjoy it. We also enjoyed a fun version of “House of the Dead” called “Typing of the Dead”. Instead of using a gun to shoot zombies, you used a keyboard to type in the names that appeared in front of them. After spending time and money on video games, the guys requested to see something else. I told them that there was a red light district nearby, which naturally caught their attention.
I had never been to Kabukicho before, but I knew generally where it was. Combined with some street signs and maps we wandered through the congested, bright, bustling streets of Shinjuku. Before we went into the area, I told the guys that we were under no circumstances going to be going into any of the businesses in the area. I also warned them that there were likely to be aggressive touts vying for our attention. As soon as we passed through the famous gates onto one of the sketchier looking streets, we were approached by various men advertising different establishments and the services they offered. We were told in English about hostess bars with school girl themes, places where we could watch women showering, and one place where we could meet the attractive women on the sign and do “whatever we want”. One of the touts grabbed onto Hippie’s arm and tried to lead him into a place promising “titties that would change his life”. The only person in our group that received no attention at all was Flounder, who stood head and shoulders above everyone in the area. He was not approached by a single tout.
One quick loop of the area was enough, and we wandered around different parts of Shinjuku before calling it a night.
(2014 update 1) Starting in around 2006 there was a massive cleanup effort in Kabukicho that apparently cleaned up the area. I am sure that it is still an interesting place to walk through, but it likely won’t be the same experience we had in 2004.
(2014 update 2) Typing of the Dead is now available on Steam!!
I woke up “early” and went out with Hippie to Shop 99 to buy materials for a big breakfast. As a group we decided to rotate breakfast cooking responsibilities daily. Flounder cooked scrambled eggs, bacon and toast for the group.
After eating we went to Daiei supermarket for shopping and sightseeing. Going to a supermarket in a foreign country is always fun. Like me, the guys noticed the small shopping carts, the tiny meat section, the huge fish section, and the different products available. They particularly liked the horrible jingle that kept playing on repeat in the meat section. We got some supplied for breakfasts and lunches, and in addition picked up some mini donuts and Giant Pocky.
Other than groceries, we took some time looking around the department store. The guys were shocked by the “Black Music” section in the music store. In addition to rock, pop and classical, many music stores in Japan feature a section called “black music”. In it you will find rap, reggae, and R&B by artists of all skin tones. This name would be horribly inappropriate back home.
We returned to Hello House and worked out our schedule for the next few weeks while listening to Code Red’s music purchase – a CD of Japanese bands covering Green Day songs. While hanging out, we broke out the snacks from earlier. The donuts came in a box. Inside the box was a bag. Inside that bag were 36 small donuts individually wrapped in plastic. The amount of over-packaging in Japan is shocking, especially considering the strict rules about disposing of garbage.
The Giant Pocky was just like regular Pocky, but huge. While Hippie was in the middle of talking about something, someone (likely Flounder) jammed a Giant Pocky into his mouth and yelled “CHOCOLATE LOVE STICK!!”. My friends and I were never considered the most mature adults around.
When the guys got back to Hello House, we organized the sleeping arrangements. Hippie would be staying on the foldy floor couch in my room, while Flounder, Code Red and Green would be sharing the extra room that I rented for their stay. Fortunately for them, the extra room had a bed. Flounder and Green agreed to alternate nights in the bed and on the floor, while Code Red set up a futon in the closet.
After unpacking, the travelers got their first experience with Hello House’s coin operated showers. After showers and a quick tour of Hello House, we set out in search of beer.
Since it was Friday night, all of the izakayas in the area were very busy. In my first three choices I was told that there would be a two hour wait, which didn’t work for us. As we walked from place to place looking for a beer, we attracted a lot of attention from the locals. It wasn’t often that they saw five enthusiastic gaijins walking around the Noborito area. One of the highlights came when I was not paying attention to where I was walking and managed to walk directly into a pole designed to separate the street from the sidewalk. The pole was just at the right height to hit me in my lower nether regions as I passed over it. The other highlight was a very drunk girl who started talking to us in English while her boyfriend held her up. When we told her we were Canadian she proudly replied “My friend is Canada!”.
We eventually ended up at an izakaya on the other side of Mukogaokayuen station that was full of hard drinking Japanese people. When I say hard drinking, I mean stumbling to the bathroom, puking, then coming back to finish their beer drinking. The frat guys approved. We ordered beer and izakaya food. Flounder and Green tried sashimi for the first (and probably last) time. After the bar we returned to Hello House to watch a bootleg copy of Wrestlemania while drinking some of the ample supplies of alcohol that the guys brought from Canada. It was a great first night!
(2014 update) It turns out that the izakaya staff were trying to tell me that there would be a 2 hour limit on our table, not a 2 hour wait. My Japanese was still pretty bad at the time.