Archive for January, 2016

January 10, 2006 part 2 – Tuesday night in Roppongi

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.

My friend UPS and I arrived at Roppongi station around 9:00pm. On the way, I had tried to prepare him for the Roppongi nightlife experience; we were about to be harassed by very persistent touts representing different local bars, all of them would be willing to bargain, and many of them were going to try to get us into expensive places with hourly charges. I explained that I was not interested in hostess clubs or strip bars. We stashed our backpacks in coin lockers at the station, and wandered out by the famous crossing.

I have been to Roppongi in the evening several times before, but never on a Tuesday. It was a lot less busy than other nights, so we had the full attention of all of the touts. At first we handled them fairly well, not getting sucked into conversation, and moving along with polite but firm “no” answers to their suggestions.

One of the touts was advertising a strip club. We said no. He said that they had the “nakedest” women in Tokyo and good prices. We said no. He then told us that we could come check it out for a minute for free to see if we liked it, no obligation. As I was starting to say “no”, UPS said “one minute free? Sure, let’s check it out”. I gave him my most disapproving stare as we followed the excited tout to a nearby tall, narrow building. We got into a very tiny elevator while our new best friend explained that there were several women working, and we could have any of them dance for us and drink with us. He also told us that if we really liked the women, there were private rooms where anything that happened was between us and the dancers. “You might get a blowjob, maybe more, who knows, that’s between you and the girl (wink)”. I had a bad feeling about this place when we got in the elevator, and it was getting worse as the ride continued.

The elevator opened directly into the entrance of a small bar. The tout called out in Japanese that customers had arrived. We were led into the next room to find no other customers, but three sexy women were dancing to some terrible club music. Just as the tout was explaining the pricing system and where we could order our drinks, UPS interrupted by saying “well that was one minute – thanks but we’re going somewhere else”. The tout couldn’t believe what he just heard, but UPS stood firm. The tout was no longer our new best friend, and the elevator ride down to the main floor was a lot quieter than the ride up.

After that experience, we decided to find a place where we could get actually get a drink. We zigzagged through the touts on the main street and went to Wall Street bar first, the home of a memorable experience on a previous night out. After that we went to the infamous GasPanic, and eventually three other places that I don’t remember the names of. Every time we left one place, we got greeted by the same group of touts, who were now friendly and looking forward to seeing who would get us to enter their bar next. Bar number 5 was a salsa dancing bar. We were barely in any condition to walk let alone dance, but the drinks were reasonably priced.

UPS and I were seated at the bar. I was enjoying my drink wondering how I ended up at a salsa dancing bar in Tokyo after 2:00am. I finished my drink and looked over to see that UPS had fallen asleep on his bar stool. I woke him up and told him it was time to look for a place to sleep.

The touts were happy to see us again and started their sales pitch yet again. I told them that my friend had just fallen asleep in the last bar. None of them wanted to have a passed out, non drinking customer in their bar, so they all told us to have a good evening and come back soon. As much as people complain about the touts in Roppongi, the interaction during our evening was pretty fun.

I have been out to Roppongi before, but have never gone to 5 different bars in the same night. It was a challenge, but our next challenge would be even bigger: finding a good place to sleep.

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January 10, 2006 part 1 – Respectable sightseeing

I was confused when my friend UPS woke me up. I was not on my comfortable futon in my room. I was also not on my slightly less comfortable floor couch. I was sleeping on the hard floor in my coworker Vivian’s room, still wearing the same clothes from the day before. UPS wanted to get going before having to engage in any awkward conversations with Chrissy, Vivian’s roommate that he became “acquainted with” the night before.

We walked back towards my apartment, and I was unfortunately not able to get a straight answer on how his night went. We ate, got cleaned up, packed, and took returned to the train station, bound for Kamakura.

At this point in my 2 plus years in Japan, I have been to Kamakura several times, however it never stops being an impressive and interesting place to visit. UPS and I went to see Daibutsu, the giant bronze Buddha statue, and Hase temple. I was able to pass along a lot of the information I had learned from previous visits, and also got an impressive picture with giant Buddha’s sandals!

Buddha Sandals

From Kamakura we went to Yokohama, then took Minatomirai line towards the Minatomirai area. We spent a long time wandering around both the port area and Yokohama Chinatown, stopping for some great food. The Chinatown area is very energetic at night, and despite being in Japan, feels like you have wandered into a different country.

After exploring for some time, we decided to continue on to our evening destination: Roppongi.

(cue ominous music)

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January 9, 2006 part 4 – Karaoke makeouts

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.

After enjoying bubble tea with The Penpal , my friend UPS and I met up with my coworker Vivian and her roommate Chrissy. Vivian had met UPS a few days ago, thought he was fun, and brought out her roommate to hang out with us. Over drinks UPS and Chrissy started immediately flirting with each other.

After a few too many drinks, we went to Uta Club, the favourite discount karaoke place for Numazu area teachers. It was at this point that Vivian and Chrissy, both British, unleashed on us one of the worst pop songs to ever come out of the UK: Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) by The Cheeky Girls.

Some of the greatest music ever written has come from the UK. Musicians like David Bowie, The Beatles, The Who, Radiohead, and so many others have created amazing, timeless music that has brought joy and enhanced lives around the world. Unfortunately, for every fantastic musician, there is one horrible, soulless, pop monstrosity that summons an awful hit song from the depths of music hell. The Cheeky Girls represent the worst parts of pop music.


Usually I would link the song, but I have too much respect for my readers to link a catchy earworm that includes lyrics like “touch my bum, this is life”. You can look it up yourself at your own risk.

While we were singing and drinking, the flirting continued between UPS and Chrissy. Vivian and I were singing an epic duet, when we turned around and saw UPS and Chrissy making out like teenagers. Vivian mentioned that she didn’t want to see that, so UPS and Chrissy crawled under the table and started making out there.

Vivian and I sang a few more songs, deliberately being off key and horrible to try to distract our friends from their not very stealthy makeout session. We eventually realized that UPS and Chrissy were no longer interested in singing and wanted to call it a night. Chrissy suggested that UPS and I should go over to their apartment for another drink (read: more makeouts). I was tired and wanted to get home, but since UPS didn’t know his way around Numazu and didn’t have a phone, getting separated would create some problems for the next morning. Vivian said that if necessary I could crash on the floor in her room, which is exactly what ended up happening.

Vivian and I fell asleep next to each other on her floor, trying our best to ignore the giggling noises from Chrissy’s room. UPS was absolutely making the most of his short time in Japan, and who was I to stand in his way?

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January 9, 2006 part 3 – Bubble Tea

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.

After spending the day exploring Numazu and Mishima, my friend UPS and I had ramen for dinner. I’m not talking about the instant stuff which is the stereotypical diet of college students, but the real, big bowl of hot delicious noodle soup in a restaurant. If you ever visit Japan, you must eat ramen, preferably in a small shop with a narrow counter. UPS had been wisely practicing his chopstick skills before spending 4 months in Asia, so he did very well eating slippery noodles with sticks.

We stopped in at my apartment to drop off our purchases, and then met The Penpal at the nearby Seiyu for a quick visit. Seiyu has a small food court area where I have eaten a few quick meals before. They also serve bubble tea. UPS had tried bubble tea before, but The Penpal and I hadn’t. We all ordered some and sat down to drink it.

UPS asked The Penpal what she thought of the bubble tea. She said that she liked it, but was very surprised when the balls shot into her mouth. UPS and I, being two mature, educated Canadian men, started giggling uncontrollably. The Penpal looked confused, so we decided to be nice and explain that “balls” could refer to several different things in English. She was embarrassed for a few seconds, and then joined us in giggling and making immature remarks about the balls in our bubble tea. My girlfriend is the best!

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January 9, 2006 part 2 – A new bad habit

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.

After lunch we went to Mishima, which despite being a small town does have a few interesting places to show off to tourists. As we were walking away from the train station we passed a cigarette vending machine. UPS was surprised to see that smokes only cost about 300 yen per pack, which is around $3 CAD. In Canada the government taxes cigarettes heavily, and the average pack is about $10. UPS told me that on his 4 month long trip of Japan, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos that he had a few goals. One of the goals was to pick up a bad habit and quit before going back to Canada. With that in mind, he fed 300 yen into the vending machine and bought his first pack of cigarettes.

UPS was very proud of himself, until we realized that neither one of us had anything to light the cigarettes with. We walked into a nearby convenience store (which itself sold cigarettes), and bought a lighter. When we got out, UPS lit up his first of likely many cigarettes on his Asian vacation.

We continued on down the street and explored the nearby Rakujuen park and a few of the small stores in the area. UPS happily puffed away through most of our walk, happily adjusting to his new addiction.


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January 9, 2006 part 1 – Second hand fraternity shirts and pachinko

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.

My friend UPS was visiting from Canada. After spending the day in Tokyo yesterday and planning on spending tomorrow in Tokyo and are, we decided to stay around Numazu today.

We walked from my apartment towards Numazu station. Our first stop was a used clothing store, where we were surprised to find several fraternity T-shirts and hoodies. I met UPS when I joined Delta Upsilon fraternity in 2002, and we were taught that wearing clothing with our fraternity letters was a privilege and a responsibility. For us it was strange to see that other groups lettered shirts, which would have been so valuable to us, had ended up in a used clothing store half way around the world. We bought as many as we could find as a gift for our fellow DUs.

We worked our way over to the Nakamise shopping area, which is also the home to my NOVA branch. Just down the street from NOVA is a giant pachinko parlour. UPS wanted to experience as much of Japanese culture as possible during his 4 day trip, so we walked in to play some pachinko.

I have only played pachinko once or twice before. I never really knew what was going on, but I did enjoy the noisy, flashy environment inside the pachinko parlour; once you pass through the doors it’s total sensory overload. We sat down at side by side machines, put in our money, and then used the lever to shoot little metal balls through the board towards a little hole. A nearby Japanese man tried to give us some pointers on how to use the machine. It didn’t help me, but UPS seemed to do a little better.

Gambling for money is largely illegal in Japan. The loophole with pachinko is that you win more metal balls which you exchange for a prize. You can then sell your prize for money in a nearby prize exchange booth.

UPS decided to cash in his metal balls, and found he had enough for an energy drink. He decided that instead of exchanging the energy drink for a small amount of money that he would just drink it instead. Re-energized, we went to find a place for lunch while discussing what kind of mischief might be possible with a bunch of fraternity t-shirts.

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January 8, 2006 part 4 – Hanging out in Harajuku

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.

After spending the afternoon in Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi park, The Penpal, UPS, and I decided to walk across the street and explore the high fashion district of Harajuku.

Harajuku is filled with trendy stores selling all kinds of expensive fashionable clothing. It’s also possible to find sensibly priced but still fashionable clothing as well if you look around a bit harder. We took our time walking through the busy side streets, checking out some of the displays and small stores. We also took dorky looking pictures with crazy hats.

Harajuku - me Harajuku - UPS

A full day of walking around had us hungry, so we decided to stop in at a kaiten sushi restaurant across from Harajuku station. UPS had eaten kaiten sushi before in Winnipeg, at a small chain called “Sushi Train”. Instead of a conveyor belt, there was a small electric train that drove around with sushi on it. There are lots of options for sushi in North America, but most of the menu is rolls. In Japan, sushi is dominated by nigiri sushi, which are the traditional looking pieces of fish on a lump of rice. UPS is an adventurous guy who was about to start a 4 month tour of Asia, so he had no problem trying out fish that was not familiar to him.

After stuffing ourselves to the point of pain, we started working our way across the street to Harajuku station. The station area was completely packed, and we had to shuffle our way through the crowds to get to the platform. We took the Yamanote line back to Shinagawa and then took the shinkansen towards Mishima.

Our car in the shinkansen was mostly empty, which is a bit unusual. We were discussing some of the interesting things about Japanese life, and the subject of hostess bars came up. UPS was interested to learn that there was also something called a host club, which was the same idea but with sexy, outgoing men treating female customers like queens (for money of course). UPS asked more questions, and ended up getting The Penpal to teach him some Japanese that he might need to flirt and drink with customers. It was hilarious.

We parted ways with The Penpal in Mishima, then UPS and I continued to Numazu. I was tired after a full day of exploring Tokyo, but UPS, who never seems to run out of energy, wanted to make the best use of his time in Japan. Instead of going home, we went out for drinks with some other English teachers at Speak EZ, the English school and bar in Numazu. After a few drinks even UPS was ready for sleep. It was a long day but a lot of fun!

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January 8, 2006 part 3 – Rap Attack in Yoyogi Park!!

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.

My friend UPS, my girlfriend The Penpal and I had just visited the spectacular Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. Upon exiting the shrine, we did a quick tour around Yoyogi Park, which is always lively on a Sunday. We saw people playing instruments, actors with kendo sticks practicing fight choreography, people flying kites, and even the famous rockabilly guys who dance near the entrance, although fewer than usual due to the brisk temperatures.

Yoyogi - rockabilly

We also encountered a group of young men with a microphone and a speaker who were freestyle rapping for the crowd. Rap is not as popular in Japan as most other types of music, and as a sweeping generalization, Japanese rap is generally not very good. I am not blaming the MCs, it’s the language itself that makes rapping challenging. (Author’s note, French is actually a fantastic language for rap)

UPS decided to record the unique sight of freestyle rappers in Japan with his camera. The lead rapper apparently did not like this, turned his attention to UPS, and then started spitting some derogatory freestyle disses in Japanese.

Yes, my friend got rap attacked at Yoyogi park. No, I never thought I would type that particular sentence.

It took us a few minutes to process what had just happened. Since none of us had ever been rap attacked before, we didn’t know how to respond. If this was a movie and UPS was able to speak Japanese, I assume he would have thrown down an impromptu battle rap session right there in the park. However we just ended up walking towards Harajuku laughing about the experience and wondering what was going to happen next.

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January 8, 2006 part 2 – Meiji Shrine

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.

After doing some sightseeing in Shinjuku with The Penpal and my friend UPS, we went back to Shinjuku station and took a quick ride on Yamanote line towards Meiji Shrine.

Meiji - guard

Walking towards the Shrine on a Sunday is always fun because of all of the cosplayers. UPS was surprised to see all of the elaborate costumes, even on a chilly day. We spent some time looking at the costumes, then proceeded to the shrine itself. Like most of the visitors, UPS got a picture taken with some of the cosplayers. He also took the time to get a picture with a nearby security guard who was directing traffic near the busy shrine.

Meiji - shrine

Meiji Shrine should be on everyone’s must visit list if you are in Tokyo, even for a short time. The forest around the shrine is lush and spectacular, and features trees from all over Japan. The shrine itself is a series of sprawling wooden buildings, lovingly restored in the 50s after being completely destroyed during World War II. It was still close to New Year, so the shrine was busier than usual, although thankfully not as crazy as it would have been a week ago. UPS wanted to take in everything, and the Penpal was happy to explain the different parts of the shrine and their significance.

The Penpal showing UPS how to wash his hands at the shrine

The Penpal showing UPS how to wash his hands at the shrine

As we were preparing to leave the shrine, we noticed a female high school sports team, all in their warm up uniforms, entering the shrine together. UPS thought this was a great opportunity for a picture, and walked up and asked if they would mind getting a picture with him. In summer 2004 I had some other fraternity friends show up in Japan, and it was generally a struggle to get them to talk to Japanese people. UPS had no such issues, and managed to get a hilarious picture (which will not be included here).

Even though I had been to Meiji Shrine several times before, it was still a great experience to see a large space in one of the busiest, most modern cities in the world set aside to remember it’s past. UPS enjoyed the experience, and The Penpal enjoyed sharing her culture with one of my friends.

Next up: return to Yoyogi park.


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January 8, 2006 part 1 – Adventures in Shinjuku

Shinjuku - tmgb view

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.

UPS and I got up early in the morning, and met The Penpal at Mishima station in order to go to Tokyo for the day. I love having a chance to introduce my girlfriend to friends from home. I was hoping to get a chance to do that on a large scale over the Christmas holidays, but she was unable to get the time to travel to Canada.

I wasn’t worried at all about UPS meeting The Penpal. He is one of those friendly people who can have a conversation with anyone. We took the shinkansen from Mishima to Shinagawa, talking the whole way. By the end of our hour long trip, The Penpal and UPS were talking like old friends.

Our first stop of the day was Shinjuku. It’s always impressive to show off the tall buildings around Shinjuku station. Today was Sunday, so we got a chance to look at the buildings without the usual mobs of people crowding us. It was almost a bit spooky to see how empty the streets were. We walked in the direction of the Tokyo Metro Government Building, making sure to pass through the NS building to see the world’s largest water clock. I filled UPS in on my adventures coming to this building two years ago for NOVA new employee orientation. Even though it had only been 2 years, it felt like a whole lifetime ago.

As we left the NS building and continued towards the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, we saw a strange sight; a small ramen stand in the middle of an empty courtyard surrounded by people. As we got closer, we noticed TV cameras, and standing in line for ramen was comedian Hard Gay. They were filming something for one of his TV appearances.


As someone who has lived in Japan for over 2 years, I am now used to the idea of a muscular, leather clad comedian named “Hard Gay”. It took some explaining to get UPS to understand what he was looking at, and I promised to show him some Youtube videos later. UPS took out his camera to capture the moment, but one of the producers came over and asked politely in Japanese not to take pictures. I translated for UPS and he put his camera away, although in retrospect this would have been a good opportunity to forget Japanese and get a picture of Hard Gay in action.

We eventually got to the Metro Government building, and went to the observation level, located 202 meters above street level. We spent about an hour taking looking at the never ending sprawl of the Greater Tokyo area in every direction. We also got a picture with the cute mascot of the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation (TOEI). I don’t know why every business and government department in Japan feels the need to have a cute mascot, but maybe that’s because I am Canadian.

Shinjuku - mascot

We could have spent a lot more time in Shinjuku, but had to keep moving to take advantage of UPS’s short time in Japan. Next stop: Meiji Shrine.


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