Archive for category Tokyo

April 2, 2006 – Kabuki in Ginza

Kabukiza

Today my parents, The Penpal (my fiancee) and I went to Tokyo for some sightseeing. This was the first time that my parents got a chance to spend some time with their future daughter in law without her parents around.

The plan for the day was to attend a Kabuki play at the famous Kabukiza theater in Ginza. We drove together to Mishima station, and then took the shinkansen to Tokyo, followed by a quick subway ride to Ginza station. Ginza is one of the richest areas of Tokyo, featuring Japan’s oldest department store, Mitukoshi, along with all kinds of other high end retail that we couldn’t afford.

Kabukiza is a Kabuki theatre which was originally built in 1889. The building has been destroyed, rebuilt, and upgraded several times since then. The design stands out among the tall steel and concrete buildings of the area. Tickets to see full plays are expensive, but there is a 1000 yen ticket that allows people to view one act of a play from the upper upper level. We got this along with headphones that played an English translation of the dialogue.

Kabuki dates back to the 1600s. At the same time William Shakespeare was writing famous plays in England, Japan was developing their own unique style of performance. Like original Shakespeare, Kabuki is performed entirely by men. It is famous for its colourful, energetic performances, which provides a stark contrast to the more traditional (and in my opinion extremely boring) Noh.

Coincidentally, the play that we got to watch was the story of the siege of Osaka Castle. We had just been to Osaka castle a few days earlier, so we knew a bit about the story. This allowed us to focus on the stage. The first scene we watched included fighting, action, and an insane fall down a giant flight of stairs on stage. The second act had a lot more talking as the characters were hiding in the castle wondering what would happen after the battle. I personally preferred the first scene, but it was nice to get some variety during my first Kabuki experience.

The most surprising part of my Kabuki experience was that the crowd would shout at the performers. Apparently this is a tradition where you yell out the name of the acting family of certain key actors. Usually Japanese crowds are known for being quiet and reserved, so it was quite interesting to hear the shouting.

After Kabuki we wandered around Ginza for a bit, then returned to Tokyo station. Before we returned to Mishima, we browsed the large selection of restaurants available at the station. We ended up at a kaiten sushi restaurant.

The first time my parents came to Japan, I took my dad for kaiten sushi while my mom and sister went for McDonalds. This time my mom was feeling more adventurous. Usually she prefers rolls and avoids raw fish, but thanks to The Penpal’s reassurance and advice, my mom tried some fatty tuna nigiri sushi and loved it! My parents also enjoyed the incredibly hot green tea that was available at our table.

We took the shinkansen back to Mishima while talking about plans for our upcoming stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). The adventure continues!

(Author’s note) Apparently Kabukiza has been rebuilt yet again to comply with modern building codes

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January 11, 2006 part 3 – Akihabara and farewells

Disclaimer – this story is about a friend nicknamed UPS. This story is no relation to United Parcel Services.

UPS and I finally got out of the Capsule hotel, clean, fed, and still hungover. We needed to be at the airport by 3:00, which left a few hours to visit Akihabara, one of the last places on UPS’s Japan wish list.

I have been to Akihabara several times before, but it’s always interesting to return and see new things. UPS wanted to visit the duty free shops, which I had generally avoided to date. There are some good deals to be found on export ready electronics if you have your passport on hand and are prepared to shop around. Akihabara Duty Free shops are also one of the few places in Japan where it is acceptable to haggle.

After a few hours of exploring duty free, comic, and porn stores, we stopped for Italian food. Yes, UPS’s last meal in Japan was pasta. During lunch we discussed some of our favourite fuzzy memories from UPS’s short trip, along with some of his upcoming plans for his 4 months in India, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.

We also talked about The Penpal, and how UPS thought she was pretty cool. We discussed whether or not she would ever move to Canada with me when I decided to stop teaching English. I really hope she will consider it.

UPS and I had an adventure free trip to the airport, and after watching him go through security, I started my long train trip back to Numazu. I was looking forward to catching up on my sleep!

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January 11, 2006 part 2 – How not to use a sento

Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.
Image courtesy of the good folks at Wikipedia

Image courtesy of the good folks at Wikipedia

After an epic night out in Roppongi, I woke up in my tiny coffin at the capsule hotel in Shibuya. It had not been a restful night, as people in the other capsules were snoring impressively. Also, someone’s alarm clock starting ringing just before 6:00am and continued for about half an hour. My head was spinning and I was tired from lack of sleep. UPS got me out of my capsule and we decided to get cleaned up and checked out. The capsule hotel featured a sento style bath, which UPS was eager to try out in the name of gaining cultural experience. I had never been to a sento before but I knew the general idea – clean yourself first, then sit in the shared bath.
We walked into the changing room outside the bath, still wearing the yukatas that we changed into when we checked in. There were large wicker baskets, which we assumed were for holding our yukatas and personal items. There were also two stacks of towels – large bath towels, and smaller towels that looked like long facecloths.
UPS and I removed our yukatas and underwear, wrapped the large towels around our waists, and walked into the bath area. The first thing we noticed (other than the other hungover naked men) was that nobody had the large bath towels in this area. We returned to the changing room, left the bath towels in our baskets, and confidently reentered the bathing area nude.
As we walked in, we got some very strange looks from two men who were walking out. At first I assumed that the cause of the strange look was that UPS and I were very brown and ghostly pale, respectively. However I quickly realized that everyone in the bath area were covering their naughty bits with one of the smaller towels, while we were exposing ourselves to the entire room. We quickly returned to the changing room one more time, this time equipped with privacy towels to hide our foreign members.
UPS and I proceeded to the washing stations. Each was equipped with a small bucket to sit on, a hand held shower nozzle, a mirror, and an impressive array of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. I reminded UPS that we had to be completely clean
and soap free before moving into the bath. After a few minutes of hungover scrubbing, we moved over to the tub of extremely hot water to soak.
Japanese people have a national obsession with soaking naked in extremely hot water. I’m sure it’s relaxing for some, but the experience for me was like being boiled alive. After only a few minutes I needed to get out. UPS suggested we check out the nearby sauna room. Nobody else was in the sauna when we entered. We took a seat and pretended we could understand the business report showing on the wall mounted TV. After a few minutes, a Japanese man entered the room. He took one look at the two foreigners inside, turned around, and walked right back out the door. We laughed at how unpopular we were in the bathing area.
The rest of our time at the capsule hotel was uneventful. We shaved with free individual use razors. We brushed our teeth with free individual use toothbrushes. We ate a free but unmemorable breakfast, got dressed, then checked out. I still couldn’t believe that we had just stayed in Shibuya for just over 3000 yen. My only complaints were the rampant snoring and my hangover, and only one of those could really be blamed on the hotel.

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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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July 8, 2005 – Rainy day in Odaiba

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the continuing adventures of my week off, I met up with The Penpal today and we went to Odaiba in Tokyo. It was a rainy day, which is unusual because for the first year or so that we knew each other, it never EVER rained when we were together. We walked around some of the same places that I went with my crazy friends when they came to visit last summer.

In the evening we had dinner in Yokohama. It was fun to get to spend a whole day out of the city with my wonderful girlfriend.

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December 15, 2004 – Immigration office master

My Weezer shirt that I bought in Harajuku

My Weezer shirt that I bought in Harajuku

Today I went to the immigration office in Shinyurigaoka to get my re-entry permit for my passport. I now feel pretty confident in my skills at navigating the immigration office, and can usually be in and out in about 10 minutes.

Like most people, my work visa expires after a certain period of time (one year for me), and will also expire if I leave the country. To prevent the visa from expiring when I go home, I needed to buy a re-entry permit. The permits are available as one time permits or unlimited times for the period of one year. Since I am only planning to leave Japan and return once in the next year, I bought the cheaper one time permit.

Immigration officers are not allowed to handle cash directly, which is a nice way to prevent anything shady from happening. I had to go to a small convenience store in the same building to buy a voucher for a re-entry stamp. I then returned to the immigration office, where they exchanged the voucher for a sticker in my passport.

After finishing up at the immigration office, I spent most of my day exploring some cool stores in Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku. I bought some books for my flight home at Kinokuniya, and a cool Weezer shirt in Harajuku.

In the evening, I met up with Okonomi in Noborito. We went out for Okonomiyaki for dinner and then went to karaoke. Since I was traveling back to Numazu, it was a much more reserved karaoke experience that the last time. After karaoke I gathered up all of the Christmas presents that I couldn’t bring home on my shopping trip to Asakusa, and then returned to Numazu. It was a fun day, but the highlight was explaining to a taxi driver at Numazu station where I lived in Japanese, and having him drive me to the right place!

If you have only ever spoken one language, this doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but trust me, it felt great.

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