Posts Tagged 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.
We arrived in Roppongi around midnight, which meant that we were committed to staying out all night. As soon as we got out of the station, we were swarmed by the usual group of Nigerian touts trying to get us into their clubs. Phoala bargained with them like a pro. He is outspoken and not afraid to speak his mind – remember that for later on in the story.
We ended up stopping in a basement pub close to GasPanic called New York something – I can’t really remember. It was basically a narrow space with a long bar that served sensibly priced drinks. There wasn’t a lot happening inside, but it was a good place to keep our buzz going from all you can drink karaoke without going broke. The bartender tried to entertain us with some of those small metal sliding puzzles. They are difficult at the best of times, but as we were a few drinks into our evening they were nearly impossible.
The attractive female waitress, annoyed that we were spending too much time playing with the sliding metal puzzle, took it from the member of our group that she was obviously flirting with (not naming names here), and hung it from the cleavage of her low cut tank top. I quietly told him that he should retrieve it from her cleavage with his mouth, which he did. The effect was instant – she suddenly had lust in her eyes, grabbed my friend and started kissing him intensely. She then whispered in his ear that he should meet her in the bathroom in a few minutes.
Nobody in our group was expecting that kind of reaction, not least was the recipient of the surprise makeouts. Even though the waitress came onto him and he didn’t have a chance to escape, he felt guilty because he had a girlfriend. Realizing that nothing else good could come of a further stay in the bar, we settled up and decided to move along to the next venue.
Our next stop was GasPanic, which was completely packed even though it was after 1:00am on Friday morning. We hung out and enjoyed the cheap drinks. I had learned my lesson from a previous trip months earlier that the “you must have a drink in your hand” rule was not a challenge.
Somewhere after 3:00am we went to Yoshinoya for some gyudon. Yoshinoya is famous for gyudon, which is delicious grilled beef and onions with sauce on rice. Gyudon is delicious any time, but when you have been drinking for over 6 hours it is the single most amazing food ever. While in Yoshinoya we struck up a conversation with an Australian guy, asking him for recommendations for other places to go. At first he seemed pretty cool and helpful, but he kept badmouthing some members of our group when they weren’t listening. Taking this as a bad sign, we ditched him soon after we left the restaurant.
This is where the evening takes a strange turn. As we were standing around deciding where to go next, one of the touts came up and told us about a really relaxed, fun place that was a bit out of the way. There were no hourly charges, and the drinks were good. This sounded okay, so we started following him. I was a combination of drunk and tired, so I really don’t know how long we walked or in which direction. I do know that this bar was really, really out of the way. It was on the lower level of a large office building and appeared to be the only business still open in the area.
When we went inside, the first thing I noticed was that there were no Japanese people in the building. The bartender, the waitress, and the huge scary bouncer all looked Russian. Seriously, this bouncer looked like he lifted weights in prison for fun. All drinks on the menu were 1000 yen. Shortly after we ordered, the four of us were joined by four very attractive blond women who asked if they could sit with us. They were all from Georgia and Chechnya. The waitress walked by and “suggested” that we buy the ladies a drink. At that point I realized that we were in a hostess bar, and our evening was about to get really expensive. I wanted to leave ASAP, but two members of our group were single and were really enjoying talking to the women.
The drinks arrived, and we were all making small talk, when Phoala asked one of the women nicely if she liked working at the bar. She responded that she wasn’t working there, they were just visiting and wanted to spend time with us (not likely). Knowing BS when he heard it, Phoala told her she was lying, she worked there, and we all knew it. She insisted that she didn’t work there, and that she was just out for a fun evening and really wanted to hang out with us. Phoala again told her she was lying, and that he knew it. He did this much louder than the first time.
Japan is a very safe country, and you really have to be looking for trouble to find it. Being really drunk at a shady Russian bar off the main streets in Roppongi at 4:00am and yelling at the hostesses would probably count as “looking for trouble”. I quickly ordered another round of drinks for the ladies, paid the waitress, and dragged us out the door.
It was now close to 5:00am, and amazingly some members of our group were looking for another tout to find the next bar. By this point I was well and truly done for the evening. I said goodbye to the other guys, returned to Roppongi station, and waited for the first train of the morning so I could go home.
I took the Tokyo Metro to Shinjuku, and switched to Odakyu line to get home. I managed to fall asleep standing up, and woke up just before Noborito station. When I first arrived in Japan just over a year ago, I would not have been able to sleep while sitting down on a train. I got off the train and walked to the ticket gate. It was then I realized that I couldn’t find my ticket. I checked all of my pockets and still couldn’t find my ticket. I even moved off to the side, crouched down and emptied the entire contents of every pocket I had on the ground – still no ticket.
At this point I had two options: explain the situation to the station attendant, or “tailgate” behind someone else through the gate. It was now 6:00am and I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my communication skills, so I waited for the next big crowd and followed someone through the gate. The doors swung and smashed my kneecaps, but I pushed through and kept walking. Remember kids – it’s only okay to do this if you really, truly, honestly paid for a ticket. Don’t tailgate to get free travel.
After a long sleep I spent the rest of the day rehydrating and trying to recover from one of the most eventful nights of my life. Good times!
Once again we started our day off by sleeping and and playing video games. In the evening we went out to Roppongi to get a sample of Tokyo nightlife.
Our first stop was a really cool place off the main streets that served over 200 different types of beer from around the world. Thanks to my experience at the Maple Leaf Bar on the previous day, I had a taste for Moosehead. The bar had it, but it cost me 900 yen. Due to the prices, we only had a few drinks before moving on to our next destination.
There are almost too many options for places to spend your money on alcohol in Roppongi. Since we were on a budget, we decided to go to GasPanic. As we were walking down the street, we were approached by one of the many, many touts working the area. He started off by offering us 3000 yen all you can drink in his bar. We told him no thanks, we were going to GasPanic. The price quickly dropped to 2500 yen with assurances that his bar was far superior to GasPanic. We again declined. At this point he turned to small talk – asking where we were from. We told him Canada. Unsurprisingly, the tout had a cousin who lived in Canada and loved Canadians. Again the price came down. We told him that we would check out his bar on the way back to the station. He told us that we wouldn’t be back, and that we should go to his bar now.
At this point we decided to say no again and just keep walking as we now had a walk light to cross the street. The tout jumped in front of Flounder and grabbed him playfully to keep him from walking away. Flounder, confused, reached down and gave the tout a hug before we walked away. I congratulated the tout on his exceptional effort.
Due to the constant bombardment of touts and my unfamiliarity with the area, we ended up going into GasPanic Club instead of regular GasPanic. Despite being a Saturday night, the place was not very busy at all. The staff assured us it would get much busier later, but we wanted to catch our last train.
I convinced Code Red and Green to talk to two attractive Japanese females that were sitting nearby. I assured them that they could just speak English, because most Japanese females go to GasPanic to meet foreigners. Code Red was getting along fine, but Green called me over to translate after a few minutes.
I walked over and introduced myself to the nice young lady, who I will refer to as Maki. I explained that Green was visiting from Canada and I would try my best to translate for him despite my beginner Japanese. I manged to keep a bit of a conversation going for a few minutes. Maki wanted to know how old Green was, I asked Green how old he wanted to be. We settled on 25. Green asked me to explain to Maki that he was a famous soccer goalkeeper in Canada. I have never known Green to play soccer at all, but did my best to translate. After a few minutes, Maki stopped asking about Green and just started talking to me directly. Code Red gave up talking to his new Japanese friend, leaving me to talk to Maki while the guys drank beer in the mostly empty bar. Needless to say, we didn’t stay very long.
Our night out in Roppongi was mostly a bust, but we did have some delicious donairs on the way home and continued to laugh about Flounder hugging the tout. Also, I am way more successful talking to women in Japan, which does me no favours since I am not single.
I had the day off due to a shift swap to help another teacher, so Lux and I went out to explore Tokyo. We started by going to Ginza, an upscale shopping area of Tokyo. It is home to some of the biggest and most expensive department store chains. Even the subway station looks nicer than other stations. We had very expensive coffee in a great place overlooking one of the major intersections.
After Ginza we moved on to Roppongi. Roppongi is very, VERY different in the daytime. We checked out the new massive Roppongi Hills complex, which features a 54 story building filled with very expensive shopping and restaurants, as well as several corporate offices. When a store only sells about 10 different high end purses and there are no prices displayed, it’s too expensive for English teachers.
After some wandering around we had dinner at TGI Fridays, which was just the same as back home except more expensive. Finally we finished off our day with our first ever trip to Don Quijote, one of the most fun stores in Japan. Don Quijote literally sells almost everything. DonKi Roppongi has 6 floors, all packed floor to ceiling with anything and everything you could ever want to buy. Finding a specific item is difficult to impossible, but wandering around is part of the DonKi shopping adventure experience.
The highlight was a trip to the adult goods section (they do sell everything). We were surprised and by the variety of products available. In addition to the conventional items you would expect, there was one curious product called “Anal Violence”, which didn’t sound like a good time for anyone. While we were looking, a Japanese woman came in and selected a “personal massager” from the shelf. Lux shouted out in English “OH MY GOD! That woman is buying a vibrator!”. Apparently the woman could understand English, as she turned beet red and left the area.
Exploring Tokyo is a lot more fun with another person. We took a lot of pictures and had a great day. Also, we learned a valuable lesson that you should be careful – you never know who in the area can understand your language.
(2014 Update) I was still using a film camera at the time, and managed to confuse a full and empty roll of film, causing me to lose all of the pictures I took that day 😦
(2014 Update 2) I changed the spelling in the article from “Don Kihote” to “Don Quijote”.
Today was a national holiday, so I got to teach a morning shift for a change. It was nice to be done and still have the rest of the day ahead of me. The trainees still don’t own watches.
Having the evening free allowed me to take advantage of a unique opportunity. One of the two Japanese people living in Hello House, let’s call her Kyoko, worked in the fashion industry. Thanks to her connections, she was able to get a bunch of discount tickets to Velfarre’s 10th anniversary celebration.
Velfarre is Tokyo’s biggest dance club located in Roppongi. I am not usually a big fan of dance music, but part of the reason why I moved to Japan was to get new life experiences. It’s not every day that I get invited to this kind of event, so I grabbed a quick afternoon nap and got dressed up for a night out. The Hello House group met up and we all headed out to Roppongi. Our discount tickets cost 4000 yen, which I thought was pretty expensive for a night club. When we arrived I found out that the full price tickets were a whopping 7000 yen. Yikes!
The disco spirit is alive and well at Velfarre. The entrance leads to a huge “chill out” area, but the dance floor is 3 stories underground. To get there we all entered an elevator that featured flashing disco lights and loud techno music. The elevator music only seemed loud until we arrived at the lower level and the doors opened, exposing us to the full power of Velfarre’s sound system.
There were 3 DJs featured during the evening, entertaining people on a MASSIVE dance floor that was completely packed. It was like being on the floor at a large arena concert. At the front was a large stage with the DJ and several large, half naked black men dancing while covered in glitter and angel wings. Off the dance floor there were several bars featuring very expensive drinks. I decided to skip the bar line and walked over to a nearby beer vending machine, only to find that a can of Asahi was selling for 700 yen.
After checking things out, Kyoko led us upstairs to the VIP area. We got to sit at our own tiny table behind a velvet rope, with Tokyo’s important people on all sides. At the other end of the VIP area champagne was being served in real glasses. At this point almost everyone decided to go to the bathroom in groups or go to the bar, leaving me to guard the table. I don’t go to dance clubs very often, but I somehow always end up making a futile attempt to hold on to the table in a busy area by myself. I should have tried to interact with the people around me more, but I was feeling very out of place. Apparently I was sitting next to the king of the Tokyo gay scene for most of my time in the VIP.
Eventually we all met up and made our way back to the dance floor. After several hours of dancing, crowds, sweating, and very expensive drinks, we all left in order to catch the last train home. We stopped outside Roppongi station to get donairs from a food truck before getting on the train. Unfortunately this made us miss our connection, and we ended up having to finish our trip home with a taxi ride.
Although the music wasn’t my thing, I had a fun, although expensive, night out. Also, any night that ends with food truck donairs is a good one.
Quote of the night “Amigo, please pick a language!” – Donair stand guy to the 3 Indian guys who ordered alternately in Japanese, Hindi and English.
This will be a substantial rewrite of my original post, as I left out a lot of detail the first time. (For reasons that will become obvious)
Today was a day off thanks to a shift swap so another teacher could see the Super Bowl. Since Marshall and I enjoyed our last night out in Tokyo, so we decided to plan for a night out in Roppongi. We had a beer or two before leaving Hello House, then took the Odakyu line to Shinjuku and switched to the Oedo subway line to Roppongi.
By day Roppongi is an upscale part of Tokyo, home to foreign embassies and company headquarters. At night Roppongi changes into a busy night life area, with most of the establishments catering to foreigners. There is a good mix of classy upscale pubs, dance bars, meat market hookup bars, and expensive hostess and strip clubs. One of the most remarkable features is the touts. Walking down the street you will encounter a row of large African men who get paid to bring people into their bar. The pitch usually starts with a handshake and “my good friends”, and then you get a hard sell on why this particular bar or restaurant is the best in the neighbourhood. Saying no will usually result in a promise of a special price “just for you”. Some of the touts will give up easily, others will continue talking and negotiating until you agree to go in, or keep walking. If you have a particular destination in mind, just say no thanks and keep walking.
Our first stop was Hobgoblin, a pub style bar. After a few drinks we went to GasPanic, which is bigger and better than the Shibuya location. Thursday night is Gaspanic night, featuring 300 yen beers. There is a sign up on the wall informing everyone that “everybody must be drinking to stay in GasPanic”. On this particular night I took the advice too literally, and proceeded to get very, very drunk.
When you are going out for all night drinking, it is important to treat the evening as a marathon, not a sprint. Pacing yourself is the key to staying upright until morning. Also, if you happen to be stressed out or in a bad mood, going out for an all nighter is probably not a good idea. At the time we went out, I was homesick, stressed about work, trying to get my visa switched, and aware that February 12 would have been a 6 year anniversary with the ex. All of the ingredients were ready in the recipe for disaster.
My memories of GasPanic got a little fuzzy as the evening went on. Marshall and I were hanging out with another group of people and pounding beer. At one point I asked the bartender (who was blond) what night of the week would be good to bring a group of Canadian University students for a good time. He told me in broken English that he didn’t know because he had only been working there for 3 weeks, and that he was from Russia.
Eventually Marshall and I realized that I was in no shape for an all nighter and we decided to call it a night before last train. We walked to the Oedo line subway station and went to the platform. Like a good train passenger in Japan, I lined up at the front of the platform behind the yellow line. The subway station was spinning around me, and at some point I lost my balance, spun around, and fell backwards off the platform onto the train tracks. Through luck or some instinct I managed to fall on my back instead of on my head. I instantly jumped up to my feet and there were several people reaching down to pull me back up on the platform. Marshall was not one of them – he looked on shocked at my sudden fall.
After falling, Marshall and I decided to wait for the train sitting on the benches safely away from the tracks. A few minutes later the train came and we started the 10 minute ride to Shinjuku. Near the end of the ride I got sick in the subway car, causing everyone around to quickly move away. Marshall snapped pictures with his cell phone.
At Shinjuku we stopped in the men’s washroom so I could clean myself up. Assuring Marshall that I was okay to continue, we waited for the Odakyu line express towards Noborito. The train ride from Shinjuku to Noborito is about 20 minutes long. I made it until the second last stop before I started to feel sick again. My drunk brain decided that barfing on the train once was enough for the evening, so without any warning I bolted off the train as the doors were closing. Marshall didn’t have enough time to react so he couldn’t get off the train in time to stay with me.
I believe I got sick in a garbage can on the platform, and a friendly train line employee showed me to a nearby sink to clean up. My brain, in survival mode, managed to send enough Japanese to my mouth so that I could ask if I had missed the last train to Noborito. He assured me that there was another train, and made sure that I got on it. I don’t remember anything from that point until I was in the toilet stall in Hello House. Somehow I manged to get off the train at the correct station, used the ticket gate, and then navigated the zigzagging path back to Hello House.
Marshall found me in the stall and expressed relief that I was okay. I thanked him for trying, and apologized for being a mess. After drinking as much water as I could handle, I went to sleep in my slowly rotating room. As you are reading this, please be aware that I am not proud of this story. Getting drunk and falling on train tracks should not be a badge of honour for anybody. Getting that drunk is NOT cool, it is NOT a good time, and if you feel differently you should probably stay away from alcohol. It still scares me to this day to think of how things could have ended up much worse, and I am thankful that I am here writing the story now.
Usually when someone drinks too much and acts stupid, they make the empty promise “I will never drink again”. My resolution to myself as I drifted off to sleep in my spinning room was “I am taking a break from drinking, and I will never drink that much again”. Since February 12, 2004 I have been drunk many times, but never blackout falling down drunk, and I never will be again.
After an eventful training class where I experienced my first earthquake I was just looking forward to getting back to Kawasaki for a quick beer at Kiosk before heading home. Mississippi Mark and I were on the train together – I was sitting and he was standing holding the train handle. Suddenly, a Japanese girl walks up to him and starts talking to him in English. I could only see the girl from the right side and she looked pretty cute.
The girl introduced herself as Momoko and started asking Mississippi Mark how long he had been in Japan, where he works, and where he has been in Japan so far (the standard questions).
When you are not from Japan, it is difficult to guess the age of the Japanese people you are talking to. Momoko was young looking and fashionably dressed. This meant she could have been anywhere from 15 to 35. Trying to help narrow down the age range, I asked her if she was a student. She answered that she was studying graphic design at a local art school. This meant that she was at least out of high school, which was a relief.
During the conversation, Mark mentioned that he wanted to go to Roppongi sometime. Roppongi is a well known foreigner friendly nightlife area in Tokyo. Momoko says “Don’t go to Roppongi! That’s where this happened”, pointing out the MASSIVE BLACK EYE she had on her left side. Mississippi had seen this the whole time, but it was not visible from my angle. She also pointed out her busted up lip and then told us “Don’t worry – the other girl looks much worse!”.
Well that’s a relief.
She insisted on getting Mark’s email address and told him she would invite him to Roppongi sometime and promised not to fight if they went out together. After she left, Mark told me that he would be bringing backup if he ever went out with Momoko because he was afraid of her. Man, I love this country!