Posts Tagged touts

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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May 29, 2004 – A night out in Roppongi

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.

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February 12, 2004 – The night I fell on the train tracks

Train safety sign found in a JR station

Train safety sign found in a JR station

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.

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