Thursday, August 12, 2010

Interlude: Hair

I've wanted to write about my thoughts on Japanese hairstyles as I see it for a while now, especially in relationship to my own experiences as an mixed race African American woman in the States, but I've had so many things I've wanted to write about that this one, not being directly related to a travel destination, has gotten a bit lost in the shuffle. But hair musings kind of fit in with this section of my Tokyo trip, specifically in regards to the high fashion mall that Andrea and I passed through while waiting for new Steph and Ben.

I'm not sure what happened to the pictures I took of the various hair extensions and dyes that I noticed in one of the non-clothing stores in the mall; it's possible I didn't photograph them because these same products, namely hair extensions of wild colors and textures, are so common here. The desire to write about Japanese hair also relates to a conversations I've had with multiple people who have commented on the amount and variety of dyed hair colors that are abundant here, specifically in regards to the commonness of blond and lightening hair dyes. That and curly perms, which are also very common here.

In short, the type and variety of hair changing products, extensions, etc, really surprised me when I first came here. A part of this is because when I was a child, I really wanted Asian, or as my grandmother said, Oriental hair. Having long, straight, black hair instead of the frizzy (albeit long) mess I had on my head was something I remember actually closing my eyes and wishing for.

I think a part of this particular fixation came from my grandmother's desire to give me multicultural dolls as a kid in order to give me dolls that looked “like me”. Unfortunately, being so light skinned, the darker African American dolls she gave me (which I am grateful for, don't get me wrong) didn't really look anything like me, and she didn't want to give me brown haired, Caucasian dolls (though I have light skin and brown hair) so ultimately the best compromise (unspoken) became the Asian featured dolls. And they had hair that was naturally straight. No hot comb needed, no frizzy braids that rapidly became full of painful knots. I never wanted to be a blond, but boy did I want straighter, smoother hair.

Of course I'm sure the other part of my desire for more Asian hair is related to African American idea of “good hair”: ie: the straighter and longer the better – this is a much talked about thing in African American studies and not worth beating to death here, but I'm mentioning it for three reasons.

  1. Ironically, as much as I hated my hair as growing up (and truthfully had an ambivalent relationship with it until I started getting it braided in Grad School, and then later cut it to shoulder length before leaving the country—two great hair decisions), I definitely have “good hair”. My grandmother was incredibly proud that she was able to take me from being a bald baby that seemed to hold the dubious future of NEVER growing hair to having a granddaughter whose hair went all the way down to her touch her butt. My mother had hair that was equally as long when she was younger, but she cut it, a big regret. (note: I didn't cut my hair until after my grandmother died, that's how strongly I didn't want to disappoint her)
  2. I've had more than one conversation with different people (non African American) who have expressed confusion at why Japanese women often go for lighter hair, even blond hair. Until it was directly pointed out to me, it didn't really trouble me or really enter my notice as being unusual. What surprised me was the desire to have curly, full, ie: not straight hair.
  3. The hair extension and attachment products you find here are exactly the same ones you'll find in Philadelphia for the stores that serve African American women. For example: the fake clip-on bun, the clip on ponytail of varying colors and lengths, wigs, weave in hair, etc. The only thing missing is the hair-grease (much to my dismay). Of course, Caucasians in the States do use these products (minus the hair grease, in general), but not nearly as regularly or commonly as far as I have seen. And the push to have lighter hair is common across races in the U.S.

Of course, everyone wants the hair they don't have. I think that's a universal; ask a woman what kind of hair she likes, and it's probably the opposite of the kind she has. At least until she's gotten old enough to develop a healthy relationship with the locks she's got. But in the African American community, the emphasis on “good hair” stems from historical pressures related to oppression, opportunity, and a push or desire for “whiteness” that has always felt deeper than a mere stylistic decision. In fact, one of the major thoughts that popped into my head upon seeing the array of hair changing items ran along the lines of "the people here must hate their hair as much as my folk at home".

Which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it. Why can't a person just want different hair because they think it's pretty, or different, or for some frivolous reason? Like in John Varley's "Steel Beach" where people just had sex changes because sometimes you want to try something new.

But in the States, hair decisions are more serious. At least from my experience. Choosing to go natural, get dreadlocks, braids or the semi-opposing microbraids, choosing extensions or not, going blond or not and how one chooses to lighten her hair all sends a message. For example, when I wore braids, there was a sense of relief that went with it because people as a rule didn't ask me nearly as often what my race was (or assume I was either Caucasian or Hispanic). Braids looked good on me, but they also made my life easier. They sent a message in a language that I spoke and understood without thinking about it or even consciously reflecting on it. In contrast, when I cut my hair, more people automatically assumed I was Caucasian.

I know hair here is also sending a message, but like the Japanese language, this unwritten language is also unclear to me. (unless we're talking about drinking, directions, work, how I like Japan or humidity) But it's interesting. Like does going blond and curly indicate a desire to be more International? More white? (because there is a definite favoritism of the Nordic Caucasian look here, IMO) A generational urge to separate from older ways? What does it mean for Japanese of Brazilian descent? Chinese or Korean? Or is it just a stylistic choice without so much baggage (an option that seems ridiculously freeing)?

I don't really know. But it's something that has been in my thoughts periodically, so I figured it was worth talking about.

Some awesome hair I've seen in my time here:

Tokyo Day 3: 銭湯 (Sentou)、New Friends, Manga Madness and Robber Karaoke

So after another restful morning at the Manga Kisa, it was time to step back into the bustle of a Tokyo morning. Andrea had two friends coming to Tokyo, so we figured we'd meet up. They had been hiking the old Kiso road that spans from Osaka to Tokyo; in the Edo period this was one of the first national highways in Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu declared this road a national highway in 1602 according to this website: Old Kiso Road.

From what my fiends told me when I was hiking a portion of this road from Tsumago to Magome in June when Kana wonderfully invited me, Ron and Cullen to spend the night at her grandparents' house (I haven't blogged on this but it was a wonderful time and I really ought are on facebook though, just click on the picture below), every year representatives from each town/village had to walk to the capitol, generally using this road, in order to pay their taxes in person. According to Google Maps, the route that best approximates (as far as I can tell) the road in question would take four days and 15 hours to walk and is 533 km long. Of course, this is taking for granted modern roads and the Terminator like ability to walk day and night without collapsing. I'm betting 2-3x as long would still be a speedy estimate.

Photos of Vash's Tsumago and Magome Trip:

While waiting for the new additions to our team to arrive, Andrea and I wandered around the fashion area of Harajuku. Most people wandering through this mall were dressed to the nines, Japanese style. I adore Japanese fashions; they're so different from U.S. Fashions and some clothes have such an anime feel that the costumer in me says “oooh!”

The new additions to our team, Steph and Ben arrived at 10am. As a total aside, my best friend Steph (who is married to Ben Moats) had originally planned to come to visit me here in Japan this summer and we had specifically planned to see Tokyo, but that fell through. So it was rather humorously ironic that our party was joined by another Steph and Ben (though the originals are irreplaceable!)

New Steph had lived in Tokyo for four months during college, so she knew her way around and could find all of the awesome shops and places that we would (probably) never have found otherwise. But before we could wander through the shops and things, we had to get clean. This lead us to the Public Bath, or 銭湯 (sentou). This is sort of like an Onsen light, where you have public showers and then the chance to soak in essentially a giant hot tub. If you have Tattoos, many Onsens will not let you in, but Sentous are public property so they can't refuse anyone. (and as over ½ of our team had tattoos, this was an important consideration) Also, Sentous are very cheap, usually around 500 yen plus the cost of a towel and soap (unless you bring your own).

I had a great time at the Sentou! It was not only relaxing, but I got to have a wonderful conversation with one of the Obaa-sans next to me in the tub. She pointed me kindly in the direction of the hot-jets (very relaxing) and we chatted a bit. I'm not 100% sure of everything we talked about, but it was a good time for all.

After the Sentou, we went back to the awesome Manga shop in Shibuya(where I broke down and bought more manga including Book 2 of Monster (which I'll one day be able to read even though it lacks furigana) and another issue of Blackjack (also lacking furigana...what is it with the medical drama manga not having furigana!) and the first two issues of Prince of Tennis, which are a win for the beginner reader, check out my Goodreads Review of issue 1 here:

Next we decided to grab food and then headed out for Karaoke. We were going to go to one place, but as we were approaching the entrance, we were intercepted by a very energetic (and cute) young man who encouraged us towards his Karaoke establishment which was cheaper and also included Nomihoudai. He freely admitted to stealing us (どろぼ)and as he even let us negotiate an even cheaper price for two hours, it seemed like a win-win. (Besides, the other place was a chain and this was clearly a small go us for supporting the underdog!) It was super fun!

After Karaoke, we went to a 280yen Izakaya (where everything is 280yen, not including the hidden cover charge that many of these places have, usually around's annoying. A drink or so later, we were all dead tired, and as Steph and Ben couldn't check into their hostel until the next day, we all sought out another manga-kisa. This one was less of a win than the usual because it only had the chairs and you couldn't get internet without going through some complicated cell phone process that all of us tried and failed at, but it was comfortable enough and no creepy music (though my immediate neighbors did insist on whispering to each other all night, it still beat the child murder midis or eight straight hours of Eminem---welcome to Nagoya). That said, in Tokyo at least, Moopa Manga-kisa's are the preferred choice. They also don't charge 500 yen for showers (though you do have to buy the use of a towel and shower stuff if you want it).

Another night.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 2: 六本木の朝、渋谷 Scramble and Club Harlem:

Andrea and I were kicked out of our Karaoke booth bright and shiny at 5am, just in time for the Sean of the Dead reprise. I'm not kidding. The same girls and dudes that had been out the night before strutting their stuff in precarious shoes were now doing their best zombie impressions. The women especially were frightening. They managed a half teeter shuffle on their heels, their cell phones held out in front of them with shaking hands. The first girl I saw had me thinking, “wow, she's walking just like a zombie.” Then I looked to my left, and there was another one. And straight ahead, another one. I had an irrational urge to turn and run, but it was no better behind us. I saw one guy who seemed relatively sober dragging his girlfriend (I assume) across the street by the wrist. At first, I had the urge to step in thinking this might be abusive, but then I realized his firm grip was probably the only thing keeping her upright.

Drinking customs are quite different in Japan from the States. That's not to say people don't get vomiting, shuffling drunk in the States. It's just we tend to do it inside. This is in large part because of our laws against public drunkness. A bartender (as we all know) isn't legally allowed to serve a person who is clearly intoxicated. Also, even if the bartender isn't being responsible, your friends will usually cut you off if it's clear that you're putting yourself in danger of alcohol poisoning. Not so here. Though the drinks (excepting Nihonshu/Sake) are generally weak, what they lose in strength they generally make up in quantity. I'm a huge fan of Nomihoudai (all you can drink) but at 31, I have a good idea of my alcohol tolerance and will flag myself if I feel like I'm getting too far gone. You only have to have one drunken blackout to realize that's a very bad idea. (hell, better not to have any) There reaches a point where one more drink just isn't fun anymore.

I'm bringing this up at length because of our next morning event. Andrea and I started walking in a random direction away from Roppongi, but as we turned the corner we found Roppongi wasn't done with us yet. Halfway down the block, near the curb, there was a guy passed out in a pool of his own vomit, one shoe off, his cellphone (pink) about a foot away (half meter I guess, not good with metric) where it had clearly slipped from his limp hand. I stopped to check if he was breathing (he was) and then dithered about for a bit trying to figure out if we should call an ambulance. A passing woman, when asked, just shrugged and said it was normal. I would have left it at that (and should have) but I kept thinking of Kitty Genovese and diffusion of responsibility and figured I'd best call the ambulance even though probably this kid was fine. You never know with alcohol poisoning, and I wouldn't have lived with myself if he'd died and I hadn't notified someone of his condition prior. I was just so grateful he was breathing as I really didn't want to try out my CPR on him, even with the face protector thingy that was in my backpack. (though I would have) So I called 119 and talked first with a dispatch agent in Japanese, trying to explain where I was and then what was going on.

The Philly in me said I'd done my bit, the kid was breathing and I'd called 911 (119 here for an ambulance) so best get moving. Andrea is also from Philly, so she took my back from a good viewing distance acting like a bystander. Then my cell rang again, and I got an English speaker. I explained the situation again and he did not seem overly concerned, but he did say he'd gotten my location from the cell phone. So I said thank you and we left. I still felt a little guilty about not waiting for the ambulance, but the kid was breathing regularly and he was positioned in such a way that if he vomited, he wouldn't choke on it. That said, none of these events inclined me nor Andrea to want to spend another night in Roppongi.

We wandered into the day, eventually making it to a tranquil area that housed a number of foreign embassies and an awesome park. I also managed to buy some cough syrup, which was very good because I'd run out of Tussin and the coughing was getting kind of bad. The video below will give a lovely view of the park:

Then we wandered around Harajuku (which was still closed). It was in these travels that I got the picture of the billboard for SMAP's new CD “We are SMAP.”


This was very exciting for me because I finally knew what SMAP looked like. Not that I couldn't have easily found out this information before, I'd just never bothered looking. But once I saw the billboard, I knew that there had been a sore, open space in my knowledge that had just been waiting to be filled. (note: you'd know SMAP for their hit song: 世界にひとつだけの花 (Sekai Ni Hitotsu no Hana/The Only Flower in the World)

Video Below: Japanese Lyrics with English Translations:

After breakfast and more pointless wandering, we caught some sleep for five hours at a Manga-Kisaten.

Quick aside about the Manga-Kisa, Comic Cafe or Internet Cafe as they are often called. You may remember my in depth analysis of the one in Nagoya that I stayed at overnight my first month here. You know, the one with the creepy music. To reprise: a manga-kisa is nominally a place where people can come, rent a room, surf the internet and read manga at any hour of the day or night. They come with a free drink bar and showers (which you sometimes have to pay to use, and are sometimes free). In fact, they are basically the dirt cheapest way to have a place to sleep you can find while traveling in Japan. The manga kisas in Tokyo (that we stayed at) were blessedly quiet (unlike the one I stayed at in May Nagoya with the child murder midis, or this week on Monday which was featuring the best of Eminem and related artists ALL NIGHT LONG) and comfortable. Also, my reading is getting better, so I was able to start a manga and read a fair amount of it while staying there. (Tokyo ESP, I wasn't able to find it anywhere to buy it though, alas).

Manga Kisas are great if you're trapped out overnight at a club and need a place to crash before going home. They are a bit less great if you are using them as your only sleeping place for days on end, as Andrea and I learned as the week progressed. There is something to be said for having a place to put your stuff that's the same place you're sleeping (as opposed to having the bulk of your stuff in a coin locker in Shibuya Station while you are in a Manga-Kisa in Harajuku missing your toothpaste, hair care products and clothes.) Andrea packed much more sensibly than I did for the week, in that she didn't bring nearly as much shit. I probably used 1/3 of the stuff I bought with me. The rest was just there for physical conditioning and to test my patience. But this is a lesson I've learned well. I'm packing much lighter for Osaka.

After sleeping, we wandered around Harajuku which was pretty sweet. There were a number of cool outside shops and interesting people.

This guy was so awesomely 70's I had to take a picture with him:

It was the shopping in Tokyo that ate much of my money. I picked up some wonderful stuff, including a super awesome watch and ring that's shaped like a cat that goes around my fingers. Also picked up some new clothes on Andrea's recommendation (her taste rocks) and all in all, it was a money spending girltastic day.

After Harajuku, we moved on towards Shibuya and after some searching managed to find the Shibuya scramble. This was very exciting for me! I've wanted to experience this since college, when I saw the last scene of Gundam Wing's Endless Waltz, where Heero Yuy is standing right in the middle of this mass of people crossing the streets with such brilliant order and energy, and now, almost (god help me) 10 years later, here I was. (okay, I can't believe I admitted this to the internet...but there was a time I thought Gundam Wing was brilliant. So there, I said it! There was also a time I thought Space Above and Beyond was brilliant. Then I made the mistake of watching it again in my 30's. I'll never do that with Gundam Wing. Better to keep ones illusions sometimes)

Watch the Scramble: Shibuya Scramble from Above:

Do the Scramble: Shibuya Scramble from Inside:

I also took another later video of this at night, but I was drunk and the recording didn't come out. This will be one of the minor regrets of my life.

So after multiple times of walking the scramble (which Andrea took in stride), we decided it was time for food and partying, so we hit an Izakaya that boasted an All Products 280 yen sign (wahoo) and proceeded to enjoy food and liquor. A man sitting at the table next to us was actually wearing a Philly Cheesesteak Shirt, so we had to get our picture with him. It turns out that he actually knew about Philadelphia and was into Old School R&B, and he was as excited to meet two Philly natives as we were to see him.

After that it was off to Club Harlem, where we danced the night away. I admit, I'm rather in love with the 90's flashbacks on the musical tracks at clubs here. I never in a million years thought I'd ever be dancing to Bobby Brown's “My Prerogative” ever again in life. It flashed me back to me and Dimoli in my bedroom when I was, I guess 10 or 11, listening to that audiotape while she sprayed my room with obscene amounts of Jeanne Natte cologne. (actually, now I can't stand the smell of Jeanne Natte, but the memory still makes me warm and fuzzy. Or as we'd say here: natsukashii!) I actually still knew most of the words to it, much to my surprise. And for the second time in two months, I've actually gotten to dance to DMX's “Ya'll Gonna Make Me Lose my Mind,” something which fills me with the happy. And they even played TLC. As far as Tokyo clubs went, this was certainly the cheapest. Only 2500 yen and that included 1 drink. Of course, clubbing in Nagoya is cheaper, but Tokyo is the NYC of Japan, so you expect it to suck your money away.

Oh and somewhere in this time, we also found a super cheap Manga store that was down a long, dark, scary staircase but well worth it at the end. I actually got caught up on my large edition Gunnm: Last Order graphic novels that I've been collecting for like five years and soon have hope of being able to read quickly, maybe. (Gunnmn is Battle Angel Alita for all you folks in the States). As well as other great manga!

All in all, a great day!

東京 Day 1, Mostly Traveling: 18キップ、電車中、六本木なんて。。。

As I sit here at Kappazushi, enjoying plate after plate of 100 yen sushi and reflecting on my Tokyo adventures last week, it's clear that one entry is not going to to do the trick in regards to capturing the experience. Hence this breakup by day. Besides, dividing the entries adds nice “chapter marks” which I hope will add to the ease of reading. Or at least the ease of writing for me. Who knows?

(total aside: how come some Negitoro ねぎとろ sushi is more negi than others? Note: negi = scallions or onions)

So the first stage of my Tokyo adventure can be roughly described as “getting there with a taste of Roppongi”. Andrea and I (being broke) opted for the 18Kippu (pronounced: Juuhachikippu), which gives you five days (nonconsecutive) in which you can ride any of the non-express trains. This means 急行 and 普通 only, nothing that says super rapid, super rapid limited, or shinkansen. As a result, we basically spent most of Tuesday in transit. Andrea and I met up in Nagoya at the Kanayama station, where we promptly decided to get food and shop. That's where I bought the fabulous black hat with the flower that I'm wearing in most of my pictures. I got it on Andrea's recommendation; Andrea has fabulous fashion sense, unlike me.

We did this languishing in the misconception that my directions for train times and pickups were useful for our 18Kippu. I had been under the impression that as long as you weren't on a Shinkansen, any train was fine. We learned the hard way, through an 45 minute diversion to a train we couldn't ride, that this was not the case. Luckily the man behind the ticket counter was super kind and not only told us that we couldn't use the 18Kippu for the trains that we were trying to catch, but further went above and beyond by looking through his giant book of train information and writing out our entire route, with what stops to go to, how long each train would take, and when they arrived and departed.

Armed with this information and a tiny bit of backtracking, we were off and riding again!

A quick aside about the 18Kippu: traveling with it takes more time, but it is also one of the cheapest ways to see Japan by rail. For 11,500 yen (that's about $115), you get to travel on all local JR line trains (as we said, Futsuu and Kyuukou) for five days, each day equaling one stamp. My 18Kippu paid for itself and then some just for my Tokyo trip, and I still have three more days (good until August 31st) that I can use it. Hence I will be using it to go to Osaka and Mie-ken to visit my friend Susannah who just moved here. The 18Kippu is an EXCELLENT deal. You can buy one at any JR station. Also, if you don't use all of your days, you can sell the remainder at ticket resale stores, where you can also buy partially used 18Kippu for cheap. At least that's what people have told me. I haven't tried it yet, and probably I'm going to use my whole 18Kippu this summer anyway. Anyone can buy a 18Kippu; you don't have to be a student or a foreigner buying it overseas (though there's a great tourist JR railpass too that can only be purchased overseas. I don't know much about it though, because I didn't do this).

The other nice thing about the 18Kippu is that you can get off of the train, wander around and get back on the train without spending more money. So even though you may spend extra hours in transit, this is less onerous than it seems because it also affords you the opportunity to see other interesting places in Japan you may not have explored otherwise. (food is a great motivator, as is the need to stretch one's legs or sit down, depending on how crowded or not the train is or is not.) In short, the 18Kippu gets the Vash seal of approval, which worth about as much as the paper it's printed on, but there goes.

The 18Kippu allowed us many great stops, including in 熱海 (Atami) which is a lovely (probable beach town, considering the last kanji) town with delicious food and lots of cool shops. Though this takes these entries out of order, on our way back, we stopped at a Ramen shop that had some of the best Ramen I've had here in Japan. (and that's saying something because Ramen here is awesome) Though it's a pretty far hike from Toyota, the next time I'm going that way, I fully intend to stop in 熱海 (Atami) for the food if nothing else. 豊橋 (Toyohashi) is also an interesting station, and though we didn't really see the city, it seemed like a bustling place from the activity of the train station.

We arrived in Tokyo at around 8pm. (which meant about 10 hours of travel for me coming from Toyota) I'd been attempting to meet up with two different people in Tokyo, but neither panned out, so instead we figured why not hit Roppongi, which according to the internet would be a useful place to go to find a Manga-Kisaten and other all night clubs and establishments. It's also the foreign district, which seemed like a reasonable place to go for us who were foreigners. Also, it has super easy Kanji: 六本木 (six, book/source, tree).

So in my mode of super cheapness, I decided it would be a good idea to see if it was possible to save the 160 yen for the subway and find out if there was a JR station that could take us to Roppongi so we could use our 18Kippu). As Andrea and I approached the ticket counter, an older gentleman intercepted us and asked us in English where we were going. I told him we were heading for Roppongi, and he told us to take the subway. At that point, I drifted into Japanese to try and explain that I was looking to see if the JR line could take us to Roppongi, in large part because most of the time, even when someone starts a conversation with me in English here, usually if we move into more complicated topics, things get too confusing and it's easier for all concerned to struggle through with my rather awful Japanese (or most common, a mix of the two languages...communication, ya know). This has become automatic for me, so it was hugely surprising when the man, with an expression similar to one he'd wear if I'd shot his dog and was currently wearing the pooch's intestines as a necklace, asked me “WHY are you speaking in Japanese?” (I'm emphasizing the “why” here because that's what he did)

I was really confused and somewhat annoyed. I have wholly appreciated how wonderfully helpful Japanese people are especially when they see a lost foreigner like myself, and I have made great friends from this beautiful, generous tendency of the people around me here (much love, Mie-chan et. al) but I must admit, I really had no idea what to do with that question. In retrospect, I wonder if I offended the guy by implying that his English wasn't good enough. That wasn't at all what I was trying to do. At the time though, I was just ticked off and hiding it (probably poorly, as I'm not good at that sort of thing) and so I responded, in English, “because I learned it?” which was better than my internal monologue which went along the lines of “because I'm living in this country so why wouldn't I make even a base attempt to try to speak the language here and besides who the fuck are you anyway?”

He looked a bit offended and I tried to soften the approach by asking him another question in English, but luckily at that point we were intercepted by a really hot Japanese businessman who also spoke English and was a lot more helpful. (he didn't care what language we spoke and was way cool, hotness aside) Truthfully, I could have scrapped the Roppongi plan and seen if we could all get a drink together but he was clearly in a hurry. Alas.

And the answer to our question was NO.

So we paid the 160 yen for the subway and headed for Roppongi.

Roppongi is a dive.

Okay, it doesn't totally suck. And in keeping with what will probably be a repeating theme in later entries, it does have that wonderfully sleazy feel of a Cyberpunk style place where illicit meetings for-hire Edgerunner teams and illicit corporate representatives meet to discuss business. In fact, Tokyo, namely Shibuya, Akihabara and Roppongi (to an extent) are the only places in Japan (with the exception of Sakae in Nagoya a tiny bit, especially the underground mall and the giant ferris wheel) that make me think of Cyberpunk.

But places like Roppongi are where you get that Bladerunner opening, not the pan-over, which is more Shibuya if Shibuya was encased in a cloud of coal dust, but the part where Harrison Ford is eating noodles in the perpetual drizzle. “They say you Blade Runner...” Now add a bunch of drunk-ass people, women dressed in too-high heels and too-short skirts with the matching toe and fingernail designs, men with one shirt button open, cowboy belts, dress shoes that come to almost points, they travel sometimes in packs and sometimes alone, scanning the merchandise as the working dudes with their shiny heads weild pamphlets trying to sweet-talk this and that person into their club or get the idea. It's bright with blinking signs and neon. It's doors to club that look like the doors to apartments on Chestnut street in Philly, the apartments that live above stores like Easy Pickins (which no longer exists) and Karaoke places that have that veneer of high class that's like stick-on plastic tile in the swirls of marble. And disco lights.

So yeah.

Most people told me again and again that living in Japan would be like living in the future, but for me living in Japan has been like living in a weird amalgam of the 1950's and 1990's with interesting fashion input from the 70's and 80's. There are also musical annotations from modern Hip Hop, including a solid infusion of music from the 'niggas, bitches and hos genre', which would be troubling if it wasn't put in juxtaposition with a clubbing atmosphere where absolutely nobody has even made an attempt to grab my ass or fondle me in any inappropriate way, something that is a never ending shock to me here. (and this seems to be more of a universal trend than that my USA sized ass is unattractive here) In fact the freshest anyone has gotten with me here was one guy who gave me a kiss on the cheek and offered to buy me a drink. (this was in Nagoya, and my ride was leaving or I would have taken him up on it)

But Tokyo has the future feel. And Roppongi brings the gritty. You know somewhere in one of those buildings, maybe on the upper floors, there's a certain potential for darkness, the screwdriver in the dark, the light scratch of meishi passed across a dark table, not sticky, even the sleeze in Japan does not touch the surface, and in these business cards the slightly raised surface of the plastic information strip, like the one that runs through a $20 bill so that the cashier can check if its real. For most of us the information superhighway is a series of tubes, but for some it's lightening. Someone takes a puff of a cigarette, and the girls and boys who are leaning into each other, bouncing to the music, tossing back 700 yen drinks barely strong enough to qualify, they have no idea. But they're needed. They're as vital to the system as the neon, needed for the yen they throw about to impress each other, needed for their desperation, for their manic desire, for sheer ambiance, and we were a part of it. Andrea and I. We skipped over the surface like rocks thrown over a shiny pool, and the taste of it clung to us as we careened into the opposite shore.

So yeah, it's cyberpunk of a sort. Except safer. Because for people like us, who aren't playing the game, Japan is the fifth safest place in the world.

Andrea and I found a great hamburger place in Roppongi. In keeping with my Tokyo experience, a burger, fries and a hot tea came up to about 1200 yen. Not terrible, but a bit steep. We avoided Gaspanic: the internet warned us that it was THE Gaijin Desperation Meat Market, and instead we ended up wandering around until we found a pub, and later a great Karaoke deal, only 2200 yen for all you could drink and sing until morning. Morning being 5am. Which because Japan is not on Daylight Savings means the sun is well up by that time.

We sang a lot and slept a little.

And so ended Day 1.