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!