Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Japan Rocks?

Tokyo, Japan

The first weekend in Tokyo went smashingly.

Friday night, we hooked up with the mysterious Jonny R and his lady friend, Raina (sp?). After dinner and fancy cocktails in Meguro, we met them at the little dog statue next to Shibuya station. Jonny R reminds me a bit of Allan E. His accent is familiar and he has the same smart sense of humor and general friendliness.

It is never easy to think of a place to go out off the top of your head. We hit a local convenience store for some cans of beer to aid the decision-making process and eventually settled down in a casual bar/restaurant (more the former than the latter) called Soma. They were showing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas followed by True Romance on the wall behind our table. I got a few good pictures of Jason chilling with Gary Oldman.

Soma afforded us the opportunity to sample the local spirits. I had a sweet potato sochu (sp?) that colored my cheeks and tickled my fancy, but we switched back to more conventional OC drinks (beer and vodka tonics) after the first round. I like Asain liquor - just not enough to drink it all night. A very boozy karaoke session followed our very boozy drinking session. Jason has a fine video of me belting out She Drives Me Crazy like only I can. The sun was ah-rising when we bid farewell and hit the the train to Meguro. Leo was away biking around an island, so there was no worry about waking up our host.

I spent the better part of Saturday sleeping and being hungover. A can of beer and a lot of water put me back in the mood to go out. We took Jonny R's advice and set out for "The Wizards Convention" - a poorly-named hard rock showcase at the Shinjuku Loft. It rained like hell during the walk between the train station and the venue. Shinjuku really shines in the rain. You get the neon lights from above and their reflection again from below. It is lovely in a Blade Runner kind of way.

Weather was not the only obstacle. We had to run a gauntlet of strip club towts. All these African guys kept sidling up, smiling, being generally pleasant, then pitching a reduced cover, free drinks, or our very own Ukranian girl to take home. I am not sure why they are all African. Maybe most strip club clientele like the accent? Whatever the reason, our nubian friends were not exclusively an annoyance. Once turned down, most were willing to give accurate directions. Without them, we might have wandered around in the rain for much longer than necessary. You always get the best directions from the seediest cats.

The Shinjuku loft is a cool little venue buried 3 floors beneath the streets of Tokyo. The cover was $40 and drinks ran for about $5 - not cheap, but not the kind of expensive I have come to expect from Japan. Total capacity for the room must be 200 and there are two efficient bars, a main stage, and 2 lounge areas. It was crowded, but I could always find room to stretch. There were a number of other honkeys around, but also lots of Japanese hard rock types. It seemed legit. We saw 3 bands. They varied from toe-tappingly good to finger-tappingly bad. All of them were loud. Boredom hit hard 25 minutes into a psychedelic metal freak out art jam, so we split.

We went back out onto the streets and right into annoyance #1 about Tokyo: the trains and buses all stop running around midnight and don't start again 5. Taxis - expensive at all times - add an extra 30% during the 12-5 transport outage. It was going to cost us another $40 to reach Leo's. Bollocks to that. Now I know why you see some many people sleeping in clubs and on the side of the road. It saves a boatload of yen.

We killed two hours in Shinjuku by eating some noodles, walking around a bit, getting further harassed by towts, and finally by playing/watching video games in an arcade. Tekken is mesmerizing when you are tired and your ears are ringing. We were on the first train out and made it home in short order.

You know what else is seriously expensive in Tokyo? Movies. On the back of the praise-conservative Jennie C's professed adoration of the new Batman picture show, we hit a Shebuya cinema Sunday afternoon. Tickets were $18 a pop. Wow. Fortunately, the cost of snacks did not scale along with the ticket price. I am not quite ready to finance popcorn and Coca Cola.

The weekend was capped off by a quiet Sunday night of reading, introspection, email, and blogging. We also watched a bit of the Tour de France with the recently-returned Leo R. There is a lot more going on in those races than I thought. I cheered enthusiastically for Lance because I liked his work in Dodgeball.

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