At last, welcome to Tales of Tokyo! After arriving from my massive twelve-and-a-half hour journey across Japan (it took longer than expected because I got off in a few places to poke my head around and get a bite to eat) I finally arrived at our hostel, right in the heart of Tokyo’s nightlife – Roppongi. This was by far the best location I’ve ever stayed in, particularly because it provided us the ability to walk back from the bars and clubs after the trains shut down at midnight. And a bargain at only $29 a night! But while the location was absolutely fantastic, each room had twelve beds – which made it nearly impossible to get a full night’s sleep, because the chances of all twelve people being on the same schedule is next to nothing.
Within about an hour of my arrival the three of us were already on our way to hit up the Roppongi nightlife. Because we arrived in Tokyo on a Thursday, we resolved not to sleep between midnight and 5am until Sunday night at the earliest. So, after only a short time of roaming around and observing the drunken salarymen coming out of their escort bars, we tapped into our first handle of vodka (thank you, Duty Free!) and agreed on a club called “Gaspanic.” Those of you who’ve been to Roppongi might know of this place, and if so the answer to your next question of “why the in the world would you choose a sleazy joint like that?” is because there’s free admission. Gaspanic makes its money by having the employees regularly hassle the customers to buy more drinks. But as long as you have a nonempty glass in your hand, they’re happy – so we each bought just one or two drinks and held them throughout the night. The club itself was alright, it got pretty packed after around 12:30 (lots of Japanese kids like to come out on last train if they’re planning on staying out until 5:00). As best as I can recall, we stayed in there until about 4:00 and then headed home, falling asleep right around the time it was getting light out.
The next morning we decided to cruise around Ueno park, and although I’d been there quite a few times on my own, this time I was given the added pleasure of sakura! Just another small taste of the things to come in the next week back in Kyoto. Can’t wait…
Next we went to Akihabara, the district of wall-to-wall electronic stores…and Ron and Jason’s first taste of the true craziness of Tokyo. The first thing we saw in this area, even before leaving the train station, was a sight never to be forgotten: a subway train so packed with people that in one door a man had to crowd-surf to fit inside the car, and in the other door a man’s arm and briefcase got caught as it was closing. I have to admit I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to the insanity of Osaka, but this even causes my jaw to drop. I can’t possibly tell you how many times I heard Jason and Ron say “are you kidding?” or “I can’t believe this” or “this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen” or “where are all of these people coming from??” over the last couple of the weeks. And that’s before we even emerged to see the endless nine-story video game arcades, camera stores, and porno shops. That was just in the subway station! It really is pretty insane. And what’s worse is that for Tokyo’s standards, Akihabara really is pretty tame. My guidebook said that on an average day, two million people pass through the gates of Shinjuku’s metro station. Two million!
Anyways, after Akihabara we came back and prepared for our second night out, this time in Shibuya. While Shinjuku is without a doubt Tokyo’s most intense area, Shibuya comes in a very close second. Stepping out of that station and emerging into the world of bright lights, music blasting on the street, three-story television screens, endless Ferarris/Bentleys/SL55 AMGs (Jason, a car fanatic, was literally drooling for a week straight) and crowds of people dressed in every style known to man is such a shock to the system at first it’s almost hard to believe that you’re actually seeing what you’re seeing. We spent a while milling around and people-watching until we came to the entrance to Club Pure, an all-you-can-drink club where one of my best friends Nick used to work.
But even in a city with around twelve million people, somehow, the phrase “it’s a small world” still manages to apply. Shocking, really. Somewhere over the course of the night I ended up talking to a Peruvian girl (Tatia), only to realize that she’s the friend of someone I’d met in Kyoto (Cat) through Dylan only a few weeks earlier! I guess for those of you back in California the concept of running into someone you already know isn’t so strange, but try to imagine just bumping into someone you knew in a city of around twelve million people, especially someone you’d met in another part of the country! Neither of us could believe it.
We all hung out until the bar shut down around 6 am, and then Tatia took off and Jason, Ron, Cat and myself headed to Tsukiji to check out the early-morning fish market. That’s right, we left an all-you-can-drink club at 6 am, still buzzed after 2 consecutive nights of partying and went sight-seeing. Go, team!
And just about on par with the rest of our trip so far, the fish market was insane. I went to it once with Nick last time I was in Tokyo, but as it turns out he and I actually never even found the main area. It’s essentially a warehouse so large that you can scarcely see the far end of it, filled with stalls and buckets and tanks of fish. And these weren’t normal fish, either – I’m talking about tunas almost as long as I am tall. I’m a fairly short guy, but either way that’s a pretty damn big tuna. And to add to the excitement, zooming down all of the aisles were fish buyers driving little go-karts piled up with their recent purchases. If you’re ever in Tokyo, it’s worth waking up at 5:00am to see, no question about it. But at around 10:00 am we “called it a night” (morning?) and headed home, finishing off the day in our nice, comfy, noisy beds.
But wait! It was now SATURDAY night, of all nights we couldn’t wimp out tonight! Sitting in a Wendy’s restaurant, we were lucky enough to happen upon a Japanese kid who spoke perfect English and agreed to walk us to the nearby club that he recommended, Club Vanilla. Not only was this by far the best one that we’d been to, but free entrance before 11:00pm! We made it in just before the mark, hanging out in one of the lounge rooms until the place started to pick up around 12:30 (at which point the entrance would have cost $30). I wouldn’t be surprised if there were well over a thousand people in there. It had two stories, the ground floor containing two lounge rooms (each the size of a full restaurant), one room playing house, and one hip-hop room. The top floor was basically a warehouse playing trance, half with chairs and tables and the other half a dance floor so large it took around 10 minutes to make your way across. Highly recommended.
Needless to say, once the three of us separated we didn’t see each other for the duration of the night. Somewhere around 5:00am I found Jason, we looked around for Ron a bit and when we were satisfied that he’d gone home we headed back ourselves.
There was just one problem with us staying out the entire night: the next day was Sunday, and a beautiful day, so we couldn’t miss seeing all of the cosplayers in Harajuku! For those of you who don’t know, there’s a pretty famous “tradition” in an area of Tokyo called Harajuku (right next to Yoyogi park) where every Sunday people go out and dress up like goths. But keep in mind, this is Japan – where they do everything TO THE EXTRAME – so here, dressing up as a goth means full make-up and everything. I don’t even know if I’m really capable of finding the words to describe this circus, so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking. Suffice to say that yet again, the two of them were at a complete loss for words at the craziness of this land of the rising sun.
From here we hit up Shinjuku, as I mentioned earlier, the biggest and craziest of Tokyo’s districts. Shinjuku is basically Times Square, New York but for miles in every direction. The intensity never dwindles. Not even a little. The only unfortunate thing is that I really wanted to show the guys the Red Light District, but a waiter in a restaurant told us that the police had just recently raided the area and so “business would be a little slow for awhile.” Oh well, I’m sure they’ll get their fill of that in Thailand while I head back home to re-learn the 200 or so Kanji I forgot from lack of review…and sleep.
I personally decided to put an end to this self-destructive evening pattern and stay in to catch up on some sleep while Ron and Jason headed out to hit up the bars yet again – something that they would do every single night in this city. I wanted to make sure I’d have enough energy for Monday’s day trip to Nikko, a famous sight-seeing town about three hours (by futsuu densha) north of Tokyo.
Whoa this is already turning into a pretty hefty entry! Methinks I’ll save the rest for another time.