Man, Tokyo was nuts. In addition to the first weekend (when I lost my voice) Nick, David and I went out every night from Wednesday to Sunday, never returning home before 5am. I can’t remember the last time I did so much non-stop partying. It was just what I’ve been waiting for, and great to see my old friends from back home.
We were a little worried when the weather forecast warned of a week-long typhoon exactly overlapping the guys’ visit, but as it turned out the rain was only a problem for one day – and as it was mostly a bed-ridden hangover day anyways, we didn’t mind too much. Or at least David and I didn’t. Nick wasn’t too pleased when a sudden gust of wind ripped his umbrella to shreds.
By the time the week ended we had visited Lexington Queen (known for attracting models and actors from Europe and America), Vanilla and Velfarre (two of the largest clubs in all of Asia), Pure (a small all-you-can-drink club known for its foreign crowd), and Gaspanic (a total dump that we only decided to pop into because we didn’t feel like paying a huge admission fee on a Wednesday).
In addition to all of the clubs, we made tons of new and interesting friends during our stay. As difficult as it is to sleep in a hostel with twelve people per room (particularly when people come home drunk during all hours of the night) it sure makes it easy to meet people. Some of the more interesting ones included the astonishingly long-winded Simon who for some reason has chosen to live in the hostel, the 400lbs wheezing black man who never seemed to move from the common room couch, Peter the Canadian who ended every single sentence with “‘eyyy?,” and Dominic the workout fanatic from Texas.
All-in-all it was a really great time, despite a few regrets (breaking my cellphone, waking up to realize that I’d somehow managed to lose a $100 bill, and nearly getting into a fight with some Yakuza with missing pinkies…thank you David for being clear-headed enough and tall enough to prevent that potential disaster).
And while we spent many of our daylight hours in bed recovering from the previous night we did manage to get out and see some of the more interesting sights, including THREE surprise festivals.
All of them were very different (and much less traditional) than most of the Kyoto festivals I’ve attended, but I was still glad that David had the opportunity to see one of the more interesting aspects of life in Japan.
We also made a point of eating at as many different places as possible, including a restaurant called “The Lockup.” For those of you planning a visit to Tokyo, this place is an absolute must – it’s right in the heart of Shibuya, and probably the most interesting meal I’ve ever had. The place is themed as a “prison for monsters,” where each table is set up like a jail cell, guys dressed as monsters regularly charging in to freak you out. The entryway looked something like a haunted house at Disneyland with animatronics popping out beyond every corner – and be careful if you order the “Lockup Roulette”…one of those delicious-looking pastries will be stuffed full of wasabi. I got to be the lucky victim.
But come Sunday Nick had to head back to the US for work, so David and I headed out for our first full day of sight-seeing. We started with the familiar freaks at Harajuku,
…Discovering by accident one of the three festivals we’d encounter over the course of the day. While it seemed to be modeled after the Tokushima Awa Odori, it definitely had a much more “Tokyo High-Tech” feel to it – instead of drummers parading through the streets and people dancing behind, huge sound systems and stages with flashing spotlights provided the accompaniment for this festival’s dancers.
Next we decided to take a short trip down to Kamakura, with which I was very pleasantly surprised. I had been there once during a previous visit to Tokyo, but because I’d arrived so late in the day most of the main attractions were already closed.
This time we got to see not only the famous daibutsu (gigantic statue of Buddha) but to actually go inside the statue (which I had no idea you could do).
We also visited a nearby shrine with literally thousands of miniature Buddha statues, a fantastic overlook of the city and ocean, and a small cave containing – you guessed it – more statues of Buddha.
On the way back to the station we chose to take a slightly out-of-the-way path, allowing us to walk along the beach instead of through the souvenir shop-lined tourist streets. Although it wasn’t much cleaner than the beach at Chiba, the atmosphere was so active that it reminded me of a beach party in Rosarito. Every couple hundred yards was a bar or restaurant with sun chairs out on the sand, packed with young partygoers drinking and dancing. We even happened upon a short thirty-minute show of Fire Dancers before heading back to the big city.
One more sleepless night in our busy hostel later it was time to catch an early ten-hour slow train down to Kobe, David meeting up with me by bullet train later that afternoon. Although we did have one full night in Kobe before boarding our ship to Shanghai, by the time we managed to meet up we were both completely exhausted and sick with sore throats…so other than a quick trip to Citibank and the supermarket we spent most of the evening just chatting about our times back at UCSD in the small hostel room. That straight week of all-night drinking really took its toll, especially when I spent the last day sightseeing with less than two hours of sleep.
And thus the Japan leg of my huge summer vacation finally came to an end. First thing in the morning we lugged our backpacks down to the port of Kobe and began a 48 hour sea voyage to Shanghai.
Even though the tickets cost less than $180, we were both pleasantly surprised with the quality of the ship. It was by no means a luxury cruise liner, but it did have a restaurant, karaoke room, game room, ping-pong, laundry, and quite a spacious cabin. Everything onboard (including beer vending machines) very reasonably priced.
That’s not to say that I actually made use of any of the boat’s facilities – after more than a month straight of hardcore traveling I took full advantage of this 48 hour break. By sleeping. The whole time.
And now I’m in China. It’s weird. I’ve spent the last eight months of my life traveling in Japan seeing new and foreign things, but eight months is a long time – and Japan has gradually started to feel less like a foreign country and more like home. China is different. I can no longer understand what people are saying or why they’re doing what they do. Even my last overseas trip to Europe felt easy in comparison, because for the most part people speak enough English to get by. But not here. This time, I’m truly in a 100% foreign country.
This is going to be great.