In a country as densely packed as Japan, it’s incredibly easy to completely miss out on the best it has to offer. That’s one of the reasons I love riding my bike so much – you never know when you’ll stumble on an absolutely awesome bathhouse, a delicious family-owned restaurant, or an exciting all-night club tucked away in an alley or under a train station. Literally nine out of ten cool spots that I frequent on a regular basis are hidden away in some obscure corner; very different from the US where it’s all about tons of land and prominent locations. I know that travelers often head home saying something like “I think I got a pretty good taste of Japanese culture these last few weeks”…but I gotta tell ya, you truly haven’t even scratched the surface unless you stayed with a local 😉
And while my personal expertise obviously revolves around Kyoto, I feel like I’m starting to get a really good sense for Tokyo as well; convenient places to stay, interesting places to eat, reasonable places to shop, etc. This is partly thanks to my five or six previous visits, but even moreso to the various tidbits I picked up during January’s brief one-week stay.
Among said tidbits is the existence of a little place called Bagus.
Bagus is, simply put, an Internet Cafe. But more specifically put, it’s the most luxurious and astonishing chain of Internet Cafes conceivable. Your average Bagus location’s got shelves with thousands and thousands of magazines, comics, newspapers, novels, DVDs, video games, and virtually anything else a nerd could hope for to fill up his or her freetime. Customers get their own private cubicles, each with an Internet PC, LCD TV, Playstation 2, and enormous reclining leather chair. Of course, if a recliner isn’t to your liking you can always opt for a room with a padded floor and pillows, or with a large two-person couch. Or just head over to one of the free-use “movie theater rooms” with 40″ plasma TVs and linear actuators under the couch cushions. Or take a quick shower. Or fill up on free ice cream, soda, and coffee.
Now, if you pay the regular hourly fee Bagus is only a “pretty good” deal, but at night they have special plans that come out to something like $14 for 8 hours. I can’t see any reason to choose a hotel over a place with all-you-can-drink matcha and padded floors with unlimited entertainment for $14. Except that you can’t leave your luggage there throughout the following day.
Not surprisingly, these Bagus cafes are quite popular “hotel substitutes” among many young Tokyoites – and some older ones as well. They’re conveniently located in various party districts throughout the city, offering a perfect place to rest for those who don’t feel like waiting around for the first train at 5am.
This was my cheap solution to my cash shortage on the night I returned from Shimoda. After a brief (and highly coincidental) meeting with JingJing and a couple of his friends in Shibuya, I retired to my Entertainment Pod for some much needed sleep. But was mysteriously distracted by the multitude of gadgets and games I found myself surrounded by. Maybe Bagus wasn’t such a good idea after all?
Actually, the main reason I had trouble sleeping was because I didn’t yet know about the option for cushioned rooms. But you live you learn, I guess.
So when my eyes popped opened around 5:30am on Thursday morning I decided to call it quits and use the opportunity to visit the elusive Tsukiji Fish Market. Tsukiji is one of the biggest and rowdiest fish markets in the world, as long as you get there before 6:00 am. I’ve already seen it twice. But the first time I was so overwhelmed by the concept of Japan in general that I barely knew what was going on, and the second time I was so intoxicated from the night before that I barely knew what was going on. This time I had a clear head, a nice(r) camera, and plenty of extra batteries.
But there were no fish in sight.
Of course, on the very day I chose to get myself out of bed and train halfway across the city at the ungodly hour of 5:30am the market was closed for the holidays. And I still had a good four hours until anything would open. So I plopped down on the first park bench I could find, bundled tight in several layers of sweatshirts and jackets, and caught 4 hours of homeless-style shuteye.
When I awoke I immediately pulled out my Lonely Planet guide for some ideas of new things to see or do in Tokyo. But the more I read, the more I kept telling myself that this would be my last visit for awhile. Tokyo’s an amazing city, but it really seemed like I’d already seen and done everything of interest…so next time I might as well use my precious vacation days to see someplace new.
At least that’s what I was thinking at the time. But then I got back in touch with Eli. And by the time I had to head back to Kyoto for work I’d already started counting the minutes until my next trip to the craziest f*ing city on the planet.
Now, I must apologize. I know this is a really crap thing to do after so much buildup, but after careful consideration I decided that in the interest of preserving my good name I shall remain uncharacteristically silent about the remainder of my visit. Instead, I leave you by simply saying “Ibiza, you ain’t got nothin’ on Tokyo.”**