Train Hopping

Day 12

In the morning I met our new roommates, a couple from Australia, Dom & Sian (pronounced shee-ahn). They were having trouble because they were only able to book the room for two nights. Luckily Sian's mother had a friend in Kugayama who had a room available. They didn't know where that was, but it just so happened to be right next to Kichijoji, where Ian and I had planned on visiting that day anyway. So we offered to accompany them to their destination and see if they wanted to hang out. After they dropped off some of their belongings, we headed to Kichijoji. I had wanted to go to Kichijoji because I wanted to check out Inokashira Park, and a street food restaurant called Satou that is famous for its menshikatsu croquettes. Spoiler alert: the secret ingredient is horse. I know some of you might be grossed out by that, but I can attest to its deliciousness. Dom is vegetarian, however, so she and Sian headed to a vegetarian restaurant while Ian and I waited in line for about 20 minutes for our food.

Vengeful spirit Benzaiten curses you and your partner's love. Illustration by Zayra.

Vengeful spirit Benzaiten curses you and your partner's love. Illustration by Zayra.

Once we all reconvened, we took a stroll through Inokashira Park. I had wanted to go to Inokashira Park since last year's visit to Japan because apparently the river is cursed by a Benzaiten, a spirit who dooms any couple who rides the paddle boats. I really wanted to ride them anyway to test Ian and I's relationship, but my foot was still pretty hurt. During our walk, we passed the Studio Ghibli museum which to my dismay, tickets were sold out for my entire trip. :( So we passed by longingly before stopping for some Amezake (sweet sake). Joe-San, back in Osaka, said I ought to try it some time, but to be honest,  I can't say I'm a fan of it and neither was Dom.

It's okay, Totoro. I know you're trapped behind those bars, but I, too, feel terribly trapped out here.

It's okay, Totoro. I know you're trapped behind those bars, but I, too, feel terribly trapped out here.

Just typical cute crap you'll see in street displays in Harajuku's Takeshita Dori (street). And the izakaya owner's collection of photos from over the years.

Just typical cute crap you'll see in street displays in Harajuku's Takeshita Dori (street). And the izakaya owner's collection of photos from over the years.

Next stop was Harajuku--since I have been there before I wasn't all that excited about strolling Takeshita Street, the street famous for "Harajuku Girls" as Gwen Stefani calls them. Though I did encounter an interesting experience when I strolled into the punk rock shop. The owner was very excited in my interest in her clothes and started dressing me in all sorts of different jackets like a doll. While it was cool to have her undivided attention, and to find out that many of the clothes in the shop were actually her own unique designs, it was also a little overwhelming. 😯

Japan was the first leg of Dom & Sian's 2 year traveling journey, so she was on the hunt for a nice (cheap) pair of Doc Martins. Eventually we gave up on that search and found ourselves a nice little izakaya (basically a Japanese pub) to eat at. I drank some housemade bourbon-infused umeshu, and then we all shared in many different types of yakitori and otsumami (snacks). When we had spent about two hours of time at the izakaya, we headed to Shibuya to check out Alcatraz E.R., a restaurant/bar themed around being a prisoner in Alcatraz. The waitresses dress like E.R. nurses and the beverages come in containers such as pee cups, urine bags, syringes, beakers, etc... commonly seen in hospitals. The beverage I chose looked like a vodka type drink with a red and blue syringe--basically it looked like a safe bet. However, when the drink arrived, the 'nurse' insisted I open up so she could give me an oral injection of the blue liquid which turned out to be straight vodka directly down my throat. The rest of the beverage was fine, but I couldn't really shake off the vodka shock. Dom chose a beverage called Russian Roulette. We didn't realize the Russian Roulette part of it is the part where you don't know which one has the most and least alcohol and that she was supposed to share the shots. Well, she drank them all and we really don't know how many shots that was equivalent to, which wouldn't be a big deal, but we had a couple more bars to stop by.

Not a good representation of the album version of the song, but worth a watch for the visuals.

Not a good representation of the album version of the song, but worth a watch for the visuals.

Alcatraz E.R. was going to be closing up, so we headed to Shinjuku to show Golden Gai to Dom & Sian. Since Dom is a fan of horror, we suggested our beloved Death Match in Hell. Go, the Wayne's World cap-wearing owner, remembered Ian & I from last year. After two drinks, I wanted to go try karaoke at the bar near the entrance to Golden Gai. To my delight, I was able to select a song by Gackt, my first introduction to Visual Kei J-Rock genre. I chose the song "Lu:Na" as it has been one of my very favorite songs since I was about 15 years old. I don't recall exactly how I had gotten into J-Rock, other than it was probably related to researching anime theme songs online. In any case, I landed my first J-Rock & J-Pop CDs when my father, step-mom and I went to San Francisco or Boston (I know, vastly different places, but I honestly can't recall which it was anymore). I happened to be in an import shop and asked my dad to buy me Moon. I didn't know the songs, but I liked the dark, gothic imagery. And that is where I discovered one of my all-time favorite songs.

Watch a snippet of me singing "Lu:Na"

Watch a snippet of me singing "Lu:Na"

Anyways, I've heard the song easily at least a couple hundred times, so I was ready to shine at karaoke. The bar was filled with mostly foreigners, so the couple Japanese men who were there were stoked when they heard me singing Gackt. One girl nearly screwed me up by interrupting my song during the breakdown and asked where I was from. She was so astounded when I told her I don't speak Japanese fluently and am just an American girl who happens to like J-Rock. She then insisted on telling all her friends over and over again that I was an American and "can you believe it?!". Anyways, after my moment of glory was over, Ian, Don, Sian & I were ready to call it a night since none of the other songs I would want to sing were available. One thing I should note is that every single karaoke song had an accompanying music video on the screen. Not the video for the song, but videos recorded specifically for karaoke versions with non-famous actors and dancers. They were interesting to watch.

After so many drinks, we were all in agreement about our hunger, so Dom & Sian stopped at the McDonalds, while I busted out the menschi odango (fried meat-filled dough balls) I had bought at Satou earlier that day, but Ian... Ian tried McDonald's for the first time in his entire life. Yes, 28 years McDonald's free had come to an end. Ian had heard McDonald's was better in Japan, but it was all the disappointment he had always expected. Lesson learned: unless you actually like McDonald's, it probably doesn't taste any better in any other country.