Settling Into Tokyo

With the famous Hachiko statue at Shibuya Crossing exit.

With the famous Hachiko statue at Shibuya Crossing exit.

Day 15

Apparently Superman is never too busy to hear what the people have to say. There was a protest going on, but I have no idea what it was about.

Apparently Superman is never too busy to hear what the people have to say. There was a protest going on, but I have no idea what it was about.

Because I was out so late the night before, I slept in til about 1pm. I had been hopeful about going to an artists meetup in Shinjuku but as it turns out I got the location wrong and the meetup was actually in Shibuya. I made my way towards Shibuya anyway and then eventually gave up on getting there in a timely manner. But I did finally find the Hachiko statue (read more about the famous pup, Hachiko here). I had seen so many other statues in the area and the Hachiko wall art, but could never seem to find the statue. After getting a photo with Hachiko, I went back into the station and made my way towards Shinjuku. The night before Tetsu invited me to the Golden Tiger for a rockabilly show. So I just sorta walked around until the time Tetsu told me to meet him at Iwamatocho station which has become our midway meeting place. We then made our way over to gig. By the way, this show didn't start at 12am like the last, it was the reasonable hour of 6pm instead. This meant that there would be 4 bands and dj between each set, ending the night around 10, just in time for us to all roll out and hit the last train. I missed the first band, but the second band played a lot of covers like "These Boots Were Made for Walking," "Why don't you love me like you used to do?," etc.. I even danced with one of the attendees. I was able to meet many people who all were friends of Tetsu. It seems the rockabilly subculture is all well connected. I spoke with Jun, who is the event coordinator, and Oshow, the owner of the bar, who just happened to be the bass player/lead vocalist for Asakusa Jinta--the band I saw the billboard for, and happened to live in Sasazuka, where I'm staying. Small world Tokyo, especially for 16 million people. Jun invited me to her next event so I told her I'd probably be able to make it.

Me, Tetsu, Shirrow + Kama

Me, Tetsu, Shirrow + Kama

I understand why we don't have lineups on display here in the US, but it would be nice sometimes to know the name of the band coming on next and when. Then again, people in the US are more likely to walk away from a $5 cover to see one band versus the $20-30 cover for practically all shows in Japan.

I understand why we don't have lineups on display here in the US, but it would be nice sometimes to know the name of the band coming on next and when. Then again, people in the US are more likely to walk away from a $5 cover to see one band versus the $20-30 cover for practically all shows in Japan.

One peculiar thing about being at the show, however, is that rather than speak to me directly, people would talk about me to each other in a conversation mostly like this: "This is Mandy, she's Tetsu's friend. She's from Seattle and plays in a rockabilly band. She plays upright bass." "Oh is that so? Ahh, so cool." All in Japanese of course. So strange to be spoken of but be unable to converse directly due to lack of ability to carry a conversation in Japanese and their shyness at their limited English. The fact is in general, as long as both parties know a tiny amount of each other's language, and added body language, I've found that it hasn't been too hard to communicate. Though it also helps if you have a dictionary app.

Anyways, after the show ended around 10:30, Tetsu, Kama and I grabbed a quick dinner and then headed our separate ways.
 

We had to take this pic fairly quickly under a corridor of cherry blossoms in Shibuya.

We had to take this pic fairly quickly under a corridor of cherry blossoms in Shibuya.


Day 17
I mostly hung out at the house on Monday but made plans to hang out with the Aussies since it was their last day in Tokyo. We met around 6:30pm at the Hachiko gate of Shibuya station. I had thought we could go to a cool lesser version of the Robot Restaurant but it turned out the ad I had seen was just an ad of the Robot Restaurant that Dom had wanted so badly to go to. It was sold out though so we weren't able to make it there. So we kind of did the whole wander around til we see something we like game, which can take forever in Japan because a lot of restaurants look amazing and you're stuck being like "but what if there's something better?" We ended up at an izakaya style restaurant because it had all you can drink for ¥1500 which Sian wanted to make the most of. This is less of a deal for me because don't drink so fast, but you have 2 hours to order as much beverages as you want. I think I drank 4-5 drinks, so a faster pace than my norm. I stuck to umeshu (plum wine) and soda since it didn't seem to affect me much and I enjoy it a lot. The food was good and we share varieties of fried snacks, fried onigiri type food, yakitori, etc.. After hour two hours were up and we were all somewhat buzzed, Sian suggested one more drink before we all head home. There was a bar called Shots they had looked up, but as it turned out, there was a ¥1000 cover. So we wandered into another nearby bar that had no cover, or so we thought. I had just enough money for one drink so I ordered a mojito, and lo and behold! It was actually made with real lime and mint, not just a sugary mix as I had so far encountered. The bartender was friendly and the decor was like an old vintage Hollywood bar, with framed photos of famous actresses and a small tv playing some films. It wasn't til we were about to leave that we found that our bill had about 1500 yen more on it than what we ordered. We came to the realization that there was a cover, albeit less than 1000 each, but it wasn't advertised. In Japan, there are a lot of bars that charge a cover, even though there is no entertainment. I believe this is because a lot of shops don't have tons of business in comparison to what I imagine rent costs in some of the urban settings, so it's how they keep their doors open. At least that's what I'm assuming.

Sian was kind enough to cover it since I used the last of the cash I had on me. We all walked to the station and parted ways. They were off to England where Dom's family is from. I really hope I can meet with them again down the road, especially since my next trip will likely be somewhere in Europe.

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.

Things You'll See in Yoyogi Park

DAY 8: YOYOGI PARK

Just a typical scene of  hanami . Note the man in the right who tried so hard to keep his shoes off the mat. Next time, buddy.

Just a typical scene of hanami. Note the man in the right who tried so hard to keep his shoes off the mat. Next time, buddy.

Well, we never found those businessmen at Ueno the day before, so we decided to go to Yoyogi Park. We never got to go last year, but we knew it was supposed to be a happening place where the rockabilly dance crew and Harajuku girls sport their latest weird fashion trends. I had suspicions this is some outdated news though, and to be honest, neither of those things was seen during our stroll in Yoyogi. I could go into detail about our day, or I could just make you a list of all the things we saw at Yoyogi...

Let's go with a list:

Click  here  to see a small bit of the performing

Click here to see a small bit of the performing

"Ma, let me down."

"Ma, let me down."

Because, of course.

Because, of course.


- Unusual pet animals, like meerkats & owls
- Tons of people wearing Iron Maiden shirts, possibly a fan club??
- Flare bartender practicing in the park
- Annoying drum circles
- Teenagers practicing their dance routines
- Teenagers putting makeup on each other in a visual kei style
- People playing badminton
- Lines to the bathroom that take 30 minutes to get through
- People crying and then washing their hair
- People in very high heels which is not conducive to walking in grassy areas
- People lifting each other up Superman style
- People practicing tai chi
- People passed out from too much drinking at hanami
- Food vendors
- Vintage & Antique market
- Multi-generational Ska band on stage with performer dressed as police officer (they were actually very good and called "Pipes of Piece")
- Performers
- People playing soccer
- People doing photoshoots (she was probably famous because this is Japan)
- A cat sitting on her person's shoulder trying to get down
- Tons of cute dogs
- Wedding couple taking photos at the park
- Lots of passed out babies
- Live sculptor creating art
- Bikes almost running people over constantly
- Many gaijin (there is a difference between foreign and being annoying foreign)
- Bubbles
- Meet up groups
- People playing Frisbee
- Singing of classic song "Sakura"
Cherry Blossoms

Here are the things you will not see:
- Anyone on a picnic mat with shoes on
- People on devices like iPads, Nintendo DS, smartphones