Life In The Rain

Japan

by john on Jan.03, 2008, under Life, Travel


I’ve been trying to leave this for when I’ve more time on my hands, but that’s just not been happening, so here goes. Barry and myself arrived into Narita airport at different times. So as I was waiting I took the opportunity to try using the Atm machines and rent a phone. There was no major surprise at the ATM, an English menu did exist, but the way the machine worked mechanically was a tad odd, the money arriving in a sort of fragile (loads of machinery exposed) compartment inside the machine which you must reach in to get. There’s no way it would survive an Irish night out. This pattern repeated through out Japan, cool, efficient machinery everywhere (vending machines are ubiquitous and a constant life saver) but lacking that extra robustness that would be necessary for the rest of the world. Another thing about the vending machines is the promotions on them, check out Tommy Lee in the photos trying to look tough but looking more like he’s crying.

We went into Tokyo, arriving at central station and immediately got confused. While it was no problem getting around later in the holiday when we knew how the system worked, it was bloody hard initially. There are basically two train systems for Tokyo travel, the subway and an over ground metro. They both mingle together at times or sometimes have separate stations. Their ticket machines look alike, as do the tickets, but the tickets don’t work in either system. You will often have to look up a geographical map to figure out where two stations on either system overlap, then revert back to their stylised maps to figure out what line colour to take. English isn’t on every sign (and certainly not on the maps at the pay machines, because there isn’t enough room), so it’s often worth learning a few kanji symbols to help things out, but there is plenty of English information once you are on a train. Best advice I can give, if you end up lost in any of the big stations is to leave and come back in again following the signs again. You are probably lost because you’ve arrived at the station and your connecting train is in another wing/gate of the same station.

So 3 trains later we arrived at the hostel, fairly tired and I must admit I was concerned at how much effort the check-in was going to be. Meh, nothing to it, woman at reception couldn’t be less bothered, showed us to our rooms and left us alone. The hostel was a inn-style guest house and as such we got a floor to sleep on and being Tokyo, a fairly small room. I don’t think either of us cared, even if our last place in Hong Kong might have set us up for more.

Ok, the above was written around October, and I’m now finishing off this post on the 3rd of Jan, and I’m surprised by the details I’d forgotten already. Apologies, but here goes for the rest of the Japan post, which may be chronologically a bit incorrect… 

Its a pity we didn’t spend another night at the hostel, we might have explored the facilities and amenities better (dvd room, hot-spring/tub thing) and better we might have risked a trip into town as planned in Hong Kong before we arrived. But we were very tired and hungry. I know people look down on hostels but there is more value than just a cheap bed. For one, the person running them is totally familiar with your issues. You can count upon many many more naive and needy previous backpackers to have asked the full gamut of easy to awkward questions concerning the local area. Being human hostel owners want to make their lives easier but not come across as too rude. This is best done by having a few sheets of information, most important of which being a walking map of the local area marking out food, bookshops and bars. The better owners around the world offer these immediately and push you towards any local events or nights out that night or the next day. Like I said previously, I was a tad concerned with the reception I might have gotten in Japan. Everyone says the Japanese are SO different. But the hostel owners turned out to be very accessible and understanding.

We got our hands on the map and went looking for food. At this point I have to talk about the streets/roads. I tried to capture it in a few pictures and Barry took loads of pictures HERE. Did you ever go to lego land? I haven’t, but I saw images of it tv when younger. It’s a bit like that. Everything is compact, neat, clean, almost like a theme park. The houses are small, compact but a tad organic – like something out of slum but a really clean slum made of good materials, if that makes sense. Powerlines and phone lines are all above the ground so there’s always a network of cables above your head, similar to tram system. The roads around this hostel were so narrow as to skip footpaths, but still there would be thick white lines pointing out a two way street and maybe even a cycle lane.. that used up a third a width of the road. A seven11 (yep, Japan too) could be found in what to us would look like the backstreet of an Irish town. Then if you look closely, you’d see there was enough business going on in the one street to match most main streets in Ireland. And always on every street you’d be within 25 metres of a brightly lit vending machine, projecting a blanket of light from its front face onto the street from behind an alcove. Just at the end of the street where the hostel was you could find a train track, similar to the dart. This ran across the main street, had two tracks, big gates and surrounding platforms, yet still didn’t seem to feel bulky and out of place. It’s about the same size, with walls, as any of the tram stations in dublin, but runs (city) trains instead. It seems ridiculous that they can pull this stuff off when you consider the big hulking dart system. To finish off the image we should point out the ubiquitous signage, lit or not, scattered around like forgotten lanterns after a festival. All in all, every street felt so busy and miniature it felt a shame to just walk through it in a minute.

Food wise we got lucky and found a good (awfully clean) bento shop selling very visible rice and battered somethings. Even in there one could find a vending machine. Think about this, a vending machine is used rather than a simple fridge behind the counter. If technology can be used as a solution, then it is. Robustness is never an issue. Then, chopsticks and food in hand we set off to find a quiet patch to eat the food without alarming the locals. This took a bit of time, every where you look, no matter how quiet, there would always be one or two people still shuffling about or cycling, and it was hard to find a kerb which didn’t look like someone’s front door. Good simple food, good start. Then we went back to the room to wash our hands and try the pub 20 yards down the street on the corner. It was small, but themed relatively western, the owner maybe pushing for a foreign crowd from the hostel. Both being tired we didn’t try to kick start an “Irish” night with the locals, it was enough for now to sample the pub and split after two. Next day we would go Kyoto.

At this point I’m not going to go into much more detail describing things. As it turned out the visuals set out above repeated and repeated, even in the most rural of backwaters that we could find. Best to go visit Japan yourself for it’s endless wonderments and curiosities. The big interest of the trip to Kyoto was the train ride on a bullet train. Being hopelessly unaware of the sort of service one might find at the station we had stocked up on some food, bananas, drinks etc before setting out. We needn’t have bothered. The trip was fairly swift and even on the train platform you could buy sandwiches (Japanese style, no crust, two triangles, one piece of ham, some chives and heavy on the vinegar mayo), sushi and bento lunch boxes. In Kyoto the weather was fairly hot, being further south and we had a torturous time finding the hostel. This is probably the worst bit about travelling and Japanese instructions on websites and over the phone are mindlessly out of tune with the sort of instructions people need when they don’t know a city or location. Using taxi’s is a bit hit and miss as well. Telling people to use certain Japanese named exits and to look for a seven11 as a guide is as good as an Irish farmer telling a German couple to turn left then right at the big stone 10 minutes “down the road” after Paddy’s pub.

That evening we set out for Nijo-Jo Shogun Castle, a warlord’s domain (about one mile from the hostel). Fairly nice, very Japanese, quite a fortress. Inside it’s made up of wooden floor boards, plenty of those sliding paper walls  and some hidden alcoves in which bodyguards of the important people would wait/hide all day (maybe Doom3 wasn’t so unrealistic after all). There were plenty of sizeable square rooms in which fake models of historical people would kneel a lot. Outside the gardens were large and neat (I would hazard 6 acres?), and the temperature now comfortable if still as humid. Having just made it there by 4pm we didn’t get much time and had to return to modern Kyoto. So we skipped across the road and dodged into a large block of backstreets to move diagonally towards the Emperor’s palace. Actually, it’s hard to get away from the theme of these backstreets in Japan, they really are where you see the coolest shit. I think it is here we got some pictures of Tommy Lee and of some blown up pink elephant above a shop. A woman stared at us the same way someone in Muff (,Co. Donegal, Ireland – yep it’s a real place), stares at tourists taking pictures of the road sign, i.e. slightly bemused and wondering what all the fuss is about. We looked at some dark clouds slowly pushing in and wondered if perhaps again we weren’t experiencing some strange phenomenon of Japanese culture that caused the skies to darken so quickly. No-one around us seemed concerned, no umbrellas anywhere. But no, the weather is universal and we were indeed looking at the front end of a tropical cyclonic burst of rain. About one minute before the rain started pedestrians become conspicuously absent and we tried desperately to backtrack to a bar/restaurant that we could hide out remembered earlier, but it was closed. As the rain kicked in, we worked out way towards a proper main street at the edge of the block of backstreets and sidled under doorways and outcrops until we arrived upon a small open bookshop into which we found some shelter.

Neither of us could read Japanese, hiranga, romanji, katana, kanji or whatever the different scripts are all called. We browsed idly after nodding to the old man when we entered, me at least remembering not to read the books back to front. For some reason I was a tad surprised to see plenty of Japanese porn comics, maybe 10 percent of all the books. For some reason I’d imagined the old man wouldn’t stock such things. At least they were universal reading. After two minutes the old man tottered around the corner and then went to Barry and gave him an umbrella for free. It was fairly clear the rain was the only reason we were there and I felt a little guilty at being so obviously needy and taking. So I bought a comic.. not the porn ones, because I was imagining some image I had to uphold. I needn’t have bothered. By the time I left Japan I got the feeling that most Japanese people couldn’t give two shits whether you buy porn or not and wouldn’t judge you. This sort of contradicts what I said in an earlier post and shows how far away I am from understanding them. After getting the umbrella we ambled up the street a few more blocks to wait out the rain, but it only got worse, really heavy. Eventually we found a place to get some beer and sat in it for half an hour. It reminded me of a small family restaurant in Ica, Peru where a t.v. played some soap or news and some locals or family sat there half an eye on the tv the other on us.. but in a friendly way. Eventually rain subsiding and sun dipping behind the hills we arrived near a large park which held the palace. We were well beyond the closing time but it suited us to just to walk in the half dark – half mist and see the outside of the building.

Then we walked back towards the main part of town were all the pubs and restaurants were listed to be, along a canal, stopping at some cat friendly shrine along the way. It was all very narrow, like the backstreets from before, but very commercial and brightly lit with many many bars. Btw, this is a common place first evening thing to do. You leave the hostel on a little walk to one thing and then up practically traversing the entire city visiting many things. Once you are out you may as well stay out as long as you can, but you don’t plan it that way. It being Saturday night we made plans to go back to the hostel, get food and come back and visit all the enticing bars, especially the ones with pictures of heaving throngs of girls bouncing to r&b. I think it took us another hour to actually get back to the hostel and food turned out to be a seven 11, but one nice find was a beer vending machine. These are not as common as the coffee and soft drink machines, so we overstocked on beer. Getting back to the “club” district we set about popping into different bars for a drink or two. The idea was to find the centre of all the action. Each bar was quirky, often themed (football/sport bar, r&b bar) but everything was practically empty. It must have been 10/11′ish at the time. So we moved further down the canal and eventually arrived at where everything seemed to be happening, but still no bar held entertainment, just the streets. I need to point out something that seemed strange to us and it was all the 15-25 year old Japanese lads were dressing up. They all looked like a very pretty version of 1980’s heavy metal. Think Bon Jovi and Axel Rose, but more Japanese. Also, often instead of demin and leathers everyone was wearing an identikit suit of something David Bowie might have been wearing at the time, black trousers, a well fitted light suit jacket with rolled up sleeves, a tight white shirt or vest and a thin black tie. Add to this some dyed blond/orange brown spikey mullets and you’d say.. hmm that’s an image. But to see groups of 5 or 6 at a time walk by was weird. Was there some sort of rock competition going on in the streets of Kyoto that day? It turns out this was just the fashion of the day. It comes up again in this post.

By the time we got to the bottom of the block of streets we were fairly lollied, yet still hadn’t found the heart of things. So we walked across the canal to try find it, but things just got seedy and the youth were walking the other way. Finally we came back to what looked like a night club and sat in the bottom bar. I kept an eye on people queuing to get into the nightclub and realised they were just trying to get into an already closing down nightclub, most people leaving. I’m afraid we never did figure it out where people were or what was going on. If our experiences in Tokyo later on are anything to go by, you really need to be very specific and know exactly were you want to go to find the locals out enjoying themselves.

The next day we did the tourist thing and visited the temples up on the hill. Nice, but enough temples to last for a few days. I don’t really recall much important here and really must move this post on if I am to finish it tonight. The highlight of the evening was to dodge into a Pachinko parlour and upset the poor attendants by trying to play one of the damned things while Barry took a photo. Somehow I won most my money back in the form of a tiny plastic chip after thinking it gone (some guy helped me get it from the machine). The big thing with the pachinko machines is the mesmerising fall of the balls combined with the sense of statistical control over the way they fall and a 3d story unfolding on the machine’s screen as you progress. Not for me. I don’t read. Feeling a little worse for wear and a bit sick of rice we decided to go an Irish pub for some food. Can’t remember the name now, but it was a very good imitation of an Irish pub and the food excellent (stew, sorted me out perfectly). I’d go so far as to name it the best Irish pub I visited all year, they even did trad sessions once a week and the guinness was passable for something outside of Europe.

Beppu was next up and we spent a large chunk of the day getting there and did the usual thing of having trouble finding the hostel. No actually this was a hotel, but with the traditional lying down thing again. Eh, why Beppu? It’s clearly well off the beaten track with the Japanese tourist attraction of being an Onsen (hot spring bath) mecca. It’s not exactly made for foreigners and the south island is considered a bit more backward. I’m glad we went, it’s places like this that can give you perspective on things. Looking out from the train we could see that even in what was considered to be the country side there was still enough density of housing for people like us from Ireland to suggest we never ever left the suburbs of Tokyo. There are two uses of land in Japan, rice fields or housing. At Beppu we set out in taxi to find the sex museum mentioned in the guide book. Not as easy one might imagine, although ridiculously after one hour of walking around a steep hillside covered in natural hotsprings it turned out to be exactly where the taxi had left us off. Again no experience is a wasted experience because along the way we saw and felt how natural the springs really were. Often you would walk over a drain grate in the ground and get a blast of hot and humid air. To the side of the narrow roads you could also see large drains steaming with hot water in and around houses were people were living. And then, showing that man is not in control, we chanced upon two or three houses totally decimated by what must have been an unexpected arrival of a new thermal vent underground. The thermals had charred and dampened the wooden two story structure leaving an unholy looking ruin. Beside all this there were pipes and boilers and fittings like something a mad scientist would build trying to channel or utilise the hot water and energy to elsewhere and perhaps other uses. These copper pipes would be covered in white-ish green scum and scale forming in layers; minerals fresh from superheated streams of water deep in the earth. It looked really cool! I recognised the scene as something straight out of Final Fantasy VII and in the process felt slightly less respect for the fantastical abilities of the Japanese imagination, since they were clearly taking something very familiar to themselves. Not their fault of course that I over-estimated them. The sex museum was closed, so much for guide book accuracy.. often a bane.

It was dark by this time and we took a bus into town. Somehow finding a restaurant proved a problem and we settled for bar food. After ordering what seemed to be a sizeable set of words of the menu turned out to be just a few cocktail sticks of meat I reordered pointing to a selection of food on the menu, getting the same for Barry. They clearly thought I wanted two of everything on the menu, crazy foreigners, and proceeded to scare my wallet senseless. Seriously, it was like 70 euros between us. I was stuffed and not particularly happy, since it was all things like pigs nose and chicken heart and 100% meat. Oh well, these are the hazards of bad communication and traveling.

The next day we visited Aso volcanic mountain via train. This is probably the most remote bit of Japan we would find on our journey, I think the locals don’t live there because of volcano risk. It would be about as populated as say Moville to Greencastle, so not exactly the Bolivian salt flats or amazon. Still it was nice to get some good views from the train. When there we waited at the train station for a bus up the mountain and finally, finally I found some hope for the Japanese when the bus pulled up at the Bochu station a full 2 minutes late. Bad news, the crater was closed for the day for the pathetic reason that poisonous gasses might kill us and all we were allowed to do was look at the side of the mountain. Being foreign and crazy we walked around the back of the arrival building and sneaked past the 3 foot high barriers, fully prepared to have some Japanese lady rush over in a police hat to tell us what we were doing was wrong and for us to not understand. But then the path up looked a bit further than we might have hoped, clearly visible to all below and we didn’t want anyone to overreact and send out a helicopter after us. So we mooched around some ruins of an older tourist shop. The Japanese really do modern day ruins unlike anyone else. The place looks entirely untouched since the day someone decided, right that’s it, we’re moving into the new centre. Seriously, they left the front door lying open and all. Completely upholstered furniture lying in tatters, roof caving in, shopping trolley in the centre. We’d discovered their horrible weakness, the Japanese never ever spend money cleaning up a spent venture. That was fine when it was the awkward difficulty of the beppu thermals, but this was totally a man-made problem in a rather nice natural area on the side of a mountain where all the (Japanese) tourists would arrive. I’m not saying Ireland is better, we have ruins and wrecks all around (Buncrana road out of Derry), but I think areas of natural beauty do get special attention. And I loved it, perfect images for a horror game.

Instead of looking at the side of the mountain and ruined shops we went down to the visitor centre, 2 minutes by bus. At this was a little gem of a place. Basically it was the best stuff around circa 1985, live cctv cams on the crater, videos of older volcano burps, dioramas of cold water becoming hot via the wonder of thermal heating and best of all a big screen movie theatre made up of multiple screens side by side at an angle supplemented with radio headsets to get an english translation. A wonderfully crazy narration speaking of the joy and respect one feels when looking at the calm and power that Aso-san wills us to feel is matched in inappropriateness of a thorn-birds/dallas style soundtrack. Then out of the blue a tacky sequence showing the view from the front of the bus going down the mountain, speeded up, is played to a funky soundtrack that one might expect out from Jamiroquoi along with a “screeeeeeeccchhh” sound clip played on each corner. Nuts. I think the Japanese are on to us foreigners finding them funny and have learned to cover up much of the weird stuff in more recent times; on the surface at least. That’s why this ageing relic of a show was such a find. I think I’ve a video of a few moments somewhere. We didn’t make it to the sex museum that evening either. We booked in for another night in Beppu, realising it had been nice to not have to move every other day.

The next day we made sure to get to the sex museum, but not before trying to find the beach, Beppu being on the coast. We couldn’t find it, or at least a clean one, although we did find a few drunks and a family living under some cement stairs. Don’t ask, I don’t understand. After that we went up to look at some thermals in parks. Yeah, not bad, overall probably a better day than the hot springs in Rotorua but still not a patch on the awesome wildness of geysers in Bolivia (where one foot wrong might have you opening up a new thermal in the ground). Finally the museum. A bunch of cock literally. Mostly statues of phallic ornaments from throughout history, some animal penises (blue whale, ostrich etc). But not exclusively so (that honour going to a museum in Iceland, which sports many human penises on displays as well). In addition we had plenty of group ornaments, pictures from feudal Japan, an educational movie show which simply bemused us both (a horny old man with an eager tongue and the women that lust for him) and educated us none and finally the cherry on the cake, a mechanical lifesize model display of Snow White and the seven dwarfs getting it on. Seriously yes, and no, I don’t know how they get away with it. Beppu delivers. Somewhere before the end of the day I got my hair cut while we did our first load of washing. At this point I might need to apologise to Barry because out of habit I was constantly booking hostels and assuming to do washing backpacker style, eating on the run etc when I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded doing things a tad easier at more cost. But ah well, it’s an education should he ever need to manage himself as a backpacker in future and I don’t think he cared too much. The best thing about getting my hair cut, apart from having the entire staff of 7 girls smiling and laughing as I exchanged 3 or 4 sets of bows on the way out, trying to go at least as low as they did, was that they washed it AFTER cutting my hair. Genius. Why isn’t this done in the rest of the world??

Next up was Osaka, but on the way we would stop at Hiroshima. It was a very very hot day when we got there. I’m not going to do a crass comment on how hot it might have been when the bomb dropped. Except I just did. At the memorial park it’s possible to see the remains of one of the buildings from the bomb, practically under it when it exploded. The reason that some parts still stand are that those pieces were best aligned against the forces. All around was flattened. On the way to the museum, sweating in the heat we were both approached by several children with forms to fill in asking us where we were from, our favourite colours etc. An attempt to teach Japanese children not to treat foreigners as scary useless weirdos, but as scary weirdos to be used. After the fifth child we figured out what direction they were all coming from and hid in the trees until they all passed. Getting closer the museum revealed train loads of 8 year olds carrying white sheets and cameras ready to work as a group to let us know who was boss. We found a side entrance. Inside the museum was a very sad collection of videos, diagrams, burnt clothing, many stories of split families, radiation poisoning, slow painful deaths, explanations of nuclear bombs, melted pedal tricycles, tiles melted to glass, stopped watches and the dark shadow outlines of humans on stone standing in direct view of the bomb. Tired and mentally exhuasted we made for Osaka by night. There we found the most friendly bunch of Japanese people we would meet and real beds.

On leaving the metro system we were lost as usual, on the last leg looking for the hotel. So it’s the seven 11 on the right hand side of the junction.. but I see two? A jolly local chap, around 50 years old with excellent English approached us. I knew we needed help and so let him look at the address. It was in English, that, he couldn’t understand, so he got me to try pronounce it. Needless to say my thick Donegal/Derry accent mangled it and he spent ten minutes leading us in the wrong direction. Ooops. He made a phone call to the hotel, with the help of another local in a shop and before long had us there. I’m ashamed to say my instincts got the better of me at this point, a year of avoiding the scam merchant had me trying to profusely thank him for his help but not invite him into the hotel at the same time. I’m not sure if he or Barry noticed, but I physically arranged our positions so that he didn’t think we were going to suddenly bring him in for drinks. Seems he was the real deal nice person and I’m glad to have met him. I’ve done the same for several backpackers wandering lost around Trinity late in the evening this year may self – maybe you get an eye for lost backpackers when you’ve been one. Maybe he was a legendary one himself. I wouldn’t be surprised, Osaka has more of those types of people.

A quick trip was had into town via taxi, where ever the guide book said the centre was. We got some italian, was alright, then walked down to the canal/river area and it immediately felt like something out of fiction, I’m thinking Metropolis. Complete neon madness with huge anime billboards glowing down at you and reflecting back out of the water. There was even a sort of elliptical ferris wheel that was lit up like something from disneyland as a part of a very very tall and strange shop. Being there was just a bit cool. Also, the Bon Jovi Boy bands were back in force. I can’t remember if we got up to much after that, think we found an English bar somewhere.

The next day we went to Nara, via Kyoto, to do some more temples. This was definitely an impressive area, the main temple being an absolutely hulking building containing a massive Buddha. Walking to surrounding buildings revealed some very nice walks, sideways, plenty of tourist shops, free roaming small-deers and the like. We did bore ourselves silly by going to the big museum found nearby, but that stuff just didn’t click for me, bar some freakish, almost childish drawings of dead ghosts. Towards sunset we got near a pretty cool monastery when it was almost empty, all wooden red beams and flags. Then we went back to Osaka and had a pretty good night out. Back along the canal we found some more Bon Jovials and Barry being the more impish type decided to get a full on picture of them. I kept my head down and walked ahead, trying not to draw attention, but one of them spotted what he was doing, Barry trying to pretend he was taking pictures of the background behind him. “Naaoooouuuu, naaaoouu, naaoouuu”. No, no, no. I looked back and saw them turning their back and hiding their faces under the coats. Another one to the side was being held back by a friend from running over to Barry to clock him one. Barry trundled over to me busting his hole laughing, we scampered on down the river guffawing like scary foreign weirdos. Picture is HERE. Check out the rest, they accompany this section. After this we found the centre of things, unlike Kyoto and settled into a foreigners bar, then entered a nightclub, somehow without id, which is apparently a big no-no, but some distraction worked out for us when he was asking. The fee in was big, but we didn’t care, we’d finally found somewhere with people. I went to the bar to try buy a round of drinks, which turned out to be free. Barry was telling me later he couldn’t understand why he was getting weird looks when he offered to buy a round for some locals, not knowing about the free bar. Anyway, the place was busy and lively. Turned out some american hip-hop band was launching a record, that night, vip section, slugging Christal champagne, bunch of fancy cars out back and all that. I got very drunk around about then and memory fades into embarrassing thoughts. You can see from Barry’s photos that he turned out to be the coolest person in the nightclub before long and made many friends and saw the sun come up. Osaka is a much more, western spot, in that people are more relaxed and have a better time. You might even find girls out in the nightclubs. I checked later at a hostel and was told most bars and nightclubs are majority male because nice girls don’t like to hang out in such places. “So where would you go?”. Supposedly honest answer I’m told is you either look for “loose” girls in foreigner dives or live in Japan and get to know people through everyday social networks.

Somewhere in the middle of that next day we set out for our last hotel change to Tokyo very hung over. I have fond memories of arriving at this hotel, although it was again a bit of trouble finding it, I don’t think they were used to us strange people and they were awfully nice. But more than the that I was fond of their free noodle offerings and hotel clearly laid out for the business man. We needed somewhere to chill and recover and it did the trick, internet, free tea, ironing board and all. That evening we recovered and went into the tourist carnival part of town, Roppongi. Not impressed, full of touts as bad as Bangkok, or actually worse, their English was a first language. One guy really latched on, I kept civil, for a change, and talked through the entire prying conversation as to where we where going, what we were doing etc answering with concrete answers and the odd reversal by asking some simple advice when there were gaps in what we would do. Satisfied that nothing he would offer would be taken and we knew his agenda we finished with polite goodbyes. Hmm, never had a touting conversation go like that. His interest by the way, and all the touts around there, is to get you into a topless bar where the drinks/cover charge is very expensive and there is plenty of muscle to back it up. Expect to loose 80 dollars on a most drink or two. Most of the other touts could be easily ignored since they simply resorted to calls of “hot girls, mate?”. After food and a few beers we went to a nightclub called Yellow. The taxi driver wasn’t entirely sure where that was, but took us there anyway. We definitely wouldn’t have found it ourselves. Getting out at a side street with little or no advertising neon, we walked up to a guy standing outside a store house and checked. Yep we were there. Inside was “flash”, low lighting in a room painted white, some glass features with the bar in the middle. To the side was a chill out area. Down stairs contained a very dark bar, and an even darker dance hall. Practically no foreigners, all local. This is one of those spots were the real locals go, albeit the dancing type. A few hours there, some of it getting into the swing of some very experimental electronica (they are miles ahead! and people actually like it), the highlight for me being a salvo sample from the Ghost In The Shell soundtrack that got the locals cheering in appreciation.

The next day was the last, and one thing we had to do was go to Yoyogi Park and check out the show, especially since it was Sunday and all the Cosplay people come out and dress up as their favourite tv/game characters. This park is truly a national treasure for the people of the city in the same way that the Golden Gate park is for San Francisco. A place to jam drums, go for a run, picnic or just plain hang and be fashionable. There are also many bands that play their latest music to try get the fickle Tokyo youth to catch onto it. I refer you again to Barry’s wonderful photographic eye here where you can find some interesting creatures. My almost personal favourite was the guy doing the Bono swaggering dance to no-one in particular, he narrowly pipped the guy dancing in his underwear. By my favourite, and everyone’s I suppose has to be the 40 year old Teddy Boys dancing in the park. I have a video, it’s the only way to describe it properly. Apparently you do not dare jump in the middle and act the idiot, they take this very seriously and would clock you one.

After we went to the Tokyo Tower, against the advice of, well everyone. The problem wasn’t the views, they were rather nice, it was the queues. Being stubborn we did four sets of queues. Along the way we met some back-people (chiropractors), three of them, in Tokyo showing loads of back-people there how to best mend backs. Apparently all that matters, one guy told me, is that the nerve is moved off the bone and it was their job to let the Japanese know they shouldn’t be bothering with anything else (like massaging etc). They may be right, they may be wrong but I wouldn’t trust any of them with my back, sorry. A quick trip was made to get some grub. I was particularly up for some Thai but spectacularly forgot that Thai food would be expensive outside of the country of origin, especially if you mess up the order and ask for a large and small, when a small could almost feed two. Still it was really really good. To finish off we went to the Park Hyatt hotel to try get into the “Lost in Translation” bar. Having made our way through the labyrinth of elevators to the top they tried to fend us off with a “sorry sir awfully busy”, but I suggested we would wait as long as it took to clear. Five minutes I was in the elevator and about to go down when Barry popped around the corner and said they’d found a seat, pretty much at spot where all the acting took place. Sweet. We were now groupies for a memory of a film! We got chatting with another guy and drinking some very expensive drinks and finished up an hour or two later with some pics of us in place. For some reason that felt to me to be a very very good way to end the holiday along with Barry.

Honestly, I’m not sure that much better could be done in the time frame given. As this post and the last should attest, an awful lot of stuff happened and there was plenty to process. Maybe thats why I started posting in the first place. I would not hesitate to city/country hop with friends again given the chance. I’m not sure I have time here or the energy to talk about the next week, wherein I basically moved into a nice hostel and got to know several people fairly well, including some very nice twin girls who still e-mail regularly, and to check out a good bit more of Tokyo, including Akihibira (geek stores, where I bought robots-toys for work people back home), a museum or two and some Sumo wrestling. It was the old backpacker routine again, and it fit like a glove. Then I came home for the second time and set about moving into college, upsetting life once again.


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