Saturday, 22 January 2011

Tokyo nights - 7, 8, 9 and 10

As my sleep schedule has adjusted I've been going out more in the evening. Four nights in a row I went out to different parts of Tokyo to meet people from Couchsurfing.

On Wednesday I meet Yuki in Korea Town and she gives me a tour of the neighbourhood. There is tonnes of merchandise for the latest Korean pop artists that seem to be pretty big over here, as well as the smells from Korean food.

I soon discover Yuki has similar taste in music as me, as well as being a big football fan. She is going over the the UK in March to catch a Premiership match and of all places, she has chosen to spend a few nights staying in West Bromwich. Now I think it is safe to say that West Brom puts Tokyo to shame when it comes to a plate of faggots and peas, but I'm struggling of thinking what else? I'm certainly experiencing cultural differences here in Japan, but I'd love to hear how Yuki gets on with the Black Country accent.

We take a lift to the top of the Tokyo Government Building where you can see great views over the city. On a clear day you can see Mount Fuji and by night the city is illumiated below us.


We eat Japanese pancakes and then go to a meetup with about thirty couchsurfers from all around the world The bar is a kind of lame cowboy theme bar, but the company is good and I hang out for a while and swap travel stories.

Thursday sees me take the train over to Roppongi. This is known as the district where westerners congregate in Tokyo and contains a lot of bars and developments. I meet J Lee and Sumit from couchsurfing and we go for ramen (of course). Next it is on to Superdeluxe to see a man and his organs.

Morgan is an eccentric old British guy who has been playing at the venue every month for the past seven years. His show consists of freestyle improvisation on keys, organ, percussion and vocals - sampled and looped, distorted and made into what is actually a great show! I managed to get about 15 people from Couchsurfing to come to the show and I think they all enjoyed it!

There is no time to stick around and we hotfoot it across town for an English language comedy night. Sadly the venue is a pretty crappy ex-pat bar with overpriced 'English food'. Even more worryingly, as we get there late, there are only tables free at the front, always a danger for a stand up show.

It is a mix of open mic and more established performers and the quality varies wildly. There are a few Japanese guys performing and their mastery of the English language is also variable, however they more than make up for it by the visual style of their humour and sheer unbridled enthusiasm!

Friday night I organise dinner at one of the most famous ramen shops in Tokyo. It is a small joint in the district of Ikebukuro - which translates as 'pond bag'. It's a mixed area, with lots of discount shops, department stores, cafes and slightly ugly urban sprawl. It is not really on the main tourist trail, but it does have one amazing attraction - the fire station.

Ikebukuro Fire Station is home to an interactive museum about dangerous things. You can practice putting out a fire, learn to escape from a smoke filled room, and the reason I was there, experience a force 7 earthquake!

The instructions were all in Japanese of course, but we got to watch a video of what to do before we moved on to a fake dining room. The drill was simple, as soon as you feel a tremor, rush to turn off the cooker, prop open the door and hide under the table with a cushion above your head. The room shook, A LOT! It was even a little scary, but not quite as scary as the formidable Japanese lady shouting instructions at us and telling us what to do!

After that drama it was onwards for some filling ramen. I've learned that the way to tell a good ramen shop is by the size of the queue outside and Mutekiya had a big queue! We waited for about 45 minutes to be seated but it was totally worth it. The big bowl of ramen was delicious and the bonus was sitting at the counter and watching the staff rush around the cramped restaurant.


Next it was off to a traditional Japanese bar or izakaya. The bar itself was really great, with dirt cheap drinks and many tables of drunk Japanese business guys, but this was a bar with a difference.

I've often wondered what the gaming company Sega would do in response to the latest next gen consoles. Well it seems they have decided to respond to Nintendo literally and come up with... well... the wee!

Four bars in Tokyo are being trialled with the latest in gaming, a computer game in the toilet, the twist being that you control the game with your stream of urine!

The game I played was this one here:

There are three others which measure power and accuracy. In one game you compete against the guy who pissed before you and two characters on screen squirt milk out of their nose at each other (!!!!!). Another and slightly more disturbing game is where the more you hit the target, the more the skirt of a schoolgirl like character on screen is raised. So wrong and so very Japansese.

I'm proud to say that I trounced my male drinking companions and posted the highest score. Sadly ladies cannot take part as they are only in the mens toilet.

Saturday night I had instructions to meet at the police box outside Shibuya Station at 6:45pm. We were going to something involving robots, but that is all I knew.

A note about the police in Tokyo. The reality is that there is very little crime here and it is quite possibly the safest capital city in the world. Therefore the complex address system here means that police spend most of their time giving people directions. In every neighbourhood there is a police box with one or two cops and invariably they will spend most of the day handing out maps and showing people the way to various locations.

When we get to the robot place, it becomes apparent that disappointingly there are no robots there, just a photography exhibition with a fun name. Still it was a good exhibition with five photographers having five photos each, taken on the streets of Tokyo. I liked the enthusiasm of the photographers, some who were exhibiting for the first time and the cafe was a cool veggie spot in an interesting neighbourhood.

Next a few of us go to Shibuya and the Beat Cafe - this is basically a Britpop bar in the middle of Tokyo and I really liked it. It is tiny, seating maybe 25 people and you have to go up a non-descript stairwell to get there. But inside it could be 1996 all over again. Repeats of Later with Jools Holland play on the TV, Britpop music is on the stereo and there is all manner or items around the bar. It was a really interesting crowd mix and I will go back for sure.

On an evening out in Tokyo you tend to go home about midnight and get the last train or have to stay out until the first morning train about 5:30am. There are no night buses and taxis are extortionate. What people do when they miss their last train is to go to a manga cafe. Here you get your own little booth with a comfy chair, internet access, snacks and pick of the comics library. You can relax and sleep whilst you wait for sunrise. Some of them even have showers. I've not had to do this yet, but maybe before I leave I will get to experience it.

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