Friday, July 30, 2010

7月30日 Day 128: Last Day, Last Night...

A fantastic night of clubbing was had by all.

Day... seized. Didn't sleep for 2 days... stayed up all night saying goodbye and reminiscing with friends... then spent tonight clubbing until 6am... got Jonathan's bread breakfast buffet again... spent the entire time making Azalea House superlatives, trying not to cry when I left them all.

It's going to be so weird without them in America...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

7月28日 Day 126: How We Study for Finals

Today, I woke up at 5:30 to get breakfast buffet at Jonathan's with my friends, Fady and Nick. We ate an epic breakfast of all-you-can-eat croissants and salad before our Japanese finals. I think it made me do a lot better.

I mean, who couldn't do well when their friends make little faces in their tomatoes?

After the test, I went out to Office Bar with some other friends... regardless of the fact that I have a literature final that I'm not exactly 100% prepared for. Dutch courage is always the answer when it comes to literature... (jk kids, be sure to study hard!)

Office Bar is in Gaienmae, between Aoyama and Shibuya. It has a kick-ass view and over-priced trendy drinks in an Urban Outfitters-esque atmosphere. The walls are lined with new paintings up for auction every time we go, and there's often a DJ there playing some spiffy background music to the dimly lit room.

I wrote this while I was waiting for my friends... I was waiting for a while.

Standing with a glass of white wine at Office Bar, a lone DJ plays to a new gallery of neon paintings. A small child runs carefree amongst the empty tables and chairs, her parents monitoring cautiously from their table as they peruse the drink menu.

The DJ changes the track, lights a cigarette, and sips her wine. She looks at me, the only other customer in the bar, our eyes meet for a split second, but she breaks the undoubtedly uncomfortable gaze. She blows out the smoke.

I want a cigarette.

She's probably wondering why I'm sitting alone at this bar on a Wednesday night. My last Wednesday in Tokyo. I'll let her wonder.

I'll gaze pensively at the people on the sidewalk. They push past each other as they cross the street. They're just as alone as I am. Briefcases instead of bruises.

Jordan and Joelle should be here soon. Until then, I'll just be another American in Japan, sitting alone at a bar, wondering how in a city of millions, I wound up alone. My last Wednesday in Tokyo.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

7月25日 Day 123: Cat Cafe

After a night full of drama and trauma, my friends and I decided to unwind by going to a cat cafe called Nekorobi in Ikebukuro.

For those of you who are wondering, cat cafe is just like what it sounds like-- a cafe with a bunch of cats inside. You play with the cats, snack on some soda and cookies, play Wii or with the new iPad, and just chillax with the cats. It's very therapeutic, and kinda hilarious. Most of the customers are clearly cat people, cooing and kyaing at all the widdo kitties. After what we had been through last night, a visit to cat cafe was just what the doctor ordered.

And now for some gratuitous feline imagery.

My favorite: Anko and Alex's favorite: Aisha

Doraemon was cute, but not really all that affectionate.

This one's called Kantaroso, he was a total sweetheart.

They had shaved Kuririn to look like a lion. Wonder if that's humane... Wait, it's cute-- humanity becomes irrelevant when it's CUTE!!!! =^+^=

Me feeding Anko.

Then we wrote in the guestbook!! My entry says: "Nya~! I love cats!" My friend Keith wrote "I LOVE DOGS. Love, Keith" The owner of the place said to us, "Dogs? Don't you mean cats? You mean cats, right? Oh wait... ha ha..."

One of those uniquely Japanese experiences... for sure.

I'm surprised something like this doesn't exist in the states. Then I remembered, Americans have no common sense. They would probably kill those cats, or just need to be regulated because they wouldn't understand that cats can't be forced to love them, or that cats don't just indiscriminately play with people the way dogs do.

Dog cafes... those would be popular. But messy.

I like cats :3

Thursday, July 22, 2010

7月24日 Day 122: Mori Tower and Golden Gai

Today, I went to Mori Tower in Roppongi with my family friends. We at kaitenzushi at Roppongi Hills which was DELICIOUS and then went to see the view from the observation deck. Sadly, there was a high risk of lightning storms, so we couldn't step out onto the famous helipad to see the most awesome view of the greater Tokyo area.

Instead, we saw this cool exhibit called "Seeing Nature" featuring all these cool pieces that had to do with seeing the environment in new ways. It's been so long since I've been to a museum, so I really enjoyed myself...

Feathers and fluff disguised as snow.

Paper mache gopher holes.

Since it's my last weekend in town, I decided to go to my favorite place in all of Tokyo, Shimokitazawa, one last time. I walked around, visited all my favorite stores indie/hippie/trendy second-hand stores, and left knowing that I will someday return.

Later that night, my dorm friends and I decided to go to Golden Gai, a cool bar district in Shinjuku. The first bar we went to was a drag queen karaoke bar. Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves watching Japanese drag queens in green wigs drunkly slur their way through "My Way" whilst trying not to disturb the contents of their stuffed bras.

Then we went to a significantly smaller bar called Ace's. It sported a 6 seater counter and a wooden shelf full of brightly colored spirits and mixers. The bartender was a stone-faced Japanese guy in a pageboy hat who didn't know how to make a Manhattan. I got a Beefeeter on the rocks instead.

Around 3:30am, I was talking shop with the bartender for a while, getting a slightly self-satisfied "I'm-so-hip-with-my-Beefeeter" kind of buzz when I decided we should start thinking of our next destination. The other two people seated at the bar, a white girl with her Japanese boyfried, overheard this comment and immediately asked us where we wanted to go and if they could come with.

We didn't know, we wanted to see where the night was going to take us, we insisted. The girl was persistent, she kept asking, probing, interrogating (in English, but she spoke to her boyfriend in Japanese). Her boyfriend sat next to her uncomfortably as she kept at it. Finally, I said we were on a tight budget because we were students and didn't want to go anywhere expensive. She insisted on paying for our drinks at Ace's so we could accompany her to her friend's bar afterwards. She tried to pay with credit because she didn't have cash, but since it was a small bar, they only took cash. Her boyfriend paid for us all. I think the total tab was about ¥6500.

Frugal and stupid, we accepted the free drinks and proceeded to follow this crazy girl to her "friend's" bar. She started walking towards Kabuki-cho, the red light/yakuza district and we hesitantly and cautiously followed behind. While she babbled on about how she had graduated from UCLA, how she was the lead singer of some hardcore band, and how many host clubs she had been to in the past year, I tried to practice some Japanese with her boyfriend.

In the 10 minute walk from Golden Gai to Kabuki-cho, I found out that this guy was a 35-year-old film assistant for some anime studio and that this girl had picked him up at the Nerima train station that very day. It was their first date. I grew increasingly worried as we drew closer and closer to the heart of the red-light district. My friends knew where we were going and kept saying, "We should just run, let's just run for it right now... this is so weird, she's so crazy... Where are we even going?"

Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst, we watched the girl ask a Nigerian guy for directions to "Hiro's place." The Nigerian led us to an underground entrance, the girl ran straight in with him, her boyfriend that she had just met didn't follow. Neither did we.

"I'm going home," he said.

"Why?" I asked nervously.

"Well," he said scratching the back of his head, "I've got work in the morning and don't really want to stay out that late."

"...Are we in some kind of dangerous place right now?" I quietly queried.

He looked in the direction of the underground entrance, "Well, I'm sure if she's taking you in there that it's probably safe..." he trailed off.

"...But?" I said.

"Other places around here aren't."

After explaining this conversation, my friend Alex said "Let's get the FUCK out of here!" So we ran out of Kabuki-cho, hid in a Matsuya, and then decided to walk from Shinjuku to Shibuya to kill time and catch the first train home at 5.

Definitely one of my more memorable nights here. Great way to spend a Sunday morning!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

7月21日Day 118: Yakiniku, Gyoza, and Finals

Today, my friends and I went to Ginza for our last yakiniku tabehoudai trip.

I probably ate my weight in meat at this restaurant. It was so cheap, only ¥1,200 for all you can eat for an hour. It's also the only restaurant in the whole of Tokyo with Diet Coke. I suspect this cheap price (and presence of aspartame-sweetened beverages) can be attributed to the fact that owner and clientele of this place are both Chinese. I don't think this statement is racist at all-- Chinese people have a very sensible idea of how to get people to buy things-- MAKE THEM CHEAP (and made by 5-year-olds in a sweatshop). But in all seriousness, NO ONE was speaking Japanese in that restaurant. If they were, it was clearly their second language, a mere bridge that all the foreigners hesitantly crossed to get waiters to change their table grills.

We ate fast, we ate a lot, then we went to a toy store.

I went home with a belly full of meat and (for some reason) complete motivation to study for my impending doom err... finals.

Unfortunately, upon my arrival to the lounge, where most of my studying goes down, I heard the mouth watering sound of the gyoza van:


The entire time I've lived in Heiwadai, I've been trying to hunt down this goddamn van. I heard it once, wasn't hungry and never heard it again. I thought the ramen van was satisfactory as far as four-wheeled oily Japanese snacks go, but then my friends started getting the gyoza while I wasn't around...

I heard tales of its delciousness and grew jealous and spiteful. Why hadn't I found the van? How did the driver know to come by Azalea while I wasn't there? Was he secretly watching my every move, hounding the train station waiting for me to leave Azalea House so he could tempt all the other kiddies with his deep fried dumplings!?

Today, I heard the old man's voice cry out from the van again... The proverbial ice cream man of Heiwadai. That voice... that scraggly old Japanese voice... advertising the gyoza, taunting me with it's greasy goodness knowing that I had just essentially consumed a Chinese cow in Ginza a mere hour before... another wasted opportunity, another wasted day. Another day without that goddamn gyoza.

"Not today," I said, "NOT TODAY."

I shamelessly stormed out of the lounge, wallet in hand, and got some yasai gyoza. 12 pieces for ¥500, not bad.

The van promised it in done in 3 minutes (without using water... wtf?), but it was closer to 5. The longest 5 minutes of my gyoza-consuming life. I thanked him kindly and skipped merrily on my way.

I brought the greasy morsels up to the lounge and ate 9 of them, while my friends Fady and Harriet consumed 3 between them. We were all already full, but that didn't stop the gyoza from excreting its juicy deep-fried goodness into all of our eager mouths.

It was almost a religious out of body experience.

... considering the amount of beef we had recently devoured, this gyoza-inspired euphoria might have also been indication of some sort of delirium brought on by mad cow...

But hey, the guy included individually-packaged soy sauce and ponzu. That's not the mad cow talking, THAT's craftsmanship.

OH! And that's not even the extent of my morbidly obese day!

My good friend Oski sent me a care package from the good ol' U S of A complete with Mac & Cheese, coconut-covered marshmallows, blue raspberry Twizzlers, M&M's (peanut AND regular), Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Twix, Pop Tarts, Twilight-themed candy hearts(...?), and an awesome mix CD! PLUS: menus and pamphlets of all his favorite places in New York that I have to visit the next time I go.

...AND WHAT HAVE THE REST OF YOU SENT ME, EH? It's not too late! 10 days left! Haha, only kidding...

Not about the 10 days though.

Omg, I'm not ready to go home.

~☆ : THANKS OSKI : ☆~

Sunday, July 18, 2010

7月18日Day 115: Summer Sale Season

Hollllllly crap. Just got back from summer sales in Harajuku-- only one word can describe it: CLUSTERFUCK.

In Japan, everything has a season. Right now, it's summer sales. Everything, literally EVERYTHING is on sale... and not at a whimpy price either. Everything is 30-70% off, it's like black Friday-- ON CRACK.

This is in LaForet, they needed to put up a net barrier to prevent theft/general mayhem.

Shop girls and guys were literally yelling themselves hoarse trying to get people to buy things.


It was a fucking jungle in there... and in other stores like Forever 21, H&M, and Zara. Basically all the places I frequent. ;_; I had to get out, so I went to Yoyogi Koen with the hopes of finishing my last required reading, Murakami Haruki's A Wild Sheep's Chase, and tanning in the sun.

I inadvertently stumbled upon the Japanese rockabilly population dancing at the entrance.

After photographing and watching them do the twist for a while, I then inadvertently stumbled upon my friend Nick and his friends from home playing football, err-- 'scuse me soccer, in the park.

We chatted for a while, and then walked to Shibuya for a good hour of ping pong followed by dinner at Pepper Lunch.

All in all, not a bad day. Just shows you never know where you'll end up when you're wandering aimlessly around Tokyo on a Sunday.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

7月17日Day 114: FujiQ Highland

I can never go to an amusement park in America ever again.

Today, I went to FujiQ Highland-- a theme park right next to Mt. Fuji that boasts the world's most hardxcore roller coasters like Fujiyama, that has the highest vertical drop in the world: 90 f*ckin' meters!!

We left Heiwadai at about 7 in the morning to take the bus to FujiQ from Shinjuku at 8:20. It took us 3 hours to get there. There was SO MUCH TRAFFIC. As someone who exclusively rides the train, I had completely forgotten that traffic even existed and sat there in agony as we inched out of Tokyo and into the mountains. Once we got there though, we wasted no time and went on every scary ride that makes the park so famous.

First, we went on Dodonpa-- a ride that shoots you 180km in 1.8 seconds. (Please note that the shoddy video doesn't do the ride any justice.) I've never felt anything that exhilarating in my entire life. I felt my eyeballs shaking, we were going so fast. I also didn't realize there was a huge vertical drop after being shot out from the starting point and screamed my pants off for that. TOTALLY worth the 2 hour wait. Holy balls.

Here's a picture of the Dodonpa drop.

Here's a better picture that I didn't take.

My friend Harriet and I on Fujiyama with some random Japanese girls.

Fujiyama at sunset.

Other memorable rides included Fujiyama, your standard fast paced, huge vertically dropping loop-less roller coaster, and Eejanaika-- the world's scariest mofuggin' ride... ever.

Eejanaika is without a doubt the craziest roller coaster ever imagined. You ride the entire time backwards in seats that spin in circles as you go down the steepest drops and loops that can only rival the American stock market (see what I did there? Haaaa)

The closest thing I can harken it to in the states is "X" at Six Flags. But the difference between all the rides at Six Flags and the rides at FujiQ is the fact that they last for at least a minute if not two. Rides in the US are a 2 hour wait for 30 seconds of, "Well, I guess that was cool," whereas every ride at FujiQ has you screaming for your mommy on the verge of pissing your pants wondering when it will ever be over/if you ever want it to end. I seriously thought I was going to die on some of these rides because I could feel myself hanging from the harness. Like this ride. I don't even know what it's called but I wasn't aware that anything could reach this sort of height... safely.

All life-affirming rides aside, I was really glad that the clouds parted long enough for me to see Mt. Fuji. I actually saw it while riding backwards on Eejanaika before the first drop. I remember thinking, "Wow, I'm so glad I get to see Mt. Fuji before I die."

Nothing will ever compare to the sheer beauty and terror of this day.

Friday, July 16, 2010

7月16日Day 113: Shin-Okubo and Yasukuni Jinja

Omg, only 2 more weeks here.

Today I went to Shin-Okubo, the Koreatown of Tokyo, with my family friends. Literally... every shop was Korean boy-band oriented. Every corner was covered in shops upon shops of both real and fake boy-band merchandise ranging from coffee cups, pencils, frames, posters, umbrellas, DVDs, shirts, underwear... you name it.

I felt bad that I had no idea who any of these people were, but it was interesting to see that they had such a huge Japanese following considering Koreans hate Japan and vice versa. Although I suppose getting middle-aged Japanese women to buy all their andro K-pop merchandise is a nice way of saying "F-you!" and taking all their money... way to go, Korea!

Which brings me to what I did next...

I went to Minato Matsuri at Yasukuni Jinja. For those of you who don't know what Yasukuni Jinja is, you're lucky I just did a report on it and went on a mandatory field trip. Yasukuni Jinja is a temple that houses the souls of all those who died in service of the emperor. This includes waaaaaay back to the 17th century up until WWII. It's a super controversial place because Class A War Criminals (those directly responsible for starting WWII) are enshrined here alongside the war dead.

Yasukuni also boasts a museum with all the war artifacts and fun little history about what the Japanese think happened during WWII. The exhibit (which I went to a few weeks ago) fails to mention the atrocities the Japanese committed in both Korea and China-- referring to the Rape of Nanking as "The Nanking Incident," and neglecting to mention the use of Koreans as comfort women for the Japanese army. *Fun little note: the descriptions of what happened during WWII never exceeded more than 2 paragraphs.

Btw, if I hadn't gone to this exhibit with someone who spoke Japanese, I wouldn't have known that the Japanese translations and the English translations are verrrrrry different when it comes to the WWII section.

Probably the most unbelievable aspect of Yasukuni Jinja is that government officials (i.e.: prime ministers) pay homage to the place; sending flowers, droppin' off some money, clapping twice and ringin' the bell-- the whole shebang. These visits rightfully piss off China and Korea because it makes it seem as though Japan condones the depiction of history and the enshrining of Class A War Criminals... and they never say sorry!! X_X

So you're probably thinking, "Kate, if you knew that this is what this place represented, why the hell did you go to their matsuri? You're just as bad as the prime ministers!" Let me just say-- you're right. I feel awful and I'm a horrible person for buying food and essentially supporting that matsuri and vicariously supporting the Japanese interpretation of what happened during WWII... but I wanted to go to an actual Japanese matsuri and see just how nationalistic Japan could be... boy. They're nationalistic alright.

If you didn't know the history behind the place, the matsuri would have been 10 times more enjoyable. It had all the flavors of obon season back home in LA: lots of fried Japanese food, games, inflatable prizes, haunted houses, taiko, odori-- the works. I had a pretty good time, I was sorta drunk-- so I joined in the bon dancing ^^. But the 209672087603+ lanterns with the names of the war dead around were a constant reminder of exactly what the place was supporting so at the end of the day, I felt kinda guilty.

It was a genuinely Japanese experience though...

...and another thing to add on my list of "Why You're Going to Hell."