Finally I’ve made it to Japan. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan because most things Japanese are so damn cool. Japan to me is like a wonderland of all things kooky and queer, but yet fascinating and wonderful all the same. The slight downside to the trip however, is that it was a family trip. Now there’s nothing wrong with family trips except that you basically have to revolve the planning and itinerary around the oldest common denominator. I.e… Erica’s folks.
Planning the itinerary for a family vacation is always tricky, because your options of where to go and what to do are far more limited. So basically this was for a most a simple sightseeing tour as opposed to one geared towards either relaxation or adventure. With the exception of the 2 days of skiing in Rusutsu anyway.
Also, in the spirit of family unity and appreciation (i.e unspoken parental demands), we weren’t able to really run about exploring on our own until they were retired for the night. So that kinda detracted a little bit from the experience. I mean… it’s probably kinda weird to drag the in-laws into a Cosplay Cafe or the Hello Kitty Love Hotel right? Whats that? You say its not? You sick bastard….
So anyway, our itinerary basically went something like this. Singapore -> Tokyo -> Noboribetsu -> Hakodate -> Rusutsu -> Sapporo -> Singapore. It was a pain in the ass planning this trip for Erica what with the domestic travel block out period in Japan and all the flights being completely booked, but it worked out for the best because we managed to skip the entire peak holiday period there (i.e annoying school kids on hols). The downside, I arrived back home at 2:30am on the day I had to start classes again, so was exhausted.
So okay, kicking off the trip. Late night flight that places us at our Tokyo Hotel somewhere around late morning. Result? Me being damn tired. So I retire for a nap whilst the in-laws basically insisted the other two go out with them even though they were as tired and sleepy as I was. They basically called us pussys for being so tired. Well… easy for them to talk, they were all comfy like in Business Class whilst the 3 of us were contorted in various positions of torture in cattle class!
But I enjoyed my nap, then headed out to meet everyone and enjoy my first taste of Japan. So basically, too many pics, don’t know how to sort it all. I’ve just decided to break it all down into cities or areas. So here we have the my first post. Tokyo- Shinjuku and Kabukicho.
Shinjuku was selected because it’s largely very central to everything. Shinjuku station is a main transit hub and so it would be relatively easy for us to catch a train anywhere. When I say relatively easy, I mean the theoretical act of catching a train to your destination. The actual act of doing so is was far from easy. Trying to decipher Tokyo’s train map is is like trying to decipher the map tattooed on that guy from Prison Break. But I’ll get into that.
Finally, in our hotel room, I got to see a robo-toilet for the first time. Well that’s what I choose to call it anyway. It’s like a toilet with a robot in it that cleans your ass for you. Robo-toilets are quintessentially Japanese and is one of those things that everyone automatically associates with Japan. Now, there are only 2 features here I’m interested in. One is the oh so blissful seat warmer, and the other, the all important deodoriser, for those post curry sessions where it smells like Satan and his minions are trying to bust out into the humanly realm through your anus. The other features, I can do without. But I have to admit, curiosity got the better of me, like it usually does, and I had to try all 3 types of sprays on the can. I think I can safely say that I’ll never ever be using those again.
One feels like the robot is trying to wash out the back of your throat with a fire hose, another feels like you’re squatting atop a garden sprinkler on a warm summers day, and the third… I can’t remember. Then comes the blow dry. Ever held a blow dryer to your ass to help dry it post shower? No? So why the hell would you want to start doing it now? Sure robo-asswash is probably a more environmentally sustainable practice than wiping your ass with the amazon rainforest, but hey… I’d rather send 10 species of life into extinction than have to rely on a robot that’s hell bent on trying to give me an enema.
Dinner would be my first meal in Japan, given that I missed having tea with everyone else. I was quite eagerly looking forward to my first taste of Japanese Japanese food. Would the sashimi be out of this world? Would the tempura be part of the best tempuratastic experience ever? Time to find out. Shopping around for a dining establishment is not easy. This is not due to lack of choice, but because there are so many choices, and they all basically serve the same things. Fast food aside, you basically have your yakitori, sushi, yakiniku, and noodle joints. And given that we have no idea where we’re going or what we’re doing, it’s just purely an exercise in luck. We got waylaid but a food spruiker whilst we were perusing a signboard and he managed to sweet talk us into dining at his restaurant. You’ll see a lot of that here in Tokyo. People on the streets plugging their restaurants. Guess it’s kinda necessary with all the competition.
Anyway, it turned out to be a great choice. The establishment, like probably most of the restaurants here, is one of those drinking holes were business men go post work to eat and get drunk. Or as a launching area to get greased up before they go out en masse to molest school girls. All a matter of perspective. It has that table configuration where you’re sitting on the floor with our feet in a hole below the floor. I love the design as it just seems fun, but I have to say, it’s really not conducive to old people with joint problems whom have problems getting up and down.
The food variety itself is standard fare with nothing you can’t easily get at a Jap restaurant in any other country. However the quality of it was….. actually very similar as well. The tuna belly sashimi was pretty darn good and just simply melts in your mouth. Overall though, the quality is on par with any decent Jap place in SG or AU. This is not to say that standards are low here, but more so that the standard of Jap food is just so high elsewhere in the world. Just like how HK food in HK tastes basically the same as HK food anywhere else. SG food anywhere else in the world however tastes like poo 😛 Gotta fix that people.
Japanese food isn’t about complexity of flavour, it’s simply about freshness. The beauty of Japanese food is in it’s simplicity. This also means that it’s very easy to replicate. The only Japanese foods that come to mind of which quality can really differ are those involving stocks and marinades, like Ramen and maybe yakitori.
Now there’s not actually that much to do around Shinjuku itself except shop. So we just went off exploring for a bit before retiring for the night. It’s great to see a proliferation of dessert crepe places in Japan because I love dessert crepes. Some places get lazy however and don’t make it for you fresh. They just use a crepe which they prepared for your earlier which is cold. Sucks when that happens. I also tried a Japanese kebab which looked to be quite popular. Interestingly enough, they use pita bread as opposed to a roll or wrap like they do back in AU. It was actually quite good, I loved the spicy pinkish sauce that they use.
Walking around in the winter cold was quite fun. Seeing all the bright lights that characterise Japan is a little surreal because I’ve only seen it all before on TV. It’s the same feeling I had when I visited Hong Kong for the first time. I actually wanted to, but didn’t get to, try one of those tiny little roadside noodle stalls that you see here and there. The dodgy looking ones that are just brimming with character, and probably also botulism, with the tiny little chairs and tables. So cool and cozy looking. Next time….
One thing that you have to be careful of when looking for food in Tokyo is the pricing. Japan is reputed to be very expensive when it comes to food and this is definitely the case if you’re not careful. However, if you are cautious with your picks, food can be very reasonably priced. The above meal that we had for dinner was both great and also cheaper than the equivalent here in SG at Sushi Tei. Which is in start contrast to this next meal. The next morning we were just looking for a quick lunch at the station before we jumped onto the train to head to Akibahara.
We saw this average looking noodle place and decided that fair enough, it would be a cheap and quick meal. We made the mistake of not checking the prices. So quite surprised we were to find that out that it cost us between ¥1500 – ¥2000 for just a small bowl of rice or noodles! That’s like $25 to $30! Now I saw this is expensive because when you look around, there are many places selling the equivalent for between ¥300 – ¥1000. This maybe possibly reflect a lack of understanding on my part, perhaps there’s something I missed, but it definitely seemed to be the case.
One of the most heart breaking things you’ll witness are the large numbers of homeless people that litter the streets. Here in station itself, you have countless numbers of homeless people taking refuge in cardboard boxes for the night. Even worse are those that aren’t able to obtain a spot here. Just driving through the streets in a taxi, you see roadsides just lined with more asleep in cardboard shelters, completely open to the winter elements. I don’t know how these people can survive the winter cold. It’s just so tragic to see. I just hope that there’s some government initiative in place to assist these people and provide them with proper food and shelter.
Now for the train system. To say the Japanese rail system is confusing is like saying Lady Gaga is just a little kooky. The railway map is actually a secret blueprint for making your head explode whilst Lady G is completely batshit insane. This system here is unlike those of which I’m used to in either AU or SG. Each line here is own by a different private operator and so you have to ensure that you’re not just at the right platform but also the right terminal for that operator. It sounds simple, and probably is once you get used to it, but for us foreign devils it’s confusing as hell.
Oh this picture of Beard Papa reminds me, the Japs really have a fetish for Strawberries. They absolutely love the stuff. They throw strawberries in just about every dessert there is. And that’s probably a good thing, because I love strawberries too. And when they use strawberries, it’s the real deal, not strawberry flavouring. This Strawberry puff at BP was so darn good. It just tasted so fresh with chunks of red strawberries in it, so good. Wish they had it here in SG instead of the prefrigerated strawberry yoghurt flavoured one. It’s a little surprising because strawberries here are so expensive. For the price it costs to buy a nice box of strawberries here I could probably pay some guy on the street to go try and fellate a hungry bear.
And here we have the most interesting part of Tokyo, Kabukicho! Kabukicho is the largest red light district in Tokyo, if not Japan, I think. It’s home to countless sex shops and businesses but the funny thing is, you can’t really see much of any of them. Also, this place is so much fun and has so much more character than Shinjuku. As much as it is a red light district, it’s not really seedy at all. The area is bustling and just full of life. I probably had more fun walking around this small area than any other part of Tokyo just because of the character and ambience this place had. And also because I’m a raging pervert. Erica and I couldn’t very well enjoy this place in the presence of her folks and so we came here late at night after they went to bed.
Now there are some unique things about Kabukicho which will beg you to ask questions after walking down the first street. The first is, why the hell are there so many shops with curtains, saying 18+ on the front, blocking your view inside and what are they? Good question and one that Erica and I asked ourselves. Initially, we thought they may have been brothels, strip clubs, or some other dodgy establishment. But apparently they are like “information centres” on where to go if you want to hook up. Peeking through the curtains, one can see the walls covered in pictures of very attractive young women, most of them clad in school uniforms. What these people apparently do is hook you up with them. Now I don’t know to what capacity or extent your future encounter with your young women of choice will entail, nor do I want to know (blatant lie), but suffice to say it’s probably not to discuss global politics.
Everything you see is actually quite subtle which is in stark contrast to how things are at Kings Cross for example, back in Sydney. So any question you may have is, what are those places that have pictures of girls in school uniforms all over them? Another good question, honest answer is that I don’t know. Whether it’s a sex parlour, hostess bar, strip club, panty cafe, or what have you, I really couldn’t tell you as much as I would like to. I have absolutely no idea suffice to say the girls on the boards look very attractive, when they don’t have dodgy teeth. Fecking yaeba….
Third question would be the opposite of the second, what the hell are all those boards with guys on them? Well I have no fricken’ clue. As you can see, I’ve done my homework. Well in the backside of Kabukicho (lol see what I did there?), you’ll find countless venues with pictures of guys all over them. Now these are not just any guys, these are like like androgynous looking girly men dressed in black and all wearing skinny pants. I.E, they all looked like raging homosexuals. So my question is, are these gay clubs for or something to cater for the pillow biting, ankle grabbing demographic? Or are they straight clubs and just demonstrates that Japanese women have an affinity for girly feminine men? These guys I’m sure are escorts of some kind. I’m just not sure what kind. They all look like they come from the same cookie cutter with all of them sharing almost the exact same type of physical look, body shape, dress sense, and hairstyle. They are all scrawny, thin, wiry, and look like they’d blow away if they accidentally switched their fancy blow dryer onto high. I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a cultural ignoramus, but surely these guys have to be gay right? Surely women wouldn’t have a preference for guys that are this feminine?
One of the things you’ll note is that the streets are covered in spruikers holding “menus” of the girls with each lane intersection manned by a number of men wearing black. It gives the heavy impression of a gang, turf, or territorial agreement down here. I really wanted to take photos of these groups of people but I had the sneaking suspicion that doing so would result in me wearing my DSLR up my ass against my wishes. The way these guys operate is vastly different from the street pimps you’ll find in any other country.
In every other country, they specifically target foreigners and try to get them through their doors. Here in Japan, they deliberately ignore foreigners to target only locals. Bizarre right? They have no interest in you whatsoever if you’re not Japanese. In some ways I can perhaps understand this. Japan is one of those countries which is so self sustained that much of the population have absolutely no understanding of even basic English. Further to that, their culture is very unique. It’s one that is an strange mix of both mutual respect, reverence, but yet also depravity. Perhaps they don’t want to endue any conflict or communication issues that may stem from letting a foreigner into their place of sin. Or perhaps they’ve learnt from hard experience post war that Americans (from the armed forces), don’t treat their women in a way that they agree with and as such tar all foreigners with the same brush. Like I said, all speculation and I have absolutely no idea, but am quite interested in finding out.
Well that’s basically Shinjuku and Kabukicho in a nutshell. I still have to post up pics of Akibahara, Ginza, Ikebukero (only because of Ramen Jiro), and Shibuya. Visiting the red light district of any city is always good fun. Because each one generally has a unique character and feel to it, whilst most parts of a mega city generally tend to feel the same and somewhat generic. So if you’re in Tokyo, drop by Kabukicho late one night. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some answers to my questions!