Friday, February 17, 2012

Day 1 - Karaoke and Arcades in Shinjuku!

So, I'm here! The flight was very uneventful and breezy! I was a window seat, and there was no assigned person to the middle seat! Totally makes a difference, was very comfortable. Slept most of the way, watched some Portlandia. I bought a new PKD novel for the flight (looks like they did another reprint of his popular works over the last year or so), but about 10 pages in I had realized that although I didn't own this one (2nd book in VALIS trilogy), I had already read it many moons ago. Ah wells.


Got into Narita okay, Immigration and Customs was a breeze. Carey was there. Waterworks were enjoyed. Took a too-long bus into town, and made our way to our hotel from the drop-off point. One cute item: the bus attendents take their job very seriously. There's a 2' laneway that you're supposed to stand in while waiting for the bus, and my foot was a little outside one edge, and she shooed me back into the proper waiting area. Also, when we were in the bus, as it pulls away (and as it pulls up, although I missed that one), the attendents do a long medium-height bow to the bus itself. I only got a crappy pic of it:

Think about how many times she has to bow to an inanimate object during her workday.

So we land smack dab in the middle of Shinjuku, at Shinjuku station. Basically, it's the Japan you see when it's portrayed on Western television. People everywhere, and flashing lights everywhere, towers shooting up to the sky and completely obscured with neon lights and video billboards. We were dragging our heavy luggage around and looking for our hotel, so didn't have time to stop and gawk, but I did have a chance to get one pic of a pachinko parlour (pachinko is a gambling game like slots):

This is one of the more understated buildings on the street.

I'll get more pics of the area we're staying in for the next six days, because it's nuts. We found our hotel and checked in, very nice room and sized well!

Instead of chocolates, they gave us matching his and hers pajamas! :D

Note that the snacky foods that I brought for Carey were already torn into. Snacks. Literally the first item on the docket. Serious business.

Obligatory shot of Japanese space toilet. This is a base model with few features, apparently. Seat is warmed automatically. Has a "his" and "hers" type function for the bidet. I use the "hers" function exclusively - it may not clean as well, but I have a lot more fun.

So Aaron the Wytze met us in the hotel lobby...

I'm going for a more Hitler Jugen 'do, while Wytze is capturing a more mature, Waffen-SS Gruppenf├╝hrer hairstyle. Poor taste? The Japanese sided with the Nazis in WWII - so would they even be allowed to be offended?

We first headed over the the Golden Gai district, which was only a couple blocks from our hotel in Kabukicho. First of all, it may be red-light district, but it's laughably safe. It's so well lit, and there was no sense of any kind of sleaziness or anything like that. The streets are spotless. Anyway, Golden Gai is a series of back-alley wide pedestrian-only streets that have dozens of these single-room bars that literally can only seat a single party of 4. It had a speak-easy kind of feeling, because most of them don't have signs, just open doors into the tiny stooped room. Some of them had their doors open, but we were met with blank stares or scowls for the most part. This is obviously a Japanese-only type of thing, no gaijin... we would need a native-speaking Japanese person as our in... alas, Aya wasn't feeling well that night, so it was a Baka Gaijin night. I was too intimidated by the scowling bartenders to take a picture, but since it's so close, I may get the courage later this week to run over there and take some pictures. Hey, the stereotype is that they come to the West and snap pics non-stop.... so I'll give 'em a taste of their own medicine.

We then went to a fast-food izakaya-like place that was a bit more foreigner friendly (English section on the menu). We had some foods like bibimbap and octopus balls (who knew they were sexually dimorphic? Hehehe, it was actually just dough balls with octopus in them) and rolls... you order throughout the meal using a touch-pad at the table, and they come by and drop off the stuff within the next 5-10 minutes.

Very efficient, and good for an antisocial like me because you don't have to talk to anyone!

The fun part was the shochu and hoppy, though... the shochu is a sweet rice liquor, and the hoppy is a non-alcoholic beer type beverage that comes in a bottle. They bring out the shot of shochu in a mug, and you pour in the hoppy and water it down to your liking, and get order refills of shochu as needed. Mmmmm! The other two didn't like it much... but I like Korean soju; this was a little less sweet than I'm used to, still good though.

I'm easy to please - if it has alcoholic content, I'll probably like it.

From there, we got some drinks at the konbini (convenience store) at the ground level of our hotel, and watched a bit of japanese TV and drank some more to work up the courage for the next stop... Karaoke!


The place we went to had tabehodai (all you can eat) for ice cream. It was an ICE CREAM Karaoke place!

Two things immediately stick out as a Japan being truly civilized: alcohol at the konbini, and nomihodai - all you can drink for a set rate! We paid about $20 for an hour and a half of all you can drink while karaoke-ing... Japan definitely likes to drink.

After that, we walked around for a bit, and jumped into one of those mega-arcades:

There were 5 stories to this arcade.

Each floor has a different theme... first floor was those claw-prize games, second was driving games, etc.... we went to the photo booth level, and took pics. I'll scan them when I get home. They automatically make your eyes super big and bright in the photos, like a real-life anime. It's not even an option, it just does it... so weird.

That floor was like the inside of a japanese 13-year-old girl's room.

Oh, and there was an entire floor devoted to fake computerized horse racing. WTF.

There was even a table with miniature plastic horses that ran around a track. Lolwat?

So after that, The Wytze went to his hotel and we went to ours. You'll be pleased to note that at least drunken late night McDonald's is the same in Japan.

Wow, huge post! Hehehe, don't worry, they all won't be this long... just getting into the mode and haven't learned how to properly edit what I blog, just putting everything that happened yesterday all down. Carey and I are planning the rest of our week in Tokyo now (well, I'm on the computer, she's planning, heh). Today will be low-key, so Day 2 post will be smaller.

So, my initial impressions so far. Japan (or Tokyo, at least) seems very service-oriented culture, very polite. All the buildings go uppppppp, and have tons of stories filled with stores and bars and clubs. The signage is awesome, I feel like I'm in Blade Runner. So many people wear the surgical mask things... not because of getting germs, but because they're sick and don't want to give other people their germs. That's pretty indicative of a particular tone in their culture, in my mind. Oh yeah, and the cars are all squished, length-wise. Even the cars are cute. :P

The first of many vendos I'm sure to come across. :)

Okay, so Day 2 upcoming! See you next time!