Tokyo Off Time!

Tokyo Off Time - Part 1 - Reality Bites in Japan

Copyright (c) 1994-1996 James C. Liu

Copyright notice: This article may be freely copied and distributed provided that the header and authorship remains unchanged. No part of any of the Tokyo Off Time! series may be commercialized without the author's permission (address given at the end of the article). This work is non-fiction. Any similarities to other characters, fictitious or real is purely coincidental. Opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not reflect the opinion of any institution, company or corporation.


Well, it's September 1993 in Tokyo and I've arrived after an exhausting effort to finish my dissertation. It was only about a week ago that I turned in the manuscript, paid any microfilm fees, then packed and headed on a plane.

I'm quite settled in my very small apartment at the Tokyo Institute of Technology where I'm staying for a year on a Post-Doctoral Fellowship courtesy of the JSPS - the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, sort of a Japanese counterpart to the US National Science Foundation. I'm supposed to be working on Two-Phase Gas Dynamics modeling, but I'm hoping that's not all that I'll be doing.

The fellowship is somewhat generous and the apartment subsidized and actually on campus so I only have a four minute walk to the lab. The facilities are old but the labs quite well stocked and of course, they have considerable Internet infrastructure at Tokyo Tech.

I'm quite excited about being here. I've visited Japan twice over the last two years, each time for two weeks of vacation. Each time, the experience has been a complete blast. I really love life in the big, and extremely crowded city, and I have to admit that my prior nine years of Academic Nerd-dom at UC Berkeley's female-deprived College of Engineering never prepared me for the hoards of cute, giggling, well-dressed Japanese female office ladies. If this seems purile, immature, and male-chauvinist, I must confess ... I am.

Many non-Japanese (i.e. GAIJIN) may think of Japan as some old culture wrapped in mystique. It's not the gaijin's fault. We can blame that on United Airlines for having commercials always showing Japanese women in colourful KIMONO carrying parasols going to the temple and doing some tea-ceremony-thing. Well, I've only been to Japan on vacation, but I suspect that isn't really the case. It would appear that Japanese celebrate hot or cold tea with their favourite vending machine for 110 yen, wear suits and ties to work, and go to visit temples with cameras just like we gaijin do. They drink and smoke a lot as well, spit a lot, and generally are pretty tenacious about sitting in the open seat on the DENSHA.

Japanese TV and Night Clubs

Well, already, I've received email from a reader on soc.culture.japan asking about Julianna's here in Tokyo. It's one of those night clubs you folks hear about. Well, after a party that ended around midnight last night, I went home and turned on the TV and beheld a DOKYUU on "T-bakku" and "open-bakku" underwear. Most of the exposee' was filmed on site at Julianna's and a lot of the so called "documentary" was concerning Julianna's culture.

After watching the show and discussing it with a grad student at Tokyo Tech, and my host researcher's young, single secretary, both seemed to deny ever watching the show, but they do know that the show I had seen was one of those "H" shows. (pronouced "eh-chi") I guess H could mean any number of sleazy things. My useful Japanese vocabulary is growing.

Getting back to the topic of the show... The location of Julianna's is somewhere close to Tamachi station. It's a night club with dance floor. As usual, everything in Tokyo is expensive; entry is 5,500 yen. which isn't surprising since Julianna's is the trendiest club in town right now. The best day to go is Sunday night from about 8 pm, says our secretary. Ladies get in for free. But that's not what Julianna's is famous for. They have Y100 nights for the ladies once a week. But the women must be exposing a substantial amount of flesh to get the big discount. The criteria for the discount varies. Sometimes it's "T-bakku" night. On this night, any ladies wearing butt-floss (g-string, etc..) type of panties get in for Y100. They also have "open-bakku" nights. An "Open-bakku" panty is the Japanese version of "butt-less" underwear. Literally, the undee has no butt panel. You get to see the buns and the cleavage. Starting prices for "open back" undies are Y5000 and up. They also have U-back underwear and Y-back undies. I'll leave those to your imaginations. By the way, the open-back comes in mini skirts and super short- short models too.

Mainly "bodi-kon" (body conscious) ladies are the ones who go for the semi-nude dancing. From the documentary, it appearred to be on average about a dozen women on any given night who were really into showing off their wares. A LOT of japanese men basically stood around watching the dancing women.

A number of the girls interviewed said that they liked the new "open" back design. The reason had to do with the extra elastic support for their buns. It tended to improve FBS (flat butt syndrome) into not-so-FBS. The screen flashed before- and after- pictures of a girl using the open back undee.

The girls sometimes do vie for the "least" dressed title. But often, this is because it's a club-sponsored contest. In this viewer's opinion, Japanese TV documentaries literally expose the issue. And Japanese night clubs are pretty wild.

SCJ Yokohama - How to get reamed for dinner and drinks in Japan

I've been communicating via email with a bunch of netters in the soc.culture.japan (SCJ) news group for over a year now and met only a couple of them down in LA once. Imagine the odds against meeting everyone and have dinner with them, let alone in Yokohama. For that alone, I'd pay quite a bit. But the amount I paid recently was almost extortion. The only comforting thing was that I got reamed along with everyone else.

We met at Ishikawacho Station on the Keihin-Touhoku Line. This is near the heart of downtown Yokohama which lies directly south of Tokyo and east of Kawasaki. Taking the train alone in my still neophyte state was somewhat of a risk, but I made it to the stop without too much effort and picked-up two helpful tips in the process. First, I learned the Japanese for express and local train. The express trains have a red sign on their fronts which have two characters - "kyuu-kou" which literally mean express. The local trains are called "kaku-eki" trains or kaku-eki densha. Express trains stop only at selected stations, so it's important to check the maps to make sure you station is an express stop. The second thing I learned was that most train cars will have route maps posted over the doorways inside the train, and the express stops are the big dark spots with red outline as opposed to the standard red spots.

For an Asian looking guy, it's not hard to blend in with the local population, only, I'm over 250 pounds, 6 feet 1.5 inches tall, so I do stand out a little. My secret to camouflaging with the locals is to have a short haircut, wear suit and tie, and use lots of hair products that smell. For caucasians, however, using hair products is optional, but I don't think it seems to fool the natives :-). Needless to say, it's easy to spot gaijin of the caucasian variety in Japan.

Yokohama is famous for it's Chinatown. The Japanese refer to the Chinatown strip near Ishikawacho station as "Chuuka-Gai", literally "Chinese Street". The generic Japanese term for Chinese food is "Chuuky-Ryori" meaning "Chinese Cuisine". Our group of about 8 people wandered down and happened upon a place called "Man-Chin-Rou," a pretty impressive looking place with lots of deep Mahogany wood paneling inside.

We ordered the following:

The food was almost as good as some of the $3.50/plate places in Berkeley, which is high praise for Chuukaryori in Japan. However, for the price, the performance was pretty bad. We averaged about Y3770 per person, which is more than factor of ten in relative cost to the US. In addition, the restaurant servers do some things differently than restaurants in the US. For example, they don't bring out the tea first. Second, they don't give you a bucket of rice. Instead, they serve each person bowl-by-bowl and make you wait an awful long time for the rice. Another thing was that they brought the soup out half way through the meal in bowls rather than in a pot with empty bowls at the beginning of the meal. Seems stingy for this good ol' American boy.

(Note: 18 months later, I would find out that Man-Chin-Rou is a very famous and expensive restaurant in Japan, and actually, I took a date there and paid about Y25,000 for dinner for two.)

After dinner, we paid and got out of the place and headed for a cozy pub to sing a few songs. The Japanese love to sing "KARAOKE" and I'm a big fan of it myself. We kinda walked around and finally found what seemed to be a nice cozy spot. The mama-san seemed down home and friendly, but we were mistaken. Three of our guests had to depart, so the five of us ordered four Y600 NAMA BIIRU while Teetotaller got his usual Y500 ginger ale. We had no idea how much the karaoke was, but we sat down for a while and enjoyed ourselves. I sang 4 songs, Jeff sang 1 and Kenji sang 2, I think. Jeff left early for his 2.5 hour commute out to the countryside. John didn't sing but listened. We got another biiru and ginger ale. So total number of drinks and songs came to 7 each. Our bill? Y12,000! Reamed again. She just came up with that number. The mamasan didn't even add it up. She just materialized the number from her imagination. Not wanting to make a fuss of things, we quietly paid and then whined about it outside. Awe-struck. Reamed...Major. Each drink averaged Y600. That meant that the drinks were only Y4200 for 7 drinks. Where did the other Y7800 come from? Certainly not from the 7 songs I hope. Anyway, don't think we're ever going back there. Which is probably why we got reamed.

Which is why I've decided on a new mission in find bargains in Tokyo so gaijin folk like myself won't get robbed.

NIHONGO - Studying Japanese in Tokyo

Yesterday was the second Friday I was here in Tokyo. The work has just been piling up around me. I've been taking it easy...sort of...doing shopping and moving in and ignoring the mounds of paper reviews (that's what researchers tend to do a lot of). Moreover, now I have Japanese homework. I signed up for language classes yesterday. I found a place in Shibuya. Just a short 10 minute walk from the station right next door to the Tokyo Gas office in Shibuya. It's called the Tokyo School of the Japanese Language. (Tokyo Nihongo Gakko). In past years it used to be called Naganuma School. It was one of the recommended schools by a previous JSPS Fellow.

For those of you planning to do work in Japan, a good idea is to ask for Language class support in the package. The JSPS Fellowship provides Y500,000 over the course of one year to study Japanese. This isn't bad and can afford about a year of classes, twice a week, for an academic year. I have one other student in my class and it's about Y88,000 for 12 weeks, 3 times a week. There's also the cost for texts and one time registration fee. One-on-one Japanese tutoring is expensive but sometimes worth it. For example, if you tend to pick up languages quickly, a formal school is sometimes too slow because classmates don't pick up the language quickly enough.

Personally, I'm hunting for bargains, and the best way I've discovered to learn the language has been to find Japanese friends (male and/or female depending on your orientation :-)) and just hanging out. You've gotta watch out though. Lots of the younger Japanese are likely to try to practice English with you rather than you practice Nihongo with them. Singing Japanese Karaoke is another option. It's fun and it teaches you to read both Kana and Kanji. The only drawback of Karaoke perhaps is cost. I've been blowing Y10,000 nearly every week going out for dinner, drinks and Karaoke. A great way to get started is to start with a few easy to sing songs. A number of sites have Romanized lyrics for Japanese songs. I've helped organize and edit an online collection called "KaraOK Lyrics." I hope this gives you the start into your Tokyo singing career!

Jaa, James


minasan Everyone; can also be minna, mina-sama
konnichiwa Good Day; Hello; used usually between 11 am and 5 pm
gaijin foreigner; often used in a familiar or derogatory form
kimono traditional Japanese dress usually made of silk
densha electric trains; the main form of mass transit in Japan
dokyuu Documentary on television; adopted from English
nama biiru draft beer; nama = raw, biiru = beer
Chuuka Ryori Chinese Food; Chuuka = Chinese (adj.), Ryori = cuisine
Karaoke Japanese sing-along; kara = self/one person, oke = ochestra