Tokyo Off Time!

Tokyo Off Time - Part 5 - Halloween: Goblins and Goblets

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.

New World School Halloween Party

Kawasaki is an industrial city between Tokyo and Yokohama. You take the JR Keihin-Tohoku sen south from Shinagawa station past Oimachi, Oomori, and Kamata. The last trains leave north back to Tokyo at about 12:30 from Kawasaki, and south to Yokohama and Ofuna at around 12:20. The New World Language School is located just a few minutes from the station. A relatively recently built mall with a big Seibu depaato lies over and around the station. There are many mid-sized and small specialty shops and restaurants too. One of the interesting things about this mall is the world's shortest escalator (listed in Guiness) which Hitachi built in this mall on land which is mostly owned by Toshiba. The irony of the short escalator isn't that it's only 5 steps long, but rather, the escalator goes down rather than up, and therefore is even more useless since one cannot utilize it to gain potential energy without exerting personal effort. Also, the location is next to an anticlimatic yakitori shop. There are no frills or noticeable decorations of any sort labelling the escalator as the shortest in the world...which in the end may be the ultimate parody of escalator existence.

The short walk from the station through the mall is a remarkable experience. The streets are narrow and covered with mechanical baffles which open when the weather is clear and close when the weather is bad. The school is about 2 blocks from the mall on the 3rd floor of a 5 story building. A Japanese friend takes his english classes here and learns from some Brits and Auzzies with their funny accents :-). Some of the instructors are American but I think the commonwealth is better represented at the school. Other languages are taught at the school such as French, German, etc...but the majority of students are there to learn English.

The school hosted the party and charged a reasonable Y2500 for a considerable amount of food and drink which included biiru, cola, otsumami such as yakisoba, yakitori, pizza, etc. The hallway and main reception area was also decorated in black and very good selections of modern rock music blared at a reasonable, non-deafening level. The location of the school was fortuitous since I needed to shop for my costume. For around $100, (Y10,000) at Seibu, I picked up a Frankenstein costume repleat with shoulder pads and hand-crafted latex mask. Visibility out of the mask was a problem and I also had problems with my glasses fogging up underneath the mask. My friend thought of the idea of getting some sunglasses and chum-straps to hold the glasses on. We went downstairs to another shop and tried on various glasses with the mask on. It was definitely scarey enough to get the clerks to call for re-inforcements because they suspected us of being crazy. We ended up settling just for the straps to keep my prescription lenses in place, which ended up giving me the academic-Frankenstein look. Hence, my character ended up being Frankenstein, Ph.D. :-). My costume was (combined with my size and the should pads) probably as scary as one could get in a Halloween costume for Y10,000. It was enough to cause a 4 year old girl to cry her heart out and yell "KAASAN!" when I limped toward her groaning menacingly. I ended up getting down on my knees and praying for forgiveness, "Moshiwake Gozaimasen! Moshiwake Gozaimasen" at which the Mother laughed... I'd have to say however, that it was money well spent as I definitely had the size and shape for Frankenstein.

The scene of a bunch of crazy gaijin in costume on Halloween night running through a Japanese mall and train station has been, for me, a legend for several years now, which I've never quite understood until Saturday. The Zen of understanding required imbibing some certain quantity of alcoholic beverages and then the shield of anonynimity behind a frightful mask and just sheer numbers of others in the same state.

At 21:00 hours on Saturday night (the day before) the bunch of us went downstairs and began to ramble our way to the JR station and mall. We began drawing attention to ourselves by singing the J-League soccer theme (the act itself being ironic since Japan didn't make it):

I tried my best to avoid getting run over but failed to avoid phone poles and street lamps. Visibility was really bad especially in the dark. I limped after the main party and groped my way in zombie fashion past some small shops where some obasans hurriedly shouted for me to stop so they could get a quick photograph with me. ICHI-NI-SAN- flash!!! I was more blinded.

We went down to the station and mall area where I stopped off at the local KFC. The aroma was great..."KEN-TAK-KI!" I groaned. One of the counter gals flagged the manager down and asked what she should do...perhaps bag a 9-piece original...but naaaaahhhh, rejection. A very nice BIJIN step in to place a order and I surprised her.

"Ara, KOWAIIII!!!"

She stepped back out of the shop. A bunch of shoppers had stopped and were spectating. I got down on one knee and began to croon.

"Kishimu beddo no ue de...yasashisa o mochi yori...Kizuku karada, Dakishimeaeba "Sore kara mata futari wa, me o tojiru you...Kanashii...uta ni... Ai ga shirakete...shimawanu you ni...." (Ozaki Yutaka - I LOVE YOU)

It left her flabbergasted and the crowd very surprised...Her hand went to her mouth in true flattery. It must have been somewhat amazing since by my size and accompaniment with many HAKUJIN (who weren't completely behind masks) she must have thought I too was gaijin too. I held out my hand and offered her a Halloween lollipop. She nearly fainted...and stepped back into the KFC shop. Rejection...Zannen. But I could tell she was charmed. Ahhhh, the freedom and omnipotence one has behind a mask. I was quite shameless...probably the most shameless I've ever been.

We continued through the mall and headed to the central mall of the station. We greeting a European street musician who had a strange but beautiful sounding xylophone-looking instrument. He played a charming Scottish tune and we crazy, masked revellers danced and clapped while Japanese onlookers enjoyed the dual entertainment...we were going to be the talk of the night at their next SAKE stop...

To make a very long story short, we got back to the school, partied some more, singing Japanese and english songs loudly from the 3rd floor sundeck. We then changed into cooler and more comfortable and better visibility attire, and then went to NIJIKAI (second meeting) at a local yakitori shop. We had more biiru and talked it up in less noisy environs. My friend and I caught our last trains back. I missed the last train to Ishikawa-dai on the Ikegami sen, but was able to catch the last train to Yukigaoka, just one station away (YukigaOka is where the train yard is for the Ikegami sen). My friend met some gals on the Keihin-Tohoku sen and practiced his NANPA-skills on them with some success as he just reported, and I asked directions from a lonely looking gal who was also walking back towards Ishikawa-dai. The clouds had cleared out an there was a full moon and stars in a brilliantly clear night. Alas, the gal I walked with for nearly a kilometer wasn't as angry about getting stood up by her boyfriend at the station, so she told me. And of course...why should she be, when she had excellent company while walking under a starry, moonlit night in the company of Dr. Frankenstein!

O'Bar's in Tamachi-Shibaura:

The area around Tamachi station in Tokyo is quite industrial. Nearby is the Shibaura Institute of Technology...not as prestigious as Tokyo Kougyo Daigaku but the students here are located in prime party real estate. The school is a 5 to 10 minute walk from a number of warehouse/industrial type dance clubs, and just blocks from Julianna's, Tokyo's hottest and most risque dance club.

O'Bar is a disco about 10 minutes from the police box on the corner of the Shibaura elementary school which is just across from Shibaura Engineering college. They play mostly 70's and 80's disco and funk, and sometimes venture into industrial and rap music. The bass is pumped at this place and your throat vibrates to the beat. Needless to say...this place is just a tad loud.

Entry is around 4500 yen for guys, 4000 yen for ladies and you get 6 drink tickets with that. A beer is 2 tickets. A soda is just one ticket. The place covers roughly 20 meters by 20 meters and has three main sections. A ground floor section has a number of tables and stools and a bar. A slightly elevated mezzanine/stage covering about 6 meters by 6 meters is the dance floor and there is an upstairs section with an open center that opens and looks down on the dance floor. A number of suspended ramps and walkways with railings are accessible from the second floor for those who want to dance (or show something off) from a higher elevation. The back wall has a waterfall (which can't be well seen in the dark and the smoke), and they have a fog machine plus a moat around the dance floor.

The base cost for entry covers the drink tickets and dancing. For a table upstairs, it's an extra Y2,000 per person. They take credit cards and have lockers for 200 yen if you don't want to carry around a large briefcase or your normal work clothes after you've undressed into your skimpy outfit for the night (cf. Ladies)

O'Bar is good if perhaps you're there with dates in a group or with a date who likes to dance. As a pick-up place, it lacks in atmosphere and layout. The tables aren't arranged conveniently where one can be casual about asking for a seat. Rather, one must be SHITSUREI... Which isn't a problem, if you don't have inhibitions.

My recommendation is to go with a date and only if you like disco type music. If you're trying to get to know a gal, this isn't the place. The music is loud and if her English is only as good as your Japanese, forget it. Of course there's a nice little, quite cafe just next door.

As a pick-up place, this isn't the club to do it unless you've got the yen. I observed a number of OYAJIs with kawaii (or kowai) onna (whichever suits your taste) in private tables or upstairs. A direct translation of the situation would be Amai-Otoosan (sugar daddy). I learned that it is a common practice for wealthy middle-aged men to flirt with young girls and invite them for drinks. If you're the kind of guy into this sort of nanpa, the polite receptionist at the entrance recommended that one could leave a blank credit card slip down with cashier with the note that the next four gals who ask about upstairs can go there courtesy of your OGORI provided they sit with you and accept your offers of some free drinks. As you can guess, this gets expensive.

Cheap Sushi in Shibuya

There's a good eats place in Shibuya just 5 minutes walk from the station, and it has conveyor-belt sushi shop with help-yourself NOMI-HOUDAI KO-CHA on tap all along the counter. Sushi sells for Y110 for regular sushi plates with 2 - 4 pieces depending on the type of sushi, and Y220 per plate for more expensive and exotic stuff. That's cheaper than in the states folks. The name escapes me, but it's quite unassuming and easy to miss.

To get there, one exits the JR Shibuya Station and heads for the world famous Toukyuu Plaza where there's a small statue of the dog "Hachiko" and on the buildings are a number of huge mural TV's. The sushi shop is located to the right in the direction Camera Doi and Marui which is also toward Koen Doori. One will pass the first McDonald's on the right. Continuing, there will be the Marui main store on the left corner across the diagonal crossing of a T-intersection with a street heading left and up a slight hill. If one crosses over to the Marui store, there is a Swenson's Ice Creamery on the outside mezzanine floor above a 2nd McDonald's which is recessed into a semi-basement floor.

The sushi place is up about 1.5 blocks on the right hand side. After gorging myself on 10 plates of sushi for about Y1300 (yes, it was OISHIKATTA folks...and cheaper than in the states) this place get's my seal of approval.

Roppongi - The BIG-R

For the uninitiated gaijin to Tokyo, Roppongi is one of those places that has something for every man's entertainment fancy. In a way, it's the gaijin red light district and it one of those areas that makes gives Tokyo the reputation of being the foreign man's candy store.

Located just up the hill from Akasaka's and Shiroyama's Financial districts, Roppongi's nightly regulars are the rich, ex-pat bankers and securities traders who can afford to blow a hundred to two hundred a night on debaucherous living. Roppongi also draws less frequent but regular visits from less financially extravagant foreigners like the local gaijin population, and many US military personnel who enjoy liberty in the Big-R.

Without the more risque forms of entertainment, Roppongi still has many great shops and restaurants that give foreigners (especially Americans) a taste of home. These include the Hard Rock Cafe, Tony Romas Ribs, and Johnny Rockets. Roppongi has also some of the best Thai and Indian food such as provided by Erawan, Bangkok 2, and Moti's. For the Americans who are just hankering for a 1/3rd pound greasy burger or 20 ounce T-bone, or a rack of baby back ribs and onion ring loaf, or a super thick chocolate shake, it's hard to beat Roppongi. And for the more internationally inclined, the stuffed chicken wings with spicy sweet and sour sauce at Erawan is as good as any Thai I've ever tasted.

Then there's the host of bars in Roppongi that have been a gaijin mainstay for years. Like their counterparts in the States, Gas Panic, Mistral, Paddy Foley's, Motown, Charleston, and others are bars with their own generation and type of music. Gas Panic and Mistral are tiny places with graffiti covered walls, loud music, Y700 imported beers and 19-25 year old Japanese headbaggers who love Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way." Many gaijin-Japanese relationships of the one night variety have been instigated in this place. Paddy Foleys is an Irish pub just across the intersection in the basement floor of the Roppongi Roi building. With real Guiness stout on tap and heaping bowls of Irish stew, this is packed most evenings with many young London traders and Irish MIS staffers and 25+ year old Japanese females. Motown is a fair sized bar with a mercurial atmosphere, sometimes dead, sometimes hopping, and sometimes violent. Things are usually quiet most weekday evenings as the 35+ new gaijin ex-pats hang out here trying their pick-up skills on the few occasional Japanese call girls and o-misoka OLs that hang out there. On weekends and rainy nights, Motown is jumping, with loud rock and disco. The occasional platoon of military skinheads who arrive on most Saturdays is a sign to leave and head around the corner to Charleston before the fists start flying. Charleston is a restrained bar with moderate music and decent service. Friendly bouncers re-assure clients of a fun but moderately wild times inside. People who hang out in Charleston are mostly the young grunts who have finished the day's battle in the stock markets and need a little diversion. Loosened ties and a sportcoats piled up on the railings inside the bar is the nightly scene. Gaijin women frequent this bar and actually hang out with the boyz. Japanese girls of all ages come, although less frequently, and those that do are pretty serious about meeting and socializing with fluent, English speaking singles to either get a foot hold into business or a serious relationship. Other clubs of all types are in Roppongi including a "Black" bar where extra tanned Japanese "CHA-PATSU" girls hang out hoping to pick up on black gaijin. Other clubs, still, provide nude Australian hostesses, others, mini-skirted Thai, Philipino, Chinese, Japanese or other ethnic service personnel who sometimes double as prostitutes for extra money. One club has male strippers, who all pass the "well hung hunk" test. Of course, these clubs don't come cheap. With cover charges starting at Y4500/hr/person and Y1500/drink the wallet gets thin pretty quick. The best thing about Roppongi perhaps is the the 24 hour Citibank ATM located right on the northwest corner of the main intersection.

Cheap Drinks in Jiyugaoka:

I may have mentioned before that Jiyuugaoka seems like a really happening and trendy place these days. There's lots of little shops around the area that I never really had a chance to check out. One good friend of mine is probably the regional gaijin expert as this was his playground in years past. But he is, sadly, in Santa Clara, California these days living the fast-paced, high-stress, Silicon Valley Lifestyle. He was supposed to be in Tokyo this time of the year. If so, we'd probably be Matsuri-hopping from one university to another as these are the days that many Universities and colleges have their annual festivals. And in the evenings we'd probably be paryting in Jiyuugaoka. Alas, my unfortunate friend must HATARAKU. So this is somewhat an ode' to poor man who couldn't be with us...perhaps in the Spring.

But that didn't stop me and another fellow gaijin guest from exploring Jiyuugaoka Friday night. After dinner, we headed out to J'oka which is just two stations from O-okayama and Toukoudai. A short and cheap 90 yen ride. I was surprised to see so few people out on a Friday night. Perhaps it's the economy or something. But I expected a lot more crowds. We wandered around for quite a while near the station. One place had miniskirted lady hostesses while a guy with a punch perm watched the door. I didn't check whether the guy was missing any digits. (A sign that he's a member of the Yakuza - Japanese Mafia). Anyway, it wasn't our style of place. At another place, it was a tiny, crowded and smokey joint, but they only charged Y3,000 per man, Y2500 per woman table charge for the whole night for some fixed menu. They also had karaoke. But we couldn't get in because the place was too packed.

After having been burned in Yokohama at some small mama-san's joint, I'm somewhat wary of small places these days. But because I had a guest along, I was prepared to bite the bullet. However, we really didn't have any clue where we wanted to go. Alas, we noticed some young couples coming up from a place called "Pub 9683" which the native nihonjin refer to as "Pub Croissant (Ku = 9, Ro=6, wa=8, san=3)" The Japanese love to use numbers to replace "cute" words. For example, the number "39" is often used to mean "Thank You" because in Japanese, san=3 and kyuu=9. Or another example is the 109 Department Store. Why is it One-Oh-Nine? Well, it's owned by the Tou-Kyuu Corporation. In Japanese, Tou=10 and kyuu=9, hence one-oh-nine.

The pub is located about 2 blocks from Jiyuugaoka station. It occupies the entire basement of a fairly large building. We went downstairs, looked at the menu and found that fortunately, this place is actually quite cheap. There's a minimum 1 drink and 1 food item per person and 600 yen table charge...but they have karaoke, and songs are free. What a deal. We hung out for several hours, taking in the somewhat smokey atmosphere and singing a few songs.

I gotta admit, this place was pretty huge. I couldn't imagine how they were making money with their low rates. The rent must have been outrageous. They had a decent light show and a large selection of English songs too. The two of us walked out of there for Y4,100 after 2:30 am. Not bad, I'd have to say. The cab ride back to O-okayama was only Y1,050. Also cheap.

It just so happens that Pub 9683 is a chain of pubs with karaoke around the Tokyo area. I met another fellow gaijin on Monday in Shibuya and he took me to another Pub 9683 just a few minutes from the station. The pub is on the 3rd floor of a building in the heart of the Shibuya shotengai, just across from the KOBAN. The sign on the entrance says "Pub 9683 - part 3" so I figure there must be a #2 store as well.

Having relatively low prices seems like a big draw for young girls. The two of us easily found female company at the pub. Albeit it only 20 years old, but hankering for a good time and good gaijin conversation. Eventually the young ladies left with their friends and decided to sit on the curb and watch cars until dawn.

It was quite strange having roles reversed. I being the illiterate Asian, and my cohort, the fluent caucasion. It was hard convincing our waiters that I really didn't understand Japanese well, especially when I was singing a full repetroire of recent karaoke songs. Two things I learned:

  1. you've gotta learn to speak and understand Japanese, and
  2. follow the 2-year jr. college girls...they're usually not particulary rich and therefore, only hang out at low cost places.

Jaa, James


(o)kaasan mother
ichi-ni-san ichi=one; ni=two, san=three
bijin beautiful girl; bi=beautiful, jin=person
kowai scary, frightful
hakujin caucasian; haku=white, jin=person
nanpa flirting, flirtatious words, pickup lines
nijikai second bar, round two at a different spot
shitsurei rudeness; to be rude
oyaji middle aged man
ogori treat, paid for by
nomi-houdai all you can drink
ko-cha red or regular western tea, not green tea
oishikatta was delicious (past tense)