Sunday, November 25, 2007

The All-Nighter

So Keith and I headed over to Shinjuku to see the whole "bright lights/big city" aspect of Tokyo, and we got it in spades. Towering megalithic buildings, flashing neon everywhere, and masses of people going in and out of bars, restaurants, and various houses of ill repute.

But it was our quiet time that was the best. Tipped by several guidebooks, we sought out the Golden Gai, an area filled with possibly hundreds of tiny little bars - some seating no more than four or five people - and settled into one in particular, La Jetée. It's a curious, curious thing to go in a tiny doorway, climb an extremely narrow stairway, and open the door to a miniscule bar populated by some French expats and a kindly bartender who is not only well versed in French film (after which her bar is named), but the French language as well. I sipped Ricard through the evening, got to practice my French and Japanese, and we met a few other Americans, as well, who were regulars at this little gem of a bar. How we all fit in there is beyond me, but there are times when you travel when magic happens, and this was one of them.

Of course, getting the bill wasn't so magical - it was pretty pricey - but worth every Yen for the amazing, unique, and unreproduceable atmosphere one can get here. Sadly, we had to cut out early to catch the last train back to my hotel's neighborhood to ensure we wouldn't spend the rest of the night walking home.

Then again, that might have been a better choice. We came back to my current neighborhood in Aoyama/Akasaka and walked about ten minutes down the road to Roppongi, better known as the gaijin district.

Worst. Place. Ever.

If there's anything magical, mystical, delightful, or enjoyable about Tokyo, Roppongi is pretty much devoid of it. American accents everywhere. Barkers trying to pull you into strip clubs. Hideous girls offering their "massage" services around every corner. I felt dirty. Disgusting. And disgusted. While I'm no advocate of war, I found myself constantly thinking, "If Japan were ever to be nuked again, they just need to throw a few of those tactical bunker busters right into Roppongi." I hated it. Keith said it should be quarantined and cordoned off. I still prefer my idea.

Still, there were a couple of little gems to be found.

First off, there's this amazing all night bookstore that has more design, architecture and art books than even the Design Museum in London. I walked around with a woody looking at all the marvelous books about graphic design, typography, design philosophy - anything my little brain loves about my line of work. Cha-ching, cha-ching, I had to make some purchases.

Then there's the Travel Cafe, which is currently promoting travel to New Zealand. Definitely not the quintessential Japanese experience, but a quirky, odd, and nice way to spend the wee hours drinking beer and yukking it up with an amazingly friendly, young, hip staff. And the best part? Despite the highly gaijin name and theme, we were the only foreigners in there. It was like an oasis of Japanese-ness in an otherwise hideous, un-Tokyo part of Tokyo.

We whiled away the rest of the early morning until the trains started running by walking around and checking out the storefronts and hilariously bad bar names, marvelling at how there are so few signs in Japanese. And by night's end (or day's beginning) we dubbed it Tokyo's Marina district. (San Franciscans will understand this...)

After two or three hours of sleep, I went and hit my hotel's breakfast buffet this morning. And while there were rolls, eggs, bacon, sausage, etc., I opted to go for a pile of rice, Japanese pickles, and natto, the gooey slimey fermented soy beans from one of the videos I'd posted earlier on. I think it helped cleanse the stink of dirty gaijin off of me, but I don't know. I still feel filthy.

If any part of Tokyo has made the biggest impression on me, it has been Roppongi. And not in a good way. I have a foul taste in my mouth, a weird feeling in my gut, and regret making that the last stop on my little tour of an otherwise incredible city.

If you're visiting Tokyo, you still have to see it and understand what I'm talking about. But otherwise, all I have to say is: Fuck Roppongi.

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