Monday, November 20, 2006

Greetings From Tokyo

Greetings, pee-pull. Just a quick entry with a few highlights from my first couple of days here. First, it is very strange to be blogging from across the world. I'm sure I will look back on this and think I dreamt the whole thing. And that's one of the weird things about traveling so far -- the jet lag and newness of the experience make the trip feel very dreamlike. At least the pictures I am taking will serve as evidence that I was actually here, just in case I start believing this whole trip was just a bad case of too much Fruity Pebbles after midnight.

So... I landed here Saturday afternoon, around 3:20 p.m., after a long, 12.5 hour fight from JFK. Since I had plenty to read, the time passed relatively quickly, but damn, that is a long time to be on a plane. I didn't sleep very well either and must have gone to the bathroom five times. Fortunately, I had an aisle seat.

It took me a few minutes to get oriented at Narita Airport, but it was a quick out through customs and then I had to figure out how to validate my Japan Railpass and rent a cellphone, which took another hour. I was surprised to see how much is in English here. There is English translation on a lot of the signs, and many people here speak English. So quit your bitching about how we have dual Spanish translations of English words on signs, etc. in the U.S. At least we have a reason for it since there are so many immigrants and homegrown Spanish speakers in our country. Having English translations here is completely gratuitous because if you're Japanese, there really is no reason for it other than to help people, which is kind of nice. It's totally saving my ass in helping me get around, I can tell you that.

Then I took the Narita Express to Tokyo Station, a direct link that makes a mockery of the clusterfuck we have in New York when it comes to taking mass transit to JFK or LaGuardia. In fact, I'm finding that a lot of things here are done much better. The train and metro system is amazingly good. Clean, efficient, padded seats, and even signs that tell you when the next train is coming. Oh and because the Japanese are a somewhat diminutive people, the handles that lower from the ceiling on the trains are actually the perfect height for someone short like me. It's nirvana.

Another thing I have noticed is that when people here are sick, they wear these white masks on their faces, which look like surgical masks, so that they don't spread their germs to other people. How fucking nice is that? It was a little disconcerting when I first saw it on the plane, because I thought there was some kind of outbreak, but when I learned the reason, it made total sense. I don't think it would work in New York though because you would have literally 10 of the 13 million people in the five boroughs walking around with masks on their faces every day. That would be a little creepy.

Also, the Japanese dress immaculately. It's fucking embarrassing. The men are all dressed in suits and ties, even on Sundays. Incredibly stylish. Even the younger generation dresses very well. The women in particular are dressed to the nines, even if they are just going to the corner store. Yesterday it was raining cats and dogs, and all of these women looked like they just stepped off a catwalk. They wear these high boots with jeans or (preferably) a skirt, sometimes quite short, where you see nothing but bare leg between their boots and the bottom of their skirt. It's a very nice look, if I do say so myself. : )

Seriously, it is unbelievable how nicely dressed people are here. I'm walking around in a red hoodie and a jacket and jeans, and these people are making me feel like I'm a slob, sitting in on my living room sofa in sweatpants eating potato chips. There is just a respect for presentation here that is sorely lacking in the U.S. I felt a little better when I went to Shibuya and saw a few kids dressed like rappers. And I have yet to see a really fat person, other than the sumo wrestlers I watched on t.v. last night. It's amazing.

The young girls -- I can't figure out what is up with them. There is this bizarre obsession with schoolgirl outfits here and schoolgirls generally, that I don't quite understand. I'm going to try to take some pictures to show what I mean, without getting arrested. They walk around in these thigh-highs, and it just looks like a little too much. I don't want to be insulting, but I don't think it's appropriate. Until they're 20 or so. Then it's fine. Ha ha.... (It's the jet lag, let me blame it on that).

Speaking of dangerous opinions, it took exactly one hour of being here for me to get approached by the police at Narita Airport so they could check my papers and ask me a few questions. This was after I had already gone through customs and been asked the requisite "who are you and what are you doing here" questions. This little dandy in a blue uniform, who looked like he was about half my age, approaches me when I'm waiting for the train to Tokyo and asks to see my papers. In English. No "Hello, how are you." No "Welcome to Japan, I just need to talk to you for a second." Nope. It was "Can I see your papers please?" I was like... "Moi? Uh... what about my civil rights, buddy? Do I need to show you my ACLU Card?" Then I remembered that I was in Japan, not the United States, and I had no civil rights. So out came my papers, and our conversation went as follows:

"Are you here for business or travel?"

"Travel -- I am visiting a friend in Tokyo."

"How long will you be here?"

"A week. Eight days actually."

"What job do you have in the United States?" This was a new one on me. I have never been asked this before, so I almost started laughing. There are so many fun places I could have gone with my response, but I had been in the country an hour, and I didn't really feel like pissing off the police right away.

"I am an attorney." Quizzical look from him -- his English was not that good. "I'm an attorney, a LAWYER. I don't know how to say this in Japanese."

He probably thought I said "baker" or "candlestick maker," but he nodded like he knew what I meant. I looked up the Japanese word for "lawyer" after I got on the train just in case this happens again. It's "bengoshi."

"Where are you staying when you are in Tokyo?"

"With a friend. Here is his address." I pulled out one of my business cards that thankfully had P.'s address on the back. I am very happy I wrote it down before I got on the plane, or we could have had an international incident.

With that, he seemed satisfied and left me alone. I don't know what it is, but I must fit the terrorist profile: 30s, single, black hair, brown eyes, olive drab cargo pants, travels the world alone like a drifter, doesn't like authority, and has unpopular opinions about world politics. What can you do?

Once I got to Tokyo, I was a bit jet lagged, but it was Saturday night, and I was feelin' alright, so after I had showered and rested a bit, P. took me to a local place for dinner, where we met his friend Naoko, who was very sweet and very cute. I have to confess, I've got a little crush going. After dinner, we went to Roppongi, which is kind of a party area with a lot of gaijin (foreigner) bars. It reminded me a bit of the Upper East Side in New York, but with a lot more selection. We ended up at a bar whose name I can't remember, which was full of all kinds of people from different countries. It was very big inside, a bit divey, like an Irish bar in New York, but with a DJ who played such well-known hits as "Jump" by Van Halen, "September" by Earth, Wind, and Fire, "Hung Up" by Madonna, and that oldie but goodie "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor. Yes, I think now you have a flavor.

Then... out came the sake. I haven't liked any sake I have ever tried before, but let me tell you, the sake we had that night was smoooooth and went down like water. Very dangerous. And damn expensive. Fortunately, Naoko was feeding me waters (wasn't that thoughtful?) to prevent me from waking up with a hangover. So we sang and danced, danced and sang until about 3 a.m., whereupon we went to the next place, a karaoke bar next door. It was there, my friends, that one of my fantasies came true. The bar was pretty small and the karaoke was set up so that the words appeared on this big wall behind the bar and there was a portable microphone that they handed you so you could sing at your table. After listening to a few people sing, I decided it was time to break my karaoke cherry, so I consulted the Book of Songs, a massive tome, to find a song to sing.

And lo and behold.... there was "Heat of the Moment" by Asia. The sheer irony of singing an Asia song on my first night ever in Asia was too much to overcome. I was handed the mic and sing I did. I quickly learned that trying to sing a song after four shots of sake and four beers is not easy, even if you know the words. It's even harder when a six foot tall bartender keeps standing up in front of the screen with the words you're supposed to sing and blocking your view. So, I wasn't too pleased with my performance. But I made up for it on my next song, "Mr. Roboto," by Styx. OH NO YOU DIDN'T. Oh yes. I did. Friend P. was all pissy when I picked the song because he thought the choice was insulting. He got me so nervous that I actually tried to cancel it, but it came on anyway. So I had no choice but to sing. Like I have never sung before. P.'s paranoia was proven wrong when, after my scintillating performance, the only Japanese guy in the bar, a 50-ish gentleman who was sitting in front of me (and had sung 3 songs himself) congratulated me on a good job. He even sang the words "I'm Kil-roy. Kil-roy," with me at the end of the song. So screw, P.

Naoko and I ended the evening with a very soulful rendition of "Endless Love," by Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross. (Hey, at least it wasn't "Dancin' on the Ceiling"). We didn't get home until 5:30 a.m. -- I don't know how I stayed awake. Not bad for my first night in Japan.

Well, it's 1:30 a.m. here now, and I have a 9:30 train to Hiroshima tomorrow, so I need to get to sleep. Unfortunately, I'm wide awake. I will save my story about the bizarre dollhouse coffee shop with the teenage girls dressed as little maids for later. Sayonara!


K said...

I believe I cautioned you not to cause any "international incidents" while on the other side of the world. Try to stick to crushes on Japanese girls and drunk Karaoke,please! It won't be easy for me to come rescue you from Chile. Caio and Happy Thanksgiving Mr. Roboto!

KatieG said...

yay! glad the trip is going well...
quiet week at work...
have a great time, see you next week!

Shan said...