It finally became closing time at the hostess club, and we had to leave. Then followed what is probably the most surreal experience of my whole life. I think I’ll refrain from describing it, though; some things are best not divulged to the whole world. Don’t worry, though; I didn’t do anything evil. Following absolute weirdness, we made our way to a public bath. This place was pretty classy, despite the questionable Engrish on this sign: it was several floors, with all varieties of baths, massage facilities, lounges, sleeping areas, a restaurant, and exercise equipment. Combined with the manga-kissa, it pretty much eliminates the need for a home. We checked in at about 4 or 5 in the morning, moved around between hot baths, cold baths, indoor baths, outdoor baths, saunas, and showers, ate breakfast (and shaved-ice), and took a one-hour nap. At around 10, Matsui-san left for work. It’s pretty common to work all night, go out afterwards, and stay out until it’s time to go back to work. Somehow they don’t die from it. Not right away, anyway. At 12:00 we were to meet Gou to go see Zatouichi, the newest movie from the legendary Beat Takeshi. I managed to stay awake through the (good) movie, we had some Wendy’s, and then it was time for me to meet up with Tets. I got to log some solo Japan time while waiting for Tets; it was kind of nostalgic to summon up my old walking-through-Tokyo-crowds powers and to just wander around Shinjuku with my iPod on. Tets and Mahou showed up; I could probably write a whole book about Tets but I’ll just say that he’s probably the most interesting person I’ve ever met in my life. After hanging out with that dynamic couple for a few hours, I came back to Andy’s to find Gou and him watching One Piece DVDs. Gou works at the One Piece shop in Ikebukuro, and is required to be familiar with the storyline of the comic-turned-anime. After a few episodes, Gou packed up and went home. Then, finally, we slept. Thus ended the weird Saturday night, on Sunday night.
Archive for November, 2003
Matsui-san finally did call us at around midnight and we made our way out of the manga-kissa and down the street to meet him. He showed up, a surprisingly tiny little dude for how important he is, and I did my best not to seem like a complete dork in front of him. Walking around Shinjuku late at night with him made something very unusual happen: all the flashing lights, all the shady little establishments, all the guys coming up to you trying to get you to go to their theme club, suddenly stopped being just distractions and cultural curiosities and started being actual entertainment options. With important video game creators on your side, anything is possible. So, for the first time ever, when a toady scavenger guy came up to us with a clipboard for a hostess club, we actually listened to what he had to say. Matsui-san asked questions about the place. We actually had a conversation with the scavenger. “What’s the atmosphere like? Is it too loud? Lots of these places are too loud.” “Oh, no, sir, I assure you it’s very peaceful. You’ll love it. Please follow me.” And wouldn’t you know it, we did just that. We followed the guy down the block, into a building, into a tiny little elevator, and up to the top where we emerged into a tiny, very, very loud hostess club. It was near-impossible to hear anything over the din. We were seated at a cluster of tiny tables, and three hostesses were sent out to sit with us. The girl assigned to Matsui-san and the one assigned to me were both very friendly and immediately struck up a conversation with us. Andy’s girl was kind of seated on the periphery and wasn’t able to get into the conversation much. Of course Andy’s fluency in Japanese language and culture was the focus of the night, and all of the girls made sure to tell him how amazing he was. They also told me how amazing _I_ was, because that’s their job, but I could tell they were genuinely impressed at him. “My” girl was named Maria, and I found her to be really quite nice compared to the other girls. I like to think she was putting on less of an act, but it’s hard to tell when you’re in a situation designed to make you think you are very cool. Andy and Matsui-san were enjoying alcoholic beverages, and I knew it would be pretty awkward socially if I tried to weasel out of having to drink. Luckily Maria was accomodating enough to make my drink about 95% water without too much of a fuss. After about half an hour of ego-massaging, it was time to rotate. Andy explained to me that the way it works is this: they keep rotating the girls out until you find one that you like, and then you can ask her to stay. This costs more money, though, which presumably goes toward the girl’s earnings. I was pretty comfortable with Maria, and so while the other two girls left, I asked her to stick around. Andy’s new girl looked very, very bored, and said less than ten words during her entire shift. She spent the whole time staring at nothing, waiting until her time was up. I was glad I’d stuck with the friendly and semi-honest-seeming Maria. I spent much of the time telling her about my girlfriend Hiroko, as if to inform her that I was in the club strictly for the experience of having visited such a place. She told me how she’s trying to become a pro bowler. Awesome. Andy and I did some karaoke, both _Bohemian Rhapsody_ and _Stairway to Heaven_. The whole place seemed pretty impressed, though I think they would have clapped madly for just about anything. “Good pronunciation!”, they said.
Here’s our private little booth at the manga-kissa. We opted for the special booth that lets two people sit together. Most of the booths are for a single person. Andy and I enjoyed several hours here while waiting for Matsui-san to call. We speculated that one could probably get by without having a computer, a TV, or any form of entertainment or communication whatsoever at home. Every night one could stop by a 24-hour manga-kissa, use the internet, read a bit, play some video games, have a few melon sodas, even take a nap, and then be on one’s way. WIth the ubiquity of mobile phones, a land line at home wouldn’t even be necessary. The manga-kissa truly could act as a home in everything but meals and bed.
The beginning of our weird Saturday night. Andy has befriended one of the more important people at Tecmo, Matsui-san. Much of my trip he’d been telling me “Matsui-san this” and “Matsui-san that”, and hoped to get us all together for a night on the towne. Saturday night was looking the most promising, and we went into Shinjuku to hang out until Matsui-san called to let us know whether he’d be able to come see us. First we wandered around and did some shopping, then made our way to a Mister Donut to have some donuts and bottomless coffee. At the Mister Donut we sat at the little bar facing out the front window of the shop, and there was a stereotypical kogal-type leaning up against the glass in front of us for about half an hour. She called a number of people on her cell phone, fidgeted a lot, took of her shoes, socialized with some guys who she may or may not have known, got her butt grabbed, got a phone call, and left. Through all this I kept trying to get a photo of her bare feet on the concrete or her charm-adorned cell phone, without seeming like a _tousatsu mania_, or “hidden-camera freak”. I couldn’t get one. We got a call from Matsui-san, still at work at 21:00, saying that he might be able to come out in a few hours. We made our way to a _manga-kissa_, a “comic cafe”. These are just a few of the shelves and shelves of comix available there. They also had PS2 games, movies, and unlimited drinks. We picked out some good comix and settled into our tiny little booth.
Here’s someone doing caricatures outside of Shinjuku’s East Exit. I used to meet with my RPG group right around here. A few feet away, one band is playing in front of the “do not perform here” sign, and another band is patiently waiting for their turn to play.
Shiina Ringo: some IRC people, particularly Jules, recommended her music to me, and I picked up one of her CDs at Book-Off for cheap, not expecting too much. I kind of forgot about the CD for a while and then put it on while working on something to see what it was like. After about 30 seconds I realized that I’d gotten into something really special. She’s probably the only artist I’ve really started liking a lot within the last couple of years. This poster is for her _Seiteki Healing: sono san_ music video collection DVD; I picked up all three of her DVD collections on this trip. Her music and her videos are pretty dizzyingly eclectic in a Bjorkesque kind of way.
I’m not entirely sure what is going on in this graffiti. au is one of the theree major mobile communications companies, and DoCoMo is another. My phone when I was in Japan was a KyoCera-made au, and I really preferred au phones over the other companies, but I guess someone didn’t agree with me and vandalized this shop. You can’t imagine the weird looks you’ll get when photographing closed shop doors after midnight in Shinjuku.
Ah, bentous. If Andy and I actually get around to eating before 21:00, we’ll probably get these. They are especially good for when we are tired or we have something important to watch on TV (like The Practice or Pussuma), because we can just make the 2-minute walk, order, and come back to eat them in front of the (huge) TV at Andy’s place. The food looks really tasty, because it’s totally fake. All those dishes are plastic. Maybe you’ve heard that most restaurants in Japan have fake-food displays to better show what kind of meal you’re getting yourself into. This is invaluable for newly-arrived foreigners unfamiliar with the language and culture. There are whole shops of fake food, and many people make their living trying to take stuff that’s not actually food and make it look as much like food as possible. On a side note, this site should now display “correctly” in Internet Explorer for Windows. This is by no means an endorsement of any kind for Microsoft products, but instead a reluctant response to their [continued neglect to properly support the superior, free PNG image format] or to [correctly implement the float attribute in CSS]. Thanks to Kristen for testing the changes in her IE and for listening to me complain about Microsoft for like an hour. : http://redvip.homelinux.net/varios/explorer-png-en.html : http://www.digital-web.com/features/feature_2003-02.shtml
I find gachagachas more appealing than, say, big ol’ $100 garage-kits because they’re, oh, about 1/50 the price, you actually get to assemble them yourself, and if you are lucky enough to find them while they’re still in the capsule machines you get to play the collecting game. Plastic models also seem like a great value to me because for only 2000-3000 yen you get hours of enjoyment and relaxation, and when you’re done you have something you made yourself that also reflects your loyalty to a series.
Yes Madam, an entire shop of gachagachas. Ikebukuro turned out to be quite a geek-haven. After visiting the Taishou Romandou, we came here in my quest for Sakura Taisen gachagachas. I was actually rather surprised at how hard it was to find what I was looking for. You’d think that in a store like this, something as relatively popular as ST would be all over the place. “But to no avail, it didn’t work”. I would learn later that eBay is one’s best bet, even for stuff this weird.
The shop had a shelf and a little table in the back, where we saw about 100 notebooks filled with visitors’ comments and drawings. Some people wrote for pages and pages, some people drew huge, pro-quality fan-art, and some people even stapled in original, full-color, astounding works that they probably spent hours working on at home. Most entries had some sort of little drawing at least, like the Sakura-donating-blood in the entry above ours. My entry, in the middle, reads: “I came from America to visit this shop! It’s even better than I’d imagined. I’m not very good at drawing, but if I was, I would draw Kouran and Hanabi. Sakura Taisen is the greatest; keep up the good work. -jetfuel” Andy took like half an hour to draw his huge ST/USA flag, featuring stars in the colors of the characters from each game. While he was drawing I made my way around the store about ten times and agonized over which goods I wanted to buy. Eventually I decided on a nice Sakura Taisen t-shirt, Kouran pin, file, and zipper-dangle-thing, and a Hanabi laminated card with a love-detector thingo on the back, which I use for a bookmark. We then drew ourselves saluting the flag, made our purchases, and headed across the way to the Sakura Cafe.
Sakura Taisen dolls and models are abundant. I’m working on two of the steam-powered-robot models you see on the bottom shelf.
For only several hundred thousand yen, you can have this life-sized model of Iris. Behind her are very expensive costumes from the stage show.
How many video games have their own toaster? Do you understand how much of a legacy this is?
Well, we finally made it to the Sakura Taisen shop after about a year of wanting to visit. It was even wackier than we’d hoped. That a niche video game can have its own store and cafe open year-round pleases me much. If you are so inclined, you can spend 8000 yen on a model of your favorite character, or several tens of thousands of yen on a replica of Erica’s machine gun from Sakura Taisen 3. If you’ve got time to kill and you want to read about just why I like this game so much, there is a [stupid essay]. : http://jetfuel.metalbat.com/sakura.txt
On our way to the Sakura Taisen shop, we were pretty hungry, so we stopped into a McDonald’s to relive our old pastime of having cheeseburgers. What we didn’t know was that we were entering one of the remaining stores in McDonald’s failed “McDonald’s Dining” experiment. They set up a few stores with nice decor and an upscale menu, in hopes of attracting a more choosy demographic, perhaps to compete with nicer places like Mos Burger. Instead they got a place where you can pay way too much money for way too little food. I suppose it is like Mos Burger in that you spend 1000 yen or more and still feel very hungry after you’ve eaten.