Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Day 2, Part 2
While still in Akihabara we walked through the loudest pachinko parlor ever - it was like a rock concert. Then we played some video games in an arcade including the one with giant drums (it's shown in Lost in Translation).
We avoided the girls dressed as french maids who were handing out fliers for 'maid cafes' all around town. You literally go in and pay excessive amounts for coffee or whatever so you can have girls fawn over you. It's a completely alien concept to westerners, especially since they girls all try to look like they're 15.
Then we took a short ride over to Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace. It was getting late so the gardens on the palace grounds were closed, but we walked around the moat a bit, noting that with all the runners the area was like Central Park. We found a huge fountain area and took some pictures there in the dusk as bats flew overhead, then jumped back on the subway and went all they way out to Shinjuku on the westside. It's kind of like Santa Monica assuming that where we were staying was Los Feliz.
Shinjuku is insane. A large part of Lost in Translation was filmed there, as is the hotel the characters stayed at. According to the guidebook there was a crazy alley full of yakitori restaurants - tiny shops that served pretty much just skewers of grilled meat and organs. And beer.
It was hard to find. We wandered around the station and huge department store areas until we found some thick crowds and finally some small alleys. We walked into one and thought we had found the spot... then I looked to my left and saw an even smaller alley. It was swathed in red lanterns. This was it.
We must have passed through the alley eight times. The places were so small, and either they were totally packed or the proprietors were trying to get us to patronize their spot. No way, we wanted the popular spots, but just when we found the balls to sit down in such an intimidating spot someone always swooped in and grabbed the available stools.
Finally, out of desperation, Jacquie squeezed into a tiny spot in between some Japanese businessmen. One of the cooks pointed to a picture of an eel on the wall - apparently that's all they had. Whatever. We ordered four eel skewers to start. And a giant Kirin.
Immediately three wasted businessmen started hitting on Jacquie. Sort of. They probably didn't know telling a girl "you are very sexy" and "you are 15!" is considered a creepy come on in America. But it was hilarious. We gave them a lot of "Kampai's!!!!".
One of them could barely function when he left. Later a guy literally fell off a stool next to me. He tried to stand up and fell over again. No one batted an eye. Public intoxication is totally acceptable, but you have to behave perfectly during the day.
We learned that we were in the coolest yakitori spot by far - this particular bar, with only 12 seats, had been around for decades. The combined age of the three cooks confirmed this - one looked like the son of the other, and the son was not young. And they've only ever served eel and beer. There was a thick coating of eel grease on one of the lights above the grill, kind of like the McSorley's of Tokyo (for my New York friends).
We got more and more skewers. You'd think skewers of eel and beer would be cheap but 13 or so skewers, plus 2.5 giant beers ended up costing us over $60. Oh, by the way, Japan is ridiculously expensive, and the dollar to yen is at its worst in like 20 years. Awesome.
Anyhow, for the second night in a row we took a risk and came up spades. It was a great time. We walked around the insanity of Shinjuku some more and bought a crepe. Not what you're thinking, crepes in Japan are incredible. Ours had whipped cream, strawberries, chocolate syrup, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a slice of cheesecake, all rolled up to look like an ice cream cone. Sheer genius.
We tried to get a beer at a British Pub (a chain called Hub) that advertised Guinness for 500 yen. Upon sitting down we realized that got you a 'mini pint', a full pint cost 900 yen (over $10). Bastards. We left.
Good thing too cause we had a long train ride back to Minami-Senju and I was falling asleep standing up. But it was a great night.