Tokyo Journal 2003: Day 11, Part 2

May 6th, 2003

The final installment! Can you believe it?

Pattie, Emi and I headed to Shinjuku station together, where we all admired the shiny jewel-like lights and the huge Studio Alta screen which is a famous place for meeting. Why it’s a popular choice is beyond me – it’s so crowded and such a large area, that you’re practically guaranteed to *not* find the person you’re looking for!

We met Takami at the entrance to Kabukicho, which was bustling and full of hustlers. There were few women on the street, except for the women who worked there, handing out flyers and trying to get people into the restaurants and clubs. There were a few really big black guys, which in Tokyo must seem very exotic and threatening. One guy talked to us in English, and when we, with our finely honed New Jersey disinterest in anything that doesn’t have to do with us and our practiced New York ability to smell a come-on at fifteen paces, ignored him, he tried again in French and German. It was impressive, but wasted.

I was dazzled by the shiny, flashy grunginess of the place and forgot to think of Asuka, the lead character of Hana no Asuka-gumi, walking around this same area, enjoying the shiny grunginess, gettiing into fights and saving damsels in distress. I’m a bad fan. We stopped at a game center, where Pattie and Emi played a Taiko drumming game – essentially, you have to drum in time with the little images on the screen. They played to YMCA by the Village People and they sucked horribly. Emi wanted me to play something (no dignity allowed here, oh no…) and I volunteered to play a game where you killed demons and monsters with a sword – totally my style. It was one of these things where you move and the screen character moves too. I kicked serious demon ass for a while, but was flattened from behind – can you believe it? The game cheated! So then the other three played, but (haha!) didn’t beat my score. LOL Emi got as picture of me holding a gun (from the next game over) to Takami’s head while she played. It was pretty funny, because she didn’t know I was doing it. We meandered through a few other arcades and ended up playing a shoot ’em up with a Tomb-Raider-esque feel and a faux-Egyptian motif. Pattie was the best shot by alot, but she was slow to reload. Emi was getting really into it and shooting wildly. I sucked, but I figured I would, not being a gun person. LOL Emi wanted me to play the dog walking game, but I demured.

On the train, Emi had asked if there was any food we particulary wanted, but hadn’t had yet. I said that I’d like to have some chawan mushi (a warm egg custard with seafood and bonito broth which is much better than that description sounds, trust me) but hadn’t seen it anywhere. Emi and Takami couldn’t think of anywhere that had that, though, so as we wandered, they kept checking menus for the dish. Eventually, they looked at a sign and decided to go up to that restaurant and asked. Well, when we got there, it turned out they didn’t have chawan mushi, but I didn’t care all that much, so we decided to stay anyway and…it turned out the place was a karaoke restaurant. Pattie and I both felt a surge of the inevitable, so we acquiesced, preparing for the worst. The place was *huge.* We had a small room – room for 4-6 people depending on how thin they were, and a karaoke machine. There were dozens of rooms and I imagine some held much larger parties, so the place could probably hold a few hundred people at once, all singing crappily. Think about it.

So, we ate, sang karaoke and laughed hysterically, ’cause we all know how much Erica just *loves* to do karaoke. The place must have been soundproofed within an inch of its life – outside a box, you never heard a noise.

I think karaoke is more about how funny it is that you suck and how badly you remember the words, than anything else. We sang a mixture of Japanese and English. Takami started off with the theme to Cutey Honey, and Emi sang Rinbu Revolution from Utena and London Calling by the Clash. Pattie and I sang Daydream Believer and the opening theme from One Piece. At one point, Emi keyed in the wrong song and we ended up with the theme to a children’s cartoon that none of us knew. But the song was so easy to learn that we all sang along anyway. It appeared to be about a monkey. For a finale, they all sang, with great relish and despite vociferous protests, Dancing Queen by Abba, a band I find physically painful. It was really funny. Takami mentioned that when they were younger they’d do karaoke all nighters. Pattie asked why they would do that, and Takami ventured that it was because Japanese people are all “quiet” and keep things inside and that this was a way to release tension. That’s pretty much the party line of karaoke and most other forms of entertainment there. Which begs the question – if they are so “quiet” (the word she used was “shizuka” which means quiet in a sedate and proper way) then why are they the world’s hardest partiers? As they all sang the finale, I kept muttering that I was in hell.

Dinner was not bad – fried chicken pieces, shrimp toast, french fries and a pasta dish of indeterminate nature. Dessert was jello and fruit. It wouldn’t win awards, but it did the trick.

After the karaoke free-for-all, we set off to the Nichoume….

I have to say here that New York has *one* thing over Tokyo – street addresses. I may have a little trouble finding a place I’ve never been to in NYC, but I’ve never had trouble finding an entire section of town! LOL You really need a map with landmarks in Tokyo, not just a map and a street address.

So, there we were, walking street after street, block after block and we kept asking, just to be funny, “Are you *sure* you know where you’re going?” After getting lost no less than three times, we ended up at the Nichoume. It’s a windy, teeny, little street, that looks like any other street. No pride flags and loud bars in this neighborhood. We walked around a bit and found a bookstore (on street level, oddly, now that I think of it, openly selling gay and lesbian publications. This shop felt very Greenwich Village-y and I felt compelled to pick up a copy of Anise, the one regular lesbian publication. And then we set out to find the Mars Bar, one of three lesbian bars in Nichoume. Apparently the other two were more party-girl places, and they thought we’d be happier at a quieter place for “older” lesbians. Gee, thanks.

Until the day I set up a Yuricon party at Meow Mix last year, I had never set foot into a lesbian bar in my life – I’ve only ever been in bars about half a dozen times total. We’d been trying to avoid the Nichoume bar thing, but since it was inevitable, we went along for the ride. Apparently, neither Emi or Takami had been to this place for a while, and were having a hard time finding it. *Luckily* I happened to have the new copy of Anise, which has a map for all the bars! How convenient! Takami and Emi consulted the map, then headed in opposite directions. Pattie and I were hysterical and I was once again reminded of how Japanese humor does not include irony. Sarcasm, yes, cynicism, yes, just not irony.

At last we found the right building and ended up at Mars Bar. It was small and ratty in a well-used and relaxing way, like most bars that are low key. One of the bartenders was dressed in an Indian sari, the other in a cheongsam, and both wore bindi between their eyes. The one in the sari came over and introduced herself as Asako and asked our names. When she called me Erica-chan, they all laughed at me. (It’s a running gag at Yuricon about the appropriate honorific for me. I insist that, as I’m America, unless you’re Japanese, “Erica” is the most appropriate. If you’re Japanese, then “Erica-san” is fine. I am not to be called (especially by 20-somethings from this continent) Erica-chan, or any horrific contraction of my name. And, as I’m not the Crown Princess, “Erica-sama” seems overblown and ridiculous. So of course, that’s what everyone calls me. Or worse, Emi suggested “Erica-hime-sama” which is absolutely cringe-making. Now I just smile blandly and fantasize about creatively murdering people who use honorifics inappropriately. Hence the laughter at my expense.) We talked for a while about Yuricon, America, how New York seems scary to people, 9/11 and how Pattie and I have been together for almost 20 years. Takami said that American butches are nicer than Japanese ones. I was surprised at this, but she insisted that they are more considerate. I said, well of course…Pattie is the Queen and I live to serve. You think I’m kidding….

Asako asked if we knew Anise and so, once again, the magazine was really useful. I pulled out the new issue and pointed out that we had a mangaka in our midst. So, we made Emi sign all her work and Takami sign the article she wrote and then, when we pointed out the ad for Yuricon, she made us sign next to the pictures of us on the ad. (Hahah, Kun, you didn’t get to do that!) Asako called Emi “sensei” and the noise Takami made was *definitely* universal. I howled with laughter. We told them of our Yuri Monogatari and Rica ‘tte Kanji publications and Asako asked for some copies for the bar. Of course I will send her some. And we sat and seriously considered selling them at Comiket. How cool would that be? Pattie asked if there were any famous Japanese lesbians (good question, Pattie!) and that prompted a good conversation about lesbian music and singers and writers. It turns out that there is an actual Takarazuka lesbian couple (which seems obvious, given the whole gender role/cross-dressing thing, but it is actively and vigorously regulated against. Even relations between Takarazuka actresses and outside people are strictly controlled. So an actual known couple within Takarazuka is pretty amazingly scandalous and fun.)

Anyway, about 12:30, we wrapped it up, which was good, because party girl that I am, I was beat and the stools were really uncomfortable. :-) So we got to the train station, took an extended leave of Takami and Emi and made the last train back to Ikebukuro. I tried to be mindful of everything, since this was the last time I’d see it all for a while. Bye, Shinjuku! Bye, Shin-Okubo! Bye, Takadanobaba! Bye Meijiro! All these stations were like exits off 287 for me – familar names that meant I was getting close to home.

And we crashed. Pattie was asleep almost instantly and I sat around thinking of things had forgotten to put in my journal, like:

I love random mis/usage of language, like “Comme ca’ism.” Especially on clothes, where it is essentially meaningless. It doesn’t even have to be English – I just like words. English is popular in Japan, it gives advertising a trendy feel and is often used in ads targeting young people. One wonderful ad was almost exactly right – “Smile is the best makeup.” It was for a dentist’s office. We did see a t-shirt being worn by a guy on TV that said “motherf***er” (without the asterisks) and that cracked us up, and we amused by the “Flesh Juice” sign at a fast food place. But, the winner and still champeen was on a bag that a young woman was carrying on the street by K-books in Ikebukuro. It read, “Nippon Budokan 2003 Happy Motherf***ing New Year.” (Again, without the asterisks.) I wanted that bag so much. I also wanted a jacket I saw in Harajuku that was a baby blue varsity-style jacket that read “Jersey Central Line” with a picture of the Statue of Liberty. If I was three sizes smaller and had too much money, I *so* would have gotten that jacket.

And that about wraps it up. My final thoughts you already know. And I’ve had several haircuts since. I still need new glasses. And I still feel that Tokyo is not impenetrable, or the Japanese inscrutable or anything like that. I loved Tokyo and can’t wait to go back, and hope one day to be less of a ligusitic moron, so I can make myself understood there. I do strongly recommend that if you go you do *not* stay in Roppongi, unless there’s a very compelling reason to. Otherwise, Ikebukuro is a great place to stay. The hotel we stayed at was really reasonably priced, and very nice, with a great staff, who never once made us feel uncomfortbale, tedious or barbaric. It had a view of Fuji-san, a train station across the street, losts of combi and restaurants to choose from and tons of anime/manga stores and game centers within walking distance. How can you beat that?

On the way to the airport, we both decided that if anyone wanted to fund my stay there, I’d have gladly extended my vacation. I’ve been on four continents and in  dozens of major cities and other than NYC, I like Tokyo best. It’s true that you’ll always be foreign there, but who cares? You are! And unlike most warm weather countries where you’re treated like crap until you’re family (which, admittedly is pretty quickly if you make a point of being human and not just a tourist) in Japan, you’ll never be “in” but they treat guests well. If I’m in a country for ten days or two weeks, I’d much rather be treated well.

Oh, one last note about our trip home: travel karma kicked in once again and we ended up at the wrong terminal…isn’t that typical?!

And there you have it folks – my trip to Japan. I hope you had some fun reading about it, but trust me I had more fun doing it. Check back for my future reports about being a vendor at Comiket. :-)

Next time, back to reports on yuri, shoujoai, and events of interest.

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