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Japan Day 5: The Tokyo Hustle
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Japan Day 5: The Tokyo Hustle

11/09/14 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Travel

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Strap in for some hefty Sunday reading, got a few topics to tackle today. Also, I know it's confused people in the past: if you are on the main page, click the title or read more to see the full posts.

HUSTLE
I had the opportunity to go out with some people from my hostel this weekend which turned out to be a great way to experience the Tokyo nightlife. Were it not for this ragtag handful of people, I'm not sure how one would ever be able to navigate it all.

I'll leave out some of the specifics, but the Friday as we wandered around Ginza for reasons unknown to most of us, we came across a bar that seemed reasonable. Karaoke, drinks, not crowded, etc. There were a few things that tipped me off that something was not quite normal though. First, they let us take our drinks in (down with open container laws!!!), second there was no cover or seeming charge for Karaoke (turns out there was), and third, when we walked in, there were about eight 20-something white female bartenders for a clientele of no more than 15 people.

So, and I still haven't confirmed all the details, but apparently there's a concept of a hostess bar in Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Host_and_hostess_clubs). The women/staff make money by essentially flirting with the customers and getting them to buy drinks for them. They seemed like they genuinely were glad for the change of pace from Japanese Business men which was why they casually explained all this to us (we obviously didn't buy them drinks and they warned us about cost even when we ordered for ourselves). Yet as I look back, who really knows. Anyways, a solid accidental Japanese adventure

BUSTLE
The first few days I was in Tokyo, it strangely didn't feel like Tokyo. I lived down the street from one of the main shrines, so coming and going from the hostel was always a surreal experience. Even as we took a taxi back Saturday night, we stopped at the shrine instead to enjoy the short 10-minute late night stroll through the grounds.

Saturday, however, I visited West Tokyo and it definitely felt like Tokyo. We started with the famous street crossing you see in movies, followed by strolls through shops and department stores.

For lunch, we went to a basement "business ramen" shop. As you walk in, two vending machines greet you and you purchase tickets for ramen there (no credit cards obviously). Then you find an individual stall to sit in on a map, sattle up, write your order on a piece of paper (hot, medium, etc.) and push a button. A person takes that, something plays a weird musical sound as they punch it in, and 5 minutes later, your food arrives, they roll down a curtain, and you eat. Definitely a quintessential Japanese experience.

Later that afternoon, I wandered the "Electronics area", checking up on the camera stock in Japan obviously. Just lights. So many lights. You'll have to wait for the full photo album to do this one justice. But this made it feel like Tokyo and every block I wandered seemed to be more crowded than the next.

Little known secret apparently, you can go up the gotham-esque city government building to a 45th floor observatory totally for free. So I went up there for a really nice panoramic view. It's right next to the hotel from Lost in Translation, so you can sort of picture yourself bemoaning life across the way there. Strangely, I ran into someone from my room at the hostel in the observatory, so we grouped up and went to get dinner and wander the most famous nightlife area (Shinjuku). He'd already been down one street and refused to go down there to avoid the pimps, so I strolled alone but perhaps looked too sober for anyone to accost me. Karaoke lounges, neigh Karaoke skyscrapers, were nestled in among the Strip Clubs and buildings with plastic flaps behind which the unknown lay; the pedestrian zone clearly looked to be popular as a nightlife destination.

Anyways, we headed back to the hostel, and though I swore I'd be in bed by 2am for my train this morning, I found myself in Ropongi at a night club with my hostelmates again, and then at a everything-is-280-yen-bar-and-restaurant till 4am. When it's pitch black from 4:30pm on, it really would be great to start these nights a little earlier...but as they say, when in Tokyo!

MUSCLE
One strange thing I've seen everywhere is the calorie or workout obsession. I haven't seen anyone out doing morning workouts like I did in China, but perhaps that's just because of where I was staying.

What I did see, is calories being noted everywhere, strangely not in food though. For instance, in that department store we visited, Tokyo Hands, each stair was labeled: 0.3 kCal, 0.5 kCal, 0.7 kCal, etc. You could literally count the calories as you went up the stairs (I burned off 18 calories worth of ramen).

Even stranger, at the infamous karaoke-but-maybe-hostess bar we visited. A calorie count was displayed at the end of each song. Presumably the amount of calories burned by singing the song, which, how do you even get a remotely accurate count? I mean I gave myself +10 for my Backstreet Boys rendition which involved a lot of running around and getting the salarymen singing.

I'm not sure what the story is behind all tracking of that, but I bet fit bits would sell like rice balls here.

COMING NEXT
Tokyo is done and today I'm heading to see some more shrines and stop over in Nagoya before moving on to Kanazawa and Kyoto. Hopefully the posts will shorten up a little as things become slightly less novel, but thanks for reading if you made it this far! Till next time :)

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A collection of musings from my time at Yale along with some thoughts about my "Freshman year of life" in San Francisco.

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