Ok, I am actually embarrassed to be
in a public cafe in Japan and boot up my computer with the
Hello Kitty wallpaper. Starbucks is a good deal in Japan.
A Japanese cafe will give you one small overpriced nonrefillable
cup of coffee. Starbucks will give you one big overpriced
nonrefillable cup of coffee, and there are lots of girls.
USA! The Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra have some promotion
going on with Starbucks here, where their single Shaken
is available in every store. On the big TV in front of Shinjuku
station they run an ad for it all the time.
This is my second trip to Japan. The first time I flew into
Osaka and the cute girl behind the customs counter searched
my luggage thoroughly, giggled at the condoms, and pulled
out from behind the counter what looked like a centerfold
from High Times. I started laughing, she started laughing,
and we both had a good laugh about the possibility of me bringing
drugs into her country.
This time I'm staying in Tokyo and the day after I arrived,
Registrators were playing at Studio Jam. It was hell finding
the place. I got to "the right area" (Kabukicho,
a subsect of Tokyo) and asked a couple dozen people over a
couple of hours until two young guys really helped me out,
as they not only could figure out where it was, but were actually
kind enough to walk me there. I tried to pay their way in
and one said, "I have a job."
The show was great and people were really nice to me so I
expressed affection back one of the few ways I know how, by
buying beer. This went over fairly well and after the show
I went out with Otsuki (Registrators singer) and a lot of
other people. It was really goddamned fun. I was a little
confused in the entry process; this was the first place I
had been where everyone had to take off their shoes and put
them in a bag and in this little bin.
The trains stop running at 1 so you see people making some
critical decisions just before that. Either you leave, or
you stay til 5 AM when they start running again. Most people
stayed. I talked to Otsuki a lot and other people would jump
in. One girl was studying English and could speak really well
and everyone else would chime in occasionally, also carrying
on conversations in Japanese on the side. One guy asked me
if I smoked pot every hour or so by making the holding-and-lighting-bowl
motion. Everyone asked about punk, and most of them knew way
more than me. You'd think hanging out with strangers and a
language barrier would be kind of weird but actually it just
gives you more to talk about and was incredibly fun. When
you work hard for it, simple conversation is much more gratifying.
At one point Otsuki started in on George Bush and I was like
"Yeah I don't know what to tell you man." We talked
about music of course, his band, girls... He was giving me
shit and telling me all Japanese girls want "big Anglo-Saxon
cock." I said, "Why haven't I met them yet?"
and he pointed at my crotch and made the "small"
sign. Truth and comedy transcend international boundaries
Roppongi is the nightlife district of Tokyo, and by "nightlife"
I mean "I heard there were lots of bars with Japanese
girls who like foreign guys." The word "sleazy"
comes to mind for all involved, and for the sake of internationalism,
I thought I had better check it out. Well frankly I found
it depressing. I was walking around looking for some place
decent and everything looked shitty. I stumbled upon the notorious
Panic and I thought well, why not. This is as good as
it gets. I walked in and oh God. I think I put my finger on
it: that is the kind of place that is the same anywhere you
go. Do you love America? Do you wish you hadn't left? That
is the place for you. They have them in Cancun and lots of
other vacation spots, too. Places with no touch of local color
to spook you out. It's like you never left home! What kind
of soulless twat comes to Tokyo to go to a place that is nothing
like Tokyo? The charm of Japan is in how it's NOT LIKE THE
UNITED STATES. It's in the little tray you use to give and
get money, the little bow, the oshibori, the arigato. I had
read the phrase "scary gaijin" in reference to Roppongi
and man, that is right on the money. There was this creepy
old military looking dude hitting on these 2 chicks, YOUNG.
Way younger than I'd go for and that's saying something. It
was seriously depressing. I left and went to some shithole
around the corner, Hideout. The waitress asked what I wanted
I said "Kirin, Sapporo, Asahi, whatever," and she
brought me MGD. God damnit! I'd prefer a slap in the face.
I decided right then to get the hell out of Roppongi.
I went back to Shinjuku and walked over to Kabukicho. I was
feeling pretty bad, and I walked past a place with the sign
"NO FOREIGNERS MAY COME INSIDE." Now I know what
400 years of slavery feels like.
I finally found a bar that would accept my people, and it
seemed all right, very small. I got a vodka gimlet and the
guy next to me started talking to me. He was pretty nice.
He said he liked punk, the Clash and stuff, so we talked for
a bit. There was only one girl in the place but honestly I
didn't care, I was just happy to be somewhere decent. Well
I talked to this guy for awhile and he eventually left. The
girl was with a guy and I figured she was taken so I almost
shit my pants when the guy took off. I thought, "what
the hell" and went and sat by the girl. Here is the incredible
part. She didn't speak English, much at all. I tried really
hard and got through Level 1 of Berlitz basic Japanese. So
I know very little. But I managed to pick this girl up in
drunken broken Japanese! Amazing things happen when you least
expect them. We had a few basic conversations, where are you
from, what do you do, etc. She asked what was I doing the
next day and I said "eat, drink," because I really
had nothing to do. She said she was going to watch a movie.
I said, "Issho ni shimasu ka?" I'm sure that's not
really right but she knew what I meant and said yes. I was
so fucking excited. So, we left. I asked to kiss her and she'd
only let me do it on the cheek. Ok I am totally a sucker for
that shit. I had to get her number of course and neither of
us had a pen so she wrote it IN LIPSTICK. I tell you, if I
had made up a fantasy Japanese girlfriend, and believe me
I have, she gives me her number in lipstick. I came immediately.
A Japanese hangover is different than an American hangover.
It's delicate; like a pagoda. I was in my room on the 6th
floor when I noticed the building sort of rocking back and
forth. It took me a second to suspect it was an earthquake,
and then panic. I thought maybe I was supposed to stand under
a doorway but I thought come on, I'm on the 6th floor of a
concrete building, I'm just going to die. I looked out the
window to see what other people were doing, which was nothing.
Just walking down the street, and the people in the office
on the opposite side hadn't even looked up from their work.
I began to suspect that this was so commonplace that no one
even bothered to mention it. I know where to go when I need
wisdom, so I asked a bartender later that night. He said yes,
maybe a 3 or 4 on the richter scale would be considered significant.
I asked what this was, one, maybe one half? He said maybe
Later that night I went to another bar and when I walked in
this fat old guy yelled, "HELLO! DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH!"
I said "I cannot." I guess you had to be there.
Anyway as the evening progressed he kept talking to me in
Japanese, loud, and fast, and a lot. Hey it's my bad not knowing
Japanese but I am not going to pick it up in a half hour if
you keep yelling at me. Well eventually he was getting really
worked up and the owners of the place were looking visibly
uncomfortable. They translated something about Hiroshima and
I took full responsibility.
Japan didn't get around to outlawing magic mushrooms until
June of 2002. I know this is true because I ate some in Osaka
in 2001 and they were very, very real. Well I heard since
becoming illegal all you really have to do is ask and they'll
get them out from behind the counter. I stopped in one (head)
shop right by Roppongi station and saw some out in a case.
I asked the owner about them and he said psilocybe, the "magic"
part, was outlawed but they didn't get around to outlawing
mescaline yet, so you can still buy mushrooms with that in
Out of curiosity I asked in another shop, "Psychedlic
Garden," in the record store area of Shinjuku, and the
guy just told me they were outlawed and they didn't have any.
Drugs are a really big deal in Japan, with pot carrying much
heavier repercussions than it does in the US, but I think
if you wanted some psychedlics it wouldn't be too hard to
I think the Japanese version of ditzness is acting like you're
not able to walk. High heels are out of control here, girls
wear them all the time with just about anything, but then
a lot do this almost-falling-over walk. It is not very attractive.
I'll see some girl like that hobble over to her boyfriend
and think man, I'm glad I'm not that guy. I'd hate to greet
my girlfriend with relief that she was able to cross the room
But the subservient thing is pretty awesome. When I was hanging
out with the Registrators and crew, every time my beer got
around one quarter low this girl would say "Do you want
another beer?" I don't care how wrong it is, I want an
Asian woman to offer me beer. If there was a fetish video
of Asian women offering beer, I would buy it, watch it, and
A trip to Japan can change your life. One of the things that
makes is a unique place for a Westerner to visit is simply
the love/hate relationship Japan has with the West. There
is a decent amount of xenophobia if not outright racism, yet
people are excited to interact and speak English with you.
Japanese impressions of Westerners, and Americans in particular,
seem paradoxically to be "fat," "lazy,"
and "cool." It's true. Japan has a bit of this itself
- -the best record stores, bands, and women, but then they
screw it all up with a 12 hour work day. Ying and yang I guess.
So what is the sound of one hand clapping? Go to Tokyo and
listen for yourself. You'll hear it in the train, always on
schedule; in the heels, higher than Mount Fuji; and you'll
hear it in your heart, darker than the cold unsweetened coffee
that sits before me. But still. Beating.
Edgar Barrington is co-founder of The Modernist.
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