Archive for June, 2005
Hostess bars are a uniquely Japanese thing, that I managed to avoid for 3 ½ years. Then, one weekend I got drunk with two Japanese friends and one insisted that we go. Bear in mind, that this is a friend who has had a steady girlfriend (who is quite attractive) for 4 years.
Now, before this visit, I always had an image of hostess bars as some kind of dodgy strip-club.
Something classy and understated like this…
The reality is far different, far more civilized and far less interesting.
You are actually paying money to talk to a woman! That’s it.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t roughly 50% of the population women? And we’re not talking a dirty conversation here. No, it’s light chatter.
“The weather is very bad today”
“So, how ‘bout those Hiroshima Carp”
I’m certainly not a wildly handsome guy, but I’ve never had to pay a woman to talk to me before. I’ve almost always at least gotten a “Get lost creep!” for free.
Indeed, being an English teacher in Japan, I can get women to pay me for a conversation and I get to speak in English. The whole concept in reverse just isn’t that enticing.
Of course, what you are really paying for is the chance to flirt with a young lady. It’s just like all that annoying small talk you’re forced to make in bars, but without the possibility of actually getting anywhere with the girl.
So, there we are talking inanities and my friend leans over and says that I’m supposed to buy her a drink.
Now, I’m familiar with the concept of buying a drink for women. Usually it is in the vain attempt to get them drunk enough to look at me without flinching. But hang on; wasn’t I already paying this girl just to talk to me? But rules is rules; and so I stumped up for an $8 mineral water at the club’s wonderfully competitive prices.
Anyway, by this stage we’ve got quite the conversation happening in my broken Japanese.
“I have lived in Japan for four years”
“No, I don’t like nattou”
“So, what’s your take on Nietzches’ philosophical assertion that ‘convictions are more enemy to the truth than lies’”?
“Yes, I can use chopsticks”
“Really? You’re 17 eh?”
I’m starting to relax and think that at least this girl will be able to buy a new Louis Vuitton handbag thanks to me. But then, what happens? She leaves to talk to someone else and a different girl comes to talk to me. And I have to go over the same inanities with a completely different person. Oh, and buy her a drink as well.
So far, I’ve shelled out about 6000 yen and I’ve effectively had an hour of “Let’s speak basic Japanese” lessons.
Then the manager comes over and tells us that if we want to stay, we have to pay for another hour. Let me tell you, there was no way that was happening.
And so it was back out into the cold night air, a poorer man and yet no wiser.
The Cynical Traveller
Apologies if you tuned in this week looking for a Kabuki story. It’ll appear eventually.
If you live in Japan long enough, it is inevitable that you will eventually be invited by some Japanese girl to Tokyo Disneyland. There’s a strong possibility that you won’t even know her.
Yes, it seems that the Japanese like nothing quite so much as getting touched up by a man in a mouse costume. Being the cynic that I am, I find Disneyland offers all the expense of a good colonic irrigation, without any of the charm.
There are some things about the place I do like though. There are a couple of fun roller coasters. I must confess I have never felt quite as nauseous as I did at Disneyland.
Admittedly that had nothing to do with the roller-coasters…
The Japanese Disneyland is apparently a carbon copy of the one in the States, a fact which doesn’t stop the Japanese from going to that one as well.
Let’s go over some of the rides on offer:
IT’S A SMALL WORLD (A.K.A. Everyone else is a wicked Gaijin)
Grotesquely disproportionate mannequins sing hideously at you as you take a boat ride. Each figure displays grossly over exaggerated stereotypical features. The Eskimos live in igloos. The Australian Aboriginals have big red lips and hunt koalas in trees with boomerangs.
This ride is particularly hilarious in the homogenous context of Japan, where 99% of the population are Japanese and their exposure to other cultures extends only to the waiting staff in hotels.
15 hours of riding a slow boat through annoying brer rabbit animatronics culminates in 3 seconds of thrills, as you plummet from top of a mountain and a camera takes a photo of you pulling a stupid face.
Said photo can then be purchased for around $800.
ROGER RABBIT’S SPINNING CAR RIDE
Or something like that.
You sit in a cartoon styled car, which you can spin using the steering wheel. The track takes you through a gaudy cartoon world. If you spin the car fast enough, you might be able to get your girlfriend to throw up, adding to the decor.
POOH’S HUNNY HUNT
Owing to the inexplicable popularity of Winnie the Pooh in Japan, I’ve never been able to get close to entering this thing. The lines are usually over a two hour wait and, for some reason, filled with women in their mid twenties.
I feel genuinely sorry for any poor kid who does actually want to see this. Even a poorly spelled title doesn’t seem to discourage people.
PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN
What a great idea. Take some of the most ruthless, debauched villains in history and sanitise it into an “amusing” animatronics show for children.
Watch… the hilarious antics as the pirates, bent on savagely raping the townsfolk, are beaten off with rolling pins.
Laugh… as the pirates, imprisoned in inhumane conditions, try to entice a dog with the bone from a former comrade who excruciatingly starved to death.
Thrill… as the pirate ship attacks a fort, whose defenders continuously shoot ineffectually into the ocean.
Marvel… at the fact that in the 16th century Spanish main, everyone spoke fluent Japanese.
Yo ho ho.
STAR WARS TOURS
Before going on this ride, I believed that nothing could be more disappointing than the three Star Wars prequel movies.
I was right, but not by much.
BEAVER BROTHERS’ LOG CANOE RIDE
The most fun thing about this is the name.
Basically you ride in a canoe with a Japanese guide who tells you how to use the oars effectively. I found the most effective use was to bludgeon yourself into unconsciousness with them and hope you wake up once it’s over.
I actually like this ride, though it pains me to say so.
BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN
Experience the “Wild West” in the “Timid East”.
Of course Disneyland isn’t just about rides;
There’s also the chance to take in a choreographed parade, eat an overpriced microwave meal or buy a graven idol of an anthropomorphic mouse.
The whole day is rounded off with a light parade. All your favourite characters appear dressed up in christmas tree lighting. Should a sudden storm hit it would probably wipe out the entire staff in one fell swoop.
Then 30 seconds of fireworks explode overhead to make you feel like you’re getting value for money. And then you can leave for home; satisfied that while everything in your world isn’t perfect, it could be much worse.
The Cynical Traveller
We’ve all done it. We’ve been sitting there watching the news and there’s been some story on a fashion designer’s latest show. 60 heroin addicts who look like they’ve escaped from Auschwitz appear, sporting fashions that even Barbie dolls have come alive to escape from.
And you sit there wondering, “Who the hell would wear any of this stuff?” Well, wonder no more. All this fashion ends up on the girls in Harajuku.
Yes, Harajuku is the famed fashion capital of Tokyo. This is an honour somewhat akin to the prestige of being named, say “Hillbilly capital of the Southern USA”.
Harajuku is the kind of place that should cause fashion designers to drop Tokyo from their New York, Paris, London, Tokyo collections.
As a picture tells a thousand words, let me now display the horror that is Harajuku. I apologise if the images make your page load slowly, but you should probably consider it a blessing.
I present: Harajuku to Shibuya – An Odyssey in pictures
Our odyssey began at Harajuku station, where we immediately went into freak alert 5. Harajuku is so famous now, that it feels like there are more foreigners with cameras (myself included) than Japanese people. But while many people now consider it a bit passé to make fun of Harajuku fashions, what these people are forgetting is that it’s also incredibly fun.
After 20 mintes or so of shutterbugging around the station, we entered nearby Meiji Park. Meiji Park is an oasis of beautiful trees, stately shrines and majestic temples; and as such, will not be mentioned again in this article.
Anyway, after leaving the park, we skirted its outsides and were lucky enough to run into a troop of Elvis impersonators. These quiffed up fanboys had a stereo booming out Presley hits, while they shuffled on the sidewalk.
Truly awe insipring!
Elvises Elivs’s Elvii behind, we headed towards Shibuya, thinking to escape from the madness. No such luck!
The very first road we walked down had some sort of agricultural fair going on. And so, we were greeted by the wonderful sight of a man in a soy bean costume posing for pictures with the locals.
And things got weirder when he was joined by his wife, some kind of wind up, generic, yellow blob.
Finally, they were both joined by the Nutty Professor and the girl pictured three shots below, just in time for all four to perform an incredibly strange dance.
I swear to god, at this stage I wouldn’t have been surprised if George Bush rappelled down from a helicopter, wearing nothing but a leotard and singing “Happiness is a warm gun”!
Further on, we witnessed this mother and her obviously terrified child posing with these scary characters.
And then there was the ANA booth, sponsored by Pikachu.
We’re expecting smooth flying this morning, with a chance of some turbulence and card carrying dragons later this afternoon.
I’d like to now direct your attention to our stewardess, who will demonstrate some basic exercises you can perform to make your flight more comfortable”
Leaving Harajuku, we entered Shibuya passing some interesting shops on the way.
And finally it was into Shibuya station.
However, just to complete my day, I saw a prime example of the subtlety and juxtoposition that make Japanese advertisers the masters of their craft.
Until next time.
The Cynical Traveller
NEXT WEEK – The Cynical Traveller goes to… Tokyo Disneyland
(This story contains a lot of pictures – Apologies in advance to any dial up users, but really you should get out of the dark ages!)
Nowadays Japanese arcades are more than sugar high teenagers, epilectically dancing on DDR machines. While the shooting and driving games of home still appear, I have decided to highlight some of the more original machines.
The most popular games on display are the ubiquitous “skill testers”, or as they are know in Japan, “UFO catcher”. Just why they are called this is anyone’s guess as the prizes are very rarely UFOs, and indeed, very rarely caught.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of these machines, they are full of prizes that are generally worth less than it costs to play the game. The operator moves a claw around with a joystick and then presses a button. The claw descends and tries to grasp a prize.
Of course, the claws in these machines have about the same grasping strength as Kermit the Frog.
Now at home, the prizes are usually a fluffy toy, and indeed these do appear in Japan, albeit in a slightly scarier fashion.
But those clever Japanese don’t just stop at toys. Oh, no. How about trying to win a girlie DVD?
Or for those of you into animation, you can win a “Neon Genesis” character. But not just some boring battle armour figurine.
They are available in:
Peadophile’s wet dream
And knocked up housefrau
The concept of this machine is simple. Insert a token and if you’re lucky it pushes a load of other tokens out. However, as simple as the concept is, the design is something else!
I swear to god, this thing looks like it’s escaped from a Stephen King Novel. I believe it was designed to discourage young children from gambling. Most of the children were far too scared to go near the thing, and some burst into tears when looking at it.
The machine periodically blurted something out in distorted Japanese. Although my Japanese is pretty bad, I’m sure it translated into something like, “I’m coming for your soul”.
For the more cereberal of you, why not try the imaginatively titled “Quiz Magic Academy II”? Yes, this machine asks you a series of questions and lets you pick from multiple choice answers or true (O) false (X). It’s just like “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, but without all that pesky “winning money” stuff to distract you.
True or False?
This is the new fad in Japanese gaming centres. The player buys some cards from a shop. Each card has different abilities. They then place the cards on the machine, which reads them and they can use them to play the game.
The wonderful thing about this idea is that the company that makes the game gets your money twice.
In this first example, the cards make up units of an army. You can move them around the table to fight a strategic battle.
Or, how about a game of soccer, where the cards represent the different players on your team?
However, as this site is called “The Cynical Traveller”, you certainly won’t find me admitting that I actually thought this was a pretty cool idea.
There is also a huge market for old style games in Japan. You’ll see many machines that haven’t been manufactured since the late 1980s being played by guys who haven’t had a date since the late 1980s.
I mean come on, my Commodore 64 had better graphics than this.
And finally, for my readers over 40 who may be intimidated by all this, here’s a picture of “Pong”.
The Cynical Traveller
NEXT WEEK: The Cynical Traveller goes to… Harajuku
Now, I’m not the kind of person who likes to brag about my accomplishments. Indeed, I’m not the kind of person who’s ever had any accomplishments to brag about.
So, when I say I climbed Fuji, it is important to add a caveat.
Nobody really climbs Fuji. You don’t see people scaling with ropes and pitons. Nobody has ever died in a tragic, yet necessary rope cutting situation, a la Vertical Limit.
Rather, Fuji is a gentle, if sometimes strenuous walk up what is, for all intents and purposes, a bloody big hill.
The general consensus for climbing Fuji is to leave at night and try to watch the sunset from the top. Of course, 9 out of 10 paralysed mountaineers recommend night climbing. Indeed, so popular is this method, that in many places we were forced to queue up. This is not a joke, it actually happens!
I went to Fuji with two friends, Mamoru and Yosenex.
Fuji is divided into 10 stations, the tenth being the highest. Most people start climbing at station five, about halfway up the mountain. Being the young, fit, adventurous individuals we are, we began our ascent at the first station. Then, when we reached the fifth station, we exited the car and began to walk.
What follows is an actual diary account of our historic ascent.
Station 5 – 6
Spirits are high and the road is flat. We have stocked up on sports drinks and onigiri (rice balls in seaweed) in nearby Yoshida town. The party feels good about our chances of reaching the summit.
Station 6 -7
The climb has become more strenuous and there is little of the camaraderie of the early hours. Yosenex complains constantly of being tired.
We have eaten the last of the onigiri and tempers are flaring. The road gets steeper and the party is getting weaker. Dawn is still nowhere in sight. Oh, when will this madness end?
Station 8 – 9
We were forced to eat Mamoru today. Yosenex bludgeoned him to death with his climbing stick and I cut him into small pieces. The taste of raw human flesh is not something that I ever wanted to experience. Fortunately, a nice man in a nearby shop sold us a pot noodle to dip the pieces into.
Station 9 – 10
It became obvious to me that Yosenex was suffering from altitude sickness. The singing frog on my shoulder told me he was not to be trusted and I was forced to kill him. When I reach the summit, I will dispose of his body in the crater.
The summit! I made it! Now I’ll just get the other guys to take a photo of me.
Actually, in reality, climbing Fuji is quite easy. Indeed, there are many elderly people and small children climbing at the same time. Let me tell you, there’s something soul destroying about being told “gambatte” (“you can do it”) by a 70 year old woman with a plastic hip.
Until next time, stay cynical
The Cynical Traveller
NEXT WEEK: The Cynical Traveller goes to… A Japanese Arcade.