Monday, September 6, 2010

Tokyo Tales Pt. 1--the Suite Life

Alright, I'm going to start talking about the traveling I've done since getting here.

It's been...2 1/2 weeks since I flew into Tokyo, and I haven't even talked about the city yet!

So here's the first Tokyo post.

My first impression of Japan when Kayoko and I walked out of the airport was damn, it's humid. And coincidentally, this is the same thought I have when I walk out of the seminar house every morning. (Although today it wasn't that bad. It was tolerable.) We took a bus for about an hour from Narita Airport to Tokyo, and passed through Chiba on the way. Finally, I was seeing a Japanese city!

Our hotel was located in Roppongi Hills, a district of Tokyo known for sprawling shopping areas and nightlife. Now, before I go any further, I need to clarify a few things. Those of you who have been keeping up with my pictures on facebook probably raised an eyebrow or two at the pictures of our room at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, and figured I was incredibly loaded or something. Well I'll give you a little spoiler: I'm not loaded. Just really, really lucky.

I actually kinda debated even writing this, and instead having everyone just assume I was living some extravagant dream while in Tokyo (well...I kinda was for those few days, but I'll get into that). But I also realize that I need to make a good impression on the other exchange students, and for whatever reason, people tend to judge those who come from money; they absolutely must be spoiled, right? And so no, to set the record straight, I'm not rich, and every yen I've spent during my time here was my own hard-earned, er, yen!

What happened was, through a series of very lucky events, it turned out that Kayoko's boyfriend's (very rich) dad was living in a very, very posh hotel room, but would be out of town that exact weekend that we were staying in Tokyo. So he offered the room to us, and since it was already paid for, we would be staying for free. I didn't actually realize how nice the room was until we got there...I'll drop a few pics. :)

Main room--the windows had remote-control shades that could come down.

Front room view from next to the TV, you can see our "dining room" area.

Guests we entertained while in Tokyo included Diddy, Gaga, DiCaprio, and Watanabe. :p

Hidden kitchen that we never once used.

Our bedroom (+ Kayoko)

The shower and jacuzzi (you can kinda see this little enclosed garden area that could be viewed from here and the bedroom. The room didn't joke around.)

When I first walked into the room, my jaw hit the floor. Then I saw the dining room and kitchen. And the bedroom. And the bathroom. And the fact that just by staying in that room, we had access to the VIP lounge on that floor (fancy food buffet and drinks fo' free). So yeah. For that short time, we were kind of living a dream!

Here's a pic of my plate the first time we went to the lounge to eat, just because I was so flabbergasted by this whole fancy ordeal and it was super tasty!

We ended up eating in the lounge for dinner a few nights, since it was free, and the food was better than what we would probably be willing to pay for in a restaurant! I always felt so cool going into the lounge--it was always full of a mix of rich businesspeople or tourists from various countries, and it must have looked like we were a couple of trust fund-y's out on the town. :P I couldn't believe any of it!

But anyway, enough about the hotel. Despite how nice it was, we actually didn't spend much time there during the day. We had one of the biggest cities in the world to explore! And explore we did. Though I will say, we sort of stayed away from the major tourist-y things in Tokyo. I requested that we just sort of do what we want, and shop and find things at our leisure, since that's just how I like to experience things. I figure that if I return to Tokyo with other exchange students, we'll hit up the common attractions; I wanted to see what the city life was all about.

So, the first night, we just stayed in, since it was already evening when we got to the hotel and I was jet lagged. Bright and early the next morning, we made our way to Akihabara, a district known for being the electronics, video game, and anime goods capital of the world. I requested that we hit up Akihabara not because I wanted to buy manga or any electronics (besides my cell phone, which I did purchase there), but because that I feel like even if you aren't into those sorts of things, Akihabara is just something you can't ignore. The gigantic cartoon advertisements, the girls dressed as maids at every corner, the flashing signs advertising arcades and purikura--it's an image that I think a lot of people conjure up when thinking of modern Japan. At least many younger people.

I still can't really get over the incredible overt cuteness on display just about everywhere in Japan. Characters stamped on buildings, on ads everywhere, making average commercials look as though they are geared towards children, on the packaging of just about any product you would ever want to buy. I would like to explore this idea further, and maybe make a post about it in the future!

A creature heard about previously in only folklore and myth...a real Akihabara otaku!

Idol Groups like this are very popular with Japanese youth, especially those who frequent Akihabara. This one was called "AKB 48", and has, wait for it...48 girls. There were ads for them EVERYWHERE, and their music blared in just about every other shop we went into. Underneath this picture were pictures of some of the girls in bikinis, with short bios on each. They all appear to be high-school aged.

Kayoko and I did some purikura! Purikura, for those who don't know, is the Japanese version of a photo booth, on steroids. It's just something you have to experience. You select how many pictures you want, what backgrounds, and then quickly pose in various ways as a high-pitched, disembodied voice (something I've heard at a lot of places while here, come to think of it) jabbers away about what I can only assume could be poses and smiling. When you're done taking the pictures, you leave the tiny photo room and go around the machine to a little kiosk with screens where you can manipulate your pictures however you'd like. Add writing, add hearts, characters, icons, whatever you can think of, change the background, make it look as though you are glowing. Another feature is that it digitally makes you look better--your skin looks smooth, eyes are enlarged and darkened, and colors are given a higher contrast in the pictures. It's pretty sweet, in my opinion! I still feel like I need to work on my "purikura face", including my smile and poses, in the future--but here's a pic that Kayoko had sent to her cell phone so that she could put up on facebook. There were more that I have in sticker form, but I can't get them onto my computer.

I can't imagine what Akihabara must be like for actual anime fans who know all of the characters and everything to visit. I always try to think about America, and if there are any entertainment industries that we have that could compare to some of Japan's, that we would pretty much devote an entire ward of the capital city to the merchandising of. We do have the biggest movie industry in the world--but I don't feel like we market it to this extent. I'm excited to start my Popular Culture as Social Practice class, and learn more about this phenomenon.

While in Akiba (as the Japanese call Akihabara), we visited Don Quixote, a very popular chain department store featuring very cheap merchandise. Here I purchased the first charms for my phone (a MUST to have on every phone over here), about a million fake eyelashes that came in a pack for 600 yen, and a few other little knick-knacks that I felt as though I needed. Here are some of the more stunning products of Don Quixote.

I dunno, I thought they were funny.

After getting back that night, Kayoko and I decided to hit the town. There was one bar that knew of close to our hotel, that her boyfriend's dad had recommended that we go to. So we got all done up and made our way to the club, feeling like a million bucks--only to discover, once we had paid cover (2,500 yen...!) and gotten into the club, that we were surrounded by middle-aged people! Great. This would only happen to us, right? It was like it was out of a movie. But we got two "free" drink vouchers at the door (I guess that's where the steep cover comes from?), so we figured we might as well use them before hastily exiting and finding a new place. got better.

So here we are, standing around the bar, trying not to be overtaken by the mob of sweaty olds crazily dancing on the floor, when a bouncer makes his way over to us and starts speaking to Kayoko. I freak out a little bit, wondering if there's an age limit in this bar or something and if we're going to be kicked out, when she pulls me over and shouts into my ear that some people want me (just me, no Kayoko) to come join them in a private room. WHAAAAT? Really? ME? Kayoko and I look at eachother, and then I shrug--might as well! But I wasn't going alone, so I tell her to ask the guy if she can come too. He disappears for about a minute, then comes back nodding and escorts us to the room. I'm pretty much freaking out at this point! Is this really happening? It's becoming more and more like a movie every moment...

Inside are an array of salarymen and women, and a group of men start yelling excitedly and throw their hands up when we enter. I couldn't believe it! They all get up and let us choose where we want to sit, and then sit around us and ask what we want to drink--anything, it's on them. So--rum and coke it is! I AM a little worried, about why exactly they would want us to come drink with them, but they explain to us that it looked like I was a foreigner (dur), and we were the youngest people in the club, and they figured that I could speak English, and they wanted to practice. And so they, well, attempted to, but I left most of the communicating to Kayoko and mostly stuck to just drinking my drinks and smiling and nodding myself! They gave us their business cards--one was the vice president of an advertisement company that worked for FujiTV--and generally ended up being a fun bunch to drink with! I wish I had taken more pictures, but by the time I got the idea to get my camera out, I wasn't exactly in the best state to be capturing quality photographs. Here's the two that I actually did get of our experience in the VIP room.

I wish I had gotten a picture with them--I do remember Kayoko and another guy taking pictures, but I think in my drunken state I decided that they were not good pictures of me and deleted them. I do that a lot when alcohol is involved. Hmm. One thing the guys really liked to do was tell us how old they were, in English, and then strike a very proud pose, as though we should be extremely impressed. The guy with the glasses, he was FORTY-FOUR years old, and the one with Kayoko was THIRTY. Can't even believe it. As the night wore on, I began to get a little paranoid about being the only young girls with all of these older guys--I think that if I had been completely sober, it would have been different, as I would have realized that we weren't giving away any information about ourselves, that there were some other women in the room as well, and that they were openly saying they were married and what their job titles were. Looking back, I honestly think that they were just wanting us to have a good time in the bar with them, since we were looking so alone being the youngest people (and me being obviously not from the area). We finally left, before we could get too drunk to not make it home or something bad, and went back to the room to collapse and wonder about how these things happen to us.

And that was my first full day in Tokyo! I'll make some more posts about the other days, but no more tonight--I feel like it took forever to write this! So until then!


  1. What a great experience. Looking forward to your next post. Love ya Aunt Norma

  2. Fun to read what you're up to!
    Tonia Hufnagel

  3. Oh my gosh...that's just awesome!!! Hope your entire time there is just as much fun!!!