Then after food. What is left but to Karaoke? So that is where we went next. In Japan, There are karaoke places ABSOLUTELY everywhere. There is karaoke in bars sure, but the form that we were after consists of a building with several rooms that you rent by the hour or half hour with your friends with comfy chairs and huge TV monitors and you sing your heart out. Sounds embarassing. It isn’t. Maybe you are a bad singer? No one cares.
So we belted out some Journey, some Mulan, and I watched the whitest girl in Tokushima rap her heart out. Brief side note, there is nothing, (NOTHING) more awesome than watching a Japanese person sing a song in English. It truly is one of the funniest/coolest things you will ever bear witness too.
So we went to a Combini. Japanese Convenient store. I would wager that Urban Japan has made use of the Emergency Beacon Implementation of Combinis. In layman’s terms, If you stand at one Combini, you have line of sight to another one. Walk to that one, and you have line of sight to another. Over and over. Truly awesome places to get quick food, quick drinks, quick entertainment, quick first-aid, quick anything really. So we got a quick couple of Drinks and walked to the River.
I must sidenote again: Have you ever walked around in your home country and spotted a group of foreigners and listened to them talk in their native tongue and wondered to yourself “they could be talking about anything, including me, and I would never be the wiser” Ya…being an English speaker in Japan means that most of the time you are speaking your own super-duper, special secret decoder ring optional language of subterfuge. So we talked about everything we wanted to…no censor bars necessary.
Back to the river. Japan is a relatively clean place. The sidewalks are pretty clean (for a metropolis) and litter isn’t as prevalent as American cities. That being said…the river we were currently by was filled with some funky stuff. Not necessarily refuse, (granted some was present) but just a plethora of “do-not-want” Some green, some brown, some grassy, some trashy, all murky and uninviting.
So we sat there talking, feeling free to comment on passerby as they went along their way, knowing that they would not understand (and not having anything hurtful or rude to say anyway, more along the lines of observations and instigations, granted how can you instigate anything when the party doesnt understand you?) and then we decided, slight inebriation aside, to Jump in the river.
Yes. The river of gross, the river of slime and disgust, would now be bolstered by (now) 3 foreign objects (ahh pun). Why? Well, we just wanted to prove to Susan that she wasn’t closed-minded. Did I mention that jumping in the river was forbidden? Yes…oops.
Most of the food footage I have posted above was taken this night. I went out to eat with my Boss (Junko Sensei) her daughters, husband, my predecessor, and her fiance. Where did we eat? At a restaurant called Doko Doko…what does that mean in Japanese? “Where Where” It more or less appears that the Japanese don’t care at all what they name something, or whether or not it makes any sense. (See Boulangerie Poisson-“Fish Bakery” that has NOTHING to do with fish) Names just aren’t a prerogative. Which leads to some awesome, absurd, and downright hilarious names for things.
This was an upscale restaurant where we were led into a tatami room, sans shoes, and sat in our own private area. What did we eat? Look at the video…it was absolutely outstanding food. How much did we eat? I think a shorter list would be what we didn’t. In japan, your pants fit better after a meal. Things to Avoid: Eggplant. It has made my list of things I will NOT eat in the world swell to three. (the other two being olives and sauer kraut)
Saturday (when the Crazy Stuff Started Happening)
Kyle and I decided to hang out and 2 o’clock found me back at the train station in Tokushima (deja-vu anyone) and so began our day.
It was a little overcast, but Kyle and I, and two new friends braved the Ash-grey beaches nonetheless. This is when you have to admire Japanese perservearance. At least twenty Surfer Dudes were sitting sullenly on sodden skags (alliteration for the win) and trying to surf 6 inch high waves. The first time the pacific actually felt nice enough to swim in.
Perhaps the grandest idea that Japan ever had. An Onsen, or “hot spring” is a recreation of just that. It is either a naturally occurring spring, or more prevalently, an artificial Spa of sorts. They generally cost between 500 and 1000 yen (5-12 bucks basically) and you can stay there as long as you want. They are EVERYWHERE in Japan. Like most intimate establishments, you check your shoes at the door. Get a key. and get naked. That is right. Most Onsens split up sexes into two seperate areas and then it is OFF WITH THE SKIVVIES. and on with the nudity clause.
If you have a problem with nudity, get over it. If you don’t, trust me, you are missing out on one of the most tremendously rewarding experiences Japan has to offer. If you think you look funny naked, you probably do. But so does EVERYONE. That is why we put clothes on and pretend otherwise.
The hardest part about being naked in front of someone else (out of the intimate sense, and even sometimes including it) is that initial plunge from clothing of comfort to not-so-fun naked. You sit there with your thumbs hooked in the wasteband of your superman undies and just look around awkwardly, or try to prolong the moment before having to weigh anchor and drop drawers. Finally…you put it off long enough, and you hit the deck. Then about 10 seconds of “what the hell am i doing??” where you stand awkwardly, followed by…”oh screw it” Then all is well, and all is hanging free. I have to thank Beta for my ability to drop canvas. Group showers weren’t just a necessity, they were a privelege. On that intentionally ambiguous note: Moving on.
So then it was into the main men’s area. off with the pants. and onword through glass doors into a steamy soiree of heated pools and hot tubs, saunas, salt saunas, shower benches, and wine baths. Not to mention all the naked Japanese men you could ever want to look at. Not my typical buffet of choice, but it came free with purchase. Kyle didn’t have his glasses on and I wish that I would have taken a leaf from his book. One sample was enough. You learn something quickly about people in certain situations when pants aren’t involved though. For example, 20 to 30 year old japanese people strut, kind of telling the world that they are the baddest thing on the block no matter what they look like. 40 to 50s, Sort of borderline self concious and wistful of lost youth, trying hard to preserve what they have, while accepting what they don’t. over 60? Walking around with their hands touching whatever they want and Just dont give a damn about anything. Pretty much universal truths, not just for the Japanese. That is just how people act, especially old people. I have never met an old man who gave a crap about what anyone thought.
First it was the the Scrub-a-dub-dub benches, because it is considered high treason in Japan to not wash thoroughly before entering into the pools or saunas. They were really just ankle high marble benches, a water trough, and a hand-held shower head. Shampoo and Body Wash Provided. It is sort of a calming sort of camaraderie just sitting down and cleaning up next to a dude, while having a conversation.
Then once we were nice and clean, We made for the first set of pools. I wanted to try them all. It is top of my priority list to not miss anything. And by golly gee, I was going to make good on that.
On the way, I became increasingly thankful for the “modesty towel” that is purchasable for a measely 100 yen (by vending machine of COURSE). Why? Because I now knew what it felt like to be a woman in a rather revealing V-neck. Everyone’s eyes seeming to travel farther south than they really should…firmly regretting your attire of choice…and just wanting to find the nearest trenchcoat and wrap up in it. It literally felt like there was a spotlight below my belt-line
I guess they just wanted to know the specs on foreign plumbing. Kyle, still glasses free and oblivious on anyone looking at his nudity, told me that such behavior in Japan is normal. “What you think they are looking at is exactly what they are looking at.” So…I adapted. I got used to it, and I said to hell with it. I stopped paying attention to who was checking out my happy-hap.
They say there is an art to the Onsen rountine. Many Japanese have specific methods on how to get the most out of the experience, or maybe just a method that cures scabies and epilepsy. The Broc method consisted of just running around to everything, wanting to try anything at least once. Steaming Pool to freezing cold spa to Hot Tub with Jets to Cold Spa to Sauna to Hot Tub. I bounced around, dodging around tiny naked men all the while. Once we had our fill, pants grudgingly came back on, and feeling like a million steamy bucks we waltzed.
Best part of Onsen? The 100 yen glass bottles of milk available at virtually all Onsen…I highly recommend Bulgarian milk. It tastes like yogurt. Sounds weird, but will assassinate your taste-buds. I cant wait to try more.
I was excited for this bit. We left the Onsen and decided to eat…RAMEN. First time I had tried it. What you think you know about ramen in America doesn’t hold a candle’s guttering spark to the real thing. Big bowl of broth, awesome noodles, meat, and loads of flavor. Then, slurp away my friend, slurp away. Slurping lets the know the staff is doing their job as hosts and is actually taken as a compliment. So in 5 seconds, I let every table manner I had ever had pounded into my brain fall away. I slurped my way into Ramen infested oblivion. All for under 6 bucks. Arigatoo Gozaimasu!
JAPANESE BAR and DANCE
This was the highlight of the entire evening. Even if it started a little slow.
We had finished eating and were just hanging out for a bit while we waited for some bars in the area to open. Then, Kyle informed me that a few friends of his were going to go to a Japanese gay bar. My immediate reaction?
“Sure, I’ll go to a gay bar.”
I didn’t have a problem with it. It takes all kinds to make the world.
What was the bar’s name? “Bar Bitch” (See above: Japanese people don’t really care about what they name their business, as long as it is in a foreign language)
So armed with A Kid from Calgary, a Female Yank, A shy Irishman, and a Taiwanese Kiwi, I explored a little Tokushima nightlife. That sentence has the making to be a really good joke, It turns out the night contained plenty of humor to compensate the lack of punchline.
Brief aside. It has come to my attention, that Japanese people can’t ever really tell when a Southeast Asian is Japanese, and when they are not. You would think that this would be easily recognizable to an Asian. That doesn’t seem to be the case. When I went to the beach and as we were leaving the train station to go the four attendees were in a specific order, It went Canadian, American, Singaporian, and then Me. There was a japanese girl with flyers as we left. She waited for the first two to pass dodged around behind them and handed the girl from Singapore…assuming she was Japanese. (Poor Lei Bing) and then Bennett (Taiwanese Kiwi) was mistaken as being Japanese the entire evening. Personally, I don’t think either one of them look japanese, and neither one of them sound Japanese at all. I thought it was just a weird aside.
So yes, we got on a scuffed elevator and arrived, paid our entry free to a woman with blue hair and a pudgy man in a greasy tank-top and walked in. The room was about 15 meters by 8 meters (not very big). With the bar and DJ booth taking up most of the space on the wall opposite and to the left of the door. along the outside edges of the room were dark, built-in comfy couches and a few small tables. Music was pumping and at first Japanese kids in their early to late twenties (possible 30s or 40s, there is never really any way to tell for sure) were dancing. Until they turned and saw who had just arrived. You would think that a Unicorn, drunk and covered in peanut butter had just stumbled into their midst with the dumbfounded looks we got.
A brief aside: Why you cannot tell age. My first night at Ingrids International Bar (where all the JETs and foreigners hang out as well as Japanese) I had a very shy (in the beginning) Japanese girl hit on me. We talked a little bit, and danced . As I am walking to the door, she grabs my hand and pulls me near her, proceeds to use her finger to spell out her name on my chest so I can find her on Facebook, and then holds my hand to the door. I am thinking, ok…that is new. Anyways, very nice girl, and if anything I thought she was younger than me. I added her on facebook the next day….
…..she is exactly 10 years OLDER than me…did NOT see that coming. She looked 22 to the day…if that. Nope. Never trust the aging of the Japanese.
Back to the Bar.
They took one look at Kyle, (Short-ish Canadian with a bald head, glasses, and an amicable air that just shouts I’m the friendlist Gaijin you will ever meet!) and swarmed him within 10 seconds of our arrival. Not an exhaggeration either, within 10 seconds he had 3 guys and two girls approach him and ask him to dance. He stalled just long enough to get a drink, and then was whisked away to dance in a group of giggling Japanese. The music was pumping loud. Not with so much bass, but high pitched and strong.
I was left alone long enough to get a drink, and then I had a couple of Japanese guys tugging on my arms. Asking me to dance. I was feeling on the south side of awkward, so I declined. I sort of wanted to leave within the first 10 minutes of being there. Even after two Gin and Tonics I still was feeling weird and out of place. Only now I had very persistent Japanese folks tugging on my arms every few seconds, hoping I would dance. I could tell Kyle sort of felt the same. We had both danced a little, and while everyone was extremely nice (and invasive to say the least) we just couldn’t get a feel for it. The Irishman wasn’t much of a dancer and kept the bar company, the Yank was a seasoned club goer and clearly was at peace anywhere there was a beat and room to move, and the Kiwi, was mistakenly Japanese and therefore wasn’t the focus of attention. Kyle, Susan (Yank) and I were.
Now, if you know me at all, you know I’m not a club goer. I’ve actually never even been to a club in America. Not against the idea, but I just haven’t really every danced in such a situation. I may not seem it sometimes, but I am quite self concious and shy in situations I haven’t been in before. So that is how it begun. Little plastic cups, dark corners, screeching dance music, Japanese eyes staring intently at me, and hugging a slick bar, keeping as close to the people I knew as possible. Then out came the Drag Queen. To be fair, she didn’t have a mustache, but the giant grapefruit she had lodged in her trachea was sort of a dead giveaway. She had crooked teeth, a stronger chin than Russell Crowe, more blue eye make-up than a self concious pixey, covered in tatts, and she forgot to shave the pits.
That didn’t stop Kyle from curiously grabbing her chest when she offered. Sorry Kyle. I can’t lie and say otherwise. 🙂
Other than that…the night was progressing about as comfortably as wet underwear.
…Then something suddenly changed.
A song came over the speakers. I was only halfway listening…but nonetheless started bobbing my head. I just remember thinking….I really like the beat of this song. I subconciously started bobbing my head, and relaxed almost inperceptibly. Then after a few moments the chorus hit. I looked over at Kyle, still being mauled by Japanese…he looked at me and recognition hit both of us…it was a song we both knew and loved.
That was it. That tiny, seemingly insignificant moment was all it took. A song I knew and adored. It was a Japanese song, and a variation of the one I actually had heard before, but I still understood it and for some damn reason, decided to say to hell with it and started dancing. I just jumped right into the middle of the throng of the few Japanese actually dancing. They were absolutely thrilled by my sudden change of heart.
Like most things in life, Nudity and Dancing included, the hardest part is that intial plunge. We didn’t stop dancing for a couple of hours.
Let me clarify. In this club, the idea of “dancing” consisted of moving your arms up and down and jumping to the beat, with minor variations. That song stopped, and another started, but Kyle and I had already taken the plunge, and were good to go. So that is where we began. On the side nearest the bar, in semi darkness, surounded by smiling, jumping faces. That is when one japanese man, a guy I dubbed “Motoki Matchmaker” started playing his hand. He didn’t speak a word of English but He would run around the club, grab the hand of a random person in the room, and bring them to either Kyle or I to dance with. At first he would go back and forth, first bringing a girl, then bringing a man, trying to pair us up. It was nice of him, to give us an option based on our sexual preferences. He watched me laugh as he tried to press a little Japanese guy into my no fly zone and eventually he figured out that not generally my style. It was the most surreal thing. No matter who he would go and grab, they would eagerly come and dance with us. All the while, he had a huge smile on his face, and I got more random high-fives that night than the past year combined.
I must say. surrounded by cute Japanese girls, shrouded in darkness and happy faces and jumping bodies, I found an incredible appreciation for this song:
I would never say that I could appreciate the Spears, but I can under certain conditions. This was one of them.
So drunk on euphoria, and bolstered by Motoki, I started grabbing whatever girl was sitting down and askinf them to dance with me. The weird thing? They didn’t really seem into the whole scene until I grabbed their hand. Then they were all smiles. It was by and large the strangest experiences I’ve ever encountered. I’m by no means bragging, I am simply making an observation of what actually occurred. They started playing American songs (Are you Gonna Be my Girl, Jimmy Eat World, All American Rejects, etc.) and for some reason I just got really into it. grabbing whoever I was dancing around’s hand and throwing them for a spin, making up dance moves and just having a blast. Sometimes I would dance one on one with a random girl, other times dance with two, sometimes we would all just dance in a big circle, sometimes we would all hold hands, and we pretty much always jumped no matter what.
The key to impressing people at a Japanese Club? JUST TRYING. Kyle was doing some of the craziest dance moves I’ve ever seen and they just ate it up. Susan had every Japanese guy with rockin’ hair moving to her every move, Kiwi Bennett was migrating around just dancing with whomever, and we were all just blasting. Then it occurs to me in a moment of mental lull, to look around. Almost EVERY single person in the room is dancing. When we had gotten there, maybe three or four people were dancing. No more. When we got out there, I guess it just changed everyone’s attitude and they wanted to boogey with some Gaijin. Then there was the camera guy. I guess we were the greatest thing since disposable chopsticks in the bar that night because a guy with a heavy duty photography camera kept taking pictures of the three white people dancing. I wouldn’t be surprised if we wound up on a flyer for the bar, more or less saying “Look! Come to this Bar! Foreigners sometimes come here!”
When the American songs would come on, I knew what was going to happen in the song, so I would just make things up with what was going to happen, and for some reason everyone (including Kyle sometimes) would follow my lead. Then I did something that I never thought I would have the stones to do…
…So the aforementioned “Are you gonna be my girl?” came on the waves, and I am putting the three japanese girls, Kyle, and two Japanese guys dancing in a circle around me through their paces, keeping the energy up, and everyone is just smiling and having a good time, and I kept lip syncing the words, and even though they didn’t know what I was saying they more or less understood what I was doing. I’m just feeding off the flavor of the evening, just riding the waves as it were, and it gets down to that final line, where all the instruments stop…so I stopped, and as a consequence, everyone else stopped too, I pointed at the cutest Japanese girl on the dancefloor and I say the line “Are you gonna be my girl?” wink and smile. Not a single Japanese person needed to understand English to know what I was saying. The song ended and I just smiled, as everyone around me started going “ooooOOOOOOHHHHH!” and laughed.
I have never seen anyone blush as hard in all my life as that little Japanese girl.
So the night progressed. I didn’t stop for two hours, I felt like I was burning a hole in each one of my big toes. Covered in sweat, almost stepped on two girls, just turned around and grabbed their hands to dance, which they happily did so. Eventually things wound down, I waved goodbye to Mokito and his posse, to all the girls I had danced with, and we went outside, got accosted by a Japanese man with his belly hanging out and who just wanted to speak English, and said some more goodbyes to people who spilled out after us. That is about the time I learned that what we had just been in was not in fact a gay Bar at all. I had completely forgotten to even care.
I went to a nice and Steamy Onsen with Evasive naked Japanese Men.
Ate loads of Ramen.
Danced with a Drag Queen.
Danced with a load of japanese people.
Made a Japanese girl blush.
And broke a little bit more of my shell.
Knock ’em down off the bucket list.
Within one night, my ideas of a dance club were completely changed. It was such a fun evening. I did not stop for two hours. I checked the next day and I had lost 4 kg. I didn’t care, the pain in my calves, glutes, and toes were more than worth it. my only regret is not getting any footage to show you. But alas, I was too busy cutting the tatame mat. my apologies. The only thing I can tell you is to start making some footage of your own.
With everything that happened to me that day I learned a very valid life lesson:
Life is so much more enjoyable when you don’t fight and you just learn to adapt and have a good time.
I didn’t think I was much of a dancer, This night proved otherwise. I never thought I could sing in front of other people, and yet I belted out Karaoke. I thought it would be strange and awkward with a bunch of naked men looking at my downstairs differentials, then I said to hell with it and just enjoyed my life.
So learn how to do the same and I PROMISE things will turn out more than just alright, they will become something you won’t ever forget.
Until Next time, Matane!