Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thats It, Thats All: TORA'S THE BEST OF TOKYO 2010

Well, it is true; our final days here in Tokyo are upon us. With our final presentation, final exam and last class all behind us, Kenshukan is a-buzz as everyone frantically tries to make time for one more outing, one last goodbye, and even one concluding blog entry. For a lucky few, this month has been the opener to a summer visiting friends and family abroad - the Philippines, China, Hong Kong, Korea, …etc. but for the majority of us these will be our final words from our group study here at Senshu University.

We at TORA Nightlife Experience did our best to dig deep and bring you what we concluded to be THE BEST OF TOKYO. Now, we think its safe to say that Tokyo is far too diverse a city, catering to far too broad an audience to attempt to declare any one district, bar, or activity “the best” of its kind. Tokyo is a limitless playground in which to explore. Each member of TORA has throughout the month, brought their own unique styling and flavours to the research and to their blog entries. It was the distinct style of these individuals that made the TORA perspective so one-of-a-kind. And so we feel it only right to bring you TORA’S: THE BEST OF TOKYO, with 4 unique “chapters” – one from each of our dedicated explorers. Enjoy!


A Retrospective

As i type this, looking out the window, i am greeted by the shining sun. i am in a reflective mood, with the moons waning, and the month in japan winds down, there have been experiences i will take many things away from, experiences i regret, and experiences i would easily do again. no fancy story or random adventure this time, but just a look back, a reflection, a retrospective if you will, to coalesce and take in what i have seen in japan.

On this trip, the goal was to study japanese nightlife, and see what happens, but somewhere along the way, i stumbled upon the most cliched theme to these coming of age stories: discovering different parts of myself.

In my omphaloskepsis i find that throughout the entire trip, everything was based around this one key phrase that acted as a precursor to everything happening: "yeah, sure why not."

And i am not breaking any walls with this thinking, I am just next in line that embraces this line of thinking. It was socrates who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." and it was Robert Kennedy who said, "Some men look at things the way they are and ask why? I dream of things that are not and ask why not?"

As I looked back, fantastic opportunities arose, from maid cafes to ufo crane games, six hour karaoke sessions to 120 plates of sushi among countless adventures, all behind the backdrop of those fated words. Like a USB, my mind became the storage of these memories, that I will treasure forever. and to choose one single event, one single moment, one single experience would be a travesty. The only thing I can think up and conjure is the human element found within the cross culture mosaic that is known as the kenshukan dormitory.

going to the homestay, the elementary school, and many other everyday events, even mundane events, there are so many aspects of the human character that one can see everywhere. there will always be a stigma of people that are different, some places more prevalent that others, but really, when everything is broken to its smallest denominator, and the only thing left is the bare bones of raw human emotion, what you are left with is people, and we must embrace this global community. and i am grateful of being given this opportunity to explore and be thrust in a situation outside of my comfort zone.


The following may seem a little weird because unlike the others my best of Tokyo isn’t a typical place. I agree with Talia, Roman and Ovid about venturing out to certain districts which have so much to offer. Nevertheless, the places and lights, the karaoke and bars, isn’t all that the night has to offer. Going into Japan, I had my mind set on all the activities that I would undertake and all the outings possible in Tokyo. Never would I have thought that one of the most enjoyable nights spent in Japan would be spent by a river.
I remembered something last night, which I seemed to have forgotten during this trip. I mean, Calgary isn’t like Japan; there aren’t that many places to go and things to do, especially when you’re venturing out late at night. So we make do in Calgary, we find different things to do. But here in Japan, there’s so much to do that you never have to get creative, you never have to find other ways to have fun. You can always just go hop on a train and find somewhere to go whether it be shopping, or drinking, or finding a restaurant to eat at or a coffee shop to just relax and chat in. Anyways, last night things were a little different, instead of doing our usual activities, we went out with everyone to light fireworks at Tawa kawa.
Albeit fireworks are illegal in Canada, this is the type of thing that I would do and have done in Calgary for a night of fun. I recalled light painting in Calgary and so we thought we should try it with our sparklers. For the most part they turned out pretty nicely considering that this was a lot of people’s first time trying it. I forgot how much fun it can be just to be spend time with everyone and laugh with everyone. I realized that you don’t always need the lights and attractions of the city to enjoy the night. I always thought Calgary was boring, that there’s nothing to do in Calgary; but now I have a newfound appreciation for Calgary and the creativity that comes to mind when planning night outs.  
                Don’t get me wrong there’s no doubt in my mind that people should spend their time out and about in Tokyo. Everyone should experience Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and where ever else they desire. This blog isn’t about avoiding those places, it’s about enjoying all that those places have to offer and remembering that when you’ve gone to all you can go and when you want to have a different kind of fun, there are other things you can do
I guess the lesson I got from here is that you shouldn’t forget the simpler things amidst the wonders of Japan’s nightlife. Light painting and watching the fireworks was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had being here. For that reason, I strongly recommend that the next group try something similar.  It would have been nice if we could have gotten a hold of some glow sticks too, that way it would have been much safer and easier to attempt writing SENSHU!!!
1)      Blankets
2)      Snacks
3)      Glowsticks, fireworks or sparklers
1)      Remember to respect other people’s peace. Try not to be too loud and rambunctious that will save the police a trip
2)      Smaller groups (8-10 people) are better since it’s much harder to keep quiet in a large group
3)      Remember to be safe and careful, if using fireworks you don’t want to hurt yourself or one another. Watch out for one another
4)      If you’re not too tired, it’s not that far to walk home. It’s actually quiet peaceful and relaxing and you can save a bit of money
Although lighting fireworks and spending time away from the city was one of my most memorable experiences, I recognize that certain districts have specialties that I thoroughly enjoyed. I will add those here.  
Akihabara: Gamer’s central
If you're interested in Maid Cafes their a really interesting place to go. Otherwise you can just play a game or ...twenty! Lots of people have gone and won super cute prizes =)! Oh and it's gacha gacha galore here. 
Harajuku: Shop till You Drop
This is the place to find some of the most outrageous clothing. Clothing you honestly can’t get anywhere else and for a decent price too! Oh and crepes are definitely a must! There’s sooo many different types, it’s unbelievable.

Shibuya: The place that has it all
Refer to Talia’s blog


Lost in Odaiba – A Tale of Trust, Treachery, and Teamwork (Also Drunk Businessmen)

Dan of the Backstab Blacklock clan
Alex the Wise
Ovid the Dragonslayer
Natural Roman
Great Professor Yang
The Hospitable Matsuda

This is the story of three friends, of their trials and tribulations, of their struggles and celebrations and of their epic odyssey back to a place they call home. Our heroes’ journey begins across the Rainbow Bridge on the artificial island of legend, Odaiba. Ancient scriptures and jovial folk songs tell of Odaiba as a peacefully serene locale, with beautiful scenery and a sparkling ocean as far as the eye could see.

Dan, Alex and Ovid, had heard these heralds and traveled to Odaiba with a larger group of friends in search of these wonders. However when they arrived at their destination, they decided to split from the group and scour the shopping center, Aqua City.  After filling their bellies and emptying their wallets, the three companions decided to rest and relax at a nearby Onsen.  As fate would have it, they were reunited with their traveling mates, and together they shared a hearty dip in the most relaxing heated waters of the famed island. During the bath, they conversed with the wise elder “Great Professor” Yang, who also happened to be there, about a great many topics. They also sought advice from the “The Great Professor”, to which he replied “While the bath may be relaxing and heal your sores, only spend around 30 minutes at a time in one to avoid health problems, and also be wary for the last bus departs from the Onsen when the Night Moon reaches the High Sky and Darkness blankets the Heavens (9:30). Take care to keep track of time, lest you be left in this foreign land with no feasible way to return.” Ovid and Alex took careful note of the Professor’s words, while Dan merely shrugged it off “Hahaha, like that will ever happen. The Dan is never late.” Putting aside Dan’s brazen confidence, the friends explored the attractions within the onsen such as, Coffee/Milk Vending Machines, a variety of restaurants and festival games. They even braved the Treacherous “Path of A Thousand Stone Deaths” and dodged around the “Pit of (Dead)Skin Eating Fish”. Finally, when the Night Moo- ok when it was 9:15, Alex and Ovid decided it was time to leave, but that was when Dan exclaimed “I forgot my sweet threads in the locker, please wait for me while I use this key to retrieve them.” So Alex and Ovid putting great faith and trust in their companion waited…and waited but Dan never returned. Alex and Ovid went into the locker room in search of Dan but there was no trace of him, it was as if he vanished in a poof of wispy smoke. Making the toughest decision of his life, Alex the Wise gave the order to abandon Dan and head for the bus. But even after having made this decision, they failed to get there in time, and as the bus pulled away a faint silhouette could be seen resembling Dan, followed by a thundering shout, “YOU SHALL NOT PASSSSSSSSS”. Invariably overcome with despair, Ovid and Alex brainstormed their next course of action.

Ovid: How do we get back to Kenshukan? By Walking?
Alex: ONE DOES NOT SIMPLY, WALK BACK TO KENSHUKAN. We must take the monorail.
So Alex and Ovid set forth into the unforgiving night in search of the place they call home, Kokusai Kenshukan. With deep deep trust and an almost brother like bond, the two friends navigated from station to station, From Monorail to Shimbashi, from Shimbashi to Shinjuku, from Shinjuku to Mukogaoka Yuen, and from there Home. All the while dodging shady characters and drunk businessmen, using only their wits and strength of will. Upon returning to Kenshukan, they found the almost lifeless body of their companion Natural Roman tended to by The Hospitable Matsuda, apparently Roman had gorged himself on a grand feast of 30 Chicken Nuggets(See Previous Blog Post).  As Alex and Ovid reflected on their experience, they shared a small victory bento, truly a meal fit for kings.

The End.

Morale of the Story: When in doubt, just ditch

Motto: “the smaller the door, the better the bar”
District: Shibuya, with honourable mention to Shimo-kitazawa
Activity: カラオケ (karaoke)

Let me start by saying that it has been a fantastic month! Every time I travel, I seem to make big plans and have high expectations of my ability to be everywhere at once. Only after I take a deep breath and realize that it can’t all be done (especially in a month), do I truly begin to enjoy myself. I want so badly to divulge all of our experiences and write a novel on the do’s and don’t of Tokyo’s nightlife, but I will resist and simply share what I believe are “must-do’s”.

It is my belief, that when going out for a night in Tokyo, all can be found in Shibuya. Because whatever your heart desires, whatever adventure is calling you - Shibuya has the answers. Unlike its gaudy, over-dressed siblings Roppongi and Shinjuku, Shibuya is the perfect balance between bright lights and crowds, and up-scale class. Whether it’s dinner, karaoke, a few games of a pachinko, or a night on the sauce that you are after, Shibuya will offer you a slew of options at nearly every price point and with the ambiance to match. Be patient in your search for the perfect local, and this district will reward you with the best Tokyo has to offer. I do want to give honourable mention to a little district where the Odakyu and Inokashira Line’s meet. Kimo-Shitazawa is a charming little district with plenty of character and plenty to offer. Whether its nightlife your after, or a daytime stroll – be sure not to pass this one by.
Prior to my first stay in Japan, my karaoke experience had been limited to head banging with my roommates to Queen’s, “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the local pub back when I lived in South Carolina. And although the memories are fond, no karaoke experience can compare to a Japanese karaoke experience. The charming add-on’s (free ice cream, cheap “all-you-can-drink deals) that accompany most karaoke establishments in this country are just that, add-ons. It is the tacky Japanese home videos that accompany the lyrics, the fact that you really can find almost every song ever written (even the oldest Celine Dion can be unearthed), and that even the shyest of participants will have to have the microphone pried from their fingers by nights end. The beauty of this activity can be found in the fact that you need not plan a big night out, nor wander far from home, because in Japan, the nearest karaoke establishment is always just around the corner.  I share with you one of our first nights out here at our very own Mukogaoka-yuen.

The fact is that none of these experiences can be done justice despite our best efforts to translate them into writing. We have but skimmed the surface in an attempt to create for you a rough outline of this phenomenal city and the nightlife it has to offer! 
This is Team TORA Nightlife Experience, signing off! 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Unspoken Nightlife & the Misadventure of Counting

As the clock ticks and the tumbling of clothes in the dryer slowly begins to dry, days turn into weeks and our spring term at Senshu University quickly comes to an end.
We’ve talked about our outings and random adventures, our searches for bars and places to drink, video game centers visited and games played and even karaoke places which stripped us of our voices. Now, I think it’s finally time to talk about the other side of the TORA 2010 Nightlife experience. When it comes down to it, we came to Senshu to study Japanese language and culture. This is the part of the Senshu experience that is usually left unspoken; the part we leave behind the scenes. It’s the part where we miscalculate the amount of time we have left before the pile up of assignments, kanji quizzes and presentations encompass us and take us over.  So what we present to you this week is a documentary of a typical night at Kokusai Kenshukan. Let us take this opportunity to also capture and remember the hard work we all put in, not just the fun and games we’ve played.

The problem lies here: Japan simply has too many places within reach in need of exploring. One step into Shibuya, Shinkjuku, Harajuku, Odaiba, or any other place we’ve visited in the past two weeks, reveals the need to revisit them a countless number of times in order to ensure that we’ve done all that we wanted to do. The difficult thing is that time is ticking; the trip is coming to an end. In less than two weeks, this program will be over, and we’ll all be doing separate things. From the get-go we all knew we had to do well academically while making the most of our time while we’re in Japan.

It seems to be common practice for most of us to quickly eat lunch and then head to Kokusai Kenshukan to study for a few hours before going out to explore or to meet at Kokusai-Kenshukan immediately after lunch to head out for some sort of activity. Regardless of which way it happens, one thing’s for sure… we’re always short on time. It’s as if Japan has this weird affect on us, like we’re so immersed in the activities that are presented to us that we can no longer grasp time, it just slips through our fingers.  Perhaps our difficulty of time actually stems from the unbelievably confusing and difficult counting system Japan demands on having. Just joking! But you have to agree that’s it’s so much harder than in English. Why can’t be as simple as in English 1..2…3… counting people, paper, age, etc, it’s all the same… isn’t it? Well apparently not.  The following is not only an example of one of the activities available during the stay at Kenshukan but also an example of how difficult communicating is in Japanese really is, especially when numbers are thrown into the mix.
One lovely random evening, I decided to, wait no thats a lie, the evening of the Odaiba trip was a memorable night that I am happy to keep on a folder in my laptop to show how weak my Japanese really is.
Right off the drop into Odaiba, our group was geared for exploration, our first stop was what I assumed was a big playground thing... then our group split and I was left with Alex and Ken. Instead of going to the onsen like the rest, we decided to take in the Odaiba skyline with the picaresque backdrop of a sunset in the distance. As a joke, from the Simpsons, a plan on the list for Japan was to find America town, and Odaiba was the closest thing to it. There was a Statue of Liberty, and a bridge that was reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge, and even towers that reminded me of the ones in New York.

From the views, we went towards the created island, where it had a huge mall, and Ferris wheel, and cars that drove themselves… by the way, that mall was amazing!  But everything seemed so high class, so moved onward to the Ferris wheel and game center. Like a fool that couldn’t read, I changed a 500 yen coin for five 100 yen coins, usually a fair trade… until it said on the machine, a 200 yen coin is one play, and 500 yen coins are 3 plays. You can tell what I was thinking at that moment... Anyways, this was where we spent the last bit of the trip before we headed back to the dorm. 

So on the way back to the dorm, I was super tired, and I wanted something fast and easy to eat, so what’s fast and easy to eat and pretty cheap? McDonalds! So I took this time to have a practical practice session of Japanese by ordering in Japanese. I felt kind of hungry so I determined that three Shaka Shakas and six nuggets would suffice, so I got up to the counter and said, “シャカシャカチケンをみっつとナゲットをむっつおねがいします。” When the price ringed to almost 1900 yen, and the server brought out a bigger bag with handles I should have had some suspicion about what I had done, but I just thought the nuggets were huge, and that they were 300 yen each.. .but no, I was sorely mistaken, and instead of getting the six nuggets that I wanted became 6 orders of nuggets. The end result was 30 nuggets and a whole lot of pain. 
By the time 11:00 pm hits, the computer/ study room is a buzz with activity. People have finally come back from their explorations and adventures, and are finally settled in enough to begin their never-ending pile of homework. The chattering of people in English and Japanese in the attempts to explain and understand concepts can now be heard, along with the frantic running of footsteps throughout the main floor in the attempt to track down the nearest RA. In extreme cases, I’ve even seen RAs offered coffee to ensure that the RAs can stay up and help longer. But the most familiar sound of all is the clicking of keys heard throughout the night. This is truly the time that Kokusai Kenshukan is most lively. A step outside of the computer room reveals people studying in the kitchen since there just isn’t enough room. It’s at these hours that the most work is accomplished and furthermore, it seems to be a Senshu experience that has been passed on from people who previously took the program and will be continued to be passed on for as long as it can be. The reason for it is quite simple and anyone can see it.
The late nights, the countless yen spent buying coffee from the machines, to catching the first train home. It’s all worth it, to get a tiny glimpse of what Japan has to offer.
As a side note the following are essentials that should not go over looked during the late night study sessions at Kenshukan: 

  • \Change for the vending machines
  •  Snacks to get you through the late hours of the night
  • COFFEE!!! Even if you're not fond of caffeine, we highly recommend your stay in Japan to be your exception, caffeine is essential to exploring Japan while maintaining your school work 

Abby and Roman

Roppongi Unleashed

With past mistakes behind us, we here at TORA decided to try for an entirely new experience. With numerous district under our belt, Roppongi had until now, escaped our inquisition. This week’s team of Talia and Ovid ran into a speed bump after Ovid returned from his host family overcome by a mysterious illness. Although Ovid would have sacrificed body and soul for TORA’s cause we thought it best to leave him to do his research from the home base at Kokusai Kenshukan. With many a guidebook and a computer at his fingertips, he searched high and low to come up with a few “must-dos” when spending a night in Roppongi.

I won’t lie that I was hesitant about the big group of keen nightlife explorers we had accumulated by our 9pm start time. Big groups and Tokyo subways and streets tend be chaotic and difficult to manage, but our group (of Kim, Ryan, Dylan, Steph, Roman, Jess, Ken, Mandy and myself) showed great promise and soon alleviated my anxiety. We ran into Chris on the train, fresh off his home stay with a few heavy bags in hand. What were the odds of standing in front of his train and his train car as he was disembarking? They had to be slim, and so we took it as a sign that Chris should stow his bag in a locker at the next station and join us on our nighttime adventure.
Now it must be said that after our experience at the “gaijin bars” in Shibuya and the high cost of drinks that were witnessed, we participated in a little pre-bar drinking. Japan, unlike so many countries, has a very liberal policy on alcohol and its sale. One can both purchase and consume a beverage of the alcoholic sort right within the confines of your neighborhood convenient store. So the first stop we made before even going to the station here at Mukogaoka-yuen, was at the Family Mart for some Chu-Hi. The Chu-Hi is a marvelous Japanese concoction of Shochu liqueur and sparkling fruit flavour, available in both a tall and a regular size can. And the real selling point is that one can enjoy a can of this deliciousness for a mere ¥150 (which is under $2.00CAD). In addition to its low cost, you need not drink it within the confines of the store, of a restaurant, or even of your own home. In Japan, the streets are your oyster and your canvas on which to paint, or in our case, drink. So with a plentiful supply of Chu-Hi, some Shaka Shaka chicken from McDonalds, and big smiles on our faces, we embarked on what was to become a journey of epic proportions.

After navigating the subway system (Mukogaoka-yuen to Shimokita-zawa to Shibuya to Ebisu to Roppongi), we began to march along the main drag under near torrential downpour, shielded by only our umbrellas. Chris’ attempt at Chu-Hi purchase resulted in the meeting of a new acquaintance who was more than happy to offer us some drink specials in order for our agreed patronage. So the ten of us followed him down into the first of our many nighttime establishments.  I have forgotten to mention that it was Ryan’s birthday. And so first on our agenda was a birthday shot (or two) to kick off the night and commemorate Ryan’s day of birth, 20 years ago. Gathered around a table, we danced, drank and took plenty of photos (all of which are likely to end up on Facebook in the near future). 12am struck. And with the time change, came a double in prices from ¥500 to ¥1000. It was time to move the party along and see what else Roppongi would throw at us.
Once again, we ran into a well-dressed ex-patriot bar employee who claimed to be employed by the “biggest club” in Tokyo. As it turns out, it wasn’t the club that was big; it was the amount of clubs owned by that particular company. Typical. After striking a “10 for the price of 9” deal on drinks, I caught a glimpse of a suspicious character sitting near our table and eyeing our belongings. Not a minute later, the same shady character was exchanging words with some of the bouncers. I will commend the staff in a lot of these bars. Customer satisfaction and safety in so many of these establishments is a top priority. I witnessed this phenomenon on my trip to Bali back in 2007 as well. The tourists that bring money and profit into the establishments are an integral part of the business in these countries and so they take protecting them and their belongings very seriously. Apparently, they had caught this guy with his hand in Mandy’s bag, although he hadn’t managed to actually steal anything. The incident did however prompt us to move on from our current location and seek out a new locale.

Outside, enjoying his midnight meal was a man, no older 
than 25. He was from Ghana, and had been here in Tokyo for 2
years, and in addition to English (which is an official language in Ghana), he spoke flawless Japanese. The ex-patriot is a common and interesting sight on the streets of many of Tokyo’s nightlife districts. I for one can never help but wonder about the life they left behind, and the one they are now leading. One of Ovid’s nighttime picks for us was a bar by the name of Propaganda. This man informed us that it was just up the stairs and across the road from our current location. This was probably one of the most friendly and easy-going atmospheres of all of the bars and clubs we found throughout the course of the evening. The bartenders were friendly and spoke English, and we met up with another group of travelers, these from Texas. The ladies enjoyed ¥300 glasses of champagne. Definitely one of the cheapest beverages found in Roppongi. The music however, seemed to fit in with all the other bars we had been to, playing every Top 40 song imaginable and repeatedly treating us to the musical talents of Lady Gaga.

A few more bars followed, and they all seemed to be more of the same. No place we found ever quite compared to Wokini back in Shibuya (the bar that Abby and I explored). The district was quite clearly set up to target those looking for big, loud and North American. It is easy to see why this is the district most frequented by foreigners. Although we all had a great time drinking, dancing and partying together, I for one will not be going out in Roppongi again anytime soon.

 Unlike prior evenings out, we had aimed to take the first train back on Monday morning, which leaves Roppongi just after 5am. We were all looking pretty dull by 4:30am and you could tell that our 9pm start time may have been a little too ambitious. 5am passed, and so did 6. We arrived back at Kokusai Kenshukan with less than 3 hours before the start of class at 9am. Some of us slept, others did homework, but by the time 9am rolled around, only a few of us made it to class for all 4 hours, if at all. I for one, may need a week to recover fully.

That's it for Week 3 here at TORA. Look forward to Tokyo’s Best in our final blog entry next week. Over and out.

Talia and Ovid

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Just Music

Just checking in from the events following the evenings of the Reggae Festival / Harajuku and Akihabara adventures, this entry is looking at the ‘
駅前 (eki mae)’ Literally translated as ‘The Station’s Front,’ the surrounding area is a bustling mini market, and a veritable minefield of cheap restaurants karaoke places, and shoe stores. The ABC Mart shoe store is particularly close to my heart as it is a wondrous place for shoeless men (such as myself) to purchase aesthetically pleasing inexpensive footwear.

Mooooving along, a staple of the nightlife scene in the eki mae, is Karaoke. Derived from the Japanese term, loosely translated, empty orchestra, karaoke is the best way to let your inhibitions go, and belt out a couple of tunes. The usual Karaoke spots around the Mukagaoka Yuen ekimae area is Shirokiya, MOKO MOKO, and U Style. These places all provided unique aspects to the experience such as a Hawaiian theme, free ice cream and also, free drinks. But the most important thing about Karaoke, is the people you go with. A good time is always had when with good people.
The TORA Nightlife Karaoke Experience went as any karaoke event does. There are the quiet ones that don’t sing too much at the beginning, the loud ones who have lost all semblance of tune, the good ones who let their hearts out, and the bad ones who…well that’s pretty much everyone, but in this setting none of that makes a difference.
Song selection wise, many of us stuck to the familiar choruses of recent popular artists, particularly ‘Bad Romance’ by Lady Gaga, and ‘Love Story’ by Taylor Swift. Some of us ventured into time honoured classics such as Queen's ‘We Will Rock You,’ “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, a few of us even went so far to try our hand at some Japanese songs. Karaoke was a huge success with the smooth styling’s and stirring renditions by one Dan Blacklock, and the heart wrenching duet of ‘Only Human’ as made famous by K, done by Ken and Ovid being the key moments of the evening.

Things we learned: Karaoke etiquette? Sing when the mic is passed to you, try and sing at least one song, if you don’t know it, don’t sing, don’t sing the same song repeatedly, and don’t sing a song made amazing by someone else in your group.

Overall Karaoke is a great place to unwind after a long day or week. The karaoke places here are provide you with fun and excitement for all, and if you are in the area, Shirokiya, MOKO MOKO, and U Style will take care of all your singing needs.
*sigh*. For the betterment of the blog, two videos that will no doubt lower my self esteem, and make me lose what little cool points I had left. Ladies and gentlemen, yours truly singing ‘Get Down.’ 

One of these days, I must find out what it is that makes, and please, I know I can’t sing, and no, I was stone sober.. you can only imagine what I would be like derelict. More on that next week. until then, ‘Fall ForYou’by the Secondhand Serenade.

In conjunction with our focus on Music near the ekimae, we were invited to a small live concert (ライブ) by Ovid’s conversation partner and guitarist extraordinaire, Yusuke. The place was called Stargic room and was just a stone’s throw away from Mukogaoka Yuen station. The concert itself was free but we were required to purchase one drink for 600 yen. As sizes go, the Live House was quite small, but had a large standing area in front of the stage. As we entered, we were graciously greeted by the staff and were given glowing bracelets and glow sticks, that said (きてくれてありがとう) on them it was super neat.

The music was absolutely phenomenal, this being my first live concert I was blown away by the skill level of the bands and how good the music sounded. Some of the songs the band played were actually Covers of really famous Japanese songs, such a Sorafune by Tokio.  

One thing I noticed during the concert was that it was really more a giant collection of friends who came to support their friends in the band other than fans attending a concert. Many people whom I had met previously during the Welcome party showed up, it was almost like everyone in the room knew each other.

We came, we saw, we cheered (Went totally crazy when Yusuke went on the stage), and most importantly we laughed. It was truly an unforgettable experience and to top it all off we even got a shoutout by Yusuke (I forgot when he actually said but it was something along the lines of (

Whether it be, singing famous songs with friends or actually listening to a live performance, the ekimae is a strangely unique place that seems to lend itself to everyone’s night time entertainment needs, especially Roman’s.

Team Music Out

Five Lessons For A Night Out In Shibuya

Well this was a week of lessons learned for the ladies of the TORA Nightlife Experience. Friday had originally been set aside to go out and explore Ebisu and the nightlife held in this slightly more laid-back district of Tokyo. We assure you we had all intentions of following through on our original plan, but as demonstrated in previous blog entries – things don’t always go according to plan.

We got a bit of a late start, not getting to the station here at Mukogaoka-Yuen until about 8pm. So when we reached Shibuya to transfer onto another line to get to Ebisu, we just kind of made the decision to just stay in Shibuya and see what Shibuya would hold for us. Plus, its not like Ebisu is going anywhere, no doubt it will be the location of a future nights exploration.

I think an important point to be made right off the bat, is that one should be patient in their attempt to find a suitable nighttime location. Shibuya, like many Tokyo districts, is overrun with bright lights, loud bar-employed hecklers and many a club-goer. It is all too easy to get pulled into the first doorway you find, and in the same breath, hard to find the right atmosphere for said night out. Therefore - Lesson One: explore your stomping grounds, don’t be hasty and thoroughly inspect all of your options.

We felt strongly of our intuition to explore narrow alleys and dark corners. Our first attempt at “perfect bar” discovery was slightly below par. "The Dubliners Cafe and Pub", was in our opinion a little too gaijin-clad (外人)for our liking. Although a friendly face is always nice we were hoping for a more authentic experience. This was your typical Irish Pub, taken straight off a street corner in any other country in the world – I guess we have globalization to thank for that! They offered typical pub fare: meat pie, fish and chips and of course an overpriced pint of Guiness. And for ¥1000 a pint, we chose a slightly less pricey option, snapped a few photos and moved on to greener pastures.  Lesson Two: steer clear of Western-style establishments. Although they promise a good time, you are likely to leave with an empty wallet, and a feeling that you may have been robbed of an opportunity to practice slightly intoxicated Japanese. 

Starting to get the hang of the off-the-beaten-track bar hunt, we chose a random alley down which to turn. We zigzagged through the streets for only a few minutes before a sign for “Live Jazz” was spotted in the distance. What happened next dictated the remainder of our evening. We spotted a small door in the wall next to the steps leading to the jazz bar. Not sure if we were welcome, we ducked our heads in to inspect. It was small, it was smoky and they had a record collection that would rival most. Leading us to - Lesson Three: the smaller the door, the better the bar.

Its six tables were only a third full when we first arrived around 9:30pm. We picked a table, ordered some drinks and took in our surroundings as we sang along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. It was decided pretty quick that in order to authenticate the experience, we best take seats at the bar. The bartenders, Yusuke and Tosuke, spoke about as much English as we spoke Japanese. So, with the help of a napkin and a pen we managed to lose little in translation and have some epic conversations. Of course we made some new friends among the other patrons in the bar: some ex-patriot salary men and their Japanese coworkers, as well as travelers from both France and Australia. All parties offered unique conversation and we managed to spend a few hours socializing with everyone there. Yusuke, quickly became part of the Abby & Talia Fan Club and offered us a business card and reminded us of his work schedule so as to reinforce that we were not to come back on a night on which he didn’t work. We assured him of our return. Lesson Four: don’t be fearful of socializing with the staff and your fellow patrons, evenings of heroic proportions are sure to ensue!

Our night was capped off with a very costly error. It may have been one two many drinks, or maybe we simply lost track of time, but either way we found ourselves sprinting through the streets of Shibuya in an attempt to make the last train. Let it be said that there had been talk over whether we should take the first train home the next morning (at 4:45am) or take the last of the night at 12:30am. It was probably our wavering over which option was ideal that led us to miss the last train. Regardless, we didn’t make it. Now left with the dilemma of how to get back to the dorm, we sat on the pavement outside the station in half annoyance of our stupidity, and half in disbelief that we actually didn’t have a way home. This dilemma is what leads us to our final lesson of today’s TORA blog entry. Lesson Five: whether it's the first train or the last, we highly recommend deciding ahead of time to avoid the following situation.

How much does it cost to get from downtown Tokyo back to the Kokusai-Kenshukan (dorm) at Mukogaoka-Yuen Station by taxi? ¥7,000. Not our proudest moments as nightlife explorers, but we really feel that the experience allowed us to touch on all aspects of the “Night Out in Shibuya”. And we may even have some useful information for the group studying transportation.

We hope you were all as entertained reading about our night out as we were in documenting it. And when in doubt, refer back to our  “ Five Lessons For A Night Out In Shibuya”.

Abby and Talia

Monday, May 10, 2010

Arcades! Arcades! and more Arcades!

In our action plan, we mentioned that we would try to focus on the 4 main areas of Shibuya, Aoyama, Roppongi and Harajuku. However, since arriving in Japan, we realized that by focusing only on those 4 areas we may not be able to fully encompass the widely diversified canvas that is a Student’s Nightlife Experience. So while we will undoubtedly try our best to follow our original game plan, if an activity arises that is prominent in another area and is also highly connected with a Student’s Nightlife we will not hesitate to write about it.

With that said, this week, Team Blue (Abby Ovid= AO=) traveled to Japan’s “Electric Town”, Akihabara, to investigate the age old phenomenon, The Arcade. Before we get to the results of our epic foray into mystical world of cabinet gaming, let us first partake in a brief history of arcades if you will.

The first coin-operated arcade game appeared in the mid-1970s and blossomed shortly with the invention of time honoured classics such as Space Invaders (1978), Pac-man (1980) and Donkey Kong (1981). However, by 1983 video games began to diminish in popularity, this decline was short lived as the invention of two player fighting games in the 1990s quickly revitalized the industry.

In these days the word Arcade conjures up different images for different people. Some may recall fond hours spent playing games with friends in Summer Vacations past, while others may think of them only as time wasters reserved solely for children. The truth of the matter is in North America, Arcades are of a dying breed, with the advent of better and better video technology available through home consoles such as the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, people are getting similar experiences from the comfort of their own homes. Thus, arcades have slowly lost their magic over time.

One exception to this downward spiralling trend are the Arcades of Japan. Instead of fading away, Japanese Arcade are thriving and steadily increasing in number. In fact, one of the newest arcades in Japan officially opened on April 28th and consists of 6 floors and over 300 machines.  Much of this popularity is owed to the plethora of innovative ideas and technology which is able to bring fresh ideas into the arcades to captivate the attention of an ever evolving audience. The current trend is towards rhythm games such as Guitar Freeks and Drumania, while we do have similar games in North America such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, they are usually played on game consoles rather than game centers. In fact in Calgary, there are, for all intensive purposes no arcades, aside from the small ones attached to movie theatres.

The success of arcades in Japan may also be due to the Japanese lifestyle. Since a majority of Japanese people take trains and walk to get around, more traffic is provided for businesses including arcades. This is apparent in the strategic pricing of the games; in more populated areas, like Akihabara, arcade games usually range from 100-200
whereas in less populated areas these games are only 50-100.

In our investigation, we visited various arcades in Akihabara but focused mainly on a well known arcade known as Club Sega to gain a better understanding of the arcade scene.

Club Sega consisted of 6 levels. The basement floor consisted of newer fighting games, the street level was comprised of crane games. The games on the second floor consisted of games that required some kind of game card to play (Video to come when youtube is working)

 The third floor was more or less the same as the basement level however the games were a little bit older. 

The fourth floor was dedicated to the popular rhythm and music games.

Lastly, the 5th floor was a special kind of game which used cards of soccer players as players in the game.

Club Sega opens at 10:00 am and closes at 1:00 am, making it an ideal location to visit for night time entertainment. Also of note, is that only the only floor where smoking is prohibited is the street level floor, and that the male washroom is located on the fighting game level while the female washroom is located on the rhythm game level.

In addition to games, most gaming centers contain purikura, which is more popular among girls. With the absence of gaming centers in Calgary, most of these picture booths have also disappeared. These booths allow users to add designs on top of their pictures, making them their own creations and setting them apart from regular pictures.

Gaming centers provide a place for many people to relax and enjoy. Furthermore, because people are not required to be of legal age to join in the activities, many younger people also spend their free time at these locations.

Team Blue Out