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

4 Days In.....

Keen to kick off our “Tour de Tokyo” we were given the opportunity to go to Harajuku and Yoyogi Park both Saturday and Sunday night. Back in 2008, I worked on the Northern Island of Japan, Hokkaido in the ski resort town of Niseko. A Japanese friend of mine, Tat from my season in Niseko had left me a message mentioning that a big reggae festival would be going on in Yoyogi Park over the weekend. So following our campus tour, Roman and I were quick to round up a group of students to indulge in this Japanese-Jamaican experience which would no doubt be one of a kind. With the help of our new Japanese friends, we managed to get about 20 students from the Kokusai Kenshu-kan (International Dormitory) all the way to Harajuku Station without losing anyone. That's about as far as all of us made it as a group…

We should have known that attempting to march a group of Tokyo first-timers past the shining lights of the main Harajuku drag, Omotesando (photo top left), would be unsuccessful. So there we were, at a crossroad…but only for a moment. Like any true investigative team, we sacrificed for the cause, and made the executive decision to split up in order to be thorough and experience the diversity that Harajuku had to offer. Roman and said 20 students and new Japanese friends disappeared off into the crowd while I exchanged high-fives with old friends a made a bee-line to a convenience store for my favorite Japanese alcoholic beverage, Chu-hi. Refreshments in hand and old friends at my side I spent a few amazing hours amongst many a dreadlock adorn Nihonjin Rastafarian, swaying to Japanese DJ remixes of Bob Marley & The Wailers! What I found unbelievable was that even though I was in Tokyo, it was as though I could have been at a festival anywhere in the world. Everyone was there enjoying the music and taking in the mind-blowing atmosphere that only a crowd of a thousand people can create. We danced to some awesome reggae and cheered on some amazing drummers and musicians.

Meanwhile back on the streets of Harajuku, Roman was having an experience all his own….“Coming from Calgary, Japan is a vastly different situation. After moving past the initial 'Wow! Everyone is Japanese!" shock, Japan's culture is overwhelming. For example, there are much more bikes than that of Calgary, the direction of traffic, the driver's seat in cars, and also the selection on the vending machines. However, the main focus on this blog entry will be on experiencing, first hand, Japan at night. To have a fair grasp of Japan at night, or anything as a whole, for that matter, one must be immersed fully in the subject at hand. However, having spent no more than three days, it would be disingenuous for me to make any assumptions therefore I will just be giving my first impressions. When experiencing Japan at night, the first thing one notices is the differences in the atmosphere at night. Harajuku, and Akihabara are the only places I have been to at night, but both give off a certain ambience that is absent in places where I have lived prior. The streets are a buzz with a vast array of characters engaging in an orgy of style culture and organized chaos within the framework of passion for life.

The train stations, and the trains is another area of difference. Originally hailing from Winnipeg, When I moved to Calgary, I thought that that was a city that was very, “go go,” as Winnipeg is a smaller, yet more personable place, however, it pales in comparison to the pace of people in Japan. Japan is the perfect example of changing for the future, yet keeping the cultural tradition, and not losing oneself completely to the tides of change. As opposed to the usual treatment that patrons of the LRT systems in Calgary experience, countless trains on limitless tracks greeting infinite faces everyday is what awaits Japan on a daily basis, yet the people remain polite, and kind.

Ekimae or “In front of the station” is a place of importance to nightlife in Japan, I will be blogging more about this with Ovid, but as an introduction, our station especially, Mukogaoka-yuen, acts as a meeting place.”

I went back to Yoyogi the next day with my friend and another University of Calgary student, Jessica and met up with my friend, Tat and some of his friends from here in Tokyo. Jess and I browsed through the street vendors stands, and indulged in a little takoyaki (squid balls) as we socialized and practiced our Japanese with Tat and his friends. The weekend proved to be a great kick-off to our time here and our week of exploration in Harajuku and surrounding area. The take home message from this weekend; music festivals are a must, shopping in Harajuku in awesome, and don’t be afraid to have your own adventure! (just make a plan and be safe!)

It has been a fantastic first few days and having only spent a short time here, we have only begun to realize what a task documenting the extensive nightlife here in Tokyo will be. More to come as Week 1 unfolds and as classes begin tomorrow!
Roman and Talia

(The last photo was taken at a famous crossing in Shibuya on our way home)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Peer Contributions

Part II of our pre-departure assignments included submitting contributions to fellow students blogs. Here are the contributions made towards our blog by some of our peers:

"The choices of the area for exploration are extraordinary. All four areas are extremely well known for their vivid nightlife. These are some places located in these areas that I found, both online and in travel guides. These areas seem intriguing and worth visiting while touring the area.


Kabukicho is a must go when you are in Shinjuku. This infamous Tokyo red-light district is filled with bars, restaurants, strip clubs and host/hostess clubs. The night really comes alive when you enter this district. However, along with all the fun there are some potential dangers since the Kabukicho district is also filled with Yakuzas; therefore, it is much better to travel in a group than as an individual.
After all the excitement in the Kabukicho district, you guys can always go to the New York Bar and the Peak Bar that are located in the upscale hotel, Park Hyatt. The New York Bar is located on the 52nd floor of the hotel.  The live jazz band starts up at 8pm everyday and plays until the bar closes (a 2000 yen cover charge applies after 8 pm). The bar also offers the best view of Tokyo. Unfortunately, after the movie Lost in Translation was filmed in the New York Bar, the place developed an attraction for tourists. It can be hard to get a table. Therefore, the Peak Bar that is located 11 stories lower is also a good choice, if not better. The Peak Bar has a bamboo garden located in the centre and it is softly lit by washi lamps (Japanese paper lamps). The atmosphere, the cocktails and the service are just perfect here, in fact, it is the seventh heaven of the Babel Tokyo.

        Shibuya is filled with nightclubs. There are at least ten different nightclubs packed in this little place. Out of all the nightclubs, Womb is the best, most famous and one of largest club in Tokyo. Womb has four floors and consists of two mezzanine lounges, a restaurant, a VIP lounge and two amazing dance floors which have the country’s largest disco ball. Like the Peak Bar in Shinjuku, Womb is also one of the places where the film Babel was shot. Another really cool thing about Womb is that at the entrance there is a biometric system that identifies members; therefore, they do not have to show their ID every time they go. However, Womb is built amid the “love-hotels” in the alley. It is very hard to find even with the address for the first timer. (Personal experience)


After all the partying in Shibuya, Lounge Tableaux in Daikanyama is a great place to relax. Lounge Tableaux is a classy, sophisticated and cozy cigar bar that offers great quality Cuban cigars. The price ranges from 600 yen to 6000 yen. With the crystal chandeliers, old books, leather armchairs and sketches of nudes on the walls, the Lounge Tableaux gives the customers a 19thcentury high class European experience.

        The Bar is an extremely classy dining lounge and piano bar that is located on the forty-second floor of the Mori Tower Atago in Roppongi. The view from the bar is amazing. People can get a clear view of the Rainbow Bridge and the Bay of Tokyo. The Bar is sometimes renedt out for private events, therefore it is always best to check their website before going for guaranteed entry. The atmosphere and the setting might be very high class, but the prices on the menu are very reasonable. People can order “Buck Wheat Noodle” for just 1200 yen or order “Today's Chef Recommended Special Nigiri Sushi” for 3700 yen."

Pachinko is a Japanese gambling devices. The Pachinko parlours have some different kinds of slot machines. A Pachinko machine is like a vertical pinball machine but without flippers. The players fires a ball up into the machine, and the ball run by itself through the machine. If it not just falls to the bottom, and more balls are released as a jackpot. The more balls the player get from the machine, the more expensive prize the player can exchange for. Gambling for cash is illegal in Japan, so those balls cannot be exchanged directly for chas in the parlor. However, the balls can be exchanged for token, vouches, or prizes, such as pens, toys, or electronics. Players can buy metal balls by inserting cash, prepaid card, or the members card directly into the machine they want to use. The parlours also offer an exchange of 4 yen per ball, 1000 yen per 250 balls. Most Pachinko parlours open from 10am to 11pm every day.

Host Club
Host club, as an entertainment in Japan’s nightlife, has thrived in these years. In host club, the male staffs cater to the female clients. Host clubs usually open from 4 pm to 2am, some of them till 4am next day.  The host clubs sell drinks at a higher price than the regular one and also offer the champagne tower when there is a special event. The drinks can start at 1000 yen to three million yen. The seven layers’ champagne tower is around 1.5 million yen. Most host clubs are located in Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo.
The males work in host club is called “Host”. In order to attract female clients, hosts build a seductive image, such as slim body, trendy hairstyle and expensive suits and accessories. However, this image seems not attractive to the western female, because it is opposite to the North American sense of beauty. They are responsible to entertain their clients by drinking, performing, and chatting. They make their clients feel being loved and usually pretend to have a romantic relationship with the clients but without sex.  The clients originally were hostess and wealthy women, and more office ladies go to host clubs nowadays. Most of them want to escape form the stressful life and have fun in the host club. Also, hosts are trained to provide highly stylized forms of service. They intend to establish a fantasy world so women are willing to spend money. Therefore, Dr. Takeyama concludes the service provided by hosts is commodified romance."