Monday, May 24, 2010

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

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