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! 

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