Thursday, June 11, 2015

Japanned, Day Four

My Wife and I went to Japan for ten days. We had a blast. I took notes.


Our last day in Yokohama...

The last few days of ridiculous heat has made doing our laundry a necessity much sooner than I had originally anticipated. Luckily, there's a tiny little laundromat somewhat close to our hotel, tucked back among the twisting-turning Yokohama neighborhood streets, near Will and Kelly's place, a neighborhood that my Grandma Mitsue grew up in, once upon a time.

So we went there.

It's completely different now from when my Grandmother was a young woman, but a few bits and pieces still remain. We saw a long stone staircase that my Grandmother had to climb daily as a child. The story goes, her mother would jokingly make the children all push her from behind when climbing the stairs, because of how long and tiring a climb they were. Or maybe it wasn't a joke. Also, it could've been my Grandmother's grandmother. Either way, those super long stairs were still there. There was also a hint of a park peeking out over the low apartment buildings, a place that Will recognized from Grandma talking about playing there as a young girl. There wasn't much of it left, really, just a few pieces, a tiny bit of old Japan still visible, but buried under what was once new, and is now old itself, being slowly buried again.

That's the story of Japan, I guess.

I loved these neighborhoods, the close buildings, the tiny streets, the hidden shopping areas, strange alleys, and the sudden appearance of little temples just around the corner. The riots of green and blooming flowers. The lattice of wires and pipes overhead.  It felt very homey, very quiet and removed, but still in the center of a massive city. Coupled with my well-known love of balconies and lofts and half-hidden passages, I thought it was perfect. If I were to move to Japan, I'd seriously think about getting a place here, back among these weird little labyrinthine streets.

Note the blue Suntory Vending Machine in the picture, right next to the Laundromat (the red awning). I bought my morning Premium Boss Black Coffee there. So convenient. Tom Lee Jones advertises for them, y'know...

While waiting for our clothes to be done, we had some food from a ticket restaurant. A ticket restaurant has its menu on this giant electronic board by the front door. Ordering is like using a vending machine, you insert your money (try to use those coins...), and then press the buttons of the dishes you want. A ticket will print out, you go inside, and hand it to the wait staff. Just like seemingly everything else in Japan, it's super convenient.

Once again, the Japanese Curry was god damn delicious.

In a classic Japanese moment, Ela slipped and fell as we left the restaurant, just took a big old face-plant, out of nowhere, right to the floor. A pair of rain-slicked slip-on "cute" shoes on a glassy-smooth tile floor, and down she went. The rest of us were all outside already, so we didn't see it. But here's the classic Japanese moment, apparently none of the other patrons saw her fall either, because no one reacted. Were they blind? Did they not care? No, they were just being polite, so they looked away so as to not acerbate her embarrassment. Also: Not their problem. So funny. Classic Japanese. Poor Ela. Her knee was a little bruised, but she was all right. Except for the shame.

Just fyi, Ela fell like, two more times while we were in Japan. And once, she walked face-first right into a really clean glass door.

Classic Ela.

So, as we were getting ready for this trip, a lot of people urged us to take pictures of all the "Engrish" we see. Americans love that stuff. There's blogs about it and shit, it's funny, sure, but I've never really been that into it. And you know what? I didn't really see much of it either. Maybe the Japanese know about it now and have corrected it all.

Well, there was this...

I'm more of a social smorker, myself...

But otherwise, I didn't see much of it. The one thing I did notice--couldn't help but notice, actually--was Japan's English Phrase T-shirt trend. Everywhere I went, there were people wearing t-shirts with English phrases on them, phrases that weren't quite... wrong, really. I mean, you can tell what they're trying to say, but it just wasn't... right. It was as if someone had translated an English phrase into Japanese, and then a Japanese person had used Google Translate to find out how an English-speaker would say it. Then they put it on a t-shirt. And it wasn't like there was some kind of greater meta-joke in the presentation of the phrase either. It wasn't presented with a self-aware wink. Often times these t-shirts were otherwise unadorned, nothing but the phrase. That's it. No special color or design or pattern, just a single color shirt and the phrase set dead-center.

After awhile, I began to compile a list...

Japanese "English Phrase" t-shirts I saw while in Japan
(a partial list)

Hate like Love
Confer Ambiguity
Epic Move
Paris Please 
Party 4 your Right 2 Fight 
Breakfast Coffee Pancakes
We are A
Go out and get busy, is in our ability to decide...
Feast into Chance will come
Sophistication and Superior
Feel Fantastic 
Dots and Lies
Punk Not Dead
Full Bloom
Against the Stream
No News is Good News
Prosperity (this was above a chrome skull wearing a Native American war bonnet)

After a few days of me keeping this list, Ela pointed out that at least they didn't tattoo these phrases on their bodies, so... Touche, Japan. You win this round...

Shut up, Komari Koshigaya... you smug bastard!

Anyway, Day Four started out not nearly as hot as the last couple days. However, what was briefly rainy and overcast soon became humid as hell, so by noon, I was sweating like a monster again. But that was all right, because we had some conveyor belt sushi in a restaurant with air conditioning, the combination of which is one of the best ways ever to spend an afternoon, if you ask me. Refreshed and cooled-down, we wandered along the Pedestrian Mall in Yokohama's Red-light District, surrounded by brothels and Soaplands, drinking beers and people watching. I just assumed every Russian girl that strode by was a prostitute, or at least in a big hurry, for obvious reasons...

Prostitution is illegal in Japan. Soaplands--also known as Mizu shobai, or "Water Trade"--are places where you pay women to take a bath with you. While bathing, they are legally allowed to have every and all kind of non-penetrative sex imaginable. You pay them for this too, obviously, but since it's non-penetrative, it's technically legal, so woo-hoo! Apparently the penetrative stuff happens all the time too, and everyone knows about it, but since they all pretend like they're not doing it, everyone's cool with it... Japan, man...

Just fyi...

Next, we went back across Yokohama and ended up on the top floor balcony of an expat bar owned by an American named... hmmm... my notes are incomplete. Anyway, he seemed nice, and his bar had fussball and some familiar beers from home, like Sierra Nevada, La Guanita, and Blue Moon. No Surly or Bell's, but you can't win them all. The best part was view of the streets of Yokohama below us. All this, plus a nice breeze and some pleasant company, what more do you need?

While here, we learned something odd about the Japanese... well, another odd thing, that is...

Despite an overflowing abundance of balconies and rooftop spaces, in pretty much every single city in Japan, the Japanese apparently think it's super weird to use those balconies and rooftop spaces for anything else but a laundry room, or as nothing. It's considered strange to want to go out on your balcony and have a bit of a sit and a drink and enjoy the view. This means I now can never move to Japan, as sitting on my balcony or rooftop space, enjoying the breeze and having a beer, would be like, 75% of my daily activities.

Chat, chat, chat, and a couple of beers, all of this was just us gearing up for our big stop of the evening: Chinatown, baby, otherwise known as the Night Street Market. Yokohama is home to the largest Chinatown, not only in Japan, but in all of Asia, and it looked it. The place was a riot of light and color and noise, steaming streets, humid air, and packed with people. We wandered the Blade Runner streets, browsed the endless kitsch, and had some really good Chinese food.

So much food. So many trinkets. So many knick-knacks. At this point, I don't know how I'm going to make it out of Japan without buying some kind of Novelty Samurai sword, most likely in umbrella form... It's my sword! It's my umbrella! It's my sword AND my umbrella!


Do you want to know who the real star of the Night Street Market was? Baby Star. What is Baby Star? Well, I've never quite been 100% positive on that. It's a brand, definitely. It has stores that sells products, and those products are... snacks? There's probably other stuff. I've definitely had some snacks with the Baby Star logo on it, and they were definitely pretty good. I'm also pretty sure they don't sell baby stuff.... pretty sure...

Now, admittedly, I didn't put too much effort into this investigation. I suppose I could look it up, but... meh. It doesn't really matter. What I do know is this, when Ela first saw a plastic Baby Star bag on our very first day in Japan, with its big yellow head logo, she was immediately enthralled. "Baby Star?" she said, "What's Baby Star?" She kept asking me like I knew. "I don't know, baby," I said, but she wouldn't believe me. "What do you think Baby Star is?" It had got under her skin, man. She was instantly obsessed. So when we found the Baby Star store in the middle of the Night Street Market... my girl was laser-focused on doing some shopping. "I'll be back," and she was gone. Boom! Like a shot: Inside. I lost her immediately. I mean, you try to keep track of a specific short, brown-skinned girl with black hair in a crowd of Japanese. She was fast, focused, and she blended in. She was on a mission. The Call of the Souvenir was strong in my baby. Her mantra on this trip was: "This is cute. I could give this to someone."

Anyway, while she was hunting trinkets with Will and Kelly, I decided to wait out front--sometimes being a large American in a Japanese crowd is not a bonus--so I'm leaning near the giant yellow head logo out front, people-watching the endless stream of folks wandering by. And every single person would stop, point at the head logo, and exclaim in delight: "Oh! Bay BEE Stah! Bay BEE Stah!" Excitedly telling each other. "Bay BEE Stah!" Pointing. And then it was pictures, thousands of pictures. Pictures. Pictures. Pictures. I don't know what it is, man, but people love Baby Star.

Those snacks are pretty good...

After filling up on some good food and doing some heavy browsing, we decided to take a second bite at the Karaoke apple. Unfortunately, this particular karaoke bar was in a bad section of town.

It was a damn good session, despite the fact that Japan doesn't have the majority of my repertoire available for crooning. No Life on Mars. No Going Out West. No Just Dropped in (To See What Condition my Condition is in). No Brandy (You're a Fine Girl). They did have Jeepster though, so that was done with gusto. And the Gambler. And Crackling Rosie too, which is my new favorite. And so finally, after singing our little Chu-hi-infested hearts out, we headed back to hotel. Ela and I needed to get our rest, because tomorrow we had to say goodbye to Will and Kelly and set off, south to Kyoto, city of Temples.

Just us, all alone in Japan.

Day Four done,


the library bird said...

bay BEE stah!!!!

the library bird said...

love the photos of mitsu

the library bird said...

love the photos of mitsu

Jon said...

"Bay BEE Stah" is said all the time now in our house.