A Tokyo bender

17Jun12

Friday night started at the Hachiko statue outside the Shibuya train station. The photos would become much blurrier after this.

In my experience, it usually takes about a month to acclimate to a new place. After a month, you are settled into your new residence, you have met a few acquaintances and public transportation is a little more navigatable.

And you feel comfortable enough to hit the town. Friday night was my night.

Our good friend Jun was in Tokyo for the weekend. Jun, a Japanese native, was a classmate of Lisa’s at UPenn. He now lives in NYC. We got along well, since Jun is down to earth and loves to party as much as I do. Plus, Jun also has a wife that the Japanese refer to as a “carnivore” – a successful, driven woman who wears the pants. We are able to relate.

Anyway, Friday night Lisa was meeting up with co-workers, and I was left to my own devices. Jun happened to be free for the evening, and he was excited to give me a tour of his favorite haunts in Tokyo.

We met at the Shibuya eki (train station). I have only been to Shibuya, one of the famous entertainment districts of Tokyo, during the day. At night, the square was abuzz with locals and tourists.

Jun told me to find him at the Hachiko statue. Hachiko was a dog, an akita, who lived in the early 20th century. As a young pup, Hachiko met his owner, a university professor, everyday at the Shibuya train station. When his master died, Hachiko continued to arrive at the train station every day for the next 10 years until his death.

He was beloved by the locals and was memorialized with his own statue.

Hachiko square was swarming like a school of spawning shad. However, at 5’10”, both Jun and I tower over the diminutive Japanese, and we located each other with relative ease.

As we trolled through the streets of Shibuya, a young man approached us, and enticing us to patronize his restaurant. I was hesitant, but Jun agreed to go. He explained to me that the hawkers in Shibuya are much more honest than those in America or Spain or other countries.

The restaurant was new and trying to bring in new customers. There are over 2,000 restaurants in Tokyo, and they have to work hard to set themselves apart. The hawker was able to promptly get us a table for 2 and a 10 percent discount.

It was a teppanyaki restaurant, or griddle cuisine. I apologize for not remembering the name. We had beef sushi that was slightly sauteed on the griddle, and okonomiyaki. It was decent enough food at a decent price (under $60 for 2) and a good starting point for the night ahead.

Then Jun gave me a tour of residential area in Kamiyamacho  Shibuya, which he called the “Beverly Hills of Tokyo.” The neighborhood is listed in the top 10 most expensive places to live, and the average home is $1.8 million.

Residents include the family of former prime minister Aso and the police chief of Tokyo. Both of these residences were under tight police protection. The houses and apartments in this area were large in comparison to the rest of Tokyo, but not so much to where I grew up in Iowa. They were packed tightly together and most were smaller than my parents’ house. One place had a two-car garage, which you don’t see anywhere else in Tokyo.

After the tour, Jun took me to his favorite bar, the Shu beer lounge. It is near the NHK headquarters, and he said many famous actors and entertainers visit the bar.

This place had a nice, relaxing atmosphere with a flat screen TV showing a soccer game in HD. We drank daiginjo sake, which was smooth and crisp, then switched to Hoegaarden beer. The waitress made fun of us because apparently you are supposed to start with beer and then switch to sake. Whatever.

Our cocoon room at Mayu.

The final and last stop of the evening was the Mayu wine cocoon bar. This place was eerily comfortable. We took stone steps deep into the bowels of Shibuya. The waiter sat us in this small room that couldn’t have been taller than four feet, and the walls were wrapped in fiberglass – like a cocoon. We sat on pillows on the floor and were able to stretch out our feet. They served us wine and beer.

We were very tipsy at this point. It was nearing 2 a.m. and we had missed the last train. One of the annoying things about Tokyo is the trains stop running after 12:30, and the taxis are quite expensive.

The cab ride home was nearly $20, and our apartment wasn’t that far away.

I arrived home at the same time as Lisa. In a giddy haze, I regaled her with the events of my night. Which, in hind sight, weren’t really all that interesting, but for the first night out in a strange city, it was adventurous enough.

*Editor’s note: The link for the Mayu wine bar has been fixed.

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