Thursday, July 29, 2010

And so we say Farewell...

Well friends, the time has come I think. It has been almost a year now since I set off for Japan, for adventure and excitement and everything more. Sometimes it felt long, like the year would never end, but now, looking back, I find that a year is too short a time. It is far too short to do all you want to do, to see all you want to see, to meet everyone you want to meet. But then, we cannot berate ourselves for unlived lives. I did what I set out to do, which was to live life to the fullest, never holding back, while I was here. There is more I want to see, want to do, but no time. The clock is nearing 12 and I must return from whence I came. Certainly this experience has rewarded me, it has changed me irreparably in all the best ways. I can see now what I am capable of, what I can do when I have to. I've never been a childish person, but now I can soundly say that I have grown up. My time here has made me into a world-wise adult, it has broadened my horizons and opened my eyes in ways I neither expected, nor can describe. I suppose it is often so for people in my position. In hindsight I see now just how small my view of the world and its people really was. "I am altered by what I have seen," if I might nab a line from a movie.

I cannot claim to know everything about Japan, about Tokyo, but I know it very well, and it, and its people, are more complicated, intricate and beautiful than I could have every thought. I suppose I'm rambling or sounding like a philosopher, something I mustn't do at all costs, so I will make this brief. I would like to thank all those who have read this blog, even if only one post. I hope it has afforded you some benefit, even if it only be some slight amusement. I'm thankful that anyone at all has read my random blabber, and I am sad to have to say goodbye to you. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end, for if they did not, there would be no room for new adventures, which are precisely what await me. I cannot know what will happen to me now, to my future, but I am glad for what I have done and optimistic for that yet to be done. My time of departure is very near and it is time to say farewell. I thank you all, and bid you adieu.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Banks and Cell Phones

Today was ‘doing the dirty work’ day. By which I mean to say, time to shut down all bank accounts and cut cell phone contracts. Luckily, I had my host mom with me which prevented any wrinkles in the process, and while I might have managed the bank accounts flying solo, I’m fairly well convinced that the cell phone situation would have drowned me. My ardent advice to anyone not planning on living here for more than a year would be not to get a cell phone as the entire situation surrounding them is way too expensive, and almost impossible to get in to and out of unless you speak perfectly fluent Japanese.

So we started our chores by going to the post office (first to drop off one of the many boxes I’m having to ship back home). Incidentally, you can ship rather large boxes of stuff home for not too much cash if you use surface shipping, though it takes a month or two to get them. So, after depositing the heavy box into the wafer-thin arms of the mousy girl behind the counter, my host mom and I took a number and waited to be called to the bank side of the post office. Here in Japan, the Post Office is a multi-headed beast. It not only serves as a PO, but also sells insurance, acts as a bank, and performs other services that I no nothing about. A few years ago, the PO was privatized, which is when it took on these many masks, and that is also the reason why it is open/running 7 days a week (which is handier than you know).

So, when our number was called, we went up to the counter and my host mom said that I wanted to close my account. I was asked to produce my bank book, my inkan (personalized stamp), ID, and my cash card. Having presented all of these to the lady, we were asked to go sit down and wait. I was called back up three different times to input my PIN number into a little, shielded calculator-like machine, and then the last time, I was giving a receipt, asked to sign a slip of paper, and then was presented with the remainder of my account (19 cents), and my bank book which had a ‘void’ sticker on it. And that was one check off the list. Pretty painless, huh?

Next, we hopped a bus to Sangenjaya and went to the Docomo store where I got my cell phone all those many months ago. We took a number and waited in the longest line of the day, despite it being before noon on a weekday. After about 45 min. we went up to the counter and my host mom talked in length to the lady beyond. I’m assuming she was saying that I wanted to cut the contract (I’d had to sign up for a 2 yr one remember?) I filled out a slip of paper with my name, address and cell number and then the Docomo girl worked her magic, stopping every few minutes to say things like, “After this, your cell phone will no longer work, so be advised,” etc. Cutting the contract ended up costing me $150, just further proving my point that it’s not cost-effective to have one of the bloody things here. And just so you don’t buy into the idea that Japan’s cell phones are so much more superior than ours in the US, they are not. They are more or less the same, only 3-6 times the cost.

Having rid myself of all means of mobile communication, we hopped another bus for Shibuya, to the third and last thing on our to-do list. This time it was to the Mitsui Sumitomo bank that we went (a bank I’ve grown to love for the sheer ease with which they handle everything), and again we took a number. We hadn’t been sitting a minute when we were called to the counter and, presenting the aforementioned articles once more (Inkan, ID, card, passbook), the girl started punching things into a computer, presented me with my balance and my voided passbook and all in under 10 min. And that was that.

All in all, the three checks on the list took 2 hours, and so, as a reward, my host mother and I went out to lunch in a restaurant situated on one of the top floors of Loft, an everything-you-could-ever-need sort of store situated in Shibuya. The small café-sized restaurant was technically Chinese, though it was more well known for its ample tea selection and so much lunch set came with spicy noodles in soup, three small side dishes of my choice (egg rolls and two types of dumplings), and I chose Lychee tea to finish it off.

After lunch we parted ways, my host mother going home and myself going to Tower Records to stock up on Korean Pop Cds for my return journey. Japanese Cds here usually cost around $12-18 for a single (avg. 4 songs) and around $30+ for a full album. DVDs cost about $35-50 for a regular DVD, and about $150-200 for a TV Box Set. Korean Cds, on the other hand, cost about the same as American Cds, and since buying them here and brining them home would eliminate shipping costs, so that’s what I went to Tower Records store. On the subject of DVDs and Cds (and games for that matter), I will leave this entry with some parting advice for the day. In Japan there are stores called Book Off (a huge one in Shibuya, way down the street HMV is on), and they specialize in used books, movies, magazines and cds. Because things are used, the prices vary, but everything is in good condition and remarkably cheaper than if you were to buy it new, so to anyone wanting to load up on any of the above, check at a Book Off first. They have stores everywhere in Tokyo, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one. To those game enthusiasts out there, though, you should know that Japanese games (like Playstation, Wii, etc.) do not work on American or European game consoles, so if you really want a Japanese game, you’re going to have to buy the console here too (which they also sell at Book Off). Ta-ta for now! I’m off to my last Alice Nine concert!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hanabi (Fireworks)

Today, at 5:30, I went out to meet a friend and her husband to go see fireworks. As with Disneyland, many Japanese people find it to be quite a shame if you leave Japan without seeing one of their many magnificent fireworks displays, and so my friend ardently searched for one that would take place before I leave (most start in August). And so, we waited at the JR Nambu Station at Mizonoguchi to head out to some place I’ve never heard of on the Tamagawa River to watch the fireworks.

And I had an experience that everyone should probably have before they leave Japan. The packed train. When I say ‘packed,’ I mean, you can literally feel people’s bones against yours, you can feel their heartbeat, their sweat stains your clothes. You cannot get a handhold, but however reckless the driver might be in his sudden stops, you will not fall; there is no room to fall. I’ve been in packed trains before. The worst up until today was when I went with my host parents to see a Sumo match way back when. This one outdid them all.

We made our way down to the platform and got in line behind 20 other people that were lined up at one of the 4 doors to our train. The other lines were longer. It wasn’t but a minute or so and the train pulled up. And as the doors opened, people were falling out. No one got off. To look at it, there was room for maybe three people. But the Japanese are not to be deterred by any manner of train traffic. And so, with a laugh, I, like the twenty people in front of me and 8 or so people behind me, shoved those already in the train farther inside, like packing an already bulging suitcase. And somehow, we made it, though there were those who couldn’t fit. As one, we moved with the motions of the train like seaweed on a wave, unable to keep balance because there was no room to readjust your feet. But, as I said before, you cannot fall down. You cannot readjust either. Everyone fits together somehow, like puzzle pieces and you just have to stay that way. We rode like this for four stops before several people got off and the rest of the way (two more stops), while full, was not, ‘if this guy moves, his elbow will spear my kidney’ packed.

And, once we’d funneled out into the streets with a million other people, we stopped at one of several tables along the sidewalk to buy bottled tea and snacks of dumplings, though in truth we’d have done better to wait. All along the way, mostly young couples walked close, if not hand in hand, and despite the humid and hot weather, most of the young girls were all trussed up in their Yukatas, their hair up and prettily done. Even several of the young men with them were dressed in the male equivalent of a Yukata, though their hair was spiked and gelled and modern in contrast to their dress. Also, many young married couples with small children were among the crowd.

We walked a long ways, then up the stairs, over a road and down onto the banks of the river, past policemen shouting for people to watch their step. On the bank opposite, all you could see were little dots of people’s torsos, in such a number that you couldn’t see the green that was the space between them. On our side, stretching about a mile long on the main path, were stands selling their festival wares. I’ve come to love these stands, as they are more traditionally Japan to me than Ikebana. There was Yakisoba, Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, Mizuame, Candy Apples, Shaved Ice, Frankfurter on a stick, chocolate covered bananas, chicken nuggets and more, all the way down. We finally found a bit of asphalt on the path above the main walkway, and laid down our tarp and sat (rather uncomfortably as it was rocky, hot, hard asphalt) and waited for the fireworks to begin.

At around 7:15, they started. This particular show was to last an hour and had 12,000 fireworks. While that is a good amount, the largest firework show around is, naturally taking place after I leave, and is held over the Sumida River in Tokyo (we were now in Kawasaki). The fireworks show was absolutely amazing. From start to finish it was the equivalent of the big rush at the end of our 4th of July fireworks show (the part when they set off all of what’s left at the end). And these had been designed in a computer to be artistic, so you weren’t just watching fireworks, you were watching a show. I don’t know how the fireworks in bigger cities in America are on the 4th, but this one in Japan put St. Louis’ fireworks shows to shame. They had all sorts and they were going off constantly, not one by one, but three by three or more, and in two locations. It was such fun.

Afterwards, we joined the mass exodus, cutting through a jungly bit of forest and rejoining the group, and wisely, instead of going straight to the station, we walked for about 20 min. and found a restaurant where we had dinner and said our farewells (this was the last time I would get to see my friend), and then we went back to the station and I caught the last train home.

PS: Btw, I've added two entries today, so there's a new one below this too : )

Disneyland and Obon Odori

Today (7/24) was my last Japan Disney trip. Disney might not pop into your mind instantly as being Japanese, and whether as a tourist or as someone coming to live and stay, (at least from an American point of view), it probably isn’t on the top of your list of must-see Japanese sights. But, the Japanese see Disney as being an integral part of Japan and its culture, even more so than Tokyo Tower I would argue. In my time here I was never once asked if I’d seen the ancient ships at Hakone, seen a sumo match, or been to Tokyo Tower, but I cannot count the amount of times I’ve been asked if I’d been to Tokyo Disney.

You might recall that I have gone to Tokyo Disney Sea (twice, and loved it), and so my host parents decided that I needed to see the other half of the Disney coin, so we went to Disney Land this time. May I first comment on the heat of a Tokyo summer. It’s hot here. I don’t mean just regular hot, I mean surface of the sun hot. If it’s not in the hundreds, its certainly trying to be, and it is famous for being swelteringly humid. The humid season is, I think, called tsuyu, and while it’s supposed to have ended (because the horrible, nationwide, flood-creating storms have passed) the humidity is here to stay.

Since it was Friday, we had the workweek to contend with and I got my first real dose of what morning means to a salary man in Japan. It means a packed train of men in suits at 7 o’clock in the morning. While not pleasant, it wasn’t the worst ‘packed train’ I’ve been subjected to (as we’ll see in the following entry). We rode out to Disney (a far ride for most anyone), already complaining about the heat, and then we walked down to see about eight lines of people, 70-ish people deep at the entrances to Disney. It wasn’t open yet. This was at 8 o’clock. Some people were sprawled out on tarps on the asphalt, most were wearing hats, none were wearing sunglasses (an absurdity here that I still cannot accept). I asked if the park opened at 8:30. It did not. It opened at 9, and so we waited under the sun for an hour, and when the gates finally did open, it was like the Furby frenzy, or the Beanie Baby craze, or whatever other mass hysteria moments you’d like to liken it to (a sale at Macys?), and people were running, I mean full out running, through the gates into the park beyond, though to what ultimate purpose I never did find out. My group speed walked.

We went first to Space Mountain for a Fastpass, then found that the ‘ride’ next to it wasn’t bogged down with an unbearable line, so we queued up and entered an air conditioned haven, watching monitors that told the behind-the-scenes story of ‘Captain EO.’ Captian EO is a ride/3D movie now only shown at the Japan Disney Land. Back in the 1980s, George Lucas, a team of puppeteers and dancers, and the one and only Michael Jackson, got together to create this 3D movie for Disney. Upon its creation, it ran for some time at the various parks, in the US and in Japan, before being retired and replaced with other 3D attractions like ‘Honey I Shrunk The Kids.’ But then, Michael Jackson died.

The Japanese love Michael Jackson. That, itself, is an understatement. He is, to them, what Elvis is to a good number of Americans. Or Freddie Mercury of Queen is to some others. (Btw, Freddy Mercury was a Parsi Indian, born in India and raised in Bombay; bet ya didn’t know that). They adore him. Even in his death, they adore him. In the regular movie theaters right now, there is another ‘in memoriam’ movie running around. So, suffice it to say, upon his untimely death, the people and Tokyo Disney decided it was time to take old ‘Captian EO’ off the shelves, dust him off, and plant him back in the park where he once reigned. It was this ride that was my first experience of Tokyo Disney Land.

It was typical Lucas, typical Michael, typical 80s. The critters within it, and the space chase scenes could just as well have been out of Star Wars, the costumes and makeup of the dancers could have been from any 80s music video, and Jackson was, well, Jackson. All in all, the ride was like one, long Michael Jackson music video with special effects. For MJ fans, like my host mother, I could see why someone might love the ride, but not being an avid MJ fan myself, it was amusing but just ‘okay.’ The storyline is that MJ, aka Captain EO, crash lands on an enemy planet where he’s been charged to give the Supreme Leader a gift. As he and his wonky fellow space buddies are about to be carted away by the minions of the metallic, witch-like Supreme Leader lady, MJ’s friends turn into musical instruments and he starts to sing and dance, the power of his song turning the gnarly baddies into exotic, beautiful backup dancers until finally, the entire landscape and the Supreme Leader herself are turned natural and beautiful. Then MJ packs off back to the ship and flies off.

So, after that air conditioned respite, we went over to Space Mountain where I got to sit in the first seat by myself. Then, since I’d told the host mom that the two rides I wanted to go on were Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, we headed off in the direction of PotC. We’d just gotten in line for it, and my host mom had just finished relating a story about how, the last time she’d tried to ride it, the boats broke, a voice came over the intercom saying the ride was broken so everybody out.’ My host family seemed apologetic, but it wasn’t really any big deal, and we took the break to go off and eat. My host mom and I had cold noodles (since it was so unbearably hot) while my host dad had ramen, and then I drank about a gallon of water. From there we proceeded to the front of the castle, in the center of the park, to wait for the show.

Here in Tokyo, both parks have ever-changing themes, and the current theme is something about water, so after warnings over the speakers that ‘you might get wet,’ Goofy came lalloping out onto the stage, streams of water shooting up behind him in a rhythm while he fell over himself comically as they eventually made their way around to him. After that intro, Minnie and live backup dancers made their way onto the stage and, as a song started up, from all the balconies on Cinderella’s castle, water rocketed off in enormous sprays, spreading in the air to look almost like white fireworks. We were quite a ways away from the castle, but such was the force of the rocketing water, that it made itself over to us, falling down like rain. In time to the music, rockets of water would shoot off in directions from the castle, or from the stage, and from amongst the gargoyles perched among parapets and ringing the castle walls, up to the highest tower, were steady streams of arcing water spitting out like fountains. At one point, the turrets on either side of the stage (I don’t think Disney World’s castle has separate turrets) started up huge, powerful sprinklers that swept over the audience, soaking everyone, while on the stage huge industrial fans turned side to side blowing mist and the male dancers grabbed water hoses and started dousing the audience. They must have gone through a Sea World-sized tank of water.

When it was all over (15 min. max), the entire audience had transformed from being grumbling and angry, to being happy, clapping and smiling. Myself included. It did not take long, however, for the nice cool water soaking me to dry. Anywho, at this point my host father left, having to oversee the last minute’s Obon Odori preparations, but my host mother and I continued on, nabbing some green tea shaved ice, then pushing on to Haunted Mansion, which is exactly the same as in the states, past the Queen of Hearts small castle (which you can’t go into, only look at), then to Thunder Mountain and lastly to Splash mountain (in whose line we talked about You’re Beautiful, a Korean drama I’ve managed to get her to watch). Once we finally got off of Splash Mountain, sufficiently splashed, we hurried back to the park’s front, did a little shopping, and then hopped the cool, empty train back whereafter we watched an episode of You’re Beautiful, then I came back up to my apartment to survey the sun-burn damage and take a shower.

I’d been told to come down before 7 for dinner so that I could be there for the beginning of the Obon dance, but, with the intention of only ‘resting my eyes’ for 15 min., the next thing I knew, I was awakened by the first beats of the Taiko drums outside my window in the courtyard below. Hurrying into my Yukata (and making a mess of tying the bow), I rushed downstairs and inhaled my food, then my host mom and I went out to look at the dance.

In Japan, Obon is the name of a festival/festival time in the summer. The purpose of Obon is similar to that of Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, in that it is a time when the living are calling for the dead to come back from their graves, home. The main time for Obon is the first week in August, so if you’re coming to Japan or staying in Japan, I would advise you to try to stay through this week (I, not knowing about it, set my fly out date too early). During this week, all schools and most offices shut down completely and everyone in the country gets a week off to celebrate. As far as how the Japanese celebrate it, there are several interesting things that they do. For one, in their household shrines, they place vegetables (typically eggplants or cucumbers), that they’ve stuck through with toothpicks to give the appearance of legs so that the vegetables look like animals. The reason for this is to give the spirits something to ride to come back into the home. Also, they will like lanterns in their houses (ours is in front of the household shrine). Another interesting practice is the floating of small boats (like, toy-sized) down the river onto which they put lit lanterns. During this season, all throughout the month of August, is the time when Japan has its famous, magnificent fireworks displays (usually on rivers or on the ocean). And of course there is the Obon bonfire. On a certain night (I’m not sure when), huge bonfires are lit and around them, people come and dance. At our shrine we didn’t have the bonfire, but we had the dance.

Obon Odori is what it’s called, odori meaning dance. In place of a huge bonfire, men had built a large stage with a metal rafter in the middle, and from it were strung different colored lit lanterns, some with names written on them, others blank. Down the side entrance to the shrine, a few stands had been built, and by the time my host mother and I got on the scene, they were busy at work selling takoyaki (octopus balls), children’s masks, blowup children’s toys, Mizuame (sour fruits on a stick dipped in melted sugar and then placed on a block of ice to cool so that it’s like a lollipop), Sosu-senbei (You spin a board and get however many thin wafers you land on, with a dollop of chocolate, vanilla or plum flavored pudding on top), yakisoba, and water yo-yos (you get a small hook on a piece of paper and you try to fish a balloon out of a pool of water). As we’re a small shrine, there were only these few stands, but it was sufficient for the amount of people in attendance.

We came out and stood, surveying the scene for a long time, the heat of the day lasting far after sunset, but lessened by a night’s gentle breeze. In front of the erected stage, people were playing three large Taiko drums in time to old music that blasted from speakers hanging from the rafter towering above everyone in the middle of the stage. The Taiko drummers were the same people who had carried the portable shrine at the fall festival. Around the stage in an ever moving circle, men and women in uniformed outfits (male and female Yukatas), were dancing in a simple, choreographed way that everyone seemed to know, reflecting the dance of the 8 or so people that we dancing under brighter light on the raised stage. A time or two, my host mother tried to push me into the ring dancing in time, but I vehemently refused until finally she gave up trying.

After every song, a different group of dancers would go up on stage, the previous ones descending to join the circle, and the drummers would continue on tirelessly. There’s not really much more to report than that. We watched from the shrine’s office door for a long time until my host mother, too accustomed to the festival to find any real interest in it, said she was going inside and, not wanting to be left without her, the white girl in a very Japanese ceremony, I retired as well, and about 20 min. later, the festivities drew to a close.

PS: To anyone considering going to Tokyo Disneyland or Disney Sea, I would advise going to Disney Sea. Both are cool, but Disneyland is more or less the same as in the States, and probably Europe, but Disney Sea is something you'll only get to see here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shinjuku, the Movies, V-Kei Stores and The Globe

Last Sunday was my free day, as in the day when I didn’t have any assignations with people of my social circle and was thus able to go about the day doing whatever the heck I wanted. I’d made strict plans the night before as to the course of the day. With my final days now in a countdown, most of what remains are pre-planned with farewell trips, so a day to myself is rare and just begging to be filled up with ‘one-more-time’ sightseeing.

Much to my own surprise, the top of the day’s to-do list was going to the movies. Here in Japan, comedians outrank celebrities in terms of popularity by astronomical amounts, and one of the more popular up-and-coming comedy duos is a pair called Hannya, who I’ve taken quite a shine to, to one member in particular whose name is Kanada Satoshi. Standing out from the crowd with his staggeringly tall yet wafer-thin frame, Kanada is more or less a physical actor, though he often dons the ‘young rude hoodlum’ persona in many of Hannya’s skits, which he donned again today.

Being a great fan of Japanese comedians, I’m always on the lookout for anything to do with them, and while quite disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to go to this weekend’s Live Stand ‘10 comedian extravaganza (pretty much a blowout 3-day event where all of Tokyo’s well known comedians come out and perform), I was happy to hear that the aforementioned Kanada was actually in a movie that came out just yesterday. The short notice was, to say the least, abrupt, and since it’s a small release movie, there are only about 3 or so theaters in all of Tokyo who are set to play it (and for 1 week only), but I was determined that I should go, come heck or high water. It also just so happens that Oguri Shun’s directorial debut film also came out yesterday, and that fit into today’s agenda as well.

Not wanting to wake up early, as the plan dictated, I was, after much protest, able to wrest myself from my futon and step out into the blistering asphalt-reflected heat that is Japan in summer and hop onto the surprisingly empty train bound for Shinjuku. As I got off, a few stragglers were meandering their way about the station and streets of Shinjuku, a late-working host or two among them, but as everything opens at around 10 am in Tokyo (or later), there wasn’t much cause for people to be out at 9.

I followed the convoluted directions I’d sketched out on a scrap of memo paper and found said theater on the third floor of a clothing store building, but when I took the elevator up, I found myself staring at a sign that said the theater wasn’t open yet, and so I went back down and out into the blistering heat again to find the second theater (playing Oguri Shun’s movie) just across the way. I walked around for a bit longer, until I could stand the heat no more and went back to my original destination, surprised to see that in the ten minutes I’d been away, a line of ten or so people had formed in front of the ‘Not Open’ sign. Leave it to the Japanese to line up. They do love their lines.

I got in line, ignoring the multitude of stares that shot their way at me from everyone in line, and waited until 9:15, just 15 min. before the movie was set to start. We all shuffled to the ticket counter like a chain gang and purchased out tickets. In contrast to Grandberry Mall’s plush 109 Cinema that I’ve grown accustomed to visiting by the school, this theater was tiny by comparison. Four screens occupied one floor of the building, and while there was a food stand (selling Takoyaki especially for the movie I was going to see), there were no goods to purchase (another thing I’ve grown accustomed to in relation to theater-going, and one I will very much miss in the States). Even the tickets were not automated or printed, but simple paper slips with the price printed on them which the girl at the counter would stamp with the name of the movie you were going to.

Having had my ticket soundly stamped, I forwent the food and pushed on into the theater which was small as was to be expected, able to seat maybe a total of 70, though only 20 or so were in attendance for the morning show. I sat and relaxed and waited for the movie to start, watching the anti-piracy warning and then a few commercials (one for a movie I desperately want to see but won’t be able to, as it comes out the day after I leave), and then the movie began.

It was a goofy movie, to say the least, though you knew it would be going in. It was very ‘high school first love,’ but I thought Kanada did a fairly good job for his first real acting role, though it was at times unsettling that he (my age) was meant as the romantic lead in a movie whose cast was the average age of 16/17. Even so, one looks over that.

After the movie, I’d planned to scuttle over to the other theater and watch Oguri’s show, but upon entrance into the place, I quickly realized such a task would be impossible. I had 30 min. before the show started and, looking at the line before me at the ticket counter was like looking at a hive covered in bees. There was no fathomable way that I would be able to get a ticket in time, so with a laugh of exasperation I left defeated but not discouraged. Instead, I went to the large bookstore at the station which has a half a floor devoted entirely to books in English, where I picked up a few Carl Hiaasen novels for the plane ride home.

I then made the circuit of the fantastic Visual Kei stores in Shinjuku, all 4 conveniently located within a block of each other (two are a door away), and found a 50% off CD store that allowed me to buy an Alice Nine CD for $1.50. As for the stores, I should probably mention them lest someone reading this is in Tokyo and wants to visit. The most well known is ‘Like An Edison,’ which has two floors and at times stages events with bands (my friend and I happened to run into a band on the way in once, though, like a fool I didn’t realize what was going on at the time and thus didn’t get a look at who they were). The first floor is all Cds and the second is mostly magazines and tickets to all upcoming concerts, though there is from time to time band merchandise for sale. Diagonally across from LIE, is Club Indies which has a few magazines but is primarily just a CD store. Both of these are obviously Visual Kei stores as shown by the huge posters of bands like Vivid, Sid and various others plastered on the windows looking out. One block over are my favorite shops. First, there is Pure Sound, which sells books, magazines (some for a dollar), Fan Club only pamphlets, band/tour merchandise, Cds, DVDs and posters. They even have Hide and Yoshiki dolls for sale, and at the counter they have a ‘Take Free’ jar where you will sometimes find stickers or trading cards of your favorite band. Despite things in this store, they are cheap, but not the cheapest. The cheapest is the shop practically next door called Closet Child. I should first mention that Closet Child is a chain which normally specializes in Gothic Lolita clothing (which is sold at the Harajuku store), but the Shinjuku store is special because it has V-Kei stuff. It has things for super cheap, and stuff you’re not going to find anywhere else. They have baskets full of tour/band merchandise, books, magazines, walls of used and new Cds, and then more specialty stuff like, for instance, the $300 ring that Reita from the Gazette designed, Gackt’s (I think it was him) shoes, etc. And for those who want to stock up on stuff, they offer packs that contain a collection of tour goods, all in one packet. It’s hard to explain, but it’s awesome. This is where I found the sale. I mean, they even have the Alice Nine bandaids (unused of course), that you could get from the vending machines at the Royal Straight (I think it was) concert. So, I had a heyday, to say the least.

After that, sticking to my plan, I went up one stop to Shin-Okubo, a place I was now rather familiar with as I’d been to the ‘Korea Town’ a few times by this point. That being said, Shin-Okubo is known to be the home of Tokyo’s very own Globe theater. Yes, Tokyo has a Globe theater, and it’s said to be a recreation of the original Shakespearean Globe. I’d known this all along, but never actually dropped by to see it, and figuring as I only have a few days left, why not take the opportunity while I was in the neighborhood.

Turning left out of the station, rather than right (which is where all the Korean goods stores are), I made a quick turn down a small street and followed that for some time past Korean and Middle Eastern groceries, seeing the less-glamorous, real side of Tokyo where minorities live. By the time I actually reached the Globe, there was no one around, only the tall apartment buildings to keep me company, and as for the Globe, if I’d blinked, I might have missed it.

With nothing running, it was locked up so all I could see was the outside, which, much to my disappointment, was rather concrete-y and modern, leaving me to imagine that it must be the interior that is the likeness of the English original. With that let down, I turned back and went to a Korean Goods store (by goods I mean bands, dramas, actor merchandise) and got my mom some more DBSK pens like she wanted and then hopped back on the train and decided to call it a day, as the sun had now sufficiently turned me a darker shade of tan.

Here's the trailer. It's not subbed, so I apologize for that. Still, if you watch it and you'll get the idea.