Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Lockup and the Manga Cafe

First of all, Shibuya was teeming with next to a bajillion people. Like seriously, busier than I've probably ever seen it. Coming out of the station, you couldn't even shove your way to the Hachiko statue to meet anyone, so I had to go and wait over by the police box for my host brother and his girlfriend to come get me. Chalk it up to a Sunday night towards the end of Spring Holiday I guess, but it was madness. Luckily, host brother had made us a reservation and knew where the place was so we were secured a table once we got there. The Lockup is down in the basement (of course it would be) of a building full of restaurants, and you find yourself crossing over from a regular, well-lit staircase to a dungeony type of cave staircase where the only light, and really, there was hardly any, were sparse blacklights. You push your way through an eerie, metal door with warnings splashed on it in paint which have since mostly chipped off. You're so focused on not tumbling down the stairs, that as you begin to wind your way through the almost pitch black labyrinth leading to what you hope is a front desk, when things start jumping out at you from the walls, you of course jump. The entrance is long and narrow and like any spookhouse you'd see in the USA, except for a very shifty and needless spot right before you get to the real entrance, where they've removed a patch of the floor and inserted a padded trampoline instead so that you feel like your falling when you take that last step forward.

So we pushed through to the waiting room where a young girl in a skimpy policegirl's outfit (complete with hat and handcuffs), is waiting to take your name. (I might mention here that all the girls are dressed likewise, whereas the male waiters are dressed in comfy-looking black and white striped pajamas made to look like stereotypical jail uniforms, complete with a serial number). So we sat down to wait, since we were a bit early. Underfoot are those disk-like things you can get at Spencers, where you touch them and the little lighting bolts follow your fingers. From time to time, alarms would go off and guys dressed like masked murderers or monsters would come barreling through. And yes, the one with a Jason mask, dragging chains behind him thought it would be clever to fall on me. I found it neither scary nor clever.

So finally our turn came up and the scantily clad hostess girl whipped out her handcuffs, clapped one on me and one on my host brother, and led us off to our 'cell,' with his girlfriend trailing behind, snickering. Rather than just tables, you get your own cell. And it's really cool because it's its own entirely enclosed room, with only the metal-barred sliding door exposing you to the outside. I liked it because it made it quiet (the music outside was blasting), and rather intimate. Also, rather than chairs, they had a low table and just cushions, so you sat cross-legged (and you had to take your shoes off at the door). Once we were seated (his girlfriend and I steated away from the door), we perused the menu, first selecting our drinks (all themed after mad scientists and served in test tubes or beakers as seen in the picture), and they picked out about 9 dishes (literally), for us to all share. I might note that last night was half price night. So, once we'd decided what we wanted, we pushed the order for the waiter and a rather strikingly tall and handsome young man in his striped pajamas slid open our door and took our order. Not long after, the food started rolling in. The drinks, while novel, were not at all worth their price. It was hard to believe there was alcohol in them at all, as they seemed more like soda mixed with flavored syrup. Everything, for whatever reason, was spicy-based, most things containing kimchi, which wasn't looking good to my stomach, though it turned out alright in the end. We had: nachos, cheese/beef fried tofu, seafood salad, another kind of salad, bread with curry sauce, vegetables with three types of dipping sauce, Taco rice, Spicy kimchi ramen, and this funny little dish where they bring you five small bowls that all look identical, with soup in them, about four soba noodles each, and on top, hiding the contents, fried tempura batter bits. What was interesting about this dish, is that 3 of the 5 dishes were fine and tasty, but 2 of them were almost entirely wasabi. So we all chose one and while my host brother's girlfriend and I looked at each other, satisfied with the taste, he started howling out and crying, because he'd gotten a wasabi one. There were two left, so she and I tried again and this time it was she who got the bum one. I'm just lucky I guess.

So we finally finished our food and were just sitting around, which I found odd since it was apparent we were done eating, so why weren't we leaving? Naoki then explained that it was only 8:30 and the trains would be packed. Then he offered to take me to a mangakisa, or manga kisaten which is a Manga Cafe/Internet Cafe. Just when we were getting ready to buzz for the check, (I might mention that my host brother's girlfriend had switched and was now sitting next to him, by the jail door), all the lights in the entire place went out. Over the loudspeaker came sirens, then red flashing lights, like cop lights, started whizzing around on the ceiling and a pre-recorded, fervent male voice came on saying that "there had been a break out and that monsters and murderers were now on the loose. Don't leave your cells. We're on the pursuit." A few black lights came on, and the sound of loud, and I mean LOUD slams started echoing all around as the 'monsters' were going through and throwing the barred doors open and shut. From my vantage point in the far corner, I of course could see whenever any of them were coming, but his poor girlfriend could not, and all of a sudden, a guy in a mask would throw our dow open and leap in (and I literally mean hurl himself into) our little cell, such that if you didn't leap away from shock, he might just barrel into you. This went on for a good 15 minutes or more, always catching her off guard, though my host brother was ready with the camera most of the time. At one point they tried to get the monster/murderer to hassle me, both of them pointing my way, but thankfully that's when a voice came back onto the overhead saying that the cops were closing in, so all the masked spooks started going back down the mainhallway to the break room while fake gunshots on the intercom let us know the cops were shooting them down, and then promptly after, a police girl came by with a flashlight as long as her arm, looking in at us, asking if we were okay. And that was that. We got the check and left. It was quite fun, despite me not being the spookhouse type.

After that we went one building over, up one floor through an arcade and into a pachinko parlor where buckets upon buckets were piled on the floor filled either with pachinko chips or real, legitimate coins. Then through there we passed into an elevator, and up to the sixth floor and out into what looked to be a quite posh VIP club, but which happened to actually be the Manga Cafe. Naoki paid our way for an hour and requested a booth for 3 (they have all sorts of rooms, even ones with massage chairs). On a nearby computer they looked up the Manga "Fruits Basket" for me and took me up the escalator to the next floor where the girls comics resided. They also explained to me that at this place, and perhaps all Manga Cafe, I don't know, the drinks are nomihoudai and the ice cream is tabehoudai, which means all you can drink and all you can eat. And sure enough, when we went back down the escalator, all the vending machines we saw showed a $0 for the prices. (I might note here that not only does Japan have regular vending machines, but some that brew your coffee for you, add sugar and milk according to how much you imput and then push it out to you, just like a Starbucks barista). So I got a milk tea, he got coffee and she got ice cream and we went back to our room/booth/cubicle. Again, you take your shoes off and enter the little cubicle space where there are leather floor chairs (since you're sitting on a waist-high raised floor), and pillows, hangars, a closet, a TV, a computer, super expensive headphones, and a playstation...all there for your use. Many people who cannot afford an apartment, or who are visiting and don't want to bother with a hotel, will stay in these cubicles because they are clean, comfortable and relatively cheap, comparatively. It had the feel kind of, like a cross between a VIP lounge and a library. So we read for an hour. They'd pulled 4 volumes of Fruits Basket out for me, but I only made it to four chapters, since my reading in Japanese is slow. After our time was up, we took the manga/magazines and reshelved them and left. How the people at the desk know who left on time and who didn't, I'm really not sure. And that was pretty much the end of my adventures.