Saturday, May 29, 2010

Club Air ~Grace~

So, an American friend of mine came to Japan on a college field trip this past week and just so happened to have a few days of more or less 'free time,' and she wanted to go to a host club, so I bit the bullet and took her.

On Sunday morning we’d gone to Kabukicho around 10, hoping to get into Club Air ~Precious~ for the morning shift (Sunrise to 11 it turns out). A handsome receptionist greeted us dubiously, then asked if we could wait there a moment while he went into the actual club to check on something. He came back basically saying in the politest way possible that “it would really help us if you’d come back some other time,” which more or less meant they were about to close (which we didn't realize at the time). So, we left the club and as we were walking out, we were immediately confronted by another host/scout who waved a coupon for his club at us and somehow or other engaged us in conversation. He was a nice enough lad, probably younger than myself, and average looking as far as hosts go. We talked for a short while (he wasn’t pushy at all, which I appreciated immensely), and then I said we had to go and he wished us a safe trip.

So, fast forward to Monday night and we’re determined to try it again. Thankfully, we’d learned our lesson the day before and didn’t have much trouble locating the club this time. Step-by-step going down the black staircase, my heart started to pound. I’d already had severe doubts about this whole venture, not sure that my Japanese was good enough to be able to converse for 2 hrs (hers either as she's behind me in Japanese class levels). Even so, she was determined to go, and I’d given her my word that we’d give it one last try.

Down the winding black staircase, like Alice through the hole, a wonderland awaited us. At the base of the stairs, all but one wall a solid black, their was a massive two way mirror, where you touch a panel on the left and it slides open to admit you into the dark reception area. Nothing but the black, wooden reception desk to the right adorns this vestibule, and as we walked inside, three men, deep in conversation, look up at our approach. The one leaning over a budgeting book was fairly good looking, but no host, that much was clear. Beside him, towering over all of us at well over 6 feet, was a thin young man in a suit with black hair falling into his eyes; he was no host either.

I ask if they’re busy, they say no. I say we’re first time customers (as if that wasn’t obvious enough) and we’re asked politely to show some ID (you have to be 20 to go to the club, as 20 is the legal drinking age in Japan). When we’ve done that, the staggeringly tall young man produces a menu-like book, opens it, and asks which service we’d like. For first time customers at that club there are two choices: 2 hrs. or Free Time. The 2 hrs. cost about $50 and you get 2 beers, unlimited soft drinks and a half a bottle of soju. If you go over two hours it costs $15 ever extra half hour. The Free Time costs $100 but gets you a bottle of champagne and there is no overtime. I thought (naively, as it turns out), that 2 hrs. would be more than enough time, so I chose that and then, without further ado, he let us through another passageway and into the club.

Club Air is one of the classier, and thus more expensive, clubs you can go to, but the quality is immediately noticeable as you enter inside. The interior is primarily black, the seats black, the floors black, the walls tiled with shiny obsidian that are so clear you can see your reflection in them. In places along the walls, silver, curling designs of mirror break up the dark colors, streams of crystal chains hang like curtains to separate individual booth-like tables from each other, almost hiding those within from any outsider’s view. There is a small disco ball hanging off to the right, surreptitiously, near the pyramid of standing crystal champagne glasses that are lit from below in a glass case. To get a better idea of what the place looks like, you can watch the end of the first episode of the drama Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge (starring Kame from Kattun), as the end of that episode takes place in this actual club.

So, we’re seated in a corner and there is a guy waiting for us. He asks us what we want to drink first and I order soju, then he hands us ‘the book’ and acts us to make our first selections. ‘The book,’ is a binder full of all the pictures of all the hosts that work at the club (28 to be exact). You sift through them and choose which one you want to meet first. At host clubs (any host club), your first visit is different than any repeat visit. One difference is that it’s much, much, much cheaper. Another major difference is that you actually get to meet pretty much all the hosts. The reason for this is so that you know which one you want to choose on your second visit. Starting on the second visit, you pay more for the table charge, you have to pay an unholy amount of tax, and you have to pay what they call a ‘nomination fee.’ The nomination fee is meant to appear separate, but is in fact mandatory. On your second visit, you choose which host is to be ‘your host’ from them on, and you cannot change, no matter what, regardless of if you start to like someone else better or not. The nomination fee is so that the club knows who to accredit your money to, which in turn raises your particular host's status in the club, helping to further him in his attempt at hitting the #1 rank.

So anyway, we picked our guys and in no time, mine was right there and with him came another, tall but young kid. Mine was very energetic and of course, handsome, looking sort of like the lead singer of The KIDDIE. He tried to teach us a game having to do with numbers and thumbs, which failed miserably as I couldn’t quite work out the rules, but his main purpose was to get us drinking, one which he succeeded at (after about the first 30-40 min, they stopped trying to get us to drink). As far as the drinking goes, you have a regular-sized glass and the hosts have small glasses, which they fill up with ice. Some of them did drink alcohol, and always asked if they could, but I would say that most of them just kept to water. When they would sit down, they would say ‘Cheers’ and clink glasses with you, and they would do this again when they were about to leave, thanking you for your time. Another side note: every one of them asked the same two questions. 1) Do you have a boyfriend (I’m assuming this is to figure out if you’re there because you’re lonely/want a fake relationship) and 2) What type of guy do you like (so they know what to act like). I was also often asked how old I was.

So, after my first guy (Natsuki), I got Hikaru (aka Handsy), who, despite being my anti-type, the sort that I deem my very opposite, turned out to be the one I begrudgingly admit that I liked the best. But we’ll get to that later. Up until he came, the hosts had been sitting across the tables from us, but he bounded right over, moved the cushion out of the way and slid in right beside me. Two other guys came over, presented their cards (they all do this before they sit down), and made a few feeble attempts to get my attention away from Hikaru, but to no avail, as he somehow managed to have my undivided attention. But, in my defense, he started off with a magic trick. How is a girl supposed to win against that? He then started down the path of blatant lies and flattery, telling me how beautiful I was, how soft my skin was, etc. (you get the picture). Then he showed off his muscles and his extremely expensive accessories, and again, you get the picture. Hikaru is, in short, the stereotype of a host. He was the only one that went on and on with the compliments and flattery. I mean, he even did the old ‘let’s compare hands’ thing, for crying out loud!

After him followed the Yamapi look-alike, and then a steady stream of guys who each stayed at least 20 min., sometimes more before 'changing' out. Some were higher ranking hosts, some were ‘helpers,’ and it was usually clear which was which. Of the string of guys that were my hosts, only about four stand out of the mix after ol' Handsy, though I hardly even spoke to the ones who were more or less my friend’s. One was a very nice, probably quite young guy who had a boy-next-door feel. Like the others, after about 10 min. he made the excuse of ‘Japanese hosts sit over here,’ and moved in beside me, but he was rather unthreatening and we had a very long, intelligent conversation. He said he usually worked at a club in Roppongi, and I asked him about being a host, and he said that it had it’s hard times, but that on the whole it was fun because he got to talk about all different kinds of things with different kinds of people. We also talked about the economy, about the strength of the yen against the dollar and how most countries seemed to be in a slump.

Then there was the Oguri Shun kid. He really did look just like Oguri Shun at about 16 years old, with longer red-and-blond streaked hair. He said he was 23, but man he looked young. He stayed for a long time with us and we chatted about American bands (he’s in a group as a drummer that plays covers of American songs), and about him being a host. He said that at the club, they don’t have janitors or anything, but that they all stay after close and have to clean the place top to bottom before the morning shift comes in.

And then there was Michi, my second favorite. He was the spitting image of Hee Chul from Super Junior, red hair and all, but with the exact opposite personality. He was quite reserved, but seemed markedly intelligent to me. Whether he was typically that quiet or not was hard to tell because the cutey that came with him for my friend was rather loud and rambunctious. We didn’t talk about a whole lot, but he said he’d been told that he looked like Shou from Alice Nine, which I didn’t entirely see, though perhaps a little in the eyes. When I mentioned/explained about him looking like Hee Chul, he laughed and proclaimed himself ‘global.’

One random anecdote is when I had to go to the bathroom. If you have to go, you tell them and whoever's with you will walk you to the bathroom and open the door for you (the guy I was with jokingly asked if I wanted him to stay), and then they wait outside (not directly outside the door, mind you), for you, and when you come out, they hand you a warm hand towel and walk you back to your seat.


Certainly the language thing was an obstacle. There were times when I spent a lot of my time talking more to my friend’s host than my own simply be means of being a translator, though the boisterous kid mentioned above was clever, taking out a napkin and writing what few English words he knew on it (like ‘example’) and then, in the conversation, when he’d say those words in Japanese, he’d point to the word on the paper. You’re probably curious about what we talked about in general. Of course I was asked where I was from and a little bit about America (what a typical American date is like, for instance), we talked a lot about language, about music, about food, things we like to do in our private time, where we like to go, but also about things like the economy, politics, etc. There was (which I found surprising), very little fawning over me, which was just fine, and I thought it was interesting and slightly unexpected that they would actually talk about their personal lives, their hobbies, where they live. And you could ask them anything and they would answer you (like my asking about their work as a host). But on the whole, the conversations were as different as the guys themselves.

Our last host came in around the last half hour. He was a half Brazilian/half Japanese guy named Gin, who could speak some English, and we talked with him about the peculiarities of Japan, and how Westerners typically think that Asian men are effeminate. There were a few champagne calls and, as the lights dimmed, he would leave to join the group of hosts surrounding whoever had ordered the champagne. The would sing, waving huge red fans that read ‘Festival’ on them until the champagne was poured and then the woman would make a comment into a microphone. At around 12:15/12:30 (bear in mind, the shop ‘closes’ at midnight), the #1 host was given a microphone and , as the lights dimmed again, the words to a song came up on the various screens hanging from the ceiling around the club and he sang the Last Song. (This was the first and only time I ever saw the #1 host, except watching him go back and forth with his arms slung around various girls. Strangely enough, he was the only one dressed casual of all the guys, as everyone else looked sharp in trendy suits whereas he was wearing a printed T-shirt, jeans and a vest.)

When I asked Gin about why the place was still open, he said that they officially stop business at midnight and the customers have to be out by 1, otherwise the cops will come in and arrest people (as there’s now a law against host/hostess clubs, and other business of the Mizushobai [as these sorts of businesses are called] being open between 1 am and sunrise). This had to be true, because on the taxi ride back, I saw a few cops lazily meandering the streets.

So, our bill came and we were asked who we wanted to escort us out. I chose Michi (the Hee Chul guy), and my friend picked Anji, who it turns out is actually #2 at that club and one of the bosses. So, we were led back to the vestibule where Michi and Anji were waiting, and we ascended the staircase together. Michi offered me his arm and then asked if he could give me a hug, as we reached the top of the stairs. Of course, I obliged. Then, as they wished us a safe journey home, we walked about 10 feet to a waiting taxi and started back.

Now, I have to apologize for my stupidity. See, you’re allowed to take a picture with up to three people and, foolish as I am, I totally forgot, so I don’t have any picture to offer you except of the handful of business cards I was given. If I go again, I promise to take a picture to show you, and my friend has one of the outside of the club, so I’ll upload that too, when she sends it to me.

Anyway, so there’s a quick course in host clubs. I would encourage you to go, but would have you heed this advice: First of all, if you’re going to go, you need to be able to understand about 80% of Japanese conversation. If you can’t, it’s not going to be that much fun because at a host club, 99% of it is talking and only about 1% is drinking. So you’re going to be talking, non stop, for about 4 hours. It may not be the most intellectual conversation you could have, but it’s still going to require some Japanese language skills. If you can’t do it, it’s going to be boring for you and hard for your host. Secondly, and lastly, I would caution you to go only if your visiting, not living in, Japan, or if you only have a short amount of time left. Because these guys make a career of getting women to fall in love with them, and inevitably, one of them will succeed with you. And host club going is a VERY expensive hobby/addiction. You need to have limits on yourself so you don’t go broke. I’m just sayin’. But it is a blast, not gonna lie.

Here’s the page of hosts for the club I went to ‘Club Air ~ Grace~,’ which is owned by a company called Air Group (which owns all the other clubs on this page [at the top]). As you can see, there’s the top 5 hosts ranked for this month at the top, then all the others below, with the last three being staff/not hosts. Have a look around the site and enjoy, but fyi, they look nothing like their pictures (not better or worse, just different).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Host Club Blog on the Horizon

So, last night I did in fact fulfill my silly girlish desire to go to a host club. Naturally, the whole getting in at 2 am and waking up at 7 for classes has left me soundly bushed, thus I come only bearing promises of a LENGTHY blog quite soon. Forgive the laziness and fatigue, I beg. Soon, my friends, soon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Butler Cafe Swallowtail

Yes friends, I went to a butler cafe, the male version of a maid cafe, only a world different.

I’m just going to dive right in with the description. Before you stands a convenience store, a building away is a chain store called K-Books. Ikebukuro is said to be the haven for female Otaku (anime/manga nerds), and I think the reason is said chain. I had always heard that Ikebukuro was the female equivalent of Akihabara (the male otaku’s paradise), and never quite understood why, as it always seemed to me to be a trendy area for young people, overflowing with karaoke boxes and eating places (not to mention the Sanrio Hello Kitty store, or Ikebukuro’s famous ‘Sunshine City’ complex). But as I learned, the reason female nerds flock to Ikebukuro is because of a stretch of sidewalk, aka a street, dubbed Otome road. Otome literally means young lady or maiden, and is a term used in certain games, manga, etc. to describe a certain fantastic, female-oriented anime sort of thing (at least as I understand it). For instance, Otome games are a sort of role play computer/Nintendo DS/etc. came where you are a girl (usually a high school girl) thrown into some random situation where you happen to be surrounded by a group of handsome young boys/guys who all, predictably fall in love with you. Your character, of course, is naïve of their affection, but through ‘choose your own adventure’ game play you shape what happens (however loosely in the story). To give an example, I played a game (one of the more famous, beloved ones) called Starry Sky something (some season). In it, I was the only girl in an the high school’s archery club and there was the responsible, smart and overly gentle club president, the gruff, awkward, but manly vice prez, and then the youthful, trickster that was like, a new recruit or something. So you’d go along and then you’d be presented with a prompt like, ‘It’s late and the guys don’t want you walking home alone. Who will you ask to walk you to your house?’ You get the point. We won’t discuss the outcome of my game (load of crap/what a let down). So that’s an otome game. Otome stuff also, evidently, encompasses yaoi and boys love (BL), which I’m not into, and if you don’t know what it is, you probably don’t want to. So, long story short, in Ikebukuro, on a street dubbed ‘Otome Road,’ there are stores (most numerous and well known being the K-Books chain), which sell used manga, anime, otome games, merchandise, voice actor magazines, boys idols magazines and doujinshi (which I believe are self-published manga).

So, what could be more fitting than having a Butler café where you walk in and take on the role of a princess, right there on the road?

I’m standing on the corner of an alley, the neon lights of the Family Mart convenience store staring me in the face. Turning to my left, almost hidden in the shadow of a staircase leading to the second floor of the towering building over the Family Mart, is a staircase leading down. I step closer to see that before me, at the mouth of the staircase is a brick wall covered in ivy, with a navy blue sign reading ‘Swallowtail,’ nestled in the greenery, dim Christmas lights hidden in the small leaves. Standing out more prominently to the left of the oval sign is a large sign, high as my waist, in a case with all the time slots (starting around 10am and going til 9pm) available, ‘booked’ or ‘opening’ written beside them. I wait until my reserved time (you can’t get in without a reservation), then proceed down the brick-lined staircase (the walls covered with ivy all the way down), to a set of double doors, thrown wide, and a man, maybe late 20s/early 30s, black hair slicked back, glasses which made him look studious, crisp white gloves and tails. In his hands he holds a clipboard, standing before a stretching wall of ivy-covered brick, directly behind his head is a framed monitor reading “Welcome Ojousama” (ojousama meaning, sorta like an heiress/young mistress of a noble household).

The butler/doorman looks up, effecting a visage of no emotion, and says “Okaerinasaimase” (Welcome home, in the most formal Japanese you can get). From the greeting, you might have already ascertained that at the Butler Café Swallowtail, you are meant to believe that you are a young heiress coming home to your mansion for tea, dessert or a meal, and your butlers, every one, is there to serve you.

I stammer out that I have a reservation, and give the chap my name, after which he confirms my reservation and shows me to a seat there at the door to wait until my table is ready for me, pinching the small microphone cord that hangs from his ear (they’ve all gone one, like the secret service), to announce my arrival to the people within. (And just so you know, you have the option of an English or Japanese menu). I might also briefly mention that when you make the reservation, you choose what you want them to call you (I think the options are ‘Madam,’ ‘Ojousama/mistress’ and there were a few others), as well as what message you want them to say to signal your departure (‘It’s time to be going to the opera,’ ‘It’s time for the ball,’ ‘It’s time for your riding lessons,’).

So, when they’re good and ready, you are motioned down the left mini-hallway buy the butler who greeted you, and are confronted with a step and a large, shiny wooden door with ornate glasswork just clear enough to let you see the form of a man in uniform inside. If, for some reason, there isn’t a man awaiting you inside, there is a bell you can ring beside the door. But, of course, as I was expected, the door swung wide to accept me just as I cleared the step, and the doorman and another younger man to the right, both dressed to the nines, bowed me in. At first I thought I was at the crossroads of two impressive hallways, one to the left, one to the right, but upon later inspection, the left was only a deception, a wall-sized mirror, the bottom of which was concealed by overflowing pots of fresh flowers.

I came to a standstill as both men arose from their bows, the man who opened the door, his tails longer, his appearance somewhat older, and his stature denoted by gloves, taking a step forward. He announced that he would introduce them both, first introducing himself and his position (ie where he fell in the hierarchy, and yes, they have a hierarchy there). Next, the younger, softer looking man to my left bowed and introduced himself and his own position, greeting me with a youthful smile that the more staid fellow at the door could not match. Having made the proper introductions, and having said I was now ready to proceed to the dining hall, the doorman took my umbrella, asking leave to keep in in the foyer, while my own personal butler, the younger man, took my purse in his own arms, turning to face me, and walked me through the brick, homely hallway, over the plush red carpet, careful to always caution me to every step along the way.

As we came into the dining room, I was surprised by what I saw. The place was much larger and much, much more elegant than I’d expected. Standing, looking out at it, my back to four expensive china cabinets housing nearly priceless imported china from the world over, I was dazzled. There were two massive crystal chandeliers crawling out of the ceiling, spraying wide cross the expanse like fountains at Versailles. The floor turned to wood, and all the pillars and walls within were covered halfway up with ornate wood, sculpted in places. The right side of the dining room consisted of small alcoves where five or six curved booth/sofas and tables were hidden away by loosely hanging red velvet curtains (tables for parties of 3-4). There were tables in the middle of the room for parties of 2-3, all made of high quality wood with upholstered wood chairs the likes of which you might see in a high class hotel. And along the left wall, for those in parties of 1 (like myself), a stretching seat like to a booth, only upholstered, with fancy, designer pillows, and lacy curtains hanging down to separate every guest from her neighbor. At the far end of the room was a stone fireplace, a grandfather clock, and on the mantlepiece, a luxurious golden clock you’d expect to have come from Amsterdam. The artwork looked the that of renaissance painters, each in gold gilt frames.

I was shown to my seat and, after obtaining permission (I’ll omit this from now on, but he asked permission before doing EVERYTHING), he set my bag beside me, taking out a hankerchief and covering over it, tucking it in around the straps to make it seem unobtrusive (I suppose). Next he laid a navy blue napkin on my lap (bearing the Swallowtail butterfly logo), and took out two menus, handing me one. The menus were leather, aged and made to look like some old leather tome from who knows when, with silver lettering reading ‘Swallowtail’ on the front. The pages within were of a fancy script and held in only by a silver, tassled cord that wound from top to bottom of the menu (I might mention that most of their menu changes monthly).

First he showed me the policies printed in the front (use of the bell, payment, rules, etc), then briefly explained the different choices. I should pause here and say that eating at Swallowtail, even if only getting dessert, is wildly expensive, the food vastly overpriced. Dinner had two choices: Catherine and Catherine II (both of which were swordfish with various other trimmings, and cost roughly $46. The desert plates alone were $25 each. Once he finished explaining the menu and engaged me in a smattering of chit-chat, he said he would go for 5 min. and then return for my order, but if I should wish to order before that, or need anything for any reason, I was to ring my little bell which sat before me on the white linen tablecloth, adorned with a small blue ribbon.
I might mention that I had the handsomest butler by far. Not that that’s what the butlers are about. After all, this isn’t a host club. Most of the butlers were clean, crisp looking sorts of fellows, with their black hair slicked back, some having thin-rimmed glasses, others not. Mine, in contrast, had brown hair that feathered out in a youthful style. He had a perfectly white smile, a very pleasant, warm sort of smile, and kind eyes. And look, I sound like I’m half in love with him, when really, I promise I’m not. I will say though that he looked like a cross between Vaness Wu and that other kid from the drama Mei-Chan's Butler.

So, I perused the menu, then spent a greater amount of time perusing the room, at the girls there (most dressed up and out with friends), all smiling under the warm, honey-golden glow of the ever-so-slightly dimmed lights.

When my butler came back, I ordered the Victoria Afternoon Tea set (even though it was 8 pm), which came with a scone of your choosing (I went for Earl Grey), 2 preserves (I went with Darjeeling jelly and clotted cream), finger sandwiches (shrimp w/sweet chili sauce, beef and also cucumber), and then the dessert plate (which was the real draw). This month’s dessert tray (the one I chose at least) was an orange sherbert mousse over a crumb base, a citrusy gelatin over a yogurty mixture, a green tea macaroon (not like American macaroons) with a crème filling, and a red bean/green tea moose in a mochi outside. I also ordered my tea of the night, Victoria Garden. Most of Swallowtail’s teas are original blends, by the way.

So, he went off with my order and came back shortly with my tea in a mini-teapot. Placing a gorgeous cup and saucer before me, he explained where it came from (Nara) and that the design was meant to evoke the image of Cherry Blossoms. Then he poured my tea and covered the pot with one of those tea cozies (bearing the customary butterflies of course). He then said that, should my cup go empty, do not hesitate to ring the bell, for the teapot is hot and one wouldn’t want the young mistress to scorch their fingers on it, so best to have the butler replenish your tea. Fast forward and he brought the food, two plates on a service tray, explained what everything was, chit-chatted more, went off. Same for the dessert tray. You get the idea.

Two tables over, a girl ordered ice cream. Naturally, I foolishly assumed a butler would appear with a dish of ice cream. Oh no. A service caddy was wheeled out by the young butler, and atop it were four things: a whisk, a pitcher of what looked to be milk, a tall, thin silver canister and a large silver bucket sort of thing well over the size of a coffee maker. He proceeded to pour the milk into the large bucket, then uncapped the thin canister as I watched with rapt attention. Smoke started billowing out, a mist like to that of dry ice. He poured the freezing chemical water/dry ice stuff into the large bucket, took up the whisk, and started beating. When the consistency was that of meringue, he paused to show his ladies his progress, then started in again until they approved the ice cream’s perfect solidity. So, I thought that was cool anyways.

About 20 min. before you’re time is up (you’re scheduled for 80 min.), your bill is brought to you. Your butler retrieves your bag, which is sitting right next to you, hands it to you, then takes the money in a black bill holder thing, replaces your back and is off, back in a minute with your receipt (It was at this point that I was given a member card and explained the benefits which are getting to choose what they call you, getting to choose which teacup you want to use, getting a special present on your birthday [we both laughed when I said mine was in October and I‘d be gone by then]). The rest of the time, you are left to your own devices unless you want anything, and you have but to ring your bell. When your time is almost up, your butler comes and asks if you’d like to powder your nose. I said no, but if you do, he will take your bag, escort you to the bathroom and wait for you there, so he can walk you back. And when your time is finally up, your butler says your predestinated excuse (ball/horseriding/etc), takes your purse and leads you back the way you came. I forgot to mention that you are given a key in a crystal tray at the beginning, which the butler takes when you leave to retrieve your coat/umbrella. So, once back at the front door, your butler and the doorman ask you if you’d like to prim a little bit and stand you before the wall-sized mirror. When you’re done, they hand you your things back. My butler took this opportunity to tell the other guy about me being from America and how I was leaving in July and stuff that we’d talked about, and the doorman started rattling off some majorly polite, ingratiating stuff that I really didn’t catch. Then he opened the door, they both said, ‘Have a safe journey,’ and bowed me out the door. The first butler was still standing there in the outlet with his clipboard and he too bowed, wished me a safe journey, and I clopped back up the stairs, back to the real world.

It was such an experience, a whole lot of fun and I would suggest it to anyone. The prices are a bit high and getting a reservation can be a bear, but if you get the chance to go someday, you have to do it. It was a blast and if I’d known about it sooner, I’d probably have been going all along. Well, that’s my adventures for now. More on the way!

PS: Here's the site (fourth link under 'Main Menu' is the food menu). And if you wanna see what it's really like but can't go, I would suggest watching the drama Happy Boys.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Projections to the Future

Friends, Romans, Countrymen...

So, I know that once again I have fallen behind in my blogging duties, but you have to believe that there really hasn't been much to blog about so far. This is my 'off time' I suppose, where I have to deal with classes and homework and all that perfectly horrible, mandatory nonsense that is, at it's base, the very reason why I am here.

However, there is a shadow of more interesting things to come. This week is the week of fending for myself, as the greater part of my host family is taking a week vacation to Hawaii. While this seemed novel at first, a chance to stay up late and sleep in, I see now that, in fact, it is my school schedule, not my host family that holds me back. So, no sleeping in for me. But, this week, a friend from my American college is coming on a school field trip, and it just so happens that Sunday is her 'free day' to roam around Tokyo, and she's asked me to give her a whirl wind tour. She, like me, is interested in Jrock, so I will, of course, be taking her to the few Jrock stores that I know exist here, as well as going to a very fancy, reservations only Butler cafe in Ikebukuro, called Swallowtail. Our plans are to round out our time together by, oh yes, you guessed it...going to a host club. I'm slightly anxious about this venture, as any reasonable person would be, I think, considering it's expensive, founded on conversation (in Japanese), and not in the best neighborhood. But, you only live once, right?! And, failing that, my host mom and some of her friends are planning a bus tour to a host club next month, myself included. So, one way or the other, I will leave Japan having been to a host club. The video below is a clip of some event planned by the host club I'm hoping we'll be going to, and all the guys in it are hosts that work there. Well, one way or the other, it shall be an adventure and I will certainly have something to report! Til Sunday!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tire Tread CSI

So I just got done watching the most bogus news/CSI show ever. I guess, since I live in America where murders are all too common and there's about 500 cop/CSI/detective shows on every channel, I was a bit crestfallen to see Japan's equivalent. Not that I'm saying this is a bad thing, because I'm rather glad I'm in a country with almost no crime. But seriously.

So here's the set up of the show (a real show, btw, not a drama). There are these cops in Kyoto and they're traffic accident experts. No, not CSIs. They don't test angles of blood splatter on walls, they scour asphalt for a drop. They don't crawl along carpets lookint for hair follicles, they crawl along the ground with a magnifying glass looking for a shard of glass in a crack somewhere. So here was tonight's big case:

It's the middle of the night. It's dark under an overpass. A white car sits at a light. The light turns and the car accelerates, heading under the overpass. A biker, chancing his luck, pedals across the 4 lanes of traffic, not at the crosswalk, in a bid to beat the car. He doesn't. The white car smashes into him just before he makes the other side. He goes flying. He rolls. One leg is extended into the other lane. A dark colored car comes by and runs over the aforementioned leg, breaking it. The car doesn't stop, but goes on. Back to real time, the detectives are on the case. They're in search of... no, not the white car's driver, but the driver of the other car, the one who broke the guy's leg. Never mind that lots of other bones in his body are broken due to becoming one with a car's windshield. No, the leg's the thing.

The show progresses for another 25-30 min. while the cops run over a dummy leg and see what the tire tracks look like. They spend countless hours watching surveillance cameras from every place in the area. They figure out it's a red car. Eventually they figure out what kind. There are 124 of those cars in Kyoto. They then spend 2 months poking around said car types while the owners aren't looking until they find one... no, not with blood stains, no, not with a bent bumper, with some dust brushed off two spots on the undercarriage. They proceed to say, "Oh, that's it, there can be no mistake." This would never stand up in an American court. Clean spots on an undercarriage? Suspicious? I guess so.

Then, they go to the 20 yr old guy's house. His mom answers the door, but naturally, he's not there. No, he hasn't run away. He hasn't fled the law. He's working at his part time job as a waiter. Do they wait for him to get home? After all, they've been looking for over 2 months and he hasn't run away yet. No, they don't wait. They beat it to his workplace and bust in like they're holding a sting operation, shovel him into the car and handcuff him. For running over a dude's leg. I'm sorry, maybe I'm insensitive, but really? I'd think the biker had other things on his mind while he was lying on the pavement. And really, two months worth of tax payers' dollars for this. For real.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Baseball, BBQ and LM.C

Well, first of all, I should talk about the baseball game I went to on Friday (4/30). This game/experience was quite a bit different than the last, plush game that I went to at the Tokyo Dome. This baseball game was between my host father’s beloved Yakult Swallows (Tokyo) and the Yokohama Bay Stars. The venue was an open air stadium somewhere in Aoyama called Jingu Stadium, and markedly smaller than Tokyo Dome, by comparison. This time, we didn’t sit on the balcony with the box seats (in fact, the stadium was so small, it had no box seats), but rather in the cheapest of cheap, the stands. The stands are mere benches, not even seats with backs or arms, just plastic stool tops lined in a row. The plus to these, however, is that there is no need for assigned seating, so you can pick wherever you like and just sprawl out there. The stands were anything but full, with lots of leg and arm room to spare, despite the fair weather.

We came in during the bottom half of the first inning, toting with us the yakisoba and gyudon we had bought from street vendors on the walk to the stadium (or rather, street-side restaurants who were selling their wares out their front windows while continuing regular business inside. My host mom had brought chips and other snacks, but as is traditional (or so it would seem), my host dad was sent off with some money to go buy a huge tray of sausages smothered with ketchup and mustard (stacked to resemble a burial mound no doubt, large wooden skewers sticking out from the topmost sausages), and a small bucket of French fries. Meanwhile, my host mom flagged down a handsome young boy of seventeen to buy three cups of chuhai (sparkling, flavored sochu/sake) for a reasonable price. As I saw at the previous game, youngsters selling their wares (mostly drinks) out of trays and neon packs on their backs were prowling throughout the stadium in droves, though in contrast to before, there were an equal number of boys and girls working, whereas before it had only been girls.

When my host dad got back with our sausage mountain and fries, we opened up our yakisoba and chips and started feasting. You might ask why the sausages, but you see, in Japan it appears they do not sell hotdogs, and in contrast to our peanuts, they sell edamame beans, a tasty, healthier finger food that I now affectionately call “Japan’s Peanuts.” So we ate and watched the game. It was Lady’s Day at this game too, strangely enough, which really bears no mention only that I found it peculiar. As opposed to before, I hardly watched the game, spending my time equally between watching the crowd and chit-chatting to my host mother about any old thing. This time, my host dad had his clackers and, sitting in the row in front of my host mom and I, he spent his time clacking along with the music of the crowd. She only saw fit to join in when the Swallows won a run, at which point she would get out her mini-umbrella, bearing the team’s logo (like everyone else in the crowd), and start waving it around in formation to a special chant which ended in “Banzai! Banzai!” It was around either the fourth or seventh inning, I’d had a few more Chuhai and wasn’t really watching the game anyway, that it got a little chilly and we left. And that was that.

In other new, my host family had a BBQ yesterday. The day before, my host mom, host dad and I drove out to a huge department store (the kind you read about in your ‘Let’s Learn Japanese!’ books) that was towering and massive and thoroughly enthralling, though I hardly got a chance to look around. On the top floor, from what I could tell (we didn’t stay there long), was the food court, the kids section, some electronics and a few other knicknacks. Then there was a floor with a bookstore (sigh), and men’s and children’s clothing; we only took the escalator through this floor. Then there was a women’s clothing store, then a bathroom/outdoor/cooking needs floor, which we stopped on in search of the little tool you use to grease a takoyaki pan. Next I was whisked off, past the cosmetics floor, past the 2nd food floor, and onto the first floor where the deli/meat counter, the frozen foods and the fresh foods were kept. I instructed my host mother, to the best of my ability, what vegetables were fit to grill (agreeing to celery, though I’d never known it to be grilled), and assuring her, despite suspicious looks, that pineapple was very good on the grill. We bought American beef, chicken, shrimp and octopus (for the takoyaki), celery, green bell peppers, pineapple, onions, asparagus, cucumber and I’m sure something else I’ve forgotten. Lastly we went in search of beer, which happened to be on the 2nd floor we’d passed, so we went up again to the boxed foods/kept foods/sauces and alcohol floor where she loaded in the 12 packs and where I convinced her to buy some Worchestershire sauce which I was astonished to find. After that, we packed it all in the car and zipped home to start chopping and marinading.

Come the next day, I was put to work assembling the shish-kabobs and my youngest host brother begrudgingly took up the grill. Finally, after about an hour of cooking, things were done and my host dad came up from the shrine’s office to eat. In addition to our BBQ, there was potato salad, two bamboo baskets of rice (one with carrots and lotus, another with red beans and chestnuts), and foi gras from Europe. We all tucked in royally. The cooking, of course, was far from done as we had four plates of shish-kabobs, and when my host dad went back to work, so did we. When everything was finally cooked and eaten, we all sat back to watch a baseball game, or rather, I was taken off to play with the kids before their bath, until finally they went off and I was left to help with the last of the takoyaki and the baseball game progressed. We had tea and dessert and when the party started to wind down, I excused myself to my room where I made an effort to busy myself with nothing in particular until my concert.
The doors to the C.C. Lemon opened at 4:30, and though I was a little late, it didn’t seem that they were letting anyone in just yet. I made my way for the merchandise table and spent too much money on stuff I probably (or certainly) didn’t need. Usually, concerts open an hour before they actually start, so after I got my goods, I found a spot to sit down, watching as hordes of people filtered through the front doors, herded by a man with a megaphone, the likes of whom I couldn’t understand in the least. It was after I was done fooling idly with my cell phone, that I noticed a poster saying the concert started at 5, not 5:30, so I beat my way to the back of the line with 7 minutes until the concert ‘started.’ Unfortunately, the seats were far from perfect. They were, naturally, on the second floor, and sort of up toward the top, but as the C.C. Lemon isn’t all that massive, I could see the stage well and could see LM.C’s faces too (if not the sweat beading on their foreheads). Despite being scheduled to start at 5, per the usual, the concert started late, about 20 minutes late, in fact. One quick note was that this concert, in contrast to others I’ve gone to, had a large number of male attendants. In fact, I’d say about a third of the audience was guys, which shocked me. Especially for it being LM.C. And another thing, the concert experience itself (that is, the overall feeling and the hand motions, etc.) were completely and utterly different. It was slightly unsettling at first, and certainly a learning experience for a girl who thought to call herself a seasoned expert at these sorts of things by now. But, on to the concert…

When you go to an Alice Nine concert, you’re there to hear the music, to move along with it, and to ultimately watch. And the things you watch are five guys, dressed up nice, playing instruments. While somewhat different than an American concert, it’s not too far off as to seem entirely different. LM.C is entirely different. You go to an LM.C concert, and it’s like stepping into an alternate world, a fantastical realm you’ve never seen the likes of before. The best way I can think to liken it, is to say it’s a mixture of a cartoony Alice in Wonderland meets the circus. I mean really, all they’re lacking is an elephant and a trapeze artist, and only that because the stage couldn’t support such hijinks, no doubt.

Rather than the lights quickly dimming, all of a sudden someone throws the switch and you’re plunged into darkness. Then red light is thrown up from behind the red curtain shrouding the stage to illuminate shapes from within of curving, winding, impossible staircases. The lights swirl and twirl and then the curtain is pulled back to reveal the stage. The winding staircase shapes remain, flanked by large curves with comically large spikes on them which rise out of the floor on either side, and behind, at different levels, are metal and glass shelves, five in number. Upon the left one is LM.C’s signature silver skull/Mohawk figure which I can’t describe any better than that. To the right is the keyboardist, and on the middle, highest platform is the drummer. Off somewhere to the left on the stage, dressed in an unassuming black shirt, is the bassist, to the right, under a yellow light stands Aiji, the guitarist, in his LM.C jumpsuit, his hair a mix of bleach blond and black, holding his sleek guitar, decaled by flames. And in the middle, under the brightest spotlight, looking down to throw his tall figure and blond hair in relief, is Maya, the singer. Wasting no time, Aiji starts on the guitar, Maya looks up, lifting the microphone, and the concert stars with a bang.

They played a long first set, several of their best songs, including ‘Oh My Juliet,’ which has an amazing guitar part that I love to watch. Maya, as befits his youthful image, was a ball of energy, jumping around the stage, waving his arms, and pouring his heart into his singing. Aiji, quite the opposite, spent almost all of his time, throughout the entire concert, planted in the same spot, feet slightly apart, bobbing his head to the beat and playing expertly on his guitar. Because LM.C has only one guitarist, he has to provide all the sound himself, and oh how he does. This was certainly the loudest concert I’v ever been do (30 square speakers and 4 standing speakers). I was leaning up against a wall, and it was shaking the whole time; twice, when the drum beat and Aiji’s loudest chords fell in time with each other, it shook such that you might have mistaken it for an earthquake.

So they played for a while, adding the effects of dancing polka dot lights that twirl on the ceiling, a huge globe of a mirror ball, and two VERY large illuminated bunny ears (as see on their logo) which hang over the front center of the stage. During ‘Ghost Heart,’ the bunny logo was lifted by phantom strings up to over at the back of the stage, covering over a backdrop of black and white polka dots; this, no doubt, achieved at 3D effect for people in the audience sitting dead center, what with the bunny logo at the back falling in line with the massive rabbit ears hovering over the stage. It was somewhere around here that they took time out to MC. They seemed to do a lot of talking over the concert, stopping probably 4 times to do so, so that a good ¼ of the concert was talking (which you might like or not).

When the talking was done, they started again, playing '88' my very favorite, then another I don't know so well. You should know that yesterday was Kodomo no Hi, aka, Children’s Day which is ironic and a perfect day for LM.C, in accordance with their image, so, during one of the songs, one I'm not too familiar with, a carnival tent wall and a line streaming with traditional red and white hanging lanterns was lifted at the back of the stage as yet another platform was raised and people dressed as LM.C’s skull/Mohawk figure poured out, crossing the stage and waving flags with the bands logo, whilst still more took up a V formation behind Maya and started doing an intricate, synchronized group dance that lasted the entirety of the song, and which the entire audience (excepting myself), seemed to know (even the keyboardist was doing it in between notes). After that funfest, the lanterns were lowered and most of the skull people when off, the resident one taking up his proper place again. There was more MCing, during which the skull guy actually spoke (quite possibly for the first time), but he spoke through a voice distorter in his mask and did it to comic effect. Then there were a few more songs. Much to my surprise, they didn’t end with ‘Rock the LM.C’ but with some other song I can’t remember, after which, the house lights went up, Aiji threw his picks into the audience and Maya threw the lollipops off his Chupa-Chups tree into the audience and they finally departed the stage. Strangely enough, there was no call for an encore. Perhaps typical of their concerts?

So, that's what I've done so far. I have another concert tomorrow, and then Mother's Day is on Sunday and I'm taking my host mom out to eat, then cooking dinner. We'll see how that goes. Here in Japan, it is customary to give a red carnation to mothers on Mother's Day. Interesting, huh?