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Tokyo Trip Part One

CHINA | Thursday, 19 November 2015 | Views [352]

Japan – World premiere, cheesy show, good friends, amazing food, culture shock

I just returned from a four-day trip to Tokyo to see the world premiere of a new musical about the career of Harold Prince. During the trip, I was able to re-connect with a former ELI student and his new wife, my terrific Japanese “son” Ryo and his wife and with the culture of Japan. Besides the reconnecting, there were some good firsts as well – my first solo taxi rides in Nanjing (supported by co-workers, of course) and my first time visiting the areas of Shinagawa, Rappongi and Shibuya as well the Tokyo Dome and Tokyo Skytree. It was also my first time to see Tokyo decked out in Christmas glory. It made me realize that this is the first time I would be out of the States for the holidays in about 30 years. Arrived in Tokyo on nearly empty China Eastern flight and got to my hotel in Shinagawa without mishap. My former student and housemate, Ayumu, came by and we headed to a nearby izakaya (bar) for dinner and drinks. His wife, Yuri, joined us. She was a delightful woman and a great match for Ayumu – half Taiwanese, half Japanese – so we shared some Chinese sentences together and had a great time drinking and trying whale fat and other delicacies in a very homey atmosphere.

Next day I took a walk around the area stopping for coffee and croissant in an Italian coffee bar. Just amazed by the service and attention to detail and care with customers exhibited by the workers there. Japanese workers are just a spectacle to watch even in the most modest of settings. This feeling of course was increased by its comparison to the “service” in China. I met Ryo at 1:00 and we had our first meal together – takoyaki and highballs (Tako Ball). By then I was able to recover from the hangover from my previous night of beer, highballs and sake. Then we made our plan for the evening. We had tickets for the late “all you can drink” show in Rappongi at a Meiji-style red-light theatre which now ran a high-tech song and dance revue which Ryo suspected would be too cheesy for words. To kill time before the show, we decided to head for a spa to have an onsen (hot spring bath) at a place near the Tokyo dome.  Lots of activity there – some concert which looked to be a hit with young women – lots of Christmas decorations – a German type outdoor Christmas market going on. The hot springs were great with the typical elaborate instructions and penalties for not following the rules. A series of baths and saunas of different temperatures, indoor and out with screams from the nearby roller coaster breaking the calm serenity of the baths. It was very rejuvenating and it was great to see Ryo relieving his stress.

Then it was off to Rapponggi – an area which contains lots of embassies so it was crawling with gaijin (foreigners) and is a notorious nightspot. We went in search of food and ended up wandering off the beaten path at one point finally stumbling on an Okinawa place tucked in a tiny basement – great atmosphere and food – pork belly, bitter gourd stirfry, and taco (not tako) rice. We skipped the pig’s ears which the menu stated as having the texture of chewing gum! Got to the show a little early but things were delayed and finally got in to start our all you can drink drinking which consisted of a bottle of whisky and some ice and soda and some potato chips and nuts. The pre-show consisted of the actors coming around to tables and upping the drink and food orders. They avoided the table with the large gaijin however – lucky us!  The show was much better than we expected – basically it was a song and dance show that had no earthly connection to Meiji culture but did have an amazing high tech stage that shifted levels and shapes to great effect. Some of the scenes were bizarre with both Ryo and I shaking our heads in consternation. After the show, as we headed to the subway, we were approached to have a happy ending.  As we scurried away, we ran into a drunken salaryman hunched over the curb losing his ramen into the gutter while his friend patted his back and muttered soothing words – no happy ending for him either!

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