Tuesday, June 30, 2015

13. Toke, yo (aka really mature humor)

Japan is full of a lot of weird culturally different things.  Maybe not as many as I expected, but once you start seeking them out, they are there, waiting for you.  Sometimes I suspect that because it has this reputation, they need to keep upping the ante to satisfy the cravings of tourists (me) who want to see whatever new weird stuff they have to offer.  And nowhere has more of that than Tokyo.

Tokyo is a big city.  It has roughly the population of ...Canada.  Yes, the whole country, packed into a space as big as Connecticut.  The three busiest train stations in the world (in terms of people who pass through them daily) are in Tokyo.  In fact, the 23 busiest train stations in the world are all in Japan. In the busiest part (Shinjuku), the population density is about 50,000 per square mile.  This means everyone has about a 20 ft x 20 ft square to themselves, including roads and public spaces.

If you look closely, you can see a familiar face (and claws) in the background.
The first time I went to Tokyo, it was with a super cool friend visiting from the US.  We got off the night bus at 5:15 AM, and had to wait for the subways to start running.  Our first stop was a giant robot statue on the waterfront, because how many giant robot statues do you get to see?
Two.  The answer is two.
Tokyo version is on the right.
We accidentally snuck into an antique car show that just happened to be going on, where I got to see my first Delorean (from Back to the Future), along with a motorcycle with a hearse sidecar.
If the doors flap fast enough, it can take off.
This one isn't the Delorean.

I later learned that we missed seeing the Statue of Liberty that is prominently displayed in that neighborhood.  My worries were set to rest, however, when I learned that Japan has two more replicas of the Statue of Liberty, so I would have more opportunities.  Walking around Tokyo, you are sure to find interesting events wherever you go.  At other times, I saw a ninja demonstration in the park (complete with awesome sound effects) and a Michael Jackson impersonator performing at a Japan-Cote d'Ivoire friendship event.

After the car show, we pretty much spent the rest of our trip going to weird restaurants, a surprisingly awesome pastime.  We went to one that was prison-themed, where we rattled the bars of our cage to call the attention of a guard who served us very phallic food.  Another was a restaurant where we caught our own fish and then decided how we wanted them cooked.   However, we were not especially talented fisherman, so it did take a long time.  They also had great English on their signs:

Oops.  I crapped my hand when I wasn't supposed to.

One night we spent at the "Robot Restaurant," a place that actually wasn't much of a restaurant at all - they served us a boxed lunch like you would get in a convenience store here.  While you ate, dozens of women and men dressed like robots and dinosaurs (among other things) performed a show a few feet from our faces.  The entire show made no sense and mostly revolved around the fact that they had cool props and a lot of energy.  Needless to say, one of the most entertaining things I've ever seen.  Also the whole building was bedazzled in sparkles.

After I saw the sheet music, I began to doubt whether they were actually robots.
Robot boxing: not just the packaging stage at the factory.
After my concept of reality was sufficiently distorted from watching scantily clad robot-women ride larger robot-versions of themselves while robots in gyro-scooters did laps around them, we went to another bar.  And that one was the strangest of them all.

Meet Kagaya, a bar whose mascot is a frog for reasons we found out later, and at first appearance seemed to be very normal, despite the strange things we had heard about it on the internet.  The man (there was only one employee who was cook, waiter, and manager) invited us in and sat us down on the bamboo mat flooring.  We waited for about five minutes before he gave us our hot towels that usually come before a meal in Japan.  This consisted of him coming up to me and bursting into "the Imperial March" from Star Wars sung in a ear-piercing falsetto, right before he got out a little remote control anime character and drove our towels four feet from the closet to the table.

Throughout the night, we were subjected to various penis jokes, a menu written in crayon with options like, "I'm hungry!  Master, please feed me!", and the dude dressing up as a frog and making thrusting motions at everyone while pretending a smaller frog puppet was his penis.  I felt very immature and amused at the inanity of all.

No, I wasn't kidding.
For contrast, at one point he put on a hat and striped shirt and drew everyone's picture.
I think it ended up looking a lot like a smiley face, but I don't really remember.
EDIT: For the record, no, I don't know what stripes are.
The next time I went to Tokyo (much longer this time), I met up with some friends from college that I was overdue to see!  It was great, and I felt like I had built some lasting friendships with these people.  I even took my first picture in a girly photo booth (these are all over the place) with them.  These make you more beautiful (allegedly) by giving you big doll eyes and ultra-smooth skin.  Unfortunately, it wasn't until afterward that I realized I had forgotten to zip up my fly.  Therefore, a lot of the pictures look like this.  "Cawaii" at the bottom there means "cute," just in case the first three adjectives didn't do it for you.
I had to squat because I was too tall.  Hopefully it doesn't make my legs look fat.
Tokyo has a lot of strange-looking buildings, and unfortunately I could only document a few of them.  I went to a building with plants growing all over the outside, and a rice paddy in the lobby.  It's a farming office, so they decided to build a farm in the office...
You can get a whole six bowls of rice from this plot.  Totally worth it for the downtown Tokyo office space they have.
Disclaimer: I know nothing about rice.
I also saw the world's first capsule-style building.  Capsule hotels are pretty popular in cities in Japan.  They're hotels with shared bathrooms and other amenities, combined with a small capsules that are just high enough for (some) people to sit up in.  They're often used by people who work long hours and miss the last train home (which is around midnight, despite Tokyo having a super active nightlife).  Here is their predecessor in all its run-down glory:
Some dude does an AirBnB out of here now. Not kidding.
And of course since I've been really mature this post, I'd like to balance that out with a building many refer to as "the golden poop."  I can't imagine why.
I'll leave it up to you to figure out which one it is.
I ended up couchsurfing with this great guy from the US, who ended up showing me quite a few spots around Tokyo I definitely wouldn't have seen otherwise.  One of the weirder ones was a shop that makes the plastic models of food that you find outside of restaurants.  They even had some artwork in their store window.

Noodles don't have any right to do that on their own.  Call in the exorcist.
The last place I went to was one of a kind.  Actually, it made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, although the person I asked to take my picture was not aware of that fact.  Meet...


Look at the peasants taking the stairs on the other side.
It's weirdly located in an uncrowded corner of a department store, which is maybe why they decided it didn't need to be too long.  You might ask, "Why have an escalator that only carries you halfway down the stairs?"  I did.  It seems like a nasty surprise for people who can't take stairs on their own.  I'm surprised there weren't any stranded there when I arrived.  The good thing is that it's short enough they probably know what they're getting into.  On the other hand, since it's not in a lot of use, it doubles as an urban stairmaster for obnoxious people like definitely not me. 

OK, I'm done.  Weird Japanese commercial for a facial strengthening device, probably the equivalent of the shake weight in the US:

Picture/video credits: 
Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain
Pao Facial Fitness (ft. our hero Cristiano Ronaldo)

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