May 12, 2008

Tokyo on Any Given Sunday

I get off at Tokyo station and look around for the logo, I know it's on a building somewhere, and get turned around for a few minutes because of all the construction. They're restoring the Marunouchi side of the station, the nice looking side, and I lost my bearings for a moment amidst all the white walls of construction.

There it is, a big M. I'd gone in the wrong direction. I turn around, head past the same stretch of construction, find the building with the big M on the side, and go upstairs to Maruzen, a store that I know has foreign books aplenty. I went there in Okayama, but haven't been to one in Tokyo. Other foreign stores, yes, but not yet Maruzen.

The inside is crowded and slick, like some kind of hybrid of a Barnes and Noble and a Fry's. The foreign books are upstairs, up four narrow escalators, up on the same floor where there's an overpriced cafe and a gallery of sorts, and the place is awash with foreigners like me and Japanese thumbing through TOEIC study guides. A few parents have kids with them, and I wonder if they have aspirations of making their offspring bilingual.

I wander about and take it all in, browse, consider some new magazines, and buy two books. I catch an express Chuo line at Tokyo, and get to Shinjuku in less than twenty minutes. The Yamanote line takes me one stop to Harajuku from there. It's sunday, and I wonder who will be out in Harajuku.

Not much of anyone. There are a few Free Hug people, a few people dressed up, but for the most part, there's not much of anything or anyone by the main expanse near Harajuku station. It's gray and threatening rain. Perhaps the goths are scared of rain.

At the entrance to Yoyogi Park, the Tokyo Rockabilly Club is doing what they do every Sunday- gyrating, breakdancing, showing off their moves and leather pants. As usual, they're being photographed and filmed. I respect these guys' tenacity and dedication. I respect that they're weird and tatooed in a country where it means something to be weird and tatooed.

Into Yoyogi park, the bands are spaced out. Every hundred feet or so, drum sets and guitars. One singer is wearing this green plaid suit that made me wish I had a camera, but I didn't have a camera. Instead I could only admire the perfect ska look this guy was pulling off, even though none of the rest of the band was dressed up, even though their music sounded nothing like ska. But this guy could have been in the Specials or the Toasters. I want a suit like that, but I'm not punk-skinny enough to pull it off. This dude was punk-skinny. Drugs are hard to come by in Japan, and it's amazing that he got that way without heroin.

Bands, bands, bands, each demanding and getting, for a song or two, my attention. One of them had a chick drummer. I kind of have a thing for chick drummers. Can't really explain it. I don't care if Janet Weiss is forty or fifty or however old she is, but she's the ultimate chick drummer and that makes her hot regardless of age.

One band didn't have a drummer, or guitarist, or singer, or anything. They had amps, though, and they had an air drummer, two air guitarists, and a lip syncher. And, they air drummed, air guitared, and lip synched damn well. Not because they were skilled, because they weren't, but, but because they gave a shit and enjoyed the hell out of what they were doing. They jumped around the played the fuck out of their nonexistent air instruments. They got a huge crowd, charming just about everyone with their lack of talent and excess of enthusiasm. They had lots of girls watching them, and I thought "These guys could very well get laid by not playing the guitar." If they did, that would be damn impressive.

Turns out there was a gigantic Thai festival going on that day. It looked cool, so I went in. At the entrance there were a whole bunch of people holding pictures of corpses and devastation. I wondered if they were protesters or something. I stopped for a moment, and tried to read their signs, which were all in Japanese. It's hard reading a foreign language when someone is waving it about and you can't get a good look at it, but I was able to recognize a few katakana words, and realized that they were collecting money for relief for the cyclone that hit Burma.

Going in, the whole place was a panoply of spicy smells, with all manner of curry and noodles being proffered by myriad stalls. I had a bite to eat, walked about, and looked into some of the shops selling batik and whatnot, and eventually found the main stage. I got myself an Asahi from one of the everpresent beer vendors, walked up a street bridge so I could get a look at the stage, and watched for a bit.

A solitary pop singer (whom I assume was Thai, since she was sining in a language that wasn't Japanese) was dancing about and singing to a backing tape. In her thigh-high boots and leopard print cape thing, she looked sort of like a dominatrix/superhero hybrid, but was somehow unthreatening. I guess she seemed unthreatening because she was all alone on the stage with her backing tape, and was trying, trying to get the crowd into it. I suppose that she didn't speak Japanese, because in between songs she talked to the crowd in English. She tried to encourage people to dance. She asked the crowd if they could dance, and said "raise your hand if you can dance." A few hands went up. She said that the people who could dance should dance. The pop singer went into a a song, and no one really danced. I felt bad for her. She was trying. She was really trying to get that sort of performance-energy going. She had a huge stage and sexy thigh-highs, and couldn't get it going. Elsewhere in the park, the guys without instruments were succeeding wildly at charming passers-by, and the pop singer's efforts were frustrated. The energy wasn't there. The energy was in the crowded stalls where people were ordering noodles and in the park with the ska-looking guy, and in the hands of the guys who didn't hold instruments, but it wasn't on the huge stage. There was no way that crowd would have started dancing, not even if they were encouraged to do it in Japanese.

Then I noticed that the guy in front of me had a rabbit. He was cradling it in his arms, just like it was a baby, and had dressed it in this little silk rabbit-shirt thing. He and a girl were trying to feed it a carrot. The thing was white and furry, and for all the world they looked like a mother and father fawning over and feeding a newborn. But the newborn was furry, white, red-eyed, and twitched its ears as it ate the carrot. The fact that it was wearing a silk shirt made the rabbit look all the more like a kid. Like a practice kid or something. They were feeding it the carrot just like you'd give a bottle to a baby. I was a little weirded out.

Continuing through the park the Thai festival thinned out and the park gave way to the usual Sunday crowd of drummers and tap dancers that populate Tokyo's weird, green living room every Sunday. The big clock said I had somewhere to be. It said I had twenty minutes until I was supposed to meet people in Shibuya. I was enjoying myself, with all the bands and the dancers and even the creepy rabbit guy, but I figured that I'd do what the clock said, move on to Shibuya.

Walking towards the station saw a pretty impressive goth girl. She looked like a pile of pink silk, like she was wearing eight dresses at once. Her whole form was a mountain of ribbons, bows, lace, and frills, all varying shades of pink and white, and her face was obscured by several bonnet/hat things that were pinned all over her hair. The whole form of her looked like some silken lump, as if Louis XIV had dressed up Jabba the Hutt. She didn't look good or attractive or any of that, but she was interesting and grabbed my attention. She must have been sweating horribly in that pile of clothing.

Met people in Shibuya, outside of the station, and we went to this basement type place and saw a metal show. They frisked up before going into the club. I thought that was cute- it's like they were trying to be really, really hardcore. We go in, the place is crowded, dark, and smoky, and we get drinks. I bum a smoke from someone and think to myself that I should really stop bumming smokes from people, but it's such an easy way to be social and start up conversations. I don't smoke, actually. Used to. but I don't, really, anymore.

Then a friend of mine and I notice that there are a bunch of kids up front. Before the show starts, the uncreative DJ is playing American radio songs from a few years ago fairly loudly, and there's a bunch of random psychedelic stuff being projected on a few screens. And, there are a bunch of kids jumping up and down, kid-dancing, right in the front. Who the hell brings a gaggle of kids to a dark, smoky, booze-filled club where they frisk you before you go in? The kids seemed to be having fun, though, jumping up and down while the DJ was spinning Limp Bizkit. Back in Portland, if I remember correctly, you'd get jeered by disproving hipsters if you played Limp Bizkit in a club. Here, I guess, no one cares about that.

The band starts up, and I think, what the hell, I'll go to the front and rock out. I'm up there with a friend of mine, another six foot tall white dude, and we end up slamming into each other and chest bumping while the band chugs away. This scraggly Japanese dude joins in, and we have a good, rocking, violent time of it. One of the singers (there were three singers) who looks like an emo/goth type says "I love you guys!" in English, so we say "We love you too!" in English right back at him, and the crowd seems to appreciate that. The band rocked. I'd seen them once before, and they were okay the first time. They were on this time. Really on. I was covered in stinky metal-sweat by the end of it.

Tokyo. An awesome place. An awesome place to wander about and ride trains in, to explore and see and peer into. At times it seems a random mess of chaos. At times it seems a giant, robotic machine. I guess both descriptions are right. On Sundays it's a riot, if go to the right places, a city bursting with things that are just downright wild and interesting. I couldn't live my life here- too overstimulating, too much. But for now, the rush of myriad sight and noise is awesome to behold.

1 comment:

Sydney said...

I haven't ever lived in a city that didn't come alive on the weekend. Living where we do, a lot of the weird comes to us these days. Like a couple months ago when we heard drumming. But not metal/rock drumming. Like marching band/drum line drumming. It seemed to get closer. We decided we had to check it out, and indeed, right around the corner from our house was a group of marching drum line people who are a part of some crazy club in Portland.

I wish I weren't so lazy, that I would get off my butt and go wander around and see all the crazy shit this city has to offer rather than just happening upon it (like unicycle jousting at that park on 21st and Belmont). I applaud you for your intrepid spirit and general unlaziness!

Also, your metal club post instantly brought to mind one of my favorite Rilo Kiley songs, with the lyrics "And sometimes when you're on you're really fucking on / and your friends they sing along and they love you." It may be the only time in history that a metal act has brought Rilo Kiley to anyone's mind.