George Carter
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Japan ’08 – Day 5.5

| Friday 8th August, 2008

So we’d returned from our overnight climb of Mount Fuji and had some rest and it was getting on for evening…

This evening had been planned since Tuesday night when we had passed The Hobgoblin. As is tradition after going up a mountain, we had already mentally booked ourselves in for a pint and a pie. Did I ever mention that H absolutely loves pie? You’d never think to look at her, but she does.

With our one-track mission, we made our way to Shibuya, past Hachiko’s statue, and round the corner to the pub. We were a little apprehensive on entering the lift. There’s not really an option to back out if the lift door opens and you’re confronted with an unwanted location. However, we had nothing to worry about. It was just like our local Hobgoblin, except on the third floor.

And except that the beer/cider was priced (not too extortionately) in Yen. And except there was no table football. Nor pool. But there was a dart board.

The proprietor and staff were Aussie/British and the clientele were a mix of ex-pats and Japanese natives.

The waitress came over, saying “Good evening! It’s so stunning to see such a sight as some slightly starving strangers.” This may seem irrelevant right now, but you’ll probably notith the differenthe nektht week when we go back and thee greet-th uth again having had her tongue pierthed the previouth day.

Anyway, I digreth… we ordered a pie each. I know I’m not allowed pie due to the Gluten-Free thing, but in Japan I would have starved and ALMOST DIED if I’d stuck to a GF diet, so I just put up with the consequences (and am still doing so to some extent) and went for it.

If you go to your local pub and order pie, what do you receive? Well, Pie is a good start. Then probably mash or chips or maybe curly fries if you’re very lucky. Probably peas and possibly some other vegetables too.

In Japan you don’t. You receive pie.

And gravy. With soy sauce in.

It was actually pretty good pie, the gravy was definitely an acquired taste, but it was just all sort-of wrong in a way which is clearly too subtle to be noticed by the locals. It makes me wonder how ‘authentic’ our ‘authentic’ foreign restaurants are.

It was amusing to watch the pair of Japanese people at the next table. They ordered a fish and chips between them. They picked at it and commented on it to each other – they definitely enjoyed it. Then about thirty minutes later, they ordered a portion of bangers and mash. Between them. It was so strange to see people, probably experiencing their first bit of British food, just as we’d do in a Chinese, Japanese, Thai or Other restaurant. But this was Fish and Chips. And Bangers and Mash. They’re not STRANGE. They’re NORMAL. Well, as previously mentioned, they were strange, but only because they’d been made more normal for the Japanese.

Better than the clientele inside the pub, we watched the world go by outside – a third-floor window seat is a Good Thing™ More pubs in Britain should be on the third floor, above a busy street with lively guys trying to lure people into their restaurants by showing them previews of the menu and pointing skywards to show the 8th-floor facade of the intended target which is completely missable by those wishing to notice where they’re going at street level, and with crowds of businessmen and office ladies deciding where tonight’s entertainment would be and going through etiquette rituals more complicated than two hours’ close scrutiny could unravel, and with some slightly dodgy-looking chaps who would only approach all-male groups, and only very well-dressed ones at that. Gambling, we reckoned. They wouldn’t have looked so shifty if they’d been advertising a house of ill repute. Japan has some very different priorities on its taboos.

Anyway, it was a wonderful couple of hours after which we decided to turn in. That involves a 15-minute trip on the train, and short walk to the hotel as you’re probably by now fully aware. On the Yamanote line, y’know. We boarded the train as usual, but the atmosphere couldn’t have been further from our previous experiences. It was clearly the party train. Everyone was chatting and laughing and joking. They were still dressed in their conservative business dress. But there was life and joy and fun.

On arriving at Shinjuku station, about 80% of the train piled off. In the 12 seconds we had before the doors closed, we managed to look at each other, telepathically have a discussion about how the party is obviously here and should we get off and yes, I think that’s probably a good idea. And so we found ourselves in East Shinjuku around 11pm on a Friday night.

Wow! Party central.

West Shinjuku is the skyscraper district of Tokyo. The Metropolitan Government Building is there. All the major corporations have a presence somewhere in the square mile or so. There’s a lot of money generated there.

When the school bell rings, the salarymen put down their pencils, throw everything in their satchels, don their Parkas superman-style and go to play in East Shinjuku. There’s a lot of money spent there.

We found ourselves lost in the back streets – an area known as Kabukicho – where the really seedy side of Tokyo takes over. Obviously, being Tokyo, we felt at no point that we were unsafe, but when cartoon adult toys are beckoning you into their brightly coloured shop next door to a bar called “Strawberry Jam” with a wholly illegal-looking poster which is next door to the “Casual Hotel” (rooms by the hour), you tend to find your way back to civilisation pretty quickly.

It was also our first sight of Japan’s institutional racism. One bar bore the legend “Japanese Only”. We’d heard that some bars are not welcoming to foreigners, but to have it in black and white on the front door was rather a surprise. It’s something you just couldn’t imagine even beginning to exist in the UK. Sure, the local NF chapter’s clubhouse probably has the same sentiments, but even they wouldn’t get away with writing it on the front door.

What with Fuji and all the excitement, we didn’t spend that long in East Shinjuku, but it was ticked off the list of Things To See™ and we could make our way, thankfully without rail breakdowns, back to the hotel for sleep in preparation for tomorrow’s epic urban walk.

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