Friday, 22 June 2007

Vampire in Japan : Day 9 - Counter Nemesis

20th May 2007

Imperial Palace: Harmony of Dissonance

Tapping my feet impatiently at the exit of the train station, with silent curses under my breath. Imperial palace was just across the road, but no sign of the rarity that actually dared to appear later than me. My bored mind started to wander off as I recalled the sights and tastes of the morning. Breakfast was a quick affair of Green Tea Kit-Kat and a rudimentary bottle of Poison to start the day. Questions regarding the queer sight of a festival that involved Middle-aged men walking around the streets of Asakusa in Sumo-like underwear flashed through my mind.

A familiar frame, signaturely-hunched silhouette in a Red jersey emerged; and like a bull seeing red, I hollered, "Ass Clown, you're late." Half-assed apologies and a quick mutual introduction to the China-man later, he blurted out "Uh, I need to find a toilet, it might take a while..."

"Bastard, first thing you need to do when you see us is that you need to shit... I need to go too." I classically responded.

Yup, exactly the way I remembered our 19-year friendship to be, full of angst and swearing (on my part). Bernard is a friendship relic and my first "official" best friend, but it was just a convenient moniker, we were more like childhood rivals through primary school and he was my favourite taunting bag in Secondary School (so much so he claims to be immune to my taunting now). It was only in JC that we started to tread on different paths, I aimed to become the epitome of fun, and him? Well, sorta the anti-thesis of fun, strived for academic achievement instead, selling his soul in the process; but at least it bought him a hefty scholarship that took him to the UK and now Japan, and as much as we hate (present tense) each other's guts, our sour friendship usually picked up where it left off, and it sure as hell was good to see a familiar face in a foreign land, ok.. maybe not so much the face.

A crapload later, he was ready to play tour guide for the day as we headed into the Imperial Palace, to survey how the Japanese royals live. According to our ass-guide, the Emperor lived deep within the palace, and the fact that they built a subway line using the palace as the central reference point (Marunouchi Line), only went to show the Jap's reverence towards their monarch. Even animals know their place and pay their respects, as we witnessed the usually- haughty swans humbly waddling through the moats of the palace.

A quick visit to a museum that displayed traditional Japanese Brush Art (including some pieces by the current Empress), did little to raise my appreciation for it. What I could fully appreciate however, was the Emperor's ASTOUNDINGLY Zen garden. Lush bushes of carefully primmed greenery, temperate-climate trees, SEVERELY obese Koi, a huge pond with two bridges sprawling across it, came together to form the layers of the little slice of Zen in the modern metropolis; oh, and the miniature waterfall... icing on the Zen cake.

The temptation of potentially adding a touch of my Dark Magic to the Zen landscape was too much for my mortal body to bear, so I just had to hop onto a rock in the middle of the pond to bring my own unique brand of magic to the garden.

Smoke on Water

Cooler than Mr. Miyagi

Its been proven that posing is EXTREMELY contagious (refer to Day 6, Manly Pose), so I just had to get my Best-Ass-Clown-Friend to pose in a shot with me. A keeper, if I must say so myself. Personally, I like the shot cos I think it captures the essence of our 19-year friendship, 2 poseur-rivals standing back-to-back, a huge landscape behind them, yet they're fighting for space over a small rock, one Ass-Cool, one *ahem* not so cool...Yup, pretty much sums it up, alright.

Harmony of Dissonance

A further walk down the garden after all the Zen posing took us down a path littered with various temperate flora, before we came to Edo Castle; or whatever was left of it, at least. Feudal war left many Japanese castles destroyed, such that most of which which exist today are restored in part or in whole. But for Edo castle, well.... not so much.

IMAGINE the castle rrrright there


Yasukuni War Shrine: What's so Civil about War anyway?

A not-so-short walk took us to the war shrine notorious for countless gloomy Chinese-politician faces on International Television. The Yasukuni Shrine is a Shinto Shrine built to commemorate the bravery of the great warriors that fought for Japan through all the different ages. Apparently, in Shinto, the believers worship and pray towards the furniture of their ancestors or the people they believe in or something, kinda spooky if you ask me. But the solemnity of the mood of the shrine was quickly lightened by an amusing image of a crow perched on top of the bald head of a great samurai warrior, and of course, the smell of Giant Tako-yaki and Okonomiyaki didn't hurt either.

Calling for Controversy

A visit to the war museum allowed us to witness war-time vehicles like a live-size Zero fighter, and more interestingly, to delve in my latest favourite past-time, goofing off with funky hats. On a more serious note, its no secret that the Japs cover up their WWII shame by justifying war with economic expansion and all that bull. While the rest of the world looks at them as shirking their responsibility, I was wondering if its actually the logical thing to do on the part of the Japanese government; to delude the youths of the nation so that they will not have to hang their heads in shame. Delusional maybe, but essential perhaps, for the sake of national pride and progression of their society.

I Know who I'd shoot in a War


Tokyo University: I see a Red Door and I wanna Paint it Black

The China-man's rather curiosity beckoned Ass-clown to take us to his academic haven, Tokyo University. Being a fan of Love Hina, I have always held an artistic impression of the university, and was semi-keen on verifying this impression. Upon arrival, the first thing that struck me was the accuracy of the scene from the comic, with the fabled clock tower providing a trademark backdrop for the University. The rest of the University architecture was a fusion of traditional heritage-rich exteriors with a touch of modern technology and furnishing in the interiors.

Picture Perfect

Coolest Student in Todai

One of the main cultural highlights of the University had to be the Red Gate, officially known as Goshuden-Mon. According to Ass-Clown, he said that its every (nerdy) Jap High School Kid's Dream to walk through the Red Gate. Just like in Love Hina, the results of the entrance to the University will be posted on a board outside of the Red Gate, and to pass through it symbolizes the first steps towards life in the best university in Tokyo (while the rest of the ousted kids consider jobs in the booming AV industry).

I make it Look SO Easy

The effects of the Green Tea Kit-Kat started to crumble as my mortal stomach growled in hunger after 6 hours on two chocolate sticks. Relief came from a little outlet of Maguro-Ichiba across the street in the form an extremely tasty bowl of Maguro Sashimi-don, and unlimited Mugi Tea for under 7,000 yen, definitely one of the best-valued meals of the entire trip.


Shinjuku, Metropolitan Building: Elevation

Racing against the setting sun, our make-shift tour guide took us to the Metropolitan Building in Shinjuku, where we could catch a good view of the city landscape in the day and possibly even Mt. Fuji, and IF we were lucky. Anticipation built as the lift scaled and the sense of elevation increased. Considering the expectations set up Tokyo Tower two nights before, the first thing that struck me after stepping out into the 45th floor was the lack of ambiance compared to the jazzy-feel of Tokyo Tower. I hurried to the windows to get a bird's eye view of the landscape. I wasn't sure if it was the due to the location or due to the timing of day, but somehow, even though we were supposedly more elevated than we were in Tokyo Tower, the day view of the Tokyo City landscape wasn't half as breathtaking.

That's not to say that it wasn't beautiful, it was actually, it was just not as awe-inspiring as the night scene from Tokyo Tower. Probably there is just something about the Vampire's preference for millions of dazzling lights at night over a far reaching view that stretches into the horizon. Speaking of which, we noticed that we couldn't see any sign of Mt. Fuji in the horizon. So, we headed to the South Tower to roll the dice of destiny instead. In vain however, as while the outline of the ridges could be faintly identified at the horizon, the distinct snow-capped peak of Nirvana was sorely missing.

Yoyogi Park: Heart of Green


Shibuya: Take a Bow

A day of fiddling with my (mum's) rather archaic camera had Ass-Clown pitching the idea of getting a new camera in Japan, since he claimed it was much cheaper there. The conniving fiend drove the stake into my vampiric shopper's heart by taking me to the Yodobashi Camera at Shibuya before dinner. I entered the place, willed against not blowing close to 500 bucks on something I didn't think that I'd need; at least that was until he showed me the new Nikon s50. I recalled the mother looking for a new camera, as I fiddled with the s50 and the Panasonic Lumix. But I fell in love with the s50, ESPECIALLY since it has totally NO protruding parts, was sleek & silver, and had the coolest "swish" sound when you turned the camera on. Wanting to call the mother for an opinion resulted in a futile attempt (as usual), so after MUCH deliberation, my impulse buying Mr. Hyde got the better of me, and I left the store defeated into a purchase; no thanks to a backstabbing make-shift tour guide trying to syphon me of my tourist yen, 27,000 of them to be exact.

9 Days in Japan without eating a sushi feast had us clamouring for it, as the Ass-Clown took us to a little outlet in one of the streets of Shibuya. The house rules were simple, each plate on the conveyor belt costs 105 yen, and each person had to order a minimum of 7 plates. Also, each person was expected to leave within half an hour. The queue moved quite fast due to the Japanese sense of self-awareness and self-regulation. We were given seats within 20 mins of waiting, albeit being split into pairs.

Bernard and I went on an exotic fish frenzy, as we picked whatever-sushi-that-couldn't-be-recognized off the conveyor belt. I had NO idea what the hell I was eating most of the time, but it didn't really matter, since whatever I ate, it seemed to taste excellent. We went ballistic with the tuna, sampling the 4 different grades of Maguro, Maguro Steak, Chutoro and Ootoro (again). Doing a side-by-side taste comparison, this time round it was apparent that Ootoro was the best of all the 4 different grades, and honestly, it was even better than the previous Ootoro-Sashimi, despite the lower price. The Ootoro was smoother this time round, fresher, juicier and felt a lot less like watermelon when I put it in my mouth. But still, I sure didn't get the same tastebud-orgasm that Kobe Beef endowed on me.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was Uni (Sea Urchin). Often regarded an acquired taste in Japanese cuisine, I earned a first-hand encounter with the need for the word "acquired." The texture of the thing was REALLY mushy, kinda like mussels, except that the "juice" was EXTREMELY bitter. Imagine taking a bite into it and having the bitter juice burst inside your mouth. Disgusting shit.

Save for that, dinner was pleasant, as the company of a 19-year old friend / rival over the dinner table was most fine. We nostalgically chatted about old times and picked up where we last left off about our current lives. Being the benevolent one, I decided to buy the Ass-clown dinner, partially for being a better-than-expected-tour-guide and also for his help in playing my translator during the camera purchase. Even though he claimed it was the first time he was actually getting a Jer Kangsanagi-treat, I was quite sure he was lying through his teeth.

After performing his final duties as a make-shift tour guide for the day by telling us about the layout of Shibuya, the Hachiko story, and the fact that we could actually take a photo right in the middle of the crossing when the Green Man was on (which I tried but somehow the camera man was so anxious the pic turned out blur), Ass-Clown bade his farewell, as the Tripartite prepared to take the entire Asakusa line back. It sure as hell was fun meeting up and catching up with a long-time friend in a foreign land.

Separation Anxiety


Asakusa Temple: Too Little Too Late

Arriving back at Asakusa, we decided to heed the Ass-Clown's recommendation and revisit the stretch along Asakusa temple to pick up sourvenirs. Arriving at the familiar gates, we saw a group of people crowded in front of the temple, spectating at a queer event in progression. What we saw was two groups of people, sending out one representative at a time, who would hop a little on one foot, bow at each other, before what I would think is competing in downing a huge bowl of Sake, sorta like a drinking contest of sorts.

While the atmosphere was definitely joyous and festive, we made no sense of the event despite watching numerous bouts, so we decided to head a little inwards, towards the familiar temple. Most of the sourvenir stalls were closed in lieu of the festival, save for some road-side stalls set up near the temple proper. But our arrival proved to be a little too late, as even these stalls were on the verge of calling it a day. Nothing could stop us from investing in the festival tidbits though, while the Chinaman went for Giant Takoyakis, I chose to go for the stand which sold chic-friendly, chocolate-coated bananas.

Festive Vampire

With time left to spare, we decided to be the cheapskates that we were and go for our last chance for free drinks at the bar. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a full-house before the busty bar chic came over to serve us. My curiosity of the festival and opportunism led me to chatting up the bar chic to ask her about the festival. She said that it was the Sanja-Matsuri, and tried to describe the festival being about people carrying some sorta shrine around the streets of Asakusa. But I guess I was a little too distracted by her bouncing assets as she was doing all sort of cute actions trying to give me some visual aid as she spoke. Moreover, the "See anything You like?" on her T-shirt didn't make it any easier for me to concentrate.

Either way, the Tripartite decided to order some drinks as we soaked in the festive atmosphere, adding to the rowdiness with our discussions of how cute/hip Jap chics are when they speak English, as proven above, and the chics whom we thought were hot. The discussion was mainly between the China-man and I, as a very shy Bob vehemently refused to express his opinion of what type of chic he found hot. One Samurai rock, half a Sake and lots of boob-ogling later, we decided to call it a night. I figured that since my staring was probably quite obvious, the least I could do was complement the bar-chic on her "cute" T-shirt. Innuendos abound, but it was bound to be lost in traslation if I furthered my cause. A smooth compliment was acknowledged with a warm smile and a short "thank you," and I probably let my smoothness get to me so much that the thought of opportunistically grabbing a photo with the chic TOTALLY slipped my mind. Smooth indeed.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Vampire in Japan: Day 8 - Through the Looking Glass

19th May 2007

Tsukiji Fish Market: Better Off Dead

Bob's idea of catching the first train to the fish market went awry for the China-man and I, as we (I) struggled to crawl out of bed at around 6.30 a.m. Poor as the sleeping facilities were, think my level of mortal fatigue had accumulated enough over the last 7 days to disregard the circumstance. Arriving at a fashionably late 8.a.m., we were greeted by a spooky Bob who just "happened " to be hovering at the train station when we exited the gantry... coincidence?

While the chaotic auctions were supposedly over; the chaos itself, not so much, as we were navigated through busy cross-junctions filled with odd 3-wheeled transport vehicles. While initially not very keen on the whole idea of coming to Japan to visit a damn fish market, a walk around the market area left me semi-convinced as I caught glimpses of some of the more interesting catches: fresh crabs, scallops, squids with fresh black ink, live octopi, and even raw wasabi, were on display in the shops lining the walkways.

While the stench of the sea quickly negated the effects of my cologne first thing in the morning, the same aroma sent enough mental images (of the potential seafood served on platters) to stir my morning appetite. Budget issues landed us in the nearby Mac to satisfy the drive with a very odd cross between an Egg McMuffin and Hot Cakes as the muffin, conveniently seeking shelter from the early morning drizzle as well.


Akihabara: Otaku Paradise

A short train ride in the Women-Only-Cabin took us to the gates of paradise. Apparently, such cabins exist for the sake of the protection of the office women from random groping and molestation during the peak hours of the morning commute. It was reportedly started due to the increasing number of molest cases on the trains. I guess I can't really blame them (the Hentais), as Jap chics are HOT, yes, even the office ladies, and some people are just a little more retarded in the self-restraint department.

The legendary street for all things Games and Anime (read: geek-dom) started off slow with an exploration of Yodobashi-Akiba, an electronic megaplex. Things only got interesting when we approached the upper floors of toys and games, with enough things to satisfy the Otaku (left pic) and the Hentai (right pic, oh... Kasumi-Chan).

The real action began when we took to the streets proper, lined with buildings upon buildings of game or anime shops, decorated with HUGE posters advertising for the latest games; it was an Otaku's paradise, or at least until you realised that you were climbing 6 / 7 floors of each building only to see the same few things over and over again. Either way, it was very heartwarming to see a culture built so strongly on the escapism, fantasy, and imagination found in games, manga and anime.

Despite an entire street of Otaku-fantasies, in the end, the China-man and I still succumbed to our mortal lustful desires as the thing that caught our attention the most were the chics dressed in funky cosplay costumes distributing flyers. We tried to ask them to take a photo with us, but policy didn't allow them to do so, so we tried to sneak in some shots instead. Bad timing or bad luck somehow always got in the way of the China-man's photos. So, always willing to lend a helping hand in nabbing voyeuristic shots of chics-in-cute-pink-cosplay-attires, I pulled off a fast-draw, without turning off the flash.

OBVIOUSLY the chic saw it and came over and said "Hey Dude, I know you think I'm hot, and I think you are too, but I'm sorry that its company policy that you can't grab a photo of me while I am working. alright?" Insult to injury came in the form of a not-quite-half-as-cute Uncle Bob repeating the same stern warning to me, in English.


Harujuku Street: Vampire Vs. Zombie on Goth Street

The mortal bodies of the Tripartite beckoned for lunch the first thing on Harajuku, so we decided to settle for a little fast-food at Lotteria. The fries were well done and the burger was satisfyingly juicy, but our attention was on two group of cos-playing gals chatting each other up and photo-whoring together. Guess photo-whoring is a universal language for gals in most parts of the globe. But the discussion soon led to how to go about grabbing photos of the cos-players later, and eventually, friction ensued between the fork-tongued Vampire and the emotionless Zombie.....

Zombie Bob: "No matter what, when you take photos on the street you shouldn't use flash."

The Count: "I know, but like I said, I was trying to grab a fast shot, since Zhenfeng kept missing, I was carrying stuff with one hand and I didn't have time to turn off the flash. Besides, you're the one with the bloody professional camera, shouldn't you be putting it to better use?"

Zombie Bob: "All the more cos its a professional camera so it would be even more obvious if I were to take, right?"

The Count: "As obvious as a damn flash?"

(Zombie Bob goes silent)

The Count sadistically drills in his point: "Besides, you don't have to repeat the same point THREE times, right? I already heard you the first time round."

(Eyes shift towards dirt on the floor. Disgruntle munching of fries.)

By SHEER coincidence (I'm SURE), the Tripartite was broken up after lunch, as Bob got drowned out in the Saturday teenage crowd, while the China-man and I continued down the street. Harajuku is a street famous for cos-players to parade their elaborate attires, possibly make a statement and hopefully some common-minded crazy friends during the weekends. Many of them were dragging trolley bags along, which (according to the China-man) is what they use to bring their attires down to change, lest people on the train give them inappropriate stares of insanity.

Depression is part of the Costume too it seems

The REAL Deal

The China-man's fetish for cos-play continued to roll out more interesting trivia, as he told me that the cosplayers can be broadly divided into two kinds, the White Goth (cutesy-strawberry-short-cake kind) and Black Goth (Dark-bondage-leather-with-chains kind). Either way, their costumes were extremely elaborate, not to mention ridiculously expensive, and surely put my oh-so-Gothic-romantic-violet-eyes to shame.

Feeling Under-dressed / Looking Depressed


Odaiba: Love is in the Air

After taking a day's walk through the looking glass of the modern Japanese City culture, the Tripartite decided to explore the romantic side of Tokyo, as we headed down to Odaiba. A leisure monorail ride took us up and across Rainbow Bridge, running side-by-side to the vehicular roads. Love was definitely in the air as the we exited the monorail station, warmly greeted by a romantic pinkish sunset.

Odaiba very much captured the essence of a bay side paradise, from the chilly bay side breeze to the city skyline across the bridge, it was no wonder that the setting was perfect for romance, a observation firmly validated by the number of couples that were scattered over the bay side pavement and in the dining areas. While missing the chrome-durian-domes of the local Esplanade, the bay side view of Rainbow Bridge and brightly-lit boats was more than enough to outclass the Esplanade a few fold. I wished they didn't add the cheesy Statue of Liberty replica though.

I must Point at something at least Once a Day

Esplanade on Steroids

Walking along the pavement, bypassing dining places and a cool, open-concept radio studio (which was on air with deejays smiling at the kids waving at them through the glass), we came to a little semi-circular platform that we decided to take a seat and absorb the essence of the beauty. The romance in the air must have gotten to me as I told the China-man that the atmosphere and the scene made me feel like wanting to be in a sappy relationship all over again. Reminiscing started as we had an open-hearted talk about relationships. Pouring my heart out must have left a void in my stomach as well, as dinner beckoned, and was more than appropriately answered by a delicious bowl of Cha-Shu Ramen. Seemed that the 2-budget meals-and-1-good-meal-a-day plan was working out excellently.


Odaiba Ferris Wheel: Entering Shin-Mitsu Zone

The original plan to end the night was to look for the observatory at Odaiba to get another breathtaking view of the Tokyo night scene (since The Count is such a fan), and this time ironically get Tokyo Tower as part of the night scene as well. However, the plan was quickly thwarted as we were drawn to the flashing lights of the gigantic Ferris wheel, like moths to the flame. After mindlessly following the lights (and disregarding the ACTUAL walking distance), the Tripartite started to join the queue for the huge Ferris wheel. Not too sure if it was supposed to be the largest Ferris wheel in the world, but it sure looked like it could serve its purpose of giving us a wonderful night view.

Given the choice to wait 10 mins for the normal cabin or 35 mins for a fully transparent cabin, the Tripartite obviously chose efficiency over romance, since we were not very suited to be a romantic combination in the first place. However, what awaited us in the queue was AMUSING to say the least. For starters, we were greeted by this odd sign. Our noggin' - scratching continued regarding this whole Shinmitsu Zone thing as we queued. An ad informed us that the intimate distance between 2 ppl was 45cm, measured from centre of the head of 1 person to the next. And then it went on to educate Chics on how to initiate entering this intimate distance (Shinmistsu Zone) with a guy in the Ferris Wheel Cabin.

Holy Shit! Jap chics are hot AND they take initiative, really makes me wanna migrate away from the not-half-as-hot-and-yet-expect-to-be-wooed-like-goddesses local chics we have here. SEVERELY disappointing.

Anyway, the punchline of the ad was this extreme warning sign, to tell the females to be cautious of..... body odour, their OWN body odour (man, I LOVE Japan). Yes, contrary to what the rest of the globe believes, its seemed that the highly intelligent Japanese have come to realise that not all gals smell like flowers, and yes, gals can stink too. Thus they prompt the chics to use a specially designed female deodorant (incidentally the sponsor of the Ferris Wheel), lest the scare off the pretty boys with their, *ahem* personal aroma. Very, VERY innovative I must say, to use a Ferris Wheel as a marketing tool. Oh, and a very insightful observation too.

The marketing genius continued as we entered the cabin to realise that the cabins were very tactically marked with 45cm distances, to give an indication of the rough distance a couple should sit to achieve the intimate distance. The chuckles of laughter over how amusingly innovative this entire concept was slowly died down as the Ferris wheel escalated and the sense of vertigo thickened, with the view of the night scene stretching accordingly. The Tokyo Night Scene surprisingly managed to take my breath away for the 2nd night in a row. It's funny how essentially the same thing can actually amaze me all over again; perhaps this is the essence of true beauty, or just my personal love for the night.