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A better attempt – Tokyo

August 13, 2006

OK! Well, I have a little more time here now to give this another shot. We:ll see how it goes. I sat down and wrote a huge email earlier, but for some reason I can:t send it. So I:ll stick some bits on here. Might break it up a bit for easier reading.


Oh, perhaps now is a good time to say that here in Japan, the keyboard layout is weird. Just a little bit though. So I occasionally hit the wrong button. Mostly, that manifests as a : instead of a '. So if the punctuation seems screwed, that:s why!


It’s been complete mayhem so far. I don’t quite know where to start, so I’ll try the beginning.


The NZ contingent got woken up in Auckland at about 4am Sunday morning, and taken to the airport. As for the 20kg limit, turns out we needn’t have worried. I guess because we were all together and it was a special occasion, we got let on with pretty much whatever we wanted. People got on with all sorts of weights. One girl had a 34kg bag! OSH regulations or something meant one bag could only be 32kg, so she had to take 2 kg out, but even then was only charged for being one kg over. Wish I had have packed more.

After 11 hours in the air, we arrived in Tokyo! Straight away we noticed they hadn’t been kidding about the heat. The heat! Man, I thought Sydney was hot in the height of summer. Japan takes that to a whole new level! We stepped out of the terminal and were instantly hit with a wall of sweat. Made even worse by the fact that when we left NZ, it was 4am on a cold rainy winter’s day, and a lot of people had dressed accordingly (as well as trying to save weight in their luggage).

We eventually got on a bus and took it into Tokyo. Once we checked in, found our rooms and stuff, the day was almost over. The hotel we stayed at was the Keio Plaza Hotel. Apparently the hotel where they shot Lost in Translation was right next to us, but nobody was quite sure which building it was. They all look pretty unimpressive from the outside, but inside, they’re pretty damn nice.

The hotel is in Shinjuku, a pretty flashy area, so that night I went out with a bunch of Kiwis to a local eatery. The whole area was incredible! There were huge signs, huge lights, and small people everywhere. We made it to a restaurant which was all traditional Japanese. We took our shoes off at the door and had the hostesses yelling welcomes to us in Japanese. Luckily, we had a couple of people in our party who had visited Japan before and knew a bit of Japanese, so could help us out. They did the ordering and everything. Without them, we would have been stuffed. We ended up with a pretty continuous chain of food and beer being brought to our table, until we were all pretty full and happy. The bill came to about 23,000 yen, which is easily the biggest looking bill I’ve ever seen for a restaurant!

The next day a bunch of us skipped some of the voluntary seminars in the afternoon and instead spent time in Harajuku, the ‘trendy’ area of Tokyo. That blew me away! The streets were absolutely crammed to the edges with people, and everything was so… weird. There were ridiculous store names, and people dressed in the weirdest stuff. Mostly girls. There were a few gothic lolita styles, one girl with a teapot on her head, a few little-bo-peep sorts, and tons of others. Sadly, the crowd was so thick that by the time I noticed they were there, they had disappeared again before I got a chance to snap a photo of them. But that’s OK, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of other chances!

That night, we went out to Shibuya, another amazing area. This one had the biggest, brightest lights out of any area I’ve seen so far! The entire suburb was like one giant club or something. There’s a major intersection there, and when it’s time for people to cross, it looks… mindblowing (I’m running out of synonyms here). We ended up going to some kind of underground restaurant/pub thing called The Lockup, which we just happened to find in our travels. We followed the stairs down, and ended up in a corridor made to look like it was old and carved out of the rock. The lighting was very dim. Suddenly there was a flash of light and sound and a guy was in front of us getting electrocuted on the electric chair! The girls screamed and jumped, and the guys got a surprise but took it staunchly. We continued on, and had hands lurch out at us from barrels, and all sorts. At one point the ground suddenly became some kind of foam so it felt like you were sinking. Eventually we got to what looked like the end, only to open the door and have a dead guy fall out of the room onto us. We struggled for a while, and it wasn’t until someone else left, that we managed to find the door into the actual place.

A girl dressed in a kinky jailer’s outfit approached us and asked us what we wanted. Luckily we had Shino with us, who is originally from Japan, so she could be our translator. We waited in an area with strange arching lights and skulls on the wall until the girl returned and asked who wanted to go first. I ended up being the lucky guy, so she clapped some handcuffs on me and led me away, while everyone else followed. We went all through a maze or corridors at all different levels, passing cells (literally) where people were sitting having dinner or drinks. Eventually we got put in an upstairs cell. We ordered drinks, and they all came with names like “Vaccine 69”, and “Lethal Injection”, and one called “Illegal Parking”, which may have actually been a translation error. The drinks arrived in things like beakers and syringes. We were all enjoying our time, when suddenly all the (already dim) lighting cut out, and there was some full-on music and screaming, and lights started flashing manically. We looked through one of our barred windows and could see on a level below us, a monster was crawling along the tops of the walls and reaching down to grab the disoriented customers. The whole experience was surreal.

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