…and the world’s your oyster. (Sung like this.)
On the way back from the Philippines my colleague, Tyler, and I had a 21-hour layover in Tokyo, which really amounted to 12 hours excluding all the time spent on the way to or from or in the airport. Even though I had a horrible head cold, sore throat and laryngitis and felt I could barely make it another 12 minutes without falling over, I knew there was no question I would stay up all night to take full advantage of those 12 hours.
So here you have it, my one amazing night in Tokyo, hour by hour:
3pm Narita Airport
5pm freebies at Shibuya hotel check-in I took five face towels – their exfoliating powers were ridiculous. This after rather blindly wandering the streets, trying to match up the Japanese lettering on the map with the Japanese lettering on street signs (and finding not one person who spoke a lick of English).
6pm mad dash to Harajuku…
…where, as expected, everyone looked over the top amazing. The photo above is by far not the best outfit we saw (though I would like to point out that this person’s hair, hat, bag, bag charms, and sneakers all matched). But it’s the only photo I managed to take that is not completely out of focus because I’m trying so hard to not get caught taking photos.
7pm mad dash back to Shibuya in time to meet the in-laws for dinner
My brother’s wife’s parents were coincidentally in Tokyo at the same time as me for a conference, so we met up for dinner. The hotel recommended a place that seemed boring but on the way we passed a narrow, packed izakaya (sort of like a pub) that looked fairly amazing from the outside and was ridiculously incredible on the inside. The employees were all women who were utterly wacky and found every possible excuse to jump up and down, clap wildly, and put on googly eye glasses. The food was fantastic, our sign-language communication was hilarious, the atmosphere was giddyness-inducing, and I began to become unhinged with joie de vivre.
8pm We are presented with a specially decorated dessert plate
The extra m in “comming” took me right over the edge and made my heart do flip flops.
9pm walking through Shibuya Crossing
Supposedly the busiest intersection in the world. On the green light, everyone crosses every which way at the same time.
10pm caffeine break near Shibuya Crossing
Note the masked woman in the upper right. About 1 out of every 20 people in Tokyo was wearing a face mask. Though hacking up a lung, I was not. This made me slightly self-conscious. (Although I couldn’t figure out if the masks were to keep sickness in or to keep sickness out.)
11pm pachinko in Shibuya Tyler and I said goodbye to Jim and Judy and headed back out to wander among the Saturday night crowds. We passed a pachinko place and thought we’d have a go, but we came in about five minutes before they closed and they would not let us play. 😦
12pm back in Harajuku en route to Shinjuku
With all night to kill, we decided to head back to Harajuku to properly check it out. In any case it was on the way to Shinjuku, our destination for karaoke. We asked a group of 20-somethings how to walk to Shinjuku and the only one who spoke a few words of English answered, “Walk?! No! No!” and mimed driving. We insisted, “Yes, we want to walk, we have all night.” He then bugged his eyes out of his head and shouted, “Walk??! AMAZING!” as he leapt into the air like Gene Kelly. Then they all started dancing and jumping around. I was starting to notice a very appealing trend…
12pm pit-stop in Yoyogi
We stopped in to a 24-hour pharmacy so I could buy tissues (my nose was running like a faucet and my laryngitis had gotten so bad I was reduced to whispering.) We ended up talking/whispering abut baseball and universities with the cashier, Kazu, who had been a high school exchange student in the Twin Cities and was now studying to be a CPA while working nights. He was the only person we met in Tokyo outside of the airport who spoke more than six words of English. (Which is not to complain – I speak about eight words of Japanese, four of which I learned while there.) We had a lovely conversation that catapulted me to very dangerous levels of heart-swell.
1am Karaoke Kan / the best four minutes of my life
Crashed a karaoke session with the plea, “We’re here from New York for one night, can we sing with you?” To which they all started jumping wildly up and down and clapping. (To which I started jumping wildly up and down and clapping.) They told me to pick the song so of course I chose my karaoke standard. And then a miracle happened. Much like the Hanukkah lamp burned for eight days even though there was only enough oil for one, my singing voice came out for four minutes even though my speaking voice had been MIA for two days. We sang as though we had known each other forever, and I was transported with joy.
There’s video. I love it so, so much.
2am Halloween in Shinjuku
It was only October 19 so it was strange to see so many people in Halloween costumes. An ex-pat from England explained to us, “They love Halloween but they don’t really know what day it’s on so they just celebrate for the whole month.” I LOVE THIS PLACE.
3am admiring the view from the top of the Shinjuku Park Hyatt
We walked in like we owned the place, took the elevator to the penthouse, and entered a cavernous, completely dark, completely silent, completely empty lounge with floor to ceiling windows commanding 270 degree views of Tokyo. Having the place all to ourselves to just stare out at the vast city was pretty great.
We started back to Shibuya. Halfway there, we stopped at a 24-hour ramen place with a Nighthawks feel. It was empty except for 3 middle-aged besuited men who at first glance I took to be businessmen but then realized were security guards on lunch break. Tyler chose something at random from the automat machine because there were no pictures or English translations on the buttons. He handed the receipt to the cook, who made what turned out to be a bowl of ramen with a big piece of tempura in it. I didn’t bother trying my luck because about 99.99999% of the food in Japan has soy sauce in it, which contains gluten, which makes it off limits for me. 😦
5am sushi and hibachi in Shibuya
Back in Shibuya we tried to find a place where I could eat something, anything, but I got turned away at three places where they had literally no food that didn’t have soy sauce in it. Even the side order of egg was boiled in soy sauce at one place. Even the corn somehow had soy sauce in it! I was about to give up when we saw a restaurant on the corner that looked so hopping I wouldn’t have minded just sitting in there sipping green tea. But lo and behold they had sushi and Japanese barbeque, so I went nuts. I think I ordered three entrees. And it was so good. So good. I managed to eat incredibly well in Tokyo despite not being able to consume their most common ingredient.
The restaurant was packed with people who had also stayed out all night. A guy in the group next to us asked in very broken English where we were from. Tyler said, “New York.” He grinned from ear to ear and shouted, “New York! Cool! Cool!”
I was very proud of myself for staying out all night. And very, very, very intoxicated with living.
7am back to Narita
I half-jokingly decided to buy a Japanese mask for myself because my hacking had gotten out of control since I used lung capacity I did not have for karaoke. I bought a pink one that looked and felt like a maxi-pad. It was surprisingly comforting except that every time I breathed or laughed, my glasses fogged up.
And then we were back in Narita, and then back on a plane, and then back in New York.
It’s so surreal to spend one brief night somewhere halfway around the world but have that night be so intense and many-splendored that it leaves a lifetime’s impression.
I hope to get back to Japan one day. It rocked my world.