Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Last night in town

Last night was unusual, to say the least. Being my last real night (not counting tonight, since I leave early tomorrow) in Tokyo for some time, I wanted to make it count. So, equipped with ¥30,000 (which I ended up no spending more than a few thousand of... a pleasant surprise) I hopped on the train(s) to Shinjuku, and made my way to the fabled Golden Gai. I must admit I was a bit intimidated, as Golden Gai has the (justified) reputation of housing some amazing little (the term "little" is an understatement) hole-in-the-wall (literally) bars, quite a few of which are not too friendly to foreigners, some of which are not too friendly even to Japanese people whose face they don't recognise. In short, it's more the sort of area where you need to be introduced to be welcome.

However, a few of these establishments came recommended to the cultured visitor by the Lonely Planet guide, and the one I made my way for, "La Jetée" (which can be seen in the 1982 film "La Truite" by Joseph Losey, or in the info-jacket in the new DVD release of the 1962 film "La Jetée" by Chris Marker), was reputed to be the destination of choice of directors and producers of films both foreign (one can spot bottles by Francis Ford Coppola – I'm told Sofia has dropped by too, Quentin Tarantino, Chris Marker, etc...) and indigenous, and also for having a tradition of only speaking French (alongside Japanese, of course). The bar itself was about the size of your average mini-bus, and could seat a physical maximum of eight people (crammed in), but nonetheless one does not feel claustrophobic (I think the tight space forces conviviality and socialising, and one forgets about the negative aspects). The mama-san, by the name of Kawai (no second 'i') spoke very good French, and was very welcoming; the drinks were reasonably priced, and quite good; and the company was exceptional. During the course of the evening I met a host of people (pretty much everyone in the bar... which isn't that hard) counting amongst them some documentary journalists from NHK, some Swiss press and a swiss director, and some folks from the Japanese film industry, including a rather well known producer by the name of Hiroaki Fujii, whom had been friends with and worked with the Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Everyone was extremely friendly, and we all shared a few drinks.

I missed the last train (as I had intended to... they're only at midnight). I had brought money for the taxi, as a last resort, but was reluctant to use it as it would cost me an arm and a leg, so I planned to spend the night hopping around bars and moseying around Shinjuku, reputed for its 'interesting' nightlife. The plan sort of fell through when I started being approached every few metres by hustlers and yappers and shady-looking black guys trying to drag me to the nearest (certainly overpriced and probably dodgy) strip-club, or asking me if I wanted company (hopefully not theirs!). Not too much later, it was even more direct, as it became impossible to go a minute without being approached by some pimp with dyed-hair and sunglasses, or simply by prostitutes themselves (some of them so old and unattractive I wondered why they even bothered – then again, this being Japan, there's a market for anything I suppose), at which point I thought it best to seek refuge in a nearby manga/internet café. These institutions offer you a private "booth" (more like a cubicle) with an internet-connected PC, a table and a computer chair, or a more comfy lounge chair and PS2 if you're willing to pay extra (which I wasn't), as well as free drinks (score!) and access to an enormous library of Japanese comic books, for a mere ¥900 for 5 hours (night rate). During the day, people come to read and use these places as a cyber-cafe. However, during the evening it's mostly used as a cheap place to crash. I can't say it was the most comfortable place to get some rest (should have gone for the lounge chairs), but the price was very good (I certainly drank more that ¥900 of soda before leaving), and it did the trick.

Nearing 6am, I left to see the fish market at Tsukiji. Fate would have it that today was a "Regular Holiday" and it was closed (same thing happened to be when I went to the Asakusa Kannon Onsen yesterday!), so I settled for breakfast at a nearby fish shop which doubled as a small restaurant serving very fresh sushi (ie. you sometimes get to take a look at the fish which'll be in your tummy soon, swimming around the tank). Not being that hungry, I opted for quality over quantity and sampled a bit of the famed fatty-tuna (the most expensive sushi on the menu, generally not available in your average sushi restaurant), which went for ¥400 a piece (compared with somewhere in the ¥100-200 range for two sushi, for most of the other types of sushi on offer). The flesh as very tender, and had quite a subtle but pleasant taste. While it would probably cost a small fortune to have a serious meal out of it, the experience was thoroughly enjoyable.

So after a pleasant day in the Eastern Imperial Gardens, the evening was an interesting sandwich of sophistication, sleaziness, bizarre new experiences when it comes to sleeping arrangements, and a gourmet breakfast in an area smelling very fishy (in a good way). That's a pretty good way to end a trip.

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