To Tokyo and Back Again

28 Aug

Last weekend, S and I hit Tokyo again, this time for a whole weekend!  This time, we were going to see a Sexy Zone (in case you missed the last post on this topic, yes, I know it’s an awful name) concert at Tokyo Dome City Hall, and then were meeting up with a friend on Sunday.  We woke up at the crack of dawn and braved the crowded trains full of people all headed towards the biggest city in Japan, and finally, after two hours of travel, we arrived in Ikebukuro, where we quickly stashed our luggage in coin lockers (we wouldn’t be able to check into our hotel until later that day) and hit… the McDonald’s!

ImageI know this sounds incredibly strange, but McDonald’s is completely different in Japan than in America.  For one, the restaurants are, by and large, cleaner and neater, and the portions are more manageable.  But more than that, either the ingredients that are used to make the sandwiches or else the way the sandwiches are made is of much higher quality, and as a result, the food is much more edible– or in fact, as I find it, delicious!  To top it all off, the McDonald’s marketing strategy in Japan is continuous limited time only sandwiches, meaning that there are always new and exciting things to try almost every time one walks into a McDonald’s restaurant.  In fall of 2010, the promotion was chicken sandwiches, with 4 or different sandwiches ranging from cheese fondue chicken to spicy “diablo” sauce chicken to “German sausage” chicken.  Each sandwich lasted for about 2 weeks, but they were so popular that they had a second run at the end of the cycle.  Right now, the theme is “international” sandwiches, and while especially in Japan, that’s basically asking for trouble, the product is often delicious.  Currently, the featured sandwich is the “India” burger, a breaded chicken burger with a spicy sauce, cheese, and lettuce. Yum!

ImageAfter our delicious early lunch, we headed to Tokyo Dome City Hall, a venue nearby Tokyo Dome.  Our seats for this concert were again not seats, but standing, and this time, we were sadly at the very top of the theatre, in the 3rd balcony.  This was unfortunate, but not the end of the world, and so we were excited as we headed to the venue.  Outside, the sidewalk was lined with flags advertising Summary, and, in true Japanese fashion, we took a photo (and we were by no means the only ones!) It was disgustingly hot out, and while we had tried to arrive in time to buy goods before they had to close the lobby to set up to let people in, we failed, and as a result, ended up waiting in the head for a really long time for no reason.  Oh well, you live and learn!
We passed the time by taking derpy Myspace-style self photos of ourselves and mulling around like everyone else, having no idea where the line was going to form or what was going on.  Our experience with concerts in sports arenas has led us to believe that Tokyo Dome City Hall is actually the worst setup for a concert; since it’s a theatre, it’s in a fairly populated area of the city, rather than set apart where there’s a large amount of space, and is therefore surrounded by malls, buildings, and even an amusement park.  There’s not much room to queue in front of the building, and while there are “guides” there to help, most of them talk into megaphones that muffle their voices beyond recognition, especially to a non-native speaker.  We were especially worried this time, since we had standing tickets rather than seats, but somehow, we managed to find the line for standing, and even got into the theatre fairly early! I guess getting there stupidly early did pay off somewhat.

ImageThe show was a lot of fun, and naturally got a variety of catchy bubblegum pop songs stuck in our heads, so there was no choice but to head to karaoke!  Karaoke in Japan is (from what I’ve heard; I’ve only been to Asian-style karaoke in America) very different than karaoke in America, where, I’m told, one sings in a public bar, in front of all the other patrons. In Japan, at a karaoke establishment, one gets one’s own small room with a monitor and karaoke system and picks songs off a small touchscreen remote.  Songs can be searched by code number (this changes depending on the system/karaoke chain, however), name, artist, and other categories.  One can adjust the music volume and the mic volume, pause, skip, or even choose to repeat the same song from the remote.  Additionally, most karaoke places come with one free drink or a drink bar (or rather, the patron pays for a drink as part of the price), and a large menu of foods, ranging from french fries and pizza to curry and Japanese rice balls.  Karaoke is basically a popular pastime for just about everyone, ranging from families singing the wide variety of Disney and kids songs available, to drunk salarymen or tired office ladies blowing off steam after work singing popular J-pop songs, to teenagers who want to sing Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, to more elderly patrons busting out their favourite enka tunes.
Naturally, we went and sang every Sexy Zone song in the system (this sounds more impressive than it actually is; being a relatively recently formed band, Sexy Zone has released exactly 8 songs) as well as other favourites by Arashi, Hey! Say! JUMP, and other Johnny’s bands.  We always seem to perplex the staff by not wanting to sing American songs, but hey, we make up for all the Japanese kids wailing Justin Bieber’s Baby and One Direction’s That’s What Makes You Beautiful, right?

After karaoke, we headed to our favourite curry chain, Coco Ichibanya.  It sounds pretty sad, but in Tokyo, we tend to hit all the chain restaurants we can’t easily get to out in Kiryu.  While it’s a great place to be, with lots of small family owned businesses, sometimes, I just want some gross fast food!  Walking around the area where we were staying, one stop away from Ikebukuro in a district called Otsuka, we noticed that there were lanterns and decorations set up for some sort of matsuri.  They were pretty all lit up in the evening, and I had never experienced a matsuri in Tokyo before, so I was surprised to see them.  We didn’t get to see any sort of matsuri festivities, but the decorations were still pretty to look at!

ImageThe next day, we met up with a friend and did some shopping in Harajuku.  I was reminded of why I hate Harajuku; as Sunday was most Japanese students’ (and teachers’!) last day of summer vacation, Harajuku was packed to the gills with shoppers and tourists.  For those only acquainted with Harajuku through Gwen Stefani’s famous (and, in my opinion, relatively offensive and just plain creepy) obsession with Harajuku, it’s perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be.  True, Harajuku is the home of strange and creative street fashion, but it’s also the home of a lot of con artists and pickpockets.  There are essentially two places that I’ve been in Tokyo where I felt as if the normal sense of Japanese safeness and security wasn’t there, and one of them is Harajuku.  Additionally, the famous Takeshita Street is one of the most dirty and disorganized places I’ve been in Japan.  While Omotesando Street, which curves to run practically parallel to Takeshita, is much cleaner and nicer and is home to many quality stores and boutiques, and while Harajuku is definitely the place to go for many different shopping needs (including Forever 21, American Eagle, and H&M), it’s not my favourite place in the world.  However, it’s also the home of the Johnny’s Shop… but perhaps that’s another story for another post!

After a fun day of shopping, we grabbed some sushi before tiredly catching our train back to Kiryu.  The following day was the first day of school, after all, and we needed to be well rested!

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