December 23, 2012

Spot of Tea and Spotted Panties

I have been busy these last two days making sure to complete as many goals as I can before Richard arrives. The final checklist had me running all around Tokyo in search of fake food, used panties, and specific views from Lost In Translation with just enough time to stop for a tea break, which happened to also be a goal! Somewhere along the journey I stopped to admire the diversity of these goals that I've set and the opportunities they've afforded me. Where else can you spend your day hunting down used women's underwear while also trying to find a place to get an artisan bowl of green tea?

Saturday began with a trip towards Tokyo Station to a store nearby that sells goods from Kyoto, and for a small price, customers can experience a tradition Japanese tea ceremony (2). I do not believe a tradition ceremony is held in the middle of a store with customers brushing their behinds against your tea cup and the sounds of tills in the distance chiming away, but the part of the process where you have to wait 20 minutes as someone painstakingly makes a single cup of green tea remained the same. Also the part where it's disrespectful to talk or take photos carried over from the traditional ceremonies so I wasn't able to ask much about what they were doing, nor was I able to snap any photos of the process. Essentially an older woman in a kimono boiled hot water and then added it to a cup of matcha powder which had been carefully measured out. She then used a bamboo whisk to mix the powder and the water, rotating the cup with every few stirs. I was supposed to gather how important it is to put care into in life, including the little things like making tea, but what it really made me realize is how important it is not to waste time doing something like making tea. I had panties and fake food to find was eager to get a move on!
2 Birds with 1 Stone: If I had managed to buy her panties
Traditional tea serving area/place for customers to congregate as they wait to purchase their items
The all important bamboo whisk 
From there it was a short ride to Kappabashi-Dori, which is a street in Asakusa that sells everything one would require if they were to start a restaurant, with the exception of food. I was on a mission to find the fake food that most restaurants in Japan display as I've wondered if these restaurants buy the display food and then tells the chefs to create dishes that resemble those, or if they send photos of their dishes to the companies which make the displays in order to have custom ones created. These are the questions that have plagued my days the past few weeks and I knew there was only one way to answer them:

The beginning of Kappabashi Street
Faux crepes
Faux Kebobs
Faux Ramen
Various fishes
Various meats
Pure artistry
A little foreshadowing for Christmas
Fake food has been taken to a new level

What I was able to deduce is this: There are plenty of stock-options for generic foods such as ramen, salad, and pasta dishes, as well as the ability to buy the separate "ingredients" to more accurately represent your restaurant's dish. But if you want a specific dish or presentaiton, you must contact the manufacturers. Oh how I wish I had the ability to tour the fake food factory to see the artists at work Also, a typical medium sized fake dish will run you about $70, so what I thought would make good gifts turned out to be much too expensive. But man, nothing says "I love you" like a big bowl of plastic ramen...

The next stop in my quest for goal completion was Akihabara, home to AK48, maid caf├ęs, and a number of sex shops. I had visited the area once before and figured if there was any place in Tokyo that would sell used panties (50), it was a sex shop in Akihabara. At this point I had pretty much given up hope for finding a vending machine that dispensed these goods as my research had only produced other inquiries about the whereabouts of these mythical machines. I did learn that the selling of used undergarments is illegal, which nearly soiled my plan. Excuse me, foiled. I figured I needed to give the goal an honest effort though before throwing in the rag - er - towel.

When I exited the train, I saw the sex shop which I had visited once before but I deemed it too PG for this mission. The shop I had imagined was either incredibly seedy, or one that specialized in manga. For whatever reason I have grouped together the perverts who want used panties with the hardcore fans of anime, but I would soon learn that my intuition would not fail me. The first shop I visited lacked used panties, but did contain a plethora of anime merchandise. The following images are the SFW versions, which should give you an idea of what else was there:
Gives new meaning to "body pillow"
Endless aisles of these sorts of CDs
And CDs like this...
Uh huh...
Hey! I'm getting close to the used panties!
7 floors of anime and not a single panty to be found! There were plenty of other oddities, but none that I wish to share on a blog that my mom reads. And yet I have no qualms writing about my journey to find used women's panties... I was surprised to find hordes of kids in this store that shamelessly displays vinyl figures of women in terribly compromising positions. I will not provide a description of these figures, but if I were to, I would include words such as "insert" "tied down" "spread wide" and "tentacles". Akihabara is a weird place...

So the anime shop was a bust, but it shared a wall with a rather run-down looking sex shop so I figured I'd try my luck there. "Run down"does not, however, mean small as this too was another 7 story shop, with the top two floors reserved for men only, which seemed promising. And indeed, it was! No vending machine, but the used panties myth is indeed true:

Whose panties do I want...
Well this isn't degrading!
The legends are true!
Not sure how this fit into the sex shop, but I appreciated it
What I was most shocked about was not that you can buy used panties with polaroids of the girls wearing them, but instead that the panties only cost $15! Correct me if I'm wrong, but fifteen bucks for a new pair of panties is a pretty good deal, right? I would have thought these things were going to run at least $50. How much are these poor women getting paid to put on undies and take a photo in them? I'd really like to learn more about the used panties industry. The Japanese sex industry is overdue for a documentary.

From Akihabara I headed back to Shibuya to find the Karaoke bar from Lost In Translation (28). I idiotically declined my friend Samantha's invitation to celebrate her birthday with some friends last week, which ended up being a 3 hour karaoke fest at the place. Really not one of my best decisions in life, but based on her directions I was able to find the general location of the bar. I then used the following photo to figure out where I needed to go:

I was looking for the building in the background
And look what I found!
Room 601, for those wondering.
But that was only one half of the goal (and admittedly, not as cool as actually singing in the room), I still needed to find the bar that Bill Murray frequents in the film. Luckily I knew it was at the top floor of the Park Hyatt, so I left Shibuya for Shinjuku and spotted the towering building in the distance. Now I've been told by many that the New York Grill on the 52nd floor is an incredibly expensive and swanky place so I assumed they were not going to just let me walk up and snap some photos. I realized I could use the white-guy thing to my advantage and pose as a guest, so after navigating a series of elevators I passed reception and found the guarded elevators that ascend to the grill. I stashed my backpack behind a plant to avoid looking too much like a tourist (disregarding that I now just looked crazy) and proceeded to the lifts.
"Do you have a reservation?" the lady with the clipboard asked.
"No, I'm just waiting for my father and wanted to see what was at the top floor"
"It's a private restaurant, do you have a reservation?"
"Oh, are guests not allowed?"
"So sorry sir, right this way!"
Boom! Call me Danny Ocean! 
Pretty phenomenal views of Tokyo
For relaxing times, make it Suntory times
After spending three months here in Japan I have a newfound appreciate for that film. There are so many peculiar observations about being a Gaijin in Japan that Sophia Coppola wrote into her script and I'd be curious to hear about the process of writing. It certainly became apparent why she chose the Park Hyatt bar as the main hangout spot for Bill Murray as it provides unparalleled views of the city.

Since I had essentially become a master of deception, I figured the next logical step was to become a thief. I found myself a nice chair, popped open my laptop, and enjoyed the free high-speed Hyatt wifi. I recognize the implications of admitting to this crime on the internet, but that's just the sort of badass I have become. I'm looking to get a motorcycle jacket to go along with my devil-may-care attitude. 

I returned to Shimokitazawa, where Aziz lives, and met up with him and his friend Grace to grab a meal. Perhaps hearing about my time in the swanky New York Grill gave Aziz the idea to take me to Shimo's most lavish restaurant: Route 25.

No, your eyes do not lie, that does say "Produced by KFC Shimokitazawa" for this restaurant is on the third floor of a two story KFC and may or may not serve the exact same menu. To be honest, we're not quite sure, but we can confirm that they skip the trays, instead opting for fancy plates to display the Colonel's famous chicken.
The Swankiest KFC in the world
Hello old friend
There was a separate holiday menu for those looking to drop a some major dough, but I figured I'd save the extravagant KFC feast for Tuesday night (Christmas). After we had fully appreciated the Colonel's 11 herbs and spices, we made our way to another restaurant to sit and enjoy one another's company. I have noticed that there are many places in Japan where the primary purpose is to provide a space for people to be. There's no money in that though, so all of these places also serve food. "Food" may be a more apt way of expressing what they serve, as most of it is a set price (somewhere between two and three dollars per item) and tastes a lot like it was microwaved for about half the necessary time. I suppose the real appeal of these places is the set-price drink menu, but I was more taken with the desserts. Grace and Aziz taught me a game of sorts where you must draw a picture of something, show it off to the group, and then add to the picture in order to change it drastically. Sounds easy, but the real genius of the game is when someone can slightly alter the preexisting drawing to dramatically change the effect. For example: Aziz drew a picture of an angry-looking man exclaiming "No Gays!" and then with a few pen strokes, turned his angry eyebrows into glasses, converted his belt into some short shorts, and cleverly altered "No" into "Hello" so the once homophobic tightwad suddenly became a fabulous flamboyant man. 

In return, I taught them running pictionary, which for those of you who don't know, is one of my favorite group activities.  Every player writes a sentence on an index card ("The cat jumped on the dog" or "Boy are those some big weiners" for example), when 30 seconds is up, they pass that card to the player on their left who then must flip to the next card and draw a picture of that sentence within 1 minute. They then pass their drawing to the person on their left who has 30 seconds to look at the drawing and then write a sentence about what they think they're looking at. Everyone plays at once, so there are an equal number of stacks of cards to players. This continues until the entire stack of cards has been completed. What you're left with is:
Card 1: Sentence 1
Card 2: Picture of sentence 1
Card 3: Sentence 2 (based on Picture 1)
Card 4: Picture of Sentence 2
The longer this goes on, the more the images and sentences evolve and the results are ALWAYS hilarious. That said, when you've only got three people, the game is quick and the photos don't really evolve, but I could see they understood how this very well could be the greatest discovery of their lives and I hope to hear in a few weeks that Running Pictionary has taken Japan by storm. Just think of all the anime-geeks who would jump on board!

So there it is: 2 days, 4 goals. Tomorrow I am off to Narita to pick up Richard and then the two of us are headed South to Mt. Fuji. I know he'll be upset that he wasn't a part of the used panties hunt (a great father/son bonding experience) but we've still got KFC Christmas, a robot restaurant, rollercoasters, Japanese Beatles impersonators, and a place called "Whoopi Goldburger" to look forward to!

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