Monday, November 3, 2014
I'm aware, as I write these blog posts, that although narcissism is the lifeblood of the internet, it's still a negative trait to possess and something we should all be internally conflicted about. A friend and fellow Asiadventurer - far more experienced than I - recently, and inadvertently, jabbed at my own internal conflict by saying, rather brilliantly: "Gaijins have smashed before you". He's right too. I'm by no means unique, I can't even speak the language properly, and I've only been here a month so I don't have any gleaming insight into Japan's social secrets or rituals. Mind you, if I spent the rest of my life here I doubt I'd ever get access to the deepest of them. They're kept locked away in the corner cabinet like your grandparent's brandy and the only way to see them for yourself is to stumble boldly into them and, most likely, get caught red handed in the process.
In that spirit today I'm writing about something that most people probably already know about and even those who didn't will probably just have assumed about; Tokyo's nightlife is a bit mad.
In good ways and bad ways.
Just over a month into my trip I had my first Asiaxistential dilemma. My favourite producer, Yasutaka Nakata, was DJing in Shibuya and I had the following day off. A perfect recipe for a stellar night out, right? Right. Except that my companion for the evening pulled out mere hours beforehand and as much as I was itching to hit some Tokyo clubs, I'm not ashamed to admit that the prospect of wandering Shibyua - one of Tokyo's major urban districts - alone, and very obviously foreign, was slightly daunting. I didn't fancy going to a nightclub alone; that seems to me like the domain of creepy pick-up artists, and Shibuya, the glistening neon jungle, initially enthralling, was now intimidating. But was I really going to sit at home in my pyjamas after coming all this way? I mean, fuck, I made it to Japan, right? Was I really about to eat donuts and cup noodle on a poxy fold out chair while one of the best musicians and producers in the world was tearing up a dancefloor less than 40 minutes away? Was I really about to give in to that fear? That fear that would have flung me from the plane and back into Dublin coffee houses less than a month ago? Was I really about to let that fear win?
Not on your life.
I had been talking to a guy via a language exchange website, we shared a mutual love for electronic music (he's also a producer) but we hadn't met. A couple of messages later we had arranged to fix that and meet at the club that night. I arrived pretty early though, so I had some time to do that wandering I was so afraid of before. My fears, while mostly unfounded, were not ENTIRELY without merit. I was approached by two, separate, individuals on two, separate, streets asking if I wanted, and I quote, "a handjob or blowjob from a LOCAL girl". I emphasize local only because they did, so I'm assuming its important. Not that I didn't appreciate their offers, but I could have done without them following me down Dogenzaka Hill trying to convince me, which to everyone else probably looked like I was negotiating, or worse, that we were on our way there.
Before you panic; No, I'm not going to recant my entire night. That's really all the specifics you're getting as instead, I'm going to compare two Shibyua nights off each other to try and clear up any misconceptions or pre-conceived notions about Tokyo's club scene. So stay with me. Or don't.
Firstly, clubs in Shibuya are superficially strange. I say superficially because, like everything else here, there's all kinds of justifications for the various quirks and oddities. Entry to most clubs costs between 2000 and 3000 yen (14-17 Euro), which seems extortionate to me and my tragically Irish sensibilities. This usually includes a drink token though, so assuming that most clubs in Dublin cost around 10 euro to get into and a rum and coke will cost between 5 and 7 euro, the difference is pretty moot. It's an interesting system, but it's far from the strangest. Did you know that dancing is illegal in Japan?
That's not a lie. Google it.
Apparently, a while back, the Japanese government, concerned by the growing club culture and the drug culture that usually follows closely on it's worn out heels, made dancing illegal. It's one of those laws that was made with the knowledge that there was absolutely no way to enforce it and instead serves to give the police carte blanche to search and shut down any club they suspect of being up to no good without having to go through any red tape court procedures. Do people dance in Japanese night clubs? You bet they do. As for the drugs, I don't know, that's not really my scene anyway and if it is prevalent here, I've yet to encounter it. It makes for good trivia though, you can think of me when you win that pub quiz.
What fascinated me most about Shibuya was not the flagrant disregard for dancing laws, not the perversely logical pricing schemes, but the sheer endless, infinite energy of the place. The lights don't switch off and nothing closes, so wandering around the crossing at 4.30 am is not really any different to wandering around at 8.30 in the evening. Tokyo runs on trains and the trains are one of the few things that do stop to rest, so if you're gearing up for a night out, you're gearing up to catch the first train back the following morning, which is usually at around 4.30/5 a.m. The strange thing, for me at least, is how organic that actually was. On my second night out, I left the club and drunkenly befriended a Japanese girl (who had lived in Kildare of all places) and her friends; Thor, the Toy Story alien and an American guy in a maid uniform (it was halloween). We were going to Karaoke. Or for Ramen. We couldn't decide. It didn't matter; everything was an option and that felt natural. Of course we could stagger out of a club and into a Karaoke room, when else would you ever feel truly comfortable belting out Michael Jackson tunes?
Shibuya was as alive at the end of the night as it was at the start. It felt strange; like time had stopped while we were inside and had only started moving again now that we had returned. Maybe I'd just blacked out in the interim. That's probably what happened.
But still, here I was, having spent my whole life introverted to the point of questioning my own existence, on the streets of Shibuya at 5 in the morning for the second time in less than a week, gazing dumbstruck into the lights and completely lost in the relentless buzz and rush of my surroundings. This place, this whole city, is electric, and I'm starting to think it's impossible to be here and not plug into that current. If it's not, I'm thankful that I have, and can only hope that no one plugs me out anytime soon.
As I walked home from the train station on both nights, the sun was rising and by the time I'd reached my door the dark had gone and the day had begun. Not for me, though. I went straight to bed. I fell asleep feeling adventurous, excited, content and connected. Connected to something bigger than me, connected, at least superficially, to another part of this culture.
We don't sleep. Sleep is for the weak.
Like this guy.