Japan current location12:13AM Seiki Ryokan.

I had both my watch alarm and the clock in the room set for 7:30am, and at the specified time, they each went off. The watch I could ignore, but the analog alarm clock apparently had a built-in snooze, and I couldn’t figure out how to completely turn it off. I gave up at 7:45 and got up to take a shower. I needed to write the log file from the day before, so I sat down, cracked open a can of coffee and went to work. I was going to stay in the room until 10, but I started to hear noises outside around 9:30. They were starting to clean the room, and naturally, they start on the 4th floor, where I my room was located. I decided it would be better to pack up and head downstairs, since there was already an internet connection anyway. Alex called while I was doing this, and we made plans to meet at Gojo Kawaramachi for lunch at noon.

I hauled all my stuff down and put it in the entryway. The otoosan and okaasan came out, and he noticed I was putting my things in the entryway. “Oh, wait, you have a room change, right?” he asked. I nodded, and he came over and pulled my bag back up onto the main floor. He put a little note on it that said “to 202” and then pushed it back against the public-use washing machine. That was nice, since the computer room was packed to the gills. He asked if I had an umbrella, since it was raining because of the typhoon, and I told him I did. I told them I was just going to use the internet for a moment, and he apologized for all the things in the room. Wasn’t a problem, although I did have to practically scale the mountain to get past it to the computer.

I knew they had a wireless network here; the computer had a very obvious USB network adapter. I booted their computer and found the network’s SSID, which they weren’t broadcasting. The interface was in Japanese, but I was able to determine what they were using – no encryption and no authentication. That’s not hard, I thought. I put the SSID into my wireless network configuration, then tried to connect. Nothing. After a few more attempts I realized they must be using MAC filtering, which sucked, since I wouldn’t be able to bypass that. However, one of the leech networks from upstairs which was flaky had a much better signal down there, and I was able to connect without issue, and it stayed that way. I sat on the bitty chair by the pile of luggage and finished, then posted the log from yesterday. It was pretty big, but the upload speed was tremendous, so it only took about 15 minutes. While I was doing this, a Spanish couple came in and I got to hear what it was like to communicate when you don’t speak the other person’s language, so you use a third party language that you do somewhat know (English). They had an okay time communicating, but it was rather whimsical because the girl had a thick Spanish accent, and the otoosan of course is Japanese. They managed to communicate fine though, so if you come to Ryokan Seiki and don’t speak Japanese, you’ll be fine.

I completed all my transactions, made a quick backup, then started to stuff my laptop into my suitcase, which I didn’t want anyone to see me doing. Nobody was around, but I hit the washing machine with my power adapter, and the otoosan came out. I guess them seeing me put it in there wasn’t a big deal, plus, considering how quickly he appeared after such a small noise, they really were paying attention out here. I wasn’t worried about it. He told me there was a slight room change, and he changed the last two to a three on the suitcase sign. I thanked him, tied my shoes (which you leave at the entrance every day) and walked outside.

The rain was coming down, so I pulled out my cheap travel umbrella. I’m sure I looked like a complete moron; it’s one of those ‘double-hinged’ umbrellas which compact really well but in practice are a pain in the butt, and I couldn’t get it flipped correctly. Each time I got some of the arms extended, several others would pop back up. After my ten minute exercise in humorous futility and frustration, I managed to get it opened and walked toward the station. I knew the typhoon was coming, I just didn’t know when it would really get bad. The latest projections showed it having completely passed Kyoto by midnight, so it would have to be moderately soon, I thought.

Time was short at this point, so I decided to ride the subway one stop to Gojo. I realized in the station that I still hadn’t called La Rochelle in Tokyo to make a reservation, and I didn’t have the phone number with me. Crap. I quickly typed out a text message to alex on the phone, but underground, there wasn’t any signal, which is actually atypical. I hurried myself to the Gojo exit from the station, and as soon as I saw daylight I sent the message then headed above ground. From here, it was still a long walk to Kawaramachi. A moment later, Alex called, confused, but after I explained it to him, he was able to text me the number. It was too early to call though.

Alex showed up at Gojo Kawaramachi a minute past noon, and we walked back in the direction we came to the yakiniku restaurant I’d passed on the way to meet him. Inside, we locked up our umbrellas (little key), then removed our shoes and put them in a locker (another key) and then were seated at a table with a small propane grill in the middle of it. He said he loved this place, and pointed out the lunch sets on the menu that included soup, kimchee, and even an ice cream dessert. We called the waiter over with the call button, then ordered one standard lunch set with just meat, and one lunch set that also contained shrimp, squid and scallops for me. The man told us that dessert today was “zerii” and Alex and I looked at one another, confused. The server tried to explain it to us, using various mimes which didn’t help us at all. He kept repeating the word, so I asked him, “is that written in katakana and hiragana?” as this would help me determine if it was a Japanese word or something else. He told me katakana, which meant it was a foreign word. Ah hah. The server walked off, and I pulled out my translation computer. ‘ZE-RI-I I’ typed in. I found the word and switched screens to see the translation. “It’s jelly,” I told Alex. Just then, the server came back over with three glistening scoops a grey-purple goo. We then all understood one another, but Alex wasn’t too keen.

“Is it any good?” he asked the waiter, in Japanese. The waiter paused for a moment, and cocked his head slightly.
“….you should probably just try it and see,” he said. Alex and I laughed since this probably meant it wasn’t. There wasn’t another choice though, so we said it was fine. Shortly thereafter, they delivered our food, which contained the raw meats, some fresh cabbage with a light sauce, a soup, a small plate of kimchee, a spicy Korean vegetable dish, and a tiny plate of green crystals with sesame seeds. Alex immediately went to work cooking his food on the grill, which they’d turned on earlier. I followed his example, pouring sauce from the table on my meat, then putting it on the searing grill. I asked him what the green substance was, and he told me it was green tea salt, which had a strong flavor and you dipped your meat into right before eating. It was really tasty. A girl came over to say hello, in thickly-accented English. She was apparently one of his students at his old job, and as he waved at her, she high-fived him. He didn’t know why she did that.

We talked for a while and cooked all our food. Occasionally we’d both get confused as to whose meat was whose, and a piece would burn to death because each of us was waiting for the other to take it. In a tabehoodai (all you can eat) place, such as the Sapporo Brewery, it’s not important whose is whose, since you just get more. Since this was limited in quantity, I didn’t want to take any of his. We finished the meal, but as he had places he wanted to take me, we chose to ignore dessert and just go up front to pay. I gave him cash and he paid for both of us, since he has a point card and wanted to fill it up. Customer loyalty things are very common here.

I went to use the toilet and got a real giggle out of the toilet slippers. Since this was a shoes-off restaurant, they have little slippers to use when walking around the bathroom to keep your socks away from the floor. The slippers aren’t normally funny, but these made me laugh. I walked back out into the entrance and put my shoes back on. The same girl from earlier was talking to Alex to say goodbye, and told him (using her English) that she was going to New Zealand soon to work little odd jobs for a year and study English. He said that would be good as no one in New Zealand was going to speak Japanese to her. She waved good bye, and we walked outside after retrieving our umbrellas from their fortress.

Outside, Alex said he wanted to take me to a place near Nijo-jo that was special, and that I hadn’t seen before. However, when we looked it up in the guide book, this wasn’t going to happen; not only was it typically reservation-required, it was also closed on Wednesdays. Shucks. Well, he said, let’s go to Kenninji, which was a shrine I hadn’t been to before. He also asked if I wanted to see where the geisha lived, and of course I was game. We walked across the river east, and turned northward a block later. This street, he told me, as you go farther up, starts to look like old Japan. Along it were dozens of places where real geisha lived, and you’d see them walking around a lot. This wasn’t where they worked, per se, this is just where they lived. Indeed, just as he said that, a woman in an elaborate wig and a kimono came walking down the street. Another woman in a kimono walked by her and they said hello to one another. Having never seen but one maiko, an apprentice geisha, in all of my travels in Japan, this was a real treat. As we walked, we saw a few more maiko (most likely, due to their age) wandering around in really elaborate dress. The street really did look like old Japan, with the way the houses were laid out and appeared. However, it was also blatantly obvious that it was not; there were vending machines everywhere, and even a computer software shop along the road. A cute yellow lab was taking a siesta on a stoop, and I stopped and gave him a little belly rub.

We turned a corner, and I was able to snap a picture of a good example of how you can get anything in a vending machine – two of them contained nothing but porn, easily obtainable, and at your convenience. We headed northward again, and turned right onto Shijo Dori, which is another shopping area, but mostly souvenir oriented. At a corner, Alex pointed out the corner of Gion, which is the area where you are most likely to see Geisha at night. We turned right again, and passed through the 800 year old gate to Kenninji.

Inside we took off our shoes and placed them in the rack, then paid 500 yen each to be able to walk around the temple. I asked the woman if I could take non-flash pictures and she said that was fine. It is a very serene area, and this is apparently one of the oldest working shrines in Japan, having been founded in 1202. We wandered around the grounds, and I took a number of pictures of the shoji screens that walled the rooms. There was a beautiful rock garden as well, and I really was enjoying the natural appeal of it. In one area, we had to put on little red slippers to walk to the main attraction of the shrine. They also make you walk through a little electronic gate, the usage instructions of which are only visible to people that have paid. Plus, if you don’t have on the red slippers, there are cameras, and they’ll notice. Sneaky. We approached the main building here, and Alex told me this was really the coolest part.

He was right. The entire ceiling of this huge room was decorated with a massive painting of two dragons fighting. It was absolutely gorgeous. I put all my stuff down, then used the tripod to catch many different images of the painting, which I’ll stitch together later. Alex laid down on the ground to look at it, which many people do. After I took a bunch of pictures, I followed suit to take it all in personally, and not through an LCD screen. A few minutes later, we got out the guide book to try and decide where to go next. We decided on the National Museum, which I hadn’t been to before. Since it was getting close to three, and the museum closed at four, we planned to take a cab. We exited the temple room, retraced our steps to the entrance and retrieved our shoes. As we walked to the south exit of the grounds, I commented to Alex that I felt like I was missing something, but it must just be because I wasn’t wearing my jacket nor carrying my umbrella anymore.

As we exited the temple, we saw a little one-person museum with a really humorous sign in English. Nearby, we caught a taxi and since neither one of us knew how to say “National Museum” in Japanese, asked him to take us to the temple which was across the street. A short five minute drive later, he deposited us right in front of the ticket window for the temple. We thanked and paid him, then waited for him to drive off before walking right back out of the entrance towards the museum, which is across the street. As we did so, I slapped myself all over and realized, to my horror, that something was amiss.

“Shit, where’s my CAMERA???” I said, terrified.
“It’s right there,” Alex told me and pointed at my tripod, which for a moment made me feel better. I was carrying it in my hand, and attached to the top was the new camera I’d just bought in Misawa. Phew.

Wait.

“No where’s my camera BAG?” I said, realizing the familiar strap across my chest was in fact not there, and I was certain I’d not put it anywhere else. It was the same feeing I get riding in a car and having not put on my seatbelt yet.
“Isn’t it in your backpack?” he asked. I checked, but knew the answer beforehand.
“It’s not in here. Shit, shit, shit.” I thought about it and commented that there really wasn’t anything in there I couldn’t live without, but it was a real pain. Basically it was just a bag, four AA rechargeables, and a 256 MB compact flash card. The only one that was really annoying was the memory card, as it’s not expensive, but it’s not cheap either. Argh. We talked about it some, and decided it had to be either a) at the shrine or b) in the taxi, which was a real pain if it was. I thought harder and decided it was more likely to be in the shrine. If we had time, we’d go back there and check. Right now, we were at the museum, so we might as well check it out. We paid the entrance fee, and I kept trying really hard to shake that awful feeling of having lost something.

There’s a big building to the right, which is all special exhibitions, and wasn’t open today. However, up to the left was “the cool stuff”, as Alex put it. We entered the gallery, and I saw a sign saying “No photography” and nodded to myself. As I passed the info booth, the woman sitting there noticed my tripod, as I didn’t have a bag to put the camera into, and told me in English that photograph wasn’t allowed. I replied that I understood in Japanese. We walked into the gallery, and I tried to pay attention to all the Japanese history artifacts, but the sinking awful feeling kept getting the better of me. It also occurred to me that, ironically enough, I’d reminded myself THAT MORNING of how to say “I’ve lost something” in Japanese and then told myself I wouldn’t need it. Naturally.

We went upstairs and saw all manner of shoji screens, kimono, boxes, and cooler still, big statues of Kannon and Buddha. Many of these huge items were made entirely out of wood, and we debated whether they were made out of one tree or several. Alex wanted to show me this cool samurai armor, but after asking a guide, realized he must have seen it somewhere else. “Sorry about that,” he told me, but it wasn’t a big deal at all.

We left there and decided to walk back to the shrine to see if we could locate the bag. I decided if it was in a cab, we’d probably never find it. Not because they wouldn’t save it for me, but because finding the right cab in the right company was a real chore, and probably wouldn’t be worth it. It took us about fifteen minutes or so to walk back, and as we passed the big room, I jumped trying to look inside of the big building at the temple to see it, but couldn’t. “Now I get to see how good your Japanese is,” said Alex, as we walked into the ticket room. I pulled off my shoes.

“Excuse me, but, we were in here just recently and – “ I stopped. Sitting right there on the counter was my camera bag! Yay! “Ah!” I said. “That’s my camera bag!” She handed it to me, and I thanked her. “Sorry,” I told Alex, “you didn’t get to see my Japanese ability.” He said it was fine – I got my bag back, and we didn’t have to worry about it anymore. :) Ah the wonders of Japan – if you lose something, it’s almost always possible to get it back, and with everything intact.

Next, we decided to walk north back to Gion and check out the area. We passed the same corner at which Alex had pointed out the geisha area, and dashed across the street. About a block up, Alex stopped and said this was basically the center of Gion, and the absolute best position to be at, at nighttime, to see many geisha running around, catering to clients. He pointed out an alley where he once saw a geisha walk a client from the bar to the street, put him in a cab, and then wave goodbye as the cab drove away. It’s common practice for them to wait until the client is gone before leaving. As she turned, though, Alex as there and took a very fast, non-stealthy picture of her, which most certainly she would be mad about. He got lucky, though, and managed to snap it just before a man walked into the sightline.

We walked a little down the road, and he pointed at a restaurant across the street with a big plastic sumo statue on it. He just thought the sumo was cool, but I knew it was much cooler. I told him that they served ‘chanko nabe’, and asked if he’d had any before. “I’ve had nabe, but never chanko nabe,” he told me I explained that chanko nabe was the meal of sumo, and was a big pot in which they cooked various types of seafood, vegetables, meat, and udon (big, thick noodles). Usually, a sumo will eat one of these alone, but I’ve had it once in my life, and shared it with two other people easily. It was fabulously decadent, said I really wanted to eat it again someday, and insisted that he try it sometime.

“It’s rather expensive though,” I said. “It’s on the order of 4000 yen a person. But totally worth it.”

Alex pointed out bar after bar; the place was littered with them. We took a left down a long, old-style Japanese road which was contradicted by the very modern building at the end. It’s such an amazing contrast really. We stopped in to a convenience store as we were both thirsty, and Alex insisted I try a type of tea which isn’t as bitter as most. “If you don’t like it, I’ll pay for it,” he told me. I liked it. It was a little sweet, but not overly so. I poured what little change I had left into his hand, as the only bill I had left was a 10,000 yen bill, and with only that, a 150 yen purchase seemed excessive. As we rounded another corner, he told me that the area we were walking through was really pretty during hanami, as it was lined with sakura. Sure enough he was right, and it was actually very interesting to see as two women in kimono were sweeping the sidewalk with little straw brooms. I’m not used to seeing so many kimono; these days they’re usually only worn on special occasions, and even then many of the younger people only wear western clothes.

At this point, it was still early, and we were clueless as to what to do for the rest of the night. Alex needed to drop by an ATM, and since we were close to the big Teramachi shopping area on Shijo Dori, we headed in that direction. He pointed out several “cool” guys who were standing around in trendy suits and talking on cell phones. He said they were “hosts” – the opposite of hostesses that work in hostess bars. They were guys who would, for a fee, take a woman to a club, pour her drinks and talk with her. The same as most hostess clubs, they’re not really prostitutes, per se, but if paid more then they might choose to sell sex as well. This is more likely in a hostess club I think, I really can’t say how it is with hosts, as the sexes are reversed. Alex explained that they’re always talking on phones and always have bleached and dyed hair. “Have to be as cool as possible,” he said.

We continued on to the ATM which was just a block down on Shijo Dori. Alex pulled out some cash, then we continued on to the Teramachi arcade, where we turned right. I realized I was running low on cash as well, and no doubt would have to change some money tomorrow morning at the post office. I couldn’t believe I’d spent 10,000 yen in 24 hours, but I bought some gifts and things yesterday with cash, so that explained it. I told Alex I was taking him to Animate, since it was really cool, and he hadn’t been there before. We stopped briefly at the Interactive Media Café, and figured out how one could use it. We briefly considered going in, but it cost money, and we really didn’t need to.

I pointed out the big, blue Animate sign, and we took the staircase to the store upstairs. It was packed with people! Animate is a store that sells only manga (comic books) and anime (Japanese animation) goods, and, for a anime geek like myself, is nirvana. However, as we looked around, I realized I really didn’t recognize very much of the stuff. There was lots of One Piece paraphernalia, but I’ve never seen the show. Very little of what was there was from things I knew, so I guess that was a blessing. I usually drop a load of cash off at every one of those places. I did find a thing or two I liked though! I could find very little Azumanga Daioh and Chobits stuff, which the two are my favorite anime at the moment. I was kind of sad about that. Alex really liked the store, and said his girlfriend is really into manga. She would probably really like the place, too.

We checked out, and I took Alex next door to the doujinshi book store. Doujinshi is sex manga, and this place was loaded with it. Molly and I made the mistake of stopping in there last time, and she about flipped, which is completely understandable. The stuff they sell is really nasty, and believe me, neither Alex nor I had any interest other than shock value. Half of the store is the gross stuff, but some of it is actually normal anime things. They had some Chobits and Love Hina stuff (that was normal), so I bought some little figurines. They actually had some Macross ones, but these were “unknown collectors’ items” that is, it could be any one of 5 different things, and most of those were from Macross 7 and Macross Zero, which I don’t like. If you didn’t know, the reason I sign everything “Hikaru” is that it’s the name of a character from the original Macross series, Hikaru Ichijo. That’s my favorite all time anime, which I’ve watched since I was in 7th grade, and I’ve used that as a handle for every form of electronic communication and game since that time. After I paid for the things I bought, we took one last glance at disgusting book covers, and Alex said, “Ok, well I’m desensitized now.” We walked into the hallway where Alex took his cold medicine, then we left back out into the arcade.

We walked back out to the main street, and it had started to rain again. It still wasn’t hard, though, and I really wondered about when the typhoon was really going to hit. We located an game arcade, and right out front was the big taiko (drum) game I hadn’t played before. “Come on, let’s try it,” he said, and we put our stuff down and put in 100 yen each. It’s another of the many rhythm games, which I love, and in this case you have to follow the circles on screen and have to hit lightly, hard, on the rim, on the rim hard, do drum rolls, etc. We played at first an easy game, then a slightly harder one, and I did really well for my first time. “Wow, that’s really good,” he told me, “Especially for your first time.” Of course, I told him, rhythm games are my cup of tea! We played a much, much harder level for the second game, and I didn’t do as well. Alex did okay though and we managed to stay alive to play another song. The little animated drums on the screen were having a conversation.

“Ah, I did badly,” Blue Drum says, dejectedly.
“It’s all right, we’re going to get to do another one!” Red Drum says to Blue Drum.
“Really?” Blue Drum asks, excitedly.
“Yes, really!” Red Drum confirms.
“Ah, you’ve saved me!” exclaims Blue Drum, who smiles and the next game commences.

The last level was exceedingly difficult, but Alex did okay, and I managed to stay alive. At the end, both of our arms were tired and we were breathing quickly. Man, that was fun! As we walked down the street, rubbing our arms, he pointed out JJ’s, an arcade which charges by 15 minute period, so you don’t need to pay for each game. It had not only video games, but bowling, batting cages, weights, squash courts, basketball courts, you name it. You bought a little membership card, and as you walked in, they’d take it and start timing. Each fifteen minutes was like 400 yen, I think, and this was *the* way to play games. We’d go there tomorrow with Mizue. He said they even had Samba de Amigo and DDR, when I asked about it, and I was super-excited. “I’m the Samba Fuckin’ Master,” I said, imitating Samuel L. Jackson. I really couldn’t wait to go.

We walked back over to Kiyomichi (I think), which is the big street with all the bars just as the sun was finally beginning to set. He asked if I liked fish and chips, which I do, and then led me to The Hub, an English pub on a side street. It’s very popular with foreigners, much like the Pig and Whistle Pub is, which is across the river. We stopped inside and ordered one fish and chips. She gave us two glasses of water, and as we were looking for a table with our little order flag, I noticed the electronic dart board. We took the table closest to it so we could play a game. I put in 200 yen for a game of cricket, as it took two credits to play, but then realized it was 200 yen *per person*! Screw that. We played a one-player game of cricket where we just took turns throwing the crappy plastic house darts. After a while of throwing, I got used to the darts, and my precision was back. I could cluster my darts pretty close together. Accuracy, on the other hand, was not, and the clusters were all over the board. It was fine, we weren’t in any rush to end the game anyway. The food arrived, and it was a really good basket of fish and chips, which we covered in malt vinegar. Yum yum yum. I noticed up on the bar that they had the Dita Lychee Liqueur that Molly and I liked so much. I told him we couldn’t find that in the States, anywhere, and it was really rather sad since it was so tasty.

We sat for a while, and Alex explained that during the World Cup, they opened up really early and put the soccer matches on the big projection screen. Dozens of Japanese and foreigners would come here at all hours to watch and drink. They also showed Japanese baseball (they were showing a dart tournament currently) and Alex got up to ask if they were going to show the American World Series at all. The woman at the bar didn’t know and called the manager down, who came to our table. She was holding a schedule, and said that they wouldn’t be able to show it. Alex asked if they ever showed American baseball, and tried to ask if she knew anywhere that did. The woman said no, and she didn’t know of anywhere. Alex asked how his Japanese was, and I told him it was fine. :)

We left there and it was now dark, but it wasn’t raining. He had suggested we go get some fireworks from a convenience store (they sell them year round) and set them off near the river as many kids do, usually in the summer. On the way to a conveni, we dropped into a liquor store to marvel at the prices. Liquor is CHEAP here, and they even sell it at drug stores and convenience stores! Russian vodka in particular, as we’re so close to Russia, is terribly cheap, although this place was a little on the pricey side. The Dita I like was there, and was expensive too, at 2350 yen. I’m considering bringing a bottle back with me, but I can’t remember what the alcohol limit is for customs. I located Suntory Hibiki, and yes, it is expensive. It’s an 80 dollar bottle of whiskey! It’s damn good, but I don’t know that I can justify 80 bucks for one bottle of alcohol. As we rounded a corner near the river, a strong wind whipped up and blew us around. We stared at the trees which were bending in the wind and realized: this was the typhoon.

“Probably not a good idea,” we both said out loud regarding the fireworks. He then decided to take me to his favorite “Rock Bar”, called Ing. It’s run by a Japanese man who loved American rock, and when the Stones came to play in Japan, he’d close his bar for a while and put a sign on the door, “Sorry, we’re at the Stones. We’d all like it if you could join us, but right now the bar is closed.” We located the building, which was about 9 stories and packed to the gills with nothing but bars. It really was incredible – he pointed out that there were probably more bars in this little building than on all of Sixth Street in Austin. We rode the elevator to the fourth floor and walked to the end of the hallway. A big sign “Ing” was to the left of a nondescript door. If Alex hadn’t led me there, I wouldn’t have even known this was somewhere you could get into, much less that it was a bar. He opened the door and we walked in.

Man, this place is small.

This was the first thought that entered my mind. The entire bar, including the back and the bathroom could have fit in my living room. Easily. Two Japanese waitstaff were working, and two foreigners were sitting at the bar. The server led us to a table in the back of the room, where we took a seat. We looked down the menus, which are printed on the insides of rock album covers. I ordered a lychee grapefruit drink, and Alex ordered a bottle of Sapporo to share, as he was feeling better. We also ordered fried oysters and some fried squid, which I think is fantastic anywhere. Alex asked about the “Pleasant Garlic Garden” or something like that, and the waiter said it was an entire garlic bulb, deep fried, and was very good. We stuck with what we’d ordered. A few moments later, the food arrived, as did the drinks. The lychee drink was just wonderful, although Alex wasn’t too keen on it because of the grapefruit juice. I tried one of the oysters, which were tasty, and he tried my squid. He’s not big on squid, either. I thought it was delicious though, and goes very well with alcohol.

We sat for a long time, and finally got up to try somewhere else. As we stood ready to pay, the woman noticed my t-shirt, and laughed and pointed. “It’s an emergency exit sign!” she said. The server also saw it and smiled and nodded. “it’s very cute,” they told me.
The foreigner guy to the left of us looked up and said, “oh man, that’s a great shirt. That’s just like all the silly shirts they all wear.” We had a conversation about it, the four of us, and I’d repeat everything I said in English back in Japanese. We talked about funny shirts, tattoos on people who screwed them up, and other things. I explained about how Kel’s ex, George, had his previous girlfriend’s name tattooed on him in katakana, but one of the characters was turned sideways on accident. I didn’t know how to say this in Japanese, though, and did my best to explain it to the people. The gaijin to the left of me explained for me, in words I didn’t know but was looking for, in Japanese to the two, who nodded and laughed. We both thanked them, said bye to everyone, then walked out the door. Alex had trouble opening it, and says he can never remember which side the door opens on.

At the elevator I told Alex that that guy’s Japanese was better than mine, and I was envious. “Of course, if I lived here for a while, it would be that good, too,” I said. The doors opened, and a food delivery guy stepped out. He looked confused and then realized it was the wrong floor. He got back on, and we went up another two floors. I noticed that he was all wet, and I asked him if it was raining, to which he responded, “taihen furimasu yo” – it’s raining really hard. Oh great. It wasn’t until that point that I realized Alex was taking me *up*; he said he was taking me to a really good and free view on the roof. We exited on the 9th floor, then took a set of stairs up to the top, which was really easy to get on to. As we walked out, we both pulled out our umbrellas. It was raining pretty hard, and being this high, the wind was terrible. We squeezed our way around the various machines and fences trying to see different places from that vantage point. There was no way, holding my umbrella and trying to keep it from flying away, that I was getting out the tripod, so I did the best I could to take steady pictures. You could see Kiyomizudera from up here, which was kinda cool.

We walked back down to the 9th floor and waited for the lift. Two bars were to the right of us, quite obviously hostess clubs from the names. I noted that the building itself doesn’t look like it houses bars. Apartments, perhaps, maybe small offices, but not bars. We rode the elevator down to the first floor and reopened our umbrellas as we walked into the night. Alex said he was next taking me to a blues bar, which he also frequented. We walked past several not-so-reputable establishments with names like “Pink Office” which he said were usually owned by yakuza. Hence, the police always look the other way, even though prostitution is illegal. We found the building, which looked a bit run-down, and waited for the elevator. I tried to get a picture of the wind, but it had died down. Alex called my name and I realized someone was trying to get past. “Sumimasen,” I said as I let him by.

“’Excuse me’ will do!” the foreigner said, jovially. I laughed.

We went to the 4th floor and took a staircase to the fifth. No good. The place was closed. A sign on the door I didn’t entirely understand, but it was easy enough to read by the calendar with little Xes on it that today and tomorrow were holidays. Alex was somewhat upset, as now two of the places he wanted to take me today were closed.

“Well, now what,” he said, as we stood on the first floor and looked out into the rain. We walked a little, and Alex decided to try and find Club Afrika, which was theoretically Africa-themed. In the rain, we wandered up and down alleys trying to find it. As we walked down one, a barker actually invited us into a “pink” club, which was a real rarity. We shook our heads and walked on. Alex finally located it and we walked inside. “Wow, it’s completely dead,” he noted. There was almost no one in there. The entire population contained 50% or more employees. And that number was only two.

We took a table off to the side, and Alex ordered a Jack and Coke, while I had another lychee liqueur. The girl was speaking English, but I had responded in Japanese. Alex thought she probably was trying her English out, so when she came back to ask if I wanted it with soda or on the rocks, I responded in English. She seemed pleased. The drinks arrived a little while later, and I definitely like the lychee stuff. We talked about computers and video games, plus various other Internet related subjects for a while. About 9, I asked Alex if he was tired, and he seemed relieved that I’d asked. “I’m about to crash,” he said. I told him to go ahead and go home, I’d go find some food and figure out something to do. I mentioned I might go back to that arcade and play some more games. He suggested that I go to JJs since it was by the hour and was a lot easier to do.

We had already paid when we got the drinks, so we just left and walked back to the covered walkways a half block away. The people had thinned remarkably, half because it was late and half because of the rain. We walked little in one direction, but Alex realized it wasn’t the right one. We turned around, and just a block down, was JJ’s. He said he’d text me tomorrow with plans, and that he got off work at 6:30. We assumed around 7 or so we’d get together. He took off, and I headed into the arcade.

I knew I needed to get a membership card, so I walked to the first desk I saw and asked. The man ran out from behind the counter and pointed me further inside. Up ahead, there were a number of computer terminals with touch screens that I assumed were how you got the membership card, so I approached one and took a gander. Ah, press here to start, that was easy. Then a license or acceptable use agreement, that was obvious too, as you had to scroll to the bottom to activate the next button. Next came a name screen, that made sense as well, and I typed my name, in katakana. The next was some sort of number, and I really didn’t know what it meant. I thought perhaps it was a phone number, as there was a picture of a cell phone as well. No idea. I hit next again, and was presented with yet another screen I didn’t recognize the kanji of. Rats. I canceled out of the dialog and walked to the nearest desk that was attended. I told the girl I didn’t have a member card, and she directed me back to the computer station, and started me back down the same path I’d been on. Of course, at this point she took off, and I was right back where I started. Luckily, a different girl was walking down the row, returning all the screens to the “Touch here to start” screen. I asked her for help. On the screen she said it was an address, and asked me where I was living. I told her I was a tourist, and didn’t have a permanent address; I was staying at the Ryokan Seiki. “Ah, sighto-seeingu desu ka?” she asked. She had me follow her back to the desk, where I filled out a little form, entirely in English, with my name and country of origin. She explained that I’d get a temporary card, and with that I could play like everyone else. Cool. She made one up, then put it in a little badge holder with a strap, and I put it around my neck. I was in. I took the first staircase up, passing what looked like a shamisen (Japanese “guitar”) rhythm game.

I walked into the most glorious thing I’d ever seen in an arcade. A Samba de Amigo machine, behind which was not one, but three DDR machines. Suh-weet. All of the games in here are on free play, and you just push start. I dropped my bag close to a DDR 4th Mix machine, pressed start, and selected Drop Out, one of my favorite songs. I was ata disadvantage in several ways – one, I was tired, two I wasn’t wearing the right shoes, and three, apparently the pads are not very sensitive at all, which is a great contrast to my pad at home. I really had to stomp. I got used to it, but the big clompy shoes were more of the problem in this case. I missed a lot of steps on songs I definitely nearly know by heart. I played two games, then, panting, walked over to Samba de Amigo. I played two games in a row on hard, and it’s good to know that on that game, even when I haven’t played in a while, I still am - and I say this with no trace of a swelled head whatsoever - The Shit. I remembered something I had read once, which is that if you shake the left controller up fifteen times at the difficulty screen, it will choose super-hard mode, which I’d never tried. I attempted it and it worked. Super Hard Mode appeared on the screen. I need this, cause well, as I’ve said, I am The Shit when it comes to Samba de Amigo. When I first started playing, I was mad, I thought, ‘this isn’t any harder’. Of course I spoke too soon.

The way Samba is played is that there are six rings placed in a hexagonal pattern around a center point. You have two maracas, yes maracas, that you have to shake in the right position at the right time. Little blue balls slide out from the center point and head for the little rings. When a ball crosses a ring, you have to shake in that ring. Sometimes it’s one at a time, sometimes it’s both hands shaking in different rings. If you’re good, you shake both maracas in the same ring at the same time for each single ball. Also, occasionally, they do a pose, where you have to put the maracas in a certain position as designated on screen and hold them there. The reason I’m good at this game is that I have the home version, which originally worked well. However, the maracas wear out, and eventually are painfully and frustratingly inaccurate. The arcade version, however, doesn’t have this problem, although the maracas are heavier.

The balls began to increase in number, and eventually my hands were flying all over creation. I half expected a crowd of people, like Molly and I had in Kyoto before, but nobody seemed interested. They were doing triple beats, which I’d never seen before, and had a hard time keeping up with. I still never managed any worse than a C rating, which in my opinion is darn good for never having played that level before! My arms were about to fall off after this, so I went back to DDR for another game. This time I did a little better. My feet were moving better, and I now knew to stomp a little harder. I’d still like my better shoes. Again, I wondered if anyone would check out the gaijin who was decent at DDR, but alas, nobody was interested. They must see it a lot. I finished the game, and was pretty tired, but wasn’t ready to leave yet. I walked back to the corner, where they had the little dog walking game Molly played here two years ago. I’d imagine it’s likely the exact same game we played back then, as is the Samba machine! You walk on a treadmill, and drag around by a leash a breed of dog you select. One guess as to which breed I picked. My pug was pretty obedient, and I did really well on the A Course, finishing with only one mishap. At one point you become the dog, and have to sprint to catch a cat. And I mean SPRINT. I was going to DIIIIEEEEE which is one reason why I had that mishap (the pug got in the way of a guy on a bike and he crashed). When I got off, I was dripping in sweat, and could barely stand. Wow. I looked at my stopwatch, which I’d started right when I got the ticket. I still had about 5 minutes to make it an even 45, so I pressed start at the samurai game. This one has a little sword controller, which allows you to control the sword on the screen. Lots of guys come to kill you, and you stomp on a pedal to jump forward and then swing the sword (literally!) to slash back. It’s pretty neat but I didn’t understand how to block. This made trying to fight several people at once difficult, since you can’t just attack all the time. I killed about 10 people before I was slashed down, in the prime of my Samurai youth. It was really fine, actually, because I had only about 2 minutes before I was in my next 15 minute period. As I headed to the stairs, I stopped to grab a video of the newest Konami rhythm game, which is like DDR, but you use your hands and wave them in the air in front of you, like doing some weird 80’s dance. I snatched up my bag and raced down the stairs as fast as my fatigued legs could carry me.

I handed my tag to them, and they charged me a mere 420 yen for all that time! That’s less than 10 yen a minute, a real bargain. I’ve had domestic phone calls that have cost more than that. I got a good workout, and plenty of joy all around. If I lived here, I wouldn’t need a gym, that’s for sure! I walked out into the night around 10PM, and it was pretty deserted, for the most part. The raid had stopped, and I knew that was pretty much it for the typhoon. Man, what a joke! I really didn’t feel like walking all the way down to the station, so I decided to blow the 200 yen for the subway. Unfortunately, the subway entrance was about 10 New York blocks west of where I was, so theoretically a bus would have been more convenient. However, not having a bus map, I had no idea where to catch it, nor when it would arrive. I remember now, as I’m writing this – it would have been in front of the Hankyu Department Store – but it doesn’t really help me now. I walked for what seemed like forever, and finally located the entrance to the subway. About halfway, I slapped my forehead. I STILL didn’t make a reservation at La Rochelle, I need to hurry the hell up and do that. I took the stairs down, got a ticket, and rode two stops to the Kyoto Station. This was perfect; it dropped me off right where I got on this morning, which is right at the underpass under the station. I was at Seiki Ryokan in under 10 minutes, after stopping off for a chicken rice ball and katsu sandwich at the Family Mart. When I got back to my room, my bag was already inside. I was a little closer to the leech network this time, so I was able to keep a connection a little longer and could talk to a few people on AIM. I watched XMen 2 on the Starz Channel, then at 1AM, having goofed off again watching a movie (damn you TV!) I went to sleep, again setting my alarm for 7:30, and wondering where the hell I was going to sleep tomorrow night.

-- Hikaru