Japan current location[Continued from Shijo Kawaramachi, September 30th, 8:35PM. I’ve just arrived to meet Alex and his girlfriend Mizue.]

I was introduced to Mizue, who’s really cute and speaks very good English. After some short conversation, they said we should go, and then led me down the alleyway to the left of the Mizuho ATM corner right at Shijo Kawaramachi and Shijo Dori, which is catty corner from the Hankyu Department Store. I wasn’t sure where we were going, so I just basically followed. The alleyway led left, then right again, and a few moments later, Alex stopped.

“Okay, you have your choice. To the left is The Lockup, and to the right is Arabian Rock,” he said. The Lockup I couldn’t really see, it was just a sign; the entrance is in the basement. The Arabian Rock place is right out in front, and is really extravagantly done up. Alex hadn’t really seen this place before, so he didn’t know anything about it. As we stood however, two girls walked to the front door. A lamp sits in an alcove to the right of the door, and they couldn’t figure out how to get in. A moment later they realized – you have to rub the lamp. The girl touched her hand to the mystical object, and the big stone-looking door to the left slid open. Open sesame! This peaked my curiosity. We looked at the menu briefly, then Alex told me about The Lockup.

“You eat in a jail cell, and if it’s your first time, they lead you there in handcuffs.” He’d never eaten there, but he’d heard about it. I was totally torn. That sounded cool, but the Arabian place, which was playing themes from Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast outside, also seemed neat. “The entrance [to The Lockup] is on B1, so why don’t we look at the Entrance,” he said. This seemed like a good idea.

We took the stairs down to the first floor, and a weirdo mannequin was chained inside a small cage. Okay, interesting. Beyond that, we passed through a black curtain, and almost instantly, Mizue, who was walking in front of me yelped. A moment later, I realized why; the floor had been replaced with about three inches of soft foam rubber, and you immediately lose your footing. Alex and laughed, but Mizue, who was wearing heels, wasn’t a big fan, and you could tell she wasn’t liking the near total darkness. It ended abruptly, and we rounded a corner.

PSHHHHHHFFFTTTT BANG!!!

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a creature leapt from inside what looked like a trashcan in a loud noise and large deal of smoke. All three of us screamed, as none of us were expecting it. Mizue apparently is not good with scary things.

“KOWAI KOWAI KOWAI KOWAI!!!!” she screamed (scary, a number of times), and I half expected her to bolt. She got behind Alex and put her hands on his shoulders. Alex and were laughing uncontrollably at this point, and we rounded another corner. In front of us was a guillotine, which had a smallish hole in the middle.

“Attention! In order to enter, you must put your right hand in the guillotine!” a forceful woman’s voice said, over a loudspeaker. At first, none of us understood this, and then Mizue translated. Alex and I looked at one another, then at the big blade hovering over the hole, which looked rather menacing, to say the least. And on top of that, we were all adrenaline-laden and jumpy (thanks to Trash Can Monster), so none of us wanted to take the chance that maybe, just maybe, this thing was not just a gimmick.

“I’m not putting my hand in there!” yelled Alex.
“Well, I’m not either!” I yelled back. The announcement came back one more time, and was a lot more forceful.
“You have to put your right hand in there!” shouted Mizue. She wasn’t exactly volunteering either, considering she was still cowering behind Alex.
“Let Alex do it, he’s left handed, he’s got nothing to lose,” I suggested. Finally I just closed my eyes and stuck my hand in the hole, expecting something to latch on to me, an unfortunate event occurring, and from that point forward having to figure out how to use chopsticks on the alternate side. The blade didn’t move, my hand remained attached, and the door behind us swung open.

Inside of me, and I’m assuming this is true of every guy, there’s a little fourteen-year-old hiding that likes to do silly things, like spitting off high places and makes us want to blow things up. This is also the same kid who causes us to act like blithering idiots around pretty girls, as the pubescent hormones come back to nab hold of our better judgment. Behind that door was my fourteen-year-old’s ultimate dream. A gorgeous Japanese girl stood there, dressed in what was mostly a policeman’s uniform – a policeman’s uniform with a patent leather miniskirt, half-gloves, fishnet stockings, and stiletto heels, that is. It only took a moment to reel my tongue back into my mouth, and use both my hands to jack my jaw to its original position from the floor. However, putting the eyes back in m y sockets was the a little more difficult. Regaining my composure was not an option.

She forcefully welcomed us to The Lockup, addressing us in the guise of a strict jail warden. Thumpa-thumpa, went my heart, but the rest of me had checked out of usefulness. She asked if this was the first time for any of us, and of course it was. “Ah, in that case, I’m afraid we’re going to have to cuff you before taking you to your cell. Who is going to be cuffed!?!” she questioned, commandingly. My voice had somehow become a squeaky dog toy, and so Mizue and Alex both pointed at me and called my name.

“Hai, stick out your hand!” she ordered. I somehow managed to command my arm to raise, and she whipped a silver handcuff around it, clicking it into locked position. She then turned, and dragging the cuff chain behind her, led us down the hall. Being cuffed to a blisteringly hot Japanese girl in the sexiest outfit I’ve ever seen, and being dragged to somewhere I didn’t know… I think the kid was lying there, eyes all spiraling, and tweety birds flying around his head. If this was an anime, I’d have had a nosebleed.

“This is your cell, inmates!” she barked (effectively, I really have difficulty remembering anything specific at this point). “Get inside!” She sadly unlocked the cuff, and all three of us stepped inside, taking a seat at the little table, which was surrounded by stone walls and iron bars embedded within them. They weren’t really stone walls, but they were convincingly painted that way. It was also very dark and really felt like a crappy prison, but in a happy, theme-oriented way. The girl walked off and my neck craned to see around the corner. I stopped, looked at Alex and Mizue, and my jaw once again dropped.

“Oh…my…God,” I said, in as much Janice as I could emulate. “I’m really glad we came here.” Mizue thought my crush on the girl was hysterical, as every time she walked past the door in the hallway, I’d stop whatever I did, lose my train of thought and watch her go by. I asked Mizue if she was still scared from that jumpy thing, and she said she was terrified. She was still freaking out and was sure something was going to get us at any moment. At least there was another person at the table who was loaded up with any kind of strong emotion, other than just me.

The waiter came in and asked us if it was anyone’s birthday today. Mizue and I both said no, as we understood what he was saying. “Zan-nen desu ne [that’s unfortunate]. If you ever come with a birthday, a monster will dance in the room for you.” Mizue translated this to us, as I missed what he had said.

Alex was like, “oh you should have just lied!” which we both thought would have been a good idea. We decided on drinks and food, which were really much cheaper than I expected them to be – about 400-500 yen for each plate of little shared items – and I took that opportunity to use the restroom. I passed what looked like a little skull shrine, with candles burning next to it, on the way there. I was a little disappointed to see that the restroom was just a restroom, but as usual the men’s urinals are easily visible from outside when the door is even remotely open.

[A side note: as I’m writing this on the morning of the 2nd, the Otoosan of the ryokan just brought me coffee in the internet area, which is really nice of him!]

As I exited the restroom, having just used the coldest hot air blower ever to dry my hands, I decided I wanted a picture of the skull shrine. I pulled my camera out of its satchel and pointed it at the skulls. It was having difficulty focusing in the darkness, and I backed up against what I thought was a wall to get it into frame.

“Torimashita~a?” said a woman’s voice, inches from my right ear. I jumped and the camera shot wildly in the wrong direction. Hot Jail Warden Girl was right behind me and had leaned over to talk into my ear and ask if I’d taken the picture. The combination of surprise and raw sexuality of having this woman whisper into my ear threw me so far into a loop I thought I would never return. I managed to reason with my inner child long enough to return control to my mouth and diaphragm.

“Bi…bikkuri shita!” I said, and she smiled. She did surprise the hell out of me. But in a very, very good way. I backed away, grinning like a deranged Cheshire cat, and then dove back into our cell. I relayed the experience to Alex and Mizue, and Mizue cracked up. They had brought us a small tray of Japanese pickles, which were small okra (I think), some potato that was boiled in sweet soy broth, and some sort of tiny clear noodle item, which had a great soy flavor.

The drinks had already been on the table when I arrived; I of course got a lychee grapefruit soda. The food began to arrive, which was a cheese-mayonnaise fondue with fried shrimp and potatoes, some smallish chicken nuggets specifically meant to include cartilage, and a potato au gratin. We might have had one more dish, but I can’t think of what it was off hand. The food was all very tasty, and Alex and I tried to explain that usually in the U.S. people don’t eat cartilage. Weirdos like my dad and I do, but most people don’t. She continued to razz me about the girl, and kept asking me what I liked about her. Everything, I told her. We talked about all sorts of things, ranging from where she’d been in the US to her family. She’s apparently lived in America before; she did a homestay in Seattle for a few months, then lived in San Francisco for a year. No wonder her English is so good! She really wants to work on it, but she doesn’t get good practice with the kids that she teaches. Mizue asked if there was anything scary in the restroom, and I told her no, to her delight. She ran off, and Alex told me that she changes her mind really quickly sometimes, like coming here. She never wanted to come here at all, and suddenly when she heard I was coming, she really wanted to go. “I’ll bet she would have liked the Arabian place better, though!” said Alex.

At that moment, a really loud crash occurred, followed by the sound of an explosion. It was all recorded, of course, but we weren’t expecting it, and Mizue looked scared. Some frantic announcements came on, and Mizue translated – “The monster is CAAAMING!!!” she exclaimed, with an excited, but scared look on her face. Apparently there had been a breakout, and some monster was coming soon.

“What monster?” we asked her. She thought about it and then told us.

“Wolfman!” she cried. Alex and I were grinning. Meanwhile, out in the hall, several sirens were going off, and red, rotating alarm lights were adding to the alerted ambiance. The “theme of Wolfman” was playing very loudly, which apparently is thrash metal.

“This is Alex’s type of music,” I said to Mizue, and he nodded, smiling broadly. I had forgotten that Alex had showed me back at his house his little-bitty Toshiba hard drive MP3 player, which was probably half the size of mine. It was probably loaded up with heavy metal. We kept looking out in the hall for evidence of the wolfman walking around, but saw none. Another announcement came on.

“The wolfman is coming in one minute!” Mizue exclaimed, and put a finger up to demonstrate the seriousness of the amount of time. She was getting more and more scared, and was clutching on to Alex tightly. I kept looking into the hallway, but still nothing. Suddenly, the lights changed, and the music became loud. I made another check into the hallway, and this time immediately had the crap scared out of me. Just as I’d walked at the doorway, some weird, freaky skull-masked creature poked his head inside. I about fell backwards and leapt onto my bench. Mizue was screaming hysterically, and the creature came inside and threatened us, menacingly. He raced back out to terrorize the rest of the patrons. I had noticed some black lights earlier, and they suddenly enabled as the rest of the lights, outside of the strobes and red flashing lights.

More announcements came – major jailbreaks were happening everywhere, and Mizue was scared out of her mind. Outside in the hallway, the waiters and even Hot Jail Warden Girl were running about, trying to prevent the jailbreak from escalating. I kept seeing her race by, sometimes screaming with her hands in the air. It was awesome, and Alex and I were guffawing uncontrollably. “This is the coolest place EVER!” I yelled over the noise of explosions, crashes, real firecrackers (which were set off by Hot Jail Warden Girl) and screams coming from all over the restaurant.

Suddenly, and I was somewhat aware of this as I’d seen him outside briefly, Freddy Kreuger slithered his way into our cell and gritted his teeth at us, which glowed in the purple lights from the above fixtures. He approached Alex and Mizue, both of whom were backed into a corner, with Mizue behind him ripping at his clothing in pure terror. She was shrieking without end, and Alex and I were yelling and chortling all at the same time. Freddy next approached me, and waved his knived hand inches from my face, hissing at me. I, too, was backed as far into the corner as I could get and could barely breathe I was simultaneously screaming and laughing so hard. Freddy ducked out, and freaky bird man came back in, causing Mizue to go into fits. Finally they all left, and they managed to get the breakout under control. Hot Jail Warden Girl had regained her authori-tah. The music had become rather whimsical; initially it was heavy metal, but had changed to some dance club type music which didn’t match the horrific events that were taking place one iota. The lights came back on, and they announced the end of the jailbreak. However, the wolfman was still coming, so people should stay put.

Indeed, a moment later a big fuzzy white cat-like man came into our cell and Mizue once again let loose. He was a “nice” monster, though, and she realized he wasn’t here to get us. He put his finger over his lips for us to not make noise since he was surprising the next cell over from us for a birthday. They announced the birthday over the intercom, and the wolfman paid them a visit, with a very happy and cute anthem going on in the background. They sang Happy Birthday, and Hot Jail Warden Girl took a picture for them to keep. They announced another birthday, went through the same process, and then announced a going away party. After all the hoopla had died down, they announced that if anyone has a special event like these to let them know in the future. We all had a great time, and Mizue was really still scared but smiling. We walked up front to pay; it ended up being just about 5500 yen, which seemed like a reasonable amount for three people, drinks, and definite entertainment. I found Hot Jail Warden Girl one more time, and we got one more good picture with her.

We located the exit, and Mizue was terrified to go out. The exit went past the entrance, and she was sure they were going to scare us again. As we walked out, tension high, the motion sensor set off the trash can monster one more time. If Mizue could have gone back in time, I think she would have. She backed up so fast I didn’t even see her until she had rammed into me and, clutching my shirt with both hands, buried her face into it. “KOWAAIIIIIIII!!!!” she screamed. Alex bravely walked forward and called to her to come on, quickly. This wasn’t fast enough, and the thing had a chance to reset.

PSHHHHFFTTTT! Mizue screamed again, and Alex yelled, “Come on! Fast, before it goes off again. She released my shirt and dashed through the door with him, nearly eating it on the foam flooring we’d all forgotten about.

We decided at that point to go to JJ’s, where they wanted to see me show off. They showed their member cards, and I got my temporary pass once again. The woman at the desk recognized me as having been there the night before! “Good memory,” I told her. I also realized I *still* hadn’t made a reservation at La Rochelle. Argh! I asked Mizue if she would call for me – my phone sucks and I just didn’t want them to ask something I didn’t know. She got on my phone and talked to La Rochelle, setting up a dinner reservation for one at 8PM on Sunday. Cool! I thanked her profusely.

“They asked me if you spoke Japanese, and I told them you did, very well!” she told me. Upstairs, I got on to Samba de Amigo and showed off. They were impressed. :) Alex played a game with me, and did very well for his first time. I tried to show them DDR, but I realized it wasn’t just the shoes from yesterday; the machine was very worn out and didn’t register even if you stomped hard sometimes. Oh well, no more DDR, it was more frustrating than fun, and I was reminded of the time before I got my hard metal home pad. We each ran around and played several games. I kept coming back to Samba, cause I just can’t do it at home (at least not this well). I realized that many of the games they have there are really kind of old, and some of them don’t work right, but all of them are fun. I demonstrated the dog walking game to them, but was already worn out from all the running and Samba-ing, and DDR-ing. I chose the hardest course, and my poor pug ate three things he wasn’t supposed to, nearly got hit by a car, and finally lied down, panting, out of exhaustion. I felt bad! I had noticed a girl and her friend watching me play all these games, and each time I looked at her, she would smile. Hrm. I then tried out the new Para Para Paradise game, which is the DDR-type one you play with your hands. After the second level I turned around, and the same girl was there, smiling at me. I decided I was going to talk to her when I finished the game. The game is way too freaking easy though, and I just couldn’t lose. After the next level I looked back, and the two of them had disappeared. I got annoyed with the game being so easy, and after I finally finished all five rounds, I entered my name into 6th place. Okay, that shouldn’t happen on my very first attempt! Samba, yes – I had pretty much pushed everyone out of the top five places in both hard and superhard difficulties – but not a game I’d never played before. A guy came by and handed the three of us Bingo cards, which he said would be on the 7th floor at midnight. We decided to wait until then, although Alex looked rather tired.

We went to the next floor in JJ’s and were met with even more video games, Alex’s favorite being Tokyo Wars, a big multiplayer tank game they have in Austin as well. The three of us got in one game on the wharf together, with Mizue on my team against Alex. The first game Alex beat us, and refusing to be defeated, Mizue cried, “One more time! Again!” Unfortunately, Alex is good at this game, and creamed us again, this time in Shinjuku. We discussed doing karaoke upstairs, but midnight had rolled around, and we ran upstairs. There were very few people here, just about 5 other than the three of us. Two employees were there announcing the games rules. Alex pointed out he had two cards, as he’d picked one up off the Tokyo Wars game downstairs. At the time, he thought was cool and had a better chance. However, not to let unfairness ruin the game, the guy announcer handed everyone another card.

The rules were simple – when you get bingo, you shout it out, and then you can claim prize from the front. Sugehara-san, the girl announcer, said that there were so few people, that everyone should be able to get something. We began the game, and they rolled out little balls and wrote them on the board. Just before each ball was drawn, Sugehara-san would say, “Okay, everyone raise your right hand and yell ‘BINGO SHUUTO’!” We’d all just do that, extending our arms at Shuuto. At one point, just as he began to crank, a ball rolled out early. [Note, when I snapped the picture above, the guy looked at me and said, “thank you!” in English, amused.]

“Ah, a miracle ball,” he exclaimed, and I thought this was really funny. They called number after number and Alex was the first one to Bingo.

“BINGO!” he yelled, and they both clapped and told him to come up and choose a prize. “Any of them?” he asked, and they told him he was correct. He chose a big Minnie Mouse doll, which he came back and presented to Mizue. Awww…. The game continued, and they said to announce whenever anyone had one spot away from a bingo, which they called a ‘reach’. A bingo or two later, I told them I had a double reach, and they asked what numbers I needed. I read off the first one, then the second. They pointed out that 34 was already on the board as being drawn.

“BINGO!” I called, and went up front at their applause to get my Gundam lighter. When I returned to my chair, Mizue asked if I smoked. I told her I didn’t, and then she asked why I wanted a lighter. “Because it’s cool,” I told her. Once you got a bingo, that card wasn’t able to win again with normal bingo. However, you could get “Ura-Bingo” which was when every hole was punched on your card. For that, the prize was a Winnie the Pooh toaster, then emblazons the bear’s head on your morning pastry. Bingo after bingo went by, and I was the first one to get a second bingo on the other card. I felt a little bad, though, since there were people in the back who had come in late with only one card who hadn’t won anything yet. I took a dorky prize, a small stuffed frog, to keep the better ones for others. The prize the guys in the front were laughing about was a Shine VHS tape, which they always tried to get their friends to take each time one of them got Bingo. Eventually one of them did, and they all laughed. Eventually everyone had gotten a bingo, and now it was just Ura Bingo. We all were getting close; pretty much everyone’s card was more hole than paper at this point. The reaches now were how many spots you were away from Ura Bingo, and I was behind for a long time. I thought I was at a double-Ura Bingo reach, but realized I had mistakenly broken out a spot I didn’t mean to. I flipped it back up, and they called the next number.

“URA BINGO!” I called, as the last number on one of the cards came up. I showed them the card, and they had me come up and claim the toaster. Afterwards, they gave everyone a big cheeto type thing that Alex didn’t like, and put my toaster into a sack. At this point, we all agreed it was time to go, as it was about 2AM. We all paid downstairs.

“How’s that – basically ten dollars for all that fun. Cool, huh?” It was just a hair over 1000 yen for the two and a half hours we’d spent there. 105 yen every fifteen minutes, effectively. If you play more than one game every quarter hour, you’ve easily paid for it. We all split a cab to Gojo Kawaramachi, as Mizue wasn’t exactly wearing comfortable shoes for walking. As we arrived, they said I had to come back to Alex’s room for a second as he forgot to give me something. We all went upstairs, and they handed me a little present, which turned out to be, and I swear I am not making this up, a bunch of Golden Piles of Poo. They’re good luck charms here, and they are, in fact, very funny. The present contained two charms and a sheet of Golden Poo Stickers. I thanked them, laughing, and they walked me outside. I told Alex I’d bring him his book back or something in the morning, as I didn’t know if I could stay another night at Seiki or not. If I could, I’d meet him tomorrow. We made plans to talk in the morning and I waved good night to them both as I walked off. That was a fantastic night.

I knew basically where I was, and so I turned right after the yakuza building, headed toward the big street. My brain said I was going south, so I needed to turn right to get back over to Kawaramachi, and then left to walk back home. Trains end at midnight, so I only could take a cab or walk at this point. I didn’t want to spend the money on a cab, so I just started huffing it. I thought about how pleased my sister would be to know that I’d made a reservation, and how much of a log file I still had to write (indeed, I’m still writing it two days later). I watched a drunk man stagger his way home swerving all over the sidewalk. I saw a cool building. Then I saw Gojo Kawaramachi.

Shit.

I’d been walking for fifteen minutes in the wrong direction. I hadn’t been headed west, I’d been headed north, and suddenly I found myself a very long distance from home with no trains to make it faster. I turned around and walked back in the other direction, eventually passing where I’d come out from Alex’s neighborhood. I continued on, wondering if I could catch a taxi. The difficult part was that all the taxis were full of people coming home from the bars, so I couldn’t find one I could take. I got to Sanjo, and turned right, recognizing where I was. There were two middle-aged women standing around chatting it up on the corner, and you’d have thought this was 5PM and they were neighbors. 45 minutes after I’d left Alex’s, I finally saw the station coming up. The entire area was deserted, which really is weird considering how busy this area really is. As I crossed the street toward the station, I could see that the main enclosed area of Kyoto Eki was sealed off with big steel bars. Uh oh. I started to wonder if the main passageway through the station would be closed off as well. If so, that meant a gigantic detour around the massive set of buildings. There were two teenaged girls walking around near the station, and I thought how no respectable set of girls that age, pretty much anywhere in the U.S., would be walking around in the dark shadowy corners of a train station at nearly 3AM that casually. The escalators were off, so my aching legs carried me up the stairs to the central passageway in front of Isetan.

If I hadn’t already known exactly where this was, I never would have recognized it. Big metal shutters blocked access to the coffee houses and every place of business. I had never even noticed that you *could* have shutters there, but they must hide them really well. I continued down the passageway, and noticed several homeless people sleeping on the floor against the wall. The main JR gate to the normal lines was tucked away as well, and I had to keep convincing myself I was in the right place. As I approached the down escalators to the Shinkansen entry gate area, I noticed more people who were sleeping against the wall, but this time it was odd. They were sitting next to really nice suitcases and a few shopping bags. I suddenly realized, these weren’t homeless people at all, but people who had simply missed the last train home! Rather than spend the money on a hotel, they’d decided to just sleep in the station until the first train left in the morning. I went down the stairs to the Shinkansen area, and again was confused as to where I was. This area was more highly populated with homeless people, who were sleeping on cardboard mats. There were also two policemen here, sitting in chairs. I guess they won’t ask anyone to leave, but just to be sure nobody does anything funny, they hang around all night. Someone must have been sitting in front of the sensor that tells people when someone is walking through, so it was “pin-pon”-ing its doorbell noise over and over, which I’d imagine by morning would drive the policemen stark raving mad.

I walked down the staircase and decided to hell with it and cut across the taxi area and ran across the street. There’s no crosswalks here; the only way across is under the street. There wasn’t *anyone* around though, so I didn’t care. I arrived at Seiki a hair before 3AM and crept quietly inside, went into my room on the ground floor, then went straight to bed.

-- Hikaru