Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Japan Day 6

Ann Marie and I decided to break off from the group today.  We got lucky with the weather today. It was sunny, and not too cold.  In fact, I wore a T-shirt all day without getting chilly.  We went to the very famous Meiji Shrine near Shibuya.  It was massive and amazing.  The woods leading up to the shrine consisted of thousands of trees donated from around the world. The shrine itself was very impressive and apparently a popular wedding spot since we saw 3 different wedding parties.
Next we went to Takeshita street in Harajuku.  This is the place to be if you're a teenager.  They were out in full force in some of the craziest outfits you've ever seen.  Takeshita street is lined with clothing shops.  I wanted to buy something, but a Japanese size large is about an American size small.  Even though I didn't buy anything, I did have a nice time walking through this area.  I also noticed that Michael Jackson was everywhere.  Every store had MJ t-shirts, videos, posters, and music playing.  It looks like Japan took his passing pretty hard.
After Harajuku, we made a quick stop in the Shibuya music store district where a played a bunch of sweet Ernie Ball guitars.
Later, we met up with Scro and Steve and went to the most famous concert arena in Japan...BUDOKAN.  You may know Budokan from the various live albums recorded there from Cheap Trick and Deep Purple.  Here's a little trivia: The Beatles were the first band to play at Budokan.
Budokan is a massive building.  It has a great look to it.  It's not just some huge rectangular space in which to cram a bunch of people.  It definitely looks Japanese, and has a great design.  When we arrived at Budokan, there were thousands of young kids everywhere. A Japanese boy band was playing there.  However, that was not our destination.  Budokan literally translates to Martial Arts Hall.  While the teenyboppers were rocking out to their J-Pop in the main arena, all the way in the back and down a few flights of stairs there were 2 modest sized rooms separated by a hallway in between them, where a group of badasses were beating the living shit out of each other.
I went up to one of the security guards who was busy herding kids into the right entrances and said, "Sumimasen, Kendo wa doko des ka?"  He looked at me like I was from Mars.  I repeated the phrase, except this time making a sword motion, and he said, "Ah! Kendooooooo."  Apparently, Kendo has a long "o" (ō) at the end, and I've been pronouncing it wrong for a long time.  He looked around to see if any of his co-workers were near, but there was no help in sight.  In true Japanese fashion, he went out of his way to help us.  He abandoned his post, and walked us through the crowds all the way to a rear entrance.  We thanked him profusely, and went up to the security guard guarding the rear entrance.  This time I said, "Sumimasen,  Kendō wa des ka?"  He said something I couldn't understand, and then motioned for us to go into the rear entrance.  There was another guard inside.  I forgot how to say "I would like to watch Kendo," so instead I said "Kendō, kudasai."  (Kendo please) and made the I'd like to watch gesture.  He also went out of his way, walked us to the place and showed us where to sit. 
From where we sat, we were able to see both Kendo and Judo practice.  Kendo was in front of us, Judo behind us.  At first the Kendo students were doing response drills with bokken (heavy wooden swords.) They would do the moves without actually hitting each other.  They took a short break in which one of the students went up to Steve and let him hold his sword.  (damn, 2 for 2!) After a little while, they all put on the armor and picked up Shinai (lighter bamboo swords) and started hitting each other with full contact and full force.  It was amazing to see this kind of intensity. The guys and ladies were screaming at each other like they wanted blood.  I liked to think that they were all stuck in cubicles all day, and by night these guys put on armor, pretend the opponent is their boss and wail on 'em.
After class was over we headed to Roppongi which was probably my favorite area in Tokyo.  This had the food and the music.  What I wasn't expecting was the high pressure street team.  There were a group of guys (mostly non-Japanese) saying tittybar to everyone who walked by.  Some of the guys wouldn't take no for an answer.  Scro adopted a policy of yelling "NO!" every time someone came near us.  That seemed to work for the most part.
My travel book recommended a sushi place called Fukizushi, so we stopped in for a quick bite.  This sushi redeemed our previous negative sushi experience.  It was incredible.  This place was all about the freshness of the ingredients.  They didn't have rolls with 3 different kinds of fish, avocado, mayo etc...  These guys gave you fish, and rice.  They put the soy sauce and the wasabi on for you.  These guys weren't fucking around, everything I had there was amazing.  The chefs were also extremely friendly, and conversed with us in english throughout the entire meal.  It was a little pricey, but I guess you get what you pay for when it comes to raw fish.
Next, we walked down the street to Tokyo's own cavern club!  The Beatest, the Japanese Beatles were playing and they were incredible.  There were 4 of them up there with right instruments, dressed in grey Beatles suits.  These guys were amazing.  Sure, the thick Japanese accents were funny on Beatles lyrics, but they were so good, that I honestly stopped noticing that they were singing Godda Geddu Inta My Rife, and Gorden Srumbas.  They didn't make a single mistake.  They were scary good and did stuff from every album.  On each table in the club were request sheets with the enitre catalog printed on them, suggesting that they literally knew every Beatles song.  Seeing as how good they were,  I wouldn't doubt it.  They even did an extended jam in While my Guitar Gently Weeps.  The George guy played a really tasty Clapton-esque solo that fit perfectly.  All of us had a great time at the Cavern Club.

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