Experiencing the best worst night Tokyo has to offer
For me, true spontaneity is quite the rare occurrence. Though some who know me might find that hard to believe, I often find it difficult to just say ‘Yes!’ right there and then when a potentially awesome opportunity presents itself. “Wanna go to this festival I have a spare ticket to tonight?!” Hmm. Well… I’ll definitely maybe think about it. “I’m on my way to this amazing restaurant. Wanna join?” Uhm, I have very concrete plans with a supermarket-bought pizza that I just cannot cancel. “My friend’s going out on his boat later today. Come?” No.
And so on and so forth.
Though I have certainly had my moments where I’ve thrown caution to the wind and gotten over the fact that THIS WAS NOT PART OF MY ORIGINAL PLAN!?! (most memorable example – my ranch road trip in Honduras. Incredible.), nothing quite beats a rare moment of spontaneity teamed with a good dose of embracing the chaos on the streets of Tokyo earlier this year, resulting in a painfully hungover 9am train journey home and memories that will forever make my belly ache with laughter.
The night started off with one fail after another – as the most memorable of evenings seem to do. First, the restaurant we had been eyeing up around the corner from our hostel and had finally gotten around to eating at was… well. Not to our taste. Next? A visit to the anime district that was fun for my game-loving amigos, but, for me, a substandard hour of watching intensely concentrated Japanese boys being way too into the game they’ve clearly been playing for far too long already. Then, a step up – a bar! Alcohol! Hooray! Then, another step up: our first introduction to the joys of Japanese karaoke.
Oh what fun we had in our hotel room style private karaoke booth, unabashedly singing the awful songs from our teens as loud as we could and sipping on G&T’s. Fun until, of course, we realised that the last metro to the club we had been told was mind-blowing left in T minus 5 minutes. Cue panic-induced sprinting through the (surprisingly easily navigable) Japanese transport system, obviously missing the metro, and forcefully employing the help of unsuspecting civilians, frantically shoving coins into the ticket machine to jump on the last train of the night headed in our intended direction.
But, we made it, with giddy laughs of disbelief that we only went and bloody made it. Alas, this near miss was merely a precursor to the next bump in the road. Because of course the train would be stopped, half way there, at 1.30am. Policeman piled on the train, demanded us off (or so we could tell), and we were left, stranded, in the middle of the biggest city in the world, with no choice but to extend our meagre budgets and fork out for a taxi. Damn.
By 2am we were, if not a little grumpily, seated in our taxi. Our gorgeous old taxi driver spoke but one (albeit, rather cliche) word of English. Living up to true Japanese stereotypes, that word was: karaoke. Finding a common ground that didn’t really need words, he continued to play us some of his favourite Spanish tunes and, much to my amusement but, I guess, most importantly, surprise, we knew them. Mood lifted, singing our still slightly disheartened hearts out whilst steaming through the neon madness of Shinjuku, we finally arrived at our destination – three hours later than anticipated.
Ready to shrug off the disasters that seemed to have followed us throughout the night, lo and behold. Lo. And. Behold. A sign which I could only assume was a joke. It read – word for word – “No dancing or dance like activity is permitted on these premises.” A joke, right? Well… No. No, this was not a joke. Apparently there is an absurd law requiring premises to actually acquire a license for dancing. For dancing! In a club! Surely one of the few things you actually go to a club to do. This coupled with the fact that entry was €35 and everyone looked just a little bit too chic and cool for us to really fit in… we indignantly turned on our heels.
Wandering sheepishly around the surrounding streets, the night already half way over, we soon stumbled into a small slightly grimy bar, full of the drunkest Japanese hipsters you’ve ever seen and a beaming, clearly steaming, middle aged woman, who happily informed us that all drinks were 500 yen (around €4.50), and immediately lead us to the only two other foreigners in the vicinity. What followed was a surprisingly good night filled with beer, too many painfully uncommunicable conversations, and a seemingly endless supply of small rubber ducks. (Don’t ask).
So, our night turned out wonderfully after all. A little perseverance and a little bit of taking everything as it comes, and we happily stumbled out of the bar into the eerily bright 4am sunrise, our (clearly) lifelong Japanese friends begging us to stay as we skipped drunkenly to the shining lights of McDonalds – because of course even the relatively unadulterated cultural space of Japan has a special spot for the Golden gates of hell Arches.
This, this is normally where the story would end. But, before we could step into McDonalds, we were stopped in the crowded street by a group of three Japanese boys with an Argentinian expat in tow. After fending off a security guard from a failed attempt at a photo op with a giant Shaun the Sheep (again, don’t ask), they jovially asked: “Wanna come do karaoke with us?”
Now, in the 24/7 (Yes. Twenty. Four. Seven.) karaoke joints in the middle of the city, it’s kind of a weird vibe. It’s dark, a walk to the toilets includes hearing snippets of several bouts of terrible, passionate singing, there’s a free ice-cream machine… Tambourines, sticky floors and plumes of cigarette smoke. A group of three Dutch girls, three Japanese boys, an Argentinian and an English girl crowded into a tiny room and battling it out over insanely melodramatic Japanese emo songs and cheesy Katy Perry karaoke classics, all whilst drinking the strangest mix of alcohol snuck in from outside, from the hours of 4.30am to 9am in the morning? Well, a weird vibe didn’t even cut it. But, weird vibe or not, that night of spontaneity was one of the most random, memorably ridiculous, entertainingly absurd nights of my life. And all it took was that one, yes. So, moral of the story? Sometimes – (And I feel like I should stress here that this is certainly not a note of advice to women travelling on their own to go hither with every group of men they meet in the street) grasping the opportunity and saying yes can lead to accidental experiences of a place and its people that offer so much more than your original plan could even begin to. Maybe I’ll start being a yes-woman more often. Maybe.