Finding Nemo

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tokyo Nights, part IV

Sketchy Sweet Shinjuku!!
The next day, I decided to explore fascinating Shinjuku.  To the West of the subway station is a modern skyscraper complex.  To the East is a gaudy neighborhood full of everything under the sun you could ever want.  At night it switches to a Japanese-centric party hub.  Its a great place to go for hitting an Izakaya, and late at night the seedy side of town comes to life.  Yakuza pimps stroll around in insanely comic disco suits, scantily clad girls hand out flyers, and beefy Nigerian men hustle gaijin and locals alike into their local girlie bar.  I was puzzled by the well-dressed Japanese guys who were ignoring me, though.  It turns out that these self-styled-anime heroes were recruiting GIRLS into bars.  I found that pretty funny, I imagined the cast from Thunder from Down Under walking down Hollywood Blvd handing out flyers to Sharkeez.

For the first time since I'd been to Japan, I felt a little bit uncomfortable.  It wasn't just the fact that I was doing a limping shuffle from ongoing foot and knee problems (more on that later -- in Haiku!).  It wasn't the Yakuza, who were mostly looking for drunk sararimen and Japanese tourists.  It was the Nigerians.  They were pretty big dudes, and they were not at all like the Japanese hustlers.  The Japanese hustlers were pretty polite, and when you told them you weren't interested they left you alone.  But the Nigerians had that old scam I'd seen a million times in a hundred other cities.  That scam that I'd come to hate.  They came up and said "Hello!"  "Where are you from?"  If you take the gambit and say where you are from, you doomed to a suddenly even more chummy hustler talking about his friend in [insert town you are from], and how he loves the place.  Eventually your new best friend will say, "Hey mon, you look like you want a good time.  I know a very good bar close by."  If you refuse, he gets pushier.  Eventually, he pulls "the switch."  "I'm just your friend, mon, why you gotta treat me like that!"  "Why you so rude, huh?!!"  You have to walk away from something that always gets annoyingly intimidating and just keep your eyes ahead and mouth shut.

Even if you ignore the initial "Hello my friends!", the hustler will still pull the switch.  Suddenly he'll get mad, wave his arms at you and say, "Hey why you not talk to me?  Why you treat me like that?  I'm just saying hello!"  Its always bad.  At that moment, I suddenly felt sad for Japan.  It was such a friendly, pleasant country.  People were so genuinely nice and helpful.  But us gaijin, foreigners, were slowly changing the place, for better or for worse.  I understood why there were so many Japanese-only bars, why you needed an invitation to get into many places.  I pictured the hordes of US military men on shore leave in the days after WWII, barging through Japan.  I realized how many of my own stereotypes about the Japanese were not entirely true, how I was finding that it would take a long time to truly understand their culture.  Of course, this sort of thing always happens to me anyplace I go, its one of the wonderful things about traveling.  But the natural shyness of the Japanese makes it that much harder to break through the gap.  Meaning that travel writers and foreign journalist are only too happy to perpetuate myths, and people like myself are only too happy to believe them.

Izakaya party time
But enough of that, it was on to the Izakaya!!!

(to be cont.)

No comments:

Post a Comment