Having discovered that Ueno was within walking distance, I decided to return tonight after work. Ueno seemed much less gaijin-oriented than Roppongi so I thought I might be able to figure out where Japanese people go out at night.
As I wandered around amongst the neon lit alleys (there really are a ridiculous number of these everywhere in Tokyo) I came across a rather unassuming door with a signboard out front. 'Pub' was the only English word on the board. I could hear that people were inside. This was clearly the secret entrance to all Japanese nightlife.
I opened the door and peered into a small room (maybe 10' x 15') a third of which is taken up by the bar. All 15 or so people in the place turn and look at me. Aside from the most obvious difference, I am at least 10, probably 20 years younger than everyone in the bar. Also, most of them are in suits, whereas I, per contractual obligations, am wearing a Pirates hat and blue fleece pullover.
I stand there half-frozen in the doorway. I figure that there's no harm in going in and ordering a beer (they're not really an intimidating group of Japanese business people), but I don't see anywhere for me to go. The booth in the corner opposite the bar is full and it appears that all the barstools are as well. I have no desire to awkwardly stand around sipping a beer (especially since the place is so small that anywhere I stood would be uncomfortably close to someone).
I'm about to slowly back away when a Japanese women at the far end of the bar begins frantically waving and pointing out an empty bar stool. I figure this is welcome enough, and with a barstool I can awkwardly sit and drink a beer at worst.
To get to the empty seat, I have to squeeze by practically every other person there. There's only like 4 feet from the bar to the back wall and this area is both bar-seating and the path to the back door/bathrooms. It's a really small bar.
I take my seat and am quickly greeted by everyone around me. Koko (not really her name, but it was something sort of like that), Endo and Bald-guy are to my right. Creepy-guy is the 2nd person over to my left, and directly to my left is a guy passed out on the bar. A good start.
So Koko, who waved me over, and Endo both speak English relatively well. Bald-guy was a little bit worse. Creepy-guy was at the annoying level of 'speaks enough that he wants to talk to me, but not well enough to generally be understood'. This is kind of annoying, but not why he's creepy. We'll get to that.
So I order a beer and am given a bottle and a tiny glass. The glass seems kind of pointless since it only holds like 2 swigs of beer, but everyone seems to like to refill it for me. The bartender, Koko, Endo, anyone and everyone will top off the small glass of beer for me after practically every drink I take. I'm not really sure how to react, so I just stick w/ 'arigato' and a small nod.
I'm asked where I'm from and tell them Boston. Endo tells me I look Australian. I'm not sure what the visual distinction between American and Australian is, but whatever. Maybe America's reputation has reached a point where this is just being polite?
At discovering I'm from America they excitedly call out 'Obama' (seriously). I'm also informed that there is an Obama city in Japan. They seem to like Obama.
They ask what I'm doing in Japan. I tell them I have an internship working w/ robots. Old guy wants to talk to me about software. I think he writes software for something? Hard to say. They ask where I go to school. I say I just graduated from MIT. They are very excited about this. They like MIT better than Obama. They inform me I must be very clever.
They also wander how old I am. Being 25 also entertains them a lot. It also prompts creepy guy to squeeze my bicep and say something creepy. It's a little awkward. I order another beer.
They ask if I sing karaoke. I say maybe after I drink a little more. Endo sings John Denver's 'Take Me Home, Country Roads'. He doesn't necessarily sing all the words, but it works for him. It's most entertaining. Creepy-guy then decides to sing something in Japanese. He decides that he should stand next to me while singing it. For parts of it, he decides he should put his arm around my shoulder. It's totally weird. No one else seems to find anything unusual about it, so I just roll with it. I'm grateful when Creepy-guy sits back down.
Shortly after this, Creepy-guy decides to leave (I'm not sad). He wakes up the passed out guy next to me. The previously passed out is pleased to meet me, then stumbles out the door after Creepy-guy.
Old guy offers me a glass of whiskey and asks if I know the Beatles. I agree to sing 'Let it Be'. Apparently, being a native English speaker is enough to qualify you as a Karaoke star. Or maybe everyone is just amused by the American making an ass of himself. Hard to say. Either way, I get a rousing round of applause from the bar.
By the time I finish my whiskey it's 12:30 or so and I've got a decent walk ahead of me. I thank everyone and head back out into the neon-lit alleys. Needless to say, I'm a fan of the Karaoke bars and now know where to go on a Thursday night.