Overall, I've been pleasantly surprised by Japanese food. I could do without seaweed, but mostly stuff has been palatable and some of it surprisingly good. The biggest drawback is that there is a serious lack of cheese around here. You can get it at the grocery store, but it's really expensive.
Anyway, Friday it occurs to me that I am in Tokyo and given that Mcdonald's is on every corner and there are multiple Denny's around, there is probably a Pizza Hut hiding out somewhere in the city. The internet informs me I am right. It even turns out that there is one not terribly far from Ebisu, where I have to go pick up a new scuba card.
So, that evening I stop by the Padi place and get my scuba card and head off in search of Pizza Hut. Unfortunately, I'm not smart and didn't bring the directions I had made. I pretty much remember where it was and figure I don't have anything better to do than wander around anyway. Two hours later, I'm starving and convinced that the Pizza Hut was a lie. I decide to give up and just eat somewhere around Ebisu. But after having my heart set on a delicious American cheese and grease combination, the trendy Ebisu places I'm walking past do not appeal. I settle for KFC, figuring it will at least satisfy the urge for American grease.
It does not. In fact I can safely say KFC is probably the nastiest thing I will eat in Japan. I have yet to try nato, a rotting pile of soy beans, I'm betting it's better than the KFC. I mean, I'm not saying KFC in America is particularly great, but something here was not right. The skin wasn't the same. I didn't even get a biscuit. It was bad.
But I did notice some interesting things about fastfood in Japan. For one, while real estate seems to be at a premium and most restaurants and bars are pretty small here, fastfood places are at least as big as they are in the states. Probably bigger. Many, like this KFC, have multiple levels of seating. The KFC was also pretty busy. The weird thing is that it's not a bunch of business men trying to get a quick meal after work or something. There's like a 4 to 1 girl to guy ratio at the KFC. At like 8pm on a Friday night. A lot of the girls seemed to be dressed up and meeting friends. I just can't quite imagine a group of college-aged girls planning to gather at a KFC before hitting the town on a Friday night back home. And I wonder if guys gather at the Wendy's across the street or something.
So, after my nasty meal, I decided to head to Shibuya. I'd read up about a small row of bars similar to Golden Gai that were tucked away near the train station and wanted to check it out. Many of the places were full (each bar only holds like 5 people tops), but I found a place on the second floor that was empty. The bartender didn't speak much English, but I got some shochu and fish soup (most bars provide some sort of snacks).
Actually, I think these places were smaller than the bars in Golden Gai, b/c they didn't even have bathrooms in them. You had to go outside to the common bathroom at the end of the alley. I did so and then stopped in at another place with a gaudy door that said 'Piano Bar' in tiny writing.
As it's name suggested, the bar itself was a piano. The walls are covered in a red velvet and there are gold plates and crests on the walls and chandeliers covering the ceiling. In addition to the 3 seats stuck in front of the piano, there was also a small room upstairs that was full when I got there. When I got there I was the only person downstairs, but I was shortly joined by a couple in there 40's. There both spoke a fair bit of English and were friendly enough. The guy turned out to be a basketball fan. He also drew some kanji for 'branden' that he said meant something like 'crazy dancing king'. When I told him my name was spelled 'brandon', he changed the last kanji so that now it apparently means 'crazy dancing drunk'. I will have to get verification about this.
I left Piano Bar and was thinking about getting some food, when I passed GasPanic. Lonely Planet had mentioned this place (although I think it was one in Roppongi) as a gaijin bar. It definitely didn't feel like part of Japan.
First off, there was a bouncer out front and I was actually carded, which was odd. Inside it was like some crappy bar in America. Unlike most Japanese bars, this place was crawling with staff members, none whom were Japanese. Very few of the patrons were either. It was also dark and loud. I was half-regretting coming in, when a fight breaks out on the other side of the room.
Like 4 staff people get into the middle of it. A female staffer runs upstairs to get the bouncer guy. I catch eyes with the bartender who shrugs and laughs. He is unconcerned that other staff members are in the middle of a minor brawl. It's quite a spectacle. Finally, one of the fighters is escorted upstairs and out of the bar. The other guy is restrained by the bouncer who kinda reminds me of Bald Bull from Punch Out. Eventually Bald Bull drags the other guy away as well. The bar goes back to how it was. There's another guy passed out at a table. No one cares. Awesome. I leave.
Back in Japan, I stop in a convenience store to grab something to eat. Here I meet a group of 4 college-agish Japanese guys. They are drunk and excitable and we become fast friends. They don't speak the best of English, but inform me that they are going to a club and that I should join them. They assure me they have connections and that I won't have to pay a cover charge. I figure I will finally discover where younger Japanese people go on weekends and agree to tag along. This seems to amuse them.
The leader of this group, or at least the one who spoke the best English introduced himself as Gas Face. Another one is wearing a skull cap and calls himself Match. I think they say they're in a band, I'm not entirely sure. I don't catch the other names. The whole situation is bizarre. Now, in America, or probably most places on earth, I don't know that I'd feel comfortable following four twentyish year-old strangers off to some random club. However, Shibuya's full of people and these guys seem friendly enough. Also, I probably weigh as much as any two of them combined.
So, good to they're word, Gas Face and Co. lead me to some off-the-beaten path club and get me in without a cover charge. From the outside, the place doesn't look like much. Once inside, however, you go down some stairs and it opens up into a huge dance floor. The place is packed. So I finally have my answer of where younger Japanese people are hiding out: underground dance parties.
Unfortunately, other than being able to navigate the crowd more easily, the Japanese danceclub is as unpleasant as an American one. I lose track of Gas Face and crew almost instantly, have one beer and decide to call it quits. It's a long walk to Bunkyo.