Saturday, November 10, 2007

More Shinjuku Nightlife: August 2007

Everyone tells me Shinjuku- and especially Kabuki-cho- is a very dangerous place. I don't know; I'm sure it's dangerous for Japan, but compared to certain places in the United States it's a big cuddly pussycat with Christmas lights strung on it. Remember I wrote that when I'm found stabbed to death there sometime next year.

Actually, I think Osaka has more crime per capita. But with the rising and ebbing fortunes of various yakuza factions, this could change. Not that I'm a regular James Bond or a Quentin Tarantino film character, but I did have a little run-in with the men in long black coats here a couple of years ago. They were concerned I wasn't drinking enough or being entertained by nudity enough and wanted to know what they could do to rectify this situation.

Nice chaps.

Here's Shinjuku Station at twilight:

Like many train stations in Japan, it's not just a transportation hub. It's also a multi-functional entertainment destination. There are dozens of stores and restaurants inside, and along its flanks. You could have a great weekend in Shinjuku and never leave the station and its immediate environs.

This is a famous Shinjuku landmark, the big Epson sign. The first few times I came here, I tried to navigate by keeping it either on my left (going to my hotel) or my right (going to the station). Occasionally I lost it all together. Amazing, huh?

At night, Shinjuku is ablaze with electric light and sound:

I think this next photo is out of order. I'm taking you from the station to the hotel where I like to stay. But this shot is the intersection where Yasukuni-dori crosses the narrow shopping street I've walked up and down hundreds of times already. I think...

During the day, Kabuki-cho is a decent shopping spot, almost like a roofless mall. There are even old gents selling manga (normal and pornographic) on open-air tables, almost like it's a giant flea market. Store employees unload truckloads of shoes and DVDs, keeping their shops in stock and up to date. The shoppers and sightseers are a mixed bunch, skewing fairly young. But you're more likely to see professionally-clad office workers doing some lunchbreak shopping and dining as you are to see a... well... prostitute.

Night is different. The energy level spikes, but not quite to frenzied levels, unless you're hyper-sensitive to thronging humanity. And Kabuki-cho is very much about sex and pachinko. Pachinko all day and night, sex mostly at night. You're right on the borderlands of prim public Japan and the decadence of soap land. I've been approached by people of various nationalities offering to take me to places where I'd be able to watch things that I really don't want to describe here... especially since my Mom reads this.

Let's just call them "exotic" and leave it at that.

But you'll also see middle-aged couples out for dinner, or youngsters on a date. So it's not all freaky stuff. Look at the people in this photo:

Just normal people out on the town, enjoying the slightly seedy ambiance.

And more of the same:

Every once in a while, the crowds part and you're practically alone:

But you are never in the dark. Kabuki-cho at night is aglow with artificial light offering dining, massages, baths, DVDs and CDs, Internet access and practically anything else you might want on the spur of the moment. If only you can read hiragana, katakana and kanji:

And of course, pachinko. Pachinko is practically the national pasttime here for old guys, but men (and a few women, I suppose, although I've yet to see it) of all ages play pachinko. Some of these pachinko places are packed even at 9AM.

Here's one of my favorite Kabuki-cho destinations, a shabu-shabu restaurant whose name I don't know. It's a pricey place, but the food is outstanding. Even if you do have to cook most of it yourself. Shabu-shabu is a fun eating activity for friends; you sit around a steaming pot of oil and boil thin slices of red and white marbled beef:

Eventually, you reach this open plaza with bowling alleys, movie theaters and restaurants:

There's a concrete island in the center where homeless people sleep. That is, if they can. This area is as noisy as a New Year's parade every night of the week, and it goes on until after midnight. The lights stay on, too. So much so, in fact, that it's not possible to make your hotel room here as dark as you might back home.

Sometimes these three guys entertain people with their enthusiastic guitar stylings:

They weren't bad, but their reliance on sheet music kind of sucked the energy out of their performance. On the other hand, at least they can read music.

And now we're home, un-mugged, un-harassed, ready to unwind.

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