Three Days Out, Part II: (Not Enough) Free Time in Tokyo.

We woke up early Thursday and bid goodbye to the Toba Seaside Hotel, bussed to the train station, and switched to a Shinkansen to head for Tokyo. Our Kyushu-bound Shinkansen was a much nicer train than the ones we’d had since; the first one had bigger seats, larger arm rests between seats, and outlets to charge devices, while the more recent ones did not.

Our first run into Tokyo was underground, and we used a series of metro trains and hallways before emerging onto an unremarkable street — unremarkable except for the fact that it was Tokyo. The atmosphere of the city was much more hurried and less 甘え than Osaka. There were also many more people, though I can’t say I’d seen the heart of Osaka during peak hours for comparison.

We were lucky in that it was cloudy and had a rainy forecast, but was not raining. Our hotel, the Hotel 21 East, was a few blocks’ walk from the station, and we trudged thataway (with a brief failed attempt at a shortcut by our leader) to check in early and drop off our stuff. The rooms were somewhere between U-Community and Com’s in terms of size, though with a spacious bathroom. Originally, we were scheduled to go to the Asakusa shrine and then have some free time, but the plan had been changed to some series of other things, and when people balked at the sudden change, our teacher simply cancelled all the plans and said we could have free time. (I wasn’t there for that last conversation, which had taken place the day before, but it was apparently driven by impatience from a couple of the girls, and the free time was given to us in a moment of anger.) Thus, after we all checked in and freshened up a bit, we split into groups. Three of the girls set off for Harajuku to shop, Warren and Heaven went with our teacher to Asakusa, while Josh and Mike went with me to meet my Xbox Live friends Hachiko and Chibiboze in Akihabara.

After a few years of only playing online, I finally got to meet several friends in Tokyo, including Nobu and Hachiko.

Chibiboze (Nobuaki, or Nobu, as he told me to call him) and Hachiko (who’s actually Yuuki, but prefers the nickname) spotted me individually, but quickly, though I had a hard time finding where they were waiting — I wouldn’t have been late if I’d known the area! Nobu looked like his Facebook picture, but I hadn’t been aware how short he was (though not detrimentally so), while I’d never seen Hachiko’s face. Nobu spoke mostly English to me, which was unusual, since I’ve only known him to speak English when he’s drunk. Hachiko spoke little, but his English comprehension was much higher than he usually let on. We adjourned to a maid café — more of a maid restaurant, really, since no one called me ご主人様 nor offered to play a game with me. The girls dressed as maids were pretty damn cute, though, and one even stopped to talk to me; she’d apparently spent some time in Pennsylvania, and was glad to talk to an American.

Our Japanese hosts didn’t seem to be hungry, so they each got a beer. Josh, Mike, and I got plates of spaghetti, with Josh and me ordering beer and Mike getting a melon soda (which had become one of our favorites). I took a few photos, and so did Nobu — the difference is that his camera (with external lens) was much nicer than mine, and when Mike asked how much it had cost, he said combined, it had been a few hundred dollars’ equivalent. The food was good, and we relaxed and chatted.

I was planning to buy Hachiko and Nobu’s drinks, but Hachiko sneakily paid for everything and had us reimburse him instead, preventing my ability to do so. We left the restaurant and visited a few shops, including a used-game store (multi-level, natch) and an arcade (where Hachiko showed us his power on a DDR machine). The problem was that we had limited time; Hachiko had until 6 pm, Nobu couldn’t stay out too late because of his train ride home, and I had plans at 7:30. Thus, I got no real shopping done. I bought one thing: a Persona 4 screen cleaner gachapon with Yukiko Amagi on it. Yes, I went to Akiba and didn’t actually shop. There was even a Mandarake… ! (I’m ashamed.)

Shortly after six, we said goodbye to Hachiko, and the remaining four of us headed to the train to go back to the hotel. We planned to go to Tokyo Tower, and Nobu even told us how before transferring to a train that would take him home, but we realized we simply didn’t have the time (rather, I didn’t). We went back to the Hotel 21 East, and while I prepared to meet my other friends, Mike and Josh decided to go to Tokyo Tower by night.

By that point, it had begun to sprinkle, and when I called Chibisuke (aka Takashi), I misunderstood his directions to the 居酒屋 — I thought he’d said south of the station, but he meant south of the hotel, between it and the station. (I was pretty bad with directions that day.) A nice school security guard ran around asking everyone he could if they knew the location of the izakaya at one point during my search, but I finally called Takashi from a pay phone and got clarification. I’d apparently walked past it. Anyway.

I spent a great evening with Meg, Yuuka, and Takashi at an izakaya near my hotel.

The place was called 森のしずく, and was cozy (though not as small as that other izakaya, whose name I never did learn). Takashi and Megumi were already there. I’d never seen Takashi before, but he was just as nice in person as he is online, while I knew what Meg looked like, but was surprised at how much prettier she was in person. I gave her the bag of game swag I’d been saving for her… and she trumped me with a bag of her own. She’d gotten me a small sake bottle with pictures of various sushi on it, as well as a pair of small matching cups. Also inside was what looked like a couple handkerchiefs, but was actually a cloth book with stylized images of important sites in Japan inside. The Japanese have gift-giving perfected! I lost again.

Meg’s sister Yuuka came shortly after. I know her not from Xbox Live, but from Facebook. I learned during the evening that Takashi had fibbed his way out of work that night, claiming he had some prior engagement, Yuuka smoked, and Meg has a small, stylish tattoo on her arm (to which I jokingly made the scar-face Yakuza sign, which sent her sister into fits of laughter). They ordered a lot of pub-style food: kushi (chicken meat, liver, softened bones, skin, etc.), salted edamame in the shell, small fish… I ate some and let them eat the rest (for example, the softened chicken bones just didn’t seem very appetizing to me). As for beverages, I started with a beer, then decided to have a sake with Takashi. He, however, had them water mine down. I was surprised instead of offended, and he asked if I’d rather have had a regular-strength one. My next was regular, after which I had a lemon sour (sake with lemon) and then a sake with green tea. Not being much of a drinker, that much alcohol split my vision a bit, but I wasn’t embarrassing. I just wanted to fit in; when Japanese go out like that, they usually let the drink flow freely.

It came time to settle up, and I asked how much I owed, but Takashi said it was all on them. Seriously, I have some great friends. We parted ways, and I made my way back to the hotel (which, thankfully, wasn’t too far away). I was apparently the last one in, so Mike ran to tell our instructor I was back. I gave him a rundown of my evening. He then pulled out his camera and showed me his visit to Tokyo Tower with Josh, which was apparently magnificent, with killer views of the city by night. I was envious, but I wouldn’t have traded my good time. (I learned later that the girls enjoyed shopping in Harajuku, while Heaven and Warren had spent a relaxing day with Nou-sensei and her friend, who used to be a tour guide; they had dinner and saw archers, and Nou-sensei had dropped her disciplinarian side and become much more casual. Whatever bore the free-time solution, it worked out, because everyone seemed mentally refreshed by the next day.)

I don’t recall falling asleep, but I woke up around four and slept fitfully the rest of the night.

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