SYNOPSIS:  About the neighborhood I live in.  About a Chinese restaurant that won’t serve two foreign ladies, a J.S. Bach cafe, fire works, and a few shady characters.  


Tokyo is my final stop.  There are a few more days here and a few more things to do, many of them technicalities — laundry, making sure blog and images are all up to date, copied, archived, labeled, organized; buy all the souvenirs I have not bought so far, meet the lady I met in Nikko, try to catch a Noh play, perhaps, see a few more sights, but then, perhaps not; ship a package or two, get money for China, and so on.

The first day back I spent doing a lot of this and I only ventured out into the immediate neighborhood for one thing or another, to the post office, for example  This blog is about a radius of 500 yards.  By the end of the day I was amazed of all the adventures I had in just this small space.  Who says you need to go far?

If I had to describe the neighborhood I live in with one word, it would be: shady.  This is not your glitzy, modern, fast-paced Tokyo from “Lost in Translation”.  This is an area with a lot of poor-looking people, old men drinking all day, with beer cans in the street (!)  with secondhand clothing shops where I can only wonder who might buy such old worn and out-of-style stuff, with people shouting behind closed doors, and with the famous Lawson Supermarket chain offering its special “100 yen” variation.  That is the equivalent of a dollar store but for a food market.  I think that says it all.

There are lots of “foreigners” living here, meaning Chinese.  There are a lot of the cheapest hotels here, meaning under $30 per night.  There is a lot of nondescript, gray, multi-storied apartment living here, meaning subsidized housing.

Two months ago I had noticed that right across the street from my hotel was a Cafe named J. S. Bach Cafe.  In German it advertised that it had its own coffee roasting business.  I had meant to go there many times, but never managed.  Either it was closed, or I was too busy, or I simply forgot.  Today was the day.   In the early afternoon, instead of brewing my own tea at the hotel, I hopped across the street and ordered some coffee with real German cheesecake.

A few old ladies had gathered around a large table chatting but over their chatter I could hear the music playing, very quietly — J. S. Bach organ music!  Inadvertently  I reminisced about my dad who had been an organist in Germany playing most likely through the whole Bach repertoire at one time in his life or another.  I reminisced about the trip I took with him, turning pages while he was on tour giving organ concerts.  And as I pondered his life and his very untimely death at the age of 56, it dawned on me that it was his birthday!  Can you just believe this?!  I could not have ended up at a better place at a better day.  The travel gods are pointing their fingers.

My hotel is a cool place, despite the questionable neighborhood.  It’s a hotel but with a hostel flair.  A young, English speaking, laid back staff and a colorful mix of independent travelers from all over the world come together creating a good atmosphere.  There is a lobby, and if you sit there long enough you will surely meet some interesting people.

It was a special day today: Fireworks!  Now if you look all over Japan and even just around in Tokyo, there is probably a fireworks display every weekend in July and perhaps even August.  It is still great fun and today was a “big one”.  The staff had food prepared and the roof terrace was open for the fireworks party.  We had a fantastic view of the display.  I have an inadequate camera to take good fireworks pictures.  Many of the young people with their i-pods fared much better than I did.  But even without great photos to show, it was good fun to watch.  It was here that I met Grazia from Italy.

We immediately hit it off and sat together, watching the spectacle, chatting.  Afterwards we ventured out for a beer.  The nearest corner that looked promising had a menu posted and a venue at the main floor as well as on the upper floor.  We headed up, entering a dimly lit room with a bar.  Great.

A Chinese waitress practically jumped at us and out of her mouth flowed a whole ball of words:  You can’t eat here.  I don’t speak English.  You need to leave.  Huh?  We had not even said a word yet.  We did not want to eat and she obviously spoke more English than most people I had met in two months who claimed they did.  We assured her that we did not need her to talk to us, all we wanted was to sit down and have a beer.  There is only wine and I don’t speak English.  Ok, wine then.  Now she practically became hysterical and it was clear that there was only one thing she wanted: to get rid of us.

We left.  I am sure there was a mysterious, untold rule behind all of this.  The next day I studied the sign at the door more carefully and saw a woman on the billboard with ever so slightly exposed boobs.  The house was pink.  Should we have noticed or known something here that was obvious to all but us?  For all we can speculate, we stumbled on a secret meeting place of the Chinese mafia or a child-pornography ring, or a love hotel.  We shall never know.  But that waitress did speak English!

Downstairs then.  We entered a small dining room with a foreign couple having beer and food.  We were in the right place now.  A couple of Japanese men sat at two other tables, both of them obviously drunk.  A stoic looking Chinese waitress served.   One of the men started to give us funny (and uncomfortable) looks.  Thankfully, he soon was ushered out by the waitress, who refused to serve him any more liquor.  The other man soon got into trouble grabbing the waitress’s hand.  Without as much as a muscle in her face twitching she slapped him in his face with her other hand.  That put him into his place.  He let go.  Boy, it was getting warm in here!

We were no more than 5 minutes into our conversation and our beer when a short, foul-toothed middle-aged man entered who asked the waitress for something.  She hesitated but after he practically begged her she came out with a box.  Before we knew it a full-blown Karaoke session was under way with this guy bellowing it out.  He had an amazing voice, but with the mic at full blast and the entire establishment measuring no more than five tables, he made the windows shake!  We applauded him and I tried to plead with him not to use the mic — to no avail.

We could hardly prevent him from buying us beer.  He was unstoppable with his singing and before long started to accompany the singing with wild dancing.  Meanwhile… the rude drunkard had found a place on the floor and had gone to sleep.  No matter how much the waitress slapped him, he was not budging!

The foreign couple had left.  We were left with now three weird guys and a stoic waitress.  The scene could have come from a Twilight Zone episode.

It was time to leave.  It was nearly midnight.

At least I know now what I have been missing out on.

Good night.

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  1. What a page this was to read about – two extremes – the special moment with your Dad once more – I love those beautiful surprises that are sprinkled into our lives – and then to follow it with karaoke and a sleeping drunk.