Thursday, March 26, 2009

Play some more of that hipity hopity music

I find shows to be outrageously expensive here on the whole, although the fact that everybody and their ten cousins come through Tokyo sometimes makes up for it. Take for example, Mos Def. Despite praying at the foot of my bed every night as a young schoolgirl, he has not graced the stages of Vancouver, ever. OK, I lied. A quick google tells me he was there last year, but of course that doesn't count because yours truly was here.

Places like Cotton Club, the Blue Note and now MTV Billboard Live bring in all these fantastic people for multi-night engagements where the artists play two sets each night for around 9,000 to 13,000 yen a pop. The experience at these places is always a little bizarre. Granted I always think it is kind of special to see artists up close and personal at these sit-down clubs but they often lack the energy of hip hop shows at home, where by virtue of being the bitches at the front, my friends and I always made each show up close and personal.

Last week I shelled out 13,000 yen (excuse me while I choke) to see Mos Def at Billboard in Tokyo Midtown. Always one to leave things to the last minute (exacerbated by the fact that I have few friends and even fewer who would go to a hip hop show with me), we ended up snatching up what sounded like the last seats available and were given a ticket order number. Billboard has both numbered seats and "free seats" and like the Blue Note, people with free seating are shown to their seats in a particular order. It's not very free. At Blue Note, you receive a number in the order you show up to "check in" on the night of, but Billboard gives you the number in the order you make your reservation. This means if you show up early at Blue Note you can get really decent seats but at Billboard you have a shot in hell. We didn't even have that.

We showed up early anyway and waited while they called every number until ours and we were basically the last group standing. It was a painful process to witness. Once in the door we had to line up again in order and wait for them to escort us to our seats using their ear phones and wrist mics like it was fucking mission impossible to fill the house at a schmoozy club. What really got me though, was not the ridiculous amount of time it took to take each group individually down to their seats, but that when it came time for us to go down, we were made to wait because the number before us hadn't come through the front yet and god forbid those of us who manage to show up on time are shown through first. Last tickets meant last seats in the house, we got these fairly shitty corner-behind-pillar seats that we left to stand as soon as drinks were in hand. If you're going to see a show at Billboard, BOOK EARLY or be content to be relegated to the corner after the rest of the house has been seated.

The show itself was great, a little random with half the crowd standing and the other half trying to look cool in their seats. But what can beat Mos Def on a small stage with huge panoramic windows behind him reflecting the Tokyo night scape? That's right, nothing. It was a little short but that's to be expected with every show at these places - with two sets every night each set is practically timed down to the minute, which makes it all feel a little Disneyland-attractionish. There is something so great about being able to see so many artists in Tokyo at these smallish venues but they are always a little lacking in gusto. It's not that the Japanese audience doesn't sing along and get all crazy when someone walks on stage but there just isn't that group oompf that you find Overseas, where you chat to people bopping next to you or play pass the joint along. There is also no repartee with the audience. Mos tried a couple times to say something funny and he ended up just talking to himself while the fans looked on with eyes shining in ignorant expectation.

Mos Des is #69 on the list of Stuff White People Like, and I got a good laugh out of that one. Turns out Japanese people like him too, and really, they can hardly be blamed for trying.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sweat me

Last weekend I went to a ganbanyoku or hot stone spa with my new fabulous Japanese girlfriend (yes, apparently there are 2 or 3 left on the island). We went to Batu Batu in Yokohama but there are a bunch in Tokyo, and probably any other city that is, you know, hip to sweating over hot stones.

I'd been to a similar ganbanyoku at Odaiba's crazy amusement park onsen but this was really for the hardcore sweater, not some poncy dip-your-toes-in-the-water hot stone spa. The basic concept is a nice dark room filled with new-agey tribal music, preferably with flutes, and a couple rows of long granite slabs inlaid in the floor. You lie on these stone slabs and sweat. Apparently there is some crazy ionic shit happening while you sweat that improves circulation and more ailments than you can shake a stick at.

We arrived and received our pale green jumpsuits, not unlike those sexy ones I wore in Seoul last year, and 3 towels. After changing into our chain-gang gear, we stepped into the hot room and spread our jumbo bath towels over the numbered stone slab appointed to us (they assign friends numbers on opposite sides of the room to discourage talking) and then could either use the small one for our heads or go with the block-o-wood pillow, which was surprisingly comfortable for a block of wood. Unlike many saunas, they allow you to bring in a bottle of water, which really helps towards the end of each "sweat sesh". Before entering the ganbanyoku, signs instructed us to lie on our stomachs for 5 minutes and then flip onto our backs for 10 before taking a 5 minute break in the relaxation room. The package we were on gave us 90 minutes of commercial-free sweat time so we were able to complete the cycle 4 or 5 times before our limit was up. Many of these places encourage you not to shower after, as your clean sweat supposedly acts as a natural moisturizer and has some other freaky natural-enhancing properties and to tell the truth I was contemplating becoming one with my sweat until I actual, you know, sweated. After that 90-minute session I could have realistically faked having showered what with all the water coming off my body, but trust me, you want to take a shower after ganbanyoku.

The rooms are heated to around 40 degrees C so while much cooler than a sauna, it is the perfect heat for sweating like a whore and being fairly comfortable while doing so. As with so many "esthe" treatments in Japan, ganbanyoku are also supposedly good for weight loss and sure enough, the one we went to had a before/after picture tacked to the wall showing that you too, can show up and sweat for a couple hours each week and the fat will literally melt off. That's about the only thing that bothered me, can we not just enjoy it for what it is and rely on good old-fashioned exercise and diet for weight loss?! I hardly know why I bother to be surprised any more but I am still constantly surprised at the amount of crap on the market for weight loss here, particularly those vibrating belts. We aren't still wrapping ourselves in saran-wrap and trying to sweat out the weight are we?!

Mini-rant aside, the ganbanyoku experience was fantastic and I may just have to become a weekly sweater at my local one.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Postcard from the Kaisha 3

First let me pose a hypothetical question:

If you find yourself as the Button Bitch in the elevator one day at work, what do you do when you are master of the door and there is a party on both sides bowing to each other?

Do you:

A) Sigh with impatience and push the "close" button voraciously, barely giving the parties enough time to get in a couple bows a piece?

B) Think wicked thoughts and purposely hold the doors open until one of the parties, after some never ending bowing, collapses from the onset of sciatica?

C) Everything in moderation - hold the doors open for 3-4 bows each or until one of the parties shoots you the stink eye?

D) None of the above?

Elevator politics are so fierce aren't they? Where to stand, whether to talk, avoidance of becoming the Button Bitch, trying not to spew when the guy in front of you and his dandruff-dusted shoulders get a little too close. Riding the elevators everyday at the Kaisha is riddled with issues. I am constantly inner-monologuing about whether to submit and do Button Bitch duty, or to let some other schmuck do it. Some of the factors I consider are whether I know the other potential-Button Bitches, and if so, I consider whether I like them and run through my inventory of memories to recall whether they have ever snubbed me before; whether they got on the elevator before or after me; whether they look like they're itching to push the buttons or wouldn't deign to touch them; and whether I like their outfit or not. It's a categorical mine field! Trust me, there are a couple Secretaries I am just waiting for the chance to accidentally-on-purpose close the doors on.

I have the most issues with the Secretaries, surprise surprise, I know. If I don't make like I am trying to be Button Bitch for them and just flounce off the elevator it's like I am equating myself with a male Professional. If I do become their Button Bitch, I have to wait for them to toddle off the elevator, sometimes ever so slowly, while they bid goodbye to their Secretary-sisters from another floor. With the male Professionals, if I become their Button Bitch they either get all Western and insist that I go first or they just take off running. If I'm doing the running, I look like I'm asserting my inner Western Woman (the thought scares me too). Yes, it very well could be in my head, but I do feel that how you behave towards others on an elevator speaks to who you are, or at least what kind of "you" you are projecting.

Not that it's any surprise, but for the record I am an A girl. I can't stand to hold the door open any longer than necessary to let the two parties act like those alternating pecking rooster toys that each peck in turn when you squeeze the metal handles together, bound to continue forever until the hand of god, or my pretty manicured finger, comes to the rescue.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Take me down to drunkard's alley

If you're walking under the tracks in Shibuya and you don't bother looking to your left, it would be very easy to miss nonbei yokocho, or Drunkard's Alley. But if you do look to your left, either because you tend to look around when you walk or because you are turning towards a noise, or a smell, you will see a few strings of those cheesy red and white paper lanterns that I inexplicably love hung around the end of an alley containing bars so small you have to hold your breath to fit through the door.

One night a few weeks ago a friend and I headed out to explore this small corner of Shibuya, with a view to have a drink at Piano Bar, sister bar to the no-name red bar (which I will rant about a few paragraphs down). We almost missed Piano Bar, with its dark wood door and 10-point sign that looks like it was stuck there out of obligation rather than actual necessity. It wasn't open yet and the obachan running a yakitori joint next door told us to walk around the block once and it would probably be open by the time we got back.

We ended up doing a little more than just walking around the block. We were first waylaid at a bar that reminded me of a small antique bookstore with its classic windows and wooden bar. We didn't see what the upstairs was like but downstairs the bar fit four people and was already occupied when my friend and I arrived making six. As we neared the end of our first drinks, a group of four arrived who seemed to know the bartender so they squeezed in next to us as we edged closer to the bar, clutching our drinks for dear life. Judging by the conversation, everyone downstairs was a regular and feeling a bit claustrophobic, we moved on to another bar.

Up a steep flight of narrow stairs we entered Tight, a bar with pink bamboo wallpaper and white tile, and space for no more than five or six customers. The bartender was a lot friendlier than the bookseller one, so we ended up chatting to him through two or three more drinks. He talked to us a bit about the area and recommended a couple more bars to go to, before we promised to call again and bid him good night.

We headed into a small lane running parallel to the alley and visited a "tapas bar", also with an upstairs we never got to see. With the stairs running above the area behind the bar, the downstairs space was, you guessed it, cozy and small. As soon as we were settled along the bench at the bar, some regulars standing near the door began talking to us. One thing that became very apparent at each of these small bars is that the majority of customers are regulars who treat the bar like their own. This means they either don't really want to share their stomping ground with you, or they take a liking to you and invite you back to the bar as if they are the ones running it. Such was the case here, the regulars were so kind to us, hooking us up with sweets and escorting us out of the alley when we left. After so much liquid fun a trip to the bathroom was inevitable and all these bars being so small, none of them have bathrooms. No problem, there is a small row of sketchy squatter toilets at the end of the alley.

Calculating our time before last train we decided to make a move back to Piano Bar after our walk around the block and were happy to find it open. I don't recall seeing an actual piano per se, but the lush interior of red velvet, gold and goblets from King Arthur's time more than made up for it. We sat on the second floor, accessed by a set of stairs made from toothpicks, which feels like a medieval tree house with three tiny tables and some haunted mansion surrealist paintings on the walls. One last drink and some sounds of awe later we made it back down to earth and out of the quiet alley into the reality of Shibuya, this time making promises to each other to come back soon and start the evening with some yakitori or oden from one of the Showa-era shops holding up the bars.

Back to no-name red bar. Also down some dark dark street, in a dark dark alley and through a dark dark door, this place has been open for around five years. Similar to Piano Bar it is covered in red velvet and looks like it bought out the remaining stock from a liquidating chandelier store. I was first taken there by a friend three years ago and as we approached the place, he told me that it had no name, no hours and no phone number but that it had been written up in a few European magazines and was now frequented by cooler-than-thou Japanese hipsters and wanderlusting Euro-trash (who I love by the way). I'd also heard that you couldn't take photos or document the interior in any way and that the bartender was affected. Well. The first few times I actually found the bartender to be rather friendly and chatty. The next time I tried to take the beau but the bar wasn't open yet and the bartender wouldn't tell us what time he was planning to open it later. OK. The Cowgirl and I popped in once last year and proceeded to get properly sloshed, with no thought given to the bartender as we told lies to the semi-nice German guy talking to us and posing inappropriate questions to some other random guys from who-knows-where.

I went back last week with a friend who has just moved to Japan and barely got an acknowledgement from the bartender on walking in the door. Mistakenly assuming the bar was well-known enough by now to allow photography, I didn't stop my friend from taking a photo of me with probably no indication of where I actually was peeking in from the background. The bartender immediately gave us a curt NO PHOTOS and that was that. I'm half-surprised he didn't tell my friend he wasn't allowed to buy shots for the hos at the bar or use the restroom in the back. We had a good laugh about the whole thing but I ask you, what the fuck is up with red bar? It's hardly exclusive or unknown and yet the bartender still continues to put on these affected airs like he's doing us a favour allowing us to exist in his red velvet cave. That said, let's be honest. To drink there is like being in a precious musical jewellery box (albeit owned by a madman) and knowing how exclusive and hidden it is, you can sit back with a smug look on your face and forget about the bartender.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

On being both sorry and thankful

I remember a discussion in a class somewhere, sometime, where we talked about apologizing for things, things that did not require apology, and how this was particularly prevalent among women. If there is one word I say more times during the day at the Kaisha it has got to be "sorry" (sumimasen to be precise, which can be used in a whole variety of exciting ways). The only other thing I say just as much is "thank you". I guess that makes me real fucking polite, a regular Polly Prissy Pants. No, it just speaks to the ridonculously large amount of times these words can be overused at a Japanese company (household, etc). I use the whole sorry-thank you combo so many times I have forgotten whether I am actually sorry, thankful, or neither of the above. It's turned into a catch-all phrase for me. Ask my secretary to do something? Sorry-thank you. Someone holds the door for me (in my dreams)? Sorry-thank you. The cleaning lady moves away from the sink so I can get water? Sorry-thank you. I'm opening the door from one side while someone is doing the same from the other? Sorry-thank you. You get the picture.

What's more, it is said in such rapid-fire succession and with such a sense of embarrassment. What's to be sorry, let alone embarrassed, about when you run into someone in a small hallway closed by doors on each end at your workplace? It's not strange, it's not sexy (oh, fancy meeting you here!), it's just inevitable. And yet I find myself hurrying through doors and thanking-sorrying people all day long with an imploring look in my eyes. I'm a great actress. It's exhausting. I wish we could be my definition of normal and just smile, say hello and move on. There is no reason for my day to be so excessively punctuated by apologies and thanks, where one could normally just smile, say thanks, or throw out a casu-friendly "sorry" when the situation requires it. Or instead of apologizing for something that requires thanks, simply thank the person bestowing the favour. Thanks for reading this. And sorry.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sayonara to Please do it at home

You were hoping for something a little more punchy, I was hoping for something a little more punchy. Instead we got Creepy Sweepy's younger brother with square glasses. He's anything but square however, as you can observe from his not-so-subtle attempt to camouflage his snotty and festering tissue behind his shoe. With his untucked and rumpled shirt, I wouldn't be surprised if he just got out of some joint in Kabukicho. Or rather couldn't pay his bill and Creepy Sweepy had to go rescue him from local yakuza threats. Poor Sweepy. And he just recovered from a broken leg too. He needs to grow a pair and start standing up to his younger brother and the big bad world on the Tokyo subway in general, instead of clasping his hands together and cowering like an old granny.

I'm not so thrilled with this final installation of the manner poster series. What was your favourite? Did they neglect to instruct people on a manner you see as a particular problem in Tokyo? Personally, I think if you couldn't read English or Japanese, you might mistake this last poster as an instructional guide, what with the numbered boxes and all. 1) Blow your nose. 2) Simply drop crumpled tissue on the floor. 3) Back sweep with foot until tissue is safely behind your shoe. Thank you and have a nice day.

Dear Geisha

I don't know how most of you made your way to my humble blog, but I do know that people have googled some pretty crazy shit and been led astray to Chez Geisha. So I am proud to announce the inaugural edition of Dear Geisha, part Dear Abby advice column, part mockery.

First of all, I am really getting a taste for some people's proclivities, which actually elicit snickers from me. I love that word, snicker. Love the peanut version too. So here we go:

Now I know saying the peeps over at the Immortal Geisha forums are a little geisha-crazy would be an understatement, but I'm slowly learning about a whole new aspect of geisha fascination and romanticizing the Orient thanks to people's searches. I'm frankly surprised that most of them can spell "geisha". (Asterisks inserted to prevent this blog from becoming a hotbed for these queries, fingers crossed!)

geisha vs housew*fe I'd like to see this, although I think you'd find the geisha has better manners and conversational skills.
geisha esco*t tokyo Well there are geisha in Tokyo, and there are escorts, but you are not going to find both rolled into one and if you're googling this sort of thing, you should probably be looking into an escort-try the back of Metropolis.
geisha s*ower movie Don't you know they don't shower, but use ancient and traditional public baths?!
geisha pu*ic hair I think it's safe to say-similar if not the same to every. other. Japanese. woman's.
geisha p*e Because it's so different from every other woman's...
geisha services vancouver I think what they meant was "Asi*n sl*t mas*age Vancouver"
geisha pimp, what is the word I don't know, what is the word? Geisha are not prostitutes and so don't have pimps.
geisha movie, when the man takes off her skirts Hmm let me rack my brain for this one...perhaps the Sayuki movie? AKA biggest farce ever?
geisha mass*ge erot*c movies What the hell is this geisha massage I keep hearing about? I thought they only trained in dance, music and conversation.
geisha japanese bitch There are some of them to be sure.
geisha hot towel This is one I haven't heard about. Are they misinterpreting the use of oshibori perhaps?
geisha fu*king Yes, we'd all like to see this.
geisha giving he*d j*b This too.
geisha do they attack Only when provoked.
geisha bitches Again, yes, they exist.
foot-bonding in a geisha No, you're confusing this with foot-binding in China, which is so not hawt. Back to google.
do the geishas always sleep with men? No they don't so you'd be better off throwing a 10,000 note down at a pink salon for a quick blow job from someone also trained in the art of using her mouth.
baby eating geisha Well there are geisha bitches but I don't think they go this far!
as*es from a geisha Is this person even old enough to type?!
japanese geisha catfight This I would love to see, but as of yet have only see the frostiest of sisterly love among geisha.
geisha sweat They do! And it tastes like candy!
do geishas wear br*s No. And maiko don't wear underwear, those damn panty lines are so pesky.
fuc*ing a geisha Not going to happen to you in this lifetime if you are typing "fucking a geisha" in English, into a search engine on the internet.

What strikes me the most is that I talk enough trash for these phrases to pull up my blog in a search. I mean really, baby eating geisha?! What have they been reading in middle America?Tune in next time, when I expose queries relating to stomping women and dress up games, which are really dress down if you want to get technical.