Thursday, May 28, 2015

Meet Us in Shinjuku!

Eric and I felt such relief we had made it to our Shibuya apartment without getting lost. We had plans for the coming evening that included taking in the Robot Dinner Show and meeting up with friends. The area of Shinjuku was where the five of us would meet. We weren’t too worried about finding the place because we had our portable wifi and google maps. Our friend Chris lived in Shinjuku at that time, so it was easy for him to meet with us. Chris wouldn’t be seeing the show, but we would meet for drinks and socializing, along with two other friends Tom and Sarah of .

It was still light outside, but we each had a glass of wine anyway! After that train ride, it was really nice to have time to unwind. We didn’t get too comfortable because we were also very hungry! The last “meal” we had eaten was toast at the previous apartment. After getting refreshed with showers and a change of clothes, Eric and I ventured out into Shibuya. This night was to be our first experience interacting with locals that most likely weren’t speaking any English. I may have been a tad nervous about that. But, I was also getting to that “hangry” mode, so I needed food now! 
We strolled into a ramen  place and luckily were greeted by a nice hostess. As she walked us to a counter, she pulled out what appeared to be small laundry baskets and handed them to us. She said something in Japanese while motioning to our bags. We set our stuff in them because you don’t set belongings on the floor.
The two of us glanced over the menu, all in Japanese, but the photos helped a lot. We chose what appeared to be ramen with ham. Pointing, bowing, and saying “arigatou gozaimasu” a few times went a long way. The food arrived a few minutes later, along with water, and it was steaming hot! We considered this to be our first authentic meal in Japan. The flavors were vibrant and it really filled up our empty stomachs.
When we reached the nearby train station, we were feeling pretty confident. We didn’t get lost switching apartments and our first meal order went off without issue. Why would we feel any different? We were on the train to Shinjuku. And, when were arrived we popped out of the station quickly. There are a few YouTube videos out there were people get stuck in the station for hours, not able to find an exit.
It was at this moment, steps form the station exit, our wifi couldn’t seem to pin point our exact location. The phone also couldn’t find the restaurant. Google maps gave us three locations and they all looked incorrect. “So let’s just walk this way”….whatever direction that was. As expected, the crowd was moving quickly and it was full of characters. We saw families, students, hipsters, the homeless, and street performers. There was also a sort of odor in the air that reminded me of a car repair shop. As we took all this in, we were sure we would come across a sign or even a hint of which direction this famous Robot Restaurant was located. Time ticked forward and we walked.
After back tracking from a wrong turn, that sent us perpendicular to our original route, and what seemed to be about two miles, we stopped. We had left the train station about 30 minutes ago and we were sure we would be late to meet Chris. Our meeting time with him was in ten minutes and nothing around us felt like the racy Shinjuku we had heard about. This was when a total stranger came up to us and helped our confused looking faces. I’m going to call him “The Good Samaritan” because if not for him Eric and I would still be looking for the location, seven months later. He didn’t know the exact location either, but he found out we were headed in the wrong direction. The gentlemen had us turn around and make a left turn under the train station. We thanked him a few times and yes, bowed a few times too.

Once we followed his direction we entered an area that most definitely looked like the neighborhood we wanted. Suddenly there were lights everywhere and announcements with music playing from billboards. This was a little more like it. I immediately jumped on Twitter and updated Chris. After sending that message, I don’t even recall how we found the meeting spot. We made a few turns within this labyrinth of neon lights, street vendors, hagglers and loud music. Then suddenly there was the Robot Show and there was Chris!
We had only met Chris one other time at Tokyo Disneyland, but it was great to see a face that we knew! Eric and I arrived about 15 minutes late and we just had to tell him about our little adventure. We found Chris to be hungry and he knew of a place nearby. Chris walked Eric and I a few blocks over to a different ramen place. Here they had something unique to Japan that I really wanted to try.
At this restaurant patrons order outside the establishment from what looks like a vending machine (pictured above). The machine has the entire menu (pictures for easy ordering) on the face and a button for each item available. One inserts money and punches in what you’d like to have. After you're done and paid, a ticket is dispensed for you to take into the location. Eric and I weren’t really hungry so we ordered some dumplings and a drink to split. Upon entering the eatery, baskets for our belongings were handed out and we were shown our seats. We all then handed our tickets to the lady at the counter.
Not too long after we were enjoying our food, Sarah and Tom messaged that they were very close. They had attempted getting into the Robot Show with us, but tickets were sold out. Sarah and Tom had to see the previous showing which had just let out. Eric had to go outside, find them at the Robot Restaurant, and lead them to Chris and myself. I was firing questions at Chris when we noticed it had been about five minutes. Of course Eric had left his bag, which had his phone, at the table.
Chris and I turn around and see Eric, Sarah, and Tom laughing and talking. We felt a little relieved they were not lost. But, they didn’t start making their way toward the door. In fact, Eric didn’t even look at the door. There the three of them went, still laughing, and passing us by. Chris and I looked at each other in disbelief as they continued down the street. I went out and called them back to us.
We hadn’t seen Sarah and Tom since a few days ago at DisneySea. They were still on a natural high from just having seen the Robot Show. It was their second time and they loved it! Chris and I had finished up the food. Eric and I had another hour until our show time, so we headed to a nearby bar, Kirin City. It was on the way to the bar that a few of us kept being asked if we wanted to pay for a Sexual Massage. It was a little disturbing to say the least! Even though we rejected their advertisement, they kept following us for about 40 yards. It was very awkward. “What do you like? We will find it for you!"
Apparently Kirin Beer is a popular Japanese brand, but this place also mixed drinks. Tonight it seemed the Moscow Mule was a popular choice because when Chris ordered one, we all followed suit. We sat about and had some laughs for about 45 minutes. It was great to swap stories and hear what Chris thought about living in Tokyo. Eric and I had asked him many questions while the three of us were at Disneyland, but we were happy to hear Sarah and Tom bring in new questions. I think Chris may have been a little bombarded by the four of us picking his brain. We were all so happy to be there and wanted to learn as much as possible.
The inside of the place felt very American, like an Applebee’s or T.G.I. Friday’s. What snapped us back to reality was when Tom and Sarah said they had to leave soon because they had an appointment at an Owl Café. Like a Cat Café, folks can pay for a reserved amount of time to interact with Owls while sipping on tea or coffee. At the same time, Eric and I would be watching an "over the top" show of girls dressed as illuminated dancing robots, and large snakes fighting jungle-witch women hanging from the ceiling. Yup, we definitely were not in America.
So it was here that we parted ways with Tom and Sarah. They seemed to have a sense of where they were headed and were excited to go pet some owls. Chris walked Eric and I back to the Robot Restaurant. Although he lived in the general area, he hadn't yet seen the show. We thanked Chris for meeting with us and made plans to get together in a few days. Our night had been great so far and it was about to get more interesting. According to Tom and Sarah, life changing! In our next trip report we will see if that really was the case.