Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day Three - The capsule and the game

For Day 3 we had scheduled a bike ride around Tokyo, with a bike tour company. But at the last minute I decided not to go - it sounded too expensive for what it was Y10,000. By now I'd gotten used to prices in yen and I was thinking, man that's like 3 decent dinners in a restaurant or 3 nights accommodation in my hotel, just for riding a bike around for a day?

It was just as well I didn't go on the bike tour, because that morning I had to find somewhere else to stay. You see, I only booked my first 2 nights in the Sakura Inn so that if I didn't like it I could go somewhere else. Turns out I was totally happy with where I was staying, but I'd forgotten to tell them that (since we'd been so busy the first two days), and now my bed was booked by someone else. D'oh!

Reception phoned around their other two Sakura hotels for me and one of them had a room available - but it was miles away from the city center and since it was a Saturday and game day and our planned big night out, I wanted to be somewhere within walking distance of where we would be going out. And since I liked Shibuya so much I wanted to stay somewhere there.

I borrowed a copy of the Lonely Planet and the only cheap accommodation listed in Shibuya was one of the infamous Japanese capsule hotels. In these you don't get a room, just a capsule in the wall to sleep in. I was mentally picturing something like a cadaver drawer in a morgue... bit since it was cheap at around Y3000 and a true Japanese experience, it sounded great!

So I dragged my suitcase onto the subway and across town to Shibuya, then up a few hills until I finally found the capsule hotel. Yes, they have a room. Great! Oh, but you can't stay here - tattoo. Huh? The guy on reception had noticed my tattoo peeping out from beneath my Tshirt, and they have a no tattoos policy, as a way to prevent yakuza gangsters from staying. Yep, that's me all right, a Japanese mafioso. Dammit. I asked the guy at Capsule #1 if there was another capsule hotel in the area, and he gave me some vague directions. Well they were vague to me cos I didn't know my way around at all. So I asked him to write the name of the hotel on a piece of paper so that I could ask people in the street where it is. Off I went again and the usual suspects of waiters and restaurant touts had no idea where Capsule #2 was located. Finally I showed my sign to a truck driver delivering kegs of beer who scratched his head as he read out its name - "kapuseru hoteru" (see, it sounds like "capsule hotel") and he showed me where it was, about ten meters from where we were standing. Since it was around midday no one was at reception (check in time is 5pm), but after wandering through the hotel (and getting a peep at the capsules themselves!) with my shouts of  "Sumimasen" (excuse me) I found a cleaning lady who ran off up the street to find the receptionist. This time around I'd put my jacket on to cover up my tattoo, and the guy said I could stay there, but I would have to return after 5pm. Fine, can I leave my suitcase here? But on seeing the size of my suitcase the guy changed his mind and said that I couldn't stay, as my suitcase wouldn't fit inside one of their lockers. God dammit. So I was back out on the street again.

I weighed up my options which were to 1. head way the fuck back across town to the other Sakura hotel where I still had a booking, or 2. take the hit tonight and stay in a more expensive hotel near where I was standing, and then try get in the Capsule hotel #1 (with their larger lockers) the following morning, when there would hopefully be a different guy on reception. I decided to go for option 2. Now, the only hotels that I'd seen in the area were "love hotels". These are usually fancy rooms (often with a kinky theme, e.g. Arabian nights) that you can hire either for a short stay of an hour or two, or for the whole night. They have similar hotels in Argentina. I was about to walk into a love hotel when the receptionist at Capsule #2 ran out into the street and yelled out to me, saying that he'd called the owner and I could stay there, so long as my suitcase has a lock. Finally!

So he signed me in and did his best to explain to me the long list of rules, which I understood fine. Basically, you check your belongings into a locker on the ground floor which is also where you get changed. They give you a towel and a toothbrush and a little boys pair of baggy shorty pyjamas (hey, one size fits all) to wear around the hotel. The capsules are on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floor, and there is a bathroom on every floor and a sauna and TV room in the basement. Boom!

The row of capsules
At that point I went and checked out my capsule and it was pretty sweet. There was a little 14" TV in there, a lamp, radio and alarm clock. At the feet end was a little blind. It was about as wide as a single bed and about the same height, so it was really just like being on the bottom bunk of a set of bunk beds. And with the blind closed it would be nice and dark and quiet too. I reckon they'd be great in a hostel instead of bunk beds.

My capsule
By now it was 1pm so I'd wasted the whole day just getting a new hotel. After lunch I went and met Mike and the others at our rendezvous point at 3pm to head to the rugby game. They'd just finished their bike tour which they all enjoyed. The rugby game was the centerpiece of the trip, we were going to watch the All Blacks vs. the Wallabies (that's NZ vs Australia) in Tokyo. An exhibition match.

We headed towards the rugby stadium and for much of the way we were walking against the crowd, as a game had just finished at the adjacent baseball stadium. Mike had met some dudes on the flight over and they were saving some seats for us so that we would have a bit of a kiwi section in the crowd. When we got there they'd placed blow up sheep on our seats to mark them as reserved, which was pretty funny.

Part of the Kiwi contingent
The guy closest to the camera is a Kiwi who's been living in Japan for 20 or so years doing importing and exporting. He speaks the language of course and has a Japanese wife and a kid. He had heaps to tell us about life in Japan which was really interesting. He explained how rugby has practically no coverage at all in Japan - baseball is of course the national game. That was a bit of a surprise to me because many top NZ players relocate to Japan in the twilight of their careers to play rugby... but they are actually just corporate run teams, e.g. Nissan or Toyota. The games get no media coverage at all and the results are just bragging rights for their CEOs. "Hah, we beat Toyota last week". He said he'd been paying attention to the media all week and hadn't read or seen or heard a single mention of the All Blacks playing in Japan. We were sitting in the cheap seats at around NZ$100 but the prices went up to about NZ$1000! Man, it's not like it's the World Cup final or anything. Not only that, but the finals of the national baseball league were being played that night too, so he thought it would be a miracle if the stadium filled. Fortunately it did, so they must have given away a bunch of tickets or something. Of course the crowd was mostly Japanese and mostly supporting the All Blacks but there were some Oz supporters too.

Our view during the game

The first highlight was the ground announcer reading out the NZ players name's. He sounded well excited which was helping to hype the crowd up. "Conlad Smi!" Then the haka, which still gives me goosebumps live (but the cynic in me is sick of seeing).
Another nicety was the cute girls walking around selling beers, so you didn't have to go all the way to the bar to get them. Why don't they do that in NZ?
The game itself is a bit of a blur... NZ won of course, the girls sitting behind us weren't paying attention at all and were just yacking the entire match, and the big screen for some crazy reason wasn't showing replays. Or the director had no idea about rugby because when they finally would show a replay, they wouldn't show the important part of the action but only the lead up to it - that was infuriating!

After the game we headed back to the hotel for showers etc and then headed out on the town. The girls were tired from the bike ride so it was just the guys out again. We’d heard plenty of dodgy stories about the Roppongi district – seedy nightclubs and even seedier Nigerian touts who try to lure you into their clubs. And other stories about being led in to a place, having a drink and then being presented with an inflated bill and the heavies when you try to leave. But since we didn’t have to worry about the girls being hassled, we decided to check it out and leave quick smart if it felt dodgy.

Well the rumours seemed to be true. The streets were crawling and the Nigerians were out in force, walking alongside making conversation, and they would be quite persistent and often hard to shake. It felt dodgy enough so we headed back to Shibuya, my favourite part of town.

Since it was Halloween there were plenty of people wandering around in Halloween costumes. There were heaps of foreigners (probably English teachers) dressed up and running around being dicks. Mike and Alexey called it a night as they had to catch the last train back, and because we didn't really know where to go out. I ended up staying out and I met a Chilean and a Peruvian dude and hung out with them speaking Spanish. They were part of a larger group of foreigners and those dudes, lead by a Asian-American dressed as Michael Jackson, knew where to go out. Turns out there was a whole street of clubs just around the corner from my capsule! "Michael" organised us a group discount of only Y3000 (NZ$45) just to enter the club... but I didn't have that much cash on me (and to be honest, wasn't keen paying that much just to get in to a club) so I hung out in the street with other randoms just people watching, before heading back to my capsule at about 3am.

Inside my capsule with the blind down

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