October 31, 2012 by Dan
One of the best things about living in a city full-time is that, when going abroad, you don’t feel as much pressure to do big-city stuff. It’s not that strange for us to ride a train, walk around with thousands of other pedestrians, get lost in windy blocks, or stay out until four in the morning at a packed, throbbing nightclub.
Well, all of that was true except for the last; at four in the morning, I’m asleep. And nightclubs? I somehow skipped that stage of my development.
That aside, Tokyo is an amazing city in which to go Out and About. Any time you take that many millions of people and put them together, things will happen. On our second night in town we met up with the estimable Grant and Ellen (remember them from Kyoto?) and took ourselves to Buri, an izakaya in the Ebisu district. Izakaya are stand-up bars – no seats here! You lean on the bar, order drinks and skewers from the little grill at the front of the bar. We ordered quite a few.
Everything was delicious, especially the asparagus wrapped in pork. I mean, anything wrapped in pig products is usually good – this was just unusually good, even for that. After a couple of hours at Buri, we decided that sitting down was a good idea, so we repaired to a completely deserted underground bar, where the bartender was happy to pose with us and a bottle of Four Roses.
This was a Friday night, and the main Ebisu watering holes were packed to the gills. But, just like every other entertainment district we’d found in the country, finding somewhere to hang out that wasn’t packed was suprisingly easy. One more thing I will never understand.
On our last night we knocked around in Shinjuku, famous for bright lights and neon.
Pictures don’t do the place any justice. Imagine Times Square on a Saturday night – packed with people, taxis, traffic, and noise. Multiply that by five, and you have a reasonable approximation of the crowds and light of Shinjuku on a Sunday night at nine pm. The area seethed with people. We wandered for a bit, got lost, and ended up at a lovely little izakaya in Shomben Yochoko.
Shomben is colloquially known as “Piss Alley,” apparently from the crowds of drunks who use the flagstones as urinals. We found it to be dark, noisy, vibrant, and delightful – it reminded me of a night market in Thailand, part of that other-ish Asia that seems to pop up in Japan every now and then. The owner was friendly, and kept refilling our water glasses in the relentless evening heat. The food? Transcendent.
Most of what you see here is salted grilled chicken skin, which is even better than it sounds. Here, it was kind of like grilled chicharrones, but with bits of chicken instead of crispy belly. Amazing.
We spent the rest of the evening gawking at everything around us, including a truck with a PA system:
A street event very similar to what I’d seen earlier in the day outside the sumo tournament:
A two-girl band rocking it out on a street corner:
But absolutely no elephants, anywhere:
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