Japan Trip 2018, Part 4

I spent more money on my two-night stay at my hotel in Tokyo than I did for all the rest of my lodging in Utsunomiya, Sendai, and Osaka combined. It was worth every damn yen of it.

The Hotel Ryumeikan Ochanomizu Honten has only a handful of rooms. It’s a modern hotel with traditional Japanese styling. The staff was superb and thoughtful - they surprised me with a bottle of sparkling sake, which I didn’t even know was a thing. But what made me book this hotel was the bathtub.

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The tubs are handmade Shigaraki yaki pottery. The froofy stuff they give to add to the water just made everything even better. It. Was. Amazing.

Eric was in nearby Akihabara, about 15 minutes away as the foot flies. I hoofed it over and met up with him outside of Akihabara Station. I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of meeting up with friends on the other side of the world, just because we both happen to be there. I’ve never considered myself to be the jet-setting type. I’ve been very fortunate to travel more than most, but I’ve never been the person that just hops out to another country just because, and oh my friends are joining me, also just because.

But there we were. Just because.

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We hopped over to his hotel to drop off a bunch of stuff he and his friends had bought. His room was already stuffed full of souvenirs. Literally piles of things that I could not comprehend stuffing into suitcases to get back home. His friends had come from all over the world to meet up for a pair of Love Live! concerts in Tokyo. I don’t really get it myself, but I love seeing it when something brings people together, literally in the global sense, for something they enjoy. Out of them all, I only knew Eric, but each of them treated me as if they’d known me forever.

After hitting a couple arcades, we headed into a 4th-floor izakiya. I would have never found the place on my own, and it taught me an important lesson: when looking for things in Japan, don’t forget to look up.

A few of Eric’s friends had eaten at this izakiya before, and they had reserved the whole place for a massive after-party following the next day’s concert. They gave us a few tips about ordering, and then paved the way ahead…

First up, baka-sized drinks. “Baka” means crazy, so I had an idea of what to expect. I’m not sure if this was actually what that drink size was called in that izakiya, but the staff went with it with huge smiles. Second, huge boats covered in piles of fried chicken. We ordered three of them not realizing what we’d gotten ourselves into. When they arrived, we quickly dubbed the trio of vessels the Mistake Fleet.

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It wasn’t that the chicken-laiden boats were too much on their own. We had also ordered a couple servings of fries, which were also served as massive portions. We were destroying ourselves with tasty goodness, and lots of it.

Near our table was another large group that were celebrating a birthday. When they sang for him, the whole place cheered for him. Not in that Olive Garden sort of way. No, this was more sincere. Everyone in the bar was now his friend, just for being there at the same time.

Then came his birthday presents. one of them was this sleeveless Christmas shirt thing that I’m not sure how to describe. Eric later told me it’s called the virgin killer sweater. I’m not going to Google that.

The birthday boy put it on and we couldn’t hide our laughter. He saw us laughing, and came over to laugh at himself with us. Turns out his birthday wasn’t that day, it was the next. Same as mine.

We both pulled out our IDs to show our birthdays, and then hugged as we realized we really did share that same day. I really wish I’d gotten a better picture of this because looking at it now, we kind of look the same. Doppelgangers from different corners of the world.

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It’s strange how that works, and it’s yet another of a long string of reminders of how small the world really is.

I don’t know who the guy was, but if he ever reads this: Happy birthday, it was great meeting you!

Speaking of Birthdays…

The next day I woke up and didn’t know how to feel. It was my 35th birthday and I had no plans to celebrate. I was by myself in Japan, but friends were somewhere nearby. I had every option to choose from, but no idea what those options were.

I decided to make my way over to Akasaka Station. I didn’t know much about the area except that there’s a famous temple, a Pagani dealership, and a high-end boutique car dealership called Bingo Sports. That was enough reason for me to go explore a bit. A short meander from the station was Hie Shrine. The stairway leading up to the temple was lined with red torii gates, which were all the more beautiful because they were hidden away until I turned a corner and found them ascending before me.

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I strolled through the temple grounds and casually made my way through until I exited on the other side. From there I continued walking until I got to Bingo Sports.

Bingo Sports is a boutique car dealership handling rare and high-end vehicles. How high-end? Well, when I opened the door and walked into their showroom, there was a Porsche Carrera GT, Ferrari 288 GTO Evoluzione, and Ferrari F40 LM, along with a couple other cars.

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The staff at Bingo Sports gave me space to take some pictures, then bade me farewell and I excused myself and let them get back to what they had been doing before I went in.

A short walk later was the Pagani dealership. Again I was left alone and allowed to take pictures. There were a pair of Paganis sitting in the show room and they are, still to this day, the most beautiful pieces of automotive artwork I’ve ever seen. I’m a huge Aston Martin fan and for series production vehicles I still think those are the prettiest things on the road. But for sheer artistry, there’s no beating Pagani.

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I wandered through Akasaka toward the Suntory Museum and beer garden. I never got there. I ended up at the Ritz Carlton instead. In my defense, they're right next to each other.

"I'm willing to bet they have a bar with a killer view..." I thought to myself. "I could go for a glass of champagne. Fuck, I deserve it. And it's my birthday."

I walked into the entryway, a Maserati Quattroporte, Bentley Bentayga, Rolls Royce, AMG GT-R, and… um, a Jeep Liberty... wtf… were lined up in front. A gentleman greeted me at the door and I asked where the bar was. "It's on the 45th floor."

Bar with a view, indeed.

"I'd like a glass of champagne and a view, please." I told the man whose pleasant smile welcomed me to the expansive bar. "It's my birthday and I'm spending it alone, so I might as well treat myself."

He wished me a happy birthday and sat me at a small table against a large window looking out across Shinjuku. I ordered a glass of cuvee (sorry, not champagne). The bubbly came out, accompanied by chocolates and macarones - I nice little surprise from the guy that had seated me.

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I started to cry. I know I'm loved by so many people - my friends and family are amazing. But I had pictured things being different.

Yes, I ran away. I know I secluded myself and brought this loneliness upon myself. But at the same time, it hit me harder than I'd expected that I was sitting there alone, with a lone birthday candle to mark the passing of my life into its 35th year.

The best cocktail I've ever had in my life was a creation of Koji Nakamu at The Society in Park Hotel Tokyo. Turns out the bartender at the Ritz Carlton used to work with him there and they're still friends. Small world, small Japan, go figure.

I asked him if he had his own cocktail creation and he made me a drink he calls Murasaki, which means "purple" in Japanese. He described it as the meeting of east meets west, both in alcohols and theme. Atop the drink was placed a flower - a violet, English for purple.

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Tokyo's sprawl is hard to comprehend. It keeps going for as far as the eye can see. Once distant in view, buildings look so small but then you realize that what seems like a small thing is actually a 20-plus story office building. Shinjuku's cluster of skyscrapers on their own could be the downtown of a major American city. But they're just one pocket of buildings in the vast Tokyo cityscape.

Trying to wrap my head around it made me feel so small and inconsequential. Here, atop the world, I was at its center. But what if I was out there next to that minuscule 20-odd story building so small in the distance? I don't know how I could take such a wonderful situation and turn it into a dire feeling of meaningless existence. That's depression, I'm told.

I messaged Eric. I needed a friend. I needed company. I didn't want to be alone. I knew he was busy. Call me selfish. "All I'm asking for my birthday is to have drinks 45 stories up, at the Ritz Carlton, in Tokyo... under any other circumstances this would be an absolutely absurd demand." Is this even real life?

As if to accentuate the point, the sunset flared orange over Mount Fuji out to my left. I'd spent a little over a month in Japan, spread across three trips, and this was the first time I'd seen Mt. Fuji with my own eyes.

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Eric and his friend Will came to join me, having a cocktail with me to celebrate my birthday. As far as birthday parties go, it was a rather small one. But, it was exactly what I needed. Eric headed back to his hotel, and I went to Tsukiji Fish Market to get some sushi with Will. After that, I called it a night. I was lost in my thoughts.

When I got back to my hotel room, a small surprise awaited me. The staff at Hotel Ryumeikan Ochanomizu Honten knew it was my birthday and had left a card for me, propped up against a bottle of sparkling sake. I didn’t even know sparking sake was a thing, and it turned out to be amazing. I poured myself a glass and soaked in that amazing tub for a while before crawling into bed.

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The next morning I’d be taking a shinkansen to Osaka for the last leg of my trip.

Click the link below for Part 5 of this article.