Monday, 12 August 2013

Raw and wrong

“Come on, let's sit down here.”
“Really? Just the two of us, sitting on the riverbank and drinking?”
“Yup.”
“Great, sounds romantic.”
“Of course! You know that I want to share all my love and affection for my very best roommate Rude Boy!”
“Wow, when did you turn into Insufferable Dumbass?”

Usually I turn Cologne down when he wants to hang out somewhere. I get lazy, and I hate hanging out with other foreigners. Plus, Cologne can be kind of annoying, and I have to spend enough time with him as it is. It doesn't help that he wants to be the King of Japanese Romance, either, and thinks that it is my express responsibility to attend to all of his translation and social lubrication needs therein. But he's lured me out with the promise of a new bar, so now we're pre-drinking amidst a gaggle of orange lanterns and a crowd of mostly ryuugakusei.

I have no idea what the lanterns are for, but they're clearly some attendant element of some kind of minor festival. A bunch of food stalls, nearly all selling identical udon, have been unfurled under Sanjou Oohashi, with entirely too many revelers packed into the narrow space remaining. It's like a small, fairly unimpressive festival. “I heard it's like a children's festival,” says Cologne, “but I don't see what this has to do with children.” Mother Russia and 18 should be somewhere in the area, the latter distinguishable by her eye-catching red hair, but we don't see them, and it's not like we're going to hang out anyway. Our interest quickly drains and we sit down to enjoy our beer.

We continue to mock Insufferable Dumbass for quite some time. Mercifully, he's left the dormitory several days before, and the ambient volume has plummeted. Cologne asserts the impossibility of a long-distance relationship, predicting a breakup within two months of his returning to Hawaii, which I think is rather optimistic of him. Just the night before, Jason Biggs said that she'd told the other Chinese girls that she was only dating him because she wanted somebody to take care of her while she was in Kyouto.

We extricate ourselves from the piles of people milling about the area and head to this bar Cologne has heard so much about. Fortunately he already knows where it is and we find it without much difficulty, on the second floor of a nondescript building next to that shady-looking Turkish kebab place, two turns down a mildewed and decrepit hallway. The lighting is dark, classic rock paraphernalia adorns every available surface, and we're immediately greeted in English. We order beers.

Of the fifteen or so customers already in the place, every single one is foreign. None is under 30. Only two are women. All look very American, and very English teachery. But the atmosphere is convivial and the music is good, even if the service leaves something to be desired.

“I've never had a nama biiru take this long. You just fill the glass. Is he brewing it back there?”
“No, I think he's still harvesting the barley.”

Cologne calls out the owner to let him know that we're there on a regular's recommendation. He's kind of a combination of a host club owner, Murakami Haruki, and Heath Ledger's character from Lords of Dogtown. Later, Ace of Spades comes on and Cologne and I start to rock out and sing along, because we're buzzed and because fuck you, it's a fun song. The owner catches our eye and when I look over, he rolls out his tongue and throws up the horns. I decide in that moment that I'll definitely be making my way back here sometime.

When we leave, we have the brilliant idea of trying to get down the stairwell without touching the floor. Cologne gives up immediately but I try to parkour my way along the banisters and wall overhangs, ducking spiderwebs and finally falling when I stab the shit out of my hand on the most jagged stucco ceiling in the world. It bleeds on and off the rest of the night.

Cologne takes me to another bar, one he's already been to, and which there is no way in hell you'd ever find if you didn't already know it was there. In fact, he has to forage around for a bit himself. It ends up being halfway down one of those little hallways leading between Kiyamachi and Pontochou. “Ah, this is it!” he finally says, victoriously grasping the handle of a small, square door that comes up to my stomach. It looks like a wooden wall panel, with absolutely no signage to suggest that it might conceal anything more interesting than a water pressure valve. But indeed, it opens into a tiny bar, slightly smaller than our bathroom, about ten customers squashed inside. Sadly, there's only about ten chairs.

Luckily we're not out of ideas, as there's one more place Cologne wants to show me: A small udon shop right nearby, just as nameless and nearly as hidden as the bar. He peers through the glass and recoils. “Ok, so do you want to eat udon and see me get my heart broken, or do you want to go somewhere else?”

A few weeks ago, he went out to some bar and spent a few hours talking with a couple of Japanese girls, and now he thinks he's the smoothest operator in the land. He got his comeuppance, though, by thinking that he was getting somewhere with one of the girls, who dodged his attempts at getting a date before finally fessing up that she had an “important boyfriend.” Reacting entirely too badly to such a routine failure, he's now been treating her like the one that got away. I don't really feel like udon but I do want to see how this plays out, so I usher us inside.

The girl, who introduced Cologne to both these places, immediately waves to him when we sit down, but he pretends not to recognize her. Can't say she's my type, but the two staff are another story. According to Cologne, this shop is very popular with male patrons for its flirtatious bottle fairy of an owner, and I can see why. Total jukujo. Tooootal jukujo. And the girl, she's 25, and gyaaru-ish, and she's got that whole oneechan vibe going for her, and every inch of her face and body is just plain fuckable. No other word to describe her. Was that crass? I'm not even sorry.

They take to me instantly, as Japanese women tend to do (and then immediately get bored after like one meeting). As soon as they figure out how much Japanese I speak they're all over me, and then they pass it back and forth like a couple of pros. I can be pretty shy, but tonight I'm also drunk, and not only that, they are doing absolutely everything right to make me feel comfortable. Flirting constantly, poking fun at just the right moment in just the right ways, teasing personal details out of me to get me to relax. They've got a perfect older sister/younger sister mentor type vibe going. The owner comes around and sits with me for a while. Even though I know I'm being gamed, it's incredible to watch in action, and who gives a fuck anyway, I'm enjoying myself.

In the middle, I realise: There's something off about these two. Something raw and wrong. I've finally found the dirt in this city. I knew where it was – Kiyamachi – but I could never make any of it mine. Well, never give up.

“I'm so jealous of you right now,” Cologne whispers as they shower me with attention.

He complains idly of the heat, so the owner moves us to underneath the fan, and, incidentally, right next to the love of his life. Now he's forced to acknowledge her. She claims to be 32, though Cologne swears she told him she was 25. She definitely doesn't look 25. I tell her she does.

“Listen,” she says, “tell him I'm sorry about what happened.”
“I'm fine with it,” he shrugs. “I guess I just misunderstood some things and I ended up disappointed. So yeah, I'm kind of upset, but I'm not mad or anything. Don't translate that!”
“...kind of upset, but he's not mad or anything. Mm? Oh, too late.”
“I have a very important boyfriend,” she says.
“And how old is he?”
“29.” Pause. “I...I have a thing for younger men.”
I relay the information to Cologne, and through me they exchange a few more pleasantries before she and her female companion leave. I manage not to point out that Cologne is totally a younger man (with six years' difference rather than a paltry three); I've caused enough trouble for one night. And it was completely worth it.

We finish our udon and stay for one more round of beer. The two staff pay probably a little bit too much attention to us (me), but the other men seem to get a kick out of the show anyway. I don't know how much is salesmanship and how much is the two of them just having fun, but it's a great vibe in any case. One of the other customers, a grinning, kingpin-looking guy in his 30s, randomly wants to shake my hand as we leave.

Zaza's isn't my favourite place in the world, but Cologne wants to smoke some shisya. For whatever reason, he also badly wants me to try.
“I don't smoke.”
“That's not a very Japanese attitude. You have to try new things!”
“The Japanese do not try new things.”
“Sure they do. You explain shisya to them and then everyone wants to try.”
Beat.
“...can it give you cancer?”
“No.”
“Ugh, fine.”

I give it a few rounds but I don't see the point. Smoking cigarettes is sexy as all fuck, at least when a girl does it, but this is just stupid. Although admittedly, carrying a hookah around with you would be pretty badass.

A couple of girls are sitting at the table next to us, and Cologne wants to break the ice by asking what flavour of shisya they're partaking of. It's not a terrible opener, so I go grab another round, to give him time to work. We've done this a couple times before, and it usually works pretty well if he establishes the connection and I come in afterward to keep things moving smoothly. The girls turn out to actually be Chinese, but fortunately speak Japanese well enough to communicate. Cologne takes down a number that he will never make use of.

They leave, and I manage to strike up a conversation with the group next to us. The one girl out of the five of them there is pretty darn cute, but, predictably, taken, and has been for a solid two years. I can't even imagine being in a relationship for that long. Thought the same thing when I found out Chappy had been with her boyfriend for three years, too. She and Plumfield's girlfriend thought that was a pretty remarkable reaction. We invite them back to the little bar from which we had earlier been rejected.

Unfortunately, this is where my cognitive abilities have walked up to the alcoholic cliff and thrown themselves right the fuck off of it. I act on the impulse to pay for everybody in there. We don't cause any trouble, but by the time we leave, I can barely stand. We all head down to Sanjou Oohashi so I can convalesce.

Fortunately, when all I have in my system is beer I'm a pretty cooperative drunk. Unfortunately, I drop my cell phone in the Kamo River, destroying the screen. I will take it back to Yodobashi Camera, but they'll tell me that I can only keep my current account, SIM card, and memory if I upgrade to a newer, better phone. I can't just buy the same one again. Fuckers. So I'll eventually decide to just leave it in my room, plugged into the wall. It's a land line is what it is. Worse, this doesn't happen soon enough to prevent me from messaging Mother Russia: “<333333333,” perhaps the single worst thing I could possibly have said. On the bright side, I don't die.


Total damage: 90,000 yen.

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