Where ever you have to go next for this book, I’d like to pay. Hurry up and take the money before I die.”
So offered a very kind and arrestingly macabre family member a month ago, one who wished not to trifle with any crowdfunding business. What am I, too good for my goddamn family? I accepted and booked passage to Japan. An eye-opening and fruitful excursion followed, one that enriched not only my forthcoming book but also my friggin’ soul. Please enjoy some captioned snapshots from my journey below.
Thirteen million people live in Tokyo, so it’s a little congested (as you may gather from this morsel of skyline). Many of the city’s streets are unnamed as well, but if you’re good with landmarks you’ll have no problem getting around. And the subway isn’t that difficult to figure out. Even when it is, the staff down there are more than happy to assist the hopelessly confused. The first time I bought an incorrect ticket they knew before I did!
The four hundred fifty yen breakfast deal at Matsuya, one of Tokyo’s most beloved fast food establishments. Perfect for the language impaired tourist—punch your order in on the computer, take the ticket it prints out, sit down, give the server your ticket, BOOM, food. And tasty as all get out.
The Shibuya district at night. I don’t know if you can tell from this image but many of the crosswalks in Tokyo are at odd angles, curving and stretching diagonally as if to anticipate jaywalking patterns. Pretty clever.
Poorly translated bootleg apparel is a cottage industry in Japan and they’re laughing all the way to the bank. Not even the Bortles are safe.
Physical media isn’t dead in every corner of the globe. To wit: the eight story Tower Records in Shibuya, an unreal monument to music and consumerism. Yes, they have the new BabyMetal. They have an entire floor for J-Pop (and one for K-Pop, and one with a book store / restaurant).
A tribute to fallen Megadeth drummer Nick Menza on the Western Rock floor of the eight story Tower Records. I tried to have a moment of quiet reflection but there were approximately five stereos within two feet of this display and they were all playing different things. There’s some noise pollution in Tokyo.
A fresh burger from Freshness Burger. That’s egg and chili on that bad boy (at least that’s what I think it was). No fries, or “potato” as they like to call it. Gotta cut back somewhere. Freshness Burger is reasonably priced but many an item or service in Tokyo is not. New Yorkers will feel at home.
Here’s what happens when you attempt to photograph an exclusive event occurring in / around the Harajuku area’s Tamagotchi store—an employee of the store will give you the big “no” while a cop tries to decide whether or not to yell at you. They were firm but polite. Those folks crowded around the window, they showed up so early—don’t cheapen their experience!
This is the interior of a Disk Union, a record store chain that has twenty or so locations around Tokyo. Every one I visited was crammed with stock just like this. Found lotsa rare greatness here but the favorite record shop I visited is Recofan (which is just one outlet in a mall) only because it has the largest, most varied (and cheapest) used section.
Some concepts are universal, like fishing programs on Saturday morning television. This woman was very excited to have caught her little buddy here. Later that day I watched a dubbed version of The Rocketeer. That film may have been a bigger hit Stateside had they sold it as a Japanese property.
I cannot lie: I ate at KFC in Japan. The chicken is prepared for an Eastern palette. It’s lighter, thinner, less “down home” (in the parlance of U.S. comfort food). Still plenty of grease, though. Yes, this particular location has an actual bar. You need a craft beer with your biscuits and gravy?
I don’t know what this is all about. I guess you can live out all your Nintendo fantasies in Tokyo, even as Captain America and Cookie Monster.
All the excitement of Doritos without the excitement! This is good place to mention if you’re out in Tokyo and you need help or directions, the average Japanese citizen would love to assist you but conversational English skills are rare. Learn to say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese, do you understand English?” in Japanese and conclude interactions with a bow (luckily some words, like “coffee” and “Barack Obama,” transcend cultural barriers).
The kitchen / office of my sublet in the Shinjuku neighborhood. Figuring out the microwave wasn’t easy but I eventually sorted out how to properly heat a dumpling soup from 7-Eleven (surprisingly high quality). Did I mention the jet lag from the U.S. to Tokyo? It’s Herculean. If there’s a secret to conquering it I still don’t know. Spent many hours standing around this room in a daze.
All the hoo-ha surrounding Dave Mustaine last week (p.s. – you really surprised a Santorum-boosting birther thinks Obama staged Aurora?) reminded me the first legit live music experience I ever had was Megadeth in 1995. My first non-legit experience, or concert absolute zero, happened two years earlier when three upperclassmen at my high school convinced the administration to let their band play a set of Stone Temple Pilots covers onstage in the empty auditorium during a lunch period. I heckled those bozos pretty hard, mostly because I was jealous it wasn’t me up there in pleated khakis and Raybans tearing out “Plush” on some dime store Fender.
But I digress. I don’t recall Dave Mustaine saying anything particularly offensive when I saw Megadeth at the UCF Arena on August 25, 1995, but I do remember clear as the Liberty Bell how goddamn heart-stopping it was to be ten feet away (give or take) from these speed metal legends as they recreated selections from Peace Sells, Rust in Peace, and Youthanasia at deafening volumes. Just having the opportunity to watch Marty Friedman…the guy’s technique is flawless. Or at least it was that night. The whole concert was pretty amazing, except for the opening set by Korn. In Korn’s defense, they were having severe equipment problems. In the crowd’s defense, I don’t think any of us really wanted to hear Brian “Head” Welch play the “Beavis & Butt-head” theme for twelve minutes while Fieldy searched fruitlessly for a working bass guitar.
Fear Factory was also on the bill, and during their set I remember thinking, “This is band is pretty friggin’ cool, I bet they’ll never cover that dippy Gary Numan song ‘Cars.'”
I curdled on Megadeth in the years following this concert for a variety of reasons; they tried to push their luck writing pop songs, Friedman left the band, I discovered the more immediate thrill of punk, I grew tired of kids asking me if I was into other “cheese metal” like Iron Maiden and Poison as well, etc. I’ve come back around now, though, and I listen to a smattering of ‘Deth classics with major regularity. They all hold up, even So Far, So Good…So What? (save that brutally bad “Anarchy in the U.K.” cover). I’m very glad I got to see Megadeth when the joy was still pure, back when they had their most ballyhooed line-up, back when Dave Mustaine was more concerned with alien abduction and black magic than gun rights and birth certificates.
And yes, I will finally admit that I briefly fell asleep on the drive home from this concert, which resulted in the accidental veering of my mother’s 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis into the borders of a construction site. One of those harmless-looking road blocks with the blinking orange lights winged Mom’s passenger side mirror right off its base with a loud whomp. This instantly woke me up and paralyzed me with fear. Luckily, I regained control of the car and there was no further damage (unless you count my friend David, who was in the passenger seat at the time, and who never agreed to get into a car with me again).
I’m sorry, Mom, but I’ve been lying to all these years. I did not meet Dave Mustaine in the parking lot of the UCF Arena, and he did not tear off your passenger side mirror to prove how “metal” he was. I am a bad son.