Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Out And About In Roppongi

Every big city has an area (or areas) that's known for it's nightlife - in Honolulu it's Waikiki, in San Francisco it's North Beach (or SoMA or the Marina or...), and in Tokyo, it's Roppongi.  Everyone that lives in or near Tokyo has heard of Roppongi and it's repuation for being a somewhat risque area.  Roppongi is interesting because it is home to several foreign embassies, the swanky Roppongi Hills "city" and a ton of nightclubs and bars. With respect to the nightlife aspect, Wikipedia describes it this way: "'[t]he area features numerous bars, night clubs, strip clubs, restaurants, hostess clubs, cabarets, and other forms of entertainment.  Among the expatriate community, the area tends to be favored by business people, students, and off-duty US military personnel" (so basically what you're saying Wikipedia, is that you'll always find a lot of foreigners in this area). 

This Wikipedia image is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available
at //
under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license.

After living in Japan for seven months, I can FINALLY say I've been to Roppongi...well, sort of.  Since I live about a 70 minute train ride away from Tokyo, anytime I go out at night I have to be mindful of the train schedule and make sure I don't miss the last train(s) back to Yokosuka, including the transfers I have to make.  The alternatives to this are to either get a hotel room OR stay out all night and catch the first train in the morning, which is at around 5:00 a.m. (apparently this second option is a really common thing to do).  I've heard that people who who miss the last train will hang out at an all night internet cafe until the first train (and by hang out I mean pay for internet time and take a nap at the computer).  Well on this outing, I didn't have a hotel room and since I actually had to be awake at a decent hour the next day, I already knew it was going to be an early night for me.

Two of my friends that grew up in Tokyo were in town for the weekend for a bachelorette/birthday party, and the plan was for me to meet up with them at Zara in Roppongi Hills.  Since I was going without Rich, I was a little nervous about the whole train situation but I managed to make it to Roppongi with plenty of time to spare.  Everytime I visit a new area in Tokyo, I always feel like a kid in a candy shop.  My arrival in Roppongi was particularly memorable - after taking what seemed like five different escalators up, I finally emerged from the underground subway to bright lights, tall buildings and tons of people out and about (heading to who knows where).  I didn't really know where I was or what direction I was supposed to head in, so as discreetly as possible, I pulled out my iphone, clicked on the map and walked a little bit to see where I was on the map (I have no idea how people got around before iphones and gps).  I ended up getting to Roppongi Hills early because I had given myself lots of time just in case I missed a connecting train (which luckily I didn't), so I decided to walk around Roppongi Hills to kill some time.  It is literally a city within a city, and it has it all- offices, theater, apartments, restaurants, a shopping center, an art museum, the Grand Hyatt Tokyo.  As I made my way back to Zara, I made a mental note that I must come back soon and fully explore it. 

From Zara we headed to our dinner destination, which was a lounge/restaurant/bar called Console. It was a quaint little spot with a loungey vibe.  There was one actual table that I saw in the place, but otherwise it was all couches and comfy chairs.  They seated us in a room off to the side that could be closed off from the rest of the space if need be but which still allowed you to see what was going on in the other areas.  It worked out well because there was no one else in the entire place while we were there and the area that we had was conducive to an intimate gathering (in this case, old friends catching up).  Our reservation included a set menu and all you can drink for 2 hours (for 5000 Yen).  The food was good (or I could've just been really hungry); we had a cru de te followed by a salad, french fries, and then pasta.  Dessert was a birthday cake, and rather than cut it up and serve on plates, we ended up just digging into the whole cake with our forks and passing it around to each other (not very classy, but it definitely made it more fun).  Overall I think everyone liked the place except for the fact that they didn't have ketchup, tobasco or crown royal (which is what the bachelorette/birthday girl wanted to drink).

As it got later and later, I kept my eye on the time and eventually I said goodnight to the girls (who were off to do the real celebrating), giving me lots of time to find my way back to the train station.  The train was totally packed from Tokyo all the way to Yokosuka (anyone who knows Japanese trains at rush hour knows that packed really means packed), but luckily I had gotten on at the very first stop and was able to get a seat.  Funny that in addition to before work and after work during the week, midnight on the weekends is also considered rush hour on the Tokyo trains!  All in all it was a great time - I successfully made it to/from Tokyo at night by myself, I got to see a new part of Tokyo, I got to try a new restaurant, AND I got to see old friends and meet new ones.

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