On the last Friday of July in 2015, I arrived back in Tokyo from a week in Switzerland. Traveling from Asia to Europe and then back again in such a short time was a surreal experience, and something that I only did because my parents had announced last minute that they were going.
My travel buddy Michael had already left Tokyo at this stage. No stranger to traveling alone in Japan, a weekend by myself in my favourite place in the world didn’t daunt me at all. In fact, I had ambitious plans to try and meet as many of my friends as possible in the two full days that I had left. For my last weekend in Tokyo, I had booked an AirBNB in my favourite Tokyo suburb, Roppongi.
There is not a whole lot to do in Roppongi except shop, if you have a lot of money to spend, or drink. The latter is the reason why it is my favourite suburb. Minato-ku, the district that Roppongi is in, is also where they have some of the nicest apartments in Tokyo. I first discovered nightlife in Roppongi in 2014, on my first trip to Japan, and fell in love with it ever since then. My AirBNB host, Mari, had been extremely communicative with me prior to my arrival, and she had even recommended a bus service that would take me from Narita Airport, to the ANA Intercontinental hotel. This bus can be booked via a counter in Narita Airport that says ‘Airport Limousine Transfer’. The price is about 3,000 yen (around $32 AUD), and it goes to various hotels in the main city area of Tokyo (Shinjuku, Shibuya, Roppongi). You don’t have to be staying at a hotel to get this bus, but the bus only makes stops at the hotels, and then you are free to make your own way from there. From Narita Airport, the bus was about a 2 hour trip to ANA and from there I caught a quick cab ride to my AirBNB.
Mari’s husband was waiting for me in the foyer, and came upstairs with me to show me the room. After a brief introduction, he left, and I unpacked (tossed my clothes haphazardly around the room) and told myself I would just take a “nap” before going out to eat and shop. This nap, unfortunately lasted for 6 hours. I woke up with a headache, foggy and disoriented at 6:30pm that night, only because my alarm went off, and felt extremely grateful that I had set one. I wanted very badly to continue sleeping, but I had prior plans, and also didn’t want to waste one of my last nights in Tokyo. With that, I hauled myself out of bed, got ready and walked to Roppongi to grab dinner.
My original intention had been to go to Tonki in Meguro-ku for some tonkatsu, as I hadn’t been there yet, but by the time I got ready, Tonki was about to close. With that, I had no choice but to go to Butagumi Dining in Roppongi Station, the closest restaurant that I knew of, for a tonkatsu hit. I had actually dined at Butagumi earlier in the month, and it had been delicious, but I really wanted to try somewhere different.
The restaurant was emptying out as I arrived, and shortly after I ordered, a waitress said that they were doing last food orders. This was around 9pm. As I was waiting for my meal, I enjoyed my favourite alcoholic drink and lamented that I hadn’t made plans with any friends and had to eat one of my last meals here alone.
I’m a sucker for fatty meats, so I couldn’t go past the ロースかつ (rosu katsu, fatty pork loin) which was served with a cabbage salad, miso soup, pickled radish, perfectly cooked rice, and tonkatsu sauce and mustard on the side.
After eating dinner, I was slightly drunk, but still had some time left before my plans with Kayano, and had no other friends to meet up with, so I reluctantly trudged home and got changed before heading out again. I met Kayano at the Roppongi Hills exit of the station around 10pm, and from there we walked around Roppongi a little bit, deciding where to go before finally deciding to head straight to Feria. Despite meeting Kayano at a Roppongi club prior to this, she mostly went clubbing in Shibuya and didn’t have any club recommendations (which I later came to regret).
Clubbing in Tokyo mostly takes place in two suburbs: Shibuya and Roppongi. Out of the two, Shibuya is generally seen as the more “authentic” clubbing experience- authentic meaning where all the Japanese people go. In addition to that, Shibuya is the place to hit up if you’re into techno/dance/EDM music. Conversely, Roppongi is a foreigners hub and features clubs playing Top 40/R&B/Hip hop. You’ll also find African Americans standing on the streets trying to entice people into the club. It can be a pretty seedy scene, but one I thoroughly enjoy nonetheless. I was introduced to the Roppongi nightlife scene by some expats in 2014, and haven’t been able to get enough of it ever since then. Feria was by far my favourite club in Tokyo, and I was sad to hear that it recently closed. After Kayano and I got there that night, the night went downhill (as it does when you get blind drunk). Here’s a video from the night, in the basement level of Feria.
Half an hour after Kayano and I arrived, Kayano’s best friend Yuuka joined us. I don’t know if it was jetlag, or I’d just overdone the Roppongi nightlife scene, but that night wasn’t enjoyable. Nevertheless, we spent the majority of the night there and left at about 4am. The sun was coming up already and the three of us were starving, so we walked around the corner to grab a drunken meal before stumbling home.
Again, I had had plans to wake up early the next day and go shopping and buy souvenirs, but unfortunately I was now a lethal combination of jetlagged and hungover, so I didn’t wake up until late afternoon, around 4ish. Needless to say, I lamented my reckless drinking and need for 8 hours’ sleep, and got ready to meet Brian for dinner.
We met up early, around 6pm at the East exit of Shinjuku station, and walked around Shinjuku chatting for a long time, watching a festival going on in the streets, and thinking about what to eat. Finally, we decided on Tsurutontan, a recommendation in my Lonely Planet Tokyo guidebook (Lonely Planet restaurant recommendations have never steered me wrong, so far) and made our way there. There was a frighteningly long line, but we waited anyway. After about a 40 minute wait, we were rewarded with giant bowls of udon and a Japanese musician playing a traditional instrument, which I think was the shamisen.
After dinner, we walked around Shinjuku looking for dessert and discussed Brian’s job at a startup, and the likelihood of my moving to Japan in 2016. We said our goodbyes at Shinjuku station, and I walked into the barriers fully intending to go home and sleep, but got sidetracked by the lure of all the stores around the east exit of Shinjuku JR station. So instead of going home, I shopped, and while I was in the fitting room, I thought that going home to sleep would be a waste of a night on my last night in Tokyo, so I made plans with a friend to have a drink in Roppongi in an hour.
After shopping, I caught the Oedo line subway from Shinjuku to Roppongi, walked home and got changed and went back out to meet Justin at R2 Supper Club. I’d been to R2 back in February. It is the kind of bar where the staff wear tuxedos, and the clientele are aging white men and the women might be hookers. Nevertheless, it is a nice place to drink if you’re after a posh Western style bar. After having 1 or 2 drinks here, Justin said he’d take me on a tour of Roppongi where we check out the seediest dive bars (my favourite kind of night). We were about to hit up Geronimos, when I said that I was basically a regular there, so we ended up checking out various other dirty bars, where I’m sure I was probably the youngest person. I saw people in these bars that looked like grandparents, I kid you not. We did the rounds of Roppongi that night, and after two or three bars, I realized my friend Clayton was also in Roppongi, and texted him to meet up. We found him at a bar, and we all hung out with Clayton’s other friends.
During the night, we encountered things like this:
A night out in Roppongi is always entertaining. I managed to make it home in the early hours of the morning, and again, naively told myself that I would just sleep a couple of hours and wake up to eat my last meal and do some souvenir shopping. And again, this did not happen.
I woke up the next morning with a pounding headache, with only 2 hours to clean up the apartment before Mari came to pick me up to escort me to the Ritz-Carlton hotel, where I would get the bus to Narita. After a trip to the bathroom, I remembered a horrible part of the night: I had broken the toilet. 2 hours seemed like a lot of time, but when you’re hungover it feels like 5 minutes. I think most of the time passed with me sitting on the edge of the bed holding my fragile head in my hands and wondering why I lacked the good sense to say no to a drink.
Japanese toilets can be hard to navigate for non-Japanese users. Instead of a button to flush at the top, there will often be a panel on the side, with many buttons, all in Japanese characters. Coming home the previous night, I had forgotten which button was the flush, and instead pressed all of them in my frustration. This resulted in the toilet refusing to flush, even after the correct button was pressed.
When Mari arrived, I explained the situation to her in broken Japanese (much to her confusion). She had also brought a small gift of Japanese sweets for me, warabi-mochi, and I felt terrible for abusing her hospitality. Nevertheless, she wasn’t angry (or hid it well), and dropped me off to the Ritz-Carlton saying that we should go to drink at izakaya next time I come to Japan.
We stayed in contact and I offered to pay damages for the toilet, but she said it wasn’t necessary because it didn’t end up costing that much. She wrote me an AirBNB review saying something like: Su is a very clean guest. She took good care of my apartment and left it clean and tidy.
What she wrote was basically the opposite of everything I did.