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Ifs, but no buts

So, yes, Friday. The evening was a perfect example of serendipity, beginning as it did with a coincidence so massive that it felt as if Tokyo was playing an impossible card trick on me.

The chain of coincidences runs something like this: if my PC hadn't died on Friday morning (massive and seemingly irrecoverable hard drive failure), and if I hadn't volunteered to take the drive back to the shop myself on the way home from work, and if I hadn't stopped off at an electronics store to play Gran Turismo 3 on one of their demo PlayStation2s (which they set up in the street with chairs and the new force-feedback steering wheel), and if I hadn't stayed for a second race, then I wouldn't have been sitting there when Nick Rosser, a friend from university whom I'd only seen once in the last three-and-a-half years, walked past.

Nick was in Tokyo for a geography conference and was spending his last night cruising for gadgets in Akihabara, along with two friends, Vicky and (another) Nick. I'm the only person he knows in Tokyo (even though he hadn't actually realised I was still living out here), so the chances of bumping into each other in the street were, I think you'll agree, "fairly slim". I'm still in shock, to be honest.

It turned out that they were keen to go for a drink in Shinjuku (another cause for bewonderment, seeing as that's where I live), so we headed off across town and I gave them a quick mini-tour of the sights. We had a couple of beers in The Old Blind Cat and En Bar, two tiny drinking establishments nestled side-by-side a couple of storeys underground, only reachable via a narrow and steeply descending staircase, before walking across to the west side of Shinjuku and going up the Sumitomo building.

The inside of the Sumitomo Building is hollow. No, I mean, of course it's hollow, yes, otherwise you'd have great difficulty getting anyone inside it, but what I'm getting at is that the central core of the building is open to the sky. If you stand on the top floor, press your face up against the inner window and look down the inside, you can see all the way to the glass roof of the lobby, 52 stories below. It's awesome and, being triangular in cross-section, it rather resembles a vertical version of the launch tunnel from Battlestar Galactica, all shiny metal and dull yellow lighting. No Cyclons, though, sadly.

The observatory on the 51st floor was open, so we got a good view of the western expanses of Tokyo and then headed back to Kabukicho on the east side, detouring briefly to take in the NS building and its Star Wars-esque skybridge - the perfect setting for a quick lightsabre fight, if you're into that kind of thing. Ahem.

We made straight for Rock Bar Mother, a great little place that I've been meaning to mention here for a while. It's high on my list of places to show visitors, and hopefully you'll find out why for yourself some time, but suffice to say that it's a marvellously quirky little bar with a rather innovative jukebox policy, decorated with a Mexican day-of-the-dead theme and slides of someone's cat-scan, and so dark that it's impossible even to read the menu. Thoughtfully, you're presented with a pen-sized flashlight as you enter. Yeah - you'd love it.

The first three pages of the menu are the drinks, and the remaining ten or so pages are a list of bands. Flick through, find a group you want to hear and convey this to the bartender ("za sumizu, onegaishimasu!") - though sign language normally works better than yelling. Then you're given a bunch of CDs from the racks which, you suddenly notice, cover most of the back wall of the bar, to pore over and pick tracks from. You tell the barguy/gal what you want to hear, they queue it up, and then a few minutes later it gets played at ablsolutely full volume, no matter what it is. The main diet seems to be American rock and metal but they also have, rather incongruously, everything from Adam and the Ants to Belinda Carlisle to Shampoo to the Wonderstuff - god only knows how they actually choose what to buy in each month. The first time I went there, Cath chose Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush. I will never forget the look on the faces of the three solitary Japanese grungers at one end of the bar, who only minutes earlier had been happily sulking along to the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit, as Chris, Cath and Tami all sang along at the top of their lungs, wailing heartily and swaying from side to side - absolutely priceless.

We left Mother and got sidetracked on the way to the station by Nagurereya, the ex-pro-boxer who spars with people in the street for 1000 yen a time, trying literally to fight his way out of debt - but that's a story for another night.

And so the night ended, leaving me with a huge grin on my face, marvelling at Tokyo's sleight of hand - conjuring up out of thin air an excellent evening's revells with someone who really ought to have been six-and-a-half thousand miles away.

And then the next night, we beat Germany 5-1 - this has to be the most unreal weekend ever. My colleagues tomorrow could all be wearing giant animatronic lion heads and I swear I wouldn't bat an eyelid. I'd better not wear my gazelle-scent aftershave, though - just in case.

Posted by chris at September 3, 2001 01:39 AM | Permalink

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