Thursday, November 29, 2007

Low Brow Sunday: A Day at the Races

Keirin racing is a bike-nerd niche. I'd never heard of it until my friend Eli came to visit. He's a little bit of a racing bike fanatic. He sent me a youtube spot, and came to Japan this time around specifically to hook up a racing frame and to check out the racetrack, live.

We ran around to various shops in Tokyo and surrounding, and Eli got a chance to hobnob with some bike frame craftsmen.

After consulting the main Keirin racing page, we picked out a race to check out and hoofed up to Chiba one Sunday to see the hoopla in person.

At the bus station, getting ready to board the free bus to the track, we came across an obaasan selling programs and pencils. As we started to get on the bus, she and her cohorts, sure that we were mistaken, pointed us up to another bus heading to the big shopping mall. No, we assured her - we wanted keirin.

What we found there was a colorful bunch of toned bikers on drool-worthy setups in birds-of-paradise-bright spandex costumes. They were sleek and fast and spiff, a sight to behold. Though we didn't bet, we walked all around the track and ogled the splendosity, randomly picking favorites to win. "I'm green this time. GO GREEN! GREEEEN! Damn. Okay, now I'm blue. BLUUUUUUE~!"

The stands were a different story. It was geezer central: shuffling, grimy, loogie-hawking geezers. There were few likely bike aficionados in evidence - most everyone looked as if they would fall over attempting to reach the pedal, let alone the saddle. They were there and most definitely for the betting. They probably split their time between the track and the pachinko parlor. It was as lowbrow and downmarket as I've seen in Tokyo: food stands serving tea in tin cups, cheap crappy machine coffee, and grilled rice balls being gummed by old men with sparse white tufts of hair. We stuck out like hookers in church and received our share of stares. The best came from an old guy who regarded us squintingly, then took out his teeth as he glared at us, ran his tongue over his gums, and popped his chompers back in.

All in all, a splendid outing.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Salt is a newish restaurant in the New Maru Biru at Tokyo station. It's Australian food with a few Japanese twists. I don't usually like "fusion" cuisine, but this was more understated - I had the risotto with nori, and it was really nice. Subtle. In addition to fish and meat, there's a reasonable vegetable menu that gave me lots to choose from. Portions are generous, and though it's a white tablecloth place with attentive service and an elite atmosphere, prices are not that high - most main courses are ¥2-3000.

There are lots of nice places to sit around in this schmancy building, which I like better than both Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, as far as upscale malls go. There are lots of swanky restaurants and good views of pretty brick Tokyo Station.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


On a recommendation from the elegant Mrs. A, I dropped by Gajoen in Meguro for a look around.

This lovely hotel is populated with beautiful Japanese art. There's a pretty garden with a few winding paths, a koi pond, and a bridge. The water from the pond runs in channels indoors, and the koi swim through the building and back outdoors again.

There are several restaurants, and it's a nice place to drop by for lunch or coffee.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Alright tonight

It’s a brisk winter evening. Coming out of Japanese class, we crossed the plaza beneath the tall silver arch that stretches from the keitai shop to the dilapidated tiled alcove containing a Doutor, a boba-tea shop, and a small bright toy-train jungle gym usually surrounded by a smattering of grandparents resting with their shopping while their young charges cavort on the astro-turf. More lonely a place than before now that the Tokyu Hands has closed up shop and moved down the road, we happened on two pubescent boys in navy blue short-pants middle school uniforms sharing a tentative, tender kiss. One was touching the other's hair at the side of his face, just barely. Their schoolbags were puddled around their socks, forgotten.

PDA is fairly non-existent in Japan: the most you usually get is some hetero hand-holding - and then only with young couples. And regular gayness isn't seen much, even in ultra-modern Tokyo. Though you're likely to see a flaming transvestite if you wander Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho, the sighting of non-theatrical same-sex public affection is extremely rare.

Add this to the facts that our little outpost of Machida isn't exactly the center of hipster Tokyo, and that the lovers were probably pre-teen.

I don't know those young boys, but I know that adolescent love and desire is hard enough to reckon with when you're straight. With all the other factors compounding the difficulty, we felt as though we had stumbled across something special happening.

Hang tough, young men.

Monday, November 05, 2007

J-driver's license aggravation, part I.

After trolling several websites, I dragged my ass to Fuchu one Monday to start the process of getting my Japanese driver's license. I've been driving with an International Driving Permit the whole time I've lived here, and illegally for the last almost two years, as you're only supposed to use one for the first year.

First, I printed a map from their website. The site instructs you to take the North exit from Musashi Koganei station, and to hop on the #X bus to the Driving Test Center. The bus is supposed to take 20 minutes. On the map, it doesn't look far, so I decided to try to walk and headed off in what looked like the right direction. After 15-20 minutes of walking, it became apparent that I wasn't going the right way, as I didn't seem to be hitting any of the landmarks shown on the map. I decided that I must be heading the wrong way, and started to look out for a cab.

A few passed, but none that were unoccupied. I finally jumped on a bus back to the station and started again. After I figured out that the map was oriented from the SOUTH exit of the station (not the north), I started to walk again and soon found my way. It only took about 20 minutes to walk (the same as the bus) and the center is located across from a large graveyard.

It was 3:30. I made my way up to the counter for changing a foreign license to a Japanese one. The gruff looking man behind the counter ignored me for awhile, then informed me that they were closed. Their hours are until 3:00, even though the center is open until 5:00 and there's no mention of the limited hours on their or any other website that I found. I informed him of this. If I hadn't gotten lost, I would have been there before 3.

Nevertheless, another man said he would at least look over my documents for me. It was here that I found that my hopes were in vain regardless of my tardiness.

First of all, my alien card was expired. Actually, it wasn't expired. Clearly printed on it is a sentence telling me to renew it in something like 2012. However, my "landing permission" date has passed. I had updated my visa at immigration, and had brought my passport to prove it. I showed this to the man, but he said that I had to take my alien card to the city office and have it annotated with my new landing permission date.

Next, my California driver's license was too recently issued. Though I've been driving for 13 years, my wallet was stolen last year and I had to have my DL reissued. The reissued date, not the original date, is printed on my license. Therefore, I need to have a record from the DMV saying that I've had my license and have been in the USA for a total of at least three months since the license was first issued. The three months don't have to be consecutive, but since my license is recent, I do need a record from the DMV.

I had ordered this record, having read about it on the forums, and got ready to produce it. When I looked in the DMV envelope, however, I found it empty save for a receipt. I had somehow vacated the envelope and left the prized document at home.

Not that it would have helped at that point. But it was one more chink in my armor.

At least the translation of my US driver's license, done by JAF (the Japanese version of AAA), was in order.

I left the office, defeated.