A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Calico Cat CaféHenrik and John has tipped me off to another strange phenomenon called a “Cat Café”. It’s a place where busy people go to ease their stressful lives by cuddling with cats. 1000 jpy gets you an hour in a room full of cats and cat lovers. Most of the fun actually comes from watching the Japanese interact with the impossibly blasé cats. Fully grown salary men throwing themselves on all fours and generally acting like children. I guess the cats have had it up to here with all the petting by now, poor things.

I’d also found a group on Facebook while looking around for diving in the Tokyo area. It’s the Discovery Divers Tokyo and it’s connected to a dive shop with the same name. They’re hosting a diver’s social about once a month and while I’ve intended to go earlier, this is the first time it’s working out for me. It’s a place called Goodbeer Faucets in Shibuya and as I make my way there I find out that the Shonan Shinjuku line doesn’t actually go all the way to the regular Shibuya Station.Me, Pascal, Bonnie and the Japanese bar owner Instead it stops at a smaller station just south of the big one, which means that I’ve quite a walk ahead of me since the pub is to the north west of the real Shibuya Station. Turns out though that the neighborhood south west of the Station is rather cozy though, so I don’t mind that much. (Now, where you don’t want to go is north east of Shibuya Station. Lina and I did that and ended up in a rather seedy neighborhood with lots of “love hotels”, i.e. hotels that rent rooms by the hour…)

The social is maybe one third Japanese and two thirds expats from all over the world. Most of them speak great English and I have a really good time. The pub closes at midnight, but one of the organizers, Pascal, convinces a few of us that we should go to this bar in Ebisu. In the end there are five of us going. The bar is this cozy little place with a very eccentric owner who likes to dress up in 80’s heavy metal style tights and sunglasses even though there’s hardly any light in there. Pascal explains that the owner had been doing LSD for the last ten years prior to opening this place, which explains the rather, ‘eclectic’ decoration choices.

The others drop off and in the end there’s just me, Pascal and Bonnie left. By this time all the trains have stopped running (they do that pretty early in Tokyo). Pascal offers us to crash at his place which is more or less around the corner. Friendly morayBoth Bonnie and I agree and find ourselves in Pascal’s 10-odd square meters, incredibly dirty, apartment listening to wild stories about his travels, like for instance the time when he got free lessons from a Russian tennis pro, or the time he partied with some Siberian indigenous people in a tent somewhere in northern Siberia… He had some thing where he would celebrate each New Years in a new time zone, so far he had worked his way from the Netherlands over to Thailand.

I spend the night on a leaking blow-up bed in his kitchen, which also happens to be the hall. The bed actually goes from wall to wall, making getting into the bathroom something of a challenge. In spite of the circumstances I manage to get a few hours of sleep and at somewhere around eight Bonnie and I stumble out of his place. Pascal had insisted on that we grab some breakfast on our way out, but a quick look inside his fridge and the lone, family-sized, jar of pickles is enough to dissuade us from that. Taking the subway home I for the first time get to experience the white-gloved pusher guards, I guess the line I’m usually taking in the morning just isn’t full enough. I manage a quick stop at home for a shower and change before heading off for another day at work.

The potter and my ball of clayFriday evening brings another after work; it’s me, Nishihata-san, Kenneth, Thomas and Tore this time and we manage to find a nice place at the bottom floor of the department store next to Yokohama Station. Nishihata-san makes sure we get all the weird stuff ordered in to our table, grilled gristle seems to be my personal stopping point though… It doesn’t drag on too late, which is lucky since Saturday brings another diving outing.

This time the site is Izu Ocean Park, a dive resort some 2.5 hours drive down the coast from Yokohama. The resort has all sorts of diver amenities including a nice big hot tub to soak in between dives. The site has some rather nice diving and I manage to see heaps upon heaps of morays, a scorpion fish, clown fish as well as a bigass Napoleon Wrasse. I also have my very first encounter with schooling catfish – love those guys! Returning to Mariko-san at Splash, Umeda-san and I sit down and log my 40th dive (yay!) and we separately end up drawing me photographing morays in each other’s dive logs (maybe because that was more or less all I did that dive)! =D

Yesterday was also Midsummer’s Eve, which in Sweden is a pretty significant holiday. So today the Swedes from work have cooked up a party, when I arrive they’ve already taken care of the Brännboll part (a Swedish version of Baseball that is much less complex (and where other players than the pitcher actually matter)) and have moved on to an Izakaya in Shibuya. A couple of guys from the Swedish embassy are here too and it’s interesting to hear about their work. We keep eating the snack skewers that are on order, there are tiny quail eggs, chicken liver, chicken hearts, roast gristle – you know, the usual. 😉 When we finally hear that they are all out of skewers, we figure that it’s finally time to leave.

Midsummer karaoke!The next place we end up at is a room at Big Echo – the major Karaoke chain in Tokyo. What you do is that you get a room of a certain size and then the drinks are free, pressing a buzzer produces a guy, ready to take your orders. Being free also means that the drinks are pretty bad. The Mojito I got was easily the most awful one I’ve ever tasted, only mildly reminiscent of an actual Mojito. It’s a ton of fun though and Kenneth turns out to be a great singer. Him and I belt out a pretty decent Mr. Brightside at the top of our lungs. Not wanting the night to end just yet (it’s only midnight!), Kenneth, Justin, Jonas and I share a taxi bound for Roppongi to find a club. The place we end up at wants to be really exclusive, but since it’s packed to the rafters it pretty much fails at that. When I say packed to the rafters, I really mean it, It’s actually hard to move in there and dancing is really problematic! That is maybe the most amusing thing about the place by the way, there are actual signs saying that dancing is prohibited at the premises!

We only stay a couple of hours at the club before getting bored and going for a late night kebab instead. The way to the kebab place is as usual littered by barkers, which wouldn’t be that much of a problem if Jonas didn’t stop to troll _all_ of them… This is amusing the first couple of times, but we quickly get fed up and in the end we just about drag Jonas along to the kebab place. The kebab is delicious as usual, I honestly think the Tokyo kebabs are only rivalled by the Turkish ones! Jonas and Justin actually want to go find yet another club, but since it’s about 2:30 am at this point and I got up at around 5:30, I beg off and catch a taxi for Shinagawa. I don’t remember the address of the hotel though, so I tell him to go to Shinagawa station instead, which turns out to be a really lucky break! He drops me off at the far side of the station, so to go home I have to pass through it. At night, only the entrances down to the tracks are closed, the walkway through the station is still open and as I walk through I encounter a lot of “Japan drunk” (an expression coined by my friend John) salarymen are strewn around, hugging pillars and whatnot. If it weren’t for them all wearing expensive suits you would think they were homeless! Drinking in moderation is not that common in Japan…

The Kamakura trailEarlier when diving, Enrique told me about something I missed when going to Kamakura. Apparently you should hop off the train at the station before Kamakura, called Kita-Kamakura. That’s where the nice temples are. I take his suggestion and on Sunday I give Kamakura a second chance. Enrique was right, these temples are much nicer! There are also huge hortensias decorating the surroundings, framing it nicely.

Enrique also told me about a trail in the woods where you could hike all the way to Kamakura. That sounded like a really nice way to wrap this week up, so I go for it. Right at the beginning of the trail there is a sign in Japanese for a side trail, I decide to investigate and find myself at a little pottery. I suddenly remember something my friend Jonathan told me about a year ago. There is this thing called Dorodangos – basically an old Japanese art form of taking clay, shaping it into a ball and then gradually polish it until it shines like a mirror. So after some labored communication using the potter’s daughter as interpreter I manage to buy a ball of clay for 100 jpy. The daughter doesn’t seem to understand what I’m talking about, but the potter seems really satisfied when he figures out what I want to do and I end up promising him I’ll send pictures when I finally make it.

The trail itself is nice and brings back memories of Nepal. It’s a good 4-5 km before I get to Kamakura and something I can really recommend, not very difficult and lots of cheery Japanese along the way. Also rather clean, I only manage to collect a handful of trash along the trail.

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