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5/20/03 - Tokyo Nightlife

Tokyo's famed neon-lit districts of Shinjuku, Shibuya and Akasaka have been described as each individually putting Times Square to shame, and if wattage is the measure, I'd have a tough time disagreeing. Soaring to the tenth, twelfth, even twentieth stories of building after building for blocks, ads in both katakana lettering and familiar English shift and squirm and ripple. There is no nighttime in Tokyo. It's not until dark, and typically well after, that the night crowds really begin to show. Freed from double-digit workshifts in dark suit and tie, salarymen by the thousands pour into the districts' hundreds of bars, restaurants andkaraokeclubs to eat well and look at the world through a crimson-faced glossy smile for a time. In five or six hours, they'll sleep it off at home, hop the subway and do it all over again.

I spent a raucous, and amusingly typical, Tuesday night among the throng, sipping sake and beer and sampling all manner of exotic and strange appetizers that don't get a second blink from the hungry locals. This is fine dining, izakaya-style. After a few bars of karaoke, it was on to the famous Roppongi subway station. There I found that the rushing post-midnight crowd would rival the roughest New York or Rome could offer at 5 in the afternoon. Except here, a blinding mass of pushing hands, some of them gloved for the distinct purpose, pounded my tender and tipsy body into a small clump in the corner of the famous and highly-efficient chikatetsu train, where an elderly man barfed on me. Despite the famous politeness of the formal Japanese business community, I found the bottoms of a couple hundred wingtips quite unforgiving of my inability to move from the doorway, so I would recommend you learn basic phrases such as sumimasen ("excuse me") and sore ga honto ni itai desu yo ("this is really very painful").

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