I could lose myself just wandering through Tokyo’s streets: from the back alleys bursting with tiny bars and restaurants; below the noisy underpasses, and along the wide tree-lined boulevards.
When I lived in Tokyo I wandered for hours but I always had someplace to be at 8 p.m. Work. Now, I just wander, unanchored, and it makes me feel a little lost — but in the mental sense, never in the physical. I can wander through the streets that are imprinted on my muscle memory and never lose my way. I just follow my feet and they guide me through the city I know so deeply that their map seems to exist inside of me.
My Beastie Boys story is an indirect one. I never met them or even saw them live. They just happened to form a backdrop to one summer 14 years ago.
It was 1998 and Intergalactic had just been released. I was working as a nurse’s aide in the dementia unit of a nursing home; saving up for my move to Australia, which would begin with a few weeks in Tokyo.
I watched the Intergalactic video over and over again.
The pristine streets, florescent glow of the subway stations, the bemused but politely quiet bystanders and the neat uniforms of construction workers: the Intergalactic video came into focus after I arrived in Tokyo and took to spending my days wandering, shellshocked, through the streets.
I listened to Intergalactic repeatedly, hitting rewind on my Walkman each time it finished, because it seemed like the right thing. With each step and each note, I imagined the video and it gave me a sense of being connected in that loose, lonely city. I would spend hours wondering through Shibuya and always end up at the big Tower Records where I would pull on a pair of headphones and listen to Hello Nasty on the free listening booths on the ground floor. Eventually I bought it but, because I hadn’t brought a CD player with me to save room in my backpack, I continued making the trip to Tower Records.
One Saturday night at the end of the summer and the beginning of typhoon season, long after I had changed my ticket and decided to stay in Tokyo for three months rather than three weeks; after an unshakeable feeling of tension, caused by my bar hostess job, had begun to set in, I set out in the rain to wander. I walked from Azabu Juban to Roppongi, through Nishi Azabu and Aoyama, ending up in Shibuya. I was carrying one of those light, transparent umbrellas that everyone in Tokyo seems to use. I was walking down the hill from Aoyama to Shibuya station when a gust of wind whipped my umbrella inside out and snatched it out of my grasp. Immediately a car pulled up and a woman handed me her own umbrella.
I wandered through the back streets of Shibuya, past brightly lit love hotels, clanging pachinko parlours and indecipherable clubs, stores and bars. I ended up in HMV where, inside of a polite circle of people, Money Mark was bent over his keyboard playing songs from Push the Button, an album recently released on the Beasties’ Grand Royal label. I took my stumbling across his show as a turn of good luck. It was a show I would have planned to attend, if I had known about it. But in Tokyo, where I spoke little Japanese and read even less, I couldn’t ever really know about anything.
The rain, my loneliness, the tense, nervous feeling I couldn’t shake: Money Mark’s quiet voice and precise words articulated my feeling. My Tokyo wasn’t the cartoonish, synthey city of Intergalactic at this point, it had become bluesier, more melancholy. Cry became my new song.
The city itself is cinematic and is familiar even to those who have never been there; we can all picture walls of neon lights, screeching advertisements blaring from giant video screens and a great sea of humanity moving in sync with one another. It is no wonder that Tokyo is a source of inspiration for many writers, artists and movie directors.
Park Hyatt Shinjuku
In Sophia Coppola’s 2003 movie Lost in Translation, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson play Bob and Charlotte; two Americans adrift in Tokyo. Their first meeting occurs in the hotel bar of the five-star Part Hyatt located in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.
A night’s accommodation in the Park Hyatt is likely out of the budget of most travelers but you can still visit the bar for (like in the movie) a jazz accompanied cocktail, or the restaurant for lunch, dinner, or one of the most popular Sunday Brunches in Tokyo. Both bar and restaurant feature huge windows with views over the Tokyo skyline – perhaps best appreciated at nighttime when the hypnotic neon lights of Shinjuku and its red light district Kabuki-cho are twinkling in the dark sky.
One of not only Japan’s best clubs, but also one of the top-rated clubs in the world, Womb appears in the 2006 movie Babel. In the movie we see a group of young deaf girls taking their first hits of Ecstasy and going to the Shibuya club.
Despite Womb’s powerful Phazon sound system, the movie shows moments from the point of view of the deaf girl Chieko, drawing attention to the impressive laser system which, along with one of the world’s biggest mirror balls, is another reason for Womb’s fame.
The House of the Blue Leaves, setting for The Bride’s (played by Uma Thurman) final Tokyo showdown with the Crazy 88 was inspired by the Edo-themed restaurant Gonpachi. Whilst no movie scenes were actually filmed in the restaurant, Kill Bill’s set was built to resemble Gonpachi. The restaurant will look familiar to anyone who has seen the film.
At the crossing of Tokyo’s up market Nishi-Azabu district, Gonpachi is just a few minutes’ walk from the nightlife center of Roppongi. The restaurant serves simple Izakaya style foods – yakitori and soba are their specialties. Gonpachi is open for lunch and dinner, and stays open until five in the morning. Reservations are recommended as this is one of the most popular restaurants, particularly among foreigners, in Tokyo.
Besides the Quentin Tarantino movie connection, Gonpachi was in the news when then-Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi decided to take then-US President George W Bush here on his state visit to Japan.