Park runs and karaoke runs
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
Siri said it was “not a good day for running” on Saturday, Oct. 26. Siri needs to go home because she’s drunk.
We woke up to the most beautiful sunny weekend day and thankfully ignored our lame AI’s warnings (she would prove to be wrong about weather forecasts several times during our trip) and put on our activewear.
A run in the park
It has become tradition when we travel to find a park that I deem suitable for cardiovascular activity, and then to have a team jog in said park. This is one of the few things that I pick out in a trip (because Dan is an excellent planner and he typically takes the lead in mapping out our itineraries). My pick: Yugogi Park.
Honestly, it was a way too obvious choice: The park is a quick subway ride away, it has a path meant for jogging and it’s filled with yellow and green trees that seem to be leaning over to offer shade.
Where to start our jaunt? I thought it best to follow behind a couple that was running so in sync that they were... holding a string between them? After seeing another pair running holding a loop, and then another, we realized that running pairs were not participating in some kind of premarital commitment exercise, but one half of the runners were blind and the other half were guides. There were runners of all ages and speeds, including two men who were so in step they seemed to be running as one (and fast)! I vowed to consider becoming a run guide if this sort of thing exists in LA, because How cool?! You know, assuming I could get less clumsy in life.
Dan and I started our gentle jog side by side and didn’t hold a ribbon. But it was lovely to pass by runners, in many neon colors, and tour the green outdoor space. After we sweat some Japanese whisky and tequila out, we admired some alcohol.
Meiji shrine time
Post-run, we got distracted by a wall of sake. The giant containers, with their beautiful Japanese lettering, served as an offering for Emperor Meiji. We went on to make a donation to the Meiji Shrine so we could receive a slip of paper with a poem supposedly written by the man responsible for modernizing Japan, and his wife. I got a poem from the Empress that I quite liked. The English translation:
Let us but be gentle, honest
Though we lack the worldly greatness
in the bamboo-grove of life
To tower over all
Some waka poetry (that’s what this format is call) can really work up an appetite in the bamboo-grove of life. So Dan and I set off to find gyoza in Harajuku.
Yep, that’s the name of the dumpling place we happened upon in an alley. We enjoyed some more fried and steamed delicacies, and more beer (Dan) and oolong tea (moi) at a counter.
And then something unprecedented in Tokyo happened: The server forgot to bring us our cucumber and miso sauce. A food oversight?! An error in hospitality?! In Tokyo? That was a first. Of course, as soon as we realized the order was overlooked and notified a server, the veggies were delivered immediately.
A journey to another planet
Dan, being all hip to tech trends, knew what TeamLab was before it was featured on Queer Eye: Japan. (I peeped screeners of the new season before our trip.) For the uninitiated: TeamLab is “a massive, fully immersive, experiential art museum,” as Dan explains it. One of their new experiences in Tokyo is called Planets.
It is outrageous.
Finding it is one thing— Dan and I had our first Google Map fail on the way to Planets when the app told use to basically walk through the walls of a giant mall— but once there... Well, you’re not there there, you’re elsewhere. You’re in another dimension.
For Planets, like with many things in Japan, you must take off your shoes. Then it’s time to engage all of the senses as you’re ushered along a journey that includes a barefoot voyage through black holes (a fluffy black room that cocooned us and nearly seduced us into napping) and a magic luminescent maze (a space filled with mirrors and thousands of light strands that changed colors when you selected different “stars” on the TeamLab app). There was a shallow pool that reflected light in the shapes of koi fish and flowers, a space where you could squeeze between and bounce giant weightless balls, and a dome of flying petals. Trippy doesn’t quite cut it. Romantic, zen wonderscape is a slightly better description.
After Planets, Dan and I were in a sort of mellow trance. We only slightly snapped out of it once we realized how hungry we were.
Eating sushi right where it’s sold
We wandered over to the Toyuso Fish market, where fish had been sold earlier that day. One of the buyers aas a sushi restaurant right in the Toyusa building called The Impression. It was open. We were pleased.
We ordered the prefix menu and sampled bite after bite of what I can safely say is the freshest fish we’ve ever had. And then we just HAD to get the uni (sea urchin) for reasons including the stoic man near us who got it made an eyebrow raise after he ate it, and because the owner of the sushi restaurant we frequent in LA says uni The Best in Japan. The ocean butter bite did not disappoint.
Yes, going to the Robot Restaurant is a very touristy thing to do. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it is SO WORTH IT.
To help us transition from a zen day to a wild evening, we ate some yakitori at Bon Bon, a place that had no English menu or signage but that Dan found regardless because he is a master of finding things (and also a hostess from the restaurant next door helped). We ordered chicken because that is the word we knew and drank beers in a smoky, divey basement and it was crispy and delicious.
Then it was robot time.
The Robot Restaurant is less a restaurant, and more of a 90-minute show that you should be sufficiently buzzed to enjoy. This show does incorporate some robots, but they’re mostly part of the pre show on the entrance and at the area to wait to go into the show— a man in a robot costume plays Michael Jackson, an apparent Japan fave because his music is everywhere, on an electric guitar.
Instead, the actual showed you’re seated for mostly includes actors in elaborate makeup and costumes with drums, on moving floats, with more colors than I have words for, an inexplicable number of frogs, and storylines that make no sense whatsoever. Since we were there the weekend before Halloween, the performance included an extra spooky act. The whole show is a rainbow blur of energy and sound, but in that particular act I remember some onscreen exposition in not-so-great English say something about how a girl got lost in the woods, after seeing her doppelgänger (but they didn’t use that word)?
The scene begins with the girl being.. captured by a vampire? Or something? And I think a snake bites her? Or maybe that’s a different act.
And then she gets buried? And then re-emerges undead? Maybe? And then fights a bunch of people? And there’s a fire-breathing dragon maybe? And everything ends with a song and the actors wearing the flags of a bunch of countries?
No idea, but we had a great time. However, there were some lads on the other side of the room who may have had an even better time. One guy took his shirt off, and his buddy threw that shirt onstage. The T was taken away by a stage hand so the one guy was forced to stay shirtless until intermission, when he apparently collected his clothes. By the end, though, he was shirtless again and so was the buddy.
Feeling good, but not quite that good, Dan and I continued our night in the bar area called Golden Gai, where the street was exceptionally crazy. The culprit: The rugby match taking place in Tokyo had just ended and England won. The Brits were saucy, and much too obnoxious for the civil, quiet Japanese men running the jazz bar that Dan and I had a drink at. We left and did the most Japanese late-night activity we could think of.
Dan and I got a private karaoke room for a half hour. But by 30 minute mark we still had so many more songs in our hearts including Celine Dion and Kelly Clarkson (me) and James Brown (which we learned Dan is actually really good at singing at the detriment of his vocal cords). So we stayed for... two more hours? Or something like that? It was about 3am when we got home and wondered about what kinds of things these kind Karaoke Echo employees have seen. The place is open until 5am.