My streak of “getting caught up in the midst of weird shit” continues. In this edition: grab-ass with drunken yakuza on the way to see the Emperor of Japan; techno dance parties; insane Japanese Republicans and the street riots who love them; self-inflicted foot bullets.
Got up early yesterday to go to the Imperial Palace. The palace, situated right by Tokyo Station, is a slice of verdant greenery and moats in the midst of urban Tokyo. It’s a pretty weird contrast, but a very pretty place. They only open it up to the public twice a year; on the Emperor’s birthday (which was yesterday) and somewhere around the new year, I believe. I went with Daryle, Shawn, Amy, and Amy’s family, who are here visiting her.
The weirdness started on the way to the Palace, when some random chubby guy in a suit grabbed Daryle’s ass. We look over at him, and he mutters to himself in Japanese, “Damn, I missed. That wasn’t the girl.” Apparently he was trying to grab Amy’s ass (in front of her mom and dad), but got D’s instead. Soon after, we realize that this guy is a) yakuza, b) surrounded by around a dozen other yakuza, c) drunk as hell, and d) probably hasn’t slept in over 24 hours. We proceed to joke around with all of them, doing pro-Japan cheers and behaving like complete loons. I wasn’t able to get a good picture of them (I wasn’t about to ask), but I did manage to get one in without them noticing. And before you ask, how did we know they were yakuza? They were dressed in suits, using rough language, had pins on their lapels (which yakuza use to show which organization they belong to), and we heard some of them referring to each other as “aniki” — which means big brother, and is used in yakuza organizations to refer to your superiors. So, yeah. Fun!
The palace guards ushered us into a large area in front of the palace, where we would hear the emperor speak. When he came out and gave his speech, everyone went nuts. He only talked for maybe a minute, spoke very slowly, almost entirely in cliches. Overall, the experience was kind of lame.
On the way back to the train station, we ran across some excitable Japanese Nationalists. These guys drive around in loudspeaker-equipped vans, and scream about the Japanese spirit, Long Live The Emperor, and all that. They’re conservative, rich, traditional, pro-war, and borderline racist. Basically, Japanese Republicans. Keep these guys in mind; there will be a test later.
We made our way to Yoyogi Park, which was pretty deserted. We only found two cool things: first, a guy practicing spinning about a glass ball, like David Bowie in Labyrinth. Second, there was a random techno rave in the middle of the park. I dropped everything and danced with them for about 15 minutes, making two new friends, a fat guy in tye-dye and a tall, skinny hippie-looking dude, both of whom gave me beer and danced with me. Daryle took video of it, which I’ll try to post later.
On our way out of Harujuku/Yoyogi and into Shibuya, we ran across the Nationalists again. This was clear on the other side of town, so it was a bit surprising to see them. As we got closer, we were able to hear some of what they were saying — they were yelling at the police, who had set up a roadblock in front of them. Now, Shibuya is an incredibly densely populated area, especially for Christmas shopping. It’s also home to one of the biggest intersections in the world, featured prominently in Lost in Translation. We figured the Nationalists wanted to drive their vans into the middle of it and stop, which would have been catastrophically bad, traffic-wise. So the police were wise to set up blockades.
How did the Nationalists behave? Not well. They cursed incessantly, using the foulest language I’ve ever heard a Japanese person use. They were telling the police to “fuck off and die,” and constantly calling them the tools of foreigners, and saying they weren’t really Japanese. It was in the midst of this tirade that one of them let slip something about the police in Osaka being more cooperative, when it struck us — these assholes were probably Yamaguchi-gumi, the biggest yakuza organization in Japan. The Yamaguchi-gumi have managed to basically get the police out west to roll over for them, and recently have been trying to make inroads into Tokyo. We heard snippets of “bousozoku” (biker gang) from the crowd, which just increased our suspicions.
You have to understand, yakuza are INCREDIBLY pro-Japan. Yuusuke, our local drinking buddy, has “yamato” (the old name for Japan) tattooed across his chest. He hated America and Americans until he met us. Now he just hates America. Yakuza aren’t nearly as illegal or underground as, say, the mafia is. They have publically-marked buildings, much of their comings and goings are reported in the newspaper, and they have some sway over political office. They function as a political entity. It’s as if Japan said, “You know, these guys are always going to exist, so why don’t we just stop trying to crack down on them, it’s just going to make things worse. Let’s just work with them.” It’s a somewhat sensible policy, in a sense (works well with drugs and prostitution), but it creates a weird atmosphere.
Anywho, the police managed to get the Nationalists to leave. We continued our way into Shibuya, getting into the middle of the neighborhood (which was crawling with police), when we heard the Nationalist chants again. From all around us.
Yes, the yakuza were assaulting Shibuya. The police had blockades all around the neighborhood, and there were vans blasting slogans and insults at every one of them. Here’s video of two of the more interesting ones: 1 and 2. Here’s some pictures for y’all. Overall, a really interesting experience. It reminded me a lot of the protests in San Francisco when the Iraq War broke out (a conflict that I was also, bizarrely enough, caught in the midst of). It did give me pause to think how racist their rhetoric was, and how that isn’t exactly an uncommon line of thought here (or in any country, I suppose), but that’s a post for another time.
After that, we: went to a Korean restaurant that had a nifty fan; found some strange shirts; paid homage to Elvis; went to an incredibly smelly vintage gaming store named Super Potato; came upon a very confused church; and were greeted by Christmas carolers upon our return home.
Once back in Ryugasaki, we were going to meet up at RiRa’s, our local bar, for the annual Christmas party. Upon finding out it was formal wear and had a 2000 yen cover charge, Daryle and Shawn decided to skip it, and only Amy and I ended up going. It was a good time, everyone looked fabulous, and we discovered that Amy starts speaking German when she’s drunk.
Now, for the part where I shoot myself in the foot. Remember Yukiko? Recently, she sent out a message announcing that she was switching her email address. I asked her why, and she responded that she did it so that her ex wouldn’t be able to contact her. We had this conversation over dinner at my apartment on Tuesday; I cooked her latkes and made a nice salad, and it was a cozy, intimate little setting.
Basically, her ex had texted her a couple days ago, asking if they could talk. She decided she would never get over him if they continued talking, so she switched her email address and didn’t tell him. I told her that she was acting childish, and that she owed it to him to actually talk things out, and owed it to herself to not run away from her problems. I said she would always have regrets and wonder “what if” until the end of her days unless she handled this like an adult. She agreed, and went about setting up a meeting with him.
In said meeting, he confessed his love for her, and vice versa. So even though:
- He’s moving to Hiroshima in a week, to start a stressful job at a company he doesn’t like for low pay
- They still can’t communicate for shit
- They are almost inevitably going to settle into an unhappy relationship where he will work too much and pay too little attention to her
…she’s going to wait to be with him. Marry him, have kids, settle into a normal Japanese life. She will travel for a couple years and then maybe never again (he doesn’t have any interest in life abroad).
I told her all this, and how silly it sounded to me, and she agreed. “But,” she said, “I will try my best. For Japanese people, work comes first and love second.” I told her I couldn’t understand that; that I still liked her a lot and that I didn’t know what to do except give up, wish her a happy future, and worry about her future; hugged her and biked back home.