I arrived at Shinjuku Station tired, but in no way ready to go back to my hotel. I exited the station and decided to head towards the Kabukicho area, just to the north of station, with the hope of finding something interesting.
Emerging from the station, I found myself on Shinjuku-dori (Shinjuku Street) facing the local landmark, Studio Alta. (Studio Alta is mostly know for the massive TV screen that adorns the front of the building. But it’s also a shopping center with a TV station located on the top floor. I’ve never actually gone inside Studio Alta in all the times I’ve been in Shinjuku, not sure why. Next time I suppose.)
After a short wait for the light to change at the crosswalk, I made my way further north, walking through the small streets and alleys packed with restaurants and arcades until I reached Yasukuni-dori where, on the opposite side of the street, resided the famed Kabukicho area. And marking the entrance to it, was the familiar (to me) big, red illuminated gate.
I walked up and down the streets for a good while, passing the many bars and clubs crammed into the surrounding buildings. There were so many people out having a good time, the streets were packed. I found myself deeply missing one of my favorite ramen restaurants that used to be located on one of the corners a couple blocks back from the main street.
When I finally decided it was time to go, I headed out of Kabukicho the way I came in, through the illuminated gate and back onto Yasukuni-dori. However, instead of crossing back towards Shinjuku Station, I made a right turn and headed west, on a route that took me under the overhead JR Line tracks and in the general direction of my hotel. I went this way so that I could take a walk through the small alleys of Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane) or ”Piss Alley” as it’s also called. (That quaint nickname comes from the old days when it had no bathrooms inside its tight quarters- it has toilets now).
However before I got there I stopped just outside of it to watch the local JR trains pass by on the tracks that I just crossed beneath.
As I stood there watching trains go by, sounds of drumming started emanating from somewhere underneath the same tracks I had just walked under. At first I wasn’t sure exactly where it was coming from but then realized that it was just maybe 25 yards away to my right. It turned out to be a guy who had set himself up in the perfect place to amplify his music to the world. I walked over to have a closer listen.
I don’t think he was at all aware of the five or so of us who had gathered around him to listen. And it was probably 10 minutes before he finally ended what he was playing and looked up to see us standing there. He was very gracious and appreciative of the fact that we stopped and I did my best to communicate in my terrible Japanese how much I enjoyed his performance. Definitely one of those moments where I feel I lost out an a great chance to have a more meaningful experience due to my lack of language skills.
He started playing again, and after a minute or so more of listening, I moved on and made my way over Omoide Yokocho.
The two alleys that comprise Omoide Yokocho are packed full of cramped little eating establishments that are mainly known for yakitori, but also noodles of various kinds among other things. Most of the places are simply a counter with a few stools, very quaint and inviting.
As I was preparing to leave the alley, I happened to photograph a young couple as they were coming out of one of the restaurants. I didn’t think they saw me at first, but they did- which was fine. They approached me with the biggest smiles, and were most definitely a little, shall we say, “tipsy” from all their evening’s fun. (The guy was quite tall, 6 foot something and she was my height. My guess was that they were on a date after a Saturday workday.) They asked me where I was from and and if I had eaten, and if I would take their picture (to which I said sure). They were very cool.
They posed for me and were having the best time doing so. Unfortunately though, they had backed me into an area where the light was terrible, and even pushing the ISO to the maximum and the aperture wide open, I couldn’t get a shot of them that wasn’t totally blurry and useless. They were also having a very hard time standing anything close to still due to there “tipsiness”. They had no idea though and loved the blurry images on the back of my camera. In fact, after seeing them they thanked me and went merrily on their way. (I was disappointed that none of their photos turned out.)
So, feeling that was my cue to finally head back in, I set forth out onto the street that took me south along the outside of Shinjuku station and in the general direction of the hotel. I passed another stall belonging to the ramen business that I enjoyed my first night in Tokyo.
Then passed a line of waiting taxi’s.
Then passed the ramen stand I did eat at the other night before coming to the final few blocks of stores and restaurants that lay between the station and my hotel.
Yodobashi Camera was long closed. The night was winding down here and the crowds were thinning.
I was in a strange mood at this point. I wanted to stay out all night as I wasn’t ready for my trip to end, but I was exhausted from the day and needed some sleep. The whole trip had been just go go go, never really stopping to rest except when I was on the train.
So it was with great reluctance then, that I went back to my room (with a quick stop at Lawson for orange juice, water and yogurt to eat with the last of my Frosties), packed my stuff and downloaded the days photographs before finally climbing into bed.
My alarm was set for an early-ish morning. The plan was to be out of the room by 9am or so with my bags delivered to the bell captain to be stored for the day. And since tomorrow was Sunday, that meant that I could go catch the Rockabilly dancers down in Yoyogi park.
One day left!