A Tokyo Layover

There is no way not to get a little culture shock when you step out of the airport in Tokyo. For most of the last year we were traveling through third world countries, with little or no infrastructure. Now we were in a technological wonderland, so modern and business like that we must have looked like a bunch of homeless vagabonds. The Japanese are too polite to say anything, but I am sure they wanted to cross to the other side of the street just at the sight of us. Strangely, we had just gotten off the plane and a camera crew started filming us and asking us questions about why we were in Japan. Nasty as we were it was time to shine. I told them about my art and gave them a business card. They were doing a tourist video. Second time I have been on Japanese TV in my life. The first time was in Rampungi for a game show in which I was supposed to hit a balloon off a guys head while blindfolded. Yep, you cant make this stuff up. Funny thing is, my buddy John, who lives there saw me tv on a late Saturday night. Just like I thought, the host was having a great time laughing at my skills of popping balloons, as I repeatedly smacked him in the head with the nerf bat.

 

We arrived in Tokyo the next day, and Georgie boy was waiting for us. Such a surreal sensation to be back, nine months later. Coming to visit George in Tokyo is not like visiting a strange country, but more like visiting family. There is no weirdness, just instant comfort. We would have been fine to spend three days just veg’ing out with his family, but George always has big plans for us, which we love. He was in shock that we had not killed each other on the trip. He thought for sure I was going to come back on my own. After looking at my track record, I suppose I should not be surprised.

The first day we took a ferry around Tokyo bay, sipping beer and acting like goofballs. It was mainly for transportation of people to and from work, but worked very nice for being tourists too. A bunch of young high school students wanted to take some pictures with us, so we posed for them. They were quite shocked when George talked to them in Japanese. I always love these moments. There is no one whiter than George, and he’s not exactly the smartest dresser. So people assume he is a tourist like our camera toting asses are. So they will speak openly in front of him, assuming he does not understand anything. Then after they really start ripping on us, he will say some small comment about the weather and their faces turn bright white. So hilarious. I especially love when he relays all the dirty gossip that people talk about. We stopped at a lovely Japanese Garden that was filled large pine trees, a large pond filled with koi, and a gazebo on an island. In the heart of Tokyo, and I can say that, because there are millions of hearts here, you have a little slice of natural paradise.

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Tokyo, Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

That night we went out on the town in Shubiya. It always loved it there, and I really wanted Yvonne to see the crazy, busiest part of Tokyo. Here you most certainly can get swept up in a wall of people, yanked and pulled along like a cork in the rapids. Where you get out, no one knows. We climbed out of the subway and went to Tokyo’s most famous meeting point at the Hachikō statue. Hachikō was a dog that went with his master, Hidesaburo Ueno, to the subway everyday, and then would wait for him to return. After his master died, he still returned everyday to wait for his master at the subway station. He did this for 9 years after his master had died. There is no such loyalty as that of a good dog, as you can see from some of my past blogs. In the last year Tokyo University finally reunited Hachikō with his master in a lovely statue that they unveiled, it only took 90 years. Hachiko

 

After that we went out to an gorgeous gourmet restaurant that had all kinds of great fusion rolls, grilled shrimp, and sticky rice with baby fish. Every dish was amazing, and it was lot like Tapas where you eat little plates of all kinds of fun stuff. We had a few rounds of saki shots also. After such a mouth-watering meal like that, it’s good to take a little stress out by beating up one of the random mascots that wander the city. Who wouldn’t want to beat up a six-foot round-headed devil. I love Japan and all their fun and goofy cartoon characters. There is a real love and respect for cartoonist and animators here.

We were not the only ones fighting in Shubiya though. A fight broke out between two lads for whatever reason. We skirted the area after I got yelled at by both George and Yvonne for taking pictures of the fight. What, I can’t help but document everything that happens in the world, I am a blogger after all. The next day we were up bright and early at 6 am for Family Day at George’s kids school. This is an incredible important event, and all the fathers were there before the school opened with tents, chairs, and other apparatus to make sure that everyone was comfortable for the day. The woman and children show up few hours later.

 

George took this very seriously, so we, who were all hung-over as heck, set things up. The day was a blast, with races, dance performance, and sports. The kids were all involved, and the parents were hooting and hollering like crazy. It was a nice relaxing day for us, and besides one scary moment where Michelle decided to wander off on her own, there were no mishaps.

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Sports Day at school in Japan, Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

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Tokyo, Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

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Tokyo, Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

That evening we went out on a very romantic family boat ride with all the kids. It was a riverboat with a large galley where everyone would sit cross-legged with a small table with a grill on it. The romantic part was for all the couples who were around us, having their first dates, or maybe anniversary dinners, perhaps even some of them were going to score tonight. We put an end of that as chaos erupted around them; loud screaming, dancing, and wrestling. The kids were having fun too. Actually the couples loved the kids frolicking around, they even posed for pictures with them. The boat’s engines were noisy, so we could all be as loud as we wanted to, which was perfect.

 

Monjya is like a potato pancake mixed with all kinds of meats, noodles, and spices. You mix it all together on grill and fry it up. It’s a blast to do, and I have some exciting video of all of us being chefs. You can get Cheese Eggplant, Fried Noodle, Spicy Roe, and yes, even Chocolate Banana Monjya. They all tasted phenomenal. I kid you not when I say Japan has the best food of all Asia. It all seems to be some interesting mix of stuff that I would never try at home, but works out perfectly. After many drinks and fun, the boat ride around Tokyo bay was over, and Uncle Mike got to carry some exhausted kids home. I guess they were testing my parenting skills for future endeavors.

Our last day had come, and it was an all out barbecue on the deck. But not before Yvonne and I took and early morning hike. There was still a lot of devastation from the earthquake that had hit a year before. Railings were cracked, sections of pavement were upheaved, and lots were kind of left to go wild. We were near Tokyo Disneyland section of Japan. We wandered to the Bay, and I decided I could not take the heat any more. Oh yeah, did I tell you this was the hottest and most humid time to be here. So I decided to strip down and swim in the bay. Hey, I saw a guy in a wet suit doing it, so why not. Well, apparently not too many people do it, so I got a lot of looks. But boy did I ever feel good, and I did not come out glowing green like a lot of you jokers thought I would. It was very refreshing.

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Tokyo, Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

George of course was shocked that I swam in the bay, and Miyako just shook her head at me. Crazy Americans. George and I went to the store and picked up every kind of meat we could think of. Hell, it was just like back in high school when we would go to the cabin. Then we went up to his roof deck and started the grill. We had grilled fish, squid, chicken, and beef. All delicious. Tommy got ahold of my camera, and now I have about 100 pictures of the dog, and the underside of the table. I tell you, that boy is going to be a director one of these days.

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Photo by Tommy, Tokyo, Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

Well, the time had come. George dropped us off at the bus, and with a final beer good bye, we headed to the airport. No better host in the world than George and his family. Now, we truly knew the trip was over, but no better way to end it then with great friends.

To see more blog post on my trips to Japan click the links below.

Tokyo Weekend at Georgies and the Beginning of the Trip

Second Day of the Holidays – Japan

4 responses to “A Tokyo Layover

  1. I love it brother! Congrats on finishing the blog. Japan is amazing and I can’t wait to take Rebecca there. Hope all is well back in good old west philly. Love you guys.

    • Thanks Mr. Thatch. Life is well over here, with all the normal ups and downs. Thanks for checking it out. I will be doing a final send off for the blog on arriving back home, and then its all international dating stuff and local events. Like weddings in Ireland, lol. Stay cool over in Nam.

  2. This is a great story as always, Michael. I appreciate your characterization of the Japanese when you say they are too polite to show it, but they probably wanted to cross the street. I was so impressed with Japanese politeness when I was there.

    This post has another great sketch! The Sports Day really comes alive in your sketch. I can’t explain it: sometimes your drawings really grab me, and this is one of them.

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