Mass Panic in Tokyo
To the last man standing. To the big night out. The party isn’t over if the music’s still playing. Who did I get that cigarette off? Did I steal your last sip? That’s my mate DJ’ing – I can’t stop yet. Sticky toilet floors… dudes can’t aim. Did you assholes forget how to flush?
The Ruby Room, Shibuya – the neon centre of Japan’s capital. It’s the kind of dim lit, it’s-too-early-to-split type of joint that occasionally serves free burritos ‘til after midnight. There’s a guy, not a guitar hero: he plays keyboards in his footy shorts, mid-length striped socks and one of those tight, short-sleeved acrylic body shirts. He’s singing ‘Bye, Bye Kombucha Pie’. A throwback. It’s like watching one of my dad’s mates drunkenly wailing Hotel California at a barbecue.
It’s a typical happy hour: a few free drinks and everyone’s hitting on each other. Those who do hook up make their way to love hotels and lose their trousers along with half their belongings. Not me; not us. We meet a dude who’s lived in Japan five years and can’t speak a word of the language. “Who needs Japanese anyway? Most of the menus are in English,” he says. I guess you don’t need Japanese to ride the trains. And McDonald’s is a universal language.
As usual, itchy feet carry us onwards. “Let’s go clubbing!” is the call. A quick dip into a 7/11 for a cheap preload, Kombini Martinis, onegaishimasu. For young hobos like ourselves, we’ve gotta find a low-rent joint with shit on the walls. They’ll let anyone in, including us underage.
Gas Panic is all random graffiti, and heaving with foreigners. An old guy walks straight up to me and asks where I’m from. I tell him I’m from a small beach suburb in far north Queensland. I thought he was just being friendly and making conversation, but then he begins leaning close. I can smell his long list of prior failure. He tries to hold my hand. It is odd.
A bar staff insists we buy a drink before dancing. Cheap-ass beer all round and off to the dance floor we go. It’s pretty fuckin’ loud. Japanese takes on American Hip-Hop and R’n’B. Kanye comes on. No wait, that’s not Kanye singin’ “I aint sayin’ she a gold digger…” So loud it’s hard to be heard when I tell people I’m only 18. The foreigners laugh because they’ve all come up like me. The Japanese ease away, seemingly scared a policeman will materialise and cart us all away.
I meet a Japanese fellow music lover who takes the time to write me a list of the local musicians he listens to “almost daily”. I like them all, he says. Judy and Mary, Tokyo Paradise Ska Orchestra, Kick The Can Crew. Turns out I like them all too. He writes his deets on the back of the list, along with a drawing of his cat.
So much beer. Shout after shout until they are all on me. Enjoying it so much the last train call don’t mean shit to me. The others, however, are gathering their jackets for the 12:30am drunken adventure to the station.
Stumbling back up the stairs, I see my friendly old dude arguing with the bouncers. “Why did you kick me out?” He knows why. We all know why. At the top, we are a team heading back to The Ruby Room to catch our mate’s impromptu DJ set. Except we are not a team. I am an individual. As I climb the Ruby stairs, I turn to see a local, keen to pick up, leading our group to the last train.
Back inside The Ruby Room, Sgt. Sprinkles is playing to six people, including the bar staff. I stupidly think I’m back home and start on the tequila sunrises. Things aren’t going well. I can’t even finish the second as I’m slumping on the DJ table, telling Sprinkles I’m just going for some air. We both know that’s not true.
Under-dressed in the freezing cold, I seek shelter in a random hotel hallway. The next thing I know, I’m woken up by housecleaning screaming at me in Japanese. Although I’m not quite sure exactly what she’s saying, I’m certain I’m not wanted around here anymore. Shit, my bad. Time to move on. I tumble down the stairs.
Now starving and not at all sobered up, I look for a place to eat and hopefully continue my inebriated slumber. Burger King is the brightest light. Funny, at home Hungry Jacks is a joint I would avoid. Order a burger and take a bite. Next thing I know, I’m lifting my head from the greasy table and a dude in his uniform is moving me on. I leave my burger behind unloved.
By this point in the morningtime, it’s 4, and the only light at the end of the tunnel is the runaway 4:30am first train bound for home, Nippori.
I get to the train station expecting comfort from the storm raging in my booze-soaked head. No dice. The roller doors are still down. Consolation is at hand in the subway stairwell. I huddle with the homeless for warmth. Down and out in Tokyo like Orwell.
At this point, I connect to the free Tokyo subway Wi-Fi to discover I’m the subject of a manhunt. Concerned I didn’t return from my breath of fresh air, Sprinkles has posted on our travel group’s Facebook page:
“I hate to cause mass panic, but if anybody sees Louis, could you please comment on this.”
My faith in humanity is restored. The group sounds worried. There is a string of missed calls.
Zion creeps into my eyesight: the roller doors are lifting. Excited, and still pretty wasted, I scurry to my platform and wait. Slumped against the wall waiting to hear the rumble of my ride home, I see our friend out of the corner of my eye. Laughing, he approaches me and gives me a look I hate to say that I’ve seen many times before.
“Big night mate?” he asks.
Photos by Shay Ng