Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

109 Ways (NOT) to Celebrate One's Birthday

The Shibuya area of Tokyo is arguably the center of Japanese pop culture. It is the very palpitating heart of coolness, the womb from which trends are born. Anyone who is suffering delusions of being anybody tends to gravitate there by default. To go there is to be a pilgrim of fashion. It is the ultimate dream shopping destination of many if not most teen and twain girls on these islands. Perhaps inevitably, that includes my daughter.

April 3rd is my wife's birthday, and naturally we'd hoped to do something special on that date. As it turned out, it was also the last day during spring "vacation" that my daughter was free of any entanglements. My wife had (unfortunately) promised to take her to Shibuya sometime before the new school year got underway on April 6th. Long filled with irrational dreams of female teen trendiness, my daughter immediately turned up the pressure for her mother to keep her promise. There were discussions, arguments, insults, and lots of complaints before I loaded everyone up in the BLUE RAV4 and headed toward Tokyo.

(I admit that both my wife and I had long wanted to go to Shibuya ourselves, since we hadn't been there in a while, but not like that.)

Some years ago, thanks to a friend of mine who lives in the area (Jeff), I developed a certain habit for whenever I went to Shibuya or other nearby areas of Tokyo. I always parked my car at the pay lot behind Futako-Tamagawa Station and then took the train. Shibuya is only a few stops away. Even better, the pay lot there was relatively inexpensive and never crowded, so it was always easy to use. Note my use of past tense here. Believing it would be business as usual, I piloted the BLUE RAV4 through the expressway network, down the famous (read "always jammed") Kampachi Boulevard, around the newly rebuilt St. Mary's International School, and through the painfully narrow avenues of richville down behind Futako-Tamagawa Station to find a new shopping mall being built on the parking lot site. In other words, no parking lot. I desperately circled around the area looking for local pay lots, of which there are several, but all of them were full. I then fired up Navi-chan and tried to find a pay lot closer to if not in Shibuya. No luck. Nothing but "満車" (full of cars) signs everywhere. Overall, we wound up spending more than an hour just looking for a place to park before I finally found a municipal (read "psychotically expensive") parking garage in Shibuya itself.

We were already way behind schedule by the time we got to the main drag of Shibuya. My wife and I both had lots of things to do back home (not to mention FIL was being cranky about our going off instead of spending all day weeding his flowerbeds), so we hadn't planned to stay long. That now seemed inevitable. Determined to make the best of it in the least amount of time, we split up; I took my son and went to the big Tower Records while my wife took my daughter over to "109", the famous shopping center that caters almost exclusively to young women's trendy fashion.

I spent what seemed like a ridiculously long time in Tower Records and came out with a pile of new CDs (1 prog rock, 3 prog/electronica, 1 eclectic/ambient/new age, and 1 classical, though I somehow talked myself out of buying any classic rock or jazz albums, let alone any more books). There was still no sign of the rest of our bunch, so I called my wife, found out they were still at 109, and threaded my way through the Shibuya crowds headed in that direction.

There was some kind of commotion in front of 109. There was a bit of a crowd gathered at the small stage there in front of the landmark main entrance. I could hear a feminine voice going on and on, seemingly explaining or demonstrating something, but it was too garbled to make out. Just as I was walking past, however, the crowd parted a bit, and I suddenly realized I was passing only just out of arm's reach of Edo Harumi. She's no longer Japan's comedienne du jour (that was in 2008), but she can still draw a crowd. I didn't pay her much mind, though, and soon my son and I were wandering through the hot, humid corridors of spoiled teen purgatory.

Unless you are a teen or twain girl, and maybe even IF you are, 109 is not for the faint of heart. There are a whole bunch of shops packed into a building that really isn't all that large, so space is at an ultra-premium. They are connected by circular hallways that are only just wide enough for two people to walk abreast. Meanwhile, there is a an almost constant, arterial surge of orange-brown hair, excessive eyeliner, soapy perfume, exposed thighs, snotty facial expressions, and even snottier-sounding, lingo-riddled bantering, only broken now and again by a more normal-looking girl or foreign tourist who looks totally shell-shocked. This is either the center of the material girl world or Taliban hell. (It's certainly hot enough in there.) For my daughter, however, it was heaven on earth, and she was not going to be pried out of there easily. Finally, right at about the time my son was on the verge of a phase change (solid to volatile), my daughter decided on her last purchase, so we were able to attempt our escape.

We wound up getting separated by the undulating tide of spoiled femininity, and it took us a couple of cell phone calls to get our bunch together again. Then, with one quick detour to the famous Parco department store for my wife's benefit, we made our way back to the parking lot, got robbed blind paid the bill, and headed back up to the crowded streets. As soon as we emerged from the parking garage exit, it started to rain...hard. Visibility got close to zero, and I had to rely on my instruments to get me back on the expressway. Fortunately, it was fairly smooth going all the way home.

We got back to ye olde stomping grounds almost three hours later than we'd hoped. I wasn't able to make my wife a birthday cake as planned (and she said she didn't want one anyway), so I bought some cakes at a cake shop at the supermarket we stopped at on the way. We had a quick dinner of supermarket sushi followed by cake sans the company of my father-in-law, who was livid and refused to join us. It took a bit of coaxing to get my wife to open her presents, but she seemed a lot happier afterward.

We may never go to Shibuya again, at least as a family.

Incidentally, for those who don't visit me on Facebook, I finished a new tune that was partly meant to be a birthday present for my wife. I'll share it with you. It's an instrumental called "One Rare Moment Together". Enjoy!


  • Happy Birthday to K,
    Happy Birthday to K,
    It is time to punch Moody,
    Happy Birthday to K.

    The rest is just details.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:32 AM  

  • Shopping, nothing like a mall. But you didn't shop for any musical instruments...

    By Anonymous Dave, at 12:32 AM  

  • Don
    Don't laugh; she definitely looked like she was ready to punch someone.

    Shibuya is an area of Tokyo, not a mall. I'm not sure Shibuya 109 qualifies as a mall. It's a department store. (Details which I probably should have linked before here.) It's sister annex building, 109-2 (also in Shibuya), is a bit more spacious inside but is still a department store rather than a mall as such.

    There are a couple of good musical instrument shops in Shibuya, but I never made it to either of them.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:07 AM  

  • You have a knack for these best-laid plans - like having a special day for your wife instead of a tortuous one fighting crowds of teens. Will you reschedule or can your wife not take anymore "special days"?

    By Anonymous nikkipolani, at 2:45 PM  

  • And I really like the piece you wrote, MM. It's got images of spring in it.

    By Anonymous nikkipolani, at 2:48 PM  

  • Happy belated birthday to "K." Hoping you two could reagrrange another private time.

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 4:12 PM  

  • Shibuya.. brings to mind people in cosplay costumes.

    Nikkipolani said it.. images of spring. I like the tune.

    Belated happy birthday to your missus.

    Are cherry blossoms in bloom yet? Looking forward to your pictures.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 6:41 PM  

  • My comment disappeared!

    Another "happy motoring" event. Luckily, that and the consumerist nightmare - a la 109 - are soon to end.

    "One Rare Moment Together" is delightful.

    Sometime soon, leave the kids with your FIL and take your K to dinner.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:50 PM  

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