Under the technicolor cloud

DARK suits shed; Shinjuku donned its other gear. The ward’s animated persona emerged from the fiery business district when night fell, but the intensity was in no way diminished. In fact, it became more vibrant – the city was ablaze with color, the streets blanketed in multi-colored hues of the neon lights. Shinjuku was exciting at night as it was by day.

The character shift was so evident, from the enterprising air of the attaché case-toting work force to the high-spirited aura of the eclectic fashionistas. Picture a schizophrenic Japanese (no pun intended) with fragmented states alternately acting their roles on their twelve-hour shifts. The proverbial cliché “work hard, play harder” came to mind. Why not? They deserved it. A shot of sake or two after a day of toiling was not enough reward to what this highly industrialized society demanded of them.

If sake is the national drink, the national pastime must be Karaoke (not counting shopping). What can be a better stress reliever than venting out joy (or frustration) through a song? The high-pitched shrieks can pass off as loud, emotional, out of tune renditions. High scores, applause, canned or not, who cares? Kampai!

While the Japanese were belting it out in the inner sanctum of their preferred lounge, I carried on with my journey on foot. Where the bright lights (the colored ones, not white) were, I went, caring less that I strayed farther and farther from base. The stars will guide me back to my hotel, or the map in my back pocket.

I passed street signs with names tough to read, much more, memorize, and lingered in the fancy, unusual or exciting areas. The camera was working overtime and as usual, I didn’t take notes. No, I am not a genius nor gifted with a photographic memory, I just know better – everything is available in the net.

Before heading any further, the gut said it was time for my very first authentic Japanese ramen (how can I go wrong in this place?). Can’t read? “No probrem!” Thank God, and Buddha, for picture menus. The forefinger will do the ordering.

It was the pork with noodles for me. Chosen after I made a fool of myself emulating a chicken. None of the staff got the elbow fluttering and clucking I acted out. Don’t they play charade here?

Maybe I was their comic relief for the evening but at least I learned a thing or two on my introduction to the ramen house. 1. Content yourself with what’s on the menu. ; 2. Don’t ask for anything beyond it unless you speak their language. ; and, 3. Nowhere in Japan will you find ramen with chicken. So who tweaked the recipe, the Chinese or Pinoy?

Sated and energized like Gigantor, I went back to my ward immersion.

Shinjuku lists a number of notable areas worth visiting. The Ichigaya in the east is the commercial area and home to the Ministry of Defense; squeezed in the small area of Golden Gai are hundreds of shanty-style bars and restos catering to artists in music, stage and cinema; one of Tokyo’s last remaining geisha district is the Kagurazaka; Nishi-Shinjuku is where Tokyo’s largest concentration of skyscrapers is; the Korean district is in Okubo; Yotsuya is an upscale residential and commercial district where Arakicho is, noted for its izakayas; and if you must know, the Kabukicho is the red-light district and Shinjuku Ni-chome is Tokyo’s noted gay area.

Did I make it to these areas tonight? Maybe I did. The realization will come later, after my photos have been compared to those in the web. Some areas needed no researching though, the scenes were quite distinct. There was no denying that I was in the red-light district. In fact, I scoured the place.

Shinjuku was urging me to stay. I did my cheer dancing routine with a finale yell of YES!

Apparently the body didn’t budge. It can no longer catch up with the zestful scene that played in the mind. Time to recharge at base. Whatever energy left in me would be enough to take me home before I completely shut down.

The next question is, which way is home?

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 16, 2011.



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