I'm writing this rant almost purely because pixiebell told me to, and that's a perfect way to introduce this portion of my Japan trip - by talking about how the whims of tiny girls hold mighty powers over me.
Maybe it's part of my avuncular weakness - when a niece stands in front of me and gives me the "I want to be picked up" hands, I'm completely unable to resist. It's like a compulsion. The requests of small children must be fulfilled (I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this, though).
What does this have to do with pixiebell? Well, we've known each other since our college days, and even though she's older than me, she's also a foot shorter than I am and, for all I can tell, appears to be made of flubber.
In that way, she's always been like a richer, older niece to me, so I can't resist any of her whims short of self flagellation (and some of those I still can't resist) - it's just not in my nature to say no to a little girl. Of course, the other explanation is the Terry Pratchett theory of dwarven ferocity - when their shoulders are at your knees, their teeth are at your crotch.
Where was I? Oh, yes, talking about how pixiebell can get me to do things I might not otherwise.
You know, years ago at a party, she...
You know what, I shouldn't tell that story. I've sworn enough people to silence that it'd be dishonest of me to break that.
Suffice to say that putting my trip into the hands of pixiebell and her sister was like closing my eyes and picking a ski run at random: bold and putting far too much trust in an unpredictable and uncontrollable factor. It could have been dangerous, it could have been gentle, and it would definitely make a good story.
But honestly, my first priority upon entering the Roppongi Hills was finding somewhere to sit down and relax. The frenetic activity of the previous few days had done a number on me, and even as I walked through one of the richest areas of Tokyo, I was perfectly happy to plop down in a chair next to a space heater and ponder hibernation.
Not that pixiebell and her sister Ami were going to let me, of course.
Our first order of business after dropping off our crap in pixiebell's luxurious Roppongi apartment (I'm going to be saying luxurious a lot in this segment, you might as well get used to it) was figuring out where we were going to eat.
Our first instinct was to try out a nearby theme restaurant, Ninja Akasaka. After all, we'd been told that our waiters would come out doing backflips and such, and we were hoping that there'd be some interesting side shows to go with the food.
Then we actually started scrutinizing the place, and it all fell apart - from our research, the Ninja restaurant is basically a tourist trap for white folk who don't know any better, with overpriced Chinese food (Chinese food?!) and not much in the way of entertainment. As Ami put it, "For these prices, someone better get assassinated!"
So instead of going to overpriced Chinese food, we ended up going to overpriced karaoke - the food was good and we had a whole lot of fun (pixiebell and I hadn't gone out to karaoke in years), so I gladly shelled out the 4000 yen for two hours of shooting the breeze and singing instead of paying a whole lot more for sweet and sour pork served by a guy in a ninja suit (strangely, I gladly overpaid a little for cakes served by maids, I wonder what this means about me).
The morning of the 31st, mikelurker and I headed out for the World's Largest Sausage Fest, also known as the anything-goes porn day at Comiket.
Here, I had one of the more interesting conversations of my whole trip. While wandering the floor before the show opened, I came across a guy selling homemade signs decorated with Touhou characters. We talked for a while about the magnitude of the event, and it turned out that he was as much a stranger to the scene as I was, since he didn't actually make anything. His friend was in another hall selling differently-themed signs, needed someone to mind the booth, and he ended up getting pulled into it. We talked about everything from travel to linguistics (sadly, his Vietnamese was almost as good as mine) and commerce, and it was a fascinating experience to stand there with another outsider and talk about how strange it was to be surrounded by other people's porn.
In case you're wondering, I didn't actually buy any porn on Porn Day. I just didn't want to.
Anyway, there wasn't much left for me to do at Comike, so after meeting mikelurker at the cosplay space, we headed back to pixiebell's place to prepare for new year's festivities.
There was still a huge chunk of time before the new year, though, so we headed out to a dessert viking to see how many desserts two small Asian girls and three lanky Asian guys could eat before dying (the answer would surprise you).
Then came one of the sadder moments of my trip, as Rice Suki sat down at the buffet, and as it started to get dark outside, he told mikelurker and myself "So, now that we're as far from Akiba as we can possibly be, I'd like to mention that it's my birthday." Mikelurker and I exchanged a glance, looked at our watches and made to leave, but sadly, he was right - we wouldn't make it to any maid cafe on time, especially with the New Year creeping up. So we packed away several metric assloads of sweets, and the hotel made a noble, if futile, gesture of bringing out a birthday cake for a man at an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet.
It was shortly after then that pixiebell remembered that I'm lactose intolerant, and to cries of "Oh crap! We're having fondue tonight!" we embarked on the Great Lactaid Search.
You see, while a huge number of Asian people are lactose intolerant, it seems like the Japanese are willing to just grin and bear it. We went to a drug store, where pixiebell desperately tried to figure out the word for "lactose intolerant" is in Japanese. After a bit of confusion involving the pharmacist trying to figure out why I'm prejudiced against milk, we got some communication going and... wouldn't you know it? They had nothing that would even begin to resemble lactaid. All of the products that started with "lac" ended with "sative," and while that spawned a lot of jokes about how it'd help me get that cheese out of my system just as well, pixiebell gave up.
So, resigning myself to a future full of cheese, we went back to her apartment, where we were joined by her friends Yuma and Miho (no relation to MT Miho).
I didn't manage to talk to Yuma very much, but I did spend some time talking to Miho, who was just what you'd expect out of a well-educated Japanese lady on the eve of a holiday: polite, perky, and very small. One might even say childlike.
I should've just fled screaming into the night right then, and I probably would've ended up better for it. But me, I'm dumb, and so I stayed in the apartment watching TV and watching 2006 tick down.
Now, I've always said that I love Japanese TV around New Year's, but the 31st is just a lot of music television. Not just any music television, though - music television with more enka acts than anyone under the age of 50 ever wants to watch (which is 1). So do you know what we watched, sitting with three small Asian girls in a super-expensive apartment overlooking one of the major financial towers in the country and sitting on a couch that cost indescribably large amounts of money?
I'm not kidding. There was just nothing else on at the time, and everyone managed to get into it, watching the various fights and discussing the cult of celebrity that is so prevalent in Japan.
In this way we passed the hours until the new year's countdown, and girls being girls (and in charge of the remote control), they turned to the Johnny's boy band countdown, which was filled with girls trying to outscream Jamie Lee Curtis.
Me, I was doing great, because my vision of an ideal New Year's is sitting around with a few friends and talking the year away (though usually, these visions don't involve nearly as much dairy as the end of 2006 did).
As the TV turned to more exciting music programs, ones that didn't involve any enka, we kept talking late into the night. A couple of us drifted into unconsciousness while we sang along to the songs we knew and talked about various scandals and gossip, and I was about ready to call it a night.
Then pixiebell clapped her hands and declared it to be ice skating time, right around 3:30 AM. I had one of those "I know the words, but they don't make sense strung together" moments, and then I realized that she'd mentioned this previously - a nearby ice skating rink was open all night on New Year's, and what better way to ensure that you'll be alone on the ice than to go at 4 AM?
Me, I wanted to curl up into a ball and let exhaustion take over, and I started to express this opinion when Miho quashed any resistance I could muster within two seconds. Delighted by the prospect of ice skating with friends until the sun rose, she clapped her hands together, jumped up and down and cried "Ikimashou, ikimashou" ("Let's go, let's go!"). She looked at me with all the wide-eyed innocence and glee of an 8-year-old, and I challenge any doting uncle in the world to withstand the full force of the puppy eyes from a little Japanese girl. I dare you.
So, with every muscle in my legs complaining at me, we trekked out to the rink near the shrine to Emperor Meiji.
And you know what? It was fun. The ice was bad, the weather felt like the sea king was throwing spears at me, and it took two people and a jar of mayonnaise to pry pixiebell out of her freshly bought (and therefore rock-hard) ice skates when it was all over. But it did turn out to be a great story. I went ice skating in Japan with the new year less than 5 hours old. And I don't regret it.
What I do regret is not getting more pictures of Ami pulling on pixiebell's leg with all her might, which was a comical scene to say the very least. It was worth all the cold, the exhaustion and the money just to see pixiebell dragged like a plow as Ami made vain efforts to try and get an ice skate off of her.
Then, we got home and I pretty much just died on the couch.
Next time, I'll discuss the last leg of the trip. But given that my flight's on Thursday, I think I'll be out of here before that happens.
See you then!