Friday, April 21, 2006

Japan Reunion Spring 2006

A few weeks ago I went to Japan for the fifth time...the main purpose being to hang out with Seiya and his family and friends, and attend the grand re-opening of Depot (Seiya's store and R.E.Load's Japanese distribution hub). I also brought my parents along for the ride, since they had never been to Japan, and there was no Kyotoloco event this year (side note: Kyotoloco is now slated to take place on alternating years due to the sheer amount of work it takes for Handa and the other organizers to run the thing...easily the best event of the year, every time). This is Seiya and his wife Mami.

Depot carries everything handmade and bicycle-related. They've got bags (probably more R.E.Load bags at any given point that we actually have in our own store, along with some Frietags and one lone Chrome joint that simply refuses to sell), keirin frames and parts, clothing, hats, bicycle jewelry, books, dvd's, and more. It's amazing what's packed into this little store. The grand re-opening took place on April 1st and celebrated the new renovations aimed at maximizing efficiency of the display space. They also added equipment for serving coffee to their customers while they pore over R.E.Load color samples in an effort to figure out exactly what they want for their custom bag.

Seiya got a ton of customers, both old and new, the day of the opening. Since the Seventh Annual R.E.Load April Fools Extravaganza was taking place the same day back in Philly, I was a little nervous. I had organized and planned the whole thing, drawn up the course, and gotten all the prizes together. And it WAS the 7th event. Carrie and Gerik had been through one or two of 'em themselves and i had the utmost confidence that they would pull it off this time by themselves, but i still couldn't help but worry...anyway, I didn't really have that much time to dwell on it, because I spent the day as the "special guest manager" of Depot.

Funny thing about Japan - people love for me to sign their bags! I think here I have signed maybe three or four bags, and that includes the show bags I've made for the various "Seam Rippers" art openings. Over there I wind up signing about 50% of the stuff. Crazy. Anyway, so i passed the time talking to customers, signing stuff, and giving demonstrations on how to properly use the main strap.

For the most part, there were usually too many people inside the store to actually stay in there and not be in somebody's way. So I hung out a bunch outside with the crew. Shin had recently quit his job and started working as Seiya's first employee. Keiji, Atushi, Gen, and a bunch of other people were lounging around drinking beer and playing with a strange, bike-like contraption. I think "contraption" is actually the perfect word for it...

I don't think this picture can do justice to just how silly a thing this is. Basically, what you have here is a unicycle, with an offset seat and handlebars, and a rear rollerblade wheel about 3" from the front wheel. It was literally IMPOSSIBLE to ride. I believe the record length that somebody stayed on (everybody was trying it) was about four feet. Atushi had bought it; i believe mostly to laugh at people as they attempted to actually get anywhere on the thing. I don't know what it's called, but I'm sure the inventor got a nice little booth at Interbike next to the dude who invented the bicycle that goes forwards when you pedal backwards...oh, and did i mention that the wheel wasn't built with actual spokes, but instead had an arrangement of three mountain bike shocks connecting the hub to the rim? Classic.

Here's Miki (Wataru's wife) with their one year-old son. We made him a special Aika bag when he was born. Yoko (Shin's wife) is in the background. Yoko and Miki are actually the first people I met the first time i visited Seiya in Japan.

On April 15th, Yoshi and his girlfriend Junko (aka Yochiid and Junquita) were set to get married...they stopped by the store to say hello. Unfortunately, this was the only time i'd get to catch up with them. Yoshi's a dancehall dj, i'm a hip hop dj, and we usually go record shopping together in Shibuya. Next time...anyway, congratulations to you both!

After the work day was over, we went to a local izakaya (aka "bar that serves food") for dinner. Shin ate all the food. Gyoza (dumplings), ramen, sushi, karage (basically little chunks of fried chicken)...didn't matter. he downed it all. Peep the look on Mami's face as she watches him eat yet some more noodles! We drank beer and lemon hi (japanese vodka mixed with seltzer and lemon juice). Lemon hi doesn't sound very crazy, but the stuff is POTENT. Very potent.

After dinner and drinking, we decided to go...drinking. I love walking through the streets at night in Japan. I grew up in NYC and have lived in Philly ever since college, so it's kinda nice to feel like there's not a care in the world when you roll out to the bar late at night.

The bar we were headed to is called Ajito, and is owned by a friend of Seiya's (and proud R.E.Load bag owner) and his wife. It's probably the narrowest bar ever to exist. There's literally room for one line of about ten people. Oh, and it's a "stand up" bar - no chairs. Still, it's one of my favorite places in Japan...the owners are super-nice, the rockabilly theme is tinged with just enough of the Japanese culture to keep it refreshing, and the glasses of chu-hi and shochu (japanese vodka) are very well proportioned. Plus, they serve food. Anything from a simple bag of microwave popcorn to tasty appetizers and pizza. Things started getting pretty rugged at a fast rate, based on the fact that we had already been drinking for a while...

I decided to spice things up a little bit by buying everybody some rounds of the classic Philly "special". This is usually a shot of Jim Beam and a can of PBR (which we can get here for a combined $3 at a ton of bars). However, this was Japan, and they had not JB and PBR, but instead stocked Jameson and Bass. PINTS of Bass, to boot. So we started doing Philly Specials, and proceeded to get loose. Here's me with Shin and Keiji. I think at this point I has just berated Shin for attempting to drink tomato juice all night, and had thrown a special in his hands.

Do a few souped-up specials, and THIS is what happens. Wataru bugging the hell out. Me trying to keep my composure. Somewhere in the background Seiya is probably laughing hysterically and making fun of Shin. Note that I've changed into my new "Ajito" tee shirt at this point. Gotta rep for the fam.

Japanese girls can DRINK! You wouldn't think so from looking at them, but I'll tell you - these ladies took in their weight in booze that night and held it down like champs. Meanwhile, the guys were over near the taps looking like...

...THIS. Atushi had just handed me a glass full of shochu. I had had a number of beers at dinner, a few specials here at Ajito so far, and now dude was handing me a glass full of vodka on the rocks?!? I had no choice but to keep it real and represent America up in there. Note the look of utter destruction on my face. Like the drunk uncle in your family....and at this point, poor Shin doesn't even know what to do with himself.

Which is probably what prompted this response from the ladies when I suggested we all do another round. The bottle of Jameson had found permanent residency on the countertop; there was no reason to be putting it away after pouring because somebody else was always doing a shot. Where is Seiya in all of this? Hmmm.....

Atushi, Keiji and Shin.

This is where we started losing people. Too many drinks, too many drinks. We decided to go to a ramen shop (the rough equivalent of getting a slice at Lorenzo's or a cheesesteak at Geno's at 3:30 in the morning in Philly). I seriously do not rememeber where it was, but i do remember sitting down, ordering a bowl of ramen with pork, and then waking up, looking around, and seeing that everybody had finished their ramen, and that there was nothing in front of me...i'm assuming Shin did his dirty work on my bowl of ramen. Anyway, turns out i dozed off for roughly 30 minutes, but i awoke in perfect time to ride five minutes back to Seiya's house and pass out.

To be continued....(no, i don't have any photos of the ramen shop! I was asleep...remember?)