It`s Saturday afternoon and the cherry blossoms are in bloom in Inokashira Park, Tokyo. University students, sat on blue tarpaulin sheets, are having a picnic. The carrier bags full of beer, sake and snacks are gradually emptying.
Some of the groups are chatting or playing cards, some play drinking games, a few are passed out, and a couple are throwing up in the corner. It`s a touching spring scene.
After watching others playing the fool, I started to fancy a bit of fun and adventure myself. So, I took the Chuo line train into Shinjuku, the busiest nightlife spot in Tokyo, and an exciting and unpredictable place, as I would soon be reminded.
My first stop was Donzoko どん底 (The Pits), a 60 year old Shinjuku landmark. It`s like a English country pub, but on three floors, and without the wellies and fruit machines. Also, you can`t stand up here – you are escorted to a seat, which costs you 300yen to sit on.
I got put next to Hiroshi, a talkative and friendly salaryman. He was quite a character. An ex-rugby player for Shrewsbury Town, (my birthplace), he had also played high-standard snooker (88 top break).
The recent earthquake had made him homeless. On the day of the big tremor, with no trains running, he had walked almost 4 hours to get home. He lived in Urayasu – a new city on Tokyo`s eastern outskirts, built on land reclaimed from the sea.
“When I got home, I couldn`t get into my house. There was so much mud built up outside the front door. My house had sunk.” he told me.
“I had to dig my way to the front door, then I borrowed a hammer from my neighbour to break in. Once I got in of course, I realised I could no longer lock the door.”
“Then I started getting chain mails warning of Chinese gangs stealing from unlocked homes. So, I stayed up all-night, for 3 nights running, to protect my belongings”
Luckily, things soon got better for him. The reports of robbing Chinese gangs turned out to be untrue. And Hiroshi`s company have bought him a new house, on more stable ground I hope.
I left at 10pm, happy to have heard a good story. It was time to go home, but three hours later I was dancing in a gay club. I`ll try to explain why in the next post.
1951 Donzoko and the 2011 ‘country pub’ Donzoko.