Monday, November 12

Japan Finale - Thanks, Keith

The peep holes were this low on the doors in Japan.

This is how American luggage fits into a Japanese cab.

Thank God for a man named Keith Krohn. Keith was placed on this earth just to help the girlfriend and I find the real fun in Japan. Keith is from Colorado, but he got an IT job in the city of Yokohama (which doesn’t even make the tires, apparently) two years ago. Now he’s an American living lost in translation. He doesn’t speak Japanese, he’s really tall and he likes racing dirt bikes. That puts him in the minority. He got up the courage to come to the press room on Saturday and introduce himself to me, Charlie and Rodney. At last, he had found Americans and he was pumped.


Keith did exactly what I did years ago whenever I would meet anyone who knew anything about motocross. Bench racing sessions were rare for me back in the college days, so I had a variety of topics and ideas stored up for the few times I could use them. The JNCC was such a time for Keith, so he let me have it with both barrels, asking questions about GNCC, Ricky Carmichael, injuries in motocross and so much more. It was really fun to talk to the guy, and I had a feeling I was making his day by keeping him in the Americana loop.

That's Koikeda's hand-made full-works one-off YZ450F prototype bike with our luggage just stuffed on top of it. Perhaps you have noticed the new swingarm/linkage?

Keith keeps his Americanism boiling. Everyone else in the JNCC Series runs a minivan with a bike in the back, but Keith drives a Toyota Hi-Lux Surf, which is a 4Runner to us. Keith also mentioned how no one runs Dunlop tires in Japan, as it’s all Bridgestones, and the really cool parts come out in Japan before the US. He said he’s been running a ‘Stone 404 tire here but it’s not even out in the U.S. yet.

I gave Keith as much info on American racing as I could. Soon my new ally would have to return the favor. When I introduced him to Alisa on Sunday, she attacked him for information on downtown Tokyo. We had spent Friday and Saturday night trapped in our hotel in the middle of a forest doing absolutely nothing. If we didn’t get to see something cool in Tokyo we were going to the U.S. Embassy and bombing the place.

Keith told us to visit the neighborhood of Roppongi. He also warned us of “snack bars.” Apparently, Nigerian men will be out on the streets offering deals to go into bars in which a man pays to be accompanied by a beautiful Japanese woman. She is not a prostitute but just someone to serve as his hostess for the evening. The “snack bar” girls are “schooled in the art of conversation” and since it is Great Honor To Be Seen With Beautiful Woman in Japan it all makes sense. Since my girlfriend was interrogating Keith, I felt like I should maybe include her in the action so I asked what the Women in Japan do while the men are visiting snack bars.

“A lot of women just don’t go out,” he said.


Snack bar.

Not a snack bar. C'mon guys! Also, note the TV is playing Cool Runnings, one of American favorite movies! About Jamaican men coached by Canadian man to race in Olympics!

We took the bullet train from Sendai to Tokyo on Monday afternoon (we hit 180 mph, which was almost as fast as Dale Jr. can go, only we were in a vehicle that was lighter, and nimbler than his). We cruised around downtown Tokyo for a few hours before meeting Masami Hoshino (JNCC president) for one last dinner at an Italian restaurant (in Tokyo!). Then it was off to the concierge desk to ask about Roppongi. I accidentally slipped back into talking like an American when I asked “We’re looking for a place to drink some beer and hang out.” The concierge coached himself to handle our request, repeating “hang out, hang out, hang out” to himself several times. He gave us a map of Ropongi and a street map to get us to the subway. That’s all we would need.

We could have just hailed a cab to have another non-conversation with a nice driver, but we wanted to experience as much of Tokyo as possible so we went for the subway and guessed our way through since we couldn’t really read anything.

Roppongi looked like our kind of town. After too many nights of nothingness we finally saw neon lights, heard music and felt the vibe that it was okay to stay up late. Everything looked normal, almost like we were back in the U.S. But that whole Lost in Translation thing….

We went to a place called Motown. Actual Motown records hung from the walls and real Motown music played on the speakers. It looked like some bar in anytown USA, but it was completely empty, besides the super-depressed Japanese guy crying in his beer over at one end. The staff consisted of three bar tenders and a host guy who showed us to our seats. Roughly translated, he said “Since every seat is available, you may sit wherever you would like.” Good thing he was there to explain that. Then he stood and waited for the next set of people to come in. It never happened. No one else came. But he still stood there, never leaving his post, never flinching, never deciding talk to his co workers just to pass the time. Behind the bar stood three bar tenders who also didn’t talk to each other, just waiting patiently to serve us if we needed anything. It all looked so American, but it so surely was not. At home, you’re lucky if you can get the bartender’s attention since they’re usually talking to the rest of the staff about who is doing who, how much they hate their job and how mean their girlfriend/boyfriend/dad/mom/boss/teacher/bill collector is.

We roamed the streets and sure enough the Nigerian guys were out hustling the Snack Bars. We decided to try one, and the guy took us up the elevator to the ninth floor—exactly what you’re warned not to do when you’re traveling. We found out that this particular snack bar, at least, was no more than a glorified strip club. No wonder women don’t go out.

Unfortunately there really weren’t any other choices beyond the Snack Bars. They were everywhere and so were the Japanese men in suits checking them out. At one point we saw an Australian guy flying out of a Snack Bar. He had not met Keith Krohn so he didn’t know what he was getting into. “Mate, I went in there and all of these girls were just all over me!” he said.

We decided to try Karaoke next. Again, it’s not even close to Karaoke stateside. Japanese Karaoke isn’t meant for bars. It’s not about having a crowd in front of you or putting on a show. It’s not even about having fun. It’s a real competition in which you go into a booth by yourself, sing to yourself and watch the machine give you a score based on how close you were to the real notes of the real song. It’s no more social than going to the batting cages.

But I couldn’t resist, so I locked myself in a booth and let ‘er rip with Wanted Dead of Alive and Neil Diamond’s B’comin’ to America. The sound system was way off, and even some of the words on the screen didn’t make sense…to me. Can you imagine what the words look like to someone who speaks Japanese? Maybe it is best to do it behind locked doors.

(Scroll to the bottom of this post for exclusive Blogandt video coverage of Kareoke!)

Just when it seemed like all hope was lost, God pulled one more solid for us. A place beckoned us from below street level. A Nigerian guy stood out front but didn’t even harass us, he just let us walk right in. On the inside, this was just a standard bar, but unlike the Motown place, this joint had some action. 90’s dance music jammed through the system and people were dancing. It was lively and it was fun, and soon we were spreading “the Weege dance” to this culture. We stayed there late—past 5 am, because apparently bars never close in Tokyo. By then the subways were open again, so we trudged our way home, tired, hungry and ready to be hungover. We even stopped at McDonald’s on the way back. Hey, we had to get that full Tokyo experience.

Tokyo drift.

The long ride back to hotel.

Karaoke vid: It starts with me singing the Wanted Dead or Alive Guitar Solo, and then it's on to the English.

1 Comment:

XCountry Photos said...

"Awesome" story line and photos.
Felt like I was there....

amy mcconnell