Columnist Jimmy Viola’s Halloween in Tokyo exposed him to Japan’s satirical perspective of Americans.
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More than 1,000 moist, costumed bodies emulsified in neon, strobe lights and fog blasts. The floor trembled from the concussive bass of the sound system.
The minutes crept closer to dawn. I had been dancing for four hours to the point of delirium.
“As soon as this song ends,” I kept telling myself, “I will leave when this song is over.”
But the house disc jockeys seamlessly blended, faded and morphed into the next, like a boa constrictor determined to squeeze every last drop of sweat from the crowd.
And then I was on the subway at 7 a.m., drenched, air raid sirens echoing in my head, astonished that the soles of my shoes had yet to be eroded into rubber goo on the dance floor.
I was among the hoards of zombies, video game characters, angels and devils in revealing dresses and other pop culture detritus to descend on the waterfront of Tokyo’s industrial district for the Halloween bash at Ageha, Japan’s largest dance club.
Just traveling to Ageha from Shibuya crossing was a party in itself. The club offers a free shuttle every half hour at Shibuya crossing, which was inundated with camera flashes and interlocked arms of drunken foreigners wearing Pokemon costumes, much to the amusement of the locals, some of whom had also dressed up in American novelty costumes, such as Statues of Liberty and cowboys.
Ageha’s assault of electronic rhythms remitted around 3 a.m. for a costume contest. It featured a panel of Japanese celebrity judges I could not recognize, and the contestants included a man who controlled a 12-foot aluminum robot suit and ninja turtles wearing thongs and full green body paint. The finale saluted to Michael Jackson with an impersonator who expertly mimicked every one of the King of Pop’s moves while singing abbreviated, gibberish-English versions of his greatest hits along with even a few popular Japanese pop covers.
The Japanese, it would seem, are a nation of fierce partiers with a working addiction. But after a weekend of all-night dance parties, sometimes I need to escape from Tokyo’s frenetic nightlife and stroll around the calm spots in the city.
Ueno Park is offers three museums, a zoo and several shrines, one being the perpetually burning flame ignited from the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Street vendors at Ueno’s Shinobazu pond sell scrumptious squid dumplings and grilled tentacles for one to snack on while admire the view of reeds that dwarf men rising from the water lilies.
Before Shinjuku and Shibuya became Tokyo’s entertainment hubs, the title belonged to Asakusa, and it still retains its lure among the locals for its antiquated charm and shopping. It is a profitable marriage of Buddhism and Shintoism, as the religious landmarks are flanked lines of arts and wares shops, eateries and bars.
Even the gravel parking lots are adorned with life-sized statues of Buddha and kabuki performers. One of the most famous landmarks in Asakusa, the Senso-Ji temple, is marked by mammoth paper lanterns hanging from the center of its outer gates, commanding the attention of all who pass.
Along the Sumida river is Tsukishima, another vintage piece of pre-war Tokyo known for monjayaki, a type of stovetop-fried batter. Most of the city’s original architecture was destroyed during the bombing in World War II, but Tsukishima still houses many architectural relics, immediately noticeable by their cascading roof shingles and dark wooden walls.
The surface of the Sumida River was sprinkled with jellyfish when I visited the day after the Halloween madness. Their transparency and gelatinous captured my state of mind after dancing all night with only a few hours of sleep to recover.
Jimmy Viola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.