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An authentic Japanese night in London September 4, 2005

Posted by ayasawada in Japan, Personal.
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Friday, 2nd September 2005

6:15pm: Meet Nimer at Cafe Nero on Piccadilly. Drink Iced Frappe. It’s a lovely summers evening in London town and I’ve got that Friday feeling.


6:40pm: Stroll into BAFTA for the pre-premiere reception for Howl’s Moving Castle. Given conflicting information from both BAFTA and the Japanese Embassy Nimer and I are unsure whether we will have to plonk down a tenner each. The BAFTA receptionist simply says, “Here for the premier? Just write your name [on this post-it pad] please. Reception is through there, help yourself to food and wine (!)”. BAFTA is gorgeous and I make Nimer promise to screen one of his films here if he ever makes it. The crowd is a mix of Japanese delegates, film industry specialists, a several kids with their parents and a few people like us, but no otaku. Everything feels so formal and I find it ironic that, for once, I am not wearing a suit on a weekday. Am relieved I went with my smart £40 shirt from Brazil. Nimer wants to talk to the film critic Tony Raynes but doesn’t because he can’t think of anything to say. The Japanese ambassador makes a welcome speech, followed by a brief introduction from Diana Wynn-Jones, the English author of the novel on which Howl’s Moving Castle is based.

7:30pm: The UK premiere of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle in the gorgeous Princess Anne Theatre at BAFTA. I am struck by how much the Witch of the Waste looks like Mrs Wynn-Jones. After the film there is a 20 minute Q&A session with Diana Wynn-Jones and Tony Rayns. The usual series of banal questions follows, but I can’t come up with anything better to ask. Honestly, other than “Is it as you imagined?”, what can you ask the author of the original book when clearly everyone is here for the film?

10pm: Nimer and I walk up Regents Street discussing the movie. I head over to Hugo’s to meet the EIC people for our Sensei’s Sayonara Party. As is the norm, after six months our Japanese teacher’s are being switched wholesale. It’s always a sad occasion after six months of building up friendship, but life is a fluid thing. Our group is incredibly crowded – this batch was a popular one. I don’t recognise a quarter of the people here, but am happy to see several faces for the first time in a while. 久ぶりですね?I drink two bottles of Leffe, give the teacher’s some thank you cards, embarrass myself by forgetting how to say the days of the month in Japanese and enjoy the company of friends and new acquaintances. Jake says that we all get along well because, on some level, we are all nerds. I try and hide my Batman Begins bag. We then argue over the difference between nerds, geeks and dorks. Hae-Jong looks bored. There are several honest goodbye’s that seem to consist of “Arigatou”, bow, repeat. People gradually disappear. A few of them go to Burger King for a bite. At 1am Hugo’s closes and Brian asks “What are we doing now?”. I say: “Karaoke” and surprisingly, everyone agrees.

2am: Jake takes us up the road to ‘Be the Reds (BTR)’, a very cool Korean internet/gaming cafe with karaoke rooms and a bar in the basement. Hae-Jong negotiates a very cheap deal which works out at £3.70 per person for two hours. I try and guide Brian and the others from Burger King over the phone. Tanaka-san orders a cup of instant ramen. 14 of us cram into a surprisingly large room with a projector, AC and a surprisingly good song selection – English, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai and even Vietnamese. I love the place. JunkoIt reminds me of the cool scenes in Oldboy except without the disturbing bits. Ashrin gets very excited about the number of JRock songs and anime theme tunes on the list. Jake and I open with a rendition of Hard Day’s Night. Everyone gets (even more) drunk and sings. Junko-san and Miyuki-san are surprisingly good. I think the Japanese must have an inate karaoke gene. Junko then moves onto English tunes and reveals how much of a rock-chick she is by belting out Stairway to Heaven amongst others. Joe is excellent, but he is an actual singer in an actual band. Jake gets very excited over Eye of the Tiger and bangs the table, spilling beer all over the place. We sing a version of Thriller, complete with the dance. Ashrin and I butcher the theme tunes to Full Metal Alchemist. It sounds so much better when you sing it in the shower and make up the words. Rap really doesn’t work as karaoke. Everyone sings Bohemian Rhapsody. Jose and Jose no okusan (aka Toshimi) go home.

4am: BTR closes. Zulfi drives Miyuki and Ashrin home. The rest of us loiter outside wondering how to get home. Someone points out that in two hours the tubes will be running again. Joe says he knows someone at Karaoke Box in Soho and can get us a room for free. We all say why not. Brian, who is drunk, commandeers Joe’s bicycle for the walk. Jake and Hae-Jong go home. The rest of us get to karaoke box and start singing again. Brian insists on singing Utada Hikaru’s Sakura Drops. I attempt Aiko’s Hanabi but quit after the first verse. Junko says she was surprised I tried, since Aiko sings three times faster than most Japanese people. I try Nami Tamaki’s Reason and do just as bad, but Tanaka-san and Junko seem impressed. I think they were drunk. Eric sings Rod Stewart’s Sailing. Tom sings Nobody does it Better. Everyone sings Anarchy in the UK and I slip Turning Japanese by The Vapors onto the playlist. Brian falls asleep. Junko sings some Chilli Peppers. I sing Coldplay and Oasis.

6am: Joe says that if we stop now, it is definitely free but if we stay on it’s £30. We leave. Brian is surprised to learn it is not 2am. Oxford Street is relaxingly calm and serene for once. Tom takes some amusing pictures of Tanaka-san and we pass EIC with some poignant looks. Joe rides back home. Another round of ‘arigatou’, bow, etc. as Eric and Tom take a different line home.  We all group hug. The appearance of ten people in our tube carriage astounds me at 6:30 on a Saturday morning. Junko falls asleep on the train. I somehow manage to sustain a conversation in Japanese with Tanaka-san despite the tiredness and the time working against my brain. Hugs (not bows) are exchanged when Junko and Tanaka alight.

7:32am: I reach Hillingdon and buy a copy of The Guardian to save Dad going out in the morning (though this later presents unrefutable evidence that I did not come home that night). I change and collapse in bed, aware that this is the time I would normally wake up on a weekday. But I do like an all-nighter every now and again. It reminds me I’m still young and that London is not a horrid, smelly, dangerous place that shuts down with the tube at 1am. I fall asleep with that free holiday feeling you almost never get in normal life, dreaming of Jpop, The Sex Pistols and Japanese kanji.

Saturday, 3rd September 2005

6pm: Meet Nimer at Cafe Nero on Piccadilly. Drink Iced Frappe. It’s a lovely summers evening in London town and I’ve got that weekend feeling. Stroll into BAFTA for a free screening of Yoji Yamada’s The Hidden Blade. Do you ever feel like life is one big cycle? Arigatou, bow, repeat.

Photo nicked from Tom.

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