Ejo #87 – Let’s Talk About Death, Baby

As a society, we are crippled by the concept of death.  Grief, following the death of a loved one, can be such a lonely challenge to endure – but it needn’t be.  Having the support of your friends can help to take the edge off the pain.  But they don’t teach this kind of stuff in school so sometimes, despite their best intentions, the well-meaning remarks of friends can actually make things worse.  The last thing you need to hear when you’re in the depths of despair is “You’ll be OK”.  Yes, of course you will be OK.  But at that very moment you are not.  What you need is compassion, not a meaningless cliché.

When my father died, it almost destroyed me.  I’m not joking.  I honestly don’t know how it’s possible to feel as bad, as empty and as crushed as I did and to somehow still survive.  I was trapped in a black hole.  I felt completely alone, but I didn’t want anyone to reach into my darkness either.  I pushed people away.  It’s such a confusing, bewildering and miserable thing to experience.  I remember after a couple of months, going on a weekend away with some girlfriends.  I managed to keep the black hole contained, most of the time.  But there was one occasion when I could no longer fend it off, and the darkness just flooded out.  We were walking along, and without warning I started bawling uncontrollably.  My father was dead, and I just couldn’t stop crying.  I apologised to my friends and walked away, looking for a place to retreat and get a hold of myself.  I turned a corner and sat down on a bench, but instead of subsiding I was engulfed in sadness, collapsing in a heap of body-shaking tears.  My friends peeked around the corner, their faces contorted with anguish.  I could see they wanted to help me, to comfort me.  And even though that’s exactly what I needed, I was sending out a powerful force-field signalling them to stay away.

I finally got my shit together and we carried on walking, as though nothing had happened.  And I know it was just as bad for them as it was for me.  I’m not telling this story to shame my friends.  It was a terrible moment for all of us.  I tell it to demonstrate how tricky a minefield grief is, even amongst the closest of friends.  It is a harrowing abyss of ugly, difficult emotions for the person experiencing it.  And a sickening feeling of impotence and helplessness for the people around you.  Even though I know what grief feels like, I am still completely at sea when a loved one loses a loved one.  I still don’t know what to say or do.  I still feel helpless.  And I know that many others in that situation feel the same way.

I can’t write anything that could ever take away the pain of someone’s grief.  But I do want to try and alleviate the debilitating feelings of inadequacy most of us feel in the face of someone else’s bereavement.  I want to open a dialogue, to start talking about it, in the hope of making it less scary.  There is no “etiquette” handbook for what to say (or not say) to someone in mourning.  No two situations are the same, and everyone will react to the death of a loved one in their own way.  But I feel pretty safe in saying that there are a few things you should try not to say.  Each heading in this ejo is something that was actually said to a grieving person.  I know they were heartfelt thoughts from people struggling to know what to say, but these platitudes are just not helpful to someone who is in pain.

 “Be strong.”

The day my father died, the worst day of my life, someone told me, ‘Your Dad would want you to be strong, for your Mum.’  Wow, thanks, but I really didn’t need to hear that.  What was said stayed with me through the years.  Now, if I’m comforting a friend experiencing the heartache of grief, the one thing I do feel comfortable saying to them is, ‘You don’t have to be strong, it’s OK to fall apart if you need to’.  Because the reality is that you are going to fall apart in some way.  I spoke with several friends who have all lost someone close to them – a parent, a friend, a spouse – and they were kind enough to share their experiences in the hope of helping you (and me) next time someone is in need of support.

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“He wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

“My first experience with death was when I was 14 and one of my best friends died.  My mother was deeply unhelpful.  ‘These things happen’, ‘he wouldn’t want you to be sad’, etc.  All I wanted to do was shout and scream and listen to self-indulgent indie music with a roll-up between my fingers.  A couple of decades later my father, also my best friend, snuffed it.  I wanted to just talk about my amazing father and cry and mention his name more than once without people all looking a bit shifty and looking at the floor and not knowing what to do.  I did not encounter these problems when I was 14. Apart from people also saying when dad died ‘he wouldn’t want you to feel like this’.  FUCK HIM, HES DEAD!!  I’m sad.”

 “I understand how you feel.”

“I think the worst thing a friend said to me after both my parents were killed was, ‘I understand’.  I know they thought it was comforting, but it wasn’t.  They didn’t understand.  How could they?  I didn’t expect them to.”

 “At least she’s no longer in pain.”

“When someone is grieving, say something meaningful or don’t say anything at all.  The number of trite, hallmark kind of statements I got after my mother died made me want to punch people in the face.  Yes, it’s true that ‘these things happen’, ‘it was for the best’ and ‘now she isn’t in any pain’ but it lacks any empathy at all to say these things. 

“It will get easier.”

“What didn’t work for me was being told that someone knew exactly how I felt, and then getting advice on when I should feel better.  Being told how you should feel, or how you will feel, is not helpful.”

“Life goes on.”

“Life goes on for you, but I just lost someone and life has stopped for me.  Also, don’t push someone to talk about it unless they want to talk.”

“It’s time to get over it.”

“Even though time passes, grief doesn’t.  You just learn to manage it better.  I think once the funeral is over people just forget and move forward – but clearly not those who were deeply affected.  There is almost an expectation that you should just move on and get over it, not understanding how deep and prolonged the impact can be.  I think we need to all be more mindful, especially in the first year after someone has died, how hard it can be for those left behind.”

 “Time heals all wounds.”

“I don’t believe that time heals.  For me it’s a constant thing I carry with me every day and no matter how much time passes, it never gets easier.  Especially important events in your life when you wish your parents were there to share it with you and hold your hand and tell you that they love you.  They never saw me or my brother get married, or had the opportunity to meet their first grandchild.”

“These things happen.”

“Some people can be dismissive.  The ones that reacted as if I had just told them that I’d lost my handbag.  I don’t blame them for reacting like that.  I guess some people don’t know how to respond or act in tragic circumstances.  But it’s not helpful when you are grieving and upset.”

 

As you can see, hollow adages don’t work.  So if you can help it, please don’t use them.  What stood out after talking to my friends was that all everyone wanted was to have their grief acknowledged.  Here is what they told me:

 

“The best way to help is to just be there.  Offer some food, your company, your time.  Ask what they need and be willing to listen.”

 “Amongst the confusion, the numbness, the tears and anger I remember something one person said to me when I lost my parents.  It was exactly what I needed to hear at that time.  He said, ‘I have no idea what you are going through.  This is the hardest thing you will ever have to go through in your life.  I am here for you if you need me’.  That was all I needed to hear.  I wanted someone to acknowledge that it was hard and that they had no idea how I was feeling.  I wanted someone to just hug me and not speak.”

 “Just agree that the situation sucks and is incredibly shit.”

“One of the nicest (if you can call it that) things someone said, and they were a work colleague who I wasn’t good friends with, was “I heard your mother died and that’s really terrible.”

 “People don’t know what to say or what to do.  The answer is, just let them be.  If they want to shout and scream, just hold them and let them.  They don’t want any answers from you.  You can’t give them any.  Just listen, patiently, for as long as they need.  There is no solution.  Let them remember, let them tell you the most boring anecdotes, let them bore themselves with the memories, and most importantly let them be what you might consider a drama queen.  Because when it happens to you, you’ll see that it’s not that dramatic after all.  It’s life.”

 

What have been your experiences with offering or needing support after someone has died?

#87 – Oops! I Did It Again.

It’s August, 1995. I’m in Falls Creek on a skiing trip with some friends. I’m a 24 year old yahoo who has no freaking idea how to ski. I fool around for the first few days and by the fifth day I’m a goddamn Olympic level skier. Or so I thought when I skied straight down a rather steep run. When I say straight, I mean skis pointing down the hill – no turns. Like I’m taking off for an aerial ski jump. But I wasn’t jumping. And I was going so fast, and it was so icy, that I couldn’t figure out how to turn. I certainly wasn’t able to slow down. Which ended up being not so great for me when I wanted to stop and kinda didn’t know how. I was aiming straight for a lovely, big red sign with the word STOP! emblazoned on it and, since I was going to crash into it rather rapidly I decided to do what anyone else would in that situation. I decided to fall.

 

Who can tell if that was the right decision to make. Perhaps if I’d just ploughed on into the crowd lining up for the ski lift, some lovely person might have broken my fall. But no, I took a hit for the team and tumbled down the icy slope in a most ungraceful and awkward fashion. What’s  supposed to happen when you fall down skiing is that the bindings holding your boots onto the skis are supposed to release, so that you don’t injure yourself. Unfortunately for me, that didn’t happen. I don’t want to say that the ski rental place set my bindings too tight, but the bastards at the ski rental place set my bindings too tight. If the skis had come off during my fall, I am certain that I would have just ended up with some nasty bruises. As it turns out, I felt (and heard – oh yeah, HEARD) my right knee snap as my leg twisted under the ski. I estimate that I did at least five somersaults on my way down and I landed pretty well right in front of that stop sign with my right leg at a most unpleasant angle.

 

I clearly remember the impact of the fall, and then blacking out. And then, the pain. Ohhhhh my word, the pain. I heard the screaming a few seconds before I realised that it was emanating from my own mouth, which is always rather startling. I passed out again and woke up to a young boy’s voice asking someone, “Is she dead?” I tried to move and realised that my ski was still on, twisting my knee even more. I’m sorry to say that I closed my eyes and expelled a nice, long, robust “FUCK!!!!!!!!!”.  Sorry kiddo!  Eventually my friends caught up to me and helped me undo my ski so that I could straighten my leg.  That helped, but I was still unable to stand up.  My body was broken. Once they realised I was alive, my friends started making fun of me, as only good friends can in these situations.  They laughed at how I’d sailed past them on my way down, shouting “I.  Can’t.  Stop!!!”  They still remind me of that, to this day.

 

Finally, the ski patrol came down to stretcher me off the mountain. I was kind of mortified at having to be skied off in a stretcher, but there was also something a little bit magnificent about it. It wasn’t fun though. It’s not a smooth ride, and every little bump on the mountain was excruciating.  I fainted several times. They took me to a medical facility on the mountain where the nurses administered first aid and bandaged up my knee with a splint. They weren’t able to give me a diagnosis but they suspected some ligament damage as I wasn’t able to put any weight on my leg at all. We were supposed to be heading back to Melbourne the next morning but my friends decided to make the six hour drive that night, so I could get home and get to a doctor first thing. I love my friends.

 

During that long drive, the painkillers I’d been given at the first aid station wore off and every little pothole and bump was agony. Going around one corner a little enthusiastically, my friend Mike drove over the curb and I screamed out in pain. I couldn’t help it. He was, of course mortified. He made it up to me later on when he stopped off at a hospital just before midnight, waltzed into the emergency room and sweet talked the nurses into giving him a few codeine tablets. My hero. Suffice to say, I forgave him.

 

The next day, I went to see an orthopaedic surgeon, who confirmed that I had torn my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL). The ACL lies within the joint and prevents excessive forward movement of the knee, and also controls the knee during twisting and rotating. The MCL lies outside the knee joint on the inner leg, attaching the shin and thigh bones and adding stability and strength to the knees. So, it was a pretty serious injury. The surgeon recommended surgery but I was a destitute government worker at the time, without private health insurance. Approval for the operation under the public health scheme would take two years. I went home dejected.

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I tore the ACL, as well as the MCL. Ouchie.

To make matters even worse, three days after the injury I woke up to find my right leg swollen to almost twice its size. This was quite frightening and I went to see a doctor right away. Turns out that the combination of a traumatic knee injury along with the leg probably being bandaged a little too tightly right after the accident, had resulted in me getting a deep vein thrombosis. A DVT is essentially a blood clot that develops deep within the body. The risk is that the clot will dislodge and travel to the lungs where it might block a vein, resulting in damage to the lungs and possibly even death. I was immediately prescribed blood thinning oral medication for three months, as well as daily injections of medicine in my stomach fat for ten days. The injections were administered by the Royal District Nursing Service, a charity that provides at-home medical services, which is pretty awesome. The nurses were lovely, but the injections were distressingly painful. I shrieked with pain each and every time they jabbed me- it never got easier. My friend Mike was usually at home when the injections were happening, and one day he asked if he could watch. He’d heard the howling and wanted to see exactly what was causing it. Yes, he is a sicko.

 

So my moment of recklessness on the ski slopes resulted in me requiring crutches for seven weeks, assisted showering for four weeks, painful injections for ten days, three months of daily Warfarin tablets and regular visits to the haematology lab to check my blood work. Once, chopping up a piece of fruit, I nicked my finger with the knife. The cut didn’t stop bleeding for six hours. I thought I was going to bleed out. When my knee finally got better, I vowed never to ski again. But of course three years later I found myself at Mt. Bulla, nervously navigating the nursery slopes.  But it wasn’t the same.  I was scared, and the fun had gone out of it. I didn’t strap on a pair of ski boots for another 16 years.

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David and I have some friends in Dubai who are avid skiers and they so inspired us with their enthusiasm for the sport that we were very easily convinced to give it another try. We figured we’d have a go, nice and easy, and see how we liked it. We went to Baqueira, Spain in 2013 and loved it. We skied again in 2014, in Andorra. And then again the year after in Nagano, Japan.  We returned to Japan in January of this year and enjoyed a week of incredible powder. It snowed over two metres in the one week that we were there, and more than ten metres for the season. You just don’t get snow like that in Australia. Or many other places, really. The conditions were amazing. Because Nagano is relatively unknown to foreign skiers, we spent most of the time skiing completely deserted slopes, which is simply heaven. We stayed in a beautiful rustic guesthouse, Hotel Shirakabaso in Shiga Kogen, where they served incredible Japanese breakfasts and dinners and where we bathed in soothing onsens at the end of each day. We slept on futons in a tatami room and wore kimonos all the time. It was truly delightful.

 

Because we hadn’t skied in two years, it took me a few runs to start feeling confident again. But it only took a couple of days before I was carving up the slopes with confidence. I was a much better skier than when I’d injured myself in ’95, and I was a lot fitter too. But unfortunately, I wasn’t as fit as I needed to be. And I think this contributed to what happened on the second last day of our trip. Right near the end of a long day of great skiing, we started making our way across the 607 hectare ski resort towards our hotel. I must have been tired. Or maybe it was the beer I’d had at lunch (though I doubt it, because I always ski better after a lunchtime beer, natch). Whatever the reason, starting down the fairly steep, ungroomed run I appeared to have lost my mojo. I made two turns where I leant backwards instead of forwards, almost losing my balance. The third time it happened, I was unable to correct myself and took a very nasty fall down the mountain. I hit my head so hard that I had whiplash for a week afterwards – it’s lucky I was wearing a helmet.

 

Just as it had happened nearly 22 years ago, the bindings on my skis didn’t release, and the speed I was going meant that my knee was subjected to forces it simply couldn’t withstand. This time I didn’t hear the ligaments pop, but I sure did feel them. And just like in ’95, the pain overwhelmed me and I lay there wailing, unabashedly. I do remember being rather moved that David whipped his skis off and ran down the mountain to where I was awkwardly strewn. He helped me remove the offending ski, and comforted me as I cried. We sat for a minute, to regroup and assess how bad the injury was. When we figured out that I wouldn’t be able to ski the rest of the run, he carried all four of our skis the 30 metres back up to the trail (no easy task) while I schlepped up in my boots, labouring through the deep powder, tears streaming down my face. When we got to the top, a ski instructor schussed up to us and insisted on calling the ski patrollers. When they arrived, they decided to (once more) stretcher me off the mountain in what amounted to a body bag on skis. I didn’t feel so cool this time. I felt great disappointment. Hurting myself so badly at 45 felt significantly worse than doing it at 24.

 

When we got back to Dubai, I had an MRI and was diagnosed with a Grade 3 (complete) tear of the MCL.  The surgeon recommended surgery right away, but I was super reluctant to be operated on, so I got a second opinion. The new surgeon downgraded the diagnosis to a Grade 2 (partial) tear of the MCL and ACL which can (hopefully) be treated with rehab. Call me conservative, but I’d really rather go the exercise and physiotherapy route than have someone cut me open and sew me back together. After all, I healed perfectly after the first injury. I think I might have to work a little harder to get back to 100% this time, but I’m totally committed to doing the work.

 

And yes, we’re planning on skiing in Japan again next year. Just try and stop me.

Ejo #86 – Drunk In….. Tokyo (Part 2)

So, guess what? I love Tokyo. Tell you something you don’t know?? Don’t worry, I plan to. We just got back from our fourth trip to Japan a week ago and I am still recovering from all the awesomeness. It’s a truly vibrant city, absolutely chock-a-block full of wonderful establishments to get varying degrees of drunk in. So here we go with the second volume in what I’m sure will be an ongoing saga of tipsiness in Tokyo (Part 1 is here). We did return to quite a few of the scenes of our old crimes, but I’ll feature only all the new places we discovered on this trip. Are you ready?  Let’s go!

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MYSTERY IZAKAYA #1

Every single neighbourhood in Tokyo is crawling with tiny little izakayas* where the beer and sake flow freely (and usually the staff don’t speak English).  Here’s my advice to you. Learn a few phrases.  Some that we found useful are “Nama biru, o kudasai” which translates as “Draft beer please”.  Very handy indeed.  Another that we used a lot was “Osusume” which translates as “Whatever you recommend”.  This can be used to refer to a choice of sake, or an entire food menu.  We’ve used it for both with unmitigated success. Don’t be fussy, just eat what they give you.  It’s going to be amazing.

So, it was our first day in Tokyo.  We’d found our Airbnb, dropped off our bags and headed out into the mean streets of Shibuya looking for some action.  About two minutes later we found it when we walked by this little place.  The plan was to grab a beer to hydrate, and some gyoza for energy before moving on – there’s such a plethora of restaurants and izakayas, there’s no point staying in one place too long, you’ve just gotta keep moving.  Or at least that’s our motto.  So while we were relishing our gyoza and beer we noticed that EVERY single other person in the place was eating this weird looking cabbage stew.  We thought, fuck it and decided to get one each.  Oh my god, what a perfect thing to eat on a freezing cold Tokyo winter night.  Comforting, warming, delicious.  It was packed with chewy noodles, fatty pork bits that just melted in your mouth, and seafood galore.  It was a delight.

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Because every good izakaya serves beer.

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The first stop on our Gyoza Tour Of Tokyo

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Noodle, pork and seafood hotpot with cabbage.

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LAST:ORDER WINE BAR

There’s a whiskey bar in Minato called Bar Le Coq which we stumbled upon a couple of years ago and decided we had to go back to.  When we arrived, we were disappointed to find that the street sign heralding its presence in an unassuming residential building was no longer there.  Perhaps it had closed. Being the intrepid travellers that we are though, we decided to go upstairs and try anyway. We walked up the stairs and faced what appeared to be the front door of someone’s apartment.  We looked at each other, and pushed the door open. And there it was, in all it’s glory.  But different.  Unfortunately, the old owner had died of a heart attack in the two years since we’d last been and it was no longer a whiskey bar, having morphed into a wine bar called Last:order.  We ordered some whiskey as a tribute to the previous owner and looked around the empty bar, wondering how the place stayed afloat with absolutely no signage and no patrons, when suddenly the door flung open and a group of young movers & shakers took the place over (which wasn’t hard as it is a very small bar, probably smaller than your living room).  Over the course of our drink (which was supplemented with some very tasty Pinot Noir, compliments of the owner) we learned that we were in the company of a famous Tokyo film director and actor, and their entourage. That’s how we do, folks!

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Mmmm, Pinot Noir – oh, and a whiskey highball. And an incredible bar made of a single, twenty foot long, piece of wood.

INFO:
南青山4-1-8 Minato-ku, Tokyo
+81 3 6438 9864
1900-0200

CLICK FOR MAP

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ABOUT LIFE COFFEE BREWERS

Every good lush knows exactly where to get good, strong coffee for those morning-after paroxysms.  I’d done my research and we tried a few different ones, but the best (and the closest to our Shibuya apartment) was About Life Coffee Brewers, a small little shop window on a street corner.  The coffee was tasty, strong and consistent.  And that’s about all you need to know.

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Good coffee’s worth waiting for.

INFO:
1-19-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku
+81 3 6809 0751
0830-2030

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SAKESTAND

Since we’re always on the lookout, our eyes peeled for drinking opportunities, we happened to notice that two doors down from About Life Coffee was a place called SAKESTAND.  We were intrigued, so we decided to explore (mind you, this was after a little skiing mishap I’d had, so navigating the steep stairs of this establishment was a bit of an ordeal, but totally worth it in the interests of research).  What first struck us is that the staircase is completely wallpapered in sake bottle labels.  Very fucking cool.  Upstairs revealed a cute (and yes, tiny) space that kind of resembled an espresso bar in Italy – standing room only, hence the name. We asked the lady behind the bar to recommend a sake for us (“osusume”) and she gave us a very fine selection indeed.  Unfortunately we had to pack for our flight home that evening, so we couldn’t linger, which is a shame.  But probably a good thing.  But we’ll definitely come back next time.  And so should you.

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What it says on the label. Immediately to the left of this door is About Life Coffee.

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Steep stairs. Sake labels.

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Sake in a wine glass, coz we’re fancy like that.

INFO:
〒150-0043 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Dōgenzaka, 1 Chome−19−8, 2F
+81 3 6416 4200
1500-2330

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MYSTERY IZAKAYA #2

Here’s the thing about Tokyo.  As of a few minutes ago there are 82,824 restaurants in the city.  And that’s only counting the ones that are registered on Tripadvisor.  Our favourite restaurant in Tokyo, No Name Teppanyaki isn’t even on there.  Thank god or it might be overrun with tourists (we’ve never seen another gaijin eating in there and I hope we never do which is pretty awful of me, but that’s just what I’m like, and if you didn’t know me by now, well… that’s on you). Anyway, what I’m trying to tell you is that when you want to get drunk in Tokyo, just take a walk. There’s an izakaya calling your name, just around every corner.  For instance, one afternoon after gorging ourselves on Nagi Golden Gai ramen, but before heading out for a late fancy sushi dinner we needed somewhere to go for an in-betweenie.  We spotted this mystery izakaya half a block from our house, and we took the plunge.  This place was a particular challenge as it had signs all the way down the staircase exclaiming “No English, Japanese only”.  We slid open the door and a lady stared us down.  In my very broken Japanese I asked if we could come in for some sake.  She looked dubious.  I looked her in the eye and said, “I understand Japanese” in Japanese, and she bought it!!!  The farce didn’t last long (who the fuck did I think I was fooling), but she served us sake anyway and then told us to get the hell out.  But it was nice while it lasted.  My advice to you?  Give it a go.  Walk through that curtain, slide open the door and say “Konban wa”.

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She filled our glasses to overfilling, but refused to refill them because we wouldn’t order anything to eat.  I liked her.  I liked her a lot.

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SUMO WRESTLING

If you travel to an amazing city like Tokyo just to get drunk, sorry buddy, but you’re doing it wrong.  You need to balance all that drinking with some culture (especially the kind where you can grab a beer at the same time).  This is something I refuse to compromise on, being the high-culture hound that I am (cough cough). And so, we went to see the Sumo.  Firstly, this is some serious Japanese culture right here. I’m not going to go into the history of it, but there’s a LOT of history – check it out. Secondly, I am going to make a huge confession and admit that the last time we’d had reservations to see the Sumo, we missed it because we were so hungover from karaoke the night before (more on that later). And just to give you some perspective on that, you can enter the stadium anytime up until 3pm.  So yeah, we were hungover.  Anyway, this time we made SURE we got there on time – and we were so glad we did.  We expected to maybe hang around for an hour, watch a match or two, tick the box and leave.  But no, we were there for nearly three hours, drank a few beers each and had a rip roaring time.  Check out the video below of one of the earlier bouts.  AMAZING!!  If you’re in Tokyo during Sumo season this is a MUST do – we’ll definitely be back. Word of warning, if you stump for those ringside seats be prepared to have a Sumo wrestler fall on, and probably crush, you.

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This is the crowd at 3pm on a Thursday!!!!  Completely booked out.

Check out the unbelievable athleticism. No, I’m not joking. These guys train like warriors. They’re agile, flexible and STRONG!!!

INFO:
Ryōgoku Kokugikan
1 Chome-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tōkyō-to 130-0015
+81 3 3623 5111
Various tournaments throughout the year

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DAVID BOWIE IS

OK, so I’m posting two culture hits in a row.  Whaaaaaaat??  Who am I anyway??  Trust me, I was drunk at both, so it’s fine.  But seriously, when a friend (thanks Cath) gives you the heads up that this exhibition is going to be in town at the same time as you are, you book the goddamn tickets. And because I am rather self-actualised, we paid extra for the “come-whenever-you-want-and-not-at-a-specific-date-or-time” tickets.  Worth every yen. Unfortunately, cameras were strictly forbidden in the exhibition itself, so I couldn’t take any pics of the exhibits, but let me just say that we spent three hours poring over his handwritten notes, mind-blowing costumes, video footage, interviews, music clips and much much more. The most I have ever spent in any museum or gallery is an hour – tops.  We actually ate into valuable drinking time by staying that long, but it was just so mesmerising.  I loved David Bowie before.  Now, I feel like I know him, and love him even more.  If you have the chance, go. Just go.  It’s on in Tokyo until 9th April 2017.

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It was light when we went in.

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Dark when we came out.

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Yes, he is.

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Oh, you pretty thing.

INFO:
Check website for details.

CLICK FOR MAP

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Bar Martha

This bar in Ebisu is on the same street as our favourite No Name Teppanyaki.  It’s kind of an imposing place, inside and out, and it definitely divides people.  Tripadvisor is peppered with reviews saying things like “worst experience in Tokyo”, “very unfriendly to foreigners”, “rude people, not worth the visit”, “rudest staff I’ve ever encountered” and, quite alarmingly, “the downside of Japan”.  On the other hand, some of the reviews state “a must visit if you love early rock music”, “amazing listening bar” and “not for everyone, but I loved it”. Guess which camp I sit in!  So, you walk in to this place and are abruptly told not to take photos.  And then the bar staff kind of ignore you until you actively seek their attention.  There’s no cocktail menu, per se, so that pisses people off too.  And then, there’s the fact that the staff don’t speak much English.  How inconsiderate!!! Seriously people, get over yourselves.  The bar has great booze, amazing records spinning and a lively atmosphere. What the hell is not to like about that.  We got the attention of our surly bar lady and with our broken Japanese ordered some whiskey cocktails, dealer’s choice.  She whipped up some very tasty concoctions and left us to enjoy them while she changed records.  She seemed to be in charge of the music, so of course I started wondering if she was Martha.  After our second round of osusume cocktails (gin for me and tequila for David), I mustered up the Dutch courage to hobble together in Japanese the question, “Are you Martha?”.  A huge smile crossed her formerly surly face and she ran to the back of the bar to flick through some albums.  She came back and showed me the back of Tom Waits’ album, Closing Time and pointed to one of the songs, “Martha”.  She smiled again as we put on our coats and left.  See, it’s not that hard to make friends with people that others might consider rude.  All you’ve gotta do is be silly, nice and just a little bit drunk.

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Uh, I’ll do what I goddamn please. In the toilet anyway.

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But not where people can see, and evict, me – in which case I’ll use a photo I found on Google Images. Two walls are completely covered, from floor to ceiling in records.  Vinyl heaven!!!

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The last song on Side 1 – Martha.

INFO:
1 Chome-22-23 Ebisu, 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0013, Japan
+81 3 3441 5055
1900-0500

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EBISU YOKOCHO

What is a yokocho, you ask.  I must admit, I was also in the dark until our most recent trip enlightened me, as I am about to enlighten you.  The literal translation is “an alleyway off to the side of a main street”.  How that translates into real life is a collection of small eateries and drinkeries all collected in an enclosed alleyway.  This is NOT fancy food.  It’s rough, and it’s a little bit intimidating, but it’s also a lot of fun.  We were in between eating gigs (again) and only had time to drop in for a quick sake.  This little shop had a few big bottles peering at us seductively, so we stopped for a while.  The only other customers were three burly Japanese men who good-naturedly (I think) made fun of us until we took off our coats and sat down. Once we were seated, I instantly felt at home and we osusume’d our way to this delicious sake (I told you that phrase came in handy).  My suggestion to you, if you want to visit a yokocho – have a drink before you go, just to loosen up a bit, and then walk through and try a little something something from each of the shops.  While they all serve something different, the one thing on the menu that they all offer is Japanese hospitality.

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So you can aim where you’re drinking.

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Really delicious sake in a really rough and tumble alleyway.

INFO:
Some stalls are open from 1100, but most open at 1700 and stay open until very late

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BIG ECHO KARAOKE

What to say about karaoke in Tokyo.  Bloody hell!  Just… bloody hell.  It’s fun.  It’s dangerous. It’s addictive.  It’s something we do every time we go to Tokyo, and something we will continue doing whenever we go back.  We like the Big Echo chain, and in particular the one across the street from Ebisu Station.  They have different size rooms depending on your group, and we always get the smallest but there’s still room for at least four people in there (maybe you’ll join us next time!).  It ain’t fancy but it has everything you need.  There’re booths, a table, a television and speakers, microphones, tambourines, a telephone and a drinks menu. There might be a food menu too, but I wouldn’t know coz we don’t come here to eat, bitches! We come here to sing, and we come here to drink.  What we like to do is order bottles of dry sparkling sake and glasses of umeshu, a kind of sour, kind of sweet liqueur made from ume plums.  And what we do is tell the staff to keep ’em coming!! Because everyone knows you can’t do karaoke unless you’re drunk!  Time behaves differently in Big Echo. You walk in at 10pm, all bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to party, and about forty five minutes later you’re stumbling out into the cold street and it’s 4.15am! This happens ALL the time.  I tell you – it’s dangerous.  This time we decided we had to do a David Bowie, George Michael and Prince tribute. Seven hours wasn’t enough, so we did another five hours a few days later.  Dangerous.

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Enter these doors if you dare.

INFO:
Various locations throughout the city

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AFURI RAMEN

Thank god for Afuri Ramen.  In more ways than one.  Firstly, it’s fucking amazing ramen – a lighter variety that’s made from chicken rather than pork stock, it’s also seasoned with yuzu, a tangy Japanese citrus that makes the soup dance in your mouth. Secondly, it closes at 5am which is the ONLY reason we ever left the Big Echo karaoke before the sun came up. I swear, if this place was open 24 hours a day, we’d still be doing karaoke.  This ramen calms you down, but revitalises you at the same time.  It’s a miracle cure for whatever might ail you, especially if you’ve gone a little overboard on the drinking.  You MUST eat here if you are ever in Tokyo.  And when you face down that vending machine all written in Japanese, just press the button with the handwritten sign that says #1 Classic.  That’s all you need to know. You will thank me later.

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What you need to perk you up at the end of a long night of drinking.

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We stuck to the classic Tanrei (which was recommended), and never once felt we were missing anything.

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Oh my god, the ramen.

INFO:
1F, 117 Bld., 1-1-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
1100-0500

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LIBRARY LOUNGE THESE

So there was a LOT of beer and a LOT of sake drunk on this trip (did you happen to notice that?).  Sometimes, you just get a hankering for a good ol’ cocktail, so we headed out to find Library Lounge These (with a minor accidental detour to a French/Japanese fusion izakaya for a glass of wine along the way). When we arrived, we were greeted warmly (a stark contrast to the welcome we received at the edgier Bar Martha) and shown to the bar before being presented with a bowl of fruit and asked to pick a couple each.  David went with pomegranate and lemon, while I chose mint and lemongrass.  Hey, we’re nothing if not adventurers.  We watched the man behind the bar do his magic and then marvelled at the beautiful libations he presented us.  And then we drank them, and we ordered some more.  This is a really lovely place where you could spend some serious time having some seriously good cocktails.

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Fruit, glorious fruit

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Pomegranate & lemon

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Lemongrass & mint

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Pear & ginger

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Tequila negroni – YUM!

INFO:
〒106-0031 Tokyo, Minato, Nishiazabu, 2−15−12, カルテットビル 1F
+81 3 5466 7331
1900-0400 (-0200 on Sundays)

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* an izakaya is a place that serves sake but usually only with food – it’s not a bar, it’s not a restaurant, it’s an izakaya.