Chinese Prostitutes, Strip Clubs & Jason Schwartzman: A Tokyo Tale
By Marcus Bird
I’m standing on a street in Shibuya, and a small Chinese prostitute is grabbing my arm.
“Do you want massage?” she asked.
“No thanks,” I said.
“Only two thousand yen. Come now, we go to second floor.”
“Seriously I’m good,” I replied.
Beside me, the same thing was happening to my friend Rob. The two ladies were tiny, with intense eyes and relatively cute features. They were very aggressive, but finally we got away. This is how the night started to wind down in Roppongi, Tokyo.
THREE HOURS EARLIER:
I’m sitting in a pasta shop somewhere in Shibuya, chatting to a dancer that looks like a perfect ten model. Her name is Jeri, and she’s in town dancing somewhere in Roppongi. She is easily the hottest woman I’ve met since I’ve been to Tokyo. She’s very friendly, and chatting to her is a pleasure. She reminds me of a dancer I saw when I went to club Womb a few months prior, but this is her first time in Japan.
“I’m from L.A, but the scene is really good here. I might come back,” she says.
She’s wearing a summer straw hat, a white skirt, and a tank top that reveals her voluptuous figure. She’s tanned and unblemished. Later Rob would tell me she’s a huge ethnic mix, but he couldn’t remember what exactly.
“I did this show,” she said. “With a Japanese group called the MANEATERS.”
“Sounds bizarre,” I said with a laugh.
Jeri, Rob and I chat about traveling and our adventures for a few minutes. “What are you guys doing tonight?” she asks. “Maybe we’ll party in Roppongi or here in Shibuya,” Rob replies.
“I’m performing tonight at The Gallery in Roppongi,” she says. “You guys should check it out.”
Soon after this, we learned that Jeri was a professional Go-Go dancer. Initially, Rob was confused. “Is Go-Go dancing stripping?” he asked.
“No, its not,” she replied with a smile.
I have to admit, I didn’t really know the difference either. But I was guessing Go-Go dancers were the hot girls who danced on elevated platforms in large clubs all over the world.
I got her number and she left. As she stood up, I was surprised to see how petite she was. She disappeared into the throng outside, as Rob and I talked about what to eat. “Wow, what are the odds of meeting a girl like her randomly like that?” I said.
“I guess that’s Tokyo for you!” Rob said.
Rob had come to Tokyo on a mission. To see the sights, go to a few museums and eat at a revolving sushi restaurant in Shibuya. We had no idea where it was. To describe Shibuya is to try and describe and endless concert with thousands of fans roaming the streets all the time, every day. Each time I travel to Shibuya, for a few minutes I feel a buzzing in my head. So many people, so many lives and so many things happening at once really aren’t a part of my basic biological makeup I believe. When I’m there, I want to be a hunter-gatherer again, farming in the mountain with a gang of scruffy kids behind me gathering wood.
Rob asks someone where the restaurant is. He is African, and like almost all the West Africans I’ve seen in Tokyo, he works in the area, promoting clubs or bars. He tells us where the restaurant is, a place where all the Sushi costs one hundred and twenty yen. We step in, and Rob squeals with excitement. “We doing it son! Tokyo!”
A man in a chef’s hat points to a sign at the reception area. “You must eat at least seven dishes.” It read. “That’s cool with me,” I said.
We were ushered to a few seats around the back, and as we walked past the crowd a face stood out: A small guy with a thick head of black hair and a very scruffy beard. I immediately recognized him as Jason Schwartzman, the actor. As we walked to our seat I rested my hand on his shoulder.
“Hey man, are you a professional actor?” I asked. “Why yes I am,” he responded.
“Awesome, I love your work man!” I said while walking away. “Thank you,” he replied with a smile.
The sushi at the bar was wicked delicious and I ended eating eight plates. Rob had nine. Beside me, a few feet away, Schwartzman was still hanging out in the restaurant. I went over. He was sitting with his wife, designer Brady Cunningham, founder of eco-friendly clothing line, Souvenir. I chit-chatted with them for a while about Tokyo. He was in town to check out the opening of “Opening Ceremony”, a large store that has branches in New York and Los Angeles. “It’s opening Sunday. You should check it out, the store is going to be pretty amazing.”
Rob, who was behind me entered the conversation. “Opening Sunday? Is that the name of the store?”
“No,” Jason said with a laugh. “The store is ‘Opening Ceremony’ and it’s opening on Sunday.”
“Wow, the opening ceremony for Opening Ceremony is on Sunday when it opens,” I said.
We all laughed. Schwartzman was cool, and I snapped some pictures and got a video shout out for my webseries Marcus Bird: Jamaican in Japan . We said our goodbyes and he told me he’d checkout my website. This is one of the moments when I realized I needed a business card. I said peace, and he left the restaurant.
Sushi was eaten
ONE HOUR LATER
Rob and I are in Gas panic, Shibuya. Blood red lights flood the room and people dance in the shadows. I explained to Rob that I’m a night owl, and that I feed on the night energy of Tokyo. He told me that since there are language barriers and it being a new country, he thought he’d rather see more terrain and sights that necessarily try to chat to women. This opinion changed rapidly when we started clubbing.
Inside GAS PANIC, cute girls were dancing, but it was the music that really set things off. Contemporary hip-hop blasted through speakers I couldn’t see, and the place was jumping. Cute Japanese girls with hair processed to look curly did Atlanta dances like they were born in America. Rob watched with amazement. One girl in particular, in pink overalls really understood the rhythm. I had seen Japanese girls dance before, to reggae and hip-hop, but I could understand Rob’s feelings. This was his first time EVER seeing Japanese people dance like black people.
“It’s sad man,” he began.” That these people try so hard to look like us, and so many black people don’t even love themselves.”
I looked at the girls as he said this. One wore an Atlanta cap with matching somewaht baggy, jeans on. Almost every girl in attendance had salon curled hair and sang along word for word to every T.I song that came over the airwaves. But there were few conversations between us, because in reality they barely spoke English. We hung out for a little while longer, getting the vibe started. Then we headed to R0ppongi.
TWENTY FIVE MINUTES LATER
On the way to the subway, we take in the vista of the endless stream of beautiful women walking the streets. Every minute or two, Rob and I would see women that made us stop, or at least take an extra peek. He was starting to see what people were talking about in regards to Tokyo. It’s one thing to see a cute girl every now and then, but in hours we had seen more than we could handle. We grab our tickets and hop on the train sitting across from two girls who sneak glances at us. They are looking at my feet and saying something about my shoes. “Big eh?” I say in Japanese. One giggles but pretends not to hear me. This mental battle continues for a minute or so, with the girls shooting glances my way, and me trying to keep the sexual innuendo going with smiles of my own, to no avail. Our stop is coming soon, and it didn’t seem like the girls were headed to Roppongi. It didn’t matter, because as I exit the train terminal and see a face I recognize. It’s a tall, gorgeous woman I met two weeks before. Miki.
I walk over to her and she greets me with a squeal of excitement. Her long, gorgeous arms wrap around me for a moment. She immediately decides to come with us wherever we are going. Rob and I have been walking with small bags this entire time (as we spent some of the day traipsin around the city) and we dump our stuff in a coin locker and head to the strip. Our first stop is Club 911.
In minutes, Rob takes over a little corner near the top bar. Ladies are dancing and smiling, and I’m watching Miki do samba to a Justin Timberlake song with smooth, sexy moves. She sips on a drink and flashes a quiet smile at me every now and then. She’s the kind of woman that I like. Tall and strong, beautiful and fearless on the dance floor. The club is packed, but after a while I start to get antsy. 911 is really small, and in an hour, it turns into a sausage fest. I want Miki to head to a spot called Bar 57 with us, but she says she has to surf in the morning. A little guy hanging beside her the size of her drink says otherwise to me, but I decide to leave. An older Japanese woman was feeling Rob.
“One more drink, and that’d probably be it,” He said with a laugh.
“Well I’m glad you didn’t have that drink!” I replied.
Bar 57 was closing when we reached. It seemed like a hot spot, with expensive drinks, a nice interior and high ceilings. The stragglers were all in designer dresses and high heels. I liked the feel of the place. Maybe next time. We went back to the strip.
FIVE MINUTES LATER
We headed back down the strip. Every few feet a young African man would come up to us, offering us exclusive admission to a club or a strip bar. We went to Club 99 near Odeon and went upstairs. Drunk Japanese girls were dancing on the bar top, but like most places in Tokyo, you get ushered towards the bar first. They say free entry, but if you don’t buy a drink you get kicked out. The spot was a bit lame and we headed out. Walking down the strip, two women appeared smiling and waving. The prostitutes from earlier. With more insistence, they pleaded with us to get a massage.
“Jesus Christ, these women are persistent,” I said. One of them was actually pretty cute, but knowing what her day job was…
TEN MINUTES LATER
We are hanging in front of a bar near a McDonald’s. I’m on my phone, trying to find out where The Roppongi Gallery is to see if I can catch a bit of Jeri’s performance, but none of the Africans on the strip seem to know where it is. It feels like a put on. “Do you see that?” Rob says.
I glance up and the two girls, now about twenty feet away, are looking back at us.
“Should we talk to them? “ I said.
“You better take one for the team because I’m not,” Robert said.
I saw what he was talking about. Of the two girls, one was significantly more rotund than the other. I took a deep sigh and waved for them to come back. They giggled and kept walking, but as they got further away they looked back more. Eventually, they returned. They wore matching black and white outfits and wore gray backpacks. A little odd. The bigger one started asking us a range of questions. “You guys kept looking back at us, so we were wondering what was going on,” I said to the larger girl. “I’m sorry, my sister here was interested in you, but she doesn’t speak English.”
“Oh?” I replied. “What language does she speak?”
“Greek,” the girl replied.
“Do you need Windex?” Rob said immediately.
The girl gave him a strange look.
“I’m joking, I’m joking. I know that statement was mad ignorant.” Rob said with a laugh. I started laughing too, but it would be an entire day before I remembered that Windex reference came from the hit movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
The girl introduced herself as Athena and her sister as Mina. What was weird about Mina was that she progressively got better at English within minutes of meeting us. Rob made a joke about Atlanta and she laughed. I made a joke that required certain knowledge of American pop humor and bad English grammar and she laughed. Then she started speaking.
“I’m thirty-five,” she said.
“Impossible!” I said.
I paused as three tall, leathery Japanese drag queens stormed past. The sisters asked us If we wanted to hang out. I said okay, but I really wasn’t feeling like taking one for the team. We walked towards a bar called Vi-bar, a bar I went to the day before. The girls became extremely quiet as we walked in. Then after we stepped inside, a man came to me and asked me what I’m drinking. “One minute,” I said to him. I turned to Rob.
“Dude, you think these girls are hustling us?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. Their accent changes, the weird backpacks, the greek names and everything felt wrong. “Let’s bounce,” Rob said. “Cool.” We headed back out to the madness of Roppongi at four thirty a.m
At the top of the strip, a smooth talking guy named Joe came up to us. He spun a fabulous tale about a strip club where we could drink all we wanted for thirty bucks and be dazzled and dazed by exotic dancers. I’m not a strip club guy, but the night was going so many places I said, “what the hell.” Rob was in a agreement but we entered under a simple condition. If we didn’t like the spot, we’d leave, if we did we’d have to pay.
We walked back down the strip and stopped at a bar. I laughed. It was the same place the two “greek” girls had taken us to before. This time we went upstairs. A shady looking poster of a naked woman was at the door. We walked in, and it was empty, save a line of strippers standing at attention in single file. It was a weird, coming into the small, empty strip club with all the dancers watching us. One of the strippers was really hot. She had some sort of Brazilian look about her. The rest weren’t so appealing. We thanked the staff and left.
Back outside, we walked back to the top of the strip and sat on a road barrier by a stoplight. The streets were still packed, but we knew the night was over. As we waited for the light to change, a pair of small hands grabbed me. It was the prostitute! Rob and I started laughing again. “Sorry, we go now. Back to hotel,” Rob said. We started crossing the street and one of them said, “I come to hotel with you!”
We laughed and turned around.
The night was over.