Friday, December 3, 2010

Up in Smoke

For the first time in quite a long time--like several years--I attended a meeting of the Tokyo PC Users Group, a group in which I used to be quite active. I've been the president of the group, and the VP, and I was the editor of the newsletter for seven years, too. Back in the old days, I had a lot of fun and learned a lot as a member of the group, and it was pleasant to show up again at their meeting held in the basement hall of of the Tokyo Union Church and speak with some of the old friends with whom I've not had much chance to interact for quite a long time.

The inducement to attend was a presentation by Hugh Ashton on independent publishing. It was a very informative and potentially useful presentation, especially interesting because I've read both of his books that he used as examples: Beneath Gray Skies and At the Sharpe End.

It's a long-standing post-meeting tradition to walk down Omotesando  to Shakey's Pizza and continue conversations begun at the meeting over pizzas and pitchers of beer, and in the old days the more valiant--or foolhardy--would, after being ejected from Shakey's at closing time, walk back behind the building to a complex of bar/restaurants that included a branch of the Tex-Max Zest chain where one could investigate a variety of tequilas or just eat nachos and guzzle margaritas.  Once upon a time, we'd go to to an old favorite of mine in the complex, Zenon, where they kept a half dozen bottles of Freixenet Cordon Negro just for me, with which to chase the Myers's rum they also kept on hand for me and my friends. Zenon vanished with the bubble, pretty much, but Zest lasted a long while, as did Oh, God!, an odd little billiards bar that showed movies every night, and a so-so Cajun restaurant/bar upstairs called--unaccountably--La Haina. It wasn't uncommon for the hardiest of the crew to drink and talk until it got light outside...and since the TPC meetings are usually on the first Thursday of the month, that meant an interesting Friday work day.  But we were all somewhat younger then.

I arrived in Omotesando much too early for the meeting, and was dismayed to find that Zest--and indeed the entire restaurant complex--had disappeared and been replaced by an amazingly ugly glass and steel building housing, as nearly as I can tell, a place selling something called "Gorilla Perfume".

Even Ozymandias's legs had been done away with; no trace of the former character-soaked building remained. I had really been looking forward to a tequila or two, while trying to recover from my first actual viewing of the absolutely execrable "Omotesando Hills"...they replaced historic, interesting old apartments with a huge complex of shops which look from the outside like the world's largest construction site prefab workers' quarters. At night, lit up, they go from terminally bland to remorselessly garish, and I sincerely hope that they--and the architect who inflicted them on Tokyo--are relentlessly haunted by baleful, unforgiving ghosts forever moaning and mourning for the days when some vestiges of good taste still remained in the area.

After the meeting, I was looking forward to at least the hour or two of beer, pizza, and conversation, just like old times...until I found that Shakey's has, for the month of December, and for the sake of those customers who enter the place to gaze at the illuminated ginkgo trees lining the street outside, made the entire restaurant into a no-smoking zone. This means, to me, that they don't want my patronage, so I declined to enter. I won't be going back when they change their policy back, either. In fact, since I don't care for the attitude behind the policy, you won't find me in a Shakey's anywhere, ever again.

The remainder of the evening was salvaged (somewhat) by Michael Wright, who suggested we hike a bit further and visit a local branch of a taproom selling craft beers. The place started in Numazu, and I'd heard of their branch in Naka-Meguro. I confess that their excellent ales seduced me to stay for more than one even though they, too, turned out to have a no smoking policy. They at least have an ashtray outside the door...if not for that, I wouldn't even have mentioned the place (nor stayed for more than one beer, maybe not even one). I see no need to provide a link for them if they won't provide a smoking space for me, though, other than outside in the rain, so if you're interested, you can search for them yourself.

It seems that Omotesando has been added to my list of places to which I can never return, because they have become something too different from what I remember.


D said...

Oh, but you missed the best part if you didn't go inside that architectural masterpiece where all the brand shops are. It's laid out so that you are constantly walking uphill. This is a wonderful experience, I have heard. Didn't feel that way myself, but I wasn't much interested in a designer bag anyway.

Supposedly they preserved some small piece of the old building there, but I never saw it.

I have heard it said that the Japanese like old traditions, but not old things. I wouldn't say that completely true, but it ain't far off in my opinion.

Balefire said...

Thanks for the comment. I had heard about the walking uphill arrangement, which would soon have put me off wandering about without any more specific purpose, even had I been able to overcome my aversion to the external architecture.

To be fair, a friend whose judgment I trust in such matters once told me that there is a wine bar in the complex that's worth a visit. Given the chance that it, too, might have disappeared, I wasn't sufficiently motivated to enter the hideous building to seek it out.

I agree, with some reservations, about the old traditions/old things concept. I can think of a few exceptions to each, but as you say, it's not far off.