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Harajuku Heartbreak: Notes and Observations on Traveling Through Japan

Updated: Feb 15, 2015 12:12
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This photos sums up Japan rather well

My good friend Sato is a Japanese-American who now lives in Japan. A few  years ago I had a dream that he was getting married. While he wasn’t at the time I decided that when he did get married I would attend the wedding, which is exactly what I did. In the time between October 15th and  November 2nd I traveled in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. As you probably know by now, I’m a strange person who looks at the world through a very particular set of eyes. Below are the notes and observations I made while traveling. Most of them are both weird and funny and written drunk. I think you’ll enjoy reading them and may learn a little about what it’s like to travel as a foreigner through Japan:


Tokyo at night during the “Death Typhoon“.

– I showed up during what the news was calling a “death typhoon”. I didn’t die but I got very wet and realized I didn’t pack the right kind of shoes. I also got incredibly drunk those first few nights in Tokyo. It made up for having soggy shoes.

– The Tokyo Park Hyatt (hotel from Lost in Translation) put me up for free for two nights. It was one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed in my life. Perfect for nursing hangovers in.

– Maybe it’s because everyone says Japan is incredibly safe that, despite not knowing anything and looking like a total mark, there wasn’t the slightest bit of menace in the air.

– On my first night, I got mislead into a whorehouse. A guy from Ghana said it was a place I could drink unlimited for 90 minutes for what amounted to US$40. He didn’t tell me it was a whorehouse. I sorely disappointed a Filipina prostitute since I wasn’t gonna pay her for sex. I’m not opposed to prostitution, as long as it doesn’t involve sex slavery, but I’m just too young and good looking to pay for sex. Maybe in 30 years or so.

– Making a thizz face, while waving your hand in front of your face to demonstrate that you’re very excited about something, is apparently not a universal thing. I think they thought I was have a seizure.


Nobody had a better thizz face than Mac Dre

 – America, while you may be #1 at some things (like being a big fan of saying that you’re #1), the toilets in Japan make your toilets seem like well…simple receptacles for going #2. I never knew having a butthole was so awesome until I used those Japanese toilets!

– Whenever I saw another white dude we made eye contact and nodded at each other as to say, ” Hey whitey. I see you too!”. Actually, the nod happened with pretty much anyone who wasn’t Asian.

– My sense of “otherness” was immense. I stuck out so much, but was often treated as invisible while walking down the street. I’m not hideous by any means, but the only time I was ever checked out was out of curiosity more than lustfulness.

– Not only do a good portion of the men spend a ton of time on the way they look, many of them carry giant purses too. They basically broke my gaydar.

-Tokyo is not a sexy city. Whereas in New York you can feel sex appeal virtually seeping from the buildings, Tokyo feels completely asexual. Kyoto and Osaka did as well.

– The social contract in Japan is far different then ours. They are so much more community minded. For example when you see people wearing doctor’s masks in public, it’s not because they don’t want to get sick, it’s because they don’t want to get YOU sick. Just think about that for a second. In the US we’re like, “Ya, I’m sick. Fuck you if you get sick too.” We could learn a lot from the Japanese when it comes to looking out for each other and our community.


She’s wearing this so she doesn’t get you sick. How very thoughtful of her.

– Japan is incredibly clean and it’s impossible to find a trash can! People actually save their trash and throw it away when they get to the train station or home.

– Nobody steals in Japan. People will be in a crowded bar and, to save their seat, they’ll put their wallet on the bar while they  go to the bathroom. YES REALLY!

– My second night in town I randomly ended up back at a bar I had been to the night before. I had vague recollections of it and said to the barkeep “Hey! I think I was here last night!” He responded, “Yes, you were too drunk”, to which I said “was I an asshole?” He responded “Yes.” I then gave him a Broke-Ass Stuart sticker to which he responded, “I already have one of those”.  He was very funny about it all though. See how nice he seems?:


He was nice enough to let me back in his bar.

– Tokyo is vast. It is so much bigger than you even imagine it is. When looking at it from a viewpoint it seems like the city just goes on forever. This was the view from my hotel room at the Tokyo Park Hyatt:


– Most foreign things are taken completely out of context. You’ll see a guy dressed like a Crip from South Central Los Angeles, and it will absolutely no meaning whatsoever. It’s just the way he likes to dress. He has no concept of the socio-economic implications of dressing like that.

– Tokyo is hip without pretension. Everyone seems stylish without judging other peoples’ style. And there are SO many styles. It seems like every style that has ever existed in the history of the world, currently exists in Tokyo. If a dude dressed like Socrates he wouldn’t look that out of place.

– Cute local bars are only so when you speak the language.

-I’m pretty sure I was the only male traveler in Japan that didn’t have an Asian girl fetish. I still don’t.

– One strange thing, compared to every other place in the world where I’ve been very obviously “the other”, is that the street barkers completely ignore me. Anywhere else, travelers and tourists are the targets of the “I have a deal for you! Come this way my friend.” But Japanese people are often embarrassed by the thought of not saying the English words properly, so they ignore me. The only exeception  to this is that clubs in places like Roppongi will hire dudes from Africa to do the street hustling and barking.

– In Osaka there is a red light district that’s way off the beaten path called Tobita Shinchi. When I asked the lady who ran the hostel I was staying at for a suggestion of something to see that most people don’t, she sent met there but said I should be back before it got dark since it was dangerous. She had never been there herself. It’s basically lots of little alleyways filled with prewar building where pretty young girls sit and smile at passersby while older women, sitting next to them call out and try to sell the young girls’ services. The whole neighborhood is run by the yakuza and there were signs everywhere showing a camera with an X through it, so I didn’t take any pics. I didn’t want to get my phone taken away. I did find the below pic on the internet though. Tobita Shinchi was the only place were I got looks that read like “Whoa..what’s this white you doing here”. Most of the time I was in Japan I felt invisible even though I was incredibly the opposite.


The older lady on the left is calling out to potential johns, trying to sell the services of the young girl on her right

– I saw very few children in Japan. It’s actually a problem there. People aren’t having kids. It’s a mixture of a lot of social pressures including tradition, the economy, and possibly technology. Most of the time when I saw kids, their parents were incredibly hip, looking like Japanese versions of the Beckhams.

– The most important notes you take are the ones you take when you’re drunk. If you’re not taking any, it means you’re drinking too much.

– The “train arriving'” chimes in Osaka sound just like the first few notes as “Dancing in the Moonlight”. It’s actually quite lovely. Of course the song was stuck in my head the entire time I was in Osaka but I still love this song:

– I never score at weddings. The wedding in Kyoto was no different. Maybe it’s because people at weddings are looking for love and I look like more trouble than I’m worth. I probably am.

– Hostel friends are people you have quick, tight bonds with who just as quickly become just someone who’s stuff you “like” on Facebook.

– The main train station in Osaka was designed by some kind of mad MC Escher on LSD. I got so lost in there, while incredibly hungover, that I came very close to tears.

– People in Japan are SO good at lining up. I mean, they are so orderly that it makes Americans look like drunk kittens.


Osaka at night. Ain’t it pretty?

– No one gets cut off at the bar. People are allowed to drink until they pass out. In fact, you see passed out people everywhere. Since they know no one is gonna rob them they just kinda go “whelp, this looks like a place to zzzz…..” and literally, NOBODY ROBS THEM. Where I live they’d wake up wearing nothing but a homeless man’s poop.

– There are bathrooms in every train station and they are both very safe and very clean. Plus there are no homeless people living in them. In fact there are very few homeless visible in Japan. I’ve been told it’s because they are far too ashamed to be seen in public.

– While there are like no thugs, there are also no hugs. There’s very little intentional physical contact in Japan. I went through a sort of hug withdrawal. I really like giving and receiving hugs.

– Cat cafes smell like cat piss.

– Maid cafes are terrifyingly creepy, in the sense that the woman are so utterly infanticized. But the dudes that hang out in maid cafes? Those, my friends, are the really creepy ones.


Me and my…I guess maid, at a maid cafe.

– I want to make a song or poem called “Killing Me Softly in Kyoto”. It will be about being made to eat and drink way too much at a wedding.

– There’s a song by Australin singer/songwriter Paul Kell called “Every Fucking City Looks the Same”. There should be one for Tokyo called “This Whole Fucking City Looks the Same” because it mostly does. Once you’ve been here for awhile everything in Tokyo looks vaguely familiar and completely foreign.

This song is perfect for any traveler ever.

– Tokyo is not particularly good looking, but she is bright.

– When the trains are resting the systems (hydraulics maybe?) sound like the faint and distant sounds of sea lions.


Have you been to Japan? Did you love it? Hate it? How did you dig it? Let us know in the comments section because that’s what it’s there for.

All pics from the author and xxl magazine, gigazine,

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.


  1. Sato (mentioned above)
    November 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    It was great having you at the wedding buddy! I hope you can come back in the near future! Next time bring the family, or a sexy lady friend.

  2. November 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    If ever you find your way back come hang out more with the people who know what’s going on in TK. Enjoyed reading the above…I like the vicarious hit of seeing Tokyo again through new eyes. Interesting.

  3. hurricane
    November 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    So you’re not opposed to paying for sex? You’re just opposed to paying for anything else. My god, you are so cheap. You must make women feel oh so special. Especially with the “as long as it’s not slavery”. Yea, umm, as long as it’s not that.

    Perhaps Tokyo is thankful you couldn’t feel “their sexiness”.