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Thursday, January 31

The Celebratory Kampai at Alcatraz ER

All finished with my classes, I was really ready to celebrate last weekend. The choice of where the celebrating would occur was thought out extra carefully. In the end, I came up with Alcatraz ER in Shibuya, a medical prison themed restaurant. It was ranked number two of the weirdest watering holes in Tokyo on another blog I read. Let me explain why.

Upon entering, we were sequestered in the entry way. All nine of us gaijin were squeezed into this tiny area where they proceeded to put handcuffs on one lucky friend (who, of course, I helped pick out as the most dangerous of our motley group of sinners), while I was given a ‘shot’ from a very large and daunting looking needle. We were ‘processed’ and allowed to enter the restaurant, to be led through a maze of dingy gray, paint-peeling walls lined with jail cells by the ‘night nurse.’ Coming to our room where we would squeeze in and force to ruminate over our impure deeds, the barred doors were rolled back so we could remove our shoes and then crawl in to our cell. Above our cell was another cell where the inmates were already working on their first courses. To get in to their cell, there was a ladder that you had to climb. Our cell was not much more than waist high so the crawling part to get in was quite literal. The tables were traditional low Japanese tables, which caused a collective moan from the male inmates of our group. Once in, the shoes were swept away, the barred doors were closed, but at least menus were left to be perused while we reflected on our misfortunate states. Or so we thought that we would have time to peruse.

We had actually come out of the train station from the wrong entrance. Even the wrong damn side. And considering this is one of the largest train stations in Tokyo, that was a big issue. Until we walked the whole way around the station, made it up the street we were supposed to be on, after stopping and asking for directions at multiple conbini (convenience stores), trekked down one of the biggest love hotel districts I’ve seen in awhile, we were over a half hour late. The reservation timing had been crucial. There was enough time to order our first round of drinks before the entertainment was to begin.

Not long after we were put in jail (I’ve always kind of wanted to say that), the lights went out and the first of two shows was to begin… the inmate and inpatient prison escapes. In our cell, things were lit only by the glowing handprints on the hallway wall. Our waiter, who had only moments ago taken our drink order, came sliding down the hallway in a mask I can’t even begin to describe while belting out some strange showtunes. Sirens wailed, screams pierced the air, gunshots were fired at escaping convicts, the singing rose above the chaos… it was everything I always thought jail would be. Er. I wish I had photographed this, but the darkness and the fact that I couldn’t take my eyes off these whacky shenanigans caused me to not even bother to feel around in the dark for wherever that camera had gotten to. God knows what I might have found. The group consensus of the ‘show’… totally bizarre, totally hilarious. Only in Japan.

The lights came back on and the waiter returns with his goofy grin and the drinks. Two of us had ordered the experiment which came as a beaker glass with liquid in it and a chemistry set of test tubes filled with various other liquids. I have no idea what anything was. The menu was all in Japanese except for a few drink names and words like ‘orange based’ (the Experiment) or ‘strawberry based’ (the Blood Transfusion). I just poured all the pretty test tubes into my drink and guzzled away. Besides the bizarre way drinks were delivered (one in a baby’s bottle called Big Breast, which my friend happily sucked away on), the best part about the drink order was when our waiter/singer/inmate tried to convince the five guys in our party that one pitcher of beer should be enough for them. We finally settled on two to start, but by the end of the night, the count was well past original speculation and sufficiently into the double digits to show the Japanese that they underestimate us America-type foreigners.

Overall, the food was nothing spectacular but serving it in metal surgical pans surely improved the taste, if only in our minds. The drinks were not as outrageously priced as I anticipated with the cost being well worth it for the amusement… particularly a drink that only said ‘banana based,’ which ended up being a creamy concoction with a frozen banana carved into a penis. Tasty.

A second show came later in the evening, an ER surgery show where one inmate/patron was swept from his cell into a wheelchair, where the wait staff-come-surgeons wheeled him into the dim and dirty hallway to perform macabre surgeries on his insides. Another waiter/insane asylum inmate climbed the cages of the cells up and down the hallway making crazed monkey noises. Really… I don’t know how to describe these shows adequately and can only say… you just gotta’ be there to understand.

Japan has certainly got the novelty factor down. Alcatraz was a hoot and well worth the price and the long walk in the cold to find it. Heading back to the train station, we struggled through massive crowds of thousands of people. What the heck are they doing out all night long and in such droves? They say New York is the city that never sleeps? Well, I say try a night in Tokyo, my friends.


ablykins said...

Congrats on finishing your classes!! What a fun and wild experience! Sounds like my kind of place! lol

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I enjoyed reading your post about Alcatraz ER! I'm going to be travelling to Tokyo solo and would love to pop in for a meal and a drink just to experience the seems though that they cater more to groups and are not as solo-friendly as your typical restaurant.
Do you know if they have smaller cells for like individuals or couples or a sitdown bar area?

Kimono Karen said...

I'm not sure about smaller cells. I didn't see any, but then the only trips out of my cell I made were straight to the head and back. I would think that they would be accommodating though. My suggestion would be to call and make a reservation just in case. Less busy days would probably be best for a solo trip. Enjoy! It was great fun!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if anyone reading this is interested, but a Canadian TV travel show is shooting a segment at Alcatraz ER on April 1/08 and it would be great to have some English speaking patrons there to give our crew a soundbite or two!