RIO 2016! It's a showcase for the triumph of the human spirit, opportunity for the world's top athletes to have all the sex, and a possible looming health disaster of epic proportions. High jump over here for all of Thrillist's coverage of the games, and the games beyond the games.
You survived Rio 2016, a spectacle that American athletes romped through. Just one thing was missing in Brazil: you. Don't let the same thing happen when Tokyo throws the planet's biggest party four years from now.
With the closing ceremony over, it's already time get ready for Tokyo -- one of the most fun, most bizarre, and safest cities in the Far East and maybe in the world. We'll tell you how to prepare, what to pack, where to go, what to enjoy, and how to get into trouble, if you really want to -- you'll have to try hard.
The top line: it's a huge city that actually looks out for you
First of all, the city is safe, no small accomplishment for a megalopolis with 13 million people in the city proper and more than 38 million in the whole urban area. Violent crime is very low. Last year this island country of 126 million people counted only one shooting death -- and the victim was a yakuza -- a Japanese mobster -- which you are (presumably) not. The police are visible, helpful with directions, and easy to reach via the police boxes (koban) in most major urban areas.
Thanks in part to a system which rewards people for turning in lost objects or wallets, you'll find many stories of people who left their cash, computers, or other valuables behind, and were contacted by the police after someone found them and had the objects returned. I've had people chase me down the street to give me back my wallet or my umbrella and sometimes my sunglasses.
It's really not so tough. Be polite, speak a little Japanese, and you'll enjoy an astonishing city.
The nightlife is on its way up
Tokyo has amazing jazz clubs: the Blue Note, the Cotton Club, Billboard, the Shinjuku Pit Inn, and some smaller clubs you'll have to ask around for.
There are fantastic nightclubs like WOMB where you can get your groove on. And this year the ban on dancing after midnight at nightclubs (Holy Footloose -- yes, such a thing existed) was finally lifted so the nightlife is coming back from the dead.
For grown-up adventures, you can try theme bars like the Robot Restaurant, which combines a stage show with animatronics, traditional Japanese drumming (taiko) by beautiful women, Disney-esque storylines, and a nonsensical series of performances that will leave your senses pleasantly obliterated. Then you can stumble to REN, the sister bar of the cafe, and enjoy karaoke or live performances in a hallucinogenic setting. All of this is in the heart of Kabukicho -- which is to Tokyo what the old Times Square used to be to NYC. The themes may offend some. The Christon Café is a church with unholy cocktails. Alcatraz ER combines the prison-themed restaurant with an insane-asylum meme and serves booze in IV bags; if you're lucky, a buxom nurse in a slightly bloody uniform will bottle-feed you alcoholic beverages.
You actually have plenty of time to learn basic Japanese
Many Japanese can read and write English but have trouble hearing it or speaking it. That's mostly the fault of the Japanese education system which emphasizes rote memorization over practical learning, but fortunately for you, spoken Japanese is a wonderfully regular and easy-to-learn language.
Japan only has five vowels, a tiny glottal stop (sort of like stuttering), and no sound that can't be found in the English language. If you're British, you're lucky because the five-vowel sound "A-I-U-E-O" only has the "ah" sound, not the harsh American "a." The grammar is simple and doesn't have any gender bullshit that you find in the Romance languages. You will never have to guess the gender of an inanimate object. A library is a library and not a man or a woman.
There are some things that are interesting about the language and can be tricky. Pronouns aren't required. "Ikimasu" could mean, "I go, you go, it goes, we go." Context will clue you in.
To learn to speak the language correctly, you'll have to accept the Japanese view of the world, which is: we're not equal. Our relationship is going to be defined by age, gender, occupation, job title, and situation. Even the honorifics are going to change according to how I perceive them in the power hierarchy. Those are, in order of respect: -sama, -san, -kun, and/or -chan. People are usually addressed by their last name first. Adelstein being such a long name in Japan, I'm content with Jake-kun.
When in doubt, just bow and say "domo" (doe-mow), an all-purpose phrase that can mean "thank you," "excuse me," "you're too kind," "I really don't want to get into a discussion about Donald Trump with you." Very useful.
Focus on speaking first and you'll go far. If you can make sense out of the book Making Out in Japanese, you'll go even farther. Provided you're not an ass.
These will be Olympics with an emphasis on "summer"
One of the most fabulous lies that the Japan Olympic Committee told the IOC to win the 2020 spot was that the period in which the Olympics will be held, ending on August 9th, was: "With many days of mild and sunny weather, this period provides an ideal climate for athletes to perform at their best." Sure, in an alternate universe. Temperatures in the July-August period range from the mid-80s to over 100 degrees, with humidity routinely breaching 80%. If being inside a sumo wrestler's armpit is the ideal climate for athletes to perform at their best, then, yes, Tokyo will be wonderful.
It's no coincidence that Japanese clothier UNIQLO makes a wonderful series of summer wear that wicks away the heat and sweat. You can buy it at the airport -- the AIRism shirts are great.
Or reach for a traditional cotton and hemp Japanese garment such as a jinbei or even a summer yukata (kimono lite) and wear them to feel like you're going native. If we could get away with it, many of us men would just wear fundoshi, which sort of look like white cotton thongs. The yukata are wonderful for women.
You're going to need to stay cool. The chief Olympic stadium, a largely wooden structure, reportedly will have no air conditioning, or, for that matter, Olympic cauldron (though in a mostly wooden stadium, maybe that's not so bad).
But there are ways to take the edge off
Tokyo morning commutes are hellish experiences of being crammed into overcrowded trains that sometimes even air conditioning can't make bearable. You may find that getting from your hotel or Airbnb to the Games leaves you angry, sweaty, and tense. Relax and de-knot with a reasonably priced massage at Karuchi Road in Roppongi or a traditional Japanese massage, shiatsu, involving finger pressure to your tsubo (vital points), may feel good for some people. I prefer a Western massage that doesn't feel like being gouged.
One twist on the massage scene here: the sort that ends, uh, happily is legal here, as are most sexual services shy of actual intercourse. And even that has a loophole. Just don't go groping blindly for a happy ending in Kabukicho, the red light district. You're liable to wake up with a credit card bill you can't pay, a raging headache, and a distant memory of a West African or Japanese hustler hitting you up: "Titties and beer, my friend."
Some final words of caution, especially for gangsters
- When you're packing, you're going to want to bring: swimsuits, goggles, aspirin, Pepto-Bismol (you'll eat too much), and if you have peanut allergies, an EpiPen.
- While Japan makes some of the finest, thinnest condoms in the world, it's not easy to find bigger sizes. So bring your own. (There is one maker that sells a large size with an elephant on the cover but it is about as thick as actual elephant hide and rather unpleasant to wear unless you enjoy making love to balloons.)
- You can bring a credit card, but it's best to bring cash. Many banks won't accept foreign bank cards or credit cards. The one rare exception for international banking being 7-Eleven, which owns its own bank, 7-Bank.
- What you don't want to bring: visible tattoos, prescription drugs, cold medicine, guns, and recreational drugs. (Japan's drug laws are strict and unclear.) Many public pools and beaches forbid tattoos because they are considered signs of being a member of the yakuza. And yakuza are not welcome in civil society. It's reported that the vice chairman of Japan's Olympic Committee was photographed with the head of the Yamaguch-gumi, Japan's largest yakuza group. But it's an old photo. Probably.
- If you find the right person, you can spend the night in one of Tokyo's greatest pleasure spots: a love hotel. Some hotels rent spaces by the hour and for the night. Many of them now include free costume rentals and all the "love supplies" you could possibly need. It's a great way to enjoy Japan. If you're traveling with a companion, definitely check one out. If you're traveling alone, then try Tinder Plus before making the trip and start swiping.
One guesses that even in 2020, Tinder will still be around. Just don't open the app in the Olympic stadium. It might be perceived as a fire hazard.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.