Fringe Chronicles: Tried to Order Dinner in Tokyo. Got Assaulted By a Man in a Frog Costume Wielding a Puppet Instead.
Twilight had fallen over Tokyo, but the streets of Shinbashi district glowed as bright as day, pulsing in a rainbow symphony of lights. Amidst the heaving crowds of salarymen, neon-coiffed teenagers, and Kimono-clad mamasans, I held my ground on the pavement, staring intently at a tiny, wooden door. I could feel my heart pounding.
“I’m very, very nervous,” I blurted.
“Why? Are you sure this is even it?”
I pointed to the hand-made sign next to the door, featuring a grinning, murderous-looking frog and the word, “Kagaya.”
Leon howled with delight. “This is incredible,” he cried in his melodic Dutch accent and flung open the door. “After you.”
It had been five days since I arrived in Tokyo, and I was on a mission to nose-dive down the rabbit hole of Japanese Fringe Culture. Japan promised bars staffed with French maids, angels, and devils, vending machines that dispense lettuce, whiskey, and live crabs, strip-shows starring robotic women, and “Dept H” parties–where cosplayers and drag queens do drugs and watch shibari Japanese bondage films in a prewar opera house.
“That’s all watered-down tourist stuff,” exclaimed my friend John, fishing a plate of tempura off a sushi-laden conveyor belt. John had been living in Japan for three years and was an aficionado of the offbeat. So when we met up for dinner I pressed him for advice. “Go have dinner at Kagaya,” he nodded. “It’s the most interesting meal in Tokyo.”
I asked him why.
“It’s always different,” he stated and refused to elaborate any further.
This scared me shitless.
I could judge from his tone that this wasn’t the sort of ‘interesting’ you might use to describe a foreign delicacy or modern art. No. This was the sort of queasy, reluctant, open-minded ‘interesting’ you might use to describe the babblings of Charles Manson or a wind chime made of stray cats.
At first it appeared that I was only paranoid. The interior of Kagaya looked like any other izakaya (Japanese pub)—a small, unpretentious room furnished with a few low tables on a tatami mat floor.
We kicked off our shoes.
“Irasshai!” greeted a jovial, young Japanese man, who introduced himself as “Mark.” He politely ushered us to our table before disappearing into the kitchen. The restaurant was empty, save for one table of Belgians (a mother, father, and daughter) who were picking through an everyday spread of fish and vegetables.
“This doesn’t seem so weird,” commented Leon.
I was about to respond when I noticed that the Belgian family had stopped eating and were watching us with rattled, wide-eyed stares.
I smiled to them.
WAM! The kitchen door swung open and out rumbled a motorized, three-foot tall robot. Mark waddled in tow, clutching a remote controller and absently humming John Williams to himself. The robot stopped before us and lifted up a tray of hot towels, which Mark transferred to our table with a polite bow. He then stood up straight, raised his arms high, rolled his eyes up into his head, and let out a terrifying, strangled squeal.
This was followed by a demonic, Linda Blair-style seizure, in which he began hopping, convulsing, swatting at invisible bees, and shrieking in tongues. As Leon and I watched in bewildered horror, Mark suddenly threw his arms wide open and WHACK!—boxed me hard in the ears.
“Ow!” I cried.
Then Mark abruptly shuffled away to the kitchen and the Belgians resumed their dinner, as if nothing had transpired.
Before we could process what had happened, Mark was back. This time he was pressing invisible buttons on the wall and making electronic noises.
“Beep boop beep beep. Tell me your name,” he ordered in a robot voice.
I turned to Leon in concern.
“Tell me your name,” he stammered again, shooting us an impatient glare.
“Steve?” I tested.
“Beep boop beep,” he confirmed, before producing a ratty coloring book. He then rolled the book into a telescope, put it to his eye, and began stumbling aimlessly around the dining room shouting, “Where is Steve?! Where is Steve?!” I couldn’t tell if he was terribly unfunny or stark raving bonkers.
When he finally found me, sitting right at my table in the exact same place I’d been for nearly ten minutes, he screamed, “ARRGHH!” and used his rolled up book bat me in the crotch—WHACK!
“Ow!” I cried.
He dropped the coloring book on the table and stalked off.
The front cover of the book had been peeled off and relabeled with sharpie, “Menu.” Leon and I stared at it fearfully, before I cautiously opened to the first page.
Much to my relief, it was not written in blood or feces. Mark had composed the menu in crayon—if “menu” is even the appropriate term, as he had only written nine big words, “Pick A Country, USA, Japan, China, England, Brazil, France.”
The Belgian man suddenly spoke up. “Don’t pick France!” he roared, before nervously reverting his eyes back to his plate and offering no further context.
Mark appeared, notepad and pen in hand.
“Um…,” I paused. “What country do you recommend?”
He thought for a moment. “USA.”
I looked to Leon and he nodded, “Okay, USA.”
We then turned the menu to the second page, which had been written in green crayon by the serial killer from Se7en.
The price value was decent, however. For 2,679 Yen, you could order an entree entitled, “Hey master, you know what I’m feeling for, get me something, ‘wow’ me ‘bang’ me. You know what I’m talking about!” Instead we opted for the less ambitious, “Ah-! I can finally get off work! I’m starving man! Master, would you get me something good please?” which was a reasonable 2,100 Yen.
“Alright yes, but first you need to sing your order!” cheered Mark.
Mark winced at me.
“You don’t want me to sing.”
Suddenly Mark’s voice fell into a menacing growl. “You need to sing your order.”
I stared in disbelief for a minute and then, with copious eye rolling, repeated my order to the tune of Happy Birthday.
Mark jotted this down and wandered off to the kitchen.
He reemerged a moment later carrying a tray of beers. For whatever inconceivable reason, he was now wearing an ungainly frog costume. We watched as he placed the tray before us and walked off again.
I lifted my beer off the tray and—much to my shock—the mug began violently shaking in protest. It was a novelty glass. I tried to bring it to my lips, spilling volumes of beer on the table and myself in the process, which Leon found overly comical.
I put down the mug. “Why is he wearing a frog costume?”
The Belgian mother replied, “When we ordered, he came out in a Parisian beret with a sketch book.”
The father scowled. “He drew a very rude, ugly picture of my daughter.”
The daughter looked away.
“What happens when you order USA?” Leon asked.
The mother shrugged—but we received our answer a moment later.
When you order USA, you get a puppet show. You get a long, insane puppet show in which Mark hides behind a poster board and screams nonsense through a stuffed frog. The puppet’s name was Benjamin and allegedly it had a brother named Dick who was visiting from Belgium and wanted to meet everybody.
“Do you want to meet Dick?” the stuffed frog shrieked to each of us. He then made everyone in the restaurant shout, “Dick! Dick! Dick! Dick!” as loud as they could.
This chanting went on for an uncomfortably long time, before suddenly Mark charged out from behind the poster board, holding Benjamin to his crotch like an amphibian strap-on, which he used to cock-slap the Belgian mother in the face.
Then he turned on the daughter, who fell backwards and began shrieking and flailing her legs in self-defense. Then Mark cried, “Red Sox home run Dick!” before spinning his deviant rampage on me.
The Belgians left quickly thereafter, but not before Mark subjected them to a serious, five-minute warning about ninjas.
My stomach groaned as Mark scampered off into the kitchen again. Surely the food was ready by now.
He reappeared a minute later—through the front door somehow, no longer in frog costume, and carrying a massive, blue shoehorn. He carefully hung the shoehorn on a coat rack and disappeared into the kitchen without saying a word, leaving us to stew in our confusion.
It soon became apparent that Mark was the only other person in the building. He was the only maître d’, waiter, puppeteer, and chef—and his cooking was surprisingly tasty for a psychopath. We scarfed down several waves of pickled vegetables, soy-braised fish, and sweet stewed pumpkin.
When Mark came to collect our plates he suddenly asked, “Do you want to be me?!”
We fell silent.
“Come with me!” he ordered.
Mark helped us up and led us into the middle of the dining room, where he dressed Leon as a frog and me as a monkey.
“O-kay!” he cried as he stepped back to admire.
“Alright,” I nodded.
A long silence ensued as we all just stood there in the middle of the dining room, dressed as monkeys and frogs, awkwardly nodding and smiling at nothing.
“Can we have the bill?” I asked.
This prompted a gravely serious, lengthy PSA about ninjas.
It was nearly midnight when we left for Shinbashi metro station. We’d barely made it a block down the swarming street when we heard, “AIIYYYAAAA!”
Suddenly Mark appeared before us in the crowd, eyes full of crazy, armed with a giant, blue shoe horn. “NINJAAAAAA!” he screamed.
And then, abruptly, he was gone for good, slipping away into the startled tide of pedestrians, into the twinkling, nocturnal glow of Tokyo.
When I try to reflect on my most interesting meal in Tokyo, I don’t think of golden-fried tonkatsu, miso ramen, or stunningly elaborate sushi.
When I reminisce on bizarre experiences, I don’t dwell on theme bars, vending machines, or animatronic Asian whores.
My memory of Japan is forever, corruptly linked to a crazy man in a frog costume with a crayon menu, sexually assaulting a Belgian girl in the face.
For another slice of East Asian absurdity, take a trip to the Kunming Midget Theme Park
One time I was a champion amongst Afghan refugees, “Goatball Superstar, Afghan Hero”
This is silly too: “The Mystery of the Immaculate Herpes”