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ANTHONY BOURDAIN PARTS UNKNOWN

Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown: Tokyo

Aired November 29, 2013 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN ANCHOR: (INAUDIBLE) the salary man. Tokyo's willing cog in an enormous machine requiring long hours, low pay, total dedication. And sometimes, what's called koroshi, death by overwork.

Here in a society of tight spaces and many expectations, the pressure is on to keep up appearances, to do what's expected, to not let the interior life become exterior.

But at night, things are different.

(MUSIC)

What do you need to know about Tokyo? Deep, deep waters.

The first time I came here, it was like -- it was a transformative experience. It was powerful and violent experience. It was as if -- it was just like taking acid for the first time. Meaning what do I do now? I see the whole world in a different way.

I often compare the experience of going to Japan for the first time, going to Tokyo for the first time, to what Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend must have gone through, the reigning guitar gods of England, what they must have gone through the week that Jimi Hendrix came to town.

You hear about it, you go see it. A whole window opens up into a whole new thing. And you think what does this mean? What do I have left to say? What do I do now?

Welcome to Tokyo. You are not invited. This is the other Tokyo. Twelve-hour flight and I'm baked. No sleep. Might as well -- must go out.

The Kabukicho District near my hotel has the advantage of being where the subterranean life, the repressed (INAUDIBLE) of the Japanese male and some females, too, comes out to play.

Joining me is Japanese film producer and production manager, Maso Sokubel. Always a good sign when protective chains protect entertainers from the soon to be entertained. Right? Prepare yourself for the greatest show in the history of entertainment.

I'm confused. What does it all mean?

No. No, it can't be over. Not yet. No. But yes, yet it is. With a series of chaste high fives with the hard-working performers.

OK, I've got to tell you. I've seen Jimi Hendrix.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you?

BOURDAIN: I've seen Janis Joplin. I've seen David Bowie. Diamond Dogs. I've seen Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards in the "Moon for the Misbegotten," directed by Jose Quintero on Broadway. Considered one of the greatest productions ever in -- this was the greatest show I've ever seen in my life.

It had it all. It was the greatest show in the history of entertainment. I don't understand it. I'm completely confused. There's like 100 people working on that show. Millions of dollars worth of, like, robots and technology.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BOURDAIN: How do they make money?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, one thing for sure about this area is like part of our business is unspoken, but governed by the Yakuza?

BOURDAIN: The Yakuza. The fraternal organization prominent in the entertainment and financial services sector, as they say, who is said to supervise things here in Shinjuku. Principally your arcades, your gambling, Pachinko, adult entertainment, your porn shops and sex clubs, along with other ancillary services.

But how much actual boning is going on in the sex district? Generally speaking, it's more a field of dreams than the actual act of sex. Hostess cafes, for instance, where a lonely overworked salary man can find the attention of cute seemingly adoring girls who find their every uttering fascinating.

So now hostess bar is -- I just want somebody to tell me I'm fantastic. Oh, you're so interesting. Your job is interesting. You are a very sexy man. I don't care what your wife says. I think you're really interesting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, yes.

BOURDAIN: Penetration, maybe by a Q-tip in the ear, followed by a personal love spell in this case to make your tea taste better.

What is this place? What's happening here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a --

BOURDAIN: Are these boys?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Young boyhood club. Not for man, but for middle- aged ladies who are bored with the regular housewife's life.

BOURDAIN: Wait a minute. You've got, like, a million guys wandering around here, looking to get -- and they've got a whole bunch of bored middle-aged housewives coming in here since --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spending, spending quite a lot of money.

BOURDAIN: Why don't they go to the same club and somebody will actually have sex?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People don't like getting rejected, so they sort of like pay for their pleasure. And they make you feel welcome. Maybe you can feel like hmm, I'm not that bad, after talking to those girls or boys.

BOURDAIN: That's the saddest thing I've ever heard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well --

BOURDAIN: No, that's heartbreaking, dude.

(LAUGHTER)

Is the business essentially good dreams?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is more for the dream of dream so, which is never going to happen.

BOURDAIN: Really? All of this -- I mean, it is a very enticing -- I mean, look at this. Wait a minute. She looks like she really likes me. Look, she's got her tongue tucked up the corner of her mouth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who? Which one?

BOURDAIN: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a boy.

BOURDAIN: Whatever.

Golden god. One of my favorite place to drink in Tokyo. Hundreds of microsized bars, each different from the other with their own micro crowd. I love it here.

I've never been here. Maybe I have. I don't know.

This place is one of Maso's favorites, Bar Albatross. He sips strong drinks, the definition of a hole in the wall.

Now, do people come from -- come here right from work, drink all night and then go back to work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Salary man.

BOURDAIN: Salary man? Would a salary man bring his wife here? So look, in America, the bartender is like a priest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you come and talk to them?

BOURDAIN: I can tell them all of my problems. And I could behave very badly and he will never talk, ever. This is the contract.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

BOURDAIN: Absolute confidentiality. Do I have that kind of arrangement here now? So I have this implied guarantee of total security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BOURDAIN: So if I came here with some dinosaur-riding ho in a bikini --

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?

BOURDAIN: It would be -- no, no, you don't have to ask.

(LAUGHTER)

Oh, man. This is a great country. Every chef I know wants to die here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that about the food?

BOURDAIN: Because the food is awesome. And because we -- I think all of us understand that we don't understand anything about Japan. And I totally don't understand the porn here. Why is it OK -- you can't -- somebody with a penis but you can with an octopus tentacle?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOURDAIN: In Japan, there's a very old, very deep, and very rich tradition of martial arts. Many styles, many schools. The Yonekura Gym and toshima war focuses on boxing. And this man, Kenji Yonekura, is a legend, having trained generations of fighters using a simple and effective philosophy that has some real application to our story. There it is pasted on the wall behind the ring. One, speed. Two, timing. Three, distance.

The same idea applies to the convention-shunning sushi techniques of New York City legend Naomichi Yasuda. Until recently, the chef partner of one of the very best, if not the best sushi restaurant in New York. The Apotomese Sushi Yasuda. A short while ago, under very mysterious and completely misreported circumstances, he left the Manhattan restaurant which still bears his name. And at age 52 moved to Tokyo to start all over again.

I was determined to track him down and see what the hell he was doing. These days, this great man is running a 14-seat sushi bar in the Minatu district of Tokyo. His wife Naomi is his only helper.

NAOMICHI YASUDA, CHEF: Welcome to the place. Thank you for coming.

BOURDAIN: Why did you do such a hard thing?

YASUDA: This city, Tokyo, this is kind of the maker of the sushi. So I just want to be the sushi chef in Tokyo.

BOURDAIN: Yasuda is a friend, and my master in the sense that he's taught me pretty much everything I know about sushi over the years. He's a very, very interesting and complex man who constantly surprises.

YASUDA: This is the most expensive wasabi. So I wait, wait, wait. Finally, then this one goes to discount box. Then I bought this.

BOURDAIN: It's very French of you.

So many things separate Yasuda-san from other Japanese sushi masters. The most noticeable is his hands. They're huge. Look at the knuckles. Enormous from years of pounding cement walls during repeated daily practice in Kyokushin karate. He first trained and competed in Tokyo. When he came to New York, he continued to practice. Often in underground, bare-knuckle matches, you fight until someone gets beaten to the ground.

This style Yasuda practiced was about beating your opponent as quickly and as aggressively as possible. Speed. Every second is important. The rice is getting cold, the seaweed is getting soggy, fish, less than perfect temperature.

Look at his posture. A fighter's stance. Distance, knowing the perfect spot to be. Moving in and out as needed. Never out of position. Timing. Reacting to his customer's pace of eating, their ever-changing desires, always ready for the next move.

Most people who don't understand sushi will go to a sushi bar and say oh, I had the best sushi last night. The fish was so fresh. It was right out of the ocean.

YASUDA: The freshest fish, there is no taste. Just chewing, just hard. And people think freshest should be good. But it wasn't.

BOURDAIN: Yasuda's menu changes constantly with what he finds in the market. And like thousands of other sushi chefs, he heads every day to Tsukiji, Tokyo's central fish market, where nearly 3,000 tons of the world's best seafood arrives every day. But unlike most others at his level who arrive at 4:00 a.m. to cream off what they perceive as the best and freshest, Yasuda-san arrives later. He does not buy the ridiculously expensive otoro, the fatty belly meat of the blue fin tuna that people have been known to pay hundreds of dollars a pound for.

Instead, he buys tuna from the heads, using his knife skills to go for qualities that most others miss, removing every bit of sinew from what would otherwise be a difficult piece of meat. In total, it's, well, perfect. And he cures the results. Actually cures it. Breaking down its molecular structure in a desirable way by freezing it quickly in a medical grade blast freezer where it will stay for a week or longer in minus 82 degrees Celsius.

He pioneered this technique years ago in New York where if you bothered to ask, he would have proudly told you that the absolutely unbelievably sublime piece of perfect sushi you were eating was frozen.

Delicious.

YASUDA: Thank you very much.

BOURDAIN: Which is more important, the rice or the fish? Or what percentage? Rice. More important?

YASUDA: About 90 percent.

BOURDAIN: Wow.

YASUDA: Fish is the second ingredient. The main ingredient is rice. So my sushi is rice.

BOURDAIN: Yasuda, he still trains, though his fighting days are over. He says he was tired of hurting people. He brings me to (INAUDIBLE) in (INAUDIBLE), to try and show me how his sushi technique and Kyokushin karate are one in the same.

Yuki Kamio, the master. Nice.

YASUDA: People ask me, what's the point between the karate and the sushi? But this moment is so much good for when I make my sushi. Because of the stance. The stance is more upper. So this karate stance is more deep. So stand in front of the cutting board, a little bit of a deep stance and movement.

Deep stance and body, move this, and the watch, through the (INAUDIBLE) from left to the right. Right (INAUDIBLE). Move this, move this. Watch this and watch this. This is the key. So this karate is my sushi stance.

BOURDAIN: Now in an official tournament, two-minute rounds.

YASUDA: Two-minute round.

BOURDAIN: And the result you are looking for is points?

YASUDA: Points or knockdown. But two minutes fight. One minutes fight. That's most hardest.

BOURDAIN: It's underground. You can just work on their legs for five, seven minutes to slow them down. Then you go in.

YASUDA: Yes. And not compromise. Just do it. Whatever happen, no excuse. See the result good or not. If it's bad, try again. Don't give up.

BOURDAIN: Right.

YASUDA: This is my sushi.

BOURDAIN: Perfect.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOURDAIN: Those who buy into the notion of Japanese women as shy, giggling, subservient victims of convention would be confused by Tamika. People, as everywhere, if you look deeper, can surprise you.

Her day job is doing this. And I gather from what she tells me that she gets plenty of work.

The Taito ward of Tokyo, another complicated warren of businesses layer upon later where excellent Ezekias were well represented. Places where a hardworking salary man could have a beer and some sake, or many beers and many sakes. And salty, savory, pick-me delicious snacks that go brilliantly with alcohol.

Please.

Tamika brings me to one of them, Daitoro, to meet some friends. Kusaia, followed by secures of beef intestine and chicken. This place is known for its motsunabe, intestine stew with mizo. So we ordered some of that as well.

This is Naga, invited along to translate. Naga runs a customs service company but he also teaches pole dancing for men. Then there's this man, Kinoko Hajime, one of the best known and most respected practitioners, a master of shibari, the art of ropes of beautiful knots, of what, for lack of a better word, we call bondage.

So how big is the sadomasochistic community? How many people are active participants?

NAGA, TRANSLATOR: Hundred thousand people.

BOURDAIN: A lot?

NAGA: A lot.

BOURDAIN: This is shibari. Translation, to buy. It makes things more confusing for those looking for a concise takeaway of comfortable reaction to what sure as hell looks pretty disturbing. Tomika, who spends most of her time ripping, burning, and generally abusing men, enthusiastically reverses roles in her longtime relationship with Hajime.

It looks like a very delicate procedure. Does it hurt? Or does it feel good?

NAGA: This pain change to the excesses. She said when she was tied up, no need to think. Just leave it. She loved it.

BOURDAIN: Performance art, craft, fetish, or compulsion. It's an old and shockingly omnipresent feature of Japanese popular fantasy culture. Magazines, movies, even comic books. The intricate restraint of a willing victim is -- well, it's there. Not far from the surface.

What percentage of Japanese men are interested in either tying up women or subjugating? NAGA: All of them? All of them.

BOURDAIN: Well, then the question is how many Japanese men like to be tied up?

NAGA: All of them.

BOURDAIN: So in your experience, all Japanese men like to tie women up, but in your experience, all Japanese men like to be tied up. Who's more -- sexually, Americans or Japanese?

NAGA: Same.

Maybe she says you need to be tied up.

BOURDAIN: A little late for me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOURDAIN: In America, where I come from, we are told at a certain age to put aside childish things. The action figures, dolls, features of our imaginations, to arm ourselves with the brutal realities of the real world, real combat, real sex.

In Japan, increasing numbers of people don't. They continue to live a life inside four walls, inside their mind, the life we call the computer geek, the nerd, as avatars.

There's a name for it, a whole subculture of what's called otaku. Once a derisive term, now a proud identifier of the geek, one who has turned his back on the real world and finds satisfaction elsewhere.

Manga, or comic books, hold a different place in the cultural landscape here and address different needs. There's Yaoi, for example, otherwise known as boys love manga, extremely popular with teenage girls.

Stories change, but the core themes are sexually ambiguous boys getting very friendly with each other. What legions of young girls and soccer moms find compelling in the thousands of these titles, something of a mystery to outsiders looking in, but there they are. Whole sections of manga book shops dedicated to basically one direction type boy band figures having sex with each other.

Yaoi isn't generally explicit, though it can be. Some of the most popular manga are, however, lurid, over-the-top illustrated stories of incredible violence, rape, murder, and sexual fetishes.

Toshio Maeda is a manga creator like few others, the father of what could only be described as tentacle porn. His 1986 manga "Urotsukidoji," was about half-human, half-bestial space invaders in search of an evil supreme being. It contained unbelievably graphic, lurid, violent, and one would argue offensive images of sex acts involving not sexual organs, but other protuberances.

It became a huge hit and has been imitated wildly both in other manga and other live action films. A whole genre of lurid, but extraordinarily well-drawn madness. At Meino Uli (ph) restaurant Toshio tries to explain.

TOSHIO MAEDA, MANGA CREATOR: This girl seems like a high school girl. So basically, it's forbidden.

BOURDAIN: Notice, by the way, the distinguished owner and her complete lack of shock or offense at the graphic, frankly horrifying images of rape, violation, and murder spread casually across the table for all to see.

Japanese manga, ones that everyone reads on the subway home even, well, they're different.

The big breakthrough was you couldn't draw penises, you couldn't draw specifically orifices. You couldn't actually show humans penetrating each other.

MAEDA: In Japan.

BOURDAIN: Right.

MAEDA: It was a big no-no at that time. So I invented tentacles.

BOURDAIN: Right.

MAEDA: To be evasive about the law.

BOURDAIN: Also demons.

MAEDA: Demons.

BOURDAIN: Demons. That's fantastic. Whether you meant to at the time, you absolutely changed the world of manga. You created an entire spectrum of pornography that didn't exist before. I mean, if you go -- if you go to YouTube now, there is tentacle manga. There -- tentacle and demon manga. There is tentacle and demon anime. A lot.

That looks good.

For dinner, there's katsuono tataki (ph), fresh bonito seared quickly over flame, arranged in bite-sized pieces, garnished with daikon (ph), fresh greens, sprouts and ponzu.

Toshio comes here often to the Tomato Nabe, commonly a favorite of sumo wrestlers as part of a weight gain diet. Basically it's a hot pot of meat and vegetables. Chicken, pork, beef, fish bowls keep getting fed into the pot. Usually alongside much beer and rice. Adding that much needed (INAUDIBLE) factor so important to sumo wrestlers and cable TV hosts.

So appealing to the human desires of a manga-buying audience, men want filthier, dirtier, more violent?

MAEDA: In Japan, you can't be rude in public.

BOURDAIN: Right.

MAEDA: But you need to just, you know, I can say that letting off steam. So for me, the manga is one way to do that.

BOURDAIN: What do women want? Generally speaking, what do women want in manga?

MAEDA: Yaoi. Boys. You know. Because they don't have enough experience to do that with real men.

BOURDAIN: But nobody's going to the fish market and asking for live octopus. Probably not.

MAEDA: Probably not.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOURDAIN: The pop music scene in Tokyo is not that different than ours. With an accent, though, on pretty boy bands, pop idols, tween stars. Generic, industry-created crap, for the most part. Like I said, not so different than us.

Picture an army of Miley Cyruses, or would that be Miley Cy-rai (ph)? Going against the grain are a few lone heroes like (INAUDIBLE). Two self-released albums and no hint of a record deal. Damn suits. What do they know?

Lead singer Yu. Sweet, shy, pop friendly, (INAUDIBLE) fair? No.

So yes, so how big an audience in Japan for thrash metal, death metal, hardcore?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had Ozzy Osbourne contest this year.

BOURDAIN: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first time in Japan. And I feel like people are seeing the heavy metal scene as a new movement.

BOURDAIN: And the audiences? Good audiences here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are kind of polite.

BOURDAIN: Polite. Really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Really quiet and just watching us. And when we finish playing, they suddenly clap.

BOURDAIN: Really? You know, when I look at popular music, the stuff that's selling millions of records in America, it makes me angry, actually.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean, that you sometimes you're angry (INAUDIBLE).

BOURDAIN: Yes, if I see Nickelback, I want to kill myself. OK. I want to kill them, and then I want to kill myself. And then I want to kill everybody who listens to them. OK? What's so funny? It's true. I mean, who do you hate? What band do you hate? What -- a band that I would know. Who's the worst band in the world? The worst popular band in the world? Who?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, My Chemical Romance.

BOURDAIN: My Chemical Romans, yes. Hate them. That's a good one. Can you make a living?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

BOURDAIN: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all.

BOURDAIN: Not at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all have part-time jobs.

BOURDAIN: You all have jobs. What do your families think when they see that you're doing this kind of music?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are 22 to 25 years old. It's the hunting job season.

BOURDAIN: So there's pressure on you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I mean, we all went to university.

BOURDAIN: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we have enough money.

BOURDAIN: The expectation, the pressure is OK, get a real job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BOURDAIN: Put aside this record well shit and get a real job. In a perfect world would you like to play rock and roll every night? Would you like to play metal every night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I can be a (INAUDIBLE), if I could keep doing this.

BOURDAIN: Can you? Yes, these guys look like lifers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOURDAIN: Tokyo may well be the most amazing food city in the world. With a nearly unimaginable variety of places stacked one on top of the other, tucked away on every level of densely packed city streets.

At Lawson's, you can dig into their unnaturally fluffy, insanely delicious, incongruously addictive egg salad sandwiches. I love them. Layer after layer after layer of awesome. Proud eateries serving who knows what. But it all smells delicious and looks enticing.

In the tiny almost micro-neighborhood of Nakamaguro, Tokyo, all is quiet. And amazingly from right here in the middle of this pinball machine of a city, green. Yasuda lives near here. And he loves this place. A low-key joint to enjoy family meals and meet friends.

YASUDA: I so much appreciate I see you and all of the people from the U.S.

BOURDAIN: Well, we miss you. You know?

YASUDA: I miss New York City.

BOURDAIN: I'll tell you something really terrible. Every relationship I've ever had with a woman, at some point very early on I bring them to Yasuda in New York. And I would watch how they eat. If they talk too much, if they didn't understand how to eat sushi, if they did not eat the huni, we will never have a relationship. That's it. That's the end.

They don't serve high end sushi here or elaborate (INAUDIBLE) inspired fare. It's almost like hipster tempura. This style of food is known as kushiagei. Skewers of delicious things dipped in batter and fried. Perfect. Yasuda-san orders up shrimp and basil, (INAUDIBLE) fruit, octopus, and pickled quail eggs.

We also have to have their take on okonomiyaki, a type of egg batter pancake that can filled with many things. For us it's squid and brushed with Worcestershire sauce.

Wow. That's awesome. I've been coming here for many times, but this is the first time to eat this.

BOURDAIN: Okonomiyaki. Yes. Love this dish. You lived in New York, what, 14 years? Eighteen years?

YASUDA: Twenty-seven years. So since 1984.

BOURDAIN: Twenty-seven years in New York. That changes a person.

YASUDA: Very much.

BOURDAIN: You're a New Yorker now.

YASUDA: Yes.

BOURDAIN: What was the hardest thing to get used to when you first came here?

YASUDA: Culture.

BOURDAIN: The culture.

YASUDA: The culture is so much different in the U.S. and here. And so interesting always. I never, ever get bored in that city. BOURDAIN: I never get bored and I always learn new things in Manhattan. But there's 15, 20 different Manhattans in Tokyo to me. I mean, if you -- from my perspective these are completely different cities. Even building to building. Nightclub for men, nightclub for girls, nightclub for rock and rollers, hair salon. All up. Fifteen different businesses in one building. One building.

I could spend the next five years just doing shows on this one building.

What is weird? What is strange? What do those things even mean, anyway? Sure a lot of what you've seen looks different from maybe the mainstream. It's certainly different from the way we like to portray ourselves, see ourselves, at least our daytime selves. But roughly 50 percent of all movies rented in American hotel rooms are adult films.

The American porn industry catering to exactly the kind of dark urges we've been talking about but even nastier is a $12 billion a year industry that dwarves the Hollywood product. Our own obsessions arguably are at least as crazy, violent, and lurid as Japan's. And we tend to actually carry out our violent fantasies more frequently.

Maybe with that fetishism, that attention to detail comes some kind of excellence in other fields. Maybe there's a line from there to here. So who's crazy now?