Which means good morning to you non-Japanese speaking folks out there. It`s about 6:30 here and I`m wide awake so I thought I`d post a few notes about my trip thus far. I`ll have links when I get back by the way.
The weather has gone from 70 and sunny to 40s and rainy. Last night as we were walking around, it even started flurry a little. What can you do. That`s winter.
We let ourselves sleep in a bit on this day and then explored the area where our hotel is. Yanaka is a sleepy little residential town, but still full of the cutest little restaurants and shops. (Almost everything is cute and little here. Makes me want to buy up entire stores.)
Also there are about a million shrines and temples – Japan is predominantly Buddhist – as well as the Yanaka cemetary, which houses the grave of Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837-1913), the fifteenth and final shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate that ruled Japan in the Edo period. (Totally lifted that from another site. Can you tell?) We couldn`t tell which grave was which but it was still pretty neat.
Breakfast & Lunch
For a very late breakfast, we ended up at this place called Jonathan`s, which is apparently a big chain in Tokyo. It looks very much like a Denny`s and serves both the Japanese version of Western food like BLTs (Japanese version has tartar sauce) and pancakes, and Japanese food like katsudon and the like. I had the katsudon, which was very good, but maybe cuz I was starving.
For a late lunch, we met up with our friend Motoko in Asakusa, where we had okonomiyaki, or Japanese pizza which is actually more like a very hearty Chinese scallion pancake with various ingredients, such as seafood, noodles, cabbage, and egg. We had one with kimchee, which was awesome.
After lunch we walked around the Asakusa area, browsing through the stalls of a a shopping street called Nakamise – bought a couple of Hello Kitty dolls and some Japanese snacks – leading up to the Sensoji temple.
The temple was pretty cool and I have some great night pictures. For some reason the temple grounds were overrun with cats. Every time we turned around, one was leaping out of the shrubbery. They weren`t strays though; they had collars. Cats are mad good luck here in Japan so we figured that was the reason.
It started to rain while we were walking around, which didn`t make me too happy, but it made for some gorgeous night pictures.
I can’t take the credit for these. ES took them. She has a great eye for pix.
For dinner we headed back into Yanaka. I was bone tired and wanted something quick so we hopped in this little place where everyone ate their quickie meals at the counter.
The way we were supposed to order was to get a ticket from the vending machine and show the girl what we wanted, but we just ended up miming and gesticulating till she got it. I`m sorta surprised that not more people speak English, but that`s just the self-centered American in me.
ES had kalbi, which wasn`t bad. I had a “beef bowl set”, which was – you guessed it – beef with rice, miso soup, these little picked vegetables, and a raw egg to break over the hot beef and rice and mix together. I almost put mine in my soup before the girl stopped me. It wasn`t gourmet food but it did its job.
When you walk into an establishment – a store, a restaurant, a hotel – people greet you and then say, “Hai,” which literally means “yes” but in this context is something like, “May I help you?” ES thought they were saying “Hi” and she kept saying back, “Hi!” till I told her the deal.
We were crazy yesterday and decided to check out the auction at the Fish Market in Tsujiki. This meant getting up at 4 in the morning to catch the first subway at the day at 5:11. Miss Jetlag here was up at 3:30.
When we first walked into the market, we were met by utter chaos. Vehicles zooming around, people pushing and pulling carts, and we totally got in the way of everybody. Plus we had no idea where we were going. We just walked and walked through these warehouses till finally we some food stalls and a couple of white people.
“Yea, white people!” I cried and ran over to ask them where the fish auction was.
The auction was pretty cool. We had entered in the wrong place and again got in everyone`s way, slipping and sliding in fish gutty water. Nobody paid us any mind except to push us out of the way till one guy finally tapped me on the shoulder and said something in Japanese, which keeps happening by the way. He pointed to the other side of the room and we figured we had to go over there. Sure enough, there was a roped off area for tourists. We felt like sheep herded in a pen.
The auction involves a guy standing on a box and yelling stuff in Japanese, and people holding up their gloved fingers to bid. The fish – tuna, we were guessing – were ENORMOUS. Like 3 to 4 to 5 feet long.
Afterwards we wandered the market, which is primarily for restauranteurs. We saw lots of odd things like octopus, squid, crabs and shrimp still alive and squirming, and other unidentifiable things.
Sushi for Breakfast
Afterwards we headed to the row of eateries and hopped on longest line there. We weren`t even sure what it was for but quickly learned that it was sushi place of course. We waited SUCH a long time – well over an hour. Plus it was fuh-REE-zing. But it was well worth the wait.
The sushi bar was about as wide as a hallway, with just enough room for the waitress to pass behind us holding trays of hot tea and miso soup over our heads. We ordered one of three choices of a set of sushi – you could also order a la carte – and the sushi maker would roll them one at a time and set each down in front of us with a, “Hai!”
Our sushi guy. Hai!
Oh my God, completely melt in your mouth sushi. Never had anything like it before. And we were not supposed to use soy sauce with the pieces but were to just enjoy the flavor in its purest form.
The rest of the day
After the fish market we checked out the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which gives the history of Tokyo. Snoresville. Plus it was overrun by schoolkids. I ended up sleeping for an hour in a chair while ES went on an incredibly boring tour run by an idiot who asked her if the college kids on her tour were her kids.
Next was Shinjuku, which is a shiny downtown area with lots of neon.
We went to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and checked out the view.
Next on our itinerary was to visit the Park Hyatt, the hotel where much of Lost in Translation is set. We heard there was a free shuttle bus at Shinjuku station – which is cuh-RAY-zy with people by the way – but kept getting pointed in the wrong direction, froze our asses off, and finally grabbed a cab.
The Park Hyatt is everything it claims to be. Swank swank swank. In places like that, even if I`m dressed like a tourist, I just act like I belong.
A mural in the bar at the Park Hyatt.
We went up to the bar where Scarlett Johanssen and Bill Murray met and had drinks and a small appetizer. Dude, it was expensive. About a $100 just for that, including a cover charge.
But it was worth it to me. AMAZING view and crazy chic people. Of course there were a bunch of drunk business people and tourists like us, but there was also celebrity/rich people types, like this very dapper man in a beautiful suit and fedora who looked like he had stepped out of a movie from the `40s.
At the table next to us was a a 40ish gentleman with carefully floppy hair and a to die for suit. His companions were a trio of women who couldn`t have been more than 25, all with the same exact hairstyle – long and superstraight and dyed that orangy-brown color people seem to like here – and almost the exact same outfits (tiny tops, short skirts, and knee high boots).
“Are they his daughters?” I joked to ES. “Maybe his neices. Or his back up singers.”
My guess is that he was dating one of them – it was her birthday and the bar band sang happy birthday to her and the waiter brought her a cake, the guy must be pretty important – and the others were her friends. Or he was doing all three.
ES and I are off the Kamakura, which has a lot of shrines and temples and junk like that.
sweet! this sounds like fun. keep us posted!
Great post!!! I’m so envious of the melt in your mouth sushi.
Hope you enjoyed your “shrines and temples and junk like that!”
Great. Now I have to spend the whole night making sushi. This post made me hungry.
I enjoyed looking at your pictures and reading stories. My husband and I went to Japan in June 2004. My husband went for a conference in Tsukuba. Then we visited Kyoto and Tokyo. Your Tokyo pictures brought back good memories.
puka, thanks! i’m glad you enjoyed the pix and write-ups. i hope to return to japan next year.
thank you for visiting and i hope you come again.