Feb 06

The Tokyo Diaries: Random, Silly, or Just Plain Rude

Here are some random, silly, and/or rude things (on my part of course, not the Japanese) from my trip to Tokyo.

Loved the high tech toilets. The seats are soft and warm (not from another person), and the lids and seats can go up and down with the touch of a button. One I used made a sound like a babbling brook when I sat down. For the pee shy I guess.

We saw this window full o’ Hello Kitties one night on our way back to the ryokan.

Talk about obssession.

Being silly with another kind of cat.

To protect and serve the galaxy! We saw this in Asakusa.

On our last day we peeked into a pachinko hall in Ueno.

It was amazingly noisy in the pachinko hall, full of clanging ringing bells.

People everywhere were wearing these masks. . .

. . .afraid of germs, I guess. I bought a pack for cheap and made ES take a picture of me in Tokyo station.

She wanted me to continue wearing it for a little while so people would think that I was wearing it legit and not making fun. But I wouldn’t. It’s extremely warm and uncomfortable so I took it off right after she took the pic, and she was the mortified one for a change.

Was it rude of me? Maybe, but it was still fun.

Finally, we liked this tree we saw near the Yasukuni Shrine.

Spring is on its way.

Feb 06

The Tokyo Diaries: Food

Food glorious food! I just can’t get enough.

This is the lovely buckwheat tea we had our first night at dinner.

The delish sashimi.

The tempura, which included some mysterious vegetables, one of which looked like broccoli but was very bitter, and another which looked almost like a potato but was firmer and almost gingery in flavor.

Included in our conveyer belt sushi spread were these baby eels.

I found that they didn’t have much of a flavor, but they did indeed have beady little eyes that kept staring at me as I ate them.

Our round of okonomiyaki in Kamakura.

And my melon soda.

Saw lots of cool stuff from the street as well, like storewindow food displays.


And whatever this is.


Also, vending machines were everywhere, and dispensed not only soda, water, and juice. . .


. . .but coffee, cold AND hot, in cans.


I had an excellent hot espresso in a can in Yanaka on our last day.

But not everything we ate in Japan was good, like this fried cheese/rice ball we got at McDonald’s.


The Japanese do NOT know how to do cheese. Blech and double blech.

But everyone was very nice, including this silly guy.


Feb 06

The Tokyo Diaries: Clothes

The Meiji Shrine and Harajuku Station are right next to each other, which is like seating a shamisen musician beside a punk rocker.

While at the shrine, we witnessed a wedding party having their photos taken. A lot of time was taken making sure the bride’s kimono was exactly right, every crease, every fold, every angle.

Unlike in Chinese weddings, in Japanese weddings it’s apparently all right for the bride to wear white. (In Chinese culture the color white symbolizes death, though most modern Chinese are okay with a western white wedding dress, as long as the chipao is red.)

Of course we completely infiltrated the wedding party’s privacy and got too close to take our own pictures. We weren’t the only ones though! It was only after we finished ours that the mothers of the bride and groom noticed, and started staring suspiciously all around.

We also had the chance to see an engaged couple get their picture taken. I’m guessing the couple is just engaged and not married because of the color of the kimono.

 To go from the peacefulness of Meiji Shrine to Harajuku Station was quite a change. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the girls – and some boys, a couple of them in drag – and so here are just a few.

I call this girl in blue Miss Bunny because a moment ago she had a pink “Miss Bunny” blanket draped over her shoulders. It was quite chilly on this day and most of the girls seemed to be freezing.

Our friend Motoko told us Sunday is the best day to visit Harajuku Station, presumably because the girls are out of school.

We wondered if they always dressed like this, or just during their “off time.” My guess was that after a week of wearing school uniforms and having to conform to society, this was their chance to break from the crowd – though a lot of them looked like each other.

We also presumed that their clothes were mostly handmade, but then later on Takeshita Dori, or Shopping Street, we saw several of their dresses hanging in the storewindows. Harajuku style off the rack.


This girl in red is of the babydoll variety. She was very eager to have her picture taken, posing solo or with tourists.

Some were shy, or acted so, like Sullen Girl below.


Here is the Blue Suit Trio. . .


. . .as well as some more wacky shoes.


Maybe this is what the Harajuku girls look like during the week.

At first I had bit of a hard time trying to tell these girls I wanted to take their picture. They thought I wanted them to take my picture, and when they finally understood, they asked why I wanted their photo, and rightfully so.

“Because I think you’re cute!” I told them, after which they very willingly obliged.

Feb 06

The Tokyo Diaries: Girls’ Day

There were lots of displays for Girls’ Day, which is on March 3, while we were in Tokyo. It’s a doll festival during which people display dolls dressed in old-style kimonos.  We saw this one in a department store in Ginza.

For some reason there were also a lot of rabbit themed items. I can’t find a satisfactory explanation, except that, like cats and fish, rabbits are considered lucky and children like rabbits.

There were also some nice candy displays. . .

. . .as well as ones involving strawberries, which are at peak season at this time.

Feb 06

The Tokyo Diaries: Cats & Fish

For some reason ES and I were obsessed with cats and fish while we were in Tokyo, hence all these pictures.

The shrines often had gardens with coy ponds. When we came to the edge of the ponds, the fish would come in droves, thinking that we were going to feed them.


To get them into even more of a frenzy, I’d stretch my hand over the water and rub my fingers together, making them think food was actually coming. Probably not the nicest thing in the world.

Both fish and cats are considered lucky in Japanese culture, and so we saw lots of cats around. ES thought this cat was mean, but I think it was just sleepy. And this adorable black kitten appropriately parked in front of a Hello Kitty cat house.

And sometimes we saw lots and lots of cats at once.

Feb 06

The Tokyo Diaries: Pix Finally! + Day 1, Blow-by-Blow

As promised you can find some pix in my earlier entries, as well as in this post and some upcoming ones. (If I can write about my boring weekends for a million years, how much text do you think 6 days in Tokyo will generate?) First up, a blow-by-blow description of the very first day.

5:45 AM
Yes, 5:45 AM. Super Shuttle is supposed to pick me up at 7:15 for my 11 AM flight. Kinda early, but what do you expect for $20? I turn on my cell phone to find a voicemail from them: “Our apologies but we’ll have to move up your reservation. . .to 6:20.” Needless to say I cancel.

6:30 AM
In the shower my nose starts to bleed like I’m 5 years old. Great.

8:45 AM
At the airport! Had to take a cab for almost four times the amount of Super Shuttle. Oh well. I forget how pretty Newark Airport is. JFK and LGA are really crummy in comparison.

11:40 AM
Take off! 30 minutes late but not bad. Plus I have a whole row to myself. Score! The plane is half-empty. Japanese girls, like American ones, seem to travel in packs. All have the same shaggy longish do and bad dye jobs. Why would anyone want their hair to be that orangey-brown color?

12:20 PM
Watching a Japanese movie, Fly Daddy Fly (okay, loving the website), in spirit of trip. It’s pretty good. The subtitles could use some work though. “Don’t fuck with me, old man” is translated into, “Don’t heck with me, old man.”


1:21 PM
Okay, this movie is totally homoerotic in a Fight Club kind of way. And I have to say it’s sorta turning me on.

3:34 PM
Awake from a nap. Bird starts playing on iPod shuffle, and before that Hikaru Utadu. Very appropriate.


Hungry. Shoulda brought more snacks. Japanese couple in front of me are eating what smells like a crunchy, sesame-y, possibly seaweed-y snack. Would it be rude of me to ask them for a handful?

4:26 PM
Sugar Soul now. Japanese characters can appear on my iPod. Who knew.

9:00 PM
ES just alerted me to look out the window and here’s what we see:


These are the Cherskogo Mountains of Siberia. Super cool.

11:39 PM
Good lord, I think I’ve been on this flight for half my life. I actually fell asleep for the last hour and awoke to all the cabin lights on. I found myself sitting up, anxious and disoriented, like Ellie woken from a nap.

11:50 PM
Okay, I got my first compliment on my “perfect English.” Let’s see how many more I get.

1:20 AM EST/3:20 PM Tokyo time
We’ve landed! We’re in Tokyo!


Our room at the ryokan – comfy and cozy!

Feb 06

Our last day in Tokyo!

Can`t believe an entire week has passed. I`m exhausted, though in a good way, and I`ve finally figured out the subway system and have gotten over my jetlag. Now it`s time to go home. Anyway, here`s a quickie recap of the past few days. Pix to come soon!


Before heading out to Kamakura, I get some breakfast from Lawson`s, which is like a Japanese 7-11. For those who don`t know, Japanese breakfast looks a lot like Japanese lunch. For instance on this day, I get a tea egg and this pork/shrimp roll thing, wrapped in both dough and cabbage, in a nice broth. Sounds weird but it really hit the spot.

This town is about an hour outside of Tokyo. We buy regular tickets but sit in first class by mistake, which is very cushy. We start to move but then decide we`re way too comfortable and cough up the 1000 yen (less then $10). If you buy the ticket beforehand, it`s 750 yen, less than $7.50, which to me is worth the plush seats that you can recline.

ES and I notice that subways and trains seem much quieter here than back home. Talking on your cell phone is forbidden – that explains all the text messaging we see on the subways – and apparently people don`t really like to talking to their riding companions. Mostly everyone sleeps.


In Kamakura we see the Great Buddha, which is gigantic, about 43 feet tall. For 2 yen you can go inside, which isn’t really worth it. Then again, it’s probably worth exactly $.02 cents.


After the Great Buddha, we visit the Zentarai Benton Shrine, where you can wash your money in blessed water for luck. Of course you`re really only supposed to wash your coin money, but ES washes her paper money for extra luck, and then has to deal with weird stares from storeowners for the rest of the day when she hands then damp cash.

For the rest of the day, we walk around town, shopping and whatnot, and stop for our second round of Japanese pizza for dinner.

One of our goals for every trip is to visit the McDonald`s in that country. We go into the one at Kamakura, which is hopping. But there`s a woman to seat you. In fact on every table there`s a little placard stating, “Please let us seat you!” which I ignore till the very polite woman brings me to another table. Classy.

Meiji Shrine
To tell you the truth at this point, I can barely remember one shrine from another. What I mostly remember is what I ate, in this case a curry tofu rice bowl with a side of seaweed soup and little pickled veggies.

Yea, Harajuku girls! They do exist. Took lots and lots of pix of these girls in their wacked out clothes. Some go for the little girl, baby doll look. . .



. . .some go for goth. . .


. . .some look like members of KISS. . .


KISS shoes.

. . .while others have the S&M thing going.


The most shocking Harajuku-ite we see is one girl is dressed in a full leather SS officer uniform regalia.


ES and I agree that she probably doesn`t understand quite what she`s doing, and that the outfit is very very creepy.

Amazing amazing ramen at Jyangara, a popular chain recommended by our friend Motoko.


The broth is rich and chocked full of pieces of a fatty delectable pork. I’ll never be able to have restaurant ramen back home again.

After Harajuku we hit up Ginza, sorta like New York`s 5th Avenue, only with lots of neon, where we check out a department store.



Imperial Garden
Closed on Mondays. Drat.

Yasukuni Shrine
You’ve seen one shrine, you’ve seen `em all. On the upside we have our second breakfast, or maybe it was our elevensees, at a noodle dive outside the shrine, where the cook smokes and hocks lugies right near the food. Fried noodles with cabbage and little pieces of pork, and two chicken yakitori, which are basically like chicken kebobs.


We meet our friend Motoko for conveyer belt sushi. I don`t know if that`s the official term, but it`s what we like to call it.


The sushi isn`t as good as what we had at the fish market, but it`s still pretty damn good.


Afterwards we shop in that area in a covered arcade. Thank goodness because it was pouring rain the entire day.

Motoko has her 3 year old son with him. He’s totally adorable but very, um, energetic. By the time we finish shopping and having our coffees and cocoas at a little cafe, and having chased him down a million times, we`re pooped.

So ES and I are glad we can move up our reservation for kaiseki, which is basically a multiple course of meal of small and exquisite dishes. Ours is 9 courses and is amazing. On top of that the proprieter is a very nice young man who speaks excellent English and so is able to explain what each dish is. Here a few of the courses.


The appetizer: salty fish, a radish sushi roll, and delish greens in peanutty sauce.


Duck with grilled bamboo shoots, peppers, and mushroom.

Shrimp cake with snap peas and a vegetable that I can’t remember the name of.


And for dessert, black bean soup.

At lunch we have an odd looking innard-type sushi. Motoko, whose English is sometimes limited, tells us it’s the intestines of some sort of fish. When in Rome we figure so we both try it. It doesn’t taste bad but the consistency is very odd, soft and creamy. ES likes it but I refrain from having seconds.

During our kaiseiki meal we notice what looks like the same intestines in our egg custard dish. We eat it, then ask the proprieter exactly what it is since Motoko seemed unsure.


Little did we know what lurked in this lovely egg custard.

“I hate to tell you this,” he says, and we`re thinking, Big deal, we know they`re intestines, “but they`re the sperm sacs of a fish.”
Ah. Sperm sacs are very different from intestines. No wonder they were so creamy.

See everyone at home!

Feb 06

Ohayo gozai-masu!

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.


Fish Market
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.

Stay tuned!

Feb 06

Greetings from Tokyo!

Hey everyone! Thought I`d drop a quick note letting everyone know I`m here in the land of vending machines, salarymen asleep on the subway, and everyone in surgical masks.

ES and I landed yesterday afternoon after what seemed like the longest flight in all eternity. But it really wasn`t that bad. The plane was half-empty so that ES and I each had our own rows and could stretch out. The highlight though was the view of the snow-covered Cherskogo Mountains in Siberia. Mind-blowing. I have pix which I`ll be sure to post when I get home.

It`s winter here but yesterday was about 70 degrees. Unusual they say. Now it`s chillier and rainy, but the hotel has umbrellas we can borrow so that rocks.

It took us forever and a half to get to the ryokan, which wouldn`t have been so bad except we hopped on the far less cushy train. For a few dollars more we could have taken the Skyline, which apprently has plush seats like a real train. Instead we jumped on the first one that came along, which was basically like a subway. A very crowded subway on which we had to stand for an hour. Oh well! Better than sitting in an office, that`s for sure.

Last night we had dinner with our friend Motoko from high school. She took us to an awesome traditional Japanese place in Akasaka, an area in Tokyo, where we had to remove our shoes at the door and sit on the floor to eat. (There was a pit under the table where we could dangle our feet so that made it far more comfortable.)

We had sashimi (to DIE for), tempura, fried fish, and grilled eggplant in a delish sauce.


This is the eggplant.

We also had an excellent buckwheat tea. It was nutty and rich, almost like coffee. For some reason the proprietor was tickled to learn that ES and I were Americans, and gave each of us a free six-pack of canned buckwheat tea.

The hotel has free internet access in the lobby – score! – and I`ll try to post while I`m here, but I`m sure the combination of jet lag and my laziness will get the better of me. Expect excruciatingly detailed posts of the whole trip upon my return.