I suffered some major indigestion last night. I know exactly what you’re all thinking and I have reached the self-same conclusion: it’s a side effect of the pills I’m taking. To think, that the medication I’m taking to make me well is actually making me sick. I lay in bed late last night, pondering fate’s cruel hand and that evening’s Discovery Channel International program which posited the age-old question: Who would win a battle between two of the world’s deadliest natural enemies – the hippopotamus or the shark? How many times has this epic battle played itself out, whenever an unwary hippo found its way into open water, or a wayward shark followed a main tributary deep into the heart of Africa? The experts went to great lengths to produce an educationally enlightening computer-generated recreation of the encounter. Next week, they’ll be pitting two more of nature’s adversaries against one another when a moose takes on a monkey. To ensure a well-balanced fight, Discovery will be outfitting the monkey with brass knuckles. I’m sorry I won’t be here to see that one play out. And by the way, if you’re curious (Don’t deny it. You are.), the hippo won.
I was feeling better this morning although, not for the first time since arriving in Tokyo, I felt as if the walls were closing in on me. Literally. The sink in our hotel room just seems one inch too low, the doorway just one inch too narrow, the door handles just one inch too high, so that every time I turn or step or reach I am constantly bumping, knocking and stubbing something. It’s like I’m an unwitting contestant on one of those Japanese game shows where someone comes into my hotel room and shifts the fixtures ever-so-slightly every time I go out. I half expect a guy in a kimono and oversized glasses to jump out one morning and reveal the whole gag, then make me walk on hot coals while eating a live baby octopus to claim my prize.
No hot coals or octopi this morning, but a bit of excitement when I heard Fondy, who was taking a shower at the time, cry out: “Joe! Joe! The people! The people!” I jumped up, startled. At which point Fondy raced into the main room, still wet, the shower still running. I looked around, my mind racing: “What people? Where?!” It turns out that all of the windows in our rooms have flimsy blinds, but only those in the main room have actual curtains. I suppose the thinking is that the bathroom doesn’t need curtains since we’re on the 48th floor and, really, who would be in a position to peek inside? Fondy will tell you who: the guys cleaning the windows at 9:00 a.m. this morning.
By the way, I’ve revised my opinion of this hotel, bumping it up two notches from a “can’t stand” to a firm “don’t mind”. The service is very good and it’s nice enough, but the circuitous route we have to take from our room to the front doors can get very tiresome very quickly. “What do you mean by circuitous route?”you may ask. Well, let me give you the directions. Step out of our hotel room and head down the hall, hang your first right and catch the elevator to the lowest floor to which it will take you. That would be the 41st. Get off and hang a right, past the front desk area where three staff members will be on hand to smile and bow as you walk past them, around a corner and through a faux library of no-doubt first edition hardcover volumes ensconced in their magnificent glass shelves. Hang a right at the painting, then continue along, past restaurant #1, past two more staff members who will smile and bow, until you reach the end of the roomy corridor, at which point you hang a left, past restaurant #2, and catch the elevator to the second floor – but not before passing another staff member who will smile and bow. Walk out of the elevator where a smiling/bowing staff member awaits to greet you, around the work of art in the middle of the lobby, past two sets of doors each manned by a smiling/bowing staff member, and you’re outside where you will be greeted by two more staff members who will smile and bow and wave over the cab you’ll need to take to get anywhere.
We finally made our way to Tsukiji today, the heart of Tokyo’s wholesale fish and seafood market, arriving a little too late to witness the daily 5:00 a.m. tuna bidding wars (about six hours too late), but arriving just in time to enjoy an excellent sushi lunch. We ordered the toro (tuna) special that included a nice variety of the high-end offering. I can’t describe how different the fish, especially the sushi tastes here in Japan. The meat is incredibly tender and, yes, does melt in your mouth. Both Fondy and I agreed on our favorites: the fatty o-toro, and its grilled counterpart topped with chives. For dessert, I had two pieces of salmon roe sushi and two pieces of sea urchin sushi.
Following lunch, we caught a cab to Meguro-ku where we meandered around the tiny shops and finally located Jiyugaoka Sweets Forest, a food theme park designed as a fantasy forest featuring creations from Japan’s most famous chefs. Given the time it took us to get there and the unlikelihood that we would be back anytime soon, I decided to make the most of our visit and sample an extensive cross-section of offerings. Sadly, I only managed to make it through six desserts before giving up. Still I was able to try: the chestnut mont blanc (the best we’ve had), a cheesecake (light and tasty), a chocolate cake (good, but I felt it wasn’t chocolaty enough), a pumpkin pudding (“return visit” amazing, and we got to keep the cup!), some sort of custard with fruit (I avoided) and giant tapioca balls (nice try), and a bottle of, well, cream (delicious!). As I sat there, looking out at the beautiful setting and the happy faces all around, I couldn’t help but imagine a world that captured the spirit of Jiyugaoka Sweets Forest, an environment of sheer happiness and joy, where one could raise a family free of fear and hardship. There would be no war, no pain, only peace, love, contentment, and, eventually, the debilitating effects of gross malnutrition.
We took a stroll through the quaint little surroundings and I tried to walk off my recurring indigestion (damn that medication!). So far as we could tell, this was Tokyo’s dog city, with proud owners out and about with their often-clothed canine companions. We then caught a cab to Roppogni Hills, a self-contained complex featuring restaurants, an art museum, and some 200 shops. At this point in our travels, we’re pretty much shopped out (although that may change when we hit Hankuhinkan Toy Park tomorrow), so we simply browsed and I snapped pics of the Christmas lights – and the peculiar giant spider sculpture at the heart of the open walkway.
With two dinners left, Fondy and I both chose our favorites for return visits. Tonight, it was my turn and we went back to the hotel restaurant, Kozue, for a “good” but “not as good” supper. Unfortunately, they had changed the menu since we had last been there and Fondy’s bonito with the salted egg yolk sauce was no longer on the menu. I made the mistake of being a little too adventurous and trying the kelp with herring roe, an unpleasant dish that ended up tainting my enjoyment of the seared mackerel sushi I so loed on our first visit. Fondy’s entrée was an excellent, perfectly cooked rib steak. By the time my entrée arrived, my tastebuds had cleared enough for me to enjoy a terrific crabmeat and crabgut bake with egg and green onions, topped with raw sea urchin. Next year, if we’re ordering lunch at work and one of the local Japanese restaurants has this on the menu, I’d strongly recommend my fellow producers give it a try. Especially Brad and Carl.
As I wrap up this installment, I’d like to leave you with some pics of the various interesting mascots I glimpsed over the course of my day. There’s the angry-looking yellow fellow clutching the American Gladiator double-whacking stick I snapped on the side of a truck. The worried-looking basset hound with the hard hat. The bespectacled little guy fronting an eyeglass shop in Meguro. The mini mini superhero. And, last but not least – well, I don’t know what the heck this is supposed to be and as for that extra appendage protruding out front, I hope to God it’s his arm.