So, last night’s dinner reservation was at Chateau Joel Robuchon which is – surprise surprise – an actual chateau located in the heart of Yebisu, across the street from a big honking DVD store and right beside something called the Yebisu Beer Station. I took a stroll through the Christmas displays and then headed inside where I was escorted to a secluded bar that kind of reminded me of the place Jack Torrance has the unsettling discussion with that creepy bartender. Eventually, the rest of the dinner party arrived and we were seated in the main dining room, next to a woman who had done her hair to resemble a giant bow sitting atop her head. When it came to the menu, we were presented with choices, choices, and more choices: a tasting menu, a chef’s menu, a special white truffle menu, and the a la carte menu. Well, I never thought I’d say this but, ten days into my eat-fest and I was beginning to feel overwhelmed, so I ordered a simple appetizer and main. I started with a white truffle appy of fingerling potatoes and foie gras. It was good but, in all honesty, it’s hard to muster much excitement for a dish that marries foie with potatoes. A pumpkin gnocchi with shaved white truffles, on the other hand, was magnificent. My main was a cumin-crusted lamb served with an eggplant caviar. Very good but Michelin 3 star good? I don’t know. The high points for me on this night were less what I ordered but what I didn’t as the creative execution that went into some of the unexpected intermediary dishes was truly impressive. There was the beet soup served in a raised bowl beneath a smoking dry ice base, a golf ball-sized coriander ice nestled within, a refreshing grape granita, and a simply mind-blowing dessert tray that offered everything from chocolates and macarons to petites fours and candies. Service was fine although my water glass sat empty for long stretches and our waiters had the habit of addressing only one of us with regard to any questions the table may have had about the menu.
I caught a cab after dinner and the driver ended up dropping me off at the wrong hotel. As we approached The Imperial Hotel, I informed him that I asked for The Peninsula. He responded in a gruff indecipherable protest that, if I were to hazard a guess, amounted to “I heard Imperial and, besides, what do you want me to do? Drive back against traffic?” It was a nice night so I just hopped out and walked the five minutes back to my hotel. Needless to say, I had no desire to see his Tippu Tippu Dansu.
Again, I hate to say it but I fear my hard-eating ways are catching up with me. It took me forever to fall asleep last night and, when I did, I spent most of the evening tossing and turning, wracked with nightmares involving murder plots, a fight for survival, and a disquieting restroom discovery.
I woke up, had a late breakfast an a little 24 hour place under the tracks, then caught a cab to NHK Studios in Shibuya. My original intention had been to attend the taping of one of those wacky Japanese game shows in which scantily clad women negotiate a labyrinth of spaghetti string or a bunch of men are forced to eat a bowl of mealworms. Alas, no such luck. Instead, I was informed to get there early in order to attend the taping of a cooking show.
I arrived early enough and took in the studio tour, checking out the standing sets of popular period dramas, the recording studios, and a wall display of NHK’s various productions which, curiously enough, were all Japanese with the exception of Little House on the Prairie. I eventually found my way to CT-450 Studio where I informed the clearly horrified pages that I was there to participate in the live broadcast. I was told to stand in a specially designated area with the understanding that if more than 30 people showed up, the participants would be chosen by lot. Alas, only 13 showed up so they were forced to take me. I was handed a plastic button with the number “6” and given instructions in Japanese. From what I could gather, they warned me against taking pictures, speaking on my cell phone, and sitting in the hostess’s lap at any time during the segment. Thus informed, we were free to mill about for half an hour. I grabbed a seat and started to read only to have another one of the audience members sit down beside me and start talking. The fact that I clearly spoke and understood little Japanese did not deter him from carrying on a conversation with me for the better part of twenty minutes. Touched, I did my best to follow along whenever I could, occasionally nodding and murmuring “Mmmm. Mmmmm.” to suggest at least a half-hearted effort on my part.
Finally, it was showtime. We all filed into the studio – the bored elderly women, the homeless men, and the gaijin – and took our designated seats. The grandmother seated beside me seemed quite excited. Apparently, we were going to be sitting in on the live broadcast of a talk show. The guest on this day was the wife of the guy who won a bronze medal for Japan in one of the relay events at the last Olympics. One of the producers addressed the audience one final time, running through a list of do’s and don’t’s in Japanese – none of which I understood. And then, as if suddenly noticing me for the first time sitting in the front row, she asked whether I understood Japanese. I responded “Sukoshi hanasemasu, demo amari wakarimasen.” – I speak a little but don’t understand very much. This delighted my fellow audience members who smiled and nodded. It also seemed to be good enough for the producer who finished up by saying something and then indicating the security guard standing by just in case. The message was clear: No funny business.
A little more conversation with the nice woman seated beside me (She has three kids, one of whom lives in Milan. She has traveled to Madrid and knows a little Spanish. She enjoys skiing and golfing.) and then the show was on. The pretty hostess and her portly but no less lovable sidekick trotted out of the back room and we were encouraged to smile and applaud. I put some extra effort into it, grinning like an idiot, eager to please. They trotted out of the studio and into the corridor where a raucous crowd had gathered to greet them. They did their intro, then welcomed their guest to the show. A little preamble and then it was back into the studio where they were met with more smiles and applause, in particular from the enthusiastic white guy in the front row.
At this point, we rolled into the body of the show – a revealing heart to heart between hostess and guest. How revealing? Damned if I know as I hardly understood a thing. They showed clips of the woman’s husband winning a bronze medal at the Beijing Games, footage of the guest in her days as a synchronized swimmer, and still photos of the couple’s honeymoon in Hawaii. Suddenly, the hostess produced a letter handwritten on lavender parchment written by, I’m guessing, either her husband serving overseas or her long lost mother. As she began to read it aloud, her words accompanied by a shmaltzy music cue, the guest grew suddenly wistful and started dabbing at the corner of her eyes with a tissue. My fellow audience members grew similarly emotional. I bowed my head and tried to look somewhere between stricken and wedding day happy-sad. A few seconds to gather ourselves and then the camera swung around for a minute-long segment in which the sidekick shilled apple. Then, it was back to the interview and a more upbeat exchange. I understood next to nothing but still, I took my cues from my fellow audience members – laughing when they did, marveling when they did, and generally nodding throughout. A final cutaway to a five minute science bit in which the sidekick spoke to some professorial-looking guy who delivered a mini lesson on gravity, and then it was back to the interview. The show concluded with some viewer mail, they signed off, we clapped them out and that, as they say in show biz, was a wrap.
On my way out, the skiing grandmother and the chatty homeless man wished me well, which I thought was very sweet of them.
I walked around Shibuya for a while, then paid my friend Moro a visit at Pierre Marcolini. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince her to perform a Tippu Tippu song like the gals at Cold Stone. I’d even gone so far as to write the lyrics for her:
Tippu Tippu Irrashaimasu!
Domo Arigato Gozaimasu!
Atarashii kutsu kaimasu!
Tippu Tippu Irasshaimasu!
Roughly translated: Welcome tips! Thank you! I’m going to buy some new shoes! Welcome tips! Anyway, it’s a lot more clever in Japanese because it sort of rhymes.
Sadly, even that wasn’t enough to convince her. However, she did promise to come up with something for the next time I’m in town.
Well, that’s it. One more dinner and my culinary odyssey draws to an end. I’d love to come back and do this again. Same time next year – as it will probably take me a full year to recover.
30 thoughts on “December 3, 2008: Tokyo Travel Day #11, Dinner at the Chateau, and Hey Mom Look at the White Guy in the Audience!”
Me revoila!! Ahh contente de voir ce que vous avez fait aujourd’hui!!
Rohh et bien comme vous moi non plus je n’ai pas bien dormi.
Pourquoi ne pas venir en France l’année prochaine? car si vous retrournez au Japon vous veriez encore les mêmes choses et sa ne serai pas trés drôle…Mais j’avou que si vous faites un séjour en france je ne suis pas sure que votre estomac tiendra le coup lol (même si je suis sur qu’il est deja trés trés fort^^)
Et oui les meilleurs choses ont une fin…
Bisou, A demain!
So sorry your trip has to come to a close. I’ve enjoyed your show and tell very much! Please have a safe journey home. I think you may need a vacation after your vacation!
Hey, about your photo of the dog who waits at the Shibuya Station, that story was used in the book “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”. I just finished reading it and enjoyed it very much. What a coincidence that you happened to see a statue of that very same dog!
Thanks again for a very interesting mini travelog. 🙂
Wow…that box is beautiful! It looks like an onna norimono, used to transport women…or Marty G….
“It took me forever to fall asleep last night and, when I did, I spent most of the evening tossing and turning, wracked with nightmares involving murder plots, a fight for survival, and a disquieting restroom discovery.”
Well no wonder Mr. M, you keep reading all of those creepy horror novels! That’ll make anyone have nightmares.
I’m loving this cuisine adventure. You’ve done more eating than I’ve thought possible for one person. You must be invulnerable to mouth sores from all those sweets!
The statue with the dog… Well, my Dad had a beagle/bassett mix that would do just that–wait at the back door about the time Dad would come home from work. Every day. And yes, when Dad passed away, he continued to do that every day for almost a month before he finally gave up doing that. It wasn’t long after that (he was 13 years old at the time) that his health took a radical decline and he had to be put down.
Joe – I continue to love your tales from Japan. This one reminds me of the time a Japanese family sat next to us at a restaurant, and Mr. Das turned to them and started speaking in Japanese, much to my surprise. As they got ready to leave, they thanked my husband, and said he did very well with his Japanese. After they had left, I asked him where he had learned Japanese, and he said, “From watching Shogun.” 😕
Can you get someone to film YOU performing the Tippu Tippu song? PLEASE! 🙂
Oh dear god, I’m trying to laugh very very quietly (and not fall out of my seat because I’m at work) at your Tippu Tippu lyrics. Just in case there’s any doubt — that was hilarious, and pure genius. That chant’s gonna stay in my head the entire day now.
But really, you don’t recognize the turd, er, Domo-kun? He was even Target’s new mascot during Halloween. Yes, TARGET. Go figure!
Indeed, that’s one fancy palaquin! Marty’s a Japanese Princess? Huh.
I got by with S’koshi and wakarimasen quite a bit … sometimes the effort is as effective and endearing as actually being able to speak Japanese. The vowels tripped me up, I never quite figured out if I were calling a child “cute” or “scary”. Everyone’s so polite, they’d never let on I thought their baby was some sort of green-spotted changeling.
.. and the words for prisoner and husband sound near identical to me… just sayin’.
Joe, upon your arrival home, what detox facility will you be residing in?
You cracked me up with the move along from the camera. Apparently you are a ham.
You seem to attract the talkative people whether they speak english or not. I could picture you in between the two and it definately brought a smile to my face.
As for the not sitting on the hostesses lap, well, I think you needed that warning since it seems like you have been attracting the ladies on your trip.
That Domo pen rocks [from HNK Studios]! Such yummy food pictures, now I am hungry.
This whole trip sounds delicious. If you need a travel companion next year that loves to eat too, let me know!
The dog story sounds like the story of “Blackfriars Bobby” – another sad story of a faithful hound.
I bet you are looking forward to getting home. Your furry family will be waiting for you with excitement and expectation. Hopefully Fondy will remember who you are.
‘The Angry Turd’, I had to literally stop myself from laughing. You would do amazing in stand-up comedy. 😉
If I was you during the taping, I would feel extremely uncomfortable, and wouldn’t know what in the world to do. You seemed to handle it well, thank goodness you learned some Japanese before you left. 🙂
Thanks as always, enjoy your last day, and those Christmas photos are amazing, even wallpaper-worthy!
– Enzo Aquarius
Does your participation as an audience member on a Japanese talk show signal the start of your acting career? Or as an acting teacher? Just think of the fun you could have telling would be actors “I think you need to sit in on 3 Oprah Winfrey shows to get into that role”, or ” Young lady, you need to attend a half dozen “Price is Right” tapings to grasp what true hysterical excitement is.”
I’m both gratified and saddened that you have finally displayed some form of mortal weakness, conceeding the calculated binging you’ve enjoyed has caught up to you. I hope the last meal turns out to be the best, and that the flight back is hassle free.
How do you find your dinner companions? Is this something the concierge helped you with?
How have the dogs been doing in your absence? Are they taking advantage of having the extra bed space to stretch out in?
Joe, it’s been great hearing about your adventures, thanks. Your gastrointerologist must be sitting by the phone at home waiting for your call. Have a safe trip hom. Thanks for your time
You got a angry turd pen! lol awesome. I believe the dog was in “The Amazing Race” as well. Cool.
@ Perragrin: Thank you for the support!
@dasNdanger: Thanks so much!
@drldeboer: Thank you and I am sorry to hear about your mom!
Your superhuman ability (consumption of fine foods at an inhuman pace) is dwindling! It’s time for you to return home and rest from your vacation.
The Christmas tree looks like it’s covered in various sized round speakers all dressed up to not look like speakers. I do like your pictures of the lit up trees. Very much “ooh” and “ahh”.
Those mementos are…er…attractive? Perhaps you can give them as gifts to your favorite people for Christmas.
So Joe, who looked after the dog after the owner died? Did it just keep escaping to go and wait for the old owner? I get teary with stories like that. What a great dog!
I’m going to miss wacky Japan, but I think you need some recovery time. Enjoy your last dinner in Tokyo. Have a safe trip back home.
Awww that dog story is so sad. Thank you for sharing your trip with us. I’ve really enjoyed looking at all the pictures and reading about your adventures. All of the desserts there look amazing.
What is next for you? Any more trips? Please keep us updated about SGU. Have you found a cast yet? When will you start filming? When will we get to see the first episode?
I really hope you hire Chelan Simmons for Chloe and Crystal Lowe for Tamara, they are the best Canadian Actress’ and I’m a big fan of them both. Well, have a safe trip back.
Now that Chateau looks like the place to dine!
And those desserts look worth the migraine.
Was it strange being on the other end of a TV show?
Even when I was a kid I found kiddie things creepy. Clowns, pantomimes and over-sized fuzzy toys! You know in a nightmare they’re going to be leaning over your bed with those scary fixed smiles and wide eyes. **shudder**
Davidd – Sorry about your Gran.
My Gran died as I was holding her hand. The following day my sister-in-law, who had been with her Dad when he passed, rang me and said, “Everyone is going to tell you that they know how you feel, but unless you have ever been with someone at that point, they don’t fully understand.” So I say the same to you. I’m thinking of you, your family and what you have just been through.
So, my daughter wants to know what the weird food purchase of the day was (she’s been reading over my shoulder the entire trip). Perhaps during dinner.
I like your Tippu Tippu song. I should teach it to the local Cold Stone. 🙂
I wish you well too on your last evening in Japan! It’s been great!
alalal je suis toujour aussi accro à vous qu’avant lol!!
Sa fait 30 minute que je me passe en boucle toute les photos que j’ai de vous et j’ai rajouter en plus un fond sonor. Je les est même toute commenter, ma mére ce demander si je n’étais pas folle de parler tout seul lol!
Alalla je voudrais téllement vous voir en vrai un jour, cela serait le plus beau jour de ma vie, je préféré vous voir que de voir tout les acteurs de stargate!! c’est vous dire!!!!
Aller Bisou!! A demain!
Hey! I just realised it’s the one year anniversary for me reading your blog. Time flies! Actually it feels longer than a year. And I’m sure it feels like a hellish eternity for you Joe.
Isn’t that dog Hachiko? You took the picture at Shibuya station right? It’s a nice story although sad. I think another one exists in Odate.
Chevron7 … the story’s on wiki … creepily enough, the actual dog is “stuffed and mounted” in a museum.
We had a Shiba-ken, a smaller version of the Akita. Great dogs!
joe, you’re insane. but that’s better than being outsane.
That’s awesome: I wanna be in the studio audience of some random show!!!
Seriously, though: your trip to NHK studios has me wondering if anybody could take a trip through some production company’s actual studios in CA. I mean, I’ve been to Universal Studios and Disney World, but those are theme parks, not where shows are filmed. That would be so awesome!
You have to let us know how the puppies react when you get home! My dachshund’s whole body wags when he sees me every time I come home! 😀