November 15, 2013: Tokyo Day #10! Line-ups, Geek Central, and Chicken Sashimi!

If there’s one thing the Japanese love, it’s a line-up.  And this fact was reinforced as we strolled through Ometasando yesterday where we noted not one, not two, but THREE line-ups.  The first for a newly opened popcorn shop (?), the second for some other presumably new shop of indeterminate nature, and the third…for a Shakey’s Pizza!  I mean, come on!  Shakey’s Pizza?

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Line-up for the popcorn shop.  Really?  Popcorn?
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Line-up for…something else.  I suspect that half these people didn’t even know what they were lining up for.
Okay, come on now.  When there's even a line outside Shakey's Pizza, then you know someone is screwing with you.
Okay, come on now. When there’s even a line outside Shakey’s Pizza, then you know someone is screwing with you.

We had lunch at a yasai-ya (vegetable restaurant) where we enjoyed a very healthy-tasting meal after which Akemi headed off to a head spa while I caught the subway to Akihabara, Geek central:

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My future apartment building?
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Customers line up to input their orders outside a ramen restaurant.
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Akihabara – an anime enthusiast’s dream.
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Pillows of your favorite anime characters!  Never sleep alone again!
A little artwork for Carl's new office perhaps?
A little artwork for Carl’s new office perhaps?
My guess is...Box Man?
My guess is…Box Man?
An ad for Akihabara's many maid cafes.
An ad for Akihabara’s many maid cafes.

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A maid rustles up a customer for the cafe.
A maid rustles up a customer for the cafe.

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The doorman at the Gundam Cafe - Akihabara (Tokyo, Japan)
The doorman at the Gundam Cafe – Akihabara (Tokyo, Japan)

And, this time, I didn’t return empty-handed.  My new purchases:

New cell phone covers.
New cell phone covers.
New t-shirt.  Bonus points if you can guess the anime.  Randomness, you got this!
New t-shirt. Bonus points if you can guess the anime. Randomness, you got this!

For dinner, we met up with my friend Koji, man about town and Tokyo expert, who took us to one of the most happening yakitori restaurants in town: Morimoto in Shibuya.

The master of ceremonies: Koji.  He paces himself at one skewer per glass of sake.
The master of ceremonies: Koji. He paces himself at one skewer per glass of sake.

It was an excellent meal, highlighted by some noteworthy menu selections, among them the house tsukune (minced chicken), the crispy bonjiri chicken butt), chicken heart and even some chicken sashimi…

The chicken breast, served medium-alive.
The chicken breast, served medium-alive.
And the sashi trio: breast, liver, and gizzard.  Koji assured me they had been blanched in boiling water before serving...in case you were worried for me.
And the sashimi trio: breast, liver, and gizzard. Koji assured me they had been blanched in boiling water before serving…in case you were worried for me.

The verdict?  I preferred the chicken butts.  Overall, a terrific meal.

1Morimoto: Hamanokami building 1F, 2-7-4, Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

From there, our host, Koji, took us to Nombei Yokocho.  Located down a side alley, it’s a block made up of a host of tiny stand-up bars and eateries evocative of old Edo.  As we walked down the street, Koji gave me the rundown of the various establishments.  “This place is owned by an old high school friend who serves up excellent meguro.  That one is owned by a very nice Russian woman who tends the bar.  This one is run by a former French chef and serves some amazing cheeses and wines.”

1We ended up at Saya, a tiny bar belonging to an old friend of Koji’s. And I do mean tiny.  About the size of my bathroom, it has counter seating for four and standing room for another three.  Still, the cramped confines are conducive to a real get-to-know-you atmosphere.

Our friendly bartender.
Our friendly bartender.

Four sakes in and I was ready for bed.  At approximately 8:00 p.m.  I felt like THIS guy –

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AND I had the munchies.  So I stopped off at McDonalds and grabbed an ebi (shrimp) burger.  Then, a mini tonkatsu (fried pork) burger at some other place.  Oh, and a chocolate eclair.  To help soak up the alcohol and prevent hangovers.  Works like a charm.  You should try it some time!

An early night as as I have  big day ahead of me.  Details to come!

February 4, 2012: Day #8! Considering a change in location! Visiting Geek Central! Dessert for dinner and dinner for dessert! Make your own ice cubes – Star Bar style! And a mini mailbag!

The more I consider it, the more I think I could actually give it a go here in Tokyo.  Of course, the move wouldn’t be as simple as just picking up and shifting my life over to the other side of the world.  Some issues would have to be addressed.  Chiefly: 1. What would I do with my days?  2. What would I do for work?  3. How would I get the dog shere?  Well, last things first.  I won’t compromise the safety of my dogs so flying them over from Vancouver presents a bit of a problem.  I can’t see them flying carry-on, nestled under the seat in front of me for the 10+ hour flight, and given the horror stories I’ve heard about dogs flying cargo, I’ll dismiss that option outright.  Short of chartering a private jet, that leaves me with no other options.  But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Air Canada adopts that pet-friendly policy I’ve been talking about for years now, and they suddenly realize the financial benefits of offering pet-friendly flights in which pet owners are actually permitted to purchase seats for their furry companions.  In that case, problem is solved and we could all fly in style.

Which brings us to issues #1 and #2.  Well, I’m sure I could always find something to occupy my time.  I could look into the dark, mysterious and oft-frightening world of freelancing.  Granted the type of money I’d make would be nowhere near the sum I could bring in show running, but certain sacrifices would have to be made.  Hell, I’ve calculated that if I sold my place in Vancouver, I could make enough money to rent a very nice place and live comfortably for quite some time.  QUITE some time.  But that’s defeatist thinking.  IF I can make a modest living, find a nice place, and can move my dogs without hassle, Tokyo could be a viable option…

In which I’d enjoy days like the one I enjoyed yesterday.  Following a leisurely morning spent updating this blog, Akemi and I dropped by the Pierre Marcolini Cafe, her former haunt, to say hello to her former co-workers…

The Maroclini Gang: Keiko-san, Akemi, and Dr. Yukina.

From there, it was a short, three-block walk over to my favorite sushi-ya: Sawada.  It was my third visit there in as many years.  The first time I went, I was blown away.  The second time, I brought Ivon along and he was so impressed that he declared it the best meal he’d ever had.  Yesterday, I brought Akemi along for my third visit and she was blown away by the quality of the sushi, the presentation, and Sawada-san who a delightful host – friendly, humorous, and full of fascinating information on the various ingredients and the painstaking process by which he produces his delicious creations.  For instance, he had a special refrigerator to allow for ice-cooling, lets certain fish rest for days before serving, and prepares his rice thirty minutes to an hour before each service.  Any rice that is left over after lunch is thrown out because he feels the flavor is compromised after an hour, and he starts from scratch for the dinner service.  He served us two types of sea urchin and explained how he washes one with water from Hokkaido because that’s where that particular uni hails from, just north of the island where it feeds on its famed kombu (seaweed).  He served us some otoro, aburi-style, and told us how it was the inspiration for kobe beef.  And the taste, texture, and look of the aburi proved remarkably similar to the famed, well-marbled beef:

There was a strict no photo policy in place so as not to distract the other customers so I can’t offer the visual rundown I’ve done with previous restaurants, but suffice it to say we enjoyed yet another remarkable meal.

After lunch, I finally got to hit Akihabara, aka Electric Town, aka Otaku Central, home of the electronic deals, anime merchandise, and roaming geeks. On our way out of the station, we stopped by Doughnut Plant and picked up two doughnuts: the tiramusi and the vanilla.  Fondy remembered these doughnuts fondly from her days in Tokyo.

My emphatic sampling.
Results in a mess. You can't take me anywhere!

The verdict?  Meh.  Even Akemi was somewhat disappointed, claiming they weren’t as good as she remembered.  Alas, they never are.  We gave the doughnuts to a homeless man and moved on.

The streets of Akihabara!

After picking up a new Evangelion cell phone case for my iPhone (it’s nowhere near an effective protective cover as the one I was using, but it’s an Evangelion cover!), we headed over to the Sega centre where Akemi sought to recapture some more fond memories (these from her high school days) by doing some purrikura which, it turns out, isn’t a hallucinogenic but Japanese slang for “print club”.  We went upstairs and entered one of the numerous little photo booths, then used to the touch screen to select our picture frames – something suitably saccharine – then posed for various shots.  It took me a while to get the hang of it as there was a full one second disconnect between the sound of the click and the actual flash –

I'll go with the plain silly, thanks.

Once we were done, we proceeded to a second booth at which you input your various little doodles, comments, drawings, and symbols onto the picture.  Once that was done, you proceeded to yet another booth at which you input your email address (so they could send you tiny, poor quality copies, natch) and printed up tiny, poor quality copies of your session.

I must say, I was dubious at first but I think it did a really great job of capturing my youthful exuberance and big brown eyes…

Damn.  If only I’d known about this when I was here with Ivon last year.

After that, we walked around Akihabara and checked out some of the shops (or, should I say, giant multi-level complexes).  I’d like to bring a new anime series back to Vancouver with me but there are so many of them, I’m having a hard time deciding.  Anyone out there know what’s new and great in the world of anime?

Well, I didn’t find an anime series to check out, I did come across plenty of interesting sights…only in Akihabara…

This guy was a having a great old time on the drum game.
One of the neighbourhood's many maids, trawling the streets for potential customers. I told Akemi that, if we moved to Tokyo, she could work at a Maid Cafe and I could work at the neighbouring Butler Cafe. I'm sure I would be quite popular!
Check out the howitzers on that kid. Something you rarely see in North American cartoons.
The sommelier would like to recommend a Dragonball 1989. Or would you prefer the 2002 Sailor Moon?

We ended up running out of time as we had to be in Roppongi to meet a friend of Akemi’s for dinner, so we hopped on the metro and caught the Hibiya line to Midtown.  Inside the station, I snapped pics of some of the subway warnings.  Check out the smart Japanese raccoons schooling the dumb foreigner…

Look at this moron - all relaxed. He's just asking for his elbows to get clipped by a passing train. Don't they have subways where he comes from?!

Seriously.  If not for stupid gaijin, these warning signs would be wholly unnecessary.

By the time we got to Roppongi, it was already dark.

The streets of Roppongi.

We ended up meeting at the Jean Paul Hevin cafe.  Dinner consisted of a chocolate extravaganza: four chocolate cakes, chocolate ice cream, and chocolate sorbet.  Oh, and  a Perrier for me as I’m trying to watch my girlish figure.

The cakes ranged from great to incredible.
Surprisingly, I preferred the sorbet over the ice cream. Not that the ice cream was bad. The sorbet was simply that good.
And...done. Sort of. If Ivon had been with me, we would have polished off everything.

Akemi got the chance to catch up with her old friend and I even managed to catch a few words here and there.  I think that the only way I’m going to improve my Japanese conversational and listening skills is by going full immersion.  Similarly, I think the only way I’m going to really learn to read Hiragana and Katakana is by picking up some Japanese manga and going through the laborious process of translating each and every panel.  It’ll be difficult at first but, eventually, much easier in time.

We left Midtown and Ayaka, then headed outside where we grabbed some dessert –

Takoyaki! A.k.a octopus balls filled with octopus bits, flour, baking soda, bonito stock, green onion and cabbage. We had two kinds: original (takoyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed) and mentaiko-mayonnnaise (marinated fish eggs and green onion).
They're always half-cooked to produce a molten center designed to deliver maximum mouth burn.

We were on our way back to the hotel when I received an email from my friend Moro-san.  She was interested in hitting Star Bar after work.  How could I say no?  We met up.  I had a couple of Moscow Mules.  I practiced my Japanese and we were treated to a demonstration of ice craftsmanship:

The Boss! Hisashi Kishi!

Mini mailbag:

Major D. Davis writes: “ALL THAT FOOD.”

Answer: Yeah.  It’ll be oatmeal for breakfast when I return to Vancouver.  By the way, Major, nice to have you back.

Lewis writes: “How different is the weather there from what it normally is in Vancouver this time of year?”

Answer: It’s actually much colder here in Tokyo!

JeffW writes: “I’m thinking about trying LDP’s Kale Chips this weekend.”

Answer: How does he make them?  I like them oven roasted after being tossed in olive oil and a bit of sea salt.

Kabra writes: “The purple yam thing, hmmm can we get those here?? Are they really grown in that colour??”

Answer: They’re pretty damn purple naturally but I think that, in the case of the cakes, their color may have been enhanced.  I think I’ve seen them in Vancouver.  Akemi claims purple potatoes are healthier.  As a result, I no longer feel guilty eating those cakes for breakfast.

for the love of Beckett writes: “Akemi, has Joe said anything funny or amusing in Japanese recently?”

Answer: Akemi says to stay tuned for her Shit My Canadian Boyfriend Says twitter account.

for the love of Beckett also writes: “Do you see many dogs strolling Tokyo? Any Shiba Inu?”

Answer: I’ve seen a surprising number of dogs strolling about, mainly small breeds (chihuahuas, shibas, a couple of french bulldogs yesterday) but a couple of bigger dogs as well (a doberman and a golden retriever).

Shiny writes: “I’m going to move to Japan and sell cute wool caps to all these folks wandering around in the cold with not hat on.”

Answer: Great.  Let’s go into business together.  It’s either selling wool caps or working at the Butler Cafe!

Kathode writes: “Anyway, my suggestion for another superhero-of-the-week movie would be “Super Fuzz.”

Answer: Why have I never heard of this movie?  It looks absolutely dreadful – and thus perfect for our SuperMovie of the Week Club!

dasndanger writes: “Oh, forgot to tell you what the dream was about. You updated your blog saying you were back in Vancouver, and I was baffled because I never saw an entry saying that you had actually left Japan.”

Answer: Weird!!!  Were you able to get back to sleep?

SebiMeyer writes: “The legends surrounding the Kappa are quite disturbing. It feeds on human large intestines, which it accesses by crawling up their butt. The cucumbers are just offered so if doesn’t do that to you.”

Answer: Thanks for that educational – and disturbing – tidbit.

Sue Jackson writes: “How do eat all this stuff and not get fat? Do you jog every morning?”

Answer: The secret is in walking everywhere.  It just eats up the calories.  One year of this and I’d probably be at my peak physical shape, ready to box Carl Binder for the championship belt.

ILyes D. Vex writes: “and the pudding cake thing, isn’t it called Anpan or something???”

Answer: Anpan is something different.  I believe it’s a sweet bun filled with red bean paste.

max writes: “Has your dog-sitter mentioned if your other dogs look confused that maximus isnt around anymore?”

Answer: She says they’re doing great and don’t see to be acting or reacting any differently.  Of course that may change when I get back.  I took Maximus away with me for the Christmas holidays so they may well be expecting his return with mine.

Debra writes: “You can have a vacation home there, but we won’t get you back on US TV shows if you move there full time so not going to encourage THAT.”

Answer: I have been considering going the alternate route of simply getting a vacation place.

Pontytail writes: “What do you think Akemi’s mom thinks of you?”

Answer: She seems to think well enough of me to not force Akemi to pack up her bags and move to Osaka immediately.  So far, so good.

Jenny Robin writes: “I’m so sorry.”

Answer: Thanks, Jenny.  Long time no see.  How’s the book business?

 

December 11, 2010: Tokyo Day #5! Tofuro! Star Bar! Pizza Salvatore Cuomo! Akihabara!

Last night was one of those reservationless evenings designed to allow us to play things by ear, get some local input on our eating schedule.  And so it was that, following a recommendation from the hotel concierge, we found ourselves at Tofuro izakaya.  Now, the first thing that struck us was the ancient Chinese prison-like cells, I mean dining rooms.  We were told to take off our shoes (no doubt to make it tougher for us to make a break for it) when the time came, then seated in a tiny room after which the (cell) door slid shut behind us.  I half-expected a group of waiters to come rushing and beat the soles of our feet.

Sorry. They won't let you out until you've finished your veggies.

The second thing to strike us was the size of menu offering everything from Chinese dumplings to hot dog salads. Hell, there were so many dishes that they needed THREE menus to cover them all. 

We sat there for some fifteen minutes, wondering where the hell our waiter had gotten to, when we noticed a lone button on the wall. We hesitated to push it. Sure, it could have summoned our waiter. On the other hand, it could have set off the fire alarm. Eventually, Ivon pressed it. Coincidentally, or not, the waiter showed up soon after.
Tasty flash-fried tuna.
Glutinous rice pumpkin skewers. Ivon was pleasantly suprised by these goopy offerings.

We had various skewers, some fried squid paste, and I got Ivon to sample grilld beed tongue for the first time.  All in all, an interesting meal but not a place I’d pencil in for a return visit.

So far in Tokyo, we’ve hit our share of lame bars: Peters in The Peninsula (tries so hard to be hip it’s kind of embarrassing), and the Old Imperial at the Imperial Hotel (smoky as hell, the seats and tables are so small you’d think the lounge had been designed for hard-drinking children).  But, last night, we found ourselves at a bar that instantly became our new Tokyo watering hole.  Tiny and unpretentious, Star Bar is owned and operated by bartender extraordinaire Kishi Hisashi who prepares every cocktail in the house with deft but easy-going precision.  Each drink commands his full attention and it’s a marvel to watch the man work – deftly icing, stirring, shaking, and pouring his creations, then serving them up just so.  Ivon had a couple of Whiskey Sours while I started with a Gin Gimlet, then followed with a Sidecar.  The Moscow Mules he served up in copper cups to the couple beside us looked great, definitely something I’ll order on our next visit.

I was seated at the bar in front of THE wall of scotch.
Gin Gimlet
Sidecar
In addition to being a master mixologist, Kishi-san is an expert ice carver. Check out the ice cube in the glass - a perfect fit.
The man himself - Kishi Hisashi

After drinks, we took a stroll through Ginza –

This city out-Christmases Vancouver by miles.

 I woke up the next day feeling refreshed and ready to hit the streets.  Ivon, marginally less so given he was still smarting from the previous day’s massage.  Apparently, that seventy year old masseuse may have looked weak, but she worked him over like stubborn pizza dough.

Hey, speaking of pizza, we finally checked out that pizzeria Akemi has been raving about since arriving in Vancouver.  Apparently, Vancouver pizza is crap and doesn’t hold a candle to Pizza Salvatore Cuomo.  So, we went there for lunch and you know what?  Akemi’s right.  Vancouver pizza doesn’t even come close.  The pizza is fresh, tasty, perfectly cooked, and inexpensive.

Ivon's Capriccsiosa with mushrooms, tomato, prosciutto, and mozarella.
My Porcini and Rucola

 

Uni Spaghettini - the sea urchin was sweet and creamy, the pasta cooked al dente.

From there, it was off to Akihabara (Electric Town).  It was a full sensory overload of garish signage, flashing neon, people shouting, car exhaust, and the smell of the nearby river. 

One of the huge electronic stores with some eight floors packed full of everything from cellphones to t.v.'s. Sadly, I couldn't find the robot section. What self-respecting Japanese electronics store doesn't have a robot section?
Akemi's favorite doughunut shop: NY's famed Dougnut Plant. We had three - the chocolate blackout, the salty caramel, and the green tea - all good but not great.
Chocolate Blackout!
Buy!Buy!Buy! Consumerism at its gaudiest and I refuse to be a part of it.
Except to buy an awesome Vash the Stampede/Trigun t-shirt and this NERV iPhone case.

Akihabara is teeming with maids.
And interesting fashion. Moments later, two middle-aged dudes strolled by, hand in hand, dressed as schoolgirls. Sorry I didn't have my camera out for that one. Actually, in retrospect, not so sorry. Shudder.
What adorable toys!

We stopped by one of those noisy pachinko parlors where Ivon tried his hand at the game.  But first, he had to learn the easy to follow rules…

 With the rules clear in his hand, Ivon threw his money away put his money in the machine and away he went…

As far as I can tell you feed those little silver ball bearings through the machine while intermittently hitting that rotating thing on the right.  Some balls will slip through to the next level but most won’t.  You take those remaining surviving balls and feed them through again, repeating the process until you’re out of ball bearings.  Then you go home.

We headed back to the hotel for some much-needed R&R and psyched ourselves up for a sushi feast at Sawada.

Finally, the Jelly update: She’s doing well, taking little steps, but still needs to be supported.  She’s very quiet in her cage, enjoys snuggling with her stuffies, but always perks up whenever someone visits. The staff have fallen in love with her.