There are a grand total of three possible sleeping positions on an airplane seat and I exhausted all three today.
I quite like the timing of the flights both to and from Tokyo. On the way there, the flight departs in the mid-afternoon, giving you plenty of time to sleep in and do your last minute checks and cross-checks before jetting off. By the time you get in, you’re thoroughly exhausted so that, once you’ve touched down, completed the 90 minute ride from Narita airport, checked in, and had a late meal, you’ll be read for bed – at about 9:30 – 10:00 p.m. local time – which is about 4:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. If you keep to this schedule, you’ll be waking up at 6:00 in the morning every day, ready for a sushi breakfast at Tsukiji Market, followed by a nice full day and early night.
The return flight is not quite as great. It leaves at about 7:00 p.m. local time and, after about nine hours of flying, gets in to Vancouver at approximately 11:00 a.m. The game plan is to sleep through the flight as much as possible and then stay up as late as possible on the longest day back to force your body back into a sleep rhythm. Taking a couple of melatonin pills before bedtime helps but, all the same, you’re going to come up against certain nights (actually early mornings) where you’ll find yourself, wide awake, at 4:00 a.m., wrestling with a powerful craving for sushi.
Speaking of which – for our last meal in Japan, I thought it would only be appropriate to go out for sushi. We ended up at Dai San Harumi, a tiny, friendly little place in Shinbashi. Some of the highlights –
Welcome to Dai San Harumi
The bonito (tuna) is seared over an open flame so that its exterior attains a certain smokiness while its interior maintains that mouth-melting high-grade tuna texture.
According to our chef, the restaurant only sources the best of these very best fresh, organic Japanese tiger prawn – about 1% of each catch.
Saba (chub mackerel), lightly cured with salt and vinegar.
Plump anago (conger eel).
And, for dessert, the tamago.
Thanks for coming!
An excellent final meal that made me kind of sad as a reminder of exactly what I’d be missing.
After lunch, we stopped by Akemi’s old workplace, the Pierre Marcolini Cafe, so that she could say goodbye to her old friends and co-workers – oh, and grab a dessert while we were there.
A role reversal for Akemi who finds herself being waited on instead of the other way around.
I had a marron (chestnut) parfait while Akemi had this terrific new addition to the menu –
It’s described as a dark chocolate drink. It’s cold, bittersweet, and so thick and rich you have to eat it with a spoon.
Afterwards, we made one final trip to the Mitsukoshi department store and picked up some Christmas gifts, then walked back along one of Ginza’s main streets that is always closed to traffic on weekends. On the way, we were stopped by a camera crew and asked to identify a couple of mysterious dollar store items. We failed miserably as both of my guesses, cucumber zester and dog hammock proved incorrect.
It seems like there’s a camera crew parked every ten feet down Ginza dori. Last time I was in town with Ivon, we were stopped and interviewed about the grand Japanese tradition of the Christmas sock.
The return trip was uneventful. And this is what greeted us upon our return:
It’s funny but, by the end of our time in Tokyo, Akemi told me that she was actually happy to be leaving and returning to Vancouver. Surprisingly, there was little wistfulness at our departure, just happy memories of our trip, the hope to return for an equally short visit some time next year, and an overwhelming desire to see Bubba again.
Okay, I’ve got a lot of ground to cover so let’s get right into it. First off, the mystery of Ginza line-ups solved. Every year I come down to Ginza, I see these enormous line-ups.
I assumed they were people waiting for show tickets - theater, as most of the liner-uppers tended to be older - but it turns out I assumed incorrectly. According to my friend Keiko, they're all lining up to buy lottery tickets. A draw is held every year with the grand prize in the tens of millions of dollars. And, apparently, they're all lining up outside their particular Ginza kiosk because it is purported to be lucky given that many of the previous winners purchased their winning tickets here.Hmmmm. Something to think about to help defray the cost of this trip.I met up with Keiko outside Pierre Marcolini, and then we strolled down to Shinbashi for our lunch at Dai San Harumi.They open at 11:30 p.m. We wer early and went for a walk. Not all that much to see in the area.
It's a small but comfortable place. We were warmly greeted and took our seats at the bar.
We settled in at which point Chef Kazuo Nagayama made his grand entrance. I’ll tip the review by telling you that while the sushi was fantastic, Chef Nagayama was even more fantastic, smiling and chatting away despite my toddler-level Japanese.
After asking us how hungry we were (I answered “Hungry”) he proceeded to feed us. Some of the highlights included…
Ika. Squid. Surprisingly tender. The best I've ever had.
Alas, I'm not sure what the fish is, but it was topped with a dab of liver paste. Out of this world.
If I could eat only one thing in Tokyo, it wouldn't be the Kobe beef. It would be the tuna.
The master at work.
Gloriously marbled, melt-in-your mouth.
Incredibly flavorful aji.
Another exceptional tuna creation.
Chef Nagayama is not only an artist in the kitchen.
The restaurant is decorated with his beautiful creations.
The prawn head and shells were flash-fried and served. They possessed a chip-like consistency and proved very tasty.
Throughout our lunch, Chef Nagayama chatted away with us, demonstrating a delightfully dry wit.
The tamago was exceptional.
Sweet, creamy uni.
In addition to being a master sushi chef and artist, Chef Nagayama is also an author with several books under his belt. We ended up discussing the challenges of the writing field.
The quality of the sushi and the execution of the various nigiri would be enough to make me want to come back, but Dai San Harumi’s affable host assures that return visit. For those of you visiting Tokyo for the first time who may be a little nervous about venturing out to your first sushi meal, do yourself a HUGE favor and visit this place.
From there, we grabbed the subway (monorail) to Tokyo Big Sight where, I’d heard, a robot exhibition was taking place. Well, it was either the robot exhibition or the nail expo. I wasn’t quite sure of the dates.
I tried to use my newly-purchased subway pass but it was rejected so I had to go to the special ticket booth to find out what was up. Apparently, according to the system, I'd taken the subway at Roppogni the other day and never left the station. It would seem that I swiped my card going in, but failed to swipe it leaving. Seriously. Why the need to let them know you've left? Had I not turned up to use my card after two days, would they have organized a search party?
The big saw outside Tokyo Big Sight. Yeah, I don't know either.
Keiko noted that approximately 99% of the attendess were male.
We registered and headed in. At the entrance were signs informing attendees they were not permitted to take photos or film. I put away my camera and, as I started walking around, noticed EVERYONE was snapping photos and filming. Well, who was I to deny my loyal readers…
These yellow jackets were a highlight for me.
I think I’d call this one “chotto creepy”.
Next up, some of the industrial robots on display…
I love this next guy. I think he would fit right in with the rest of us in the writers’ room…
This guy was part of some sort of assembly line set up.
Alas, I would've loved to see someone take this baby on a test run.
Clearly they've yet to design this guy a robot girlfriend. But he's hopeful!
This guy (above) was looking for takers. Sadly, no one stepped up. From what I hear, he’s got a killer backswing.
Now this guy (above) is my type of robot!
Hey, you know what I hate? Turning the pages in a book. After a while, it just gets so damn tiring. I wish they’d invent something that could help alleviate the condition known as “reader’s fingers”…
This next guy looks like he’s in desperate need of a robot toilet…
The dancing dogs! Love how the guy on the very left eventually gets fed up, decides “Screw this!” and just gives up. Boy, the blue dog really gets into it!
Respect the law!
From the robot exhibition, it was over to Laduree for some sweets. In this case, the numbers were reversed. Although the place was packed, I was one of the few males in the place. I was told that in Japan, women prefer desserts the macarons and pastries while guys prefer chocolate. I guess I’m getting in touch with my feminine side.
A little R&R and, finally, we were off to dinner. On tap tonight…Les Creations de Narisawa…
Beautiful from the outside and just as gorgeous on the inside as well...
From the reception area we are escorted through an enormous sliding door to the dining room beyond. It struck me as very James Bond – sleek glass, metal, and dark wood, the all-male wait staff decked out in dark suits and sporting ear buds they used to communicate with the kitchen. A large window allows diners a peek at the goings-on inside the cooking area.
Similar to Aronia de Takazawa, the setting sets the tone and hints at a very special night of surprises…
We received what appeared to be a soil-filled flower pot to go with our homemade bread. As it turned out, the earth was actually black olives, a layer of which concealed the butter buried beneath.
Holy-smokes-this-is-good home made mozarella with fawn tartar.
The next dish incorporated a little liquid nitrogen theatrics, providing the “ash” effect for a dish called Wind of Basque…
Eiko, my dining companion, loved the squid so much that she couldn’t stop talking about it.
The kitchen team at work.
Organic vegetables and gnocchi with shaved truffle. I've never had veggies so tasty.
One of the sweetest-tasting langoustines I've ever enjoyed.
Similar to the cooking process used for the "apple pie" at Aronia de Takazawa, here the bag (specially designed to withstand high temperatures) is used to cook a dish of fish and mushrooms - incredibly clean and simple flavors. Lovely.
Preeeeesenting, the next dish…
Eel, foie gras, fig, and Spanish pepper, with flavors subtly redolent of the smoked-out presentation.
Qu'est-ce que c'est?
Ozaki Beef with mushrooms. The beef is slow cooked at a surprisingly low temperature and constantly basted with olive oil. The result = an incredibly tender piece of meat.
Served with a sake granita.
The above, a deceptively simple-looking dish, contained a gel-like globule encapsulating an intense burst of liquid pear.
Sinful dark chocolate dessert, caramelized bananas, sugar cane, rum, and ice cream.
Which was followed by the dessert tray.
Keiko and I hanging with the kitchen crew. Later that night, we would rumble with the Jets.