One of the things I’m reminded about Tokyo every time I catch the shuttle bus from Narita airport into the city are the highways and how truly high they are. So high, in fact, that one will occasionally find oneself eye-level with the top floor of some extremely tall buildings. Not a great ride for someone who suffers from acrophobia. “Imagine if there was an earthquake?”says Akemi. I need no prompting for I have, in fact, already imagined – the roadway shaking, buckling, and collapsing beneath us…the long plunge down to the ground – long enough for me to scream my lungs out, take a nice deep breath, and loosen one more lustful cry before we land.
Fortunately, no earthquakes on this trip. Close though. It’s kind of ironic that we left rainy Vancouver for earthquake-prone Japan yesterday, only to touch down to a rainy Tokyo and hear word that we missed an earthquake back home in Vancouver. Well, according to reports (my dog-sitter, Christine) it really wasn’t felt much in the lower mainland.
Our flight left on time, we actually got in early, while immigration and baggage pick-up was a breeze. I actually thought we’d make excellent time – until we discovered a 40 minute wait for the shuttle bus to the hotel. Fortunately, our driver was a bit of a (much-appreciated) maniac and we got in at about 7:45 p.m local time 3:45 a.m. west coast time. And, of course, you know what that meant…dinner time!
We met up with John and Nancy, two of our Toronto friends, who happened to be in town for a conference. They’re leaving today but were kind enough to come down to the hotel and join us for a late-night meal.
We went to the hotel restaurant, Applause, and ordered – oh, two of everything on the menu. Highlights included the aforementioned bonjiri (grilled chicken butts – what my father used to refer to as “The Pope’s nose”) and –
We unpacked, showered, and I was in bed by 11:oo p.m. Then up again at 1:30 a.m. to make line-up changes for my fantasy football team (The Snow Monkeys), then back to sleep again, then up again at 4:30 a.m. where I followed the late game action (Don’t judge me. It was 12:30 p.m. Vancouver time.). Doug Martin got us off to a fantastic start on Thursday night and my Snow Monkeys have ridden that momentum to a week 8 win, evening our record to 4-4 and the #4 rank in our 14 team league.
Akemi and I took an early morning stroll through Ginza, making a point to check out the amazing conveniences stores with their wide and wild array of offerings:
Today, I was approached by a homeless man who offered me a handful of cash AND his false teeth! Who says the Japanese aren’t friendly?
For lunch, today, we went to Akatsukian on the 12th floor of the Mitsukoshi building. There we enjoyed an excellent lunch set highlighted by some silky soba noodles in a rich and immensely flavorful duck broth.
We then headed downstairs to the Mitsukoshi basement for a dessert run. Akemi limited me to a mere five choices. We picked them up, then headed back to the hotel for an early afternoon wind-down. My favorites:
It was tough to limit myself, but I’m trying to pace myself. Even at 5 different desserts a day from now until my departure, I won’t get anywhere near sampling a wide enough cross-section of the available dessert.
On my second day in Tokyo, I came across a poster for Berserk (Golden Age Arc I: Egg of the Supreme Ruler), the first part of a three-part film trilogy based on one of my all-time favorite anime series (which was, in turn, based on a wildly popular manga series). The movie’s opening happened to coincide with this Tokyo trip so I took it as a sign that I HAD to go see it – while, hopefully, picking up some Japanese during the viewing since it was unlikely the movie had subtitles (and I was right). I mentioned this to my friend Moro-san who kindly researched and forwarded me information on where Berserk would be screening, the times, and even the closest subway station and exit.
The plan was to head to Shibuya in the afternoon and catch a matinee while Akemi was at her nail salon appointment. I figured the instructions I’d received from Moro-san were more than sufficient. Akemi thought differently, however, and was actually concerned for me, possibly assuming I would wander out of the Shibuya station never to be seen again. Despite assurances that I would be fine (Hey, this isn’t my first Japanese rodeo!) she insisted on writing out a note in Japanese that I was to present at the closest police box should I lose my way – I assume something along the lines of: “My name is Joseph Mallozzi and I am lost. Please take pity on me and help me get back to the Imperial Hotel”.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to use it because, as it turned out, the movie was playing just blocks away from where we were going for lunch in Shinjuku. Akemi was greatly relieved but still insisted on walking me to the movie theater when the time came. She also held my hand when we crossed the street. I had always assumed this was simply her being affectionate.
Anyway, after Akemi enjoyed her massive strawberry for breakfast –
– and I enjoyed a papaya (that, incidentally, cost three times as much as the most expensive papaya in Vancouver but, in my estimation, wasn’t three times as good) and the leftover Hattendo cream buns, we headed out to Shinjuku for lunch at the popular Nakajima.
By the time we arrived for our noon reservation, there was already a line-up outside. According to Akemi, the restaurant is quite famous for both its food and its head chef who she likened to a Japanese Gordon Ramsay. Alas, there were no verbal fireworks during our lunch (“Look at these scallops! They’re fucking COOOOKED!”). But we did enjoy another delicious – and beautifully presented – multi-course meal:
Service was outstanding. Highly recommended – but if you’re going to go, be sure to make reservations!
After lunch, Akemi insisted on walking me to the movie theater. Since it was raining, we cut through the underground –
And so, Akemi walked me the two blocks to the movie theater and, I’m happy to report, I arrived safe and sound.
We went inside. Akemi bought me a ticket from the automated kiosk (in Japan, you can actually choose your seat in advance!), then headed up to the ninth floor cinema to scout the area with me. Since it was an hour to show time, I suggested we head back the two blocks to the Isetan and do some shopping. She seemed uncertain but I assured her that I now knew where to go. Everything would be fine. So we went to the Isetan, shopped in the basement, then parted company – after which I promptly got lost. Fortunately, I found my way back to the theater in time for the 3:10 showing.
The movie was great – epic in scope, beautifully animated, with some gorgeous visuals (especially that huge opening battle) and plenty of bloody action. And I hardly understood a word of what was said. But enjoyed myself nevertheless. It is a prequel that will ultimately cover the manga’s second arc (volume’s 3 to 13). A treat for fans of the anime series, but if I had one criticism, it was that I missed the anime’s stirring opening theme.
For our final dinner in Tokyo, we decided to do sushi and so, headed to Taku in Nishi-Azabu where we enjoyed another spectacular sushi extravaganza. Some of the highlights included –
Awesome knife skills…
And the master of ceremonies, the man behind the night’s sushi creations –
It being our final night and all, I only thought it appropriate that we say goodbye to our friends at Star Bar. Akemi and I met up with Moro-san, had a few drinks, then I dropped off some gifts for my friends. Although Akemi and Master Hisashi Kishi had never met, they recognized each other from the blog!
We called it an early night so that we could finish our packing and thereby look forward to a final free half-day. Akemi was bummed that she had lost her two-drink buzz: “Sake magic gone. Not so much funny anymore.”
We catch the 3:30 p.m. shuttle to Narita for our 19:10 flight, so we have time for a nice, leisurely lunch – and then a stroll through the basement of Mitsukoshi where I intend to stock up on goodies for the flight home.
See you all on the other side and thanks for joining me on this trip!
Akemi’s friend, Harumi writes: “I’m glad that I met you. I just wanted to thank you for a great time and nice food.”
Answer: Do itashimashite! It was great meeting you too. See you again in Vancouver (maybe?) or back in Tokyo this September (maybe?).
Birdy writes: “Maybe there is something interesting you haven’t heard of, which you like to catch that even has an anime adaption:Übel Blatt Vinland Saga D Gray man Bakuman Pluto <- awesome scifi and it’s a finished story Dead Man Wonderland”
Answer: Thanks for the tips, Birdy. Once I’m back in Vancouver, I’m planning to re-immerse myself in anime big time. Tops on my list: High School of the Dead, Steins Gate, Another, Bunny Drop, We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day, Mawaru Penduindrum, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Dead Man Wonderland. I’m thinking of subscribing to Crunchyroll. Thoughts?
Julie writes: “Have you been to an onset?”
Answer: Not yet. I’d like to take a train trip from Hokkaido to Osaka next year and maybe hit a couple of onsens along the way.
Lewis writes: “There was something I wanted to ask you… while in Tokyo have you seen any interesting commercialization for obscure products by Hollywood actors (ie- like Bill Murray’s “Lost In Translation” character)?”
Answer: Yes. Tommy Lee Jones really pushing Boss Coffee –
Blake Linton writes: “On this day when so many television commercials are unveiled, it seems appropriate to fill you in on my own ongoing campaign of “commercials” aimed at convincing Netflix to revive Stargate Universe.”
Answer: Hey, Blake – thanks for fighting the good fight!
Hey, I hear what you’re all saying. There’s a big difference between visiting a place for two weeks out of the year and actually living there, however I am a creature of habit. I adjusted quite quickly to Vancouver after the move from Montreal and then adjusted to life alone with the dogs. When Akemi came to visit – and ended up sticking around – I adjusted, and I was even able to adjust to life in Toronto last year. In fact, by about the middle of August, I was, admittedly, enjoying myself (Miss you, Buca!). So I imagine that if I moved to Tokyo, I would adjust in time. Sure, there would be things I’d miss (ie. friends, English, clothing my size) but I’m sure I would readjust. On the surface, money would seem to be the biggest hurdle but I’ve given it some thought and, even in the event that I don’t work for quite some time, after selling the house in Van I could get an apartment here and live quite comfortably for a good long while. Nope, the biggest issue is still the dogs – not only getting them here but finding a Tokyo dog-sitter in the event I ever want to take a vacation.
Anyway, at this point this is all just fantasy given that I have some plans for a few projects this coming year. First and foremost is my comic book series, Dark Matter, that launched last month and that, if all goes as planned, will make the transition from the comic book page to the small (depending on the size of your t.v.) screen. The second issue hits the shelves this Wednesday (February 8th!) so be sure to pick it up and be the first to know what the pilot episode will be about (including the shocking last minute reveal).
I’ve also good a horror script to finish up (hopefully by month’s end) and that historical mini-series I should get back to researching (and, eventually, pitching).
But all that’s for Vancouver. Here in Tokyo, I fast approach the end of my vacation. I’m thinking that, depending on my schedule, I may come back in September. My new buddy, Koji, gave me a link to a place that rents furnished apartments. I perused the site and realized that renting a place for a month would actually be less expensive than staying at a hotel for two weeks. What better way to get a feel for life as a native than by having to make your own dinner reservations?
Today, I did something I’ve never done in Japan: eaten at a Chinese restaurant. Akemi felt like Chinese food (specifically, mango pudding) and booked us lunch at the famed Fook Lam Moon. I’ve been to the one in Hong Kong and, gotta say, the one here in Tokyo is better. We ordered a set lunch and were stuffed well before the arrival of the sticky rice purse. We started with some of the best barbecued pork chau siu I’ve ever had, then followed with Peking Duck, four kinds of dim sum, a scallop and noodle dish, some curry rice with almonds and raisins and, for dessert, that mango cake for her and some peanut and sesame balls for me.
After lunch, we split up and went our separate ways – she to Shinjuku, me to Ueno and a return visit to Akihabara.
I went to Ueno Park because the Tokyo guide books say it’s always packed with all manner of weird-looking individuals on Sunday afternoons. Sadly, on this day, it was unremarkable – not a weirdling in sight (present company excluded).
I wandered the busy side streets. Check out this guy shilling his wares –
Eventually, I was done with Ueno and hopped on the subway. Two stops later, I was back in Akihabara.
Anyway, I walked around and blended in with the geeks, becoming one of THEM for the two hours I was there. At one point, I think a couple of them got suspicious of me so I purchased some otaku goods to throw them off:
So I head back to Akihabara station and I’m walking along when I happen to notice a little dessert shop called Hattendo selling the most delicious looking cream buns. I had at least a three hour window either way between lunch and dinner so I decided to sample one.
For dinner, we once again met up with Akemi’s friends – minus the intriguingly enigmatic Ayaka who had to work…
We went to a called Satouyousuke that specialized in Akita (“casual countryside” was Akemi’s definition) cuisine. I had a few beers with Nanako (doing the gentlemanly thing since she didn’t want to drink alone) and sampled a wide range of interesting items – some of which I still can’t identify. At one point, Nanoka was perusing the menu and came upon one of her favorites: the chicken sashimi! Akemi was horrified and vowed not to eat it for fear it would make her sick, then encouraged me to try some for a long overdue weird food purchase of the week video instalment…
With most everything else shut down, we ended up settling for not-so-good desserts (stale pie and crystallized ice creams) at a cafe called Aux Bacchanales. It was inching toward 11:00 p.m. and we were about to call it a night when a guy walks in (not Japanese – he looked mixed), holds out his hand for me to shake it, and asks (in English): “Do you remember me?”. I stare back at him blankly, trying to place the face as the rest of the table falls silent. “Do you remember?”he asks again. “No,”I finally tell him. And, with that, he turns and leaves the cafe. “Maybe you did know him,”Akemi suggested, pointing out I’m terrible with names and face. True, I conceded, but given my response, I would think that any normal person would have followed up with an explanation of who they were and how they knew me rather than simply turning and leaving. Akemi realized I was right and then was suddenly freaked out because the mystery man had let the cafe and taken a left turn – toward our hotel! I assured her it was an honest – albeit weird – mistake.
Anyway, we returned to hotel safe and sound and turned in much too late for our planned early morning Tsukiji sushi breakfast.
Received a text from Robert Cooper informing me that I’m missing a Superbowl Chilli Cook-Off. Damn!
Woke up to some very good news. From the government no less! Akemi’s application for permanent residency has been approved, meaning she won’t have to leave Canada when her visitor’s visa expires (on her birthday!) this April. According to the letter I received, the paperwork has been sent to Tokyo for processing – whatever that means. I think we’ll celebrate today by going out for a very nice meal!
Speaking of which – yesterday, we went out for two very nice meals with a whole bunch of Akemi’s friends.
For lunch, we headed over to Le Chat Souriant, what Akemi described as “casual French”.
As it turned out, the first floor IS casual french (bright, open, bistro-style) while the upstairs, where we ate dinner, was actually formal style (the servers in tuxes were a dead giveaway). We were joined by Akemi’s friends Maki and Masa and enjoyed a terrific multi-course meal. They all went for the lighter selection while I opted for the, er, heartier choice…
A magnificent meal. We all left, extremely satisfied.
While we didn’t try the main floor menu, the fact that both kitchens are presided over by the same chef (Chef de Cuisine Koji Watanabe) gives me confidence that, while the dining experience may be more relaxed, the food would be just as wonderful. Highly recommended.
We decided to walk off lunch by hopping on the metro and heading over to Omotesando for a stroll through Harajuku and a visit to Kiddyland.
Alas, I didn’t pick up anything at Kiddyland (although I was tempted by a pair of Neon Genesis Evangelion Shinji chopsticks).
We headed back to the hotel for some R&R, then out again, this time for dinner at Jojoen for top-rated yakiniku with a bunch of Akemi’s friends. It was me and five women. Sadly, it would have been six women but Megumi had to bow out at the last minute…
They left the ordering to me. I tried to strike a balance between familiar fare and daring selections…
We drank sake. I grilled meats. They chatted away in Japanese. Then, following dessert (ice cream), we headed over to Laduree for more desserts (pastries and macarons) and more Japanese conversation. Akemi offered the occasional translation and her friends would sometimes stop and direct a comment or question my way – iiiinnnn slooooow preeeciiise Jaaaapaaaaneeese. Surprisingly, I was able to keep up for the most part and, when I wasn’t keeping up, I was certainly entertained. I mean, come on. I was out with five beautiful women!
The previous day, my friend Moro-san gifted me a box of Laderach Swiss chocolates. Then, last night, Ayaka-san gifted me a box of Debailleul darks! I am spoiled!
Today, we’re doing dim sum at Fook Lam Moon (I visited the one in Hong Kong many years ago) and dinner at Satoyousuke for Akita-style (countryside) cuisine with Akemi’s friends. In between, I think I’ll make the trip to Ueno and check out the strange sights.
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…
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.
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.
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 –
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…
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…
Seriously. If not for stupid gaijin, these warning signs would be wholly unnecessary.
By the time we got to Roppongi, it was already dark.
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.
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 –
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:
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?
We started the day by checking out the surroundings – and it don’t get any closer than the Imperial Hotel itself. We strolled through the shops on the basement level where we happened across a place called Shokendo, a shop that sells and displays antique Japanese swords. Mrs. Aota struck up a conversation with the sales associate and, before I knew it, we were getting a fascinating history lesson on the evolution of the Japanese sword. It was like taking an informative museum tour without ever leaving your hotel. I asked our affable host if it was okay to take a picture of the samurai armor on display. Well, not only was it okay, but he insisted I actually get in the picture…samurai-style!
Anyway, if you’d like to order your own Japanese sword (they deliver!), check out their website here: company:sokendo
For lunch, I paid a return visit to one of my favorite restaurants from my last trip: Nodaiwa, a 160 year old establishment known for its eel. For the record, I don’t think it was always located at the bottom of an office building.
So many times you make a return visit to a place you loved and it never lives up to the memories. Well, my lunch at Nodaiwa was just as wonderful as the first time I went. I suppose it helped to go in the company of two first-time diners (Akemi and her mother) who were expecting it to be good, but still had the meal surpass those already lofty expectations.
All three of us went with the set menu as it allowed us to sample a variety of preparations accompanied with soup, pickles, rice, and various toppings (I’m a huge fan of the sansho (Japanese pepper) and slivered yuzu peel). I also ordered a couple of appetizers to start…
After lunch, we strolled the streets of Ginza –
I stopped at the ever-busy Manneken for what I call a “wafflu” but Akemi insists is pronounced “waffle”. Of course, she also claims that Sta-buckoo is actually pronounced “Starbucks”.
Then, it was off to Shinjuku were Akemi and her mother stocked up on kitchen essentials at the local Isetan and Takashimaya: nori, spices, miso, and assorted other items I didn’t recognize. I lasted an incredible two hours before running out of steam and heading back to the hotel. Akemi and her mother were worried about me taking the metro alone (seriously). I assured them I’d be okay, asking them to point me in the right direction and then confirming I should remove my shoes before boarding the car.
On the way up to my hotel room, I stopped by the Gargantua shop in the lobby and picked up a little snack.
A wind-down, some photo uploading, and I was ready for dinner. It was a return to another old Ginza favorite – Faro, on the tenth floor of the Shiseido Building…
For dessert, we chose from the dozen selections on the rolling dessert cart. I went with the chocolate-orange mousse cake. And the house Mont Blanc. Uh, and the Savarin (that was far superior to the one I’d eaten two hours earlier). And, once we were done with dessert, we were served…dessert.
So, last night, more weird dreams. I think it has less to do with the fact that I have more strange dreams while I’m here than it does with the fact that this bed in the Imperial Hotel is so uncomfortable, I keep waking up in the middle of the night – and remembering them. For instance, last night I dreamt I was in a plane that went down over a busy expressway. I could see the cars getting closer and closer and I was thinking “Okay, he’s going to pull up. He’s going to pull up. Okay. He’ll pull up. No. He’s not going to pull up…” And then, waking up with a start. So dream experts, need any reference material to figure that one out?
The second issue of my comic book series, Dark Matter, hits the shelves soon (February 8th last I heard). If you haven’t picked up the first issue yet, I strongly urge you to do so as reports have it selling out. This, of course, means it is a sought-after collectible no doubt destined to be worth A LOT some day. Squirrel away a few copies under your mattress now and the lie back on your nest egg and prepare to enjoy your early retirement later!
One of the main reasons we’re here in Japan is so that Akemi can visit with her mother who has made the trip over from Osaka. Yesterday, they had a girl’s night out. Today, all three of us hit Tokyo. We had a big day ahead of us so we wasted no time gathering down in the lobby (after I’d finished updating my blog of course) and headed out to brave the blustery late January weather. For a single block anyway after which we ducked into the entrance to the Hibiya subway station and made the underground walk over to the Peninsula Hotel where Akemi and her mother intended to pick up some treats. Unfortunately, the shops wouldn’t be open for another hour, so we had to settle for what may have been…
I’ve been toying with the idea of making the move to Tokyo. Of course, there are things to consider (ie. getting the dogs over and what the hell I’ll actually be doing here beside browsing that big anime complex in Akihabara) before I pull the trigger. First and foremost however – I’ll have to decide where I want to live. I’ve narrowed it down to Roppongi or Aoyama, but am leaning toward the latter because the former, while a beautiful neighborhood, is full of henna gaijin (translation: weird foreigners. “Like you,”Akemi helpfully reminded me.). Well, it just so happens that we were in Roppongi today, strolling the streets of my potential future hood.
I’ve been meaning to check out local chocolate shop Le Chocolate De H for a while now, always missing out on my previous visits. Well, not this time. We were there when the doors open, snapped up some outstanding yuzu macarons and a chocolate assortment. Akemi was especially satisfied as she has been trying to track this place down since our arrival.
For lunch, we headed over to Roppongi Hills for lunch at L’Atelier de Robuchon. Akemi was a little leery after our last Robuchon experience – a stupendous feast comprised of 16 courses at the Joel Robuchon in Vegas (where we were joined by Golden Boy Martin Gero). Yes, it was a lot and it’s understandable that Akemi felt stuffed – especially when you consider that, upon our return to our hotel room at the Venetian, she also polished off the entire top of the complimentary pistachio cake we were gifted after our meal.
Anyway, I’m pleased to report that – for Akemi’s sake – our lunch was comparatively modest…yet just as wonderful. And the restaurant itself…absolutely gorgeous.
We were seated at the long counter that runs the length of the room…
The lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is a terrific deal. Head on over and try one of the set menus.
We skipped the dessert at Robuchon so we could head on over to the famed Toshi Yoroizuka instead. In retrospect, I should have gone with Robuchon.
For some reason, they were only offering a scaled-down version of the dessert menu. The varied cakes, normally on display, were not to be seen. And so, we ordered from the menu.
Not bad. Good. But all I could think of was heading over to Jean-Paul Hevin and sampling about a half-dozen of their chocolate desserts.
Which, by the way, I fully intend to do before week’s end.
Then, we were off for a little more strolling in another neighborhood…
We stopped by the Isetan (sight of the Salon de Chocolat) where I picked up a couple of treats from the Sebastien Bouillet boutique: pistachio and cotton candy macarons for me, and a chocolate lipstick for Akemi. Yes, you heard correctly.
We returned to the hotel for some R&R, then headed over to the big seven-floor toy store in Ginza where I tried, in vain, to locate a new Evangelion phone cover for my new 4S, and some anime t-shirts. Maybe I’ll have better success at Kiddyland.
We took the metro over to Kagurazaka and, for the third time in as many years, I enjoyed a memorable kaiseki dinner at Ishikawa…
We had a private room.
Our nine course meal was designed to show off Japanese seasonal offerings, from fish and veggies to fresh fruit and herbs….
We enjoyed two bottles of sake with our meal and Akemi was absolutely toasted by her second glass. The service was top-notch – professional and pleasant. No sooner did we finish one course than the door to our private room would slide open and our server would sweep in and clear away the dishes. In less than a minute, she would return with our next course. It was a nicely paced meal that covered a quick two and a half hours.
We returned to our hotel room where I uploaded by blog pictures and watched a tipsy Akemi struggle to dry her hair after her shower.
I received a call this morning informing me that Maximus’s ashes were ready to be picked up. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and merely having him come up in conversation is enough to start me tearing up (as was the case at dinner last night when I had to use the “I’ve got something in my eyes – both of them” dodge). While I appreciate everyone’s support concerning my decision, I’ll always have my doubts about certain things.
Last night, I dreamt that I was grocery shopping with my late father who bought me an enormous bag of ripe persimmons. Okay all you dream analysts, what does it mean?
So I realized that my approach to planning this Tokyo trip was all wrong. Instead of building an itinerary based on what I want to do, I should be basing it on what would provide you, dear blog readers, with the most entertainment value. With this in mind, I’ve decided to divvy up my meals accordingly: Dinners – I’ll be checking out the high-end restaurants like Joel Robuchon and Morimoto XEX. Lunches – I’ll be hitting some of Tokyo’s most outlandish theme restaurants like The Vampire Café and that place where the waitresses dress up as maids. This should offer up a wonderfully varied, potentially awkward, yet no doubt memorable assortment of dining experiences.
The casual lunches probably won’t require reservations but the fancy dinners certainly will. Unfortunately, my attempts to book some tables online proved a little trickier than expected given that none of the websites are in English – and the few that are in English require phone reservations. My Japanese is passable (I possess the verbal skills of a very polite four year old Japanese boy), but I’m not sure it would pass the infamous “Maitre d‘ Test“. At a bit of a loss, I emailed The Peninsula Hotel (which will be my home away from home while I‘m in Tokyo) about my situation and received a responsible from an amiable fellow named Yian, the hotel concierge, who offered to make the arrangements for me. What a swell guy! I sent him a list of my top ten picks (actually more like thirteen just in case he’s unable to get me in at certain places since some of the city’s top restaurants book up three months in advance) and gave him the heads up that I would be traveling alone and as such, might be eating alone on more than one occasion (although I’m fairly confident that I will hit it off with the Harajuku Goth gang and thus never wont for a dining companion). Is it okay to eat alone in Japan? I’m sure that many a Japanese salaryman will saddle up to a yakitori counter and dine solo, but how often does this happen in Tokyo’s higher-end restaurants? I would prefer to know what is and is not acceptable lest I commit an egregious social faux pas. You would think that you could let common sense guide you but, in truth, you can’t leave anything to chance in a foreign country. For example, noisily slurping your noodles is perfectly acceptable in Tokyo but taking off your shirt in a karaoke bar in order to do the best possible Steven Tyler impersonation is not. I mean, seriously! What gives?!
But I get ahead of myself. Before hitting Tokyo in late November, I’ll be heading down to L.A. for three days next week. We have seven meetings lined up. Now I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to any of you when I say that I’m better on paper, but I am nevertheless confident that by the end of that seventh meeting, we’ll be fairly close to having our horror pitch down pat. I’m ready. The only thing I need now is a title. So far, these are what I’ve come up with:
Citizen Cane, Bludgeon, and Stab
Mr. Smith Goes to a Creepy Slovakian Hostel
On the Slaughter Front
It’s A Wonderful Knife
All About Cleave
West Side Gory
Birth of a Nation of Brain-Eating Zombies
Dances with Werewolves
The Dear Hunter
Bringing Up Baby…After You’ve Eaten It!
Guess Who’s Having Us For Dinner?
Damn, this is going to be tough. They’re all great!