July 23, 2016: Tokyo in 2016? Maaaaaybe!

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To quote Dark Matter’s SIX (Episode 103): “Fresh starts for all of us, right?”

Right!  With the real estate market blazing here in Vancouver, Akemi has been not so subtly suggesting it might be time to cash out.  And she does have a point.  As much as I love my house, I’ve calculated that we only use about 30% of the living place.  The remaining 70% is very attractive storage.  It never bothered me before but, strange as it sounds, he house feels A LOT emptier now that Jelly is gone.  The prospect of moving has grown increasingly attractive, especially over the last few days.

So, if I was to move, what would be my options?  Another place in Vancouver? What would be the point?  Toronto?  Too cold.  L.A.?  Too cool.  Tokyo? Maaaaaybe.  An extended stay in Tokyo would finally afford me the opportunity to perfect my Japanese (and, by perfect, I mean learn) and pursue some other interests – chiefly, a couple of Japanese food-themed shows I’ve been batting around.  I’ve gone so far as to do the math (I’d be comfortable for the next 25 years before having to find work), check out condos – AND, most importantly, check out the country’s laws on pet travel (following a 24 hour quarantine period, the kids would be free and clear!).  Daikanyama strikes me as a great doggy neighborhood – and less than an hour out from Yokohama, another potential home base.

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I’m planning our annual Japan trip for September – Osaka and Tokyo – and will scope out some other neighbourhoods as well.  Now that I’ve gotten the hang of this Periscope thing, I’m going to try offering up live updates while I’m there. Maybe a live tour of the Tsukiji Market one morning and a visit to Star Bar another night.  Join me in a visit to Gyoza Stadium or watch me work my way through the entire Jean-Paul Hevin chocolate dessert offerings at Roppongi Midtown.  It’ll be like you’ll be traveling with me – or, possibly, moving with me!

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But first things first.  I’ve got to get the dogs healthy.  Bubba went in for his annual physical today.  Failing hearing, cataracts, and his teeth are slowly deserting him. Sometimes, I forget he’s 13.  Lulu, meanwhile, had her endoscopy today.  We get the results in a couple of days!

So, how are you all doing?  What’s new?  Moving anywhere new?

November 18, 2013: Tokyo Day #13! The Fine Art of Ramen! H.H. Giger prepares my meal at Chikuyotei! I finally pay the price!

Nobody appreciates the fine arts like I do and it should come as no surprise that there’s nothing I enjoy more than hitting the local museums whenever I visit a foreign city.  Such was the case yesterday when Akemi and I woke up early so that we could catch the bullet train to Yokohama and check out one of its most famous museums: The Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum.  There, we checked out the masters who dabble in oils, broth, and noodles…

On the shinkasen, headed to Shin-Yokohama
On the shinkansen, headed to Shin-Yokohama

Truth be told, it’s not really much of a museum.  The educational portion is scant, but the hands-on experience is plentiful with a wide variety of ramen to choose from.  The lower level of the museum has been transformed into a latter-day Japan complete with winding back alleys, shuttered old time bars, and numerous ramen-yas.

Night falls on old ramen town...even though it's broad daylight outside.
Night falls on old ramen town…even though it’s broad daylight outside.
The back alleys remind me of some of the old Stargate sets.
The back alleys remind me of some of the old Stargate sets.

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A chart at the entrance gives you a rundown of the dozen or so chefs and their respective ramen.  Then, it’s up to you.  Choose a place and enter your order at the little machine outside the restaurant.  Then, all you have to do is grab a spot in line and wait to be seated.

The choices were overwhelming, so I simply went with what I thought looked good.  We started at a place called Ganja where we ordered…

Thick noodles and a slice of pork...
I had the thick noodles and a slice of pork…
...with spicy broth.
…with spicy broth
While Akemi went with the thin noodles
While Akemi went with the thin noodles
...and the regular broth.
…and the regular broth.

It was, hands down, the best ramen I’ve ever had.  Both broths were incredibly complex, rich with levels of flavor.  The thick slice of pork was incredibly tender, the egg I got with my broth perfectly cooked, and the noodles terrific.  I honestly could have ordered another bowl – not because I was still hungry, but because I didn’t want the meal to end.

We ordered two small bowls so that we could sample some of the other ramens being offered.  The busiest ramen-ya by far was Sumire that had a line-up that snaked around the corner.  We dutifully lined up, placed our order, and gradually inched our way toward the entrance…

Order your ramen here.
Order your ramen here.
I had the miso ramen.
I had the miso ramen.
Akemi's shoyu ramen.
Akemi’s shoyu ramen.

Wow.  And not in a good way.  After Ganja, what a letdown.  My miso ramen was fine but I found Akemi’s shoyu ramen was possessed of an unpleasant, oily flavor.  In fact, both broths were surprisingly oily.

There was a couple standing behind us in line.  She didn’t want ramen but he did.  Unfortunately, the house rules state that everyone taking up table room must order ramen.  So, they compromised.  He sat down and ate his ramen while she stood outside and watched him.  Weird.

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Uncle Charumera, former mascot of an instant noodle company.  And Jim Beam whisky.

We finished up by taking a tour of the “museum” section and shop that offered everything from ramen keychains and chopsticks to your own personalized box of ramen.

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum: 2-14-21 Shinyokohama, Kohoku Ward, Yokohama

111We took a little stroll through Shin-Yokohama, then caught the bullet train back to Tokyo where we took an even longer stroll through Tokyo Station.  An unintended one as we got turned around at some point and spent close to an hour trying to find the subway back to our hotel. The place is huge!

1Finally, we made it back!

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LIGHT at the end of the tunnel!

I arrived back  at the hotel to discover a package awaiting me.  It was from Akemi’s mother and it was filled with what I estimate to be about a year’s word of matcha (ceremonial green tea)!  Between this and everything I’m planning to pick up, it looks like I may have to invest in a second suitcase.

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We tried to work off dinner with a walk along Ginza-dori…

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These guys were very popular.
Akemi getting into the Christmas spirit
Akemi getting into the Christmas spirit

For dinner we went to Chikuyotei, one of the country’s oldest unagi restaurants.  It holds special meaning for Akemi because it was a favorite of her grandfather’s who used to take her there when she was young.

Alas, no tables available so we had to settle for floor seating.  And by “floor seating”, I mean we sat on the floor at a low table.  Apparently, this isn’t terribly uncommon in Japan and many Japanese have mastered the art.  I, unfortunately, have not and spent much to the meal shifting uncomfortably between kneeling, sitting cross-legged, and stretching my legs out underneath the table.

We ordered from an English menu that helpfully warned us to “be careful for the eel bones”.  So we were.  As for the meal…

Grilled eel "kabayaki".
Grilled eel “kabayaki”.
The eel guts soup.  From the kitchen of Chef H.R. Giger
The eel guts soup looks like a prop from the last Alien movie.

Another great meal and, I’m sure, very natsukashii for Akemi.

Chikuyotei: 8-14-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Well, I think the law of averages has finally caught up with me.  I fear I’ve done in – not by the little aliens in my soup or the countless cream-filled desserts or even the chicken sashimi.  It was the ramen!  I woke up this morning feeling like my stomach has undergone a mochi massage…

November 2, 2012: Tokyo Day #5! Actually, Yokohama Day #1!

Yesterday, I ended up going to Yokohama for the day.  It was my first visit to the area and I was wowed.  It’s absolutely beautiful, alternately reminding me of New York in parts, Paris in others, and even San Diego at times.  My friend, Moro-san, was my tour guide for the day, taking me absolutely everywhere.  We walked all day, from the moment Akemi dropped me off (she insisted on accompanying me for the 40 minute trip from Tokyo because she didn’t trust my metro-switching abilities) to our climb up the steep street to our eventual dinner destination.  Yes, we stopped for lunch, but it was a short reprieve.

Moro-san calls Yokohama home as do many who make the aforementioned 40-minute commute to Tokyo for work every day.  According to Akemi, much of the Tokyo workforce prefer the less costly option of living in the outlying area surrounding the city proper, something that is  referred to as “donuts kagensho”, aka “the donut situation”.  And, I have to admit, was weighing this fantasy option during my stroll through Yokohama.  Over the course of my day, I picked out a potential apartment building, a local supermarket, a dry-cleaner – even a prospective doggy daycare.

Akemi and I arrived thirty minutes in advance of the appointed meeting time so we headed up (and up and up) and out and checked out Yokohama’s famed Chinatown.

The streets of Yokohama’s Chinatown district.

The area is Panda-crazy, with all sorts of Panda-related merchandise for sale, from panda hats and slippers to panda pyjamas and oven mitts.
The Panda Store. Unfortunately, the one thing they didn’t have was the one thing I was looking for = panda cufflinks.
Even Kitty-chan gets in on the panda action.
Street vendors abound selling various delicious-smelling dim sum items.  In addition, there’s a guy/gal hard-selling roasted chestnuts every three paces.
Cha siu! Get yer cha siu bao’s here!
Crackhead Panda says: “Pssst. Hey, buddy, wanna buy some pork buns?”

Akemi grabs some lunch to-go.

I accompanied Akemi back down to the station where I saw her off, then awaited Moro-san’s arrival.  While cooling my heels, I checked out some of the advertised activities the area had to offer…

Like this one, a foot spa of sorts that involves dipping your feet in a tank so that hundreds of little “doctor fish” can nibble away the dead skin.  Enh, I think I’ll stick with the  Swedish massage.

Finally, camera-shy Moro-san arrived and we headed up (and up and up) and out once again for the grand walking tour.

First stop, Yamashita Park:

My future dog park.
A far cry from the hustle and bustle of crowded Tokyo.

Then, we headed back to Chinatown for a more thorough walking tour of the district:

The Hotel Oriental – located in the heart of Chinatown offers quick access to dim sum, fortune tellers, and panda-related wares.  Maybe cheaper than The Imperial.
We stopped for a Halloween-themed snack. I gave Moro-san the choice between sweet or spicy. She chose spicy – and, boy, was it ever. So much so that she teared up and had to stop for a drink.

We moved on and into the shopping district:

A Santa-themed heist. “Nothing to see hear, folks. Just delivering presents. Ho ho ho!”
Ronny takes a load off.

We then proceeded though the quaint, winding backstreets of Moro-san’s neighborhood:

We stopped off at Sakura, a tiny neighborhood ocha-ya (tea cafe). The owner was incredibly warm, stopping by to chat and gifting me a bag of green tea and cookies on my way out.

We had lunch at an Italian restaurant called Rega.  As we settled in, I complained about how hot it was.  I mean, I was really burning up.  As it turned out, it wasn’t me, it was my phone.  It had remained on camera mode since my last photo and the damn thing was sizzle-hot!  I turned it off and set it down on the table, hoping that would forestall any imminent explosion.  Fortunately, it did.  Unfortunately, the battery was almost completely drained.

We continued our stroll and I continued snapping pics until my phone died…

Wait, is that…?
Yeah, thought so.

The Hotel Suica (watermelon), so-named because – well – it looks like a watermelon slice.
Visit the Hall of Confiscated Contraband!

And that’s about when my battery tapped out.  After a full day’s walk, we sat down to a wonderful kaiseki dinner at a place called Chatubo.  The chef went to great lengths to achieve the autumn theme, featuring seasonal ingredients and decorating each dish with fall leaves and a sprinkling of fresh water with the shake of a matcha whisk to approximate the look of rainfall.

By the time we were done, I was exhausted.  I checked my phone, discovered it had reacquired enough power for me to check and respond to Akemi’s email, assuring her she didn’t have to come all the way to Yokohama to pick me up.  I was competent enough to brave the Tokyo subway on my own.  And I was – with the exception of the moment I got off at the wrong station and had to wait for the next train.

An early night meant another early wake-up.  6:30 a.m. for me.  Plenty of time to upload this entry, set my line-up for this weekend’s fantasy football league match (My Snow Monkeys take on Tebow Sucks and I’ve been deliberating over whether to start Dwayne Bowe as my WR2), and indulge in some in-room dining:

The matcha cookies from Sakura had a wonderfully intense green tea flavor. The chocolate moon cake from Chinatown, on the other hand, was a dry disappointment.

Today, we head to Naka-Meguro for lunch at my favorite pizza place, Pizza Seirinkan, and later tonight to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for Akemi’s first visit to The Molecular Tapas Bar.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has left kind messages for my sis.  The prognosis for her husky, Aspen, is not good and it looks like she’ll have to make the most difficult decision this weekend.