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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tips on Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan

It's been a while since I last posts while in Tokyo will be infrequent as there's really not much to write for me from this city besides comment on my day.  I've lived in Japan for a total of 3 years; one year as an exchange student almost 13 years ago, and two years working in southern Japan.  It's almost like coming home for me where I know where things are and where to go. I am in a complicated state though when I'm here as I am an outsider that is often times mistaken for a local....well I suppose it depends on who you ask...

I guess at first, most people would assume that I am Japanese BUT if you *closely* observe how I walk, or how I dress, it's a dead giveaway that I did not grow up eating the same rice and drinking the same water.  Clearly, I was fed a different kind of feed as I'm probably 40 pounds more than the average person my height here; sadly even when compared to most guys here!  I think when I speak, most people will also quickly assume that I am Japanese but must think I ask the stupidest questions.  The other day, I had to ask about a pre-paid card and the whole time I could SEE the guy laughing at me under his breath with this 'are you really asking me this?' look.  One thing I can't stand about the Japanese...A majority of the population conforms here, so if you don't, obviously you are not Japanese.  When you act out of place, you are quickly frowned upon or ridiculed.  When I studied as a student, I often purposely stuttered so they would know that I was not a native; I think this had a negative impact on my progress in the language.

Ran around the following day trying to figure out if I could get a cell phone in Japan but to no avail. I also found out that my bag was not delivered to the hotel!  Apparently, the hotel seems to have refused it because my name was not on the reservation.  Fair enough but I really needed my bag!  Went out to meet up with Owen and Yoko to see Invictus.  That is such a good movie!  One of the best movies I have seen in a long time.  A truly inspiring story that evokes pride; I was starting to wish I was South African!  If you haven't seen it yet, go see it!  After the movie, it was a little late but we went to have a late dinner and catch up. 
The following day called the airlines to sort out my bag.  They had it but they weren't sure if they could deliver today...maybe tomorrow.  Grrrr....At least I was meeting up with my dad; he would be delivering me a fresh batch of warm clothes!  Made my way down to Shinjuku to see my dad.

I arrived at 4:00PM and surprisingly my dad was already there!  He had touched down in Tokyo at 1:00PM and got to the hotel in record time, 2 hours! Good job dad!  It was good to see my dad after not seeing any family for almost a month.  Later that night we went over to my dad's cousins house for a few drinks and a light dinner.

The following day my dad and I went out for a Yoshinoya breakfast.  Grilled salmon, rice, miso soup, seasoned pork for Y480, I guess you can go on the cheap if you need to...just need to know where to go!
Yoshinoya Breakfast Special

My dad and I spent the day walking around town and doing a little shopping.  We needed to be back at the hotel by noon because his cousin would be picking us up for lunch - sushi!   My maguro sushi set was only Y740! What a deal!  There weren't enough pieces though so I needed to order two additional plates.  I think our bill for 4 came out to about $50.00; not bad for quality sushi!
    Maguro Sushi Set
Later that night, we met up with the other cousins (all siblings) for dinner. It was nice to be able to see everyone since they rarely come out to Hawaii.  Although their children weren't there, it was nice for all the first cousins and me to have a nice dinner.  Menu? 

Fugu is the Japanese word for pufferfish. It is said to be a highly regarded Japanese delicacy and only the most skilled chefs are able to prepare this.  Having an untrained chef serve this could be fatal.  I had tried baby pufferfish when I worked in Kyushu but never had I indulged in such a feast as I did that night. We had fugu sashimi, fugu nabe (prepared in a hot pot), fried fugu....
fugu sashimi


I also tried the Shirako which, simply put is the sperm sac of the fish.

It was an interesting dinner; it actually wasn't that bad and it wasn't that expensive as I thought it would be. My dad sneakily caught the bill and I'm thinking 'oh no, we just paid $1,000 for dinner?!' but surprisingly it was only about $500 for the 7 of us.  My impression of fugu has always been that it costs at least $100.00 a person.  There were a lot of drinks flowing too (the Okinawan side of the family knows alcohol much too well) so it was a reasonably priced dinner. Thankfully that night, I also got to borrow one of my cousin's snowboarding jackets!  I didn't have enough warm clothes and snow was forecasted to fall in Tokyo in the days to come...

Later that night, I snuck out after bringing my dad home safely to the hotel.  A friend Kumi had just gotten engaged the night before and she was meeting up with some other people from Hawaii!  They were at the same station the hotel was at, just on the other side. I decided to meet up with them; they were at an Okinawan restaurant washing down their dinner with a few drinks.  It was nice to connect with other Hawaii people in a foreign land. Although it was my first time meeting half the group, it felt familiar. The night ended early; although I only had a 10 minute walk back, the others needed to catch their train.
The Hawaii gang in Shinjuku; with newly engaged couple on left

The following day we had ramen for lunch.  It was funny because when I went to ask the concierge for recommendations, she handed me a 'ramen map.'  I guess it's a popular question.  We settled at a ramen restaurant (which for the life of me I cannot remember!) which was actually not bad for a chain.  For more reading on the art of ramen, an article that my friend Matt found:

Later that evening, I decided to take my dad to the restaurant that the group had been at the night before. Since I had fugu and couldn't join them, thought we could enjoy a nice Okinawan meal together.  The chef and staff remembered me from the night before and were so excited that I was a fellow Okinawan.  The chef offered us the Suchika which I had never had before but it was really good! 
Rafute- Okinawan braised pork
Suchika - recipe from chef's great-grandfather. cured pork served with bittermelon. The pork was delish!
Okinawan style - portuguese sausage
Nankotsu karaage - Fried chicken cartilage

We called it an early night because my dad would be heading out of the town the following morning at 8AM.

I woke up early to have breakfast with my dad the following morning. We decided to stay in the hotel because it would just be easier.  The breakfast buffet cos us about $53.00 for the two of us!  I was very disappointed in their service, constantly had to call them to refill our coffee and water and some of the food looked quite processed - orange colored eggs, dried and brightly colored salmon.  You'd think for that kind of money you could get slightly better quality.

I tried to enjoy the remaining moments with my dad but before I knew it, he was off.  He was going up to Takayama, Gifu to meet up with my mom.  I would be left all alone. 

Later that afternoon, I met up with my friend's friends - James and Mayumi and toured around the city.  We went to the Imperial Palace which seemed a little like a waste of time. I couldn't remember if I had gone there in the past but since my friends wanted to go, decided to tag along.  The palace is only opened twice a year to the public: New Year's (1/2) and the Emperor's birthday (12/23).  Unfortunately, we were off by almost a month.  All we could do was walk up to the gate.  The highlight of going that day though was that we got to see the Mexican President drive by.  Mayumi is actually Mexican so that was kind of cool that she got to see her President!

I met up with my friend Natsuko who had agreed to help me with closing my bank account. Although I can get by in Japanese, it's always good to have a native person there who knows the ways.  My friend Natsuko was a great help and she was able to get the guy at the post office bank to help us! 

That night it snowed which was a big event for this Hawaii girl!  Although I lived in the midwest when I attended college, it was a big event because it rarely snows in Tokyo!  Although it was snowing rather hard, decided to go back out to meet up with James and Mayumi again. Met up with them and James' dad's friend, Nakano-san, for a late night karaoke session.  Although James could have sang the whole night, I needed to leave at midnight so that I could get home in time.  I started to get worried that I wouldn't make my train.  Luckily because of the snow, the trains were delayed and I made in just in time for the last train!  PHEW!

The last two nights I have been fortunate enough to stay with Natsuko and her husband Matt who is actually my classmate from my study abroad program. They live in an amazing place in a fairly central location. They have all the western luxuries here in Tokyo!  My original plan to stay with my family didn't work out and it's been somewhat stressful being 'homeless' and trying to find a place to stay.  Thankfully Natsuko and Matt and their daughter Kei have been great hosts!  Natsuko also spent a lot of time helping me close my bank accounts and retrieve my money. It's been challenging because since I no longer reside in Japan; I can't simply close my account. Lots of paperwork and formalities in order to get my own money!  With the help of Natsuko and some great staff, I should be getting back close to $500!  I almost thought I lost it. The only unfortunate part is that I won't get it until my trip is almost over...but at least I'll get it.

Today, February 3, is also a holiday in Japan called setsubunno hi.  We celebrated by eating futomaki (still not sure why) and ate as many roasted beans as our age...I had to eat 31! Good thing it wasn't that bad!  I wish I could comment more about this holiday but its already 3:30AM and I still have so much to do before I leave the city! Maybe I'll follow-up later but for now, here's what Wikipedia says about the holiday.

Tomorrow I am off to Hokkaido to see the annual Festival.  It actually starts tomorrow so I'll be there from Day 1. I plan to be there for a couple of days.  I'm mostly excited to go into the onsen - hot springs.  After that, I'll be taking a trip down south to Kyushu to visit the village that I spent 2 years working in. 

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