That’s ‘Cheers’ in Japanese, a word which is always good for meeting people in Tokyo pubs. Actually, I probably should have entitled this blog ‘Takasugimasu,’ which is Japanese for ‘That’s too expensive!). Damn, things cost a lot in Japan! Some things are worth it, some are not, and there are always some good deals if you know where to look or stumble upon them. But I get ahead of myself. And so, without further adieu, onward and upward to my latest adventure in the Land of the Rising Sun.
In general, the Orient is still not uppermost on my list of places to visit, but Expedia sent me a flight deal I just couldn’t pass up: Budapest to Tokyo and return on Qatar Airlines, a really nice airline, one stop, for just $541 US. Such a deal! So I had to take it. I decided on a ten-day visit, basing in Tokyo and taking day trips to other areas of the country. I had lots of input from people I know who used to live in Japan, so was heavily armed with things to do, places to go and people to meet. I picked and chose, noted and separated, and finally narrowed down the 1,001 things to see and do to a more manageable number. In preparation for my trip, I was even able to buy Japanese yen here in Budapest, so, after a two-month hiatus after my last trip to Sardinia in late July, I was ready to hit the road once again.
At least I had a decent departure time, 7 PM on Monday, October 3. The initial five-hour flight to Doha was easy, although my one-hour connecting time only left me enough time to hotfoot it the quarter-mile stretch of the Qatar Airport I had to traverse to get to my next flight; yes, the airlines are still putting my arrival and departure gates far enough apart that an Olympic sprinter would have a hard time making the connection. But make it I did, as the next flight was boarding, so I sweated and huffed and puffed and sank into my aisle seat for the 11-hour flight to Tokyo. I watched a couple of movies along the way and caught a couple of naps and generally just enjoyed the Qatar Airlines service and narrow seats. One particularly interesting warning flashed on their computer screens made me smile: “For your safety, please remain in your seat when praying on board.” Don’t want those prayer rugs cluttering up the aisles.
I arrived at Narita Airport around 6:30 on the evening of Tuesday, October 4 and, after clearing passport control and picking up my checked suitcase, found the airport’s bus limousine service desk. Bought my limo bus ticket (for only 2,000 yen, as compared to the 3,200 yen advertised – senior discount, don’tcha know? And the counter person actually volunteered this information, which would have never happened in Budapest!) and walked out into the amazingly humid night air to await my bus. Narita is around 65 kilometers from Tokyo, so the trip to a major metro station ‘near’ my hotel would take at least 90 minutes, maybe more, depending on traffic. The bus arrived on time and the curbside assistants loaded my bag, I got on my bus (“Happy Coach #16”), and the assistants bowed the bus away. (NB: The Japanese do a lot of bowing). These assistants had the name of their employer on the back of their shirts – Friendly Bus Company. It looked like my stay in Japan would be marked by smiles and friendliness all around.
The limo bus dropped me off at the south exit to the Shinjuku metro station and I was immediately engulfed in a swarm, a horde, a plethora of travelers and tourists trying to figure out where they were and how to get where they wanted to go. Knowledgeable traveler that I am, however, I came prepared in case the limo bus couldn’t take me to my hotel: I had an internet-printed location map for my hotel, to assist taxi drivers in finding it. I flagged down a taxi and showed him the map; he knew right where I wanted to go and I climbed in and we were off – to the wrong hotel! Yep, he’d read the map wrong. He corrected his GPS helper and we finally got to the right place.
Once at my hotel I learned one of the wonderful things about Japan: the total fare was 1450 yen (around $14.50 US, or 14 euro; to get the exchange rate in dollars and approximate euros, just divide the yen by 100), but, since the driver had taken me to the wrong hotel at first, he only asked for 1000 yen. Would this ever happen in Budapest? You can bet your taxi driver’s tire iron against the side of your head it would not!. My initial forays into Japan were going well.
I checked into the Tokyo Palace Hotel, just down the street from the Shin-Okubo metro station on the Yamanote Line (the metro line that circles central Tokyo). The room was small, but adequate, with a tiny bathroom and a lovely view of the building next door’s wall. Who cares? I’d be out most of the time anyway. And at least it was air conditioned, which was sorely needed in the Tokyo heat and humidity. I unpacked and hit the street in search of dinner and maybe a beer or two. And I found – OMG! – Yoshinoya Beef Bowl! I love this chain and hadn’t had one of their signature dishes since I’d left the US in 1999. I ordered one at the counter; complete with free pitchers of ice water nearby (if you want ice with your drink, you need to ask for it “onzarokku;.” think about it). It was my first culinary explosion in Japan and, unbeknownst to me, not to be my last.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016 – my first full day in Tokyo. Lots of admin things to take care of, like getting my metro smart card, visiting tourist agencies to arrange day trips, etc. After my 500- yen breakfast in the hotel, I got a single ticket to the next metro station, Shinjuku, which is a major stop and, after wandering around looking lost for a while, I finally found the ticket office where I could purchase my Suica Card and load it up with credit for the metro. No prob. There was a 500 yen deposit and I bought 1500 yen worth of credit to start me off, figuring I could replenish the card when needed.
Next was a nice stroll to the fairly-nearby Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and one of the Tourinform offices. Although they don’t book the actual tours, they did give me information on a local agency that does. I also was able to make my online reservations for the Robot Restaurant and Show for that night, a must-see for all Tokyo visitors. Before leaving the building, I rode the elevator to the 45th floor and checked out the entire city of Tokyo and beyond, even managing to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji in the distance.
I found the tourist agency recommended to me, and was informed there that they only spoke and handled tours in Japanese; hmmm, won’t do me much good. The nice lady did give me the name and location of another agency not too far away, so I checked them out after a rather long, sweaty walk – damn, but it was humid! Anyway, after a protracted computer search for my requested tours, the kind young woman at this new agency informed me that they did not have or book any of the tours I wanted in English for tourists. Hmmm again, it was beginning to look like Tokyo was not a very tourist-friendly place after all.
After a yummy late beef bowl lunch (I really love those beef bowls!) and my second shower of the day, I metroed back to the Kabukicho area in Shinjuku for a quick beer or two (Bass ale, if you must know, at 800 yen for a 0.33L draft – you figure it out!) at the Hub bar, after which I caught the show at Robot Restaurant. Well, sports fans, this show must be seen to be believed. I suppose it’s based on the Japanese sub-culture known as manga, as there are gigantic electronically-controlled robots and real people and robotic animals and dragons and all sorts of crazy things. It was about 90 minutes long and, at 8000 yen per head, was not cheap. It was full of lights and colors and noise and music and flash; my grandkids would have loved it.
After the incredibly loud and bright show, I headed over to the nearby Golden Gai shabby-but-fun area to see what all the Trip Advisor fuss was about. This small (four-short-square-block) enclave apparently sprang into being in the aftermath of WWII. It contains more than 300 teeny-tiny bars and shops and restaurants, with décor from the 1950s through modern day. Many places have a cover charge of 1000 yen (yep, $10 US!) and nearly all have barstool space or small tables for maybe 15 people or so. Definitely cozy.
I had a beer at the Death Metal bar (not usually my kind of place) and then, as I was strolling the small narrow alleyways in the area, was waved into a bar by a young Japanese man and woman sitting alone at the bar. The night picked up from there. I chatted with Kenko and Kamiko and with the bartendress, Keiko, for a while, until we were joined by two Spanish women, a Belgian couple and then two women and their male friend from Los Angeles. Lots of good conversation, several expensive beers and not an iphone in sight. Great evening.
I found out as I staggered back to the metro station that the metro closes at 11 PM and, since it was now after midnight, it looked like I might have to find an alternate way home. Tokyo taxis are also very expensive, but I was choiceless, so I hailed a taxi and showed the driver my Google Locator Map. We somehow got me to my hotel for only around 1000 yen, a bargain at twice the price, especially as the alternative was to crash in a doorway like a homeless person. It turned out the 7-11 in my neighborhood was still open, so I got a couple of char-sha-bao dumplings and a Gatorade and watched my only English-language TV channel in my room, CNN, and finally sacked out. A helluva start to my visit. I should have known it couldn’t last.
Thursday and I was determined to find a travel agency that could and would book me an English-language tour. Apparently, determination is not enough these days, as I failed miserably. Went to three other agencies in the Shinjuku area and none of them could help. I was crushed and defeated. No Kyoto. No Hakone. Kamakura? Well, we’d see. Since I was in the area, I thought at least I’d go check out Godzilla, on the 8th floor of one of the nearby hotels. I asked at the first floor reception desk and the woman there told me I could only see Godzilla if I was a guest of the hotel or had a meal in their restaurant. Well, SCHEISSE! What kind of friendly, welcoming tourist ambiance is that?!
I couldn’t even muster the energy to check out the local onsen (baths). I was so down and upset that I paid 3500 yen for the Hop On hop Off bus tour around the city. What a waste of time and money. The sights included a broadcasting tower and a couple of bridges and not much else. Where are all the cool sights in Tokyo? Guess you have to walk to them to find them. Bummer. Back to the hotel for a late afternoon shower and rest-up before looking for more nightlife.
I’d heard about What the Dicken’s pub near Ebisu Station metro stop, so rode down to check it out. Turned out it’s on the 4th floor of a medium tall and narrow building, a smallish bar with no windows, old scarred wood and lots of character. Live music started around 9 PM, but the band and venue were apparently not overly popular, at least on the night I was there. I had a couple of expensive beers (six euro for a small draft Bass ale; imported Corona and American Budweiser bottles were 800 yen; that’s $8 US or around 8 euro for a small bottle of beer. Wow! Fortunately, I don’t drink either of them, so was spared the overcharge) and listened to the blues band for a while, but the place had little or no energy, so I wandered off in time to catch the metro back to my stop.
Friday would be my first shrine day, when I went looking for one of the most important and major shrines in Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine. I got off the metro at the Harajuku station, which also happened to be a major shopping area; maybe I could KTBWOS. The shrine itself was located in a huge park on the west side of Tokyo. I walked through the quiet, serene, green, tree-filled park, on its well-kept paths, to the main shrine area. There really isn’t much to the shrine itself, just a few traditional buildings surrounding a central courtyard, with the Meiji shrine off to one side. No photos allowed of the shrine and respectful attitude was required by several signs in the area. Also, at the entrance to the courtyard there is a raised well with small bamboo dippers for washing one’s hands before entering the sacred space. Interesting.
I wandered around for a while, noting the special areas where people left prayers or requests or poems, kind of like the Buddhist temples I’d seen in Nepal. While I was there a wedding procession appeared from the inner temple area, walking solemnly through the main space. It was a nice, reflexive time to spend just enjoying the solitude, even with so many tourists around. I did notice that the tourists were all very well-behaved, no shouting or running or other noise. Even more interesting.
I exited at the front gate of the shrine and crossed the metro tracks (BTW: nearly all of Tokyo’s metro trains are above ground!) to emerge at the start of the Harajuku shopping area, Omotesando Street. This long stretch of divided street, with trees along the sides and in the middle, is sort of like Budapest’s Andrassy Ut, filled with upscale stores and shops and restaurants and other interesting commercial enterprises. I hadn’t had breakfast yet and was looking for a restaurant I’d noticed on my Google map, called Eggs n’ Things. I had no preconceptions about this place, but it sounded like a good place for my first meal of the day. Since it was now almost noon, I was ready.
I found the restaurant down a side alley just past the first intersection on the main street. A two-level eatery, it specialized in breakfast dishes, and they had them all: omelets, all sorts of eggs, Eggs Benedict with various inclusions, Mexican eggs, pancakes, real corned beef hash, etc. A truly great egg place. Since it had been years for me, I ordered the corned beef hash with eggs over medium, potatoes, toast and orange juice. No pancakes – this time! When my order arrived and I dug into it, I started making those yummy noises of pleasure I seem to do when confronted with marvelous foods, the tastes of which are almost orgasmic in their pleasure. People at other tables stopped eating to watch and listen to me as I enjoyed my meal. I finally quieted down and let them get back to their own food, but I was definitely in foodie heaven in Tokyo. Budapest has nothing like this expertise with eggs n’things.
Satiated for the time being, I walked the length of Omotesando Street, checking out the shop windows and looking for souvenirs. Nothing caught my eye, but the stroll was a nice one, with temps around 20 degrees Celsius and humidity maybe around 70%. Hot but pleasant. Coming to the end of the street, I turned right onto another major, more commercial, street that would eventually take me down to the Shibuya area, another stop on my schedule. I checked out the United Nations University building for possible shirts for my daughter, but nothing there. I also visited the Aoyama Gakuin University campus, doubting that these colleges would have what I wanted. Did I find it? You’ll have to ask Morgan after the family open their Xmas box from Hungary.
Once down in the Shibuya area, I crossed under the metro tracks to the famous Shibuya Crossing, where pedestrian-striped crossing lanes cover the street corners at right angles and also diagonally. When the lights change, everyone crosses everywhere. It’s truly a madhouse, but no one ever seems to get injured. I did think a seller of t-shirts would do well there, however, with the slogan, “I Survived Shibuya Crossing.”
I was looking for the Hobgoblins pub, but got sidetracked into the Dubliner pub for a quick afternoon beer. Get this, my Irish friends: a small draft Yebisu (local) beer, 0.33L, was 500 yen, or about 5 euro; a ‘full’ pint (0.4L!) was around 10 euro. And you thought Dublin prices were high! (NB: Tokyo is the 5th most expensive city in the world). I did finally find Hobgoblins, located in another tall building; the only indication of its existence was a sign among many others on a vertical strip high up on the side of the building, very hard to spot unless you know what to look for. I’d be back to check out the inside later, as the bar didn’t open until 6 PM.
After my by-now standard afternoon shower and rest, I was back in the area for Happy Hour at Hobgoblins. They had a good draft selection, and I was pleased and surprised to find a Belhaven’s Twisted Thistle ale on tap. I could only afford one small beer at $8 US (a ‘pint’ at 0.473L was 10 euro), but I did have the jerked chicken platter at 1400 yen, paid for with my credit card, to which the bar added a 5% service charge. I had originally ordered the Sriracha Chicken Kebabs with side dishes from the menu on the bar, but the bartender informed me their chef didn’t come in until 9 PM and that “They didn’t have that.” See?! It IS me!!!
BTW - a small bottle of Hoegaarden Dutch beer or a small draft Guinness was 10 euro. At least the sky-high process kept my beer consumption way down.
I managed to find enough pocket change for one more beer and also chatted with the bartender about the evening’s entertainment. I had noticed a rather large group of people taking up the back half of the seating area; they were mostly fairly quiet, but there were a lot of them. When I asked the bartender about the possibility of live music that night, he told me there wouldn’t be any, and besides, it was rather pointless, since the large group of people in the back half of the bar were all deaf. I looked again and sure enough, lots of hand signals but no shouting to be heard. Unless, of course, you include waving your arms all around.
I lingered as long as I could, without live music or other travelers or locals willing and eager to engage in social conversations, then finally headed out to stroll the Shibuya area for a while. It was an amazingly quiet early Friday night, unlike Budapest, where the fun never stops on into the wee hours of the following morning. I was enjoying Tokyo, but couldn’t say much for its night life.
I decided Saturday would be my big shopping day. I had a list of things I wanted to buy and I was hoping Tokyo could provide me with them. I chose the Koenji district, as shown in various online guidebooks, as the best place for me to browse. I arrived around 9:30, just 30 minutes before I presumed the stores opened on the weekend, just as they did during the weekdays. I had enough time for a leisurely breakfast at Becks, in the metro station, then went in search of all the stores I had listed. There was still a light – and sometimes heavy – rain until noon, but I was determined to visit each and every shop and I’d be damned if a little water stopped me.
Naturally, shop hours posted on the doors indicated these shops don’t open until 11 AM, 12 PM, or 1 PM on Saturdays. Sigh. Murphy was chuckling in the background. I strolled through the rain and the fortunately covered arcade, looking in windows and still trying to locate the shops I wanted, until, at last, several of them opened. To make a long, ugly story short, none of the shops I visited had anything I wanted or was looking for – NONE! I wasted several hours browsing and then said to hell with it and went looking for the Harley Davidson store near the Hatagaya metro station. Did I find it? Was it open? Check with Tony late Xmas morning to find out.
That night I wanted to try one of the yakiniku restaurants, which advertised lots of meat. I found one near my hotel, place called Ting, and settled in at the counter for my experience. Turned out the yakiniku restaurants have small grills at your table or counter on which you can grill your own rather small portions of meat. Cool. Side dishes are ordered separately. I had two portions, one of beef loin and one of beef tongue, which I hadn’t had in years. I grilled them until they were just like I wanted them, then scarfed them down, accompanied by a beer or two. With the two beef dishes and two small beers, my bill came to 2700 yen! Wow! I wandered away, full of beef and beer and empty of wallet. I did look into a nearby shot bar, but they wanted a $30 cover charge (kaba chaji), so I passed. I was planning a long day trip on the morrow, so, after charging my metro card with 2000 yen at the 7-11 near my hotel, I turned in at a reasonable hour.
I was unable to find an English-language tour to see the Great Buddha in Kamakura, but noticed in my Tokyo Guidebook that I could take a metro train there, so early Sunday morning I headed over to Tokyo Station, the main railway spot in town, to check it out. I actually found the right train with little difficulty, and took the 90-minute ride, changing trains once I got to Kamakura for a short ride to the Buddha location. I walked down the main street of the small town at the end of which is a small park with the Great Buddha. It was raining lightly off and on, but I was not to be deterred. I’d probably never be back this way and wanted to see what I could of the major sights.
Well, let me tell you folks, that is one BIG Buddha.
He sits all alone in a clearing in the park and waits for people to drop by to say “Hi.”. Tourists abounded in the area, but not to excess. I spent some time contemplating the Big Guy and then decided he was worth going to see but not really worth seeing. At one point I joined a line to go inside the statue and climb up into its head, but there was a sign outside the entrance warning people that it was dark and slippery inside and to be careful. After due consideration, I decided this type of dark and slippery, inside the head of the Great Buddha, wasn’t my thing, so I headed back to the metro stop.
On the way I picked up a few souvenirs and then noticed an anomaly in Japan: a small ice cream shop advertising real Turkish ice cream. The proprietor was from Morocco and his wife was Turkish, and when I asked them they assured me their product was the real thing, that exact ice cream made in Turkey, the best ice cream in the whole wide world, in my humble opinion. So I had a cone, and it was real Turkish ice cream. Another culinary orgasm; my taste buds cheered and I was weak with pleasure.
I returned to the Tokyo Station and, when I clocked my card out of the exit terminal, I noticed the trip had cost me the 2000 yen I had put on my metro card the previous night. Well, I suppose it’s better than a $90 tour. I walked over to the Imperial Palace grounds, hoping to get in to see the palace, but found out tourists can only walk the grounds and entry to the palace is forbidden 363 days of the year. Yet another tourist-unfriendly rule.
Sunday night I returned to the Hub bar in Kabukicho for a couple of small Bass beers (at 500 yen each) and some pretty good fish and chips bites (at only $6, a better deal than the beer). There must have been 10,000 young people on the streets that night; I found out later that Monday was a school holiday, so the kids were out and about. I weaved and wended my way through the madding throngs and called it another early night.
On a cloudy and cool Monday morning I metroed down to the Tsukiji Fish Market, not, as you might have guessed, for the 5:30 AM tuna auction, a time which is way beyond my ability to recognize these days. Instead, I just wanted to see the area and have some fresh seafood. So, late morning I arrived near the kabuki theater and walked down to the fish market, wending my way again through the labyrinth of shops, small markets, seafood sellers, restaurants and souvenir shops, all crowded into an area the size of a postage stamp. During my foray into this tourist-packed space, I managed to munch on a dumpling and then found a sushi restaurant that wasn’t overflowing with hungry tourists. I sat at the upstairs counter with the other tourists and had a wonderful plate of fresh, fresh sushi, along with a pre-noon beer. Everyone in attendance, including the sushi chefs, was smiling and happy and full of energy and the sushi capped it all. Great time.
In the early afternoon I walked back to the Ginza shopping area, only to find the New York Police Band holding a parade down the main street. When they finally finished their march, I strolled the Ginza, checking out the upscale and luxury stores for anything I might need or want to pay exorbitant prices for. I must admit to a disappointment with this area, after so much hype over the years. It was just another concrete canyon filled with overpriced stores and badly-done displays. I didn’t stay long.
I did, however, catch one of the matinee kabuki shows at the big kabuki theater I had passed that morning. It was brief and fun and full of energy and leaps and arm-waving and shouting. I guess you have to be raised in it to appreciate it. Plus all the parts are played by men, not a particular draw for me. Ah, well, maybe in my next life.
That night I was back again in Kabukicho to find one of the many izakaya restaurants in the area. These are basically Japanese tapas bars serving food and drinks for reasonable prices – at last! I found what looked like a good one and entered the basement venue, full of noise and smoke and tapas. (Yes, in Japan it is still legal to smoke indoors at restaurants, bars, etc). I started with five tapas plates: octopus, pork cutlet, chicken meatballs, fried dumplings and tuna sushi; I passed on the pig ears and deep-fried chicken gristle. It was a filling and tasty meal and I can see why these places are so popular. Afterwards I strolled over to the Golden Gai and tried to find my friend Keiko, but was unable to remember which of the tiny bars I was in the previous night. I had several beers at other holes-in-the-wall, interacting with the owners and wandering tourists, which was enough for one night.
Tuesday was to be my day at one of the local onsen, the Japanese baths. I’d been looking forward to this experience for, oh, about 40 years, ever since I saw a photo of a young Marine on R&R from Vietnam relaxing in the Tokyo baths. And now, finally, it was my turn. The one I had chosen, and which was recommended by the tourist agency, was in the kabukicho district, near the Golden Gai area. It opened at 11 AM and I was outside, eagerly waiting to go in. I left my shoes in a locker in the outer area and went up to the reception desk to discuss the programs available with the young woman there.
She spoke perfect English, so there was no problem being understood. She told me what was on offer and I chose my program. Then she briefly went over those types of people who were not allowed in the baths, which included drunks, criminals, politicians and anyone with a tattoo. Tattoo? Anyone? Hmm, I have a couple of small tattoos, barely noticeable. I told her about them and she regretfully informed me that my 40-year wait to sample the onsen would not be satisfied at this time. I WAS BANNED FROM THE ONSEN! I couldn’t friggin’ believe it! What’s the big deal with tattoos? Damn, more and more people have them these days, so that means they are all also banned from the baths. Not a smart tourist-friendly move. Needless to say – but I’ll say it anyway – I was PISSED!
But there was no use arguing, the decision was final. No rackin’ frackin’ garbonzoed onsen for me. I put my shoes back on and shuffled out, my tail between my legs – metaphorically speaking, of course. I needed a lift after that discouraging non-experience, so I decided to have lunch at the hotel where the Godzilla head was displayed. OK, so I’d have to pay for the privilege of seeing the big guy, but what the heck, I had saved all that money by not being allowed in the baths.
I walked back to the Hotel Gracery, just a few blocks away. There was no one at the main floor reception desk, so I took the elevator to the 8th floor restaurant and hotel check-in reception area. Hmmm, no one at the restaurant check-in desk. I scurried quickly past and through a couple of doors to an outdoor terrace and there was Godzilla! Cool. Screw you, onsen people, I got in to see Godzilla anyway without paying a single yen. Actually, it was somewhat anti-climactic, but still worth the visit. I got back in the elevator for the trip down and was joined by a grandma, mother and young girl around 6-7 years old, all of them Asians. I noticed the mother gently shove the little girl toward me and the little girl then said, in perfect English, “Hello.” I responded with a “Hello” of my own and she asked me how I was. I said I was fine and thanked her and asked how she was. She was fine.
We began a dialogue that lasted perhaps 10 minutes, in the lift and then in the hotel lobby. Young Sta-she (I’m still not sure if I got her name right) and her family were visiting from Hong Kong, where they lived in Happy Valley, a place I had visited not too long ago. It was fun talking to her, as her mother and grandma didn’t speak English at all and I was pleased to connect with another traveler using a common language. A nice interlude.
On my way out of the hotel I stopped at the Krispy Kreme donut shop next door and was a very good boy, limiting myself to only two original glazed donuts. Another culinary explosion; I could get used to all the great food I was finding in Tokyo.
Continuing my quest for more and more wonderful food, I took the metro down to Shibuya and searched out the Genki Sushi shop for lunch, recommended to me by an acquaintance of mine who used to live in Tokyo. This may have been the best sushi place yet. It’s a high-tech approach to the genre. Orders are placed at each seat via a computer screen and the dish is delivered by low-speed monorail in front of each seat, on a high and low track. Drinks are brought by waitresses. You can order as much or little as you want and it all appears ready to eat at your seat. Excellent. I had seared albacore tuna with black pepper (twice, it was so good), regular tuna, minced tuna with green onions and chile, albacore tuna, salmon-flavored roll and a drink for 774 yen, or less than 8 euro. Such a deal!
A shopping stroll of the area after lunch yielded nothing new, so it was back to the hotel for shower and a quick rest. Tuesday night I decided to try and find Keiko again at Golden Gai. I was early, so stopped at Bar Champion for a beer or two. As I was slaking my initial thirst, a young Japanese woman walked up to the bar next to me and started chatting with me. I became fast friends with Yuka, who was in the publishing business and had just stopped off for a drink on her way home after work. We chatted away for a couple of hours and I even entered into the karaoke spirit and sang Blue Suede Shoes. Yuka sang her favorite song – in Japanese – and did it very nicely.
We were getting along swimmingly when several drunk, obnoxious, threatening, apparently homosexual Australians invaded the bar and spoiled the moment. Yuka left shortly thereafter and the Aussies, who had had several beers, decided to show their true colors by groping and annoying other customers – namely me. My British friends had informed me in days gone past when we encountered the same type of annoyances in Budapest that these sorts of people are called Three-Beer Queers. I sloughed off the worst of the fondling offenders and took off also. Such a shame, but I guess that’s what happens in areas like Golden Gai the world over.
Anyway, I gave Yuka my card and hoped she’d stay in touch. (NB: She did! I received an email from her when I checked my Yahoo account when I arrived home.). I stopped in Keiko’s place once again, and she still wasn’t there. I spent some time talking to an expat from Barcelona and his Japanese girlfriend, so the remainder of the night wasn’t a total loss. But I sure wish I could have gotten to know Yuka better.
Wednesday saw me metro down to Yebisu Gardens to see what that was all about. They had a brewery museum there and it turned out to be a fun day, with lots of shops and upscale restaurants. Yebisu Gardens is like an outdoor shopping mall, with trees and fountains and great places to stay and work and eat. I did the beer museum, which was fun, and had a couple of tastings; I couldn’t do the tour as it was only offered in Japanese, another Trip Advisor downcheck. I also found a Lawry’s Prime Rib there and since my last prime rib had been at the Lawry’s on La Cienega’s Restaurant Row in Beverly Hills some 35 years ago, I figured I was due again. And it was scrump-diddly-umptious! Salad and dessert bars, a perfectly prepared medium-rare prime rib, Yorkshire Pudding, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, and a nice red wine, and only cost 4200 yen (that’s $42 for lunch!). But once again I was prostrate with culinary delight.
I seemed to be drawn back to Golden Gai most nights, so that’s where I found myself again on Wednesday night, parked outside Bar Champion, where I struck up a conversation with a Frenchman named Alex, who lived and worked in Tokyo. We chatted over a few beers, then I went to find some dinner before I once again skipped my evening meal in favor of a more hops-oriented repast. This time it was to the Black Hole yakiniku restaurant, with the same type of setup for grilling your own meat. On this occasion I sat in a booth and grilled some flank steak and veggies, accompanied by more beer. It was a nice lingering dinner. As I was strolling the area again afterwards, who should I run into in that sea of people but the three people I had talked with the other day, grandma, Mom and little Sta-she. Amazing. We chatted for a while but the crowds kept pushing us apart so we went our separate ways once again. Who knows I might see them yet again before I leave.
So, Thursday, my last full day in Tokyo. I had no specific plans for the day, but thought I might head over to Harajuku again for some breakfast at Eggs n’ Thing’s, then see if there were any great shopping streets in the area I had missed on my previous visit. Breakfast this time was a perfect Eggs Benedict, with a side of corned beef hash, which I knew I’d never find in Budapest. My taste buds were in heaven. Yum.
I walked Omotesando Street again, but nothing new caught my eye. Then I turned down a cross street and shortly was engulfed in the souvenir hotspots of the area. I found stuff for the entire family and even bought myself a Happi coat, with my name on the back in Japanese. I couldn’t seem to stop spending money! I’d walk down the street and vacuum hoses would snake out of the shops and suck money out of my pockets. Incredible! Anyway, it was a fitting final day, even if I still didn’t find all of the items I was hoping to buy.
My last dinner was at a local Chinese restaurant: chicken and red chillies, washed down with the inevitable Yebisu beer, spicy and good.
I checked out of the hotel late Friday morning and took my time getting to the airport. One stretch on the Yamanote Line to Nippori Station, then a 70-minute ride to Narita Airport, which took most of my remaining metro card credit – just as I’d planned it. When I arrived at the airport metro station, I cashed in my metro card and got nearly 1000 yen back. Damn near perfect. I futzed around the airport, checking the mostly-expensive shops to see if there were things I just couldn’t resist (there weren’t) and had a couple of light snacks while waiting for my plane. We took off on time for the 11-hour flight to Doha, during which, amazingly, I slept most of the way. A two-hour layover, which enable me to find my far-away gate without running this time, then a five-hour flight to Budapest and I was home – to a much cooler climate – 10 degrees Celsius. Murphy had to have one last snicker at me: my suitcase was almost the last one down the chute. I waited nearly 30 minutes to get my damn bag!
And that was Tokyo. An interesting experience, some highs, some lows, nowhere near as big a culture shock as I’d feared, but a lingering feeling of ambivalence overall. I’m glad I took advantage of the low-fare flight and I did enjoy everything I was able to do, but…
So, that’s it for yet another adventure. Enjoy the blog and Facebook photos, and watch this space for my next trip. Don’t know where it will be, but it has to be “…fun, fun, fun, ‘till my daddy takes the t-bird away.”
Bye for now….