Monday, 17 August 2009

Japan Diaries, part IV: Tokyo! (3)

I did not do a lot of specific sightseeing in Tokyo. Most of the time I simply wandered around the streets, taking in areas like fancy Ginza and geeky Akihabara. I used the underground extensively, to get around but also to do some people watching.

The underground system is large, well-kept, clean and (of course) punctual. Rush hour is frantic with people navigating their way through complex underground stations in streams. Sometimes one walks on the left, sometimes on the right. Sometimes one needs a ticket to reach the platform, sometimes one is already through without noticing. I deliberately travelled the underground during rush hour to find out what that was like. It was busy. The biggest challenge: finding the right exit of the station. Some have over twenty exits.

Picture right: During rush hour there are special ladies-only cars on the underground. Apparently men who like to feel up skirts during busy hours are a real nuisance.

I enjoyed Tokyo very much. Although I still felt very much like a stranger, it was a good transition from total immersion in all-Japanese society to a more open, cosmopolitan way of life. Tokyo is the only place where I have seen African-American people, and westerners who looked like they were at home in that place. I was not an oddity at all, until I bought and wore a plastic raincoat in a city where umbrellas are the height in fashion. Oh well. I guess I have a knack for being an oddity everywhere.

I was already getting late when we headed out for our final evening meal in Japan. We were already in a trendy neighbourhood and just as we were checking out the pictures on a restaurant menu we saw a small group of young hip Japanese climb the stairs in front of us. Naturally we followed them to the restaurant. Once upstairs in the grill restaurant we took off our shoes at the door once more (they were put neatly into a cupboard) and we were placed at the bar by a grinning young waiter. It was a small place with only a few booths and seats at the bar. The waiting boy left us with the customary hot hand towels and left.

Our golden rule so far: do as the Japanese do. The Japanese were not doing anything except chat and sip their drinks, and maybe admire the apparently stunningly handsome and attractive trio of staff: waiting boy, grill master, and salad guy. We didn’t see the attraction but hey, who are we? We had seen better samples on the way and besides, we were hungry. The menu only provided us with new samples of kanji (characters) to decipher. Until waiter boy kneeled at our seats (we were sitting with our legs sunken into the floor under the bar) and ‘explained’ the menu to us by pointing at the various sections and saying “rice”, “noodles”, “salad” and while pointing at the bar “grill”. We had already explored the refrigerated bar in which small skewers were awaiting their fate. Ah. We ordered some random rice (S managed to get yet another dish with raw egg) and salad and struck out to get us some grill-stuffs. Point, nod, smile, arigato. (Sound familiar?) We complimented the waiter on his excellent English which was received with a broad grin.

And then, after two weeks of travelling in Japan, we finally had our first sake! It was served in a small glass standing in a small wooden box. The sake was poured at the table into the small glass until it overflowed into the box. Try drinking that without spilling! But it was good stuff, we enjoyed it. And afterwards we went home, to our friends’ lovely apartment, for our final night in the land of the rising sun. With a promise to come back someday.

(Picture below: traditional Japanese sweets at a tea house in Kueno Park, Tokyo. It includes seaweed jelly, red bean mush and fish-soy paste. It looks marvellous - let's leave it at that.)

1 comment:

  1. wish you would come back again and see you somewhere in Japan. I prefer Kyoto or Hokkaido which I know well.