Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’

There’s a tropical depression dumping buckets of water on Japan. I had hoped to get a good look at the famed temples and shrines of Nikko, but it’s been pouring down. I waited for a little blue hole in the sky and went out anyways, borrowing an umbrella from the hotel concierge just in case. I saw a little noodle restaurant and went in for lunch, and had a monstrous, delicious bowl of miso with roast pork.

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As soon as I finished my lunch, however, it was pouring buckets again. I still ventured out, only to get about a mile up the road before the gutters were flowing out onto the sidewalks and streets running like rivers. Soaked, even beneath my umbrella, I headed back to the hotel. Better luck tomorrow hopefully.

In better news, I got to ride the shinkansen (bullet train) and I must say I am impressed. This one only went 150mph, clocked on my phone’s GPS. No big deal to go that fast in an airplane, but on the ground it’s pretty sweet. And it’s so smooth, and comfortable, and the seats recline WAY back. No TSA radiation or hand-rape, no security checks, just show your rail pass at the booth and you are good to go!

Shinkansen, Tokyo station

Shinkansen, Tokyo station

Today I hit the Studio Ghibli museum after getting thoroughly lost on the subway. Fortunately I used sign language and really bad Japanese directions and figured it out. Once you are in the not-quite-dense-metro area of Tokyo, the Engrish is gone and all you have is Kanji. Then, using these machines, you are sort of at a loss exactly where you are going, and the maps? Ha! Yeah you remember vaguely where you are supposed to go but you are the one who has to calculate your fare and print your ticket. The machine cares not for names of stations, only fare amounts to print out.

Wacky ticket machine make gaijin crazy!

Wacky ticket machine make gaijin crazy!

I did make it to Mitaka station, another nice clean place where city efficiency blends into metro-suburban residential zoning. It’s more open and much greener here. Studio Ghibli’s museum is about a 15 minute walk from the station along an easy route on the canal.

Studio Ghibli museum

Studio Ghibli museum

The museum is a pilgrimage stop for any Otaku, and despite my age I and the presence of miriad screeching children running around, I found it to be a wonderful place. I wasn’t the only gaijin there; dozens of other from all countries showed up.

Studio Ghibli is the creation of Hiyao Miyazaki, an extremely creative animator/director whose movies have inspired many from kids to ancients. He is considered one of the best, if not the best. Having been a traditional hand-drawn animator for much of my early career, I have much respect for him and his material from both a fan-based and a professional point of view.

The museum has many neat examples of early animation all the way to modern, claymation, and more, and a whole room of various zoetropes to demonstrate it. It’s fascinating and beautiful. And then there’s the best point of pilgrimage of all, the robot guardian statue from Laputa: Castle in the Sky (my favorite movie of Miyazaki’s, and still holding the spot of #1 movie I have ever or will ever see).

The robot guardian

The robot guardian

After checking out every exhibit in the museum with wonderment, I stocked up on plenty of nerdy art souvenirs at the gift shop, sat in for a showing of one of their animated shorts that you cannot see screened anywhere else, and then headed “home” to beat rush hour subway-cramming.

In other cool news, I did make it to the restaurant where the Kill Bill fight scene was filmed, but my photo turned out crap because it’s really dark in there. The food was good, though. Anyways, here are some crappy shots:

No pool of severed limbs or guys in masks breaking through paper screens :(

No pool of severed limbs or guys in masks breaking through paper screens 😦

That's because all the screens are gone. Perhaps because they smashed them all...

That’s because all the screens are gone. Perhaps because they smashed them all…

 

Very nice sashimi plate

Very nice sashimi plate

 

Shibuya

Shibuya

I headed out into the wilds of Tokyo with shaky feet today. It has been a long time since I felt anxiety about going outside, like I was timidly emerging from my snail shell, and Japan has been doing it to me. One look at the automatic subway fare machines is enough to send you reeling back into your shell. The feeling of conquering that and diving into the culture shock, however, is like a drug, and once I was started, I was shoving it into my veins and couldn’t get enough.

Shibuya by day is an interesting place. It’s home to one of the most foot-worn intersections in Tokyo, otherwise known as the Shibuya Scramble. I saw quite a few signs posted for “Open 24 hours” and judging by the garish lighting and J-pop music blasting from every pore of every building, this has got to be a sensation at night. I shall return after dark…

It’s also home to a restaurant that serves nothing but whale. VikingBob told me about this place, and I had to try it. It has been a source of quite a few jokes between us.

You see, PETA has been waging this Orwellian campaign to whitewash marine wildlife with a new name: Sea Kittens. Why? Because fish are slimy and sharks can eat you. But nobody would hurt something called a Sea Kitten. Yes, it is absurd. No, it is not a joke, see for yourself.

Well, as you shall see, I find the flavor of Sea Kitten to be quite tasty. Like a t-shirt I saw once:

If God didn’t mean for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?

The front desk has a sign in multiple languages with “Whale,” and the front desk attendant makes sure that each visitor coming in knows what he is getting into. “Hai. Yes, I came here for whale.”

“OK,” lots of nods and bows, and ushering me to my table saying things that I am not fluent in but recognize from waiters and hosts in Japanese movies and cartoons. Hmmm, yes! Supplication! Underlings! Power!

Le Menu

Le Menu

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Stake of wood set through heart, garlic kill stop vampire may be evidence of delicious! Let’s happy!

VikingBob did not like his whale back when he was here, but I sure liked mine. I opted for the whale steak lunch, which cost about $16 with a Coke added on. To be honest, if it had been put in front of me without explanation of what it was, I would have figured it for plain old beef steak, and while I tasted my first bite I was thinking, “Ahhhh, you jokers, you are selling me beef and calling it whale.” However the texture was different, especially the rare part in the middle which was like that of tuna sashimi but very dense and heavy. It tasted like a steak but it wasn’t steak.

It reminded me of when MomBob first fed us venison, by way of spaghetti sauce, and she wouldn’t tell us what it was, only that it was something different. Only after we had eaten it did she reveal that we were eating Bambi, thinking that we would otherwise have refused. “Not so!” said we; there was more angst from the deliberate obfuscation than from the fact that Bambi was in our spaghetti. “Bambi was delicious,” we told her, and went in for seconds.

Bambi and the Sea Kittens sounds like something a J-pop band would name themselves.

Whale steak lunch

My whale steak lunch

The accompanying salad, seaweed, pickles, and miso soup were also quite delicious. It’s something I would go and get again, and the price was very reasonable.

I wandered through Shibuya looking for a comic book store that was not there. Or maybe it was. I keep thinking in two dimensions, and the Japanese are so accustomed to being stacked like cordwood, they think in three. It’s not uncommon to find bars, stores, clubs, etc. all stacked on top of one another in a small tower, and tiny signs advertising them way up high where you aren’t looking, and find difficulty reading them. Especially in Kanji. And in standard Japan style, everything inanimate has been decorated with cartoon eyes, or cartoon dogs, and whatever Engrish name or picture is there may or may not actually have anything to do with what the business offers. For example, a place called Boulangerie, that looks from the outside like a standard French Boulangerie, that sells clothing inside.

I got a tip from FilipinaBob that I should go to Gonpachi sushi restaurant, where the big fight scene was filmed in Kill Bill part 1. Maybe I’ll check it out for dinner. I didn’t know the place really existed. Should be cool!

Tokyo, Japan

Posted: August 27, 2013 in Travel
Tags: , , , ,

Tokyo is clean! It is efficient! Everything works, and is cared for with superior attention to detail. It doesn’t stink of shit, and there is not a scrap of garbage on the ground. At least none that I saw on my journey across town in the bus this afternoon, nor on my trek around the neighborhood I am staying in, Ebisu, right near the Yebisu Beer Museum.

Such a stark difference from Indonesia.

Another thing of note, the post-security part of the international terminal in Jakarta airport is worlds ahead of the domestic terminal. As in, one is totally third-world filthy, and the other is passable if not approaching first-world.

It didn’t prevent the nickel-and-dime factor, though.

Today was a sort of half-assed day since I got so few hours of sleep in the past 48. I arrived before checkin time for the tiny shoebox apartment I am renting, so I whiled away the hours drinking assorted different beers in the Yebisu museum (which didn’t help the sleepiness factor), went adventure-shopping for a can of shaving cream, sat in the Yebisu Gardens mall and people-watched, and then fell asleep reading in the lobby of the Westin hotel. Snoring gaijin are a common sight in hotel lobbies here.

It’s really weird suddenly finding yourself illiterate. Yeah I know a few words of Japanese, enough to get around, find directions, count, etc. but reading it? HA!

Tonight I was beat so I opted for the easy and painless (perhaps) option of Burger King because I can point to the pictures in the menu, grunt, and get what I want without too much trouble. By the way, it was the most perfectly-assembled and photo-accurate Whopper I have ever seen. The bun was fluffy and hemispherical, the lettuce photogenic, the onions hang out the side just like the juicy flame-broiled temptation in the menu! Perhaps it will also rot my gut 35% more efficiently than an American version.

The street I am staying on has no fewer than a dozen vending machines of all sorts of things, mostly cigarettes and drinks. There are vending machines on every block. The level of consumerism on blatant display in Japan puts the USA to shame. It’s fantastic!

Everything in the supermarket is hard to figure out, because every square inch of the packages are festooned with Kanji, and there must be a law in Japan that says that all fruit, vegetables, and whatnot on the cover must have eyes or be mascot-ized in some way. It is just not enough to show a ripe juicy tomato; it must be cute and suicidally begging you to devour it.

If there are no cute eyes drawn in where they do not belong, there is some happy-looking cartoon dog. Why, I have no idea. It’s Japan!

Tomorrow, I brave the subway system to go to Shinjuku on a hunt for a restaurant that VikingBob tells me has whale on the menu.