Japan current location8:09 AM – On the shinkansen to Tokyo.

Yesterday (September 27th) was another uneventful day. It was my last day in Misawa, and realistically I didn’t have any plans. As I stayed up late the night before posting logs and trying to catch up, I slept in until 10am! This was the latest I’ve really slept in since I got here, and most certainly I’m over jetlag. Of course, this is going to make it harder to go home. In the shower, I decided that while I had an international driver’s license, renting a car at this point probably wasn’t the best idea. Not that I expected it to happen, but if I got in a wreck or something like that, I wouldn’t know how to sort it all out, and I wouldn’t be able to leave and go see anything else until I did. To be on the safe side, I blew off the idea, got dressed, and leisurely went down to make my morning latte.

I told Lou about my plan to ship stuff back, and she said once I knew what I wanted to send, she’d find me a box big enough to hold it. I sifted out the contents of my bag upstairs and kept only what was absolutely necessary for the next week. Two pairs of shorts? Gotta go. Hadn’t even worn one. Two sweatshirts, just taking up room. I also put in most of what I’d bought so far, simply because carrying it around did me no good. What was cool for this whole sending thing is that being on base, we have access to a US Post Office, and the only costs incurred are like sending something from San Francisco to its destination. Cool, huh?

Lou and I took a short trip to the commissary, picking up some egg rolls for lunch. She got two boxes, and I heard her say that they were so good she’d be able to eat four all by herself. I assumed there were two per box, so I grabbed another so I could have two. This day, for the first time, I had decided to wear the Japanese emergency exit sign t-shirt that Bianca and Aaron had gotten me for my birthday. I’d been refraining from wearing it, since it was a little weird. I thought that it was equivalent to the bizarre t-shirts that we always saw the Japanese wear and laughed at, and I didn’t want to be seen as “that weird gaijin”. Of course, we were mostly on base, and Lou said it probably wasn’t an issue as I’d likely be wearing my jacket out. When we checked out, the credit card machine was down; it was nighttime in California, where the authentication machines were, and they were doing planned maintenance. The checkout woman apologized, and called for the manager to bring the manual machine. He was waiting on a transaction elsewhere, so we sat and waited. I took this opportunity to indulge my curiosity.

“Excuse me, but,” I asked the checkout woman, Tomoko. “this t-shirt – is it funny?”
“It’s very interesting [in a funny way],” she replied.
“But here too, English t-shirts that we see Japanese wearing are – “
“-very funny, right?” she interjected.
“Yes very much so,” I told her.
“I do like your shirt though,” she said. “I want one! Ii naa….” she noted, using the same ‘that’s so cool’ phrase that Yuriko used a lot. I was glad she did, so Lou could hear it. I smiled and we thanked her and the woman who bagged our groceries as we walked out.

We returned home, and it was about time for lunch, so we made the egg rolls. I talked with my neighbor, Kathryn, over AIM, which is really rather cool. Instant messaging with someone 6,000 miles away. Gene arrived during the cooking process, and we sat around the table eating. I showed them the pictures from Hakodate, which they thought were really interesting. The egg rolls were delicious, even without sweet and sour sauce. They were American egg rolls though, imported for the commissary. Gene returned to work soon after, and Lou and I finished up the pictures. She went upstairs for a while and read a book, and I bummed around on the computer, trying to solve Gene’s Halo server problem.

Around 2:30, Lou came back down and said we should probably try to get my box together to take to the post office. I ducked upstairs and grabbed all the things I wanted to put in it, then spent the next few minutes with Lou making them fit into a moving box. It was a perfect fit. Nothing was crammed in, but nothing was moving much either. The only thing I was really worried about was crushing the Happy Turn, but that wasn’t much of a problem. Actually, the more worrisome problem was that I put a plastic PET bottle full of soda in there. Cans weren’t really susceptible to air pressure differences, but I thought maybe this would explode on the plane. I wrapped it heavily in a plastic bag and taped it shut. We sealed the bag with packing tape and addressed it. Right at that moment, Gene arrived home from work, and Jasper went nuts, his heavy tail whacking into the walls and making the neighbors wonder who was setting off heavy explosives nearby.

“Gene, take him out, would you, he probably needs to poop,” requested Lou, and after tossing Jasper’s football to Gene, they went to the yard across the street. I went out too, and watched Jasper gallop all over creation, with Gene in chase. He really moves much like a horse because of his weight and size. A little while later, their new neighbor, Cliff, came out with Sasha, their pretty dog, which I don’t know the breed of off hand. Looks like an Alaskan-type breed, but smaller. Sasha raced around with Jasper following close behind; he’s faster overall and in a straightaway catches up in no time. Sasha is much more maneuverable though and would get some distance by reversing direction. She tired of this game though, and found a stick for Cliff to throw for her. Stick is the best game in the world, apparently. Cliff said that she really likes to run, and he was glad that they had found at least a little area for her to sprint around in. She actually caught the thing in mid-air when it bounced one time. I told him that the pugs liked to chase Frisbees and whatnot, but they didn’t have any mouths in which to catch them! He then mentioned something about a typhoon coming up from the south, and I suddenly panicked. I told him I was going south, and would need to check. Lou came out and said, hey, we need to go to the post office, it’s after four! Ack. I ran inside and got on the laptop, going to see the weather. Sure enough, there was the familiar spiral structure on the Asian satellite map. I thought maybe it wasn’t a problem, as it was headed for China, not Japan, though. Phew. Gene came in and said that the post office was actually closed for sending packages on Sundays and Mondays, as it turns out, so it didn’t matter when we would have gone, it would have been a fruitless gesture. He said he would send it for me, and since I still had to pay him back for the camera, I could just transfer the money later. That was cool of him.

My ear, as I discovered, was really hurting. The left one has been acting up anyway, as I discovered going up and down mountains with Yuriko. This was different, though, it seemed to not be related to air pressure as I could regulate the pressure decently well. I started to wonder if I had an ear infection. That would suck. Everyone needed to go to the exchange, so we all popped into the car and drove over. Gene had received his brand mew palm-sized 3CCD MiniDV camcorder, and was itching to try it out. He didn’t have any tapes, though. I needed nasal spray to see if that would help my ear out any, as the Sudafed wasn’t helping any. We all split up in the Exchange and found what we needed. I found Gene and mulled over video tape prices – 2 for $18, 3 for four cents more, or 5 plus a case for 20. Easy decision. I showed Gene how my new camera screen was so much bigger, and as we checked out, Lou was like, “Gene, you do know these tapes are twenty dollars, right?”
“Yeah but it’s 5 tapes for 20,” I told her, “it was the best deal.”
“Yeah, two for 18 or 5 for 20, you decide which is best, honey,” he said.
“Okay, you’ve been having a grand old time lately, traveling, drinking with your buddies. Well that’s all done now,” she told him, smiling, and pointed at her belly.
“Oh we’ll see about that,” he grinned.
“Uh, oh, better steal all his cards, hon!” said the checkout girl. We all had a good laugh, then returned home to try out the camera.

Jasper was the first subject of his video debut, and as it turns out, was weirded out by the camera and starting barking at it. He probably thought it was attacking Gene’s hand or something, and he got closer… closer… and finally he was right on top of the camera. We then realized he was being silly as his ears went back and his tail wagged as he tackled Gene. Lou got to try out the camera, too, and now that she had seen what it could do, no longer protested the cost. I introduced Gene to Trillian (an instant message client that supports multiple services) and then I took a gander at the satellite map of Asia. Still headed for China, I thought.

“No, it’s not,” said Gene. “It’s going to turn northeast and nail Japan. They always do.” WHAT? With Brian’s help over AIM, I located a projected path of the typhoon. Sure enough, he was telling the truth. Not only was it headed for Japan, but it was projected to hit Hiroshima the exact DAY I had planned to go.

Bianca, on AIM, said, “Your whole family is the same. Always going to the hurricane.” She was telling the truth; my parents went to Florida earlier this month, right on the cusp of Bonnie, and right before Charley. They avoided Bonnie on the plane, but ended up waiting Charley out with my grandfather in Florida. Crumbs, this was going to be a pain. “Can you change your itinerary?” Bianca asked. This wasn’t possible – Alex only has Wednesdays off, and so the day after tomorrow was going to be spent with him. Plus, once I was down there, I was down there and that was pretty much it. I really wanted to go to Hiroshima, but mostly just for okonomiyaki and to see the damage to the Itsukushima Shrine, and now, the shrine was going to be battered WHILE I was there. I tried in my head to figure out a way to avoid the heavy rainfall, but couldn’t think of anything offhand. I’d have to work on that and see depending on where the storm actually went.

Just then, we heard Lou go “oh no!” from the kitchen.
“What is it?” we asked, both casually staring at our screens. I looked at Lou, who had a sheet of paper on her hand and a very sad look on her face.
“Lemme guess,” I said, “Kikuzushi is closed on Mondays.” She didn’t respond and continued to look sad. “Must be it,” I noted.
“I’m so sorry!” she told me. “I really thought it was closed on Sundays, and I was going to check yesterday…”
“it’s okay,” I told her, “it’s not like we can do anything about it.” She picked up the phone and dialed something. Lou put the phone to her ear, then suddenly shoved it at me.
“Quick! Ask if they’re open!” I assumed he had picked up and I asked the phone in Japanese if they were open tonight.
“I’m very sorry, but this is our day off. Again, I’m very sorry,” said the voice on the phone.” I thanked the disembodied voice and hung up. I then informed Lou that they were indeed closed.
“Oh, Marc, I’m so sorry. I know you really wanted to try there again, and I really thought they were closed on Sundays.”
“It’s really okay, we meant to check yesterday, and didn’t. It’s really not a big deal; there are other restaurants.”
“Honey, just pick another place, and we’ll go there,” Gene told her.
Lou looked frustrated, stared at the English sheet of nearby restaurants, and said, “oh, I can’t pick, just pick something,” and shoved the sheet at Gene. We all looked at it, and noted that many of the places on the list were closed on Mondays. Come to think of it, La Rochelle is closed Mondays too. Must be a common day for Japanese restaurants to take a day off. Gene got on the horn and called around, even to his friend who was currently in Bahrain, to try and locate a good sushi place. He ended up talking to someone he worked with who recommended a place. We put on our jackets, as it’s gotten much, much cooler outside, got in the car, and drove out.

We weren’t entirely certain where this place was, but it was somewhere around the Asahi Super Drug we’d gone to the first day in Misawa. We took a left before the Super Drug, and drove down a little country road, of which there are a number of in Misawa. A left turn and little drive through a newish-looking residential neighborhood, Gene pulled into a little place with an electronic sign. “This is it,” he proclaimed, although none of us were as certain as he was. “Do you sushi anywhere?” Maybe he wasn’t so certain after all. I did a quick scan of all the kanji on the front and watched the electronic sign for a moment. I did see the “Su” part of sushi, but not specifically “sushi”. Gene opened up the door, and immediately confirmed what it was.

It’s called Sushi Harumi, and it’s a very, very small place. There’s a little sushi bar with about 8 seats, and two small tatami seating areas, one of which was being taken up by three salarymen who had lots of sashimi and beer on the table. They were sitting around talking and smoking, which was rather unfortunate, as it was filling the restaurant. We took three seats at the bar. The older woman, who I’m assuming was married to the chef, brought us English menus, which were pretty accurate translations of the exact text of the Japanese ones. She asked what we wanted to drink, and Lou asked for a pitcher of water. “ah, big waters,” the woman said, and brought us decently large glasses of ice water. We perused the menu, and unfortunately it wasn’t as extensive as Kikuzushi, but it was also a lot smaller. Lou asked me to check if they had tempura, and I didn’t need to ask – it was on the menu. However, little text above it said they could only make it if we’d called ahead, which of course we didn’t know to do. I asked the woman about it.
“Excuse me, but it says on the menu that only if you call ahead you’ll make tempura. As we didn’t have a reservation, is this really true?”

The woman laughed.

This really took me by surprise, and was not any of the expected responses. “Tsukuremasu ka?” I asked. ( Can you make it? ) The woman looked at her husband, heed and hawed for a bit, and asked him as well.
“It’s okay, I can do it,” he told her.
“yes, we can do that,” she informed me. She said the tempura had vegetables and shrimp, a “MIKUSU”. (mix) I old her that the woman would have one tempura, shrimp was okay, but fish was not.
“Ebi (shrimp) is okay?” she asked. Correct, I told her. “Hai, one tempura,” she confirmed, and then went off to find the ingredients. Gene and I continued to check out the menu, and somehow it didn’t seem very single-piece friendly. We both basically decided that to avoid difficulty, we’d just order the set menu, of which there were three. We chose the 2000 yen set, and I also ordered a futo maki – a “fat roll”. In addition, we ordered a kappa maki (cucumber roll) and ebi (shrimp) for Lou. The chef never stopped making sushi; he was making not only ours, but the table next to us, and also some for several to-go and delivery orders, which the woman would run out to drop off from time to time. When she wasn’t doing that, she was slicing up eggplant and other vegetables, getting Lou’s tempura ingredients ready for cooking. The chef pulled out four wooden serving trays, and presented Gene and I with the first set of our sushi.
“ I hope that’s not all you’re getting,” Lou commented. The tray had a mere 11 pieces of sushi on it, including 6 which were very small rolls (kappa and tekka, tuna). There were five full pieces of sushi, including one tuna, one salmon, on raw shrimp, one scallop, and a squid. He also delivered Lou’s ebi, but she was unhappy to discover that it was also raw. My understanding was that “ebi” is cooked, “amaebi” is not, but that wasn’t the case here. I apologized to the man, and explained that Gene would happily eat these, but would it be possible to get cooked shrimp.”
“Ah, ‘boiled’, ne,” he said. I told him that since she was pregnant, she wasn’t able to eat the raw shrimp. He said he understood, and went off to get the pots necessary to cook it. He told us as well that this was “botan ebi” which I hadn’t heard of before. I also don’t normally like raw shrimp, so I was hesitant to eat mine. However, I ate it anyway. To my surprise it was really good! I’ve never liked the texture of it before, but in this case, it was different. The sushi was actually tastier that I expected, as the presentation wasn’t as elaborate. I am really sad that I didn’t get some pictures from Kikuzushi – they have some really wonderful means of delivery. I’ll have to get Gene to nab me some pictures at some point. The sushi at Harumi was impeccable; the flavor was really fantastic. I had assumed the woman was going to make Lou’s tempura, but apparently that was just preparation. The chef dropped back in the kitchen, and we watched him whip up some batter and coat the various items in it. A lot of work went in to those items – I’ve never seen anyone work so hard on fried food before. We heard the fryer kick in, and a few minutes later, Lou was delivered a marvelous looking pile of golden tempura. She dug in. Gene complained about the heavily smoking group of salarymen, which he said ruined the flavor of the food. It’s true. The woman deposited in front us three bowls of soup. I thought, at first, that it was miso, which would have been really good. It wasn’t. Each bowl contained a clear broth, some strips of a vegetable I couldn’t identify, and two entire shrimp heads, which was not what I expected to see. The shrimp heads had obviously been added at the last minute, and were still cooking in the broth. All three of us stared at one another, then back at the soup. Were we supposed to eat the heads? Just what is this exactly? I picked up the cup and took a sip. It was very shrimpy, and tasted like it was made with the insides of the shrimp, which makes sense as the heads were in there and all. Gene and Lou pretty much set theirs aside, but I finished the broth. I made a daring attempt to bit into one of the heads just to see, and realized, nah, unless you deep fry those suckers, they’re not going down any part of my body.

At that moment, a teenage girl in a warm-ups came through the door. She was carrying a tennis racket, which she hung on the coat rack near the entrance. She came in to the kitchen, briefly, then went through a door in the back I hadn’t noticed before and disappeared. Apparently this was their house, and I was assuming, due to the age of the older woman, that this was also their house! That’s actually pretty common in Japan, but it hadn’t occurred to me here. In retrospect, I think the chef was the girl’s dad, and it’s even possible the older woman was *his* mother, as the chef looked younger than the woman did. I’m not a good judge of age, but the older woman was definitely too old to be her mother. They chef and the woman could have been age-separated siblings, too, I suppose. Soon after she arrived, the salarymen all got up and left, and I saw one man shell out over 30,000 yen. Wow. They left behind a great amount of food, too, which really surprised me.

The chef now delivered our next course, which I was expecting, but still wasn’t pleased to see – one sea urchin and one salmon roe. Neither of these items is really high up on my ‘happy taste’ list, but of course, I didn’t want to insult the chef either. Not to mention we were paying good money for this. “Come on Gene, bold cultural adventurers and all that,” I told Gene, cheering both of us on. The two of us stared at them for a moment, then each took one piece and ate it. I ate the ikura (salmon roe) first, and was once again pleasantly surprised.

No I wasn’t. I’m lying. It was awful.

I know Cloyce and several other of my friends adore the stuff, but I just absolutely abhor the texture and flavor of big, raw fish eggs popping and glooping all over my mouth. I squinted my eyes and tried not to show my utter disgust to the nice sushi chef as I quickly made an attempt at chewing, and in as big chunks as my esophagus would allow, swallowed. My hard darted to my water and I took a gigantic swig, swishing it around in my mouth to dislodge any remaining slimy bits of nastiness. Gene didn’t seem to be faring any better as he also made the same sudden motion to the water glass, and immediately asked for more water from the woman. He had started with the uni (sea urchin), which I still had to go.

I recall my first experience with both ikura and uni occurred on the same day in Houston at Japon, where my friend Kellie had been introducing me to various types of sushi. Back then, I was trying everything to see what I liked, and that was the “difficult” sushi day. The uni there was topped with a raw quail egg, and as I recall, that only added to the horrible flavor and texture, which I vowed never to order again. Technically, I hadn’t ordered this specifically, but there is was on my plate, glistening in its orange color, and was it taunting me. It’s basically the innards (roe, really) of the little spiny creature, which is about as far removed from an edible creature as nature will allow. They crack them open, dodging the long, poisonous spines, and scrape out the shell like a coconut. A bright orange, slimy coconut with scary things that will stick you and cause pain. As Dave Barry said about blowfish, “this is a creature that Mother Nature is has basically told us to leave the hell under the water”, and I think it applies here too. Still, millions of Japanese, including Yuriko, practically inhale uni, which is about as weird as them loving natto, which is basically sweat sock-smelling alien snot with little snot chunks. (It’s not, it’s actually fermented soybeans, but that’s as much as I think of it).

These were all the thoughts I contemplated as I sat procrastinating and pretending to psyche myself up enough to eat the item, which was also the most disgusting-looking one I’d ever seen. Finally, I decided enough was enough, and I might as well get this over with. I picked up the quivering mass of goo-topped rice and seaweed with my chopsticks, dipped it in soy sauce and shoved it in my mouth. For a moment, I regretted not following Gene’s example and loading it up with wasabi first. “Wasabi cures all…” he had said, topping his with a gigantic wad of green horseradish. In my mind though, topping it with wasabi could only make it worse. I chewed, and to my surprise, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered it. It still wasn’t something I’d go out of the way to eat it, but I wasn’t about to commit hara kiri either. I swallowed, and this time drank water at a normal pace. It seems that for Gene and I we experienced the same thing, only in reverse; he can stand ikura better than uni, so we agreed next time, we’d swap and eat the less disgusting of the two as a favor to one another.

I wasn’t a big fan of the kappa maki either, due to the fact that it had a really weird flavor I wasn’t expecting. To me, it tasted like eating a stinkbug, and normally kappa doesn’t taste like that. I assume this was due to the very light yellow sauce that was inside it, which I’d never seen before either. Lou was scarfing it down, though, so I gave her the last piece of mine. The tekka maki I had saved was very good, though, and removed any trace of the bad sushi bits from my mouth. Lou had passed off her “piiman” – bell pepper – to Gene as Japanese bell peppers are very strongly flavored, and she couldn’t take it right now.

On the TV above us, they were showing at first a show about “black ramen” some Sapporo region-specific flavored noodle soup, which appeared to get its namesake seasoning from the really dark greasy tar-like substance left over from cooking pork for a long time. The TV personality who tried it had a hard time stomaching it, so I’d imagine it wasn’t something I was aching to try anytime soon either. Afterwards, a show with kanji for “new death” in the title came on, and it was a reenaction of a kidnapping that had occurred in 1983. It was a little like America’s Most Wanted, but while that show tries to be as realistic as possible, this one was ultra-dramatic, with every actor seemingly having graduated from the Joey Tribbiani school of “small the fart acting”. They all were completely tense all the time, and the music followed suit, with big “BAHM BAHHHHM” chords when something like the kidnappers calling the family occurred, for instance. The show had originally showed many different horrible deaths, like reenactments of car crashes and falling off a building, right at the beginning so you knew someone was going to be mangled somewhere. It was just a matter of waiting. In this case, the kidnapper got nailed by a delivery truck crossing the freeway to retrieve his $5,000,000 ransom. The show was very pleased with itself, and did a slow zoom out from the bloody kidnappers frozen face on the pavement. Yup, new death. Them’s good eatin’ entertainment!

I watched as the sushi chef made ready my futo maki, which took a lot of work. He pulled out many different ingredients from a number of different locations to get it all complete. He tightly rolled the maki, then sliced it into 8 equal portions, which he arranged nicely on my tray. The rolls are huge; nearly 3” across, and I can honestly say, with no reservation, that this was the prettiest futo maki I’ve ever encountered. It contained such things as egg, pink sweet fish powder, cucumber, fish cake, and pickled gourd. “There’s no raw fish in it,” the sushi chef explained, motioning with his eyes towards Lou. I gave Lou and Gene both a piece to try. Lou was only so-so on it, as she said it tasted fishy. The fish powder, which normally is just sugar in the states, I think, did have a little flavor to it, which I’m sure she can detect in great amounts right now. Gene thought it was good, but was totally full. I used my hands to eat the remaining pieces of the roll, as it’s just too big to try and ingest with chopsticks. It’s always at least two bites, and it takes great effort to keep it structurally intact after you’ve broken the seaweed seal that holds it all together. It was definitely delicious, and when we were done with that, I wasn’t sure whether we had more coming or not. The chef was still cutting and doing things, but I realized after a few moments he was just preparing things for anyone else who might come in, or even for the next day.

We got up, said, “gochisoo sama deshita (that was a feast)”, and went to pay around the other side of the bar. We’d already determined the “betsu betsu” status of the check, so they knew what was on mine and what was on Gene and Lou’s tab. Mine Ended up being 3300 yen, which is about what I’d have expected. It was actually a good deal, considering the futo maki alone was 1200 yen, at which Lou was amazed that a roll could cost so much. “It’s about that much in the States, too, for a good one,” I told her. The woman asked when Lou was due, and I told her on the 16th. “Two and a half more weeks,” I said, after confirming with Lou. The woman told us that it was (I think) her daughter’s daughter’s birthday, which I relayed to Lou, who nodded and smiled back at her. We thanked them profusely, and returned to the car. The flavor of everything was really wonderful, but given the choice, I’d go back to Kikizushi, as there’s much more on the menu and the presentation adds a lot. They were extremely friendly and accommodating, though, so I do recommend them for a change of venue and possibly the most “authentic” sushi I’ve had in all of Japan so far, which is kind of a funny way to explain it. We dropped by Yokomachi on my request, where I picked up a green tea ice cream cup and a melon sherbet, which sounded good.

Gene and I managed to fix his Halo problem at home; we copied over my settings in my My Documents directory for the game and he was able to see all 400 servers that were online. This makes sense, since when he reinstalled the game, he still had the same data directory intact, so it just used the corrupt profile all over again and prevented him from seeing them. He created a new profile using my settings, and we connected to a server and played a number of games with the same group of people. I really like team games, and Gene and I usually ran around in a Warthog, one of us driving and one of us gunning. There were some really good people playing on those teams, and they usually kicked everyone’s butt. It was a good time all around. I drank my grape chu-hi, which Lou had a sip of and didn’t like, and then a peach one. I really wish they had those back home. The green tea ice cream wasn’t the best, but the melon sherbet was really tasty. After a good while of blowing people up and getting blown up ourselves, Gene went to bed, and I spent a few minutes packing so I wouldn’t be rushed tomorrow. I figured out the first train I could take was at 7:30, which was really early. However, it’s 6 hours to Kyoto, so I need as much time as possible to do it. I also made an email reservation to Ryokan Seiki, the place I usually stay in Kyoto, but was kicking myself for not making it earlier. I basically wouldn’t know until I got there if I had a room or not, unless they got the email really early in the morning. Shucks.

I did manage to get to bed by 11:30, but I couldn’t sleep. I was a little nervous about traveling for some reason and that kept me up. I wondered what was going to happen with the typhoon, too, as that would really affect my last week in Japan. At some point I did fall asleep, however.

-- Hikaru