8:16PM JST. Sadly, on the plane back to Houston. This is the longest log yet, having taken me part of three days and half of the flight back to the US to complete!
October 3rd. I slept in some this morning, as I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere. I had some places to go during the day, but nothing was pressing, at least not until 8PM and my reservation at La Rochelle. I went up to the 5th floor and took a shower in the room with the washer. The floor also houses a very large multi-person tatami room, which it seemed wasn’t really in use; the doors were open and it didn’t seem occupied. I had actually dragged myself out of bed right at nine, as the shower supposedly was only available til then. It’s not really true; there’s nothing preventing you from taking one at any time, but as they post it downstairs, it just seems rude otherwise.
I came back to the room and worked on logs for a while, but thought I’d heard the cleaning woman at 10:30, so I decided I might as well go ahead out. I walked down the stairs and was greeted by a very cute dog sitting in the hallway. This really surprised me, as I didn’t know they allowed pets. The fox-like red dog looked up at me and I leaned down to pet it. He was very sweet, and made me want to see my pugs again. That was the only thing that really made me want to return home, which was coming up way too fast. When I took a picture, the okaasan laughed, and I think it might have been her dog. As I called “Itte kimasu!” and stepped out onto the stairs, I realized it was *pouring* rain. Yuck. I had seen a forecast the night before and knew it was coming, but didn’t realize it would be this bad. I got out my sad little compact umbrella and flipped it open. It’s very small, and barely covers me and my bag. Good thing I’m not trying to cover someone else as well.
I caught the subway to Ueno, and began my last day with my rail pass. It had served me well. I’m going to calculate when I get home exactly how much the pass has saved me. The first thing I planned on doing today was to go to Shinjuku and find the street on which Lost in Translation ends up. I know, you’re all thinking, this guy’s a nut, he just won’t shut up about that movie. It’s true. It’s one of my favorites, although I know a lot of people just don’t like it. Alex told me in Kyoto that a lot of Japanese think it plays into stereotypes, but I don’t really agree. Nobody does anything in that movie I haven’t personally seen, and a lot of the time, they’re being polite and helpful, but Bill Murray’s character plays off that and makes it humorous. Some characters, like the director and the translator, Tanaka, are just that, characters, and so are weird like some characters in any movie are. To make a long story short (“too late!”) I place great importance on that movie for me, as it captures the out-of-water feeling you get when you first arrive in a new place not knowing what’s going on. It’s not exactly a love story, but I can identify with it, and in some ways wish something like that would happen to me.
I also had a mission to exchange money. Kati was going to pay for my dinner, so it wasn’t really a problem to take out some more. I had watched the scene in question from the movie and had determined, based on the position of Toocho in the background, that it was either on the front left, or the back right. I got on the train at Ueno, and was joined by a foreign girl with reddish hair. She had one of those huge camping backpacks on her back, and a smaller one attached on her front! Talk about being loaded down. I’ll stick with my external suitcase, although it is a pain on stairs. While we rode, I was standing next to her, and at one point she nearly toppled over when the train jerked suddenly. I put my hand behind her to catch her fall, but she managed to stay upright. She took off the chest backpack at that point, however.
When I exited the train at Shinjuku, I walked through the station trying to locate the South exit. Shinjuku Eki is very, very busy and confusing station, probably one of the worst in the world. Not only does it have multiple tracks, but in addition has multiple *train companies* and department stores literally splayed within it. There’s the Keio, Odakyu, and JR lines all packed within what it really a small space. I had ended up at the west exit from the train, and so I tried to maneuver my way through the OiCity Department store underground to find the South. As I walked, confused somewhat (and this doesn’t happen very often, I have a fantastic sense of direction) about how to go that way, I noticed a woman, possibly a maiko (apprentice geisha), taking pictures with various people near a travel booth. Something was going on around there, as I heard someone testing a microphone in a manner that sounded like the scene in Kentucky Fried Movie with a guy yelling an alarm through a megaphone. “Maahp! Maahp! Maahp!” he cried. It was rather funny. I decided to walk up the little shopping area out the west exit that I knew precisely would get me there, as inside the station was just too confusing. One escalator would lead you to a ticket gate, while another, right next to it would put you in women’s lingerie. Seriously.
I walked up the path and debated taking the stairs on the side because of the rain, but realized that the path was actually made of high-traction rubber and not tile as I’d originally thought. Smart. I passed the place where Cyndy had gone nuts over Pingu (“Pingu! Pingupingupingupingu!” she had cried, waddling like a penguin.) and reached the waterwall at the top. It might have been running, but with all the rain, who could tell? At this point smelled the reason I had also subconsciously taken this route. Crepes. This is by far one of my favorite desserts, and it’s so disgustingly simple, I don’t know why I’ve never done this at home. This little place would quickly make a huge eighteen-inch crepe, fill it with pretty much any type of fruit (or even tuna salad), whipped cream, and chocolate, then whip the entire mess into a cone for you to walk out and enjoy. My God they’re good. I hadn’t yet eaten anything this morning, outside of the coffee they provide for free in the room, so I kept my hands on my umbrella and resisted the temptation to run inside and eat one. Or two. Or seven.
This path leads in a tunnel under the MyLord Department store, which is one of at least five integrated into the station. I’m not sure I can count them all, since it’s difficult to determine where one ends and the next begins, especially underground. The tunnel has a few flower shops inside it, but doesn’t actually go into the depaato. I found the south entrance, which was so congested, I felt like I was in a big video game, dodging the bodies being flung at me. I turned right and followed the same path I’d taken towards the Park Hyatt the first night I was in Tokyo. I had considered going back there again before I left, but two things were stopping me. One was time, which I was quickly running out of. Two, it was cooler at night, and my final two nights in Tokyo were accounted for. Finally, it was such a magical experience, it would be hard to recreate it. I quickly came upon the Citibank 24 hour ATM center, and decided this was easier than trying to find somewhere that would exchange money on a Sunday anyway. I calculated in my head how much to take out, and settled on 40,000 yen. This was a huge sum, but considering the meal I was going to have tonight was very expensive, and undeterminably so, I wanted to be covered. Plus, I wanted to make sure and have a little extra for train travel tomorrow, souvenirs, and expenses outside of that. I put the wad of effectively hundred dollar bills in my wallet and stuffed it deep in my pocket. It was Japan, so it wasn’t horribly unsafe to carry so much cash. However, I don’t care what country I’m in, I have a tendency to lose things, and no way in hell was I going to lose that. I was a little less careful with my rail pass now; if I lost that, it was just a few hundred yen I was out for train travel in the city. It had served its purpose.
I left there and took an immediate right. Next on the agenda was to find a Vodaphone store where I could get another prepaid card. I was super low on time, and if I was to meet up with Ken tonight, I might need it. It was an expense I didn’t want to have; 3000 yen was a lot of cash for just one day of phone use. However, I figured I could call Gene or something and use up the minutes before I left. I was kicking myself for not getting the 5000 yen card initially. I found a small cellular store with many different brands and walked inside.
I asked the clerk if he sold prepaid cards, and at first, he thought sell them and stepped to the doorway to try and direct me somewhere that did. As I went into high-memory translation mode to attempt to record what he said, he suddenly stopped and told me to wait a moment. He raced into the back of the store behind a curtain and returned with a small envelope. “Is a 3000 yen card enough, it’s all we have,” he told me. Apparently they did sell them after all. I told him it was fine, and he pulled one out and wrapped it up. A card. He placed it and wrapped it in paper, then taped it shut. I gave him 3000 yen, which he took and put into the cash register. Suddenly, he placed the card on the table and started frantically searching for something. I had no idea what, but he combed the entire store looking for it. I suddenly felt in a hurry, as I had a couple more places to go in Tokyo, and I hadn’t found the street yet. He kept telling me to wait just a moment, and combed the store like crazy, flipping over papers, lifting up items and looking underneath and stopping to think every few seconds. Finally he gave up, grabbed a random magazine and used it as a backer for the carbon-paper copy of the receipt. He was looking for the plastic sheet so that the pen wouldn’t press through. I shook my head in disbelief, but thanked him when he handed me the card and the receipt. I flipped open my silly umbrella-like contraption that seemed to like to flail in the wind a lot, and stepped back into the rain.
Next on my list of things to do was food, I turned right and took a few steps, looking around. I soon realized I was in a lot of restaur-
To the left, I could see Toocho in all its grey stone strength, standing tall into the clouds above. Below it were several trees. In front of it was a road, which led through several neon signs to where I was standing.
This was it. This was the street. I blinked twice in amazement. I could not believe my good fortune, as I hadn’t even tried to find it and it practically fell into my lap. To make it even more amazing, I was nearly standing in *the spot* where Bob and Charlotte embrace. My hand fumbled for my camera bag, which was nicely soaked from the rain, and I focused in on the area. I took several pictures pointing at the massive skyscraper, then turned around to take several more in the opposite direction. I did my best, walking up and down the street, to try and find the camera position, based on my memory of the scene. I think I got it, although I’ve realized since that Sofia Coppola shot it from a long distance with zoom; her depth of field is much shorter than I can recreate with my little two hundred dollar digital. Full of glee and smiling broadly, I turned and walked down the original street, taking one last glimpse back at Toocho.
I passed a small game arcade and thought I’d drop in just one moment. I surmised that JJ’s, while cool, apparently doesn’t have any new games, which is how they make their money. This arcade, on the other hand did. It had a really nifty looking soldier shooter right in front, and the newest Beatmania (which I don’t play) in the back. Those machines are really impressive. I considered playing a game, but the clock was now ticking. I wanted to get back to the ryokan by about four, since Ken had suggested meeting up in Shibuya before my reservation. If I wanted to have any time there before leaving, I needed to get back quickly. I meandered a little, in a rush to find some good food. Nothing really looked appetizing, so I walked back towards where I remember some underground restaurants should be. I passed the cool building I’ve always liked and took a picture as I crossed the street. I also really had to pee, so I dropped into a random skyscraper to find a restroom. A lot of places have a little stand where you can put your umbrella into a long plastic bag, like a big water-resistant condom, to prevent any splillage, which could cause an accident. (big groan from the audience). This building had a long, three foot high plastic thing with a channel in the middle to run your umbrella through while you walked. I thought at first it was a big air dryer, but instead it has these big, soft, absorbent walls that allow you to wipe away the water. Cool.
I used the restroom inside, then returned outside to a nifty view of Toocho through the neighboring buildings. I played with the idea of going up to the top, but realized after looking at the structure that the observatories would be in the clouds and wouldn’t be much of a view. I switched directions and walked back to the station. I was really getting hungry now and firmly told myself that I had to decide something, and fast. I took what I thought was just an underpass back to the station, and ended up in another of the endless underground shopping malls. I passed by a few more very crowded restaurants abut didn’t see anything I could possibly try and squeeze my way into. I passed by another of the super-confusing areas; here on one side was the Odakyu line train, and right next to it, on the other side of the room, was the JR line! Talk about throwing people for a loop. I rode an escalator up and found myself at the entrance to the basement of I think the MyLord department store. As you’ve read before, department stores have large food sections in their bottoms, and it’s a wonderful sight to see. I meandered through aisle after aisle, finding lots of really wonderful and tasty dishes awaiting my ingestion. I finally stopped and got two chicken thigh rolls, one with asparagus inside, and the other with onion, and also a tray of eight futo maki, which was only 500 yen. Bloody brilliant. I wanted one more thing, and so I located a tray of yakisoba, which looked pretty good, but wasn’t really what I wanted. I was just in a hurry. I paid for the yakisoba (the others were paid for at their respective counters) and walked out the exit I thought would take me to the South entrance the fastest. As I got to it, I realized I had made a terrible mistake getting the yakisoba. To the right of me, just as I was leaving, there was a store that specialized in various man (buns), shuumai (round dumplings) and gyoza (potstickers) and each of these items was being hand-prepared through a glass window. I bit my lip. They looked so absolutely wonderful, I nearly jumped into line. The clock was ticking, though, and I had just spent about 1400 yen on food. I cried as I walked away from the store, which was called Pao Pao. My internal map was functioning correctly, and an escalator and staircase later I found myself near the South entrance. There’s a walkway that connects the second floor of a department store with the other side of the street, so I thought I might take that. I was looking for somewhere to eat my food, as benches are nonexistent in the stations.
[note: I can see on the map we’ve just crossed the International Date Line. It’s yesterday now. :)]
I could see the walkway outside, so I tried going into the store I thought was connected to it. I rode up one escalator but there was nothing but women’s lingerie. Something I’ve just remembered – this one wasn’t one of them, but quite often, lingerie stores have really hysterical names. I’ve refrained from taking any pictures of them, however, lest I be deemed a pervert. I rode up flight after flight of escalator to no avail; this wasn’t the place. Dang. However, as I stepped out to the 6th floor, I noticed that there as a big movie and music shop to my left. I decided to look for Bianca’s want, a copy of Shall We Dance? on DVD. The store was organized not alphabetically, but by category, which I guess is normal, but when it’s in the wrong language, it’s frustrating. Couple this with the fact that they have bizarre sub-categories like “Love story”, “human drama with love”, and “science fiction/fantasy love story”, it makes finding a title rather difficult. I did my best to try and locate the movie, which was not in “romantic musical”, so I eventually had to ask.
I told the girl I was looking for “Shall We Dance?” and she wasn’t sure what it was at first. She did, however, walk to the same section I was looking in, so I’d imagine she had an idea. She didn’t see it either, so she told me to wait and then raced off to a computer to check. A long while later she returned, and I could feel myself getting antsy. If they didn’t have it, they didn’t have it, and I wanted to go. She had a piece of paper in her hand with the title and some other information written on it, and started scanning several other areas of DVDs. Her search was unsuccessful, however, and she enlisted the help of another clerk who also scanned DVDs one at a time. I started to look as well in the area they were looking in, but I was pretty sure it was hopeless. I think what happened is that the computer said they had one, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Finally, the girl told me that they didn’t have it, and I thanked her and rode the escalators back down.
I took them one level too far and ended up in the basement once more. I took the stairs back out, and suddenly my cell phone rang. It was Ken.
“Hey, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to meet you tonight, I have to work. I’m really sorry,” he said.
“No big deal,” I told him, “work is work. At least we got to hang out last night.” He agreed and asked where I was right then. I said I was in Shinjuku and was trying to find somewhere to eat my lunch. He suggested Takashimaya Times Square, which is a big shopping center across the road from Shinjuku Station, and where we had watched the clock count down to New Year’s 2000. I told him it was basically where I was headed already, and it was a good idea. He told me I could stay with him anytime, and I returned the sentiment.
After I was off the phone, I thought I’d get another message from Vodaphone, but didn’t. Any minute now that thing was going to shut off, but now I didn’t really need it so much. I found a random stairway that led me to the crossover, which was where I intended to go in the first place. It’s an uncovered crossover, though, so I had to unsheathe my water-repellent sword and fend off the torrential downpour the best I could. The escalators were off on the far side, as one was being worked on, so I had to squeeze by a family who was going up while I was going down. I passed the Starbucks and an Italian restaurant across from Takashimaya, and then crossed the pedestrian bridge leading to it. I was still scanning for somewhere to sit, but wasn’t able to find anything. I did find some covered benches at the far end of the overpass, but they were completely taken up. There are lots of benches around here, but most are uncovered, which wouldn’t have done me any good!
I walked into Tokyu Hands to try and get out of the rain. Another umbrella prophylactic later, I was walking the length of Takashimaya Times Square, which also contains many floors (fourteen, actually), and each one is completely loaded with different shops. Some, like Tokyo Hands, span multiple floors. Near the far end, which is close to the station again, I ducked back into the rain. I finally located a covered bench, and sat down to eat my lunch. The chicken was yummy; each was a chicken thigh, seasoned, and then wrapped around a piece of asparagus or onion. The futo maki I ate at the same time, having difficulty with the soy sauce. It wasn’t as good as Misawa’s, but it hit the spot. Too much, actually, and I found that I was getting full really, really quickly. I decided to forego the yakisoba, and put it into my backpack. I still wanted a crepe, and by golly I wasn’t going to gorge beforehand.
I had entertainment for this lunch, which was fun. A man and his partner a little ways away from me were performing for a crowd of onlookers and a TV camera. I had seen signs for a “Fall Festival” or some such, so I’d assume that’s what this was about. He was somewhat of a magician, but mostly was a juggler and tossed around hats, blocks, and eventually balls, although I didn’t stay around to see what he did with them. I left there and walked under the street dividing this place with Shinjuku Station and passed by the extremely crowded JR entrance gate.
I found the staircase I’d come down earlier that day and walked back up to the lovely smell emanating from the dessert establishment. I looked outside at the plastic representations of the different types they offered, and didn’t see my peach standby. I decided on a Peach Special, which was at least similar. As I stepped inside, however, there was an entirely different menu, and so I chose the one I always get, the Peaches and fresh cream.”
“Peechi nama kureemu o hitotsu onegai shimasu,” I said to the girl, ordering one.
“Hai,” she said, punching some keys on the register. “Sanbyaku sanjyuu yon en desu.” It was three hundred thirty four yen. I plopped my coins down in the little tray on the counter; you give money by putting it on the tray everyone usually has, and most of the time they return the change to your hand. Kinda weird, but that’s how it works. While I was counting out coins, she walked over to the flat, round griddle and poured out a ladle of batter, which she then spread all over the surface, creating a large, flat disc. Using a long spatula knife, she separated it from the cooking area, and a few moments later, she flipped it. Not ten seconds after that it was off, and was laid to rest on a board where into it she placed several cold, canned peaches from the refrigerator and a good deal of whipped cream. She folded this, then flipped it around on itself to create a tight cone, and placed the entire thing into a paper wrapper, which she then handed to me. “Hai, peechi nama kureemu desu. Arigatoo gozaimashita!” I thanked her and stepped outside. I’ve finally gotten down the –mashita and –masu for the thanks. I never used to know when to use “arigatoo gozaimasu” and “arigatoo gozaimashita” when thanking/being thanked. Now I know. They always say ‘gozaimasu’ as they finish the transaction, and as you walk out, they say ‘-mashita’, as it’s the past tense form. Makes perfect sense now. Typically, as a consumer, you’ll never use “-mashita” when thanking people.
I stood under the overhang under the store and chomped large bites out of the sweet dessert. I cannot stress enough how delicious those are. I think there’s one in the Houston Galleria, and I may have to visit it next time I’m there. This particular place holds a special place in my heart however, and I always make an effort to go there. The warm crepe, contrasted with the sweet, cold whipped cream mixed with the peaches perfectly and I downed the last of it – whipped cream contained within right to the last bite. Yum, yum, yum.
The next stop in my mental itinerary was Harajuku, as I’d been wanting to see the crazy getups the people all wear there on Sundays. I was lucky, as this was a Sunday, and I had time to go. In earlier days, before I’d ever visited, they used to have dozens of bands, which would all perform there in front of the entrance to the Meiji Shrine, battling it out with music. However, years ago the police put a stop to it, and now kids just came in fabulously ridiculous outfits to attempt, however improbable as it was in that condition, to get noticed. I’d seen some in previous visits and wondered what I’d see today.
As I walked through the Oicity Depaato and approached an escalator down to the JR trains, I was met with the answer to the mystery of why the sound engineer was sending out an alert. Several women in traditional Japanese kimono were performing old-style dances on a stage below, accompanied by shamisen and other Japanese instruments. A huge crowd had gathered; even in Japan, this is still a rarity. I took a short video from the best vantage point I could find, which other people around me had also discovered. Unfortunately the crowd control people moved us off, so I decided to head on to Harajuku.
I located Harajuku on the map; it was two stops from Shinjuku, and the stop before Shibuya on the Yamanote line, so it was perfectly aligned with my plans for the day. The train was very crowded on the way there, and when I arrived, practically everyone got off. This was surprising. There’s only a small tunnel exit under the tracks, and the massive lemming-like movement was causing great difficulty for people walking the other way. One woman in stiletto heels yelped as she was thrown off balance. I managed to squeeze my way out of the station, and when I looked up, the word, “Wow…” escaped my lips.
Everywhere you looked, there were people, and each of those people held an umbrella. The road in front of me looked like a gigantic river, with nylon and plastic as far as the eye could see. I maneuvered my way south from here towards Meiji, and located the bridge leading to it. This is where the crowds of odd-looking kids usually sit, but today, there was nothing. The rain had scared everyone off. I took a quick shot of the entrance to Meiji, to prove I was there, then walked back to the station. Nobody was going to Meiji, which was weird considering the number of people who got off the train. I soon realized why – a ticket scalper was standing there barking out that he had tickets for something, and a moment later I noticed another. Something was happening in Harajuku that day, but I had no idea what. The mystery remained unsolved and I used my rail pass to get back on the train to Shibuya.
When I arrived, I had somehow managed to exit on the wrong side of the station. Shibuya’s pretty big, too, and also houses about four subways and two train lines. This exit was by the bus area, and I took a general path through the station I thought would get me to the Central Exit. It did, and I returned out of the covered station into the rain. Umbrellas were everywhere. I was immediately cheered up, however, by the appearance of the massive LED TV that spans the entire wall of a building. It’s called LED Vision, and it’s very, very impressive. Just as I’d walked out I noticed the tail of the dinosaur walk across it and I snapped my fingers. I wanted a picture of it. I found a place to stand, and waited. Various ads danced across it, but the dinosaur did not come. I watched the other two big wall TVs and waited. The dinosaur still did not come. I made a hard limit of no longer waiting after 2:30, which made it fifteen minutes. I took a picture of the Akita dog statue that was close to me, which commemorates a really sad story. In 1925 there was an old professor that had a dog which would come to the station every day and greet him home. Unbenownst to the dog, the professor passed away. The dog continued to come to the station every day to wait for his master for the next eleven years, until he too, passed away. It’s a very sad story of devotion and it makes me tear up every time I think about it, which I am now.
2:30 rolled around, and still no freakin’ dinosaur. I gave it another two minutes, but finally gave up and crossed the street at the next light change. The big LED vision also has cameras in it, and will, from time to time, put whoever is crossing the street up on the sign. As I crossed I tried to separate myself from the crowd and looked up, searching for a sign of me. I’d seen some kids jumping up and down earlier, and they were plainly visible. I snapped a picture or two as I crossed, but wasn’t sure I could find myself in the image. My goal here was to go to the Starbucks there in the Q Front building and take a picture of the crosswalk. [warning: more LIT geekness…) When they were filming the movie (guerilla filmmaking they called it), they shot a bit from inside Starbucks, without even getting permission. They bought some coffee, went upstairs, and quickly set up the camera long enough to film Scarlett Johannson cross the street. I went inside the Q Front building, but Starbucks was completely and totally full. I noticed another DVD store, so I wandered through, but couldn’t locate any Japanese movies whatsoever. I found an elevator and got inside with some others. They pressed the button for 5, and I wanted 4, which the sign for read “DVD and CD” plus something else I didn’t understand at the time.
The elevator went down. We all had gotten in a down elevator, even though no one was on it, and no one was going back up on the lower floors. We all had to re-press our buttons at 1, and so it was just a minor convenience. I exited onto the fourth floor, and CDs and DVDs were everywhere. I noticed that they all had little price stickers on them, with the kanji for “old”. These were all used, which was what the other stuff on the sign meant. Used is perfectly fine with me, I thought, as this would cut down on price remarkably. I located a few CDs I wanted, and then turned a corner, locating the other artists I liked, such as Hamasaki Ayumi and Koda Kumi. The selection for Hamasaki Ayumi was massive, and I pulled one out I knew I didn’t already own. The price was remarkably low, only 630 yen, and this worried me. I suddenly noticed, to the right, was coincidentally Puffy AmiYumi, which is the pair of girls that sings the Teen Titans theme. I pulled out one CD and couldn’t believe my eyes. The sticker said it was only 120 yen. What? There’s no freakin’ way, I thought. It was only a single, but here those are still at least 1000 yen, just like the 20,000 plus yen worth of CDs I’d bought in Hakodate. I checked another, and another, and each one was hysterically low-priced. This had to be something else, like a discount or something, I thought, but when I noticed another CD, a newish one, that had a 2900 yen pricetag (new CDs are on the order of 3000 yen here) I was pretty sure it was true. I started loading up my hands with CDs, amazed at my luck. The structure I carried was incredibly unstable, and just like a game of Jenga, it eventually toppled. I pretty girl nearby helped me pick them up and I thanked her and smiled. I located a basket and transferred my selections within. As I checked out, I was very pleased to realize that, in fact, those prices were correct. I bristled with excitement as I was able to buy about 14 CDs for just over 5000 yen. Rock ON.
I checked again for Bianca’s DVD, but still nothing doing. I had no idea it was going to be this hard to find! I went up to the top floor, which held manga and anime, and looked around. There is a lot I don’t recognize now; I’m not as much of an anime geek as I used to be I guess. I did see some One Piece stuff, which Kelly is a big fan of. I passed through the video games, which were on the same floor, and really wished I had a Japanese PS2 as some of them were most certainly never coming out in the States.
I returned to the first floor by escalator and decided Starbucks was worth the effort. I waited in line, gave my order to a guy standing there waiting, and he wrote a number seven on a piece of paper. This place is very narrow, as it’s in between the store and the LED Vision hardware. The whole place is maybe 20 to 25 feet wide, including the coffee counter. It’s also very busy, so much so that they’ve eliminated sizes. There’s just one size which I guess is Tall. The guy called out my latte, and had me stand in a cashier line. I handed her the paper and paid the 350 yen, then waited in the retrieval line behind several others. Another girl would take the receipt from those waiting and would hand them their order as it was ready, which only took about a minute, much faster than a regular Starbucks. I’m sure all this talk of Starbucks is making my friend Stephanie cringe; she can’t stand the place. In my defense, while Japan is overrun with coffee houses, there are generally very few non-chain places to get coffee in large areas of Japan, and Starbucks is the only completely non-smoking establishment. So there. ;)
I used the Sugar Next again, which I have learned is not really calorie-free, it’s “calorie-less” which means fewer calories. “Minus one-fifth”, it says on the label. In the grand scheme of sugar packets, I don’t see that it buys anything tangible, other than it dissolves really easily. I carried this upstairs; there are even tables on the *stairway* it’s so narrow! I located a useful spot, and then snapped a photo of the crosswalk as people passed, completing my objective. I found a table that had just been freed, so I stopped long enough to put the CDs and game in my backpack and pull out the guide book. Last trip, Molly and I had been to visit La Rochelle, briefly, and therefore, I vaguely knew where it was. I looked out the window, and wasn’t able to verify its location, however, so I checked the map in the Lonely Planet to see if they had it listed. It wasn’t, so I put it away, picked up my backpack, and released the table to two foreigners who were standing around, waiting for a spot. I walked back down the stairs and out the more convenient exit past some more of the hundreds of Australian tourists I seemed to be passing all the time. They were debating going upstairs, and I reached for my –
Oh crap, where’s my umbrella? Dag-freakin’-nabbit I raced back up the ultra narrow staircase in Starbucks and worked my way the best I could to the table, where the two guys were still perched. I didn’t see it, and it wasn’t on the bench by the window either. I knew I’d had it when I got here, as I had to make sure it practiced safe-rain with the plastic cover. I returned via escalator to the CD shop, and waited in line. When it was my turn, I told the clerk, who was not the girl I’d had earlier, “I was here just a little while ago, and I seem to have forgotten my umbrella.”
“Ah,” she said, and turned around, picking up the transparently-encased item off the desk behind her. That’s two.
I walked back out of the building and into the downpour, thankful I didn’t have to buy a new umbrella. I decided it was time to go back home, as it was nearing four. That way I could sit down for a bit, work on the logs, which seem to take up all my free time here, and relax some before leaving to come back here. I wasn’t going to meet Ken anymore, so all I had to do was get back in time for the reservation. I figured a seven PM arrival would give me some time to walk around and find it. I walked back across the street and looked up.
There was that damn tail again. I shook my fists in frustration. Not waiting for it. This time however, I was closer, and it didn’t look so much like a dinosaur as a whale. Maybe they changed out big animals every so often. The movie had been made two years ago, after all. I went inside and found a manned ticket gate. Some gaikokujin (foreigners) were standing outside, wondering if they should go in there. A man was discussing something with the ticket agent, and his son, who I figured out was mentally challenged, was standing in the gate. The gaikokjin stood there, holding their rail passes, but started pointing towards different gates. The man realized his son was blocking the way, and pulled him aside, so I walked past, flashing my rail pass as I did. Most of the agents don’t even look at it really, and I wonder how long you could get away with having an expired one. As I walked in, a man who was sitting on the floor approached me.
“Do you speak English?” he asked, in English.
“Hai…” I replied, confused.
“Ah, you understand Japanese?” He had switched languages. I nodded. “Loan me three hundred yen,” he said.
“I don’t have three hundred yen,” I told him, and patted my pockets. It actually wasn’t a lie – I was very limited on coins at that moment. I had a few tens maybe, but no hundreds.
“Then how about a hundred, please,” he begged.
“I don’t even have a hundred,” I said, nicely.
“Okay, thank you,” he said, and returned to his spot on the floor. He didn’t look like he was really a beggar, per se – his clothes were decent. Most likely he didn’t have the train fare to get out, or had lost his ticket. In the former case, he could have just returned to where he had enough money to do so to get out, so maybe he was just begging for cash. Still, right by the exit gate seemed like an odd place to do so.
I had walked away rather quickly from the situation, and had taken the first available staircase. I noticed, after I’d reached the top, that I had picked the wrong direction. This Yamanote line went away from Shinjuku, and that wasn’t where I needed to go. There wasn’t a way to cut across to the other track, so I had to take another stairway down to the main deck and cut across to the track that was pointed the right way. As I rode the various trains back to Iriya, I timed the trip so I knew how much time I needed to get back to Shibuya.
I worked on the logs for a while back at the ryokan, checked email, and generally relaxed. I noticed my shirt was wrinkled beyond compare, as three weeks of riding around smushed in a suitcase didn’t really help it stay all pressed and smooth. I figured I had plenty of time, and at 6, I’d run down to the public bath, clean up, and use the steam to release some of the worked in creases. When six rolled around, I put the laptop down, grabbed my shirt, pants, and razor and went down to the first floor. Oh nuts. The sign on the door was set on “in use” and considering I’d seen someone take a bath early in the evening twice now, it was probably him. It’s big enough for several people, and I could most certainly have shared it with him, as the name public bath implies. However, unless it’s in a big resort with hot spring-fed spas, cavorting naked with another random guy in close proximity isn’t really my bag. I decided to wait a little. After 6:15, however, the bathroom was still not vacated. I gave up on this idea and instead raced my stuff up to the fifth floor and the shower. I turned on the water, as hot as I could, to create as much steam as possible, then hung the shirt on the door stop inside the door. I left this briefly by itself, as I’d left my razor in the room downstairs, and went downstairs to retrieve it. The steam was working its magic, and as I returned, the shirt was noticeably smoother. I decided instead of just shaving, I’d take a full shower. The shirt continued to steam while I bathed, and I tried really hard not to splash any water on the shirt. I took the shirt out with me, and ran my hand against it, trying to get rid of what still remained bunched up on the cotton.
I knew that time was running short, so I raced back down to my room, and got dressed in my shirt and tie. I had brought one set of nice clothes with me, and I had grabbed them rather quickly before I left. It was readily apparent at this point that while the shirt fit really well, the neck was too tight. It was possible to button it, but I felt like I was being strangled, so I undid it until dinner. I quickly copied down directions from the La Rochelle website, and shut off the computer. My camera and umbrella were my only companions this time as I carried my dress shoes down to the entrance and put them on outside. The rain was continuing, so I ducked under my umbrella before hurrying my way to the subway.
I arrived at Shibuya station, and knew that I needed to take the north exit, according to the map. I had copied it down perfectly, but as I stepped out of the exit, I had no idea where I was in relation to it. I was standing near the same bus terminal, and wasn’t sure whether I had stepped out in the right place or not. I had only 30 minutes before my reservation when I had arrived, and I was really confused. I thought about asking someone, but as I walked up an overpass to see if I could see a little better, no one was available. I started to panic, slightly. However, as I rounded the bend, I recognized something.
There it was, Cross Tower, emerging from behind the building in front of me. I was so relieved! I practically skipped down the stairs, and then realized I had a good fifteen minutes left. I passed by a group of teens who were chatting out in the rain, and approached the building. I walked slowly up and over the pedestrian bridge across the street, killing time, then entered the building as a big puff of wind threatened to take my umbrella with it. I closed it down as I walked in, then wandered around the lobby some. During the day, I’m sure this place is bustling; it has its own Starbucks in the lobby. However, at 8pm on Sunday, it was dead. I located a restroom, checked myself in the mirror, then walked to the elevator. I got on with another couple who were headed for the same floor, and waited as the lift moved to the 32nd floor. I found that I was nervous and my heart was pounding a little. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the restaurant, the elevator, or both.
Before I get to the restaurant, let me preface it by saying this:
I love my sister. She is the best. Kati is cooler than cool itself.
When I first arrived on the 32nd floor, I turned right out of the elevator (the other couple went left to the Grand Café) and walked through the curtained entranceway. As I walked in, and turned to the left, two women were standing at the cash register. I had been practicing “I’m Marc Hernandez, and I have an 8pm reservation,” over and over, even though I really didn’t need to. When I actually approached these women, I got through “Marc Hernandez” and that was pretty much it. They knew exactly who I was, and why I was there That was really amazing; I’ve never had any restaurant, reservation or no, be pretty much chomping at the bit to serve me. A woman extended her hand, which I thought briefly she wanted to shake mine, and I stuck my hand out. She gestured a little further, and I realized she had said “kasa” which is umbrella. Duh. I handed over my umbrella to her and she disappeared with it into the back. They had me take a seat for just a moment to wait.
The waiting lasted all of exactly thirty seconds. A man came out, asked for me by name, and then walked me into the restaurant which is very, very upscale and classy. I passed by a table of foreigners and a couple Japanese, which I guessed to be business associates who were out to dinner together. What surprised me was that all three of the foreigners and one of the Japanese were wearing blue jeans. They had on golf shirts, too, and one was still wearing his windbreaker. I had spent all this time worrying if I needed a dinner jacket for this place, and here they were coming in wearing denim. Another table nearby was dressy, but slightly less than me, even. However, I did see a table or two where people were wearing sport coats. That made me feel better.
He led me to a table on the left; the row was empty. The restaurant was only partly filled, I guess because it was so late and it was a Sunday night. The table he led me two was already only set with one set of tableware and plates. They had reserved this specifically for a party of one, namely me. None of that ‘pick a table and remove the unnecessary stuff’ - it was already waiting. He pulled the table out so I could take my seat, then pushed the table back up near me, tucking me in, so to speak. He bowed and walked away. The table was really beautifully set with elegant plates and several forks, knives and spoons. I suddenly had a thought – I’m a gigantic uncultured swine, and any moment now these people are going to realize this and toss me out of the 32nd floor window they reserve for people posing as high society. I really didn’t know what I was doing, and couldn’t get Julia Roberts’ line from Pretty Woman out of my head as I stared at the cutlery: “But that’s the fork I know.” There were three forks, three knives and a spoon, and heaven help me I didn’t know which was which. I guessed the large one was the main course one, but the others… one had to be a salad fork, I figured that too. Oh and that’s a soup spoon, no question. Still, I felt very ill-mannered generally and sat quietly looking around. Was I supposed to call the waiter?
A moment later another man in a suit approached and brought me a small menu. He asked if I spoke Japanese in English, and when I told him I did, he switched languages. He asked if I’d prefer a glass of wine or champagne before dinner, so I skimmed through the available selections. I’m more of a red wine drinker, so I picked one of the five choices; not the most expensive, but not the cheapest either. In either case, it was over 1000 yen per glass. Money, in this case, wasn’t all that much of an object, but I figured I didn’t need the most expensive glass anyway. He said the wine I’d chosen was a bold wine, and I said that was fine. He switched glasses on the table to a different shaped one, then poured a glass of my first choice, which was vintage 2000, a French wine, and unfortunately I can’t remember any of the wines beyond their vintage. I wish I did. I tasted the wine, and it was delicious.
A cute, short-ish woman came over ( I found out later her name is Nishimura-san) and presented me with a menu. She said that there were three possible options, which I’d somewhat explored just outside the entrance, but didn’t know what they meant. The first option was a set of three courses, each one containing a different number of dishes. The second option was the current menu course, which contained a few more dishes. The final option was called “History” and a picture of Chef Sakai was next to it. She explained that this course was the traditional menu for the restaurant, as created by Chef Sakai, and it was an entirely different menu altogether. She stepped back and let me decide. The first option was 8250 yen, which in itself is pricey. The second option kicks it up a notch to 12,000 yen, and of course, Sakai’s personal recipes are an outlandish 15,500 yen! However, as Kati’s entire purpose here was for me to experience Sakai’s cooking in a tasting-menu fashion, there wasn’t really much of a choice.
“I’ll take the History,” I told her.
“Of course, sir. She stepped away for a moment, and returned instantly, presenting me with a smaller menu that had an oil painting on the cover. Inside was an English description of the History menu, with a picture of Chef Sakai inside it. I examined it, nodded, and handed it back to her. She initially placed it inside the other menu, then stopped, pulled it back out, and handed it to me. “Please take this with you (as a souvenir),” she told me and returned to the back with my order. Perfect, I thought, since this will help me remember what it is I ate! Kati is expecting a detailed account, and by golly, that woman deserves one. (This whole section I’ve written as soon as possible afterwards to prevent me from forgetting any of the flavors or textures, but the way)
Here is the menu, as it is written:
Chef Sakai’s Traditional menu.
*Hors d’oeuvres Barrie* [these two lines are in Japanese]
~5 flavors to enjoy~
Mousse of Cauliflower with Caviar.
Sea Urchin and Egg Gratin.
Australian Lobster and Tuna with salad.
Foiegras sauté with White Asparagus.
Abalone with Shark Fin.
*Main Food* [Japanese]
Either one please choose.
Canadian Lobster with Ireland Mussel.
Grilled of Japanese Sirloin Steak
with Wasabi Sauce.
Dessert & Coffee
A section of green text reads (word for word, in French and English):
The kind of restaurant where you know you can count on getting
that feeling of sheer contentment that comes with the finest food.
It’s a commitment we make-and one surely required of any restaurant
that wants to be loved and appreciated by its our wedding customers.
Un assortiment de hors d’oeuvre poisson ou viande et desserts. Servis en portions légères Selon l’idée de Sakai Hiroyuki.
Reading this really made me excited. I snacked on the two breadsticks and some pretty garnish-type items that I think were made of long, thin strips of potato. I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to eat them or not, but they tasted pretty good, so probably so. They had brought out a tub of butter, and I glazed the breadsticks in it before tasting each bite. Even the butter tasted expensive. Across from me, a very beautiful Japanese woman was having dinner with her husband.
A few moments later, a different woman came by, took away my plate and the breadstick plate in preparation for my meal, which was about to begin. The third man I met for the evening delivered the first of five appetizers. This was the cauliflower mousse, which was in a small glass cup and was topped with a piece of crabmeat and a dab of caviar. Immediately upon seeing the caviar, I felt like a judge on Iron Chef, since they see it all the time. I’ve never really had expensive caviar before, so this was really going to be a new experience for me. Beside the mousse were two little stacks of items on toothpicks, each one totally different than the other. For a moment, I was stumped. I only had one spoon, and that most certainly was going to be used for the soup. In that case, how was I to eat the mousse, which had the consistency of a light custard? I decided on one of my small forks, and took a little dab on the tip which I placed into my mouth.
I have noticed usually that when I or anyone else I’ve seen is eating an expensive meal, suddenly the pace drops to near slow-motion. The Japanese woman nearby was doing exactly this. Each bite is slowly and meticulously carved out of the parent food item, and the utensil is drawn leisurely to the mouth. The utensil is removed, leaving the food behind, and the bite is savored for a good deal of time before the next portion is scoped out and engineered. The reason for this is partly financial, I’m sure; nobody wants to scarf down a several hundred dollar meal. In this case however, I realized I was doing it because the flavor was good. Damn good.
The texture of the mousse was very so light and creamy, and the flavor was just an airy type of taste, with only a hint of cauliflower. The caviar, when added in small amounts, created the perfect amount of salt to compliment it. I tried each of the toothpicked items and was allowed to enjoy each mix of flavors for only one bite. The first had a small piece of smoked salmon, a cucumber, and I think some kind of cheese, while the second replaced the salmon with a different smoked fish, perhaps sardine. Both were slightly salty, but otherwise delicious. I finished off as much of the mousse as possible with the fork, and then used a small piece of bread from the roll they’d delivered me earlier to scoop out what I could. I’m sure it was very uncouth, but I wanted every last molecule of the mousse. Nishimura-san came by and picked up the plate.
The next course arrived about three minutes later, which appeared as an eggshell with one end lopped off, filled with an orange-ish cream. The surface had been toasted as if they’d placed the entire item under a broiler for a moment. Two pieces of toast appeared on the plate beside it. This was the Sea Urchin and Egg Gratin, and using the small spoon they supplied, I spread some on a piece of toast and took a bite. As you well know from previous logs, I don’t really like sea urchin. In this case, however, I had no trouble enjoying the dish. Digging in layers within the shell, I uncovered sea urchin, cheese, and finally egg, which I had guessed was cooked only in the broiler after the gratin had been added due to its smooth consistency. The urchin added a wonderful tartness to the entire dish, and the egg added a custard-like texture. I scraped the eggshell clean of the gratin and eagerly awaited my next dish.
A new man arrived, this time a foreigner. I’d seen him delivering food to other tables; he spoke Japanese fluently. My guess is that he was Italian, and he apparently also spoke English. He placed a new plate in front of me, this one containing a small pile of greens and several pieces of lobster and seared tuna arranged in a ring. A dabble of different sauces was on the plate, adding color to the already brilliant salad. “This is Australian lobster,” he told me, “with tuna, and a salad.” I had guessed as much, but appreciated the English description anyway. I was very impressed with the flavor – it wasn’t just a salad as I’d thought. Mixed in with the greens were fresh dill and fresh tarragon leaves, something I’d never seen in a salad before. What I initially thought were artichoke hearts in appearance were actually green tomatoes, a cooked carrot, and ultrathin slices of red onion completed the salad greens. The lobster was extra tender; it was cooked only to exact doneness and no more. The tuna was seared with some sort of spice, but I could not pick it out. I made sure and mixed as many flavors as possible in each bite, and rotated each of the sauces, which I could not determine the flavors of either. One I think had a little mint in it (the green one) although the tarragon was driving off my ability to figure out what was in each type. I finished off my salad, making sure that every remaining item from the plate was in my final bite. Again, Nishimura-san took my plate. I told her that the dish was absolutely fabulous, and she was glad that I liked it. She asked whether I was living in Japan, and I told her no, I was just visiting, and my last day was Tuesday. She was surprised that I didn’t because my Japanese was so good. She took away the plate, my fork, and even the knife that I only used once and tried to hide my usage of since I didn’t know if that was okay to do.
The next course I was eagerly anticipating. I noticed earlier that I was going to get to have foie gras, and said to myself out loud, “oh good! I’ve never had foie gras before!” I hadn’t, and they use it all the time on Iron Chef. I’ve been wondering for ages what it tastes like. Yet another man delivered this dish, and he explained that it was foie gras on white asparagus; the sauce was black vinegar, and the red paste nearby was cranberry. I used one of my mini knives to cut off a piece of foie gras, which was coated in something green, asparagus, and then dipped the entire sample in the sauce. I added some cranberry for good measure, then placed it in my mouth. Foie gras is very smooth in texture, like a very thick pudding, but has a chicken liver-ish taste, although not nearly as strong. The cranberry and vinegar flavors acted as an enhancer, bringing out subtle flavors I’m sure I would not have been able to taste otherwise. Wonderful, completely wonderful. When the second man took away my plate, he motioned to my empty wine glass and I asked him if I could see the wine list again. He brought it to me, and this time I did order the expensive one. He thanked me, then walked off. A different waiter appeared, and asked if I’d like another glass of wine in English. I tried to figure out how to say I’d already ordered one in Japanese, but decided to say it in English.
“I think he’s getting me one,” I said, but this only prompted him to get the wine menu. I decided to try anyway. “I’ve already ordered,” I said to him in Japanese, and it was then clear. The original man returned and had a small conversation with the new one. The original man placed a different-shaped wine glass on my table and poured me a new glass of wine. This one was also French, but was vintage 2001. Again, I hate that I don’t remember the names. It, too was very good, but I liked the original slightly more.
Nishimura-san showed up again, this time delivering silverware. She dropped off another salad-sized fork onto my plate, and beside my knives something totally different, then walked off. What the hell was that, I wondered. It looked like a spoon, but it was flatter, and had a notch cut out of one side. Maybe this was the elusive ‘plork’, cousin to the spork, and was only used on the first Sunday of every month. I really had no idea.
The final appetizer, Abalone with Shark fin arrived, delivered by the same man who’d dropped off the gratin. It was in a huge bowl, but only the center of the bowl actually held anything. He explained it was abalone, shark fin, and the sauce was made of shrimp, primarily. Underneath was Japanese rice. I thanked him, took a picture of it, and then tried to determine how to eat it. The entire surface of the thing was covered in a gelatinous veil, which I determined must be shark fin. Big chunks of cheawy abalone swam in the broth, so I cut through the goo with the plork. (how many times do you get to say that in life?) I also used it to cut pieces off the abalone; the sauce was the best part, especially when mixed with the rice. I tried to take as small bites of abalone as possible, using the edge of the plork as a knife. There were two types of shark fin; the clear gelatin layer and something that appeared fibrous, but was not As usual, I was very content with this dish, and scraped out every possible molecule.
The next course was the soup, but when it arrived, it wasn’t what I expected. It was in a very small cup, and man #4 ( a new one ) I think explained that it was oyster flan topped with a champagne-flavored foam. Very strange, that sounded, but once again, I was not let down. The black foam gave way to a small ravioli type item that was filled with, as described, oyster flan. It was a normal custard consistency under the very light foam, but had a strong oyster flavor. This also didn’t last very long, and Nishimura-san walked away with the cup soon after. A waiter brought me a third piece of bread, and I realized that this one was also different; each time they’d provided me with bread, each piece was slightly different from the previous one. First a small round roll, then a hard, crust oval roll, and now a piece of baguette.
Under a big silver lid, the main course was delivered to me by man number 3. He explained that this was Takeda (?) beef, which is “very high quality”. This was an understatement. It was a very small piece of meat, probably four ounces, and was surrounded by a red wasabi sauce. It was cooked to medium rare, at most, but probably closer to rare. Along side this were grilled zucchini, aspiration, pickled daikon, eggplant, and a fried potato wedge. I have always said that my pan-seared wagyu beef steaks are the best I’ve ever had. No longer. Each bite literally melted in my mouth. Just for kicks, I tried to chew a bite with my tongue, and *succeeded*. Nishimura-san came by and asked if it was too spicy. I told her that it wasn’t, and since I liked wasabi, it was really good. I slowly and casually took nibbles of steak to make it last as long as possible, and interrupted these with bites of different items from the plate. I sat back when I was done and sighed heavily. Nishimura san took my plate and asked if it was good, to which I replied, “In all of my life, that was the most delicious steak I’ve ever eaten.” She was very pleased to hear so.
“And you like wasabi, so that made it more delicious, right?” she added. “Do you like cheese?” she asked suddenly, and I told her I did. She walked off.
Just as the Japanese woman near my got up to use the restroom, I noticed several waiters coming out with two desserts; one was sporting a candle. They saw her get up, however, and made an abrupt U-turn and returned to the kitchen. That was very funny, but was also a very good indication of how much they pay attention to their customers. As soon as she returned, they brought out the desserts, and a small music box played happy birthday in a classically oriented way.
I had assumed dessert was coming next, but the Italian waiter appeared, pushing a tray of partial wheels of cheese. So this is what she was asking about. He said that it wasn’t part of the dinner course, but if I wanted to, I could sample the various types of cheese they had available. Absolutely, I told him. He then walked through each of the types he had available. There were three camemberts, three ‘washed’ cheese, each one washed in seawater, brandy, and grappa respectively, three different types of blue cheese, and three different types of goat cheese. There was also one orange “hard” cheese. He asked what I’d like, and at first, I told him “I’d like to start with the camembert,” but he was waiting for more decisions. I then said, “I’d really like to try them all! Is that possible to get a small bite of all of them?”
“Sure,” he said, “why not!” He rolled the cart away, got a bigger plate, and began to cut up cheese. He delivered the plate to me, and said “I only gave you small bites; I didn’t think that you would be able to finish otherwise.”
“No”, I said, “this is perfect,” and it was. He also brought me some dried figs, raisins, and walnuts to eat along with the cheese, as they went very well. I tried each of the cheeses initially alone, and then again with various fruits and on crackers, which he’d also supplied. Aside from one of the goat cheeses that had a really strong flavor I wasn’t fond of, I loved each and every one of these, and imagined that my friend Stephanie, who is half French, would have been jealous. I packed the remainder of the cheese into my stomach and could feel a great pressure beginning to force its way through. I was really getting full!
A moment later, Man number two brought me the first dessert. It was a tiny, tiny glass which he explained contained pears, cinnamon, and pine nuts (I think), which were toasted. The pears were diced into 2mm cubes, and the entire concoction was held together by a thick, caramelized sugar syrup. It was very tasty, but excessively sweet. As he had dropped it off, he had said (as a joke, I realized later) that because of the cheese, I just got a small dessert. I feel bad I didn’t get it at the time, since he told me there was more coming. I finished this tiny cup of joy. Nishimura-san came by and removed the small dish, asking if I’d enjoyed it. I told her, “Of course!” I still hadn’t gotten any coffee yet, though and really wanted some. They had already put the lump sugar (which was both brown and white, and each lump was differently shaped) and cream on the table, but no cup.
The Italian waiter (whose name I think was something like Palome) brought me the next dessert, which he described as mandarin jelly, with lemon ice, and yogurt ice cream on top. He had to confirm this with the somehow scary looking head of operations, who had been walking menacingly around all night making sure everything was okay. He was the guy I thought was going to grab me by the scruff of the neck if I did something out of line.
“You aren’t holding the super-secret 3-ban shrimp tail fork in the correct three-finger position,” he’d accuse. “Guards! Sieze him!” And down I’d go 32 floors to the underground restaurant area at the base of the building, forced to roll ramen dough for the rest of my miserable life. Instead he just verified the yogurt ingredient, which Palome relayed to me. The dessert was in a glass bowl, and looked somewhat like a parfait. Under the different layers of color, a sour, orange-flavored gelatin was hiding, itself hosting several pieces of fresh mandarin orange. It occurred to me that they were fresh in that I’d never had anything but canned mandarins before, and these were infinitely better than I could have imagined. There was a large chip of what I think was crystallized sugar on top, and several brown caramelize sugar bits sprinkled about. The ice was less strongly flavored, and helped to balance out the sourness of the oranges underneath, which I liked tremendously anyway. There was one additional flavor that I just could not place… anise maybe? Whatever it was, it added an entirely different level to the bites in which it was contained, and made the dessert that much better. I completed this dish as slowly as I could, trying hard not pick up the plate and lick it clean as that probably would have triggered the brute squad for sure. Nishimura-san arrived to clean off the plate once more, and I told her that was impeccably delicious (not in those words, I can’t say that in Japanese!). She laughed and really got a kick out of me enjoying all this food.
“Are you full?” she asked. “Do you not want any more?” I shook my head, thinking this was the signal to end the meal. “Oh, but there’s still cake to come,” she told me, and I told her that was fine. I could take it. My stomach was disagreeing – it was putting up all sorts of white flags of surrender, but gosh darn it, I was going to enjoy the final step in this glorious meal. The coffee finally arrived, and I did my best to sip on it.
The other woman who had been serving me dropped by with the big dessert cart I’d seen her delivering to other tables. She showed me each of the available dishes, of which there were six, and I could choose any of them. There was a lemon mousse cake, an almond mousse cake, some other mousse cake with raspberries and several layers, crème brulee, a cup of fruit with champagne jelly (like gelatin), and several fruit compotes. I decided on a piece of the lemon mousse cake and the champagne jelly, as it really looked shiny and glistening. “That’s all?” she asked. “You’re full and can’t eat any more, I take it,” she surmised, correctly. She prepared a plate of the two dishes, placing a piece of the lemon cake on one plate, depositing a raspberry on top, and a peeled lychee and piece of pineapple on the side. Some streaks and dots of sauce completed the presentation, and I was very, very impressed. It made me want to cook and do something cool like that when I come back.
The lemon mousse cake was delicious as always, but wasn’t something I’d probably order again. It just wasn’t my favorite texture or flavor. Still wonderful, but the mandarin dessert was definitely better. The champagne jelly, on the other hand really took my by surprise. It contained strawberries, and I think white kiwi, based on the white cubes with black seeds. I’m not sure, though. It was topped off by a tiny bit of gold leaf, and contained all the bubbles from the champagne. It was both sour and sweet simultaneously, and the fruit mixed perfectly with the champagne flavor. This of course makes sense – strawberries and champagne and all that. I saved it until I had completed my lemon mousse cake, as it was way, way better. I scraped every last morsel from the tiny cup and wished I’d had another, even though my stomach was about to burst. They had also delivered four chocolate truffles, which all were delicious and meshed very well with the coffee. Nishimura-san retrieved the last of the dishes, and I sat there savoring everything I’d just enjoyed.
I had noticed that everyone had been paying at the table, but my old standby of “check onegai shimasu” I had learned was completely incorrect and typically only confused people. However, I had read a passage in the guide book about what you’re really supposed to do. I looked over at the scary guy and made a cross with my fingers. This is apparently the signal for “end” and therefore means bring me the check. For the first time all night, this man cracked the biggest smile I’d ever seen and bowed. He walked off and came back a moment later with the check. As I’d expected, it was 24550 yen! Wow… you can go to Sapporo by plane for that! But, this was an experience, and most importantly, an experience sanctioned and funded by my sister. I dropped three 10,000 yen bills on the plate and he thanked me then took the cash back to the register. He returned a moment later with my change, then pulled the table out for me to get free. I thanked him profusely, then headed towards the way out. As I did, the entire staff followed me bowing and thanking me like crazy. I told them everything was very delicious, and this made them bow even further. As I was walking out, I thanked Nishimura-san, and Palome suggested we get a picture together. I pulled out my camera, and he took one of the two of us. He then suggested they take one for her, and I suddenly realized that they must have thought she liked me (or maybe she did, I don’t know). He pulled out the Polaroid they use for birthdays and took a picture of the two of us, “kanojoo ni” – for the girl. She was surprised and laughed. For some reason the Polaroid spit out three pictures, not just one, and Palome said, confused, “nan da, kore wa?” – ‘what’s this?’ He realized one of them did in fact turn out, and so he gave it to Nishimura-san who led me to the elevator. Another woman handed me my umbrella, which was folded and wrapped absolutely pristinely; it looked like it was new! At the elevator, I pulled out one of my cards, and said, “If you want a friend in America,” then handed it to Nishimura-san. She thanked me and pulled out one of her own cards, which is how I learned her name. She pressed the button inside the elevator as I left and we bowed and said goodbye as the doors closed. I exited at the 3rd floor and walked back out into the rain towards the station.
Thank you, Kati. From the bottom of my heart.
I was really feeling full, and was in a terrific mood. I wasn’t at all tired, so instead of returning immediately home, I decided to walk around Shibuya a little more. I crossed through the station and exited out the central gate to the main crosswalk, where I’d been earlier in the day. Even though it was late, already past ten, the place was still bustling with activity. I walked with the mass of people at the turn of the lights, and followed the street to the left of the big Q Front building. This area was littered with young people, as it is entirely populated with bars, eateries, and overpriced western clothes stores. I passed a guy who was sitting on the sidewalk in front of a big sign: LEGAL DRUG. Psychaderick. He wasn’t getting any business. Further down the road I passed the biggest set of McDonald’s French fries I’d ever seen. It was all fine and dandy, but nothing really screamed “come see me” anywhere. I undid my top button, and continued down the road until I located the multilevel arcade I’d seen before. I was still carrying the menu, a brochure, and the business card from La Rochelle, and had been doing my best to keep them out of the rain. Inside the arcade, this was a little easier.
I wandered through the various games, putting my hopes up that they’d have a Samba machine. At my current level of fullness, DDR was completely out of the question. Samba I could probably do though. They didn’t have one, although they did have the Taiko game, which I decided to try again. I had it set for basic, introductory music on the first game, which was 200 yen a play. Ouch. I looked again for Lum no Love Song, which is the opening theme to the Urusei Yatsura anime and was the song that Alex and I had played in Kyoto. I didn’t see it, though. The music appeared totally different here. Hrm. I played through three songs and got daring. For the next game, I skipped introductory mode, and went straight to normal mode, even though I’d only ever played three games at this point. I have, well SOME experience with rhythm games (Bust a Move 1 and 2, Samba de Amigo 1 and 2000, DDR everything, off the top of my head) so even though this was a different game entirely, it still worked on the same basic principles and I had some skill right off. This time I was able to locate Lum no Love song, and chose medium difficulty. I know all the words to this song, so I came close to 100 percent. I picked a song that was a little harder, and was able to pass it as well, this time not as close to perfect, but still managed to keep the percentage high enough to continue. While I was playing, a couple stopped to watch me have a go, and this made me nervous on top of having played it very little. I have trouble switching between the side hits and normal hits. The third song, however, was murder. I was able to finish it, but the percentage was low, and my little drum cried in disappointment. I decided I was done.
I did see a DDR Extreme machine, but with my dress shoes and the full belly, there was just no freakin’ way. I was sure that it would have worked perfectly, unlike the one at JJ’s. I could do DDR at home, however, so this wasn’t as interesting as the samurai game, which seemed more advanced than the one we’d played in Kyoto. It was, in fact, and in this one I could block. It’s more mystical, and you play a dude with half-white hair and a goofy face who is fighting off the undead. It worked much better, and I really enjoyed it. Fencing technique worked in this one, and instinctively, when it registered, I was able to parry. I noticed I was a bit too tall though, and I tried crouching somewhat to make it work a little more accurately. Eventually I died, and since it was 11:30, it was time to go home. I walked back to the station in the rain, along with a number of other people. I passed two girls that had bleached hair, deep, dark tans, and fur-lined boots, and giggled a little. They were like silly ski bunny twins! I arrived at the station, and took one last look at Shibuya. I might be coming back tomorrow, but I wasn’t really sure.
The train platform at Shibuya was very, very crowded. Everyone was trying to make it home before the final trains departed. I joined the droves of young adults on the Yamanote-sen, and I ended up standing next to a girl wearing a belly shirt, miniskirt, and of course, high heels. I noticed the ticket in her hand; she was going somewhere close as it was cheaper than mine. As she walked up, she looked at me and smiled, then moved a little more in my direction. Somehow this was weird; she was facing me, which most people try to avoid doing, and on top of that, she was very, very close. She was definitely invading my personal space, which I didn’t mind one bit. The girl spent the next few stops writing a message to someone on her cell, and we stood that way, close enough to be dancing. Shinjuku came all too quickly, and the doors opened. She looked up from her cell at me, and smiled. I smiled back, and that moment seemed to move in slow motion as we stared at one another. Unfortunately, it was broken by the fact that I had to get off the train right then or would be stuck miles from home. I broke eye contact, nodding my head at her, and stepped off. I looked back, and she moved to where I had been standing against the wall. As the train pulled away, I realized I’d never see her again, and kicked myself for not saying anything to her. Come on, what would it have hurt to stay on the train an extra stop or two? Heck, I could have stayed on the train and it would have gotten me back to Ueno fine; it’s a freakin’ loop. Didn’t matter now. Nothing I could do would have even remotely allowed me to locate her again.
At Shinjuku Eki, I then tried to take the orange express Chuo line back to Kanda. I followed a pair of girls up the correct escalator to the platform, but when the three of us arrived, I heard them say, “ah, it’s already over,” and then return back downstairs. Crud, I’d have to take the yellow local, which takes longer. It didn’t really matter, I thought. As long as I don’t miss the last subway, it’s fine. This train took a good deal of time, and I wrote an email on my phone to Brian. Even the English input method on my phone emulates the Japanese way, which is the silly tap-tap-tap method to cycle through characters. It’s much harder in Japanese, to be sure, but I was missing my T9 input where it guesses words based on number combinations. I suppose with all its ROM being used to store kanji, there’s not room for yet another lesser-used dictionary.
At Kanda, I got off and changed back to the Yamanote-sen three stops to Ueno, which was completely deserted at this time of night. Instead of walking out the normal upstairs entrance, I took a left at a sign that said Central Entrance, and walked back down to another train platform that led me to where I wanted to go anyway - the main area of Ueno Station. At 11:52 I flashed my rail pass for the last time, and the station attendant bowed his head and allowed me through. My rail pass had only eight minutes of viable life left, and they came and went by the time I got to the subway platform. I was fine as far as trains go; there were at least another 8 before the last, even on a Sunday. Somehow I managed to get home after midnight, but I decided to write the information for the dinner immediately so I wouldn’t forget anything. I also discovered I’d never taken the yakisoba out of my backpack and put it in the fridge. Crumbs. I did it now anyway, it was probably still okay, I decided. I managed to get through dessert before I made some short notes and passed out.