29 Apr

An Ueno alleyway

I keep putting off writing about Tokyo simply because of the breadth of things I’d like to describe. There really isn’t a story for me in Tokyo like there was with Yoshino and Kyoto. While in Japan, I spent the longest amount of time in Tokyo. It provided me with my first impression of Japan and my last.

Before my trip, I was a bit anxious about going from one big city to visit another. I knew it would be different, but I was hesitant about spending my vacation in a New York-like city. But, although it is a bustling metropolis, it was so far from what New York is. It was immaculately clean. Everyone was polite. The food was delicious, yet healthy? The fashion on the everyday person was mind boggling. Everyone was stunning. Every corner of Tokyo had thought put into it. At one point, we saw a sewer cover that had a cherry blossom design on it. We shrugged our shoulders and said, “Of course!” The Japanese take such pride in everything that it would be unthinkable to litter. And they make sure every aspect of the city was beautiful in some way. I debated for a while how I wanted to write about Tokyo, and I have settled on bullet points. Like I said, there was no real story to Tokyo, just an incomparable experience.

  • The food. I must start with the food. Some of the best I have ever had in my life. It’s hard to even really describe what I ate, because so many menus and descriptions were written in Japanese. All I know is that it was good. Very good. Ramen? Got some of that in Harajuku at a small cafe. Not the ramen you see in the States, this was hardy, thick, filling. It had a boiled egg and salted pork thrown in. Soba? I had never heard of it before, but yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. These cold handmade noodles that come out on a tray. You pick them up with chop sticks and dip them in some sort of heavenly sauce. We ordered seconds. I can’t remember the last time (or ever) that I ordered seconds at a restaurant. And the hostess would sing all the orders to the cooks in the back. Fried squid balls? Don’t mind if I do. Bento boxes? I’ll take one of those. Tempura? I dream of you. Chocolate covered bananas? No, it’s not quite Japanese, but it was necessary.

    Soba and Tempura Shrimp. More, more, more, please.

  • I know that the last bullet was about food, but this food event deserves its own bullet. My second morning in Japan, I walked from our hotel down to the Tsukiji Fish Market where something like $30million worth of fish is auctioned off every day. I didn’t get up early enough for the auction, but I did catch some breakfast. Catch? Get it? Like fish? Moving on. The market is full of small stalls. I wandered around, but eventually realized that I couldn’t read Japanese, and I couldn’t tell any of these places apart. So I picked one and sat down. Likewise, I didn’t really know what to make of the menu, so I just picked one. I sipped on my complimentary green tea, and was eventually served a huge bowl of white rice and seaweed, piled high with raw fish, lots of it. Again, I don’t speak Japanese, so I’m not exactly clear on what I was eating, but there was some shrimp, some tuna, some white fish, some eggs, some other fish. I was a bit nervous about eating raw fish from an out of the way back stall in Tokyo, but you only live once. BEST BREAKFAST EVER! I’m a huge breakfast person, and this was easily the best one I have ever had. The fish was so fresh. I’ve never tasted fish like that in my life, unadulterated by oil or butter or heat or shipping. It was unreal. It was all so light and fresh and healthy. I left feeling full, but not sleepy full. Just really happy and ready to take on my day full. Amazing. No pictures though. They weren’t allowed.
  • The toilets were an experience. Heated seats, built in bidets and sprays. Optional fake flushing noise to drown out your noises. Perfume sprays. Good shelving to set your purse on. They were fancy everywhere. Why can’t we have this in America? I just don’t understand.
  • Godzilla statue. I spent a long time looking for it. It was really, really small. And I was really, really sad.
  • Girl walking a monkey on a leash.
  • Dog skateboarding through the park. Like hopping off and propelling himself forward. Entrancing.
  • The cherry blossoms were beginning to bloom when we were there, but I wish I could have seen them in their full glory. The trees were on every street, and when they are all blooming together, it must be incredible. As it was, the ones we saw were lovely, and Japanese people were gravitating towards them, taking pictures. We even saw news crews documenting the beginning of the season. 
  • We drank some amazing cocktails at the Park Hyatt, the hotel where Lost in Translation was filmed. The bar on the top floor is called the New York Bar and Grill, and it had an American theme menu. Neither the drinks nor the food interested us. We were there to watch the sun set over Tokyo.
  • Lots of little touristy things like the Meiji Shrine, the Military History museum, the palace gardens.

I am well aware that this is scattered and not at all comprehensive. Er, sorry? So many little things stick out in my memory, like the well-dressed cab drivers with their white gloves, and writing in my journal next to a pond in one of the palace gardens.

Somehow, I guess, Tokyo can’t really be described.


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