I didn’t have a chance to blog for a few days – then I had to recover from one of the worst hangovers I’ve experienced in recent memory. It took me a good 36 hours to even approach feeling better… And once I’d gotten that far behind, the task of catching up was just too overwhelming. But I wrote this while sitting in the business class lounge at Kansai, waiting for our flight to Seoul, where we had a two-hour layover before heading home…
So where did I leave off? Ah yes – Chris and I were headed to have a Western dinner. We’d both been doing pretty well eating Japanese food, but the temptation to go someplace where everything was recognizable and familiar was hard to resist. And the restaurant turned out to be excellent – a place called Beacon in Shibuya. A bit on the fancy side in a sleek and modern setting – though to our surprise, the evening we were there was the weekly barbecue night. Chris had an excellent bowl of black bean chili, while I got the last five raw oysters in the joint – really good. For dinner we both got steaks, which were wonderful – grilled just right and perfectly seasoned with salt, pepper and just a hint of cayenne for a bit of extra zip. Accompanied by shoestring fries that were crispy, piping hot and fantastic (oh, and so were the onion rings). Also splurged on a great bottle of Ramey chardonnay – one of our favorites. It was a great night – really revived us both.
On Monday, we took the train out to Chiba City to see the Tokyo Motor Show. Saw some pretty cool cars and other crazy vehicles. Honda had some sort of thing shaped like an “8” that one sat on and it drove around – looked fun and potentially deadly. I think the only thing that was a little disappointing was that this was a strictly Japanese auto show, so we didn’t get to see any of the concept cars from Europe, Korea or North America. But of course this was made up for by the wacky “sketch” Honda used to introduce their latest concept car, which is just a little box of a thing that gets some power from solar and can apparently chat with your friends (we weren’t completely clear as to how this worked or why one might want it – but judging from the smiling boys and girls onstage and the cute cartoon video, everyone just loved it!)
After taking the train back, we returned to Harajuku to do a bit more shopping and attempt to find the G-Star store which we’d had no luck tracking down on our last visit. We fought our way down the same insanely crowded little main drag, with a few stops to look at clothes that were too youthful for a couple of old queens (not to mention generally not available in sizes of sufficient girth), back up the fancier main shopping street and had a rather nice walk home on this chilly evening.
For dinner, we had something of a “when world’s collide” meal at Fonda de la Madragana, a local Mexican joint with reputation as Tokyo’s best (or so said the guidebook). The place is done up in the usual terra cotta tile, stucco and cast-iron decor one expects in such a place. Of course, we were seated by a very proper Japanese hostess – though our order for tacos and margaritas was taken by a gentleman who appeared to be Mexican. I never got a chance to ask, since the rest of our meal was served by a Sri Lankan. I didn’t know which language to order in – my broken Spanish or my far-more broken Japanese. This being Tokyo, I just did what I always did – ordered in English. I just made sure to speak very loudly and slowly, as if I were speaking to someone slow-witted – you know, the way an American should speak English when abroad… (I kid, of course).
The food was quite good, and as provincial as it may sound, it was nice having another meal with no mystery ingredients. And the serving of guacamole was huge and tasty (OK, it needed salt, but I’m not one to quibble) and reasonably priced. I was concerned that avocado might be sufficiently exotic to the locale that it’d be a miserly portion (as is so often the case in the U.S.). Tacos also good, meat tender and savory and margaritas decent.
And speaking in hindsight, I think I’m going to blame my consumption of three margaritas for what happened later that evening… I was fine when we left the restaurant, headed to our favorite boite Dragon for our usual nightcap. We had a drink or two there, checked out one other place that was dead as a doornail and then headed to Arty Farty, another fun little place in Ni-Chome with a dance floor (we’d spent part of Halloween night there). In front of Arty Farty, I literally bumped into a guy and muttered my standard “sumimasen” to which he responded, “Oh sorry about that.” Obviously, it’s not unusual for a Japanese to speak English – but turned out this guy lives in Los Angeles. He asked us about Arty Farty, whether it was fun, etc., so we all went in together and bought each other a few rounds of drinks. Turns out our new friend, Joji-san, is originally from Tokyo but has been in the U.S. for seven years – he was here visiting his family.
Anyway, Arty Farty was kind of dull, so back we went to Dragon which had livened up a bit. Chit-chatted with some of the bartenders and regulars we’d befriended, more rounds were bought and a fine time was had by all. Chris and I decided to head off and check out one other bar then head home. The other place we went to was completely dead, so we decided to call it a night… And then fate intervened. We bumped into Joji-san again. He suggested some other places we could visit – other places that we’d be unlikely to find on our own what with the language barrier and all.
And that’s all she wrote… I have vague recollections of the evening, most notably our visit to a gay Japanese bath house – and yes it had components of both Japanese and gay bathhouses. So we had a nice soak – but we also got quite an eyeful of the activities going on in one of the “quiet” rooms on another floor. Then there was a room filled with recliners and a thick cloud of cigarette smoke – everybody in their paper robes (provided to all patrons upon entering the establishment), dozing in their chairs while the news played on the big screen TV on the wall (yes, the news, not a porn movie). Joji-san and I continued our debate on the pros and cons of American-style capitalism (no, I’m not kidding) while Chris encouraged me (unsuccessfully) to refrain from purchasing another beer from the vending machine.
So, I’ve just described three of this place’s nine or ten floors. And decorum (as well as an unwillingness to further embarrass myself) requires me to refrain from providing any further details… Though I will reveal that I spent a good ten minutes at one point freaking out about losing the key to my locker, running around the place with Chris and Joji, panicked that I’d be walking home in my paper robe – only to have the attendant point out that the bracelet holding the key was hanging from my upper arm (hidden by my robe). How humiliating…
Needless to say, waking the following day (i.e. afternoon) was unpleasant. Chris, for some reason, was in far better shape than I. But I did manage to get myself showered and dressed, though accompanied by the usual hollow promises of never drinking again… We headed for Ueno Park to see the Tokyo National Museum – had an uninspiring though serviceable tonkatsu (and a beer) nearby than made a quick tour of the museum. The exhibit we saw was just right – a one-floor circulation that provided some history and examples of a wide-range for Japanese art, antiquities and other objects: pottery, masks, screens, costumes. Very accessible and interesting, especially given my delicate condition.
Back at the hotel afterward for a much-needed lie down. Then off to Mon Cher Ton Ton, a teppanyaki place I’d read about and wanted to try. It was a fancy-ish, expense-account type of place, so a bit of a splurge – though not as much so as someplace like the Park-Hyatt. I was still not fully recovered from the previous night, though a Jack-and-Coke seemed to help considerably.
As for the restaurant, it was good – though perhaps a bit stuffy for us. Had a couple of very nice appetizers, including probably the freshest scallop I’ve ever had and what were indubitably the freshest prawns I’d ever had. I say “indubitably” because they were very much alive when they hit the grill in front of us. Neither of us quite realized it a first and thought perhaps they were just “sizzling” – but no, the chef had to hold those suckers in place with his spatulas, to ensure they didn’t jump up and run into our labs. And they kept jumping around for a lot longer than I’d’ve thought. So, it was little strange for us, but gotta remember that we’re eating animals right? Oh, and they were delicious, including head and legs, which were served separately, all crispy-crunchy…
Steaks were very good too, with more marbling than I’d ever seen – though frankly I think I prefer a meatier steak, with a bit more texture to it. And the chef’s skill with knife was impressive (and no, none of the food became airborne and there was not an onion ring volcano). The bill was also impressive… But Chris and I enjoyed ourselves. Sadly, though, having such a rich meal on our last night in Tokyo was unwise – I didn’t feel that great, so we just went back to our hotel to prepare for our noon departure to Kyoto – not an easy feat considering the ridiculous amount of crap we brought. Have I mentioned that Chris brought seven (yes, seven) pairs of shoes? He did… He did throw one old pair away – but then bought some new ones the next day… Sayonara!