There's Always Another Flight...
Tokyo Seminar and on to Kyoto

Tokyo

Eleven stories below my hotel window, the bullet trains glide in and out of Tokyo Station.  On the other side of the station is the Ginza, where I went strolling yesterday after I got checked into the Marunouchi Hotel.  I'd imagined the Ginza as one broad avenue, lined with pricey stores, neon displays blazing, and jostling throngs filling up the sidewalks.  It certainly is that, but it's also a warren of little side streets, barely wide enough for a car to bump alongside the pedestrians.  Along these streets are the little specialty shops, restaurants and tiny bars opening out onto the street.  I wandered aimlessly for an hour, not too worried about getting lost -- all I'd need is for someone to point me back in the direction of Tokyo Station, after all.

I'd slept about two hours on the plane, but that was about it in the last twenty-four hours, so my energy was flagging a bit, and I stopped into the Hills Bar for a drink.  They had two little tables outside, so I got a scotch and a glass of water and went to sit and watch and write.  There was a dress shop across the way, a grandmother and small child sitting in front of it, watching the street and waiting for mom to come out.  Many young couples out strolling, and the occasional black sedan slowly inching along with a couple of elderly ladies in the back, all dressed up and gazing impassively at the shops as they slid past.

The young bartender came out to join me.  He'd been to college in Seattle and we talked a bit about his days there and this being my first trip to Japan and the differences in the weather down in Alabama and other bits and pieces of small talk.

Back at the hotel, I had dinner in the French restaurant, curious about what a fancy French place in Tokyo would be like.  For my appetizer I ordered something that was translated as "just caught raw fish with shellfish and crustacean."  It turned out to be a bowl of various morsels of seafood in some kind of thick greenish broth topped with a lightly poached egg that had the reddest yolk I've ever seen.  Served cold, and with a variety of textures and tastes that puts it well in the running for the most unusual thing I've ever eaten -- certainly I've never seen anything like it in any other French restaurant!  Then onion soup and a rack of lamb -- these both much more familiar, although still with distinctive touches.  All of it quite delicious and marvelously presented.

Jet lag was finally catching up to me, however, so I skipped desserts or coffee and headed up to the room and to bed.  Nine hours of sleep and I woke to another gray, monsoonish Tokyo day.   This is the one day of my trip that I get to do some sightseeing, so one of my hosts is meeting me later this morning to take me around.  I have no idea what we're going to see.  I can't wait.

Comments

MarkD

Scott, your entry has reminded me of my first trip to Japan, which I am horrified to admit, was 20 years ago. Since then I have been to Japan many many times. Japanese culture is very subtle, you cannot know it in one trip, or even in a dozen trips. I’ve come to love and respect the Japanese culture. But like you (I think), I didn’t quite know what to make of it on my very first visit.

By the way, I have been to that very same ‘French’ Restaurant and had the very same experience. Actually that restaurant is famous in Tokyo as being one of the very finest ‘French’ restaurants in the city. I don’t know if I would call it a French restaurant, but I agree with you, whatever the cuisine, the presentation is marvellous, the combinations and contrasting textures are exquisite , and the service impeccable. But that is Japanese cuisine. Everything is thought out to the last detail. Presentation and texture are the critical elements. One is meant to savour the contrasting textures and the beauty of the food on the plate. Each course is a layer that gently leads you from the last course and brings you to the next. You are supposed to experience the full range of tastes and textures in every meal with each course blending smoothly with the next.

Their cuisine is beautiful contrast to the chaotic world outside the door. Tokyo is one of the world’s largest cities – but you rightly describe the little side streets where life takes place in Tokyo. Only the major roads have sidewalks. On the side streets cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians all commingle in a traffic free for all. I love the little tiny restaurants on these side streets were the ‘salarymen’ eat work and play. In spite of its size, Tokyo is just an unending series of little villages hidden among the corporate skyscrapers. Tokyo has a pulse. It vibrates energy and activity, and the Japanese retreat from this vibrancy into the little rabbit warrens of their back streets. You turn a corner off the bustling modern Ginza and walk into one of these little oasis and are immediately enter the world of the serene old Japan.

I am jealous. I wish I were there with you. I’ve travelled the globe. Americans always ask me (and it is only Americans that ask this question), ‘which is the best country in the world.’ There is no such thing as a ‘best’ country. But I do have my favourites. Japan is definitely in the top three must see countries. At least in my book.

Shibuya Sightseeing

Indeed, the japanese even do Burgers differently, sometimes better.

The one thing I HAVENT found here is decent Mexican food!

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