Spending a Couple of Nights in Tokyo

Making the most of a four-day layover in Japan on the way back from Hawaii

In my last post, Anna and myself had just left Hawaii for Japan, barely avoiding a string of volcanic eruptions in the process. Now it was time to spend a couple of days relaxing in Tokyo. We’ve been to Japan several times before, the last occasion being in March and April of 2014, and we were also there around the same time in 2012 for the wedding of our friends, Momoko Yamamoto and Takuo Nishi. Takuo has since moved to Seattle for work, but with the painful waiting process that accompanies any bureaucratic procedure in the US, it could be anywhere up to six months before Momo can legally join him. On the plus side, that meant she was available to hang out with us, as well as other college friends of Anna’s, and her youngest brother, Abraham, who is currently studying in Tokyo.
We always have a fun time in Japan so there is no reason these next few days should be any different.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018
We checked out of the hotel in Honolulu, settled the bill and there were no problems, not even from the fat bitchy chick working in the bar on our first night in town.
After leaving the hotel we wheeled our luggage around the corner, flagged down a cab and had an interesting conversation with our driver about Hawaii. He was a native Hawaiian and was telling us what we already knew; that Hawaii is simply a brand and that whoever was initially responsible for promoting it as world-class tourist destination was a marketing wizard. He had never been to Australia or Asia, but he said he was certain there had to be nicer beaches somewhere else in the world.
We finally arrived at the airport, checked in, had a look at the duty-free section, dealt with the needlessly aggressive security personnel, boarded the plane, and made our seven-and-a-half-hour flight to Tokyo with United Airlines, possibly the worst airline we’ve ever flown with. The flight was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t too bad, however, there were several Japanese people on the plane that I felt bad for. Quite a few older Japanese men and women thought it would be polite to try to return their trays to the flight attendants after they had finished their in-flight meal, only to be met with yelling from the attendants who were angrily complaining that their gracious acts were making their job harder. Polite cultural misunderstandings can generally be resolved with a smile on your face.

Thursday, May 3, 2018
We arrived hassle-free, but Wednesday quickly morphed into Thursday and it was early afternoon the following day when we landed in Tokyo due to what was now a pesky +17-hour time difference compared to Honolulu. We passed customs and immigration and took the train into town, as the airport is quite far out and the train is just the easiest and most efficient way of doing it. We always have a little bit of trouble deciphering the ticket process for trains in Tokyo, but Anna sorted it out, and then we had to find our platform for the correct train. When we finally figured it out, the train was already waiting for us so I told Anna to board first, which she did with her luggage… then the train doors closed and left me stranded on the platform with my suitcase, Anna giving me a very stressed look out of the train window as it pulled away. We would be so shit at The Amazing Race. I soon received a text off her saying that she would get off at the next station, I should catch the next train, and she would board that one too. Surprisingly, we pulled it off! I caught the next train, texted Anna what carriage I was in and she met me, a look of relief washing over her face, followed by uncontrollable laughter. We were actually quite fortunate because we were going to catch the express train, the only reason we didn’t was because we would have to wait almost half an hour. It would’ve been absolute chaos if we had’ve waited for it and then this happened.
Anyway, we took our train to Shinjuku Station and walked through the crazy Shinjuku pedestrian traffic with our suitcases until we arrived at our home for the next four nights, the Granbell Hotel, checked in, and took the elevator to our suite on the 17th floor where we showered and tried to memorise the instructions for our toilet so we wouldn’t have to read them every time we needed to go:

The intricacies of the Japanese toilet are well-documented, the only way they could have more pointless special features is if they were made by Apple, however, I generally just try to skip all of the bonuses and simply learn how to flush it, but one thing has thrown me off with the toilets every time I’ve traveled to Japan — The heated toilet seat. If you grew up with heated toilet seats, I can see how they could be potentially comforting during those cold winter months, but it’s a little different for me. I’ve never been to Japan in winter, although I have been there when the weather hasn’t been particularly warm, yet the first few times you experience the heated seat it just feels a bit weird, like someone had been sitting there immediately before you. I like a bit of privacy when I’m going about my business so having that thought in the back of my mind is always a little disturbing.

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Yup, even Anthony Bourdain is a fan!

Anyway, we had a bit of time to look around before dinner and everyone knows how good the food is here, but it’s amazing how great the convenience store food is as well. Sure, there’s 7-11 and Family Mart, but one of the first places I visit when I’m in Japan, and then go to again and again, is Lawson for an egg salad sandwich. I’ve always loved egg sandwiches and the first time I was in Tokyo I was a bit peckish so I walked into the nearest store, which happened to be Lawson, and bought one of them, along with a bunch of other great stuff. I don’t know what it is about these egg salad sandwiches, but they are incredible! Even Anthony Bourdain loves them, as he once tweeted (right). Naturally, this was my first go-to on this particular trip and it wouldn’t be my last.
I finished my sandwich and with a satisfied grin on my face we began to explore the area. Shinjuku is where we always stay when we’re in Tokyo; it’s reasonably central, close to the subway, and there are plenty of shops and restaurants, as well as a ton of nightlife. We did a bit of shopping for a couple of hours and then pulled up a seat each in a bar for some beers and edamame while Anna looked up places to eat dinner on our first night in town. She felt like ramen so she thought she had found the place that would hit the spot, however, when we arrived they were closed for Golden Week. Fortunately, Anna had a fallback plan, another noodle place that was within walking distance of where we were called Gonokami Seisakujo, which specialises in tsukemen; thick noodles with separate dipping sauce. When we arrived there were about thirty people in line ahead of us and there was also less than 90 minutes until the place closed. After about 45 minutes we were at the head of the queue and there were around 40 people still waiting behind us. Earlier, as the line was creeping forward, people would take turns leaving the line to go forth into the tiny restaurant. We initially thought it was to use the bathroom, but then we noticed that it was a process that was making its way up the line. When it came to our turn we walked inside and discovered that you had to select what you wanted using a machine that would then dispense a ticket with your order on it. This way the chefs knew in advance what to make and it cut down the waiting time inside. The buttons you needed to press had both pictures of the food, as well as a description in both Japanese and English so the process was quite simple; I ordered a large soup noodles with double meat, Anna just got a regular, plus a beer each, and then we went back outside and took our place again in the line.
We killed some time while waiting by trying to decipher a bizarre sign out the front that featured prawns riding bicycles and scooters and then we were finally called inside by the waitress. It was definitely worth the wait! Here’s a few shots of our afternoon and evening up until that point:

These noodles were so good, however, maybe it was the Lawson’s egg salad sandwich I’d had earlier, but damn, they were filling. Neither of us could finish all of what we had ordered and I ultimately ended up looking like I was eight months pregnant. Might have to walk this one off.
Anna has a knack for jumping in early before things have finished and this habit resulted in us coming across a landmark we would use to find our hotel over the coming days and nights. When we had initially left our room and walked into the main part of town we passed the Shinjuku Urban Hotel, which had a brightly coloured sign jutting out the side that read “Urban Stage.” Anna, however, didn’t wait until she could read the partially obscured ‘e’ and asked, “Why would they call it the ‘Urban Stag?'” This immediately conjured up images in my head of a millennial hipster deer with a side-parting, old-school sailor tattoos, and probably vaping, as well as leading to the creation of our new catchphrase, “bros before does.” It also gave us an extremely helpful and memorable beacon for when we were trying to find our way back to the Granbell Hotel from that night on.

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“Come with us on a journey through time and space…”

My favourite bar in Tokyo is a little place called the Crawdaddy Club. It’s this rock bar near where we were staying that plays great music and the two guys who run it (right) look like Howard and Vince from The Mighty Boosh. In fact, I once mentioned this to them, but they had never heard of The Mighty Boosh before, however, they freaked out a little when I showed them a picture. The very first time I went to the Crawdaddy Club I was wearing a Frank Zappa t-shirt so they put on a Frank Zappa video for me, something they’ve continued to do each time I’ve been there. I was hoping for this again, but our timing was off, the Crawdaddy Club was closed for Golden Week and wouldn’t reopen until after we had left. Maybe next time.
We stopped off at a shisha bar for a couple of beers and obviously a shisha. We were still a little too bloated at that stage and the tiredness from the flight was beginning to kick in, plus I received an extremely disturbing phone-call from the partner of an acquaintance of mine back in Singapore while we were having a drink so we decided to call it a night. There were still plenty more opportunities to party on this trip. Some other sights from the night:

Friday, May 4, 2018
We had a lot planned for Friday, which would mean a lot of traveling on the subway. First we were going to meet up with one of Anna’s old colleagues from New York, Maiko, and her husband for lunch. After that we were going to go out and have a look at all of the secondhand stores in the neighbourhood where Gwen Stefani’s friends hang out, Harajuku (God, I hate that song). Lastly, a trip out to Yokohama to have dinner and quite a few drinks with Momo and her friend, Michiko.
Getting around in a foreign city can be kind of daunting at first, but in Tokyo it’s quite easy if you just follow this simple map of the Tokyo rail system:

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Couldn’t be easier!

Actually, getting around on the Tokyo rail system is even more complicated than that map suggests. Maybe this will help to clear things up. First, how many lines and stations are there?:

Rail is the primary mode of transport in Tokyo. Greater Tokyo has the most extensive urban railway network and the most used in the world with 40 million passengers (some tallied twice) in the metro area daily, out of a metro population of 36 million. There are 882 interconnected rail stations in the Tokyo Metropolis, 282 of which are Subway stations, with several hundred more in each of the 3 surrounding densely populated suburban prefectures. There are 30 operators running 121 passenger rail lines (102 serving Tokyo and 19 more serving Greater Tokyo but not Tokyo’s city center itself), excluding about 12 cable cars.

Okay, that seems like things could get a little confusing, but are there any other factors that could possibly compound this problem? Of course there are!:

The vast networks are really not a single rail network at all, but separately owned and operated and interconnecting. Expansion continues, albeit with more service upgrades and fewer new lines. Each of the region’s rail companies tends to display only its own maps, with key transfer points highlighted, ignoring the rest of the metro area networks. Trains had historically been extremely crowded at peak travel times, with people being pushed into trains by so-called oshiya (“pushers”), which was common in the boom eras of the 1960s-1980s. Most lines in Tokyo are privately owned, funded and operated, though the Toei Subway is run directly by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Tokyo Metro is owned/funded indirectly by the Tokyo and national governments. Rail and subway lines are highly integrated and dense; commuter trains (electrified heavy rail and high throughput) from the suburbs continue directly into the subway network on many lines, often emerging on the other side of the city to bridge disparate surface commuter lines.

Damn! Is there anything else that could cause any trouble? Well, there are these:

Since corporations own, fund, promote, and operate their own networks, this tends to result in high fragmentation and company stations. The end user may need to pass through multiple company gates to get to their destination, racking up extra costs in the process (generally the longer the trip, the less charge per kilometer). This is in contrast to other nations, such as the Seoul Subway, where trips are largely one operator and a single fare. For non-locals, multiple operators, navigating company to company transfers, and paying several times to get to a single destination within the metro area can be quite confusing and expensive. For locals, they tend to patronize a particular company, but that imposes contraints—they tend to have techniques (backroads routes and biking) to stretch their reach for last mile access.

So let’s get this straight: It’s the busiest rail network in the world, but not all of the lines are interconnected, meaning we would have the option of purchasing a relatively expensive pass that would allow us to catch all lines, or we could buy individual tickets and make multiple stops and changes to get to our destination, but that problem would also be compounded due to the maps of competing lines not being shown. Then there was the fact that we would be commencing our trips from the world’s busiest train station:

Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in the world by passenger throughput. It is estimated some 20 million people use rail as their primary means of transport (not trips) in the metropolitan area daily. In comparison, the entire country of Germany, with the highest railway use in Europe, has 10 million daily train riders.

We managed to get our tickets sorted out, battled the crowds at Shinjuku station and caught the train to Yokohama station to meet up with a heavily pregnant Maiko and her husband. She texted Anna to meet them at the South Central exit of Yokohama station, which seemed pretty straightforward, but it wasn’t that simple when it came to actually finding the exit; there were plenty of signs for the North and South gates, as well as the East and West exits, but no mention of a South Central exit. Anna called them to say we would just meet them at the post office, but it turned out there was two of those as well. We eventually found them and we discovered that Maiko was referring to the Central South gate, the main ticket area of the station, which doesn’t really have any signage. When you look at the map of the station, it makes sense why meeting up didn’t go exactly as planned.
Maiko and her husband took us to Ko-No-Hana, a great restaurant in the Yokohama Bay Sheraton for an awesome tempura lunch. We ate well while catching up with a couple we hadn’t seen in over two years and they gave Anna a bottle of sake as gift, which she’ll take any day, while we gave them some presents for when their baby is born:

After we had finished lunch we said our goodbyes to Maiko and her husband and then had to navigate the subway again in order to travel to Harajuku:

Harajuku is known internationally as a center of Japanese youth culture and fashion. Shopping and dining options include many small, youth-oriented, independent boutiques and cafés, but the neighborhood also attracts many larger international chain stores with high-end luxury merchandisers extensively represented along Omotesando.

Harajuku is a retail fashion and dining destination in its own right, but still earns much of its wider reputation as a gathering place for fans and aficionados of Japanese street fashion and associated subcultures. Jingu Bashi, the pedestrian bridge between Harajuku Station and the entrance to the Meiji Shrine used to act as a gathering place on Sundays to showcase some of the more theatrical styles. Another gathering place was the lower part of Omotesandō avenue, as it used to be pedestrian-only (“Hokosha Tengoku”) on Sundays.

Anna and myself have no problems accepting that we are closer to “middle-aged” than “youth” and I am far from a fashion doyen, but it is always interesting to have a look around Harajuku, you are certain to see something interesting. Case in point: The line for Gong Cha. Gong Cha is a Taiwanese franchise that make tea-based drinks, particularly bubble tea. It is extremely popular all through Asia and was already in Australia back when I lived in Melbourne, however, apparently it has just arrived in Tokyo and the crowds are insane! At first we thought it was mad that the line was down the road and around the block, but it was only after we saw it again from an upstairs store across the road that we realised the queue went across the road and down the length of the next block, police in place to help keep the road clear! Seriously, see for yourself:

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At first we just thought this was the line…

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…until we saw this…

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…and then this. Yes, this is still the Gong Cha line!

One thing we usually enjoy here is looking at all of the stores selling secondhand clothes, but something had changed in the years since we been away — The prices! I always like to find old band t-shirts and basketball jerseys, but the prices were insane. It’s borderline impossible to find clothes my size in Asia anyway, but who would pay a starting price equal to about US$40.00 for a moth-eaten, faded, out of shape t-shirt? I’ve got a wardrobe full of stuff like that that I’m trying to replace! We continued looking around and I kept stumbling across cool stuff, but there was no justifying the prices places were asking for these things. Even old video tapes of just regular TV shows like Friends cost a lot more than they would’ve cost new back in the day when people actually owned VCRs. To make matters worse, all of the shops and streets were so crowded it was just tiring walking around.
Then it finally happened, everything started to give me the shits. Maybe it was a day spent dealing with the public transport, ridiculous crowds, hipsters, and exorbitant prices, or perhaps it might’ve had something to do with disruptions to my body clock from the crazy changes in time zones as outlined in this study published by the BBC. Hell, irritability and mood swings are apparent side effects of Keppra, the medication I take to control seizures, but whatever it was, every little thing there pissed me off or just compounded the problem. Every time I found something I liked, but discovered it was going to set me back about $500, every time I got cut off by someone or stuck behind a person that was texting while they were walking, every insignificant setback increased my irritation and I just wanted to leave. The only thing that kind of countered the annoyance at all was when we found a store that was selling a range of Star Wars dildos, they gave me a chuckle. Anyway, I snapped a couple of photos besides the Gong Cha line that afternoon:

We eventually left Harajuku and caught the train to Akasaka to take part in something that would definitely bring me back to my regular, perky self — Three hours of free-flow at Yona Yona Beer Works. Momo had arranged this night for us with her friend, Michiko, who also knows Anna from university back when they all lived in Melbourne. A fun night of beers, snacks, especially the yakitori and tako balls, and amusing conversation was had by all, both at Yona Yona Beer Works and a few other places we stopped off over the course of the night. I mentioned when we were in Hawaii about how strong the Japanese influence was there, but there are several instances where inspiration takes a back seat to good ol’ American pride, mainly with competitiveness and subtlety. When you’re in the USA, be it the mainland or Hawaii, you’ll noticed that everything has to be ranked #1, whether it be in the city, country, or world, and people have a huge problem differentiating between “my favourite” and “the world’s best,” particularly in advertising. Some examples of this: When we lived in New York we had several stores on our block that served “New York’s best pizza.” While I was watching the NBA Playoffs in Hawaii, there were advertisements claiming that Coors was “the world’s most refreshing beer,” meanwhile a rather large woman on the commercial for Popeye’s Chicken asked “what makes Louisiana food the best food in the world?” You may like Popeye’s, but the only way Louisiana food could be the best food in the world is if you had never ventured out of the state of Louisiana in your entire life. However, the opposite is generally the case in Japan. I recall a time on a previous visit to Japan where a store marketed themselves as having “possibly the second-best noodles on the street,” but nothing comes close to the first beer I ordered at Yona Yona Beer Works, an experimental white IPA called “Sorry.” When I enquired as to how it got its name, the man serving us said that brewers weren’t really sure if people would like it so the called it “Sorry” just in case it wasn’t particularly nice. You’ve got to love that attitude. Anyway, Momo and Michi had to work the following day and we’d had enough of catching trains so we decided to brave the traffic and caught a taxi back to the hotel when the night ended, which wasn’t as bad as we expected, and then had a couple more drinks in the rooftop bar. Here’s some of what we encountered over the course of our mini-pub crawl of sorts:

Saturday, May 5, 2018
Anna’s youngest brother, Abraham, has been living and studying in the Meguro ward of Tokyo for the past couple of years. When they found out he was going to be living there, Anna’s parents bought an apartment there as an investment that ‘Bram stays in and one they often use for a holiday so Saturday’s itinerary began with meeting up with Bram and taking a look at the apartment. This apartment had almost gone down in folklore among Anna’s relatives from the stories that my in-laws had been telling us; that Bram has almost no furniture and no TV, that he doesn’t accept gifts and if you give him something, he just gives it to a friend. We just had to see it for ourselves.
I probably grabbed a sandwich from Lawson and then we navigated our way through Shinjuku station again, bought tickets, and caught the train to Bram’s neighbourhood, where we met him at the station and he took us to his abode. It’s a really nice place, but I doubt I’d be able to stay there long, however, it wouldn’t be due to the lack of amenities, Im fine with that. It would be more because of the size of what actually is there — Anna’s parents sleep on a sofa bed when they stay, usually for about two weeks at a time, but I struggled to even sit on it. Also, the Japanese are known for being almost obsessively clean, but bathing would be a bit of a struggle for me too:

After checking out Bram’s joint, it was time to have a look around the neighbourhood and grab a bite to eat. Meguro is predominantly residential, but there are also a lot of interesting shops and great restaurants around the area. It is also apparently an excellent place to see the cherry blossoms when they are blooming, but unfortunately we just missed them by a week or two. Bram is fluent in Japanese so he was not only helpful to have around, but he knows where the good food is and how to ask for it too. We had no idea what was on the menu when he suggested a place for lunch so Bram ordered for us and what we ended up receiving was some really good tuna on sushi rice with a quail egg, as well as a bowl of miso soup. After eating we went to explore Bram’s neck of the woods, especially the shops, something that almost resulted in me buying a ring that looked like I had another golden finger jutting out of whatever finger I was to wear it on. I don’t wear jewellery, but I would’ve made an exception for this if they had it in my size. Anyway, here’s a bit of what we saw:

It was a Saturday and we didn’t want to waste all of Bram’s evening so we stopped off for a couple of drinks in a bar showing old clips on loop from the original episodes of Soul Train before having dinner. Anna and I looked at the guide for ordering our drinks in Japanese and we honestly would have given it a try had it been just the two of us, but it was kind of redundant considering we had someone with us who was fluent in Japanese. We also could’ve tried the same at On-Yasai, the shabu-shabu restaurant Bram took us to for dinner, but why bother when he’s there with us? However, then we began to get a little suspicious; could Bram really speak Japanese or had it all been an elaborate hoax? I mean, he’s generally a man of few words anyway so it was ironic that he would be the one doing all the talking on our behalf and we began to have our doubts when after a while the wrong plates of food started arriving at our table. This would be the true test, who was right and who was wrong? Bram called the waitress over and said his piece, to which the waitress cordially accepted defeat. He told us that he said to the waitress that we didn’t order some of the dishes we had received, to which the waitress had told him that she had accidentally brought us the wrong order. He was convincing, but I still needed a little more evidence as this could have been yet another example of Japanese hospitality and courtesy, possibly rigidly subscribing to the mantra of “the customer’s always right.” Not long after, the waitress returned with a platter of their finest beef for us as an apology for her mistake. Okay, NOW I was convinced, Bram can not only speak Japanese, but he’s pretty damn good at it too. Scenes from drinks and dinner:

After dinner we said our goodbyes and caught the train back to Shinjuku. It was still reasonably early and we needed to buy a few supplies so we made a trip to Don Quijote. There are Don Quijote stores in Singapore, California, and obviously Hawaii, but in an effort to try and paint an accurate picture of Don Quijote for those who have never visited, it’s a multi-storey, cheap department store that Australians could compare to a giant version of The Reject Shop, it’s also similar to Mustafa Centre in Singapore, as well as those massive discount stores that are everywhere in the US. The only difference is that this one also has quite a range of really messed up pornography available among its other merchandise. Let’s get Wikipedia to give you a clearer idea:

Don Quijote is a discount chain store that has over 160 locations throughout Japan, three stores in Hawaii and one in Singapore. It carries a wide range of products, from basic groceries to electronics to clothing. The store is well known in Japan and is often referred to by its shortened name Donki. Distinctly, Don Quijote tends to keep very late hours for Japanese retailing (to 3 or 5am, or even 24 hours) and it packs its goods from ceiling to floor in a distinct merchandising strategy.

We found what we needed and then took a look around, soaking in some of the bizarre items they had in stock, such as men’s underwear where the guy’s junk goes into the trunk of an elephant and also what essentially equated to legal date-rape drugs (don’t worry, there’s a picture of the box in with the other photos).
After spending about half an hour of shock and awe in Don Quijote, we decided to go for a drink, as we often do on a Saturday night. The Crawdaddy Club would still be closed so we thought it would be fun to hit up a bar in Shinjuku Golden Gai:

Shinjuku Golden Gai is a small area of Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, famous both as an area of architectural interest and for its nightlife. It is composed of a network of six narrow alleys, connected by even narrower passageways which are just about wide enough for a single person to pass through. Over 200 tiny shanty-style bars, clubs and eateries are squeezed into this area. In this area, shooting photograph and video on the street is prohibited.

Bars in Golden Gai are known in particular for the artistic affinities of their patrons. Golden Gai is well known as a meeting place for musicians, artists, directors, writers, academics and actors, including many celebrities. Many of the bars only welcome regular customers, who initially should be introduced by an existing patron, although many others welcome non-regulars, some even making efforts to attract overseas tourists by displaying signs and price lists in English. Some bartenders are foreign.

Many of the bars have a particular theme, such as jazz, R&B, karaoke, punk rock, or flamenco, and their ramshackle walls are sometimes liberally plastered with movie, film and concert posters. Others cater to customers with a particular interest, such as go, exploitation films, or horse racing. Most of the bars don’t open until 9 or 10pm, so the area is very quiet during the day and early evening.

We had a prerequisite for the bar that we would choose — Quite a few of them have entrance fees, but it’s not a privilege drinking in a bar so we were only going to go to one where we didn’t have to pay just to get in the door. Before long we found our little hole-in-the-wall that was playing great music and the owners were really cool. Definitely made the right choice for how to spend the remainder of our night, just beer and yakitori. A look at Don Quijote, Golden Gai, and some other sights from the night:

Sunday, May 6, 2018
Sunday was our last day in Tokyo and it was going to be predominantly about food and what better way to get it started than by hitting up a sushi joint for lunch. It turned out there was one reasonably close to the Granbell Hotel so we went down, bypassing the Lawson on the way, denying myself an egg salad sandwich for the first day since we arrived so I could truly appreciate lunch, and when we arrived at the restaurant we were the first ones there. The main guy running the show at the store was quite old and you could tell he had been doing this for years so we pulled up a stool each and ordered mixed platters of sashimi and sushi.
After the sushi joint, the next stop would be one of the food halls and our choice was the one we usually tend to go to in Isetan Department Store. As that link says when you scroll down to the section on food halls, “The first basement is chock-full of deli counters with a myriad of food choices,” and they aren’t joking. Anna loves Japanese desserts so we stopped off in a cafe on the same floor so Anna could have some cake and then we got looking around. Obviously you would expect the seafood to be pretty spectacular, and it is, as are the desserts, particularly the cheesecakes, but it is the meat that is truly mind-blowing. If you’re unaware of what wagyu beef is (and I know for a fact there are some who read this blog that won’t know) here’s why it’s so special:

Wagyu is any of four Japanese breeds of beef cattle, the most desired of which is genetically predisposed to intense marbling and to producing a high percentage of oleaginous unsaturated fat. The meat from such wagyu cattle is known for its quality, and commands a high price.

There are four breeds of wagyu: Japanese Black (黒毛和種 Kuroge Washu), Japanese Brown (赤毛和種 Akage Washu or Akaushi), Japanese Polled (無角和種 Mukaku Washu), and Japanese Shorthorn (日本短角和種 Nihon Tankaku Washu). Wagyu cattle’s genetic predisposition yields a beef that contains a higher percentage of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than typical beef. The increased marbling also increases the ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats.

Oh, and for those who have been spreading the rumours, there’s no truth to them:

The idea that practices such as massaging cattle or feeding them beer could improve meat quality is a myth, the result of misunderstanding.

One of the steaks we saw cost ¥10,800 for 100 grams. That’s currently equal to AU$130.00 or US$98.50 for 35oz. of meat! A look at our lunch, some beef, and other amusing sights from Isetan:

After looking around Isetan and buying gifts for friends and family, as well as a whole bunch of Royce chocolates for ourselves, it was almost time for dinner and Momo wanted to spend one last night with us. Her suggestion for dinner was Sama Curry & Café, which was fine with us because we both love Japanese curry, but hadn’t had any since we had been in Tokyo. The doormat that welcomed us may have contained a phrase that was a little lost in translation, but we certainly weren’t disappointed with the food:

Our final night with Momo was a blast, we ate well and drank a bit, but we couldn’t have a huge night, we had to fly out the following morning.

Monday, May 7, 2018
We had done our research for how to get to get to the airport in the quickest and easiest manner by train. Anna wanted to try the Ramen place that wasn’t open when we first arrived, but we do have a knack for making ourselves late at times when we don’t really need to rush so we just went straight to the airport and flew home to Singapore.

It’s common knowledge that Japan is quite a unique place and some things there can be a little confusing. On this particular trip we didn’t do much in the way of tourist-type things because we’ve seen and done most of what we’ve wanted to in the past, but there were still some occurrences that were a little befuddling and there were a few other things we noticed as well, such as:

  • English — In the past, communicating in English in Tokyo has been a bit of a challenge, but it’s clear that there has been a concentrated effort to improve people’s English abilities, especially in the service industry. This is obviously in preparation for hosting the 2020 Olympic Games, but a lot of signs, menus, and even public announcements are now in both Japanese and English. There are definitely a lot more bilingual people here than I recall from previous trips, too.
  • Face Masks — Many people wear face masks in Japan, you will be able to see them being worn in some of the pictures in this post, but I’m still not sure why. It was spring when we were there so it could possibly be due to pollen, but I still have my doubts. A lot of Japanese people in Singapore, where most plants reproduce via seeds instead of pollination, wear face masks as well, as did many of the Japanese people in Honolulu when we were there. It can’t be comfortable breathing in one of those things, your face constantly sweating and the area that isn’t covered getting burnt by the sun, leaving you with a two-tone face after finally removing it. I even saw a guy sneeze with his on without a care in the world. Surely there can’t be that many germaphobes in one country and if it is due to pollution, which doesn’t seem all that bad compared to cities in South-East Asia, it kind of defeats the purpose of wearing one if you lift it up to smoke.
  • Smoking — On the subject of smoking, it’s interesting that so many people smoke in such an advanced country and how free and easy they are about it. Smoking is still permitted in most bars and restaurants, although it is prohibited on some of the streets that host these establishments.
  • Taxi Seat-Covers — Earlier in this post there was a photo I took from inside a taxi and you can clearly see the white lace seat covers, as well as the driver’s white driving gloves. This wasn’t an exception, this is obviously a rule as all cabs have them on top of the plastic puke-proof cover on the seat. The plastic cover makes sense, although it’s not particularly comfortable, but the lace seat-covers make it look as if my grandmother is the CEO of the taxi company. Now they just need to equip every cab with a shelf covered in doilies and ornaments and we’re set.
  • Insane Work Habits — It’s also well-known that Japanese people are dedicated to their jobs, essentially a nation of workaholics, all craving that precious workahol. I have heard stories from a lot my Japanese friends and former students about work habits, one who recently told me of a very extreme case, that they have a friend that works so hard every day and well into the night, barely eating properly or getting any sleep, until they make themselves physically ill, either developing a fever or some other sickness. What makes this even stranger is this particular person wears that illness as a badge of honour, feeling as though they have given their job their all.
  • Tommy Lee Jones Still Milking Men in Black — To finish on a fun note, here are a couple of pictures I took of Mr. Jones hawking coffee in a can in Tokyo under the guise of Agent K 21 years after the film first hit the screen and six years since the latest movie in the franchise came out:

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