Sunday, February 24, 2008

Konnichiwa Y'all!

Welcome to my first Japanese blog entry.

Arrival time: 9:00 AM Sunday morning
Status upon arrival: Broke-ass tired*

*Unlike Jason, who flew “upper class” on Virgin for 12 hours, I was stuck in “not so much upper class” on British Airways. Or as I like to call it - “torture class”.

So, first impressions of Tokyo? Amazingly clean streets and subways and the friendliest people I have ever come across. It's also the first place I've been where I really really feel like I'm in a different world, very foreign. There are very few Western faces in the streets and I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. But I mean all that in a good way. It's nice to see something totally and completely different when so much of the world is being homogenized.

The first thing we did (after crashing out dead cold for 3 hours) was go to the Ameyoko market. I didn’t take any photos but it was insanely chaotic. A total assault on the senses. There were hordes of people and vendors were yelling and there was music coming from everywhere. The name of the market is pretty interesting actually… Ame actually means candy which is what the market sold originally, and yoko means alley. But after World War II, black market goods like cigarettes, chocolates, and nylon stockings began showing up and Ame took on the second meaning as an abbreviation for American.

My first Japanese friend. I named him Moshi-Moshi. Or maybe Pikachu. Or possibly Okachimachi.

This is the entrance to the first shrine we visited, the Gojo shrine – in Ueno Park.

One of the Inari fox statues in the shrine.

These are all little prayers that people have written and tied to a frame.

A 17th century pagoda in the park.

Some lanterns (ingenious caption, no?)

Now. Dinner. My first dinner was a very interesting experience. A wonderful experience, mind you… but interesting. We had to remove our shoes as soon as we walked in which I wasn’t exactly prepared for. I don’t know why but I guess I thought you only removed your shoes to go into temples or people’s homes. Good thing I was wearing my cute Missoni socks. I don’t know if you have to do this at every restaurant or not. Guess I’ll find out soon enough! But it’s actually a rather complicated process… There’s the floor immediately when you walk in and then there’s a small wooden platform of sorts – just a couple of inches high. You have to remove your first shoe and put your foot down on the little platform. So, your shoe can’t touch the platform and once your shoe is off, your foot can’t touch the floor. Then you repeat the process with your other shoe so that both feet are on the platform, then you can step up into the room. I was terrified of screwing up, but I made it.

Anyway, so they brought the menus which were in Japanese characters only so we basically just tried to communicate to them what things we eat and they suggested a set meal for two. We knew it had chicken and vegetables and that was good enough for us. They brought out a couple of little dishes, a cool custard-ish thing and a hot soup-ish/custard-ish thing, then a miso type soup, and then chicken wings. And just when I was starting to get comfortable with everything, out somes a small bowl with a raw egg in it. The first thought to go through my head is simply “No. I can’t do it. I just can’t.” But thank god, it was sort of a dipping thing. Basically, our server brought out a little gas burner and started to cook our food in front of us and when it was done, she would put it into the bowl with the egg and we’re meant to eat it out of that. Now, even this was a bit of a stretch for me but I just sucked it up like a big girl and went for it. (Those who know what a picky eater I am will understand what an accomplishment this is for me. Although I have gotten much much better since living in Europe…)

So we’re going at it and we finish the food and we’re both so full. Then she comes out with another bowl of vegetables and tofu and stuff. Guess what. What we thought was our entire meal was basically only the starters. And it still wasn’t finished after that. She came back again and made what she called “Japanese risotto”. And finally, after that, we got dessert and green tea and it was over. I mean, look at all these dishes! And that’s not even including my soup bowl…

This was our view from our seats in the restaurant.

A shrine we walked by on our way back to the subway.

These are a couple of photos of the crazy lights and skyscrapers in Shinjuku, where we’re staying.

The view from our room.

Domo arigato. Check back soon for more live updates!


geo said...

You look so cute in your Japanese outfit! Kudos to your live coverage :)

Kris said...

What an amazing place! I look forward to seeing more photos.

Mom said...

Looking forward to hearing all about your adventures and seeing lots more pictures! Have fun!!! Love you both!!

A Novelist said...

VERY COOL! It looks absolutely electric there. Can't wait to hear/see more adventures. :)

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I stayed in Japan for two months last year. It was a wonderful experience.

I think removing shoes is such an excellent custom and wish more people here in Britain would do it.

I dedicated an entire blog to the subject of removing shoes:
Shoes Off at the Door, Please

erica said...

I can't wait to frame those two pics.
ps. I think you know which two I am speaking about...