Hi everyone! Misou here. I wrote this post a couple days ago but we were a bit busy and did not have time add the pictures. I am in the hotel lobby right now using the hotel’s computer while Brandon is on the laptop replying to his students’ emails. This post took at least 10 minutes longer to post since I’m on a Japanese keyboard and I keep accidentally turning on the Japanese characters! Anyway, here is day 3’s report. Thanks for following our blog!
Today we checked out two of the busiest neighborhoods of Tokyo, Ginza and Shinjuku. Brandon first took me to Ginza, a high fashion area for “sophisticated adults,” as the guide book calls it. We ate lunch at the tiny 16 seat sushi restaurant Kyubei. (Thanks, Mitch, for the rec!) Brandon wanted to take me here for my birthday yesterday but it’s closed on Sundays so we came today for lunch instead, which worked out better in the end because there was no line and we got more face time with the chef. I initially wanted to write a big blog post about the meal but I think it’s safe to summarize it all in a word: Amazing! From the moment we walked in we were fawned upon by waitresses in kimonos and ushered into our seats. They took off our jackets, put our bags away, dropped napkins into our laps faster than you can say “We want some sushi.” There were 4 chefs behind the immaculate bar preparing super fresh seafood for us. When I say super fresh, I’m referring to the prawns (ebi) on the countertop still jumping up and down. Brandon and I both ordered the 11 piece omakase, “at the chef’s will.” I will let the pictures speak for themselves next, but I just wanted to add that Kyubei fully deserves its reputation of being one of the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo (and one of the most expensive, too, needless to say.)
– We had squid, red snapper, sea urchin, fatty tuna, ebi, crab, sea eel, bonita fish, miso soup with tiny clams in it, squash, tuna, cucumber and pickles rolls, and finally, a piece of persimmon.
After lunch we spent almost an hour navigating the high-end shop filled streets of Ginza trying to find the Sony building since Brandon still hasn’t gotten his fix of robots. What a disappointment it was! Sony takes up 4 floors in the building and two were products for sale while the rest were normal products you can probably find at a Best Buy. We tested the personal 3D viewer which was also lackluster. Sorry, honey, no futuristic A.I. here.
Back on the subway, where we headed to Roppongi Hills, a cool neighborhood with interesting modern architectural designs. We toured this “city within a city” for a bit and saw a bunch of promotional stuff for the Tokyo International Film Festival (we even had our picture taken and signed it electronically so that it can appear on the TIFF welcome screen). Took a short break to blog yesterday’s report when I was so thirsty for Coke (called Cola here) that I almost turned into Godzilla (or Cokezilla). Speaking of, Brandon also commented that we haven’t seen Godzilla since we got here. Oh boy!
We purposely waited until nighttime to hit Shinjuku area, where neon lights, giant LED screens and hundred of thousands people fill the streets. It’s the Tokyo that we’ve seen most in movies. It’s also where you find the station that has 31 exits (!) and a crew of officers to push people into the trains during rush hour.
We were circling the area and looking extremely touristy when we came across this little alley (by the way, Brandon has an unnatural obsessions with little alleys) from which the smell of meat wafted. We’d found Yakatori Alley without looking for it. The crisscrossing little alleys are lined with tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants—which is a generous thing to call them, since the biggest ones seat about 10 people in the bar-style establishments. Customers are businessmen dressed in suits downing beers while enjoying meat skewers roasting on open flames. We were overwhelmed with choices since one looks, and smells, just as good as another. We finally picked one that had more of the seats filled, a good sign. The owner/chef is a grumpy old man, turning our skewers while smoking his cigarette—a far cry from our lunch earlier, in service and in facilities.
After the yakitori we were still hungry so we went to this noodle shop that has a long line. We joined the soup-slurpers and ordered two bowls of soba noodles with tempura and an egg. Oh my word, no wonder there is a line! The no-frills, almost too dirty shop got it right.
Brandon’s post script: I, too, will let the Kyubei pictures speak for themselves. Suffice it to say that I cried several times while we were eating because the meal was so delicious. We also had a great time talking to Yosuke Imada (the restaurant was founded in 1935, and Yosuke is the second-generation owner) and our chef, whose English was much better than our Japanese.
If I lived in Tokyo, the main street in Ginza—like Fifth Avenue in New York City, Michigan Avenue in Chicago, or the Champs-Élysées in Paris—is that street I would never go to. The smaller streets behind it, however, look much more promising. And Misou has promised me that we can go back sometime to try one of the Moulin Rouge-style dance clubs with pretty, naked Japanese girls.
And Shinjuku… It’s like Tokyo ate Times Square and Greenwich Village, Piccadilly Circus, Saint-Martin, Las Vegas, and the Nana Entertainment Center of Bangkok and then threw up violently in neon Technicolor. Shinjuku is the coolest part of any city I have ever been to in any country.
To paraphrase a line from Frank Zappa, Tokyo has replaced the mudshark in my mythology. In size alone, it makes NYC look like a Hershey squirt. If I’d realized this place was so mind-bogglingly kickass, I would very likely have spent years studying Japanese instead of French and German, and I would have been champing at the bit to move here instead of Europe.
(I should watch what I say here, because I already have high hopes for Saigon.)