This side of Nagasaki (day 4.5)

I finally made it back to my room, giftless and tired, with two hours remaining before our next installment of eating and drinking. I was looking forward to just relaxing in the bath but, when I checked my email… bling-o! blong-o! … American Jeff IM’d me to see how I was getting on.

yamanoteI told him about my giftlessness and he told me I should go to Akihabara, a mecca for people in search of dolls or miniatures of their favourite anime characters. It’s only four train stops away on the Yamanote line, he said. I can easily make it there and back in two hours, he said. I can do that, I thought.

I walked down to Shinbashi Station and encountered my first problem. The map was all in Kanji:-(

There was a red you-are-here marker and I knew that Akihabara was 4 stops away. But which direction?!

I had a map in my pocket which had both Kanji and Romanji, and, once I found Akihabara on my map, I matched the symbol to the one on the wall. It was like playing an Alternate Reality Game in actual reality!

inuyashaWhen I arrived at Akihabara, I had the same problem x10 because all the shops were in tall buildings and the building directories were all in kanji. The first shop I went into had every anime character ever made – except Inuyasha, and the second one had one pathetic little Kagome.

The third store had a single, tiny Inuyasha for Â¥1500 – and many , more grown up characters in rather interesting poses. Those characters will probably never make it to America and, even in Japan, modesty required little bits of sticky plastic to cover up the naughty bits.

I searched the remaining seven thousands stores – which is an adventure when you can’t read the signs on the doors – you never know what you are going to find! – but no-one had any Inuyasha.

By now, I was almost late for my dinner meeting so I resolved to go back to the first shop, get the little Kagome and call it a day. But, while I was buying that, I decided to ask about Naruto too.

They had hundreds of Naruto. They even had a big bag containing a variety of characters. The bag didn’t have my favourite character – the rather attractive, well-endowed lady ninja – or Dylan’s favourite, but my Japanese wouldn’t stretch to “Do you have the woman with the blond hair and the big bosoms? Or the dude with the dog called Akamaru”. I thought about making the international symbol for woman with large breasts but I was worried that he’d send me back to one of those other shops and, besides, I was already late for dinner. I decided to quit while I was ahead and set off back to the hotel for my next culinary adventure.
I won’t tell you all the gory details. Suffice it today that it was, once again, marvellous and had some relation to my need for a bucket the next day. The only extraordinary detail – if you consider outstanding Italian food, wine, grappa and being crammed in a little tiny bar that only accepts one coin as ordinary – was the fact that we ended up having more noodles at 3am.

noodles at 3am

This side of Nagasaki (day 2.5)

Ohayou-gozaimasu!

pigSo, after we left the yakitori place, we went to a wine bar. Wine was so-so, but the whole pig’s leg sitting on the bar was interesting. When Yukio asked for prosciutto, the barman just got out his carving knife and cut some bits off for us. It was the best prosciutto I ever tasted.

After the wine bar, Yukio said his friend runs the best sushi bar in Tokyo and it was just around the corner. So we went there and had the best sushi this side (actually, the other side) of Nagasaki. If you ever go there, have the mackeral – it’s like raw fish from heaven. Oh..and we had some more sake. A lot more.

sushiBy this time it was after midnight (+7hrs for the jet-lagged among us) and Australian Jeff wanted to go back to the hotel. I wanted to go too since my big presentation was the next day (and I was jet-lagged) and I didn’t want to wake up with a hangover – but I was outvoted 2 to 1, so Mirek, Yukio and I jumped in a cab to the famous Bar at Kanda.

I had heard about the bar from Jeff and it goes by several names. It’s in Kanda (hence, the Bar at Kanda), the home-made sign on the door says Crossroads but Mirek referred to it as the One Coin Bar because every thing is the same price – one 500 yen coin. It’s a bit of stretch to even give the place a name, ahseb u ara three, because it’s not big enough to deserve even one.

kanda barThe bar is about 3ft by 10ft inside – not including the 3ft square where the barman hangs out. That’s about the size of our walk-in closet and, with 13 patrons, it was rather full. I had a Guinness (cost: 500 yen) or two to keep my fluid levels up.

The bar is home from home for Yukio – the Agitar office is just around the corner – and it’s also home from home for all the other patrons too. Mirek says that the exact same people were there every time he had been there. A friendly crowd but, then again, they had to be. There was no room to be unfriendly.

I was home by about 1:30am and went straight to sleep, ready for my day 3 adventures. Three dinners and one bar in the same evening! Wait until you hear what I had for breakfast!

This side of Nagasaki (day 2)

Oyasuminasai!

ticket machineFirst customer visit. After three train rides, four tickets (costing an average of 8 million yen) and about a thousand miles, Australian Jeff, Polish Mirek, Japanese Yukio and English I arrived at our destination (late) and rushed in to give my first presentation with Yukio translating for me.

I have no idea how it went but, from the deathly silence, I assume it wasn’t too bad. Best bit was the intermission where our host led us in synchronized stretching to the strains of classical music from an huge ghetto blaster brought in for that precise purpose.

The thousand mile train ride(s) back to the hotel were uneventful but, man! There are a lot of people in Tokyo and most of them were on our train. I even got the hang of buying my own ticket(s) from the machines with the little squiggles instead of proper words and didn’t have stare at every coin counting the zeros like a tourist.

I had a couple of hours to spare before dinner. Both American Jeff and Polish Mirek had told me to go to Ginza but, since I didn’t know what a Ginza was or where to find one, I just wandered around Shiodome City Centre to see all the millions of beautiful restaurants that I could have gone to the night before instead of drinking crap beer at the Rose and Crown.

yakitoriThe Japanese have a wonderful eye for design and all their best designers are tasked with making every restaurant look like a work of art. Even the crappy little cafes look like they were designed for Zen Homes and Gardens. Made me hungry…which was handy since we had reservations for our team dinner at 5:00pm.

Australian Jeff had been teasing me that I would be eating chicken hearts washed down with sake. Yeah right thought I but, sure enough, that’s what we had.

yakitoriWe went to a Yakitori place that was quite magnificent. If they ever made a romantic movie about a Yakitori restaurant, they would make it here. The soft-focus, opening shot would zoom gently out from the swirling, sizzling clouds of steam rising from the cooking-as-performance-artists chefs work to catch the Mistress d’, greeting the next customer with a loud Oyasuminasai! (warning. don’t click on that link if you are in a meeting room with a lot of very quiet Japanese businessmen, because they will all turn and laugh at you).

yukio menuYakitori means leftover bits of chicken on a stick. It wasn’t just leftover bits of chicken though – they had leftover bits of other things too. The leftover bits were barbecued to perfection by the performing chefs and delivered on an endless stream of little plates, tapas-style. The waitress just kept bringing them while we just keep eating them in between sips of silky sake poured from bamboo bottles into little bamboo sake cups. Until…

Hearts and Livers!

sakewhich I thought was a Japanese toast until the waitress put down the next plate containing, yes, little sticks with little chicken hearts and little chicken livers. The hearts were actually pretty good but am not in any rush to have chicken livers any time soon. The non-chicken bits were fantastic too.

to be continued because it’s time for tonight’s adventure. I think we are having deep fried sea creatures tonight.

It’s really quite black, sir!

I had Spanish for lunch today with Jeff and we went with the paella negre. I was expecting something with a certain tinge of blackness but it turned out to be very black indeed. All afternoon I have had a variation of The Cheese Shop going around and around in my head.

Wensleydale : It’s a bit black, sir.
Mousebender: Oh, I like it black.
Wensleydale : Well as a matter of fact it’s very black, sir.

Fortunately, it was quite delicious and there were no bouzoukis playing. But, honestly, food should not be that colour.

The red beer with fruit floating in it was most excellent. Just the right amount of redness and fruit floating in it.