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 3)

[story is a little out of sequence due to international dateline]

Woke up this morning feeling only slightly fragile and, with my three dinners of the night before fully digested, I was ready to make an attempt on the World Breakfast Record. I had miso, nearly raw egg – just the yolk – in a cup of soy sauce, mandarin slices in yoghurt, bacon, sausages, penne w/ white sauce, smoked salmon, pieces of fruit, coffee and my special patented hangover-repelling blend of orange and tomato juice. All while being watched over by Mount Fuji.

JeffAfter breakfast, we headed off to the Developer Summit for the main feature of the week – my presentation on Continuous Integration.

The room was packed – hundreds of people – and I broke the rule about not making jokes to international audiences. I told them how the presentation was s’posed to be given by Jeff (see picture) and that he always gives the presentation dressed in his super-hero costume. I had asked to borrow his costume but he wouldn’t let me have so I had to wear ordinary clothes. He let me give his presentation but he wouldn’t let me wear his super-hero costume. It’s not fair.

It’s a good way to figure out how many people in the audience speak English. After I told the joke about 10 people laughed and then the rest laughed after the translation. Helped me relax a bit anyway.

Something that didn’t help me relax was the official photographer who was totally in my face with her camera while I was speaking. Close up of my nose and ears. Both sides. Up high. Down low. I just hope I can find a copy to show Tom that I am not making all this up and I really did go to Japan.

The translator was excellent. I enjoyed listening to her more than I enjoyed speaking. I wanted to ask her what the Japanese word for bubbling was but she disappeared before I got a chance. It sounded something like bibbety-bobbety-boo.

It’s kinda nice speaking with a translator actually. You get a handy pause while she translates, to think a little bit about what you are going to say next, instead just rambling inanely like I usually do.sushi

You know without me telling you that we ate well in the evening. Tempura, at a tiny place with room for about 10 people sitting at the bar while Master, as Mirek called him, cooked up the tempura one piece at a time.

tempuraYou could make a fantastic food movie just by following Jeff and Mirek around for a week. Subtle, traditional decor and lots of significant moments and motions like carefully presenting the cooked tempura just so or applying just the right amount of sauce.

tempuraMaster looked like an international man of mystery. If James Bond had come and sat down next to us – and he wouldn’t have been out of place – Master would have known how to make his Martini shaken not stirred, and would have saved 007 from a ninja attack using skills he picked up in World War II.

The hostess too – Master’s wife – was straight from central casting. No English. Beautiful kimono. Exquisitely polite.

Early night after the tempura and no hangover the next day! Hooray!

Knitting up the ravelled sleeve of care

Was planning to go to a customer meeting this morning but, with the huddles masses of my breakfast yearning to break free of their gastric bonds, we decided it was probably best if I skipped it and prepared myself constitutionally for my third and final presentation in the afternoon. It’s a good job too as I don’t think I would’ve survived the taxi ride and I know that their meeting rooms do not come equipped with buckets. 200 year-old bonsai plum trees in full bloom, yes. Buckets, no.

The presentation went well with lots of questions then I jumped in a taxi to make it to the bus terminal with 2 minutes to spare and I settled down for a nice, long bumpy ride to the airport trying my damnedest to keep everything inside where it should be.

The plane was pretty empty so when the cabin attendant invited the dude next to me to move to an empty row, I stretched myself out, set my sleep transducer to ‘coma’, adjusted my meal cart detector to ‘sensitive’ and started manufacturing some serious ZZZs, waking every three hours for light sustenance and beverages.

With my ravelled sleeves of care fully knitted – and my lost day safely returned – I landed at SFO in the warm California sun refreshed and ready to face the new day.

It was a great trip – thank you, Yukio, Jeff and Mirek for your kind hospitality!

Arigotou gozai-masu!

You want fries wi’ dat-imas?

I have long been of the opinion that the American culture of tipping is somewhat barbaric but now I have an answer to those who say that tipping encourages good service.

Go spend a week in Tokyo and a week in New York and then tell me which one has the better service.

Even the immigrations and customs people at Narita polite and helpful.

Next time I run into Obama at one of his rallies, I’ll encourage him to issue this as his first Executive Order:

All persons intending to work in a customer-facing role are required to spend six months in Japan for on the job training.

Oh. And they’ll also be required to say -imas after every third word.

Usability Problem

For all their brilliant design skills, they designed my room with a usability problem.

When I dragged my jet-lagged, tired body into my dark, dark room, I couldn’t find the light switch because the room was too dark.

I turned on the bedside lamp so I could find the light switch – nothing. I went in the bathroom and put the light on there. Nothing.

I would have read the manual but it prolly would have been in incomprehensible squiggles instead of proper words and besides – I wouldn’t have been able to read it as the room was very dark.

I opened the door in case the light switch was on the outside – nope – and then I noticed the card slot thingie and a light went on in my head. When I put my card in the slot, the light went on in my room too. Oooh! I felt so proud!

I put my bags down and while I was rummaging in the cupboards to see what goodies were in my room, the light went off again! D’oh!

After three more times of stimbling over to the card slot in the dark, I realized that the light would only stay on if I left the card there….and then I didn’t feel so proud any more:-(

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.

This side of Nagasaki (day 1)

Konnichiwa!

It’s my first visit to Japan and I wish it were under different circumstances so I could enjoy it more. I just gave my presentation at the Tokyo Developer Summit and have a couple of hours to kill so I thought I’d let you know what I am up to.

Mount FujiMy room at the glorious Royal Park Shiodome is on the 33rd floor and I woke up to a clear, brilliant view of Mount Fuji this morning. Apparently, it’s pretty rare that you can see it and I am to consider myself lucky – which I do.

SquirtRoom is quite lovely especially the zen-inspired bathroom complete with squirty toilet and seat warmer. Squirty toilets are wonderful and every home should have one. I managed to figure out the international symbol for squirt-water-up-yer-bum but I am not sure what the other symbol represents – or even if I have the bits that might need that kind of washing.

Trip into Tokyo from the airport is a bit intimidating if you don’t know any Japanese (which I don’t) and no-one else knows any English (which they didn’t). It doesn’t help that they don’t use proper letters. Instead they use mysterious squiggles to represent words. How they expected me to make any sense of them, I don’t know. I made it though, and arrived safe at my hotel at 8pm on Monday – I left home at 8am on Sunday. Someone somewhere owes me a day which got stolen from me in mid-sleepless-pacific.

Everyone was very friendly at the airport. A lot of bowing goes on over here. Even the policemen who checked my passport every 12 minutes while I waited for my bus bowed a lot. It’s kinda fun. Especially endearing was the moment when the baggage handlers all lined up and bowed in unison to send my bus safely on its long, long journey into the city.

Rose and CrownI was tired and hungry after a long flight so I went out walking to find a bite to eat. Coward that I am, I didn’t get very far. In fact, I only got as far as the Rose and Crown right outside the hotel.