Saturday, June 23, 2012

Japan - Day 3

      A very fun day today. It was raining buckets when we awoke. Our host Katsuo went out to the corner convenience store to get us breakfast and came back, soaked, with an assortment of green triangular wedges and some milk. We sat down to eat and James chose the one Katsuo said was salmon, then he described the others: tuna, and a bunch of other kinds of fish. I was just thinking I was going to have to eat fish after all when he said- ah tamago- egg. Relieved, I snatched it up and took a bite as he clarified: " fish egg." It was ghastly. I choked it down and sucked down 3 glasses of milk- more than I normally drink in a month, desperately hoping that he wouldn't notice I wasn't taking a second bite. He noticed anyway and passed me a package of raisin buns. Now, normally, I think a raisin is an example of a terrible thing to do to a grape, but I latched on to that raisin bun and ate every bite, just grateful there was not a fish egg to be found! Then we had to wait for rush hour 6:00 to 9:00 am- to be over so that we could try taking the train to Akihabara- our chosen destination for the day. We set out about 9:00. Katsuo had given James directions and he walked us to the station. James read the maps like a pro and got us on the right train for Akihabara. It was about a 45 minute ride with lots of stops and I kept asking James, "Are you sure this is the right train?" while he kept assuring me, "Don't question the navigator!" It was still raining- though not as hard- when we got there. I discovered the answer to my question: Do people still ride bikes in the rain. Yes indeed! And they do it in all this twisty turny traffic while holding an umbrella in one hand. When we went shopping, we saw a bucket of clear plastic long-handled umbrellas for sale (500 yen) at the front of virtually every store. Whether the store sold books or electronics or clothing or food, they always sold umbrellas too. I'm guessing that people must get caught in unexpected downpours all the time. Maybe the forgetful ones (like me!) have 2 dozen umbrellas because they keep having to buy new ones. James' little flat travel umbrella already shows signs of giving up the ghost, but I'm thinking we'll have no trouble finding a replacement if it does.
     They call Akihabara "Electric Town" and we have no trouble telling why. Vegas-ish, florescent signs gleam and flash from most tall buildings. Buildings are primary colors- especially red, or stand out with 3 story tall pictures. Squeaky-voiced anime characters shriek from lound speakers at the World Radio store. Pretty girls dressed as maids beckon us on every corner to their "Maid Cafes." We find a book tower- I think it was 8 stories, but it might have been more- and, as book stores are our favorite havens at home, we spend quite a while. James buys a manga book that is mostly pictures with a little Japanese for children (and laughs for hours when we get home and he reads it) I enjoy seeing the Japanese versions of Harry Potter.

     I ask if they have the Twilight books but am met with blank stares.
     We decide to try eating at a "Maid Cafe." It is the weirdest experience I think we are likely to have here! We are led upstairs to a small room draped floor to ceiling in pink, red, and white, with lots of ruffles and stuffed animals. Our maid comes to our table with a menu, addresses James as "Master" and gives us cards on which to write our names. James writes his name in Japanese and a torrent of Japanese follows. He has to explain that he only knows a little. We end up ordering "hamburger" which turns out to be a pretty well seasoned patty in gravy with some rice. Around us are men- mostly teenagers- along with one tourist family with 2 small children. Most of the men light up and proceed to smoke and the tiny little room becomes unpleasant. A lot of the men don't stay too long, though, they just have an alcoholic drink and leave after 20 minutes or so. We are not allowed to take photos in the Maid Cafe, but I am allowed to take a picture of my heart-shaped plate of food when it arrives and our over-priced meal includes a tiny polaroid photo of us. The maids come to our table and talk to us, they also lead the room in games that include a lot of gestures and clapping and a lot of "Moi, Moi" which, I'm told means cute. Sort of Japanese chicken dance or Makarena. Actually, the whole place sort of reminded me of what you'd get if Hello Kitty did a lap dance. At 6000 yen or about $87, it was certainly the most expensive hamburger I've ever had! (When we told Keiko the next day that we'd been to a Maid Cafe, she giggled profusely, "Those places are for men who want women to call them Master!")

Breakfast with Katsuo: seaweed wrapped bundles of rice with fish, fish, fish, and, oh look! fish eggs.

                                             Racks and racks of bicycles.  They even ride them in the rain with clear umbrella windshields.
 Our heart-shaped plate of cute and smoky food at the Maid Cafe- the only thing we were allowed to photograph.
The Maid Cafe

     We were trying to find a specific store in Akihabara, but we never did find it. We just wandered around tall buildings full of electronics and gadgets and lot of figurines and trading cards. I don't think we bought much besides at the book store, but it was fun. We had to change trains to come home and I was worried, but James handled it fine. We made it back as was leaving to work the night shift. He insisted that I take his bed as James likes it cold, with the fan on all the time, and I was huddling in a blanket. We told him we were fine, but he insisted. After he left, we went out to find dinner. Just 2 streets down, we found a little restaurant with 3 low tables, one of them empty. We came inside and were warmly welcomed in Japanese. The table had a grill in the center, so I ordered beef- "moo, moo" I clarified intelligently. James ordered a leek ramen and was understood. My beef came out right away: thin strips of raw marinated beef, a couple of small sausages, 4 huge shrimp (with the legs on them- eww) and thin slices of pepper and potato. they gave us tongs and we proceeded to put the meat on the grill. Immediately, I dropped a slice of beef through the grate and into the fire, causing the cheerful young waitress to giggle. An older Japanese woman was cooking the food behind the counter and there were 3 men- maybe ages 55-75 at the next table. I never could sit criss-cross applesauce, even as a child, but I sat in a modified kneeling position copying one of the men and was quite comfortable. James had trouble with his legs falling asleep and he really didn't fit at the low table. He kept having to change position and stretch, to the amusement of the men. The meat was simply amazing!! Whatever marinade they used, I would quite happily categorize it as the best I've ever had! They brought us bowls and soy sauce but, when we put our cooked meat in the bowls, they brought the barbarians more bowls- clearly indicating the bowls were for the sauce. James ate his ramen with gusto- slurping his noodles and using the chopsticks like a native. Then the man at the next table sent over a breaded pork cutlet for us to try. We had some- it was good but I was full. I tried to say we were from Seattle. James translated. Ahhh- Ichiro! They exclaimed. Then we began to try to communicate. They offered James a beer and, when he said he was 18, they couldn't believe it and made him count on his fingers to show he knew what he was saying. They asked if he liked baseball and when he said he was too big they agreed, "You make good Sumo!"

This is the picture we got as part of our Maid Cafe experience
     For the next hour we found common ground to communicate and there was lots of laughter. Elvis Presley led to Blue Hawaii, with the oldest man belting out "You ain't nothin but a hound dog" in strongly accented English. Every time James mentions his Tanaguchi Sensai, the Japanese all respond favorably. His respect for his teacher shows. They took pictures of us all together, even calling the grandmother cooking to come be in the picture with us. Anyway, it was a very fun night and, when we got back to our place, James took them back some of the Trader Joe's caramels we'd packed for gifts and stayed talking a while longer. We plan to eat there again on our last night in town. ( The price was really good, too, 27,00 yen or about $38 for all that good food- better than we'd do in the States.)
At the barbeque/ramen shop around the corner

Ready to barbeque

James' Ramen

Enjoying new friends

1 comment:

  1. Totally enjoying all the adventures :) thank you for sharing!