Wednesday, March 31, 2010

3月31日 Day 7: Heaven, Hell and Nirvana

Today, I went to Asakusa for the first time. It was absolutely mind-boggling... It was like I could feel the spirituality and tradition of Japan just present in this one place. We walked around, ate a lot and learned a lot too. It was seriously like ROOTS!! ^_^ No amount of written description will do this place justice, so here are a bunch of pictures.

What you see after going passing the first lantern.

Katsura: Traditional Japanese wigs

WTF: Traditional dog wigs?? You'd have to be a pretty sick person to do this to a dog.

Sushi for dogs! (This one's for the girlies~!)

Hello Kitty~

The second lantern ;]

This guy is making ningyoyaki-- a deep fried pancake sort of thing with azuki (red bean) inside. At first I thought, "Ningyoyaki? Is that fried mermaid?" Turns out the word for mermaid is ningyou, and not ningyo.


Iro iro na lunch set with chawamushi, tempura, soba, chirashi, and sukiyaki.

After we went to get lunch, we passed the second shrine to try out Mikuji (fortunes). You take this big metal cylinder full of these sticks with numbers on it and you shake it until one of the sticks comes out. You find the matching number in this big case of drawers and you pull out the first fortune in the drawer. I got a bad fortune!! X_X When you get a bad fortune, you fold it so that it's thin enough to tie around this metal bar thing (above) and the bad luck goes away. I bought an omamori (good luck charm) in case that didn't work!

The smoke from this incense is supposed to heal the areas of your body that are most vulnerable-- so of course I covered my head.

After I got that bad fortune, I tried taking more pictures... but my camera got all shaky--- like it was recording an earthquake or something!! I was like W T F THIS IS SO SCARY. Bad fortune and then broken camera? HOLY AGU%IQ%)(*#@)$*)#!!! I'M TOO SUPERSTITIOUS TO ENJOY THIS IRONY!!!

The third shrine (probably the most beautiful one) was under construction. Guess I have to go back!!

Inside the shrine. People throw money between these slats and then make a wish.

The ceiling inside the shrine. It was GORGEOUS!

After we left the shrines, my camera went back to normal... but that was because I had entered a hell beyond all comprehension.

It was Kappabashi, which is mom's version of heaven, and my version of hell. All the stores in Kappabashi are restaurant-related. There were dish stores, sample (plastic food) stores, neon light stores, uniform stores, knife stores, and God knows what else. I'm not exaggerating when I say that mom went into EVERY. SINGLE. FRICKIN'. STORE.


Here's what a typical store in Kappabashi looks like. Floor to ceiling of goods! Normally I would have enjoyed an outing like this with my roommates or if I was by myself. With my mom-- I was this close to completely losing it. Every store was almost identical-- besides, what could she possibly need at a RESTAURANT SUPPLY STORE?!

I ended up taking a chill pill after I realized that this was my mom's last official day in Japan. I let her do what she wanted and was finally zen when I realized that I've got 4 months to do whatever I want. Giving her a day of completely monotonous shopping seemed only right. I just waited outside knowing that things could only go up from here.

I got to see sakura at night in Mori Park in Roppongi~! You can see Tokyo Tower from here!

This beauty of the sakura at night just lead us to the next best thing: nirvana. Otherwise known as Restaurant Omae in Roppongi. It has a Michelin star! HOLY BALLS!!

The dinner we ate tonight was... UNDOUBTEDLY the best meal of my life. Yes, I realize that I've used that expression to describe the dinner on the first night-- but I'd like to retract that statement and present these pictures as evidence:

First course: beef tare tare with some kind of carpaccio. The beef was served on top of this ice cream cone and the carpaccio was served with a basil sauce. IT WAS SOOOO DELICIOUS I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MYSELF.

Second course: Shrimp, tofu and caviar. Enough said.


Holy crap, those scallops were served with this white wine and butter sauce with this snapper that was wrapped in wakame. It was my favorite portion of the dinner by far. I've never eaten anything so slowly. I wanted to savor the taste for as long as I possibly could!!

This was our Chef, Abe Tetsuya. Verrry nice guy. Tatsuya and Atsuko (who treated us to this AMAZING dinner) were listening to the chef working at the other table and they said he was NOT nice. Abe-san explained everything he was doing as he was doing it. He told us all the ingredients and even presented it in English for me... because I was too busy drooling instead of trying to understand him.

Main course: SU-TE-KI! Suteki means beautiful and suteeki means steak. It was indeed a suteki na suteeki! The dipping sauces were garlic, Kumamoto soy sauce, salt and pepper. MY DAD WOULD HAVE LOVED IT BECAUSE IT WAS COOKED TO PERFECTION!!!

Mashed potatoes and horse radish (on top) that came with the steak. I usually hate horse radish-- but this place made me change my mind.

The final course: FRIED RICE. I KNOW-- WHAT? FRIED RICE? I will never eat fried rice that's this good... ever again. Sorry Mom and Dad-- it just... won't even compare. Abe-san fried this rice using salt, pepper, shoyu and mirin sauce and then raw beef flakes. *DROOOOOOOL*

Ok, so this night-- this experience, rather, would not be complete with out a few faux pas. The guy in this picture is the owner and chef of Restaurant Omae. He's Omae!! He's also Iron Chef Morimoto's protegee! I didn't know that when he took our order for dessert...

Our friend Tatsuya asked him for his recommendation, and I chose something else. Faux pas numero uno. When I found out he was the owner I was MORI-MORTIFIED. How could I NOT have ordered what he recommended?! HOW INSULTING OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG. I just thought he was some waiter! Why would the head chef and owner take a customer's order?!?!?! I took a picture with him just to show that I knew who he was and how privileged I felt to be in his presence.

It's ok though because Atsuko ended up ordering his recommended dessert which was this pistachio cake thing. PHEW~ SAVED! Omae-san even came back to our table to grind some fancy lime rind (sort of similar to yuzu) on top of the creme brulee I had ordered (against his recommendation). It was SUBLIME (hah)! I actually think it was waaaay better than what that pistachio cake!! Too bad I ruined it with faux pas numero dos: laughing like an ass in the middle of this classy restaurant.

So while we were waiting for our dessert, we were exchanging funny restaurant stories and experiences. So of course, I told them the story of when mom and I went to Nobu in New York, ate at the bar and the lady next to us who started hysterically sobbing. Tatsuya (who is low-key hilarious) said, "Oh, was she crying because she saw the price?" I burst out laughing because he's never made a joke in front of me and that actually was funny. It came out at about 10 times the necessary reaction.

Dead silence.

I wanted to kill myself. Omae-san saw me too. God. God. God. God. He must think I'm a total hick.

Despite all that though, the night ended smoothly and was still the best dinner I've ever had.

2 faux pas down... they won't be the last... hopefully they don't get any worse though!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

3月30日 Day 6: ____houdai Day

I'd like to call today _____houdai Day. When "~houdai" is attached to a word, it means "all you can."

We started off by going to eat lunch in Maru-biru at this tabehoudai (all you can eat) restaurant with our friends Atsuko and her two sisters-in-law, Junko and Michiyo. The restaurant was basically a washoku (Japanese food) buffet and it was delicious beyond belief. American buffets cannot even compare to the quantity and quality of places like these.

However, I will say that the overabundance of obnoxious and unmonitored children at these restaurants is about the same in both countries. The table next to us had a babysitter with 6 kids-- which is basically my worst nightmare. Their constant squealing was the only thing preventing me from fully enjoying my 3 plates of food... I think Japanese mothers are going through some kind of alternative (a.k.a: shit) parenting method where they completely ignore their children until they knock something over. They seriously run around like wild animals!! >_<;;

After we left that zoo of a restaurant, we dropped all my baggage off at my dorm. Atsuko lent me sheets, pillows, bar soap, cups and a bunch of other random things that I can't even begin to thank her for. I feel so lucky to have a friend like her in Japan; her entire family is the sweetest I'll ever meet!

After Atsuko and Michiyo helped me and Mom set up my new room, they took us to Shimokitazawa, which has to be one of the coolest places I've ever seen. I'd never heard of it before today, but it's between Shinjuku and Shibuya and it's full of interesting vintage shops, dish shops, furniture shops, and hippie style clothing shops. Everything is SO CUTE-- you want to go into every store, which is exactly what we did! It was like... a kaimono wo shihoudai place (all you can shop-- but I seriously doubt that's an actual expression)

Here's a place in front of where I was waiting for my mom to finish shopping.

Everyone rides a bike!!

This store had a LOT of cute shoes-- you'd think that it was a sweatshop/escort service because of the name though...

Here's a cool alley that inspired the beginning scenes of Spirited Away. It hasn't been changed from its original construction in the 1950's.

An American Store~ full of Japanese clothes haha.

Freakin' scrumptious looking sembei~!

An awesome cherry blossom tree in front of a vintage-building.

Shimokitazawa was such a colorful place, I HAVE to go back when my mom's not here. Why? Because then I might actually get to see it all. When we went, Mom literally had to touch and look at everything and she was SOFA KING SLOW. Even if the store is only 1'x1', she'll find a way to stay in there for 4 hours. Michiyo's husband Kenny met us there, thinking he might get to talk with us or something. Too bad we ended up going into every store within a 4 block radius. He was holding his laptop in a shoulder bag, poor guy! He told me that Shinkitazawa is HUGE-- each street has tons and tons of interesting shops and that we didn't even hit the tip of the iceberg!!

For dinner, we ate at a Spanish Tapas bar in Roppongi Hills. It was a really cute pub-looking place and we ate a bunch of seafood and paella that I didn't feel like photographing. We insisted paying for dinner for Atsuko and her husband, Tatsuya because they've been so good to us. It was funny how big of a fight they put up because this group of about 8 office guys at the next table had a very heated argument about the very same thing. I understood almost all of that conversation:

Short guy: All right, this one's on me, guys!
Young guy: No way~ We'll get this one!
Young guy 2: Right! We should buy for you all since we're your juniors.
Short guy: Oh HELL no! WHAT IS THIS? *pounds chest* LET ME PAY!
Old guy: Come on short guy, it's ok. We'll all pay-- let's split it.
Young guy: No, no, no it's really ok!
Short guy: >_<;;

Japanese people are really good about being the alpha male (but only when it comes to paying for a meal).

This spider statue is right outside the place we ate in Roppongi. Sorry the picture's so blurry-- they had really good Sangria.

Mom and I are having a lot of fun together when I'm not stuck waiting for her to finish gawking at all the cute stuff she finds.

Monday, March 29, 2010

3月29日 Day 5: Walking the Walk

Today, I tested out my commute. I got lost about 3 times, but I'll live. It's all one big learning experience here... This is a picture of my future dorm-ish thingy in Nerima.

I know what you're thinking, "She went AGAIN?" Well, the first time we went, our friend Atsuko drove us. This time, we took the train and really commuted. It took about an hour and 10 minutes in total including the walking time from the dorm to the station and then from the station to school. Not too bad-- I'm actually glad I get to experience a public transportation- based commute again instead of just driving and feeling like a lazy ass. Hopefully my commute doesn't coincide with rush hour...

This picture was taken when we were going the wrong way towards school, but either way, I get to see TONS of cherry blossoms on my commute~! Sophia University (上智大学) is a small school-- but I'm glad I'm going here. We went to the Ichigaya Campus only to find out that it's turning into the law school. All my classes, clubs and everything else will take place at the Yotsuya campus, 1 transfered stop away from Ichigaya. There are so many interesting places in Yotsuya. Our family friend actually worked as a waiter in this popular restaurant close by called Elise ^.^ It was raining today so I didn't really want to take pictures... but Sophia is in a really cool looking and centrally located place. It's like the Japanese equivalent of USF haha.

Anyway, after we visited and did a mini-walk about the campus, Mom, Yuko-sensei and I went to eat and shop in Shinjuku station... again. We were just there yesterday!! (Yuko-sensei was catching the Shinkansen to Kyoto from there, so I guess we had to go back) Anyhow, we went to this cool restaurant on the 12th floor called Sagami.

This was my awesome lunch: sashimi, tempura, tsukemono, miso soup and genmai rice. I think the stuff in the middle was a potato, fried tofu and a shumai sort of thing. The girls serving us were all wearing kimono. The place was weird in that they gave us these fancy cloths to cover up our purses and jackets that we had placed in the empty seats next to us. How fancy! (Or maybe they thought our stuff was ugly or something?)

Mom and Yuko-sensei had this: Anago, some fish assortment (that randomly included yama momo), yuba, some toro thing and then mochi.

After we finished eating, Mom made us walk around the same shops she and I went to yesterday that made my feet hurt. I know what you're thinking, "She went AGAIN?" That's exactly what I was thinking. My feet didn't hurt this time, but Yuko-sensei and I must have lost sight of mom about 5 times in 2 hours. It was amazing because we only went to stationary stores... I don't know how or why my mom finds stationary stores so interesting, but she must touch and examine every notebook, paperclip and post-it in every single one she visits. She and I are the similar in that we buy a bunch of fancy notebooks and only fill up 50-75% of the pages because we want to buy a different one. But I digress...

After I officially memorized the sizes and colors of all the different rubber bands, we saw Yuko-sensei off to Kyoto and went back to the hotel during the beginning of Tokyo rush hour. It wasn't that crowded on the JR Yamanote Line, but I'm seriously dreading the times that I'll have to endure THIS commute. Today, the old dude I was standing next to had some SERIOUS dandruff.

Today's dinner was at this yakitori/nabe place in Tokyo train station and we ate yakitori and chicken nabe... surprised? They gave us SO MUCH FOOD. I couldn't even take a picture of it. We had ordered a plate of 6 small skewers of yakitori and then mom saw this couple next to us eating nabe (hot pot) and decided she wanted to get that too. BAD IDEA.

The set she ordered included another plate of 6 skewers, a nabe full of cabbage, chicken, carrots, tofu, chicken, 2 types of mushrooms, and noodles and ended with a big bowl of rice and pork with two eggs that we were supposed to mix in with the leftover nabe water. HOLY SHITE it was too much food. I mean, it was off the chain, but it was WAAAY too much.

The ponzu sauce that they used with the nabemono was absolutely divine. When my mom makes nabe at home, she uses shoyu, daikon, lemon and green onions instead of ponzu. The restaurant we went to used REAL ponzu (which was better). Poor Mom... beat by the train station...

Added on to this morbidly obese meal was a mug of beer for me, a glass of wine for mom and a bottle of red wine we both shared after we decided that we needed more alcohol.

Here's a cool lesson you should learn before drinking in Japan: if you get a bottle, you must NEVER pour for yourself. I thought it was a status-based pouring system; i.e.: underlings must always pour for their superiors or women must always pour for men (as horrible as that sounds). Turns out that it doesn't matter who pours for you, as long as you don't do it yourself. GOOD TO KNOW~!

I'm moving my luggage into my room tomorrow, wish me luck!! Hopefully I won't be 二日酔い... because we really drank a lot.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

3月28日 Day 4: Station Day, 駅デー、駅で

Today was spent almost entirely underground!! All we did was shop and eat at three different train stations: Tokyo, Shinagawa and Shinjuku (in that order).

We slept in until 9:30 or 10, and didn't leave the hotel until about 12 because we just wanted to rest. These last few days have been nothing but GO-GO-GO! Mom wanted to fill up our Suica cards today. Suica cards are like train station debit cards that eliminate the use of tickets (see above). You can also use them to pay for meals and other goods inside the train stations-- talk about useful. LA should do something like that... hahaha.

Anyway, Mom was worried she wouldn't be able to fill up the card by herself and dragged down one of the hotel receptionists to help us. I felt bad for this poor girl-- all these people who work at the hotel are too helpful! The Suica refill station ended up being in English so it was an even bigger waste of this poor girl's time... But she showed us this cool sushi place in Tokyo station and we ate lunch there. Delicious!

After that, we went to meet up with my mom's Japanese tutor from her college days. I call her Yuko-sensei, she's like my cool Japanese aunt! We met her at Shinagawa Station because it would be easier to find her than the Shinjuku station where she had made dinner reservations. All of these stations have SO many stores, shops and restaurants. We seriously didn't see the light of day (except from inside the Shinagawa station's Dean & Deluca). We bought a lot of omiage (presents) at the Shinagawa station, it was seriously like one-stop shopping! There were so many cute and clever Japanese gadgets, jewelry and handkerchiefs, I wanted to buy it all!! Ah, I digress...

After our mini-spree in Shinagawa station, we went to eat dinner at this French/Japanese fusion restaurant called Sumi no Ee in Shinjuku station. It was very interesting; the French and Japanese should combine forces more often... especially in the kitchen!

I'm SO pissed I didn't take pictures of the appetizer I had. It was basically a salmon latke (probably the closest thing to Jewish food I'll get here in Japan lol). It was a white sauced salmon wrapped in spinach covered in shredded fried potatoes. HOLY JEEBUS IT WAS SO GOOOOOOOOOD. So good I forgot to photograph it. Oh well-- more incentive to go back!!

This was my main course: pork in wine sauce with mushrooms and potato chips. The sauce was definitely French-inspired but the flavor of the pork and the way it was cooked was undoubtedly Japanese.

Yuko-sensei got sembei-crusted fried chicken. Yeah, that's right: sembei (rice crackers). Apparently you can just crush them all up, deep fry them and turn them into this amazing concoction instead of using panko or bread crumbs. It was reeeeally moist inside (...that's what she said bahaha).

Mom got 3 different types of fish in a wine reduction sauce... French and Japanese fusion at its finest.

After that, we went into this department store called Isetan, which is conveniently located right above the Shinjuku station. I got a chance to look at some pretty cute clothes. All I can say is that big girls in Japan can dress well too! (But only if they're willing to pay...) We only got to look around Isetan for about a half hour, and then it closed. As we were leaving, all the store workers bowed and thanked us on our way out, which was very Japanese of them. Every day I'm reminded that it's such a different culture here...

Today I tried walking around in my cute Kimchi and Blue boots and had it was an EPIC FAIL. 3 hours after we left the hotel, I was in soooo much pain; I couldn't feel my toes!! We walked so much in those big-ass stations that I had to buy new shoes!! I seriously felt like I was going to die; I don't know how these Tokyo girls do it all day. Maybe they're good at hiding pain? Or maybe they've just accepted it as an inevitability to look cute... WHATEVER! I can't compete with them! THIS IS WHAT I GET FOR TRYING TO LOOK CUTE.

Another thing I don't understand about these super kawaii girls is how they manage to look so damn adorable and then sprint to catch the train in their 6 inch heels. Mom, Yuko-sensei and I almost missed the train to Shinjuku, but I was able to pry apart the doors with my Amazonian strength. All the people on the train probably thought, "What a beastly girl..." :P

Since this post is mostly about train stations, here's something interesting I saw on the Marunouchi line when we were coming home:

These extra gates are to prevent people from jumping in front of the train. I guess a lot of Marunouchi line riders don't enjoy their lives... These gates were at a lot of stops! Just thought it was an interesting and dark fact you should all know.

We're going to visit my school tomorrow... I'm excited to finally see what it looks like!! Time to sleep now while Mom isn't snoring~!