Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sayonara from Team Tokyo

As we (EB & Josh) write this, we are sitting on the first leg of our journey home, the flight from Tokyo to Dallas where we will hopefully go through customs, be permitted back into the country and then wing our way the rest of the journey home to NYC. Before we say our goodbyes and hand Our Great Asian Adventure over to the remaining explorers, we must wrap-up our last day and a half in Tokyo for you, our ever-curious public.

Friday morning we opted out of our usual mysterious ticket machine bowl of ramen at the subway station and instead immediate headed over to Roppongi to see the newest mixed-use mega-development to hit the scene. Following on the footsteps of Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Midtown is a giant complex of towers with office space, hotel, shmancy residences, a cultural facility, a concert hall and an enormous galleria with the nicest shops and restaurants. Though everything appeared to be New York-themed or inspired (bagels, Madison Park hot dogs—though in Japan they are a breakfast food, Gramercy bar), the complex was well bigger and put the Time Warner Center, probably New York’s closest comparison, to shame. We meandered through levels B2 (two underground) to 2F and crossed some skybridges—highly connected as are all things in Tokyo—before grabbing a breakfast of a French pastry, an onigiri and a green tea latte. Very New York meets Tokyo.

The choice then was to take the subway or the lengthy walk to our next stop and, though we weighed the options, we opted for walking in the hopes that our last full day could put us over the 300 miles walked this trip. We’re marginally crazy about the walking thing, but it’s the only way we justify the massive consumption we also fill our days with. Heading through Roppongi to Shibuya, we saw a couple residential areas we had never seen before and, of course, some luxury boutiques along the way. We stopped at a sweet housewares shop in the hopes of picking up something for our new digs in Cambridge, but when the tiny box for cufflinks was $150 (Vietnam crew—that’s 90 million dong for you) we opted against it.

Once in Shibuya we realized we were right smack in the middle of lunch hour and though we had a spot picked out in Shinjuku, we passed a bustling ramen spot that looked too good to be true. And indeed it was. Opting for the tried and true technique of this vacation—we’ll have what they’re having—we selected the same ticket from the vending machine from the man just before us and sat at waited for whatever it was that would appear. Scary fish? Animal innards? Luckily not. Instead what came was an enormous bowl of noodles with tender roast pork and bean sprouts. It was fabulous. Second only perhaps to the world renowned roast pork of my grandmother Babi, this may have been the most delicious roasted pig I have ever had the pleasure to consume.'=

Full of pork and soup, we quickly rushed to the subway to get to Takashimaya Times Square, the enormous department store in Shinjuku with the massive food court in the basement. But I thought you just ate delicious pork soup?, you say. Well this was our last full day in Tokyo and we had no time for pansy-ing out on our meals. We were headed for tonkatsu, fried pork served over rice. Since the last time we had been to Takashimaya things had changed a bit at the tonkatsu counter and though there was no longer any formal seating, we took our lunch boxes to go and sat on some stools near shoppers waiting for seating at another basement luncheon spot. You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that heavily breaded fried pork is tasty.

Nearly defeated by our two rapid-fire pork deliciousnesses, we headed upstairs to the Tokyu Hands department store portion of Takashimaya. Tokyu Hands is a “creative life store” where you can get everything from plates to exercise equipment to construction wear, and we checked out every level. Though we aspired mostly to look, some hilarious misuse of English or otherwise wacky Japanese-ism got us on most every floor.

Our shopping done, we headed back to Shibuya to get thoroughly lost walking the curving, flashing light-filled, retail-overloaded streets along with all the highly made up hipsters teens and twenty-somethings of Tokyo. We did the requisite scramble as we crossed the street and wished that we had something that fun at the corner of Union Square and 14th Street.

Having asked at least 5 people for directions help (love those Tokyo addresses), we eventually found a recommended izakaya famous for its use of the leek. Yes, the weak onion. This restaurant prides itself on using leek in every dish, and several dishes on the menu were exclusively leek. The premise was odd, but the charcoal-grilled leek with miso sauce and the agedashi tofu were not. We also tried a couple of sakes and pretended to read the bottles but we don’t read Japanese so that was a foolish exercise. Josh took such a liking to the place that we engaged in a serious negotiation with the host to see if he could buy the t-shirt worn by the waiters, but it was to no avail. I guess, as with most things, we’ll just have to wait for that Japanese fashion trend to make its way to the US in a couple of years.

Having had an appetizer nosh, we headed back to the hotel. Before we had left for the day, we gave the concierge two restaurants we were interested in and asked that she make a reservation at either. We were amused, though not totally unsurprised, to return to a message waiting for us that they were unable to make a reservation at either because, naturally, both were closed for the holiday. How foolish of us. We selected yet a third choice, open for some reason (perhaps they have no house at the beach and had alienated all their fancier friends), changed and went back to Roppongi.

The restaurant, called Shinju, turned out to be a huge hit. It was an upmarket izakaya serving beautiful dishes ranging from grilled meats to sashimi to rice and udon noodles. We sat at the bar and Josh got to use his favorite Japanese expression (spelled phonetically): “O sosume wa non deska?” which means “what do you recommend?" Their recommendations served us well and in addition to the treats listed above we had a fried tofu dish, not so dissimilar from agedashi tofu, that may have taken the tofu cake for the vacation. It was a lovely place and an excellent meal to cap off a great trip. Though it was a Friday night, we opted against serious clubbing in Roppongi and instead headed home around 11ish to pack and prepare for our next morning’s big adventure (slash who am I kidding? We don’t go clubbing and the types we saw out in Roppongi were totally the Tokyo B+T crowd. We were far too New York snooty/sleepy for that).

So that brings us to this morning. 4:30 this morning, to be precise, when our alarm went off to rouse us for our second attempt at the Tsujiki fish market. And to keep you in suspense no longer, as I know many of you have been watching closely since our failed attempt two years ago….Yes—the market was open and we finally got to see it in action. This market must be seen to be believed. It is a giant series of open-air warehouses filled with stalls selling some fish you recognize and some that appears to have only been seen by human eyes on Planet Earth, the BBC documentary series. These things were amazing and bizarre. The fish sellers speed around the market at breakneck speeds in these bizarre motorized wagons, carting boxes of fish, shrimp, clams, lobters, crabs, eels—you name it, they sell it. Though it was great to see all the fish on offer, the highlight of the morning had to be the tuna auction when hundreds of merchants gather together to bid on the day’s tuna catch. If you are born and raised in New York City, you may believe that tuna is a round fish that has a metal can exterior and that pops when you open it. Interestingly enough, that’s not totally accurate. Tuna is actually an enormous fish and at the auction today roughly 200 such animals, weighing between 80 and 700 pounds, were bought and sold. The 700 pound fish were easily the largest thing I have ever seen, except perhaps for the fake blue whale at the Museum of Natural History, and these were cooler because they were lying on the ground next to me and about to become my breakfast. That’s because, other than the sight of exotic fish and the thrill of the fish auction, the other highlight of Tsujiki is the unbelievably fresh sushi that is available for breakfast. The queues start forming around 5:00, so we picked a spot with a reasonable line and waited for our bowl of breakfast goodness. We opted for chirashi (raw fish over a bowl of rice), mine coming with meguro and toro and Josh’s coming with six or seven different fish. It was extremely fresh – not surprising, since the fish are basically flopping around next door in the market, and it was by far the best breakfast chirashi we’d ever had. OK, also only.

Raw fish consumed before 7:00 am, we headed back to the hotel and off to the train bound for Narita airport. Which is roughly how we got to where we are now, somewhere over the Pacific without any land in sight. (I’m not that worried though because I feel pretty confident if we need to make an emergency landing that the island from Lost will appear and Matthew Fox will be there to greet us).

And so with this, our final blog posting, Team Tokyo sends our goodbye and thanks to you our great readers. We had an amazing trip and loved reporting on it to you in real time. Special thanks also to our many commenters and especially our grandmothers, who we understand have been following our exploits closely by receiving the print edition of the blog. We also have to send special love and wishes for continued fun to our former travel mates as they continue their Asian adventures through Vietnam, Thailand or (if you’re Jon) the airport of every major Asian capital city. We had a fabulous time with you all and look forward to reading about (and commenting on) your adventures through the blog. And now…on to our next great adventure!


Ron said...

Your trip was fun for me too. Many thanks and welcome home...where the sushi is, perhaps, ho hum and yak awaiting to be discovered.

cmeg said...

Loved reading about your trip. Beantown is gonna seem awfully tame by comparison.

Culture///schmultre..bring on the food. Thanks for keeping all that history and museum crap to a minumum.

Good thing no one in the group keeps kosher...would have been a whole other trip.


Kathleen said...

Oh I'm so sad it's over! It's been a blast traveling vicariously through you...Thanks for the entertainment!!