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This izakaya is the worst restaurant, Jason said, that he’d eaten at since they’d arrived in Japan five days previously.

It was delicious.

The restaurant, a franchise bar located in the basement of a building,  was located just down the street from the Japanese-only hotel we were staying at, blocks from Sugamo station in Tokyo. There were business colleagues, young adults out drinking and shrieking, oddly tall waiters with soft voices and softer faces who would appear only when shouted at. It was Jason’s idea to go there; we agreed, bowing to his Tokyo culinary street smarts.

The food was really quite good. From the small bowl of tsukemono (pickled radish, Asian lettuce and cucumber) to the pork cutlet in too much liquid, to the small okonomiyaki (literally: things you like, fried), it was all really really crisp and fresh and the perfect compliment to the premium Suntory beer that we were drinking. What Jason meant, though, was that this was just simple bar food, nothing special, nothing delicate.  Even within those parameters, though, the dishes were mostly excellent and never disappointing.

* * *

Jason is half of Jason and Noriko, a couple we know well from Vancouver. Jason taught English in Tokyo for several years, and met Noriko here.  They both know the city extremely well, and have been extremely kind with sharing their time, expertise and of course ability to speak the language, to help us make travel reservations and plan our excursions.

They did such a good job, in fact, that Jason sent an 11-step document on how to take the train from the airport to the hotel we are now staying at, called the Kamogawa Inn.  We’re up on the 10th floor, and it’s got not much of a view.  The room is tiny, and every little bit of it screams out: well designed, efficient, and minimal.

The phone, for instance, has only 12 buttons: the numbers 0-9, the * and the #.  There are four lights: desk, room, entrance and bathroom.  The most complicated device in the room is not the TV, it’s the toilet, which will flush two ways, and when you sit down, it automatically runs water for a while, clearing the cold out of the pipes in anticipation of you pressing the “bum-wash” button.

Of course, a nice side effect is that the sound of running water hides the noise you might be making, and, for me at least, primes the pump for me to be able to go.  Susie hasn’t tried the WC fountain yet, but I have, and I proclaim it unexpectedly pleasing, like an interesting conversation with a taxi driver.

[I realize I’m rambling a bit.  I’ve been telling people all day that jet lag hasn’t affected me, but it’s currently 11 p.m. and I’m actually really tired.  Unusual for me.  On the other hand, I haven’t wanted a nap all day, and I got up at a decent hour.  So in fact I’m doing quite well.]

But let me finish telling you about our first day in Japan.  It went basically like this:

We got up early in Vancouver and headed to the airport, 4 hours early for our flight.  We wanted both not to miss the plane again, and also to avoid overlapping with Rachael and Matt, Hop Studios employees.  They deserved to start the day off without having to make conversation with us, wondering why we were still in the house instead of in, say, Japan.

We hopped on the airplane, and settled in for our flight on a huge 777.  Susie got up about an hour in to get something out of the overhead bin, and who should spot us, but two of our friends form Vancouver, Michelle and Aaron!

Now, we knew they were headed to Tokyo, but we hadn’t planned, and wouldn’t have been on, the same flight.  So that was a wonderful surprise.

We watched a number of movies—Dangerous Liaisons with the dangerous naked boobs removed, then Ghost Town, then an episode of Big Love with dangerous naked boobs oddly left in.

We landed at Norito Airport (Tokyo’s main airport, way outside of the city) about 1 day and 3 hours after we left, and made it through customs giving only our fingerprints and some positive head nodding.

Michelle and Aaron decided to rent a cell phone, and we did as well.  It’s superfancy.  Very very long and tall, and quite flat.  Makes the iPhone look chunky—but the iPhone is still way, way, easier to use, and not just because the words on the iPhone are 100% in English, instead of the 60% English, 20% Japanese, 20% icon only on this ISOLU phone.

Renting a phone, BTW, costs about $7 / day, plus about $1 / minute to make a call domestically.  So far, it’s totally worth it—we make or receive one or two calls a day, and can co-ordinate with friends and to plan where to meet and change plans when necessary.

We took the train into Tokyo (paying cash for our tickets because credit cards were taken), which seems far more common than you’d think, called J&N at Noriko’s parents’ place as we boarded said train, and when we got to Sugamo, there they were!

What else to add? Our hotel room provides us with slippers and a robe, the bathroom is molded out of one large piece of fiberglass / plastic, the bathtub is about as deep as it is long (i.e. not very long and very oddly deep).

The hotel elevator has a lower panel for those in wheelchairs, but only buttons for the 1st and 2nd floor, which is, I guess where the wheelchair rooms are.  But it still seems odd to me that you wouldn’t include buttons for the top floors, especially since those are the buttons on the regular panel that would be so hard for a handicapped person to press.

Oh, and last detail about the first day: While I was drinking beer, Susie was trying a vodka / carbonated water / grapefruit juice drink that she really liked.  You can order it two ways: premixed with bottled grapefruit juice, or they will bring you half a grapefruit and a juicer to your table, and you can make it yourself.

Pretty fun, but dangerous if you’re a little un-coordinated after having had about four beer.  I say this only because I reasoned it out, not because I almost squeezed half a grapefruit into my lap.

 

Overheard

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?

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