Sushi on my day off

Today I didn’t have any meetings to attend, so I spent the day relaxing.  I woke up late, had a peaceful breakfast at my hotel.  I read an English version of one of the Tokyo newspapers, then went for a walk around Tachikawa – taking in the city.

Around noon I came back and rested for a while, then later I went for another walk around Tachikawa.  I ended up at a sushi restaurant my dad and I visited on a previous trip to Japan about 9-10 years ago.  It was exactly the same, and brought back some good memories of exploring Japan with my dad and being in awe of how much walking he did in a single day when he lit out on his own to check out Tokyo.

The restaurant has two sushi chefs working inside an oval enclosure with a bar around the perimeter.  The bar is the only seating in the place and it is a tiny little restaurant, but it probably has 25 seats around the bar.  The chefs make sushi non-stop.  They have huge tubs of sticky rice, buckets of wasabi, and several dozen different types of sushi to make different nigiri with, from maguro (tuna) to tomago (egg omelet).  They make a piece or two and put it on a little plate, then place the plate on a metal conveyor that makes a circuit around the bar.  Diners pick whatever sushi they want and just stack the plates up.  Once they’re done a waitress will come over and count the plates (different style plates have different fixed prices) and then they settle their bill at the tiny station with the cash register on the way out the door.

When I entered the restaurant a chorus of “Irasshaimase!” rang out from about 5 different people.  You hear it every time someone enters a store in Tokyo, and it basically means “welcome”.  After I had my sushi and went to leave there was another chorus of “arigato gozaimasu!” (thank you!).  The sushi was extremely cheap compared to the US, plus it was very fresh and delicious.

After lunch I tried several times to Skype with Jean and Zobug, who had recently gotten back from Singapore for a doctor’s visit, but Jean didn’t answer Skype until later.  I relaxed some more until the sun went down, then I went for another walk.  I made it about 30 minutes away from my hotel when it started drizzling on me, so I turned around and headed back.  When the rain picked up some more I ducked into an Italian restaurant for dinner and spent an hour reading reddit on my phone and drinking Asahi while eating an excellent 3 cheese pizza.

I came back to the room kinda early because I plan on waking up at the crack of dawn to head down to Asakusa, which is on the opposite side of Tokyo.  I head home in the afternoon, but I’d like to visit my favorite temple (Senso-ji) and check out the new Tokyo Skytree, which wasn’t built the last time I visited Japan.

Here are a couple of photos of the conveyor sushi joint and of the ubiquitous plastic food displays in front of all the restaurants so you can see what they’re menu actually looks like:

Alone in Tokyo

I woke up just before midnight on Monday, and after getting ready for a couple of hours I caught a taxi from our home to Changi Airport in Singapore for an early morning flight to Tokyo.

Take-off from Singapore was a little bumpy because there was a big storm over the southern tip of Malaysia (JB).  I took in the fireworks show from above the clouds as we moved out over the ocean and away from Malaysia.  I was able to actually get a couple of photos of the clouds being lit by heavy lightning.

I reached Tokyo around 1pm on Tuesday afternoon, and after clearing immigration and customs and exchanging some cash, I made my way to the JR station.  JR stands for “Japan Railway”, and the Narita Express is the train you take between the major International Airport (Narita) and Tokyo.  I haven’t been in Japan for maybe 8 or 9 years, but I oddly still remembered the details of my last trip.  I had no problem changing trains at Tokyo Station, no problem walking to my hotel from the JR station in Tachikawa, and I recognized several shops and restaurants that I visited over the course of many previous trips to Japan.

I love Japan.  Carolyn and I have discussed it many times, and we always agree that Japan is our favorite country.  The only downside to Japan is the cost.  Visiting Japan is expensive, really expensive.  It has only become more expensive since my last visit because I was able to get 120-130 yen to the dollar when I last visited, but this time I exchanged for 96 yen to the dollar.  Everything got 20% more expensive just with the exchange rate, and that doesn’t include any inflation.

The upside to visiting Japan is a list that never ends.  To me, the best thing about Japan is that it’s interesting.  It isn’t like any western city I’ve ever visited.  I love Paris, Rome, New Orleans, San Francisco, Boston, and several others, and I’ve visited NYC, Venice, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Toronto, Prague, Salzburg, Munich, Bruges, Miami, Los Angeles and so on.  None of them have the energy that Tokyo has, none of them.  Tokyo seems like it is always buzzing, 24 hours a day.  Not like New Orleans where it is nothing but drunks in the French Quarter after midnight – in Tokyo there are still hundreds of thousands of people going around in the middle of the night.  Neon signs, massive TV screens, huge crowds, trains above and below you, and it never stops.  The scale is also so far beyond everywhere else in the west that it is unimaginable to most people.  Amsterdam, Paris and NYC have lots of people, and they have plenty to offer for entertainment and night life, but just the difference in population shows that those places aren’t even close.

According to worldatlas.com, here are the top 30 cities by population:

1.  Tokyo, Japan (37,126,000)
2.  Jakarta, Indonesia (26,063,000)
3.  Seoul, South Korea (22,547,000)
4.   Delhi, India (22,242,000)
5.   Shanghai, China (20,860,000)
6.   Manila, Philippines (20,767,000)
7.   Karachi, Pakistan  (20,711,000)
8.   New York, USA  (20,464,000)
9.   Sao Paulo, Brazil  (20,186,000)
10.   Mexico City, Mexico (19,463,000)
11.   Cairo, Egypt  (17,816,000)
12.   Beijing, China  (17,311,000)
13.   Osaka, Japan (17,011,000)
14.   Mumbai (Bombay), India  (16,910,000)
15.   Guangzhou, China  (16,827,000)
16.   Moscow, Russia (15,512,000)
17.   Los Angeles, USA  (14,900,000)
18.   Calcutta, India  (14,374,000)
19.   Dhaka, Bangladesh (14,000,000)
20.   Buenos Aires, Argentina (13,639,000)
21.   Istanbul, Turkey (13,576,000)
22.   Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (12,043,000)
23.   Shenzhen, China (11,885,000)
24.   Lagos, Nigeria (11,547,000)
25.   Paris, France  (10,755,000)
26.   Nagoya, Japan  (10,027,000)
27.   Lima, Peru (9,121,600)
28.   Chicago, USA (9,121,000)
29.   Kinshasa, Congo (DRC)  (9,046,000)
30.   Tianjin, China  (8,922,000)

Notice that out of the top 30, 17 are in Asia with only 3 in the US and just 1 in Western Europe.  As much as New Yorkers would like to consider it the center of the universe, Tokyo has literally almost double the population.  It is massive and it has the services to support the ridiculous amount of people.  The transportation system, albeit claustrophobic at some times, is exceptional.  The trains are never late, the JR stations are immaculate, the people riding on the trains are unbelievably quiet and respectful of others, and you can get anywhere you need to go on the JR or subway with maybe 10 minutes of walking.

Another plus is the food…  Considering that there are 30-40 million people in Tokyo, and the average household in Tokyo is a tiny apartment with basically no kitchen, then the result is tens of millions of people who eat out for basically every single meal.  With that much money flowing to restaurants, the variety and quality of food is beyond anything else in the world.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the food in Italy, France, New Orleans and SF, but Tokyo makes them look like your high school cafeteria.  Last night I had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had, and the evening before I had the best tuna sashimi I’ve ever had together with perfectly marbled Kobe beef cooked quickly in the shabu-shabu style.  It is simply amazing.

Beside the energy, the great public transportation and the endless food options, Tokyo is safe.  I have never once felt like I was in any danger while in Japan, and I’ve spent probably a total of 3-4 months here over several trips since 2002.  I left a 1000 yen note on a table after dinner last night as a tip.  I left the restaurant, climbed a tall staircase out onto the main street and walked maybe 30 feet before I heard someone running up behind me yelling “sumimasen!” (“excuse me”).  The girl was my waiter and she was chasing me down to return my 1000 yen, and she refused several times to accept it until I assured her it was not a mistake but a tip.  That doesn’t happen in many places, for sure not in New Orleans or New York, where they cuss you out if you leave them only 15% after experiencing the worst service of your life.

Anyhow, my trip is now coming to an end, as I leave Tokyo tomorrow to head back to Singapore and then to my home in Malaysia.  I enjoyed getting to visit Japan for a few days, and it was nice to see some of the people I worked with many years ago, but I am really excited about getting home to my family too.  I miss Zoe a ton, and can’t wait to give her and Jean and big hug.  I wish I had brought them with me to Japan on this trip because Japan is even better when you can experience it with someone else.

Here are the photos of my trip so far: