Saturday, June 1, 2013

Letters from Tokyo: a Month in my Favorite Place on Earth - Part 2

Day 20

Today we went to Zojoji Temple. It was beautiful and it's impressive how you can see "old" and "new" in Tokyo side by side.

I'm craving pizza again. Hahaha, food is too good here. I'm glad we walk a lot every day, otherwise, I'd have gained some pounds by now. This morning I went grocery shopping by myself (Nicolas was building a tower with all the empty boxes I've collected so far) and I timed my walk: 15 minutes up hill, plus 40 steps of stairs on the way to the supermarket. It was 34F outside, but I came home so hot I thought they turned the heater too high.

I think I can say I know Tokyo well enough by now (third time here). Nicolas and I can go everywhere by subway, we've seen the major tourist attractions, so the only thing that we can never have too much is trying new food. Many people think Japanese food is just sashimi and sushi, but it's much more than that. When we came here last April, for example, we had sashimi just once as an appetizer, and we didn't even have sushi.

Nicolas' favorite Japanese food are ramen, soba and tonkatsu. Not that he doesn't like sashimi; he can eat raw fish very well. I have been eating lots of yakitori, tonkatsu, noodles, and tempura. We've had sashimi, shabu shabu, pizza, french food, and yakiniku so far.

Yakiniku was the best, I have to say. It's similar to Korean bbq, but it was with Kobe beef! We went to this yakiniki restaurant with one of B.'s friends from Brazil. We were talking a lot, but when we tasted the food we got very quietly. Even Nicolas settled down, eating the marble meat very concentrated. But it was so expensive we decided to eat dinner home: miso soup, rice, dried fish, pickles and a salad with broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms and carrots. Actually that was the breakfast I didn't cooked today. The vegetables were snacks Nicolas asked me to buy for him. I guess he was missing his vegetable snack time. ;)

When I say you should came here, I really wanted you to experience all of this. I think you would love Tokyo (and Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Nagoya, Nikko etc).

Saturday we went to Shinjuku and today we took B. to Midtown Tokyo.

We have some plans for this week: buy our Shinkansen tickets to Nagoya, visit the museums in our "backyard" and go to the Zoo. I'm waiting to see which day this week is going to be the least cold. Not for us (we have snow jackets), but I bet the animals hide in their caves when it's too cold outside.

Oh, I found a belt for me today! My pants are not like the rapper's anymore.

I finished the book "The Call of the Wild". It was a surprise book for me. Now, I'm reading "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" and starts with a dog that looks so much like the one from Jack London's story. It's a funny coincidence. I choose this book because it's from Oprah's bookclub (so it should be easy, quick and light), and the library had the digital version to lend. I'm in saving mode: I just spend money on food (or food related matters).

How's your reading going? Anything good to share?

Day 22

I'm so glad you've replied my letters! Now I have questions to answer.

Last night was horrible. I almost didn't sleep. B. brought sandwiches and soup for dinner. Because I'm always hungry, that was not enough for me. Then, I started reading my book and it got really exciting. When I decided it was better to stop reading, my legs started trembling with spasms, and my feet were hurting so much I could not find a comfortable position. Today I didn't eat much either. I really need to carry some onigiri with me now, you are right.

We went to Ueno Zoo yesterday.It's beautiful! The animals are magnificent, and it's quite a good size zoo. I was very tired as we spent 4 hours there. 

I've never tried the katsu from California. Here is very good, it's moist inside and crunch and dry outside. It's served with two sauces: one is for the pork and it looks like bbq sauce, but it's not too sour, nor sweet. The other one is for the cabbage salad that is sliced really thin.

No McDonalds for me. I just can't do it. I've tried the first time we came to Japan, but I didn't care much. The McDonald in Argentina is really the best one. The pizza, though, is just like in Napoli. Yes, it was everything I was expecting to be. Oh my God! I'm going back there tomorrow with N.. I want to take it easy before we go to Nagoya. So just playground and pizza for us.

We see curry everywhere, even at the zoo cafeteria, but it's kind of spicy for N.. Here at Ark Hills there is a small restaurant that serves just soup and curry. It's called Soup Stock Tokyo. Every week they have a variety of 5 soups and 2 curry dishes. I'm gonna try some day. 

Ok, I didn't find a bloody Mary beer, but I found something called Bacardi Apple Mojito. I have no idea what is that, but I guess I'll found out when everybody goes to sleep. ;) So, buy some of those special Budweisers for me, please. When I come back, we can celebrate my birthday and have all of them! And let's go to BJ's too!

Nicolas talked with his friends last Friday. It was a bit confusing, but it was a good trial. It was so nice too see everybody's face. The babies were the most excited (Kyle didn't stop blowing kisses and saying bye).

Yeah, he did melt with the puppies. His favorite was the cat, and the cat liked Nicolas too. We went back there today, but the nice lady who let us pet the puppies wasn't there. A regular puppy cost around U$2,000. The monkeys are U$4,000. The funniest thing is that you see lots of old (very fashionable ladies) walking their dogs in special strollers. And at the mall's entrances are signs that say you should carry your dog inside in a bag. If you hear a purse barking don't worry, it's just a small dog.

Here in Japan they have the concept of micro cities. The ideal situation would be you live close to work and all your entertainment is close by, too. The first micro city was built in Ikebukuro in 1978, Sunshine City. It is still there with malls, hotel, convention center, theatre, playground, a museum, a planetarium and an aquarium which I intend to visit next week. Today the more populars micro cities are Roppongi Hills (20 minutes up the hill from here) and Tokyo Midtown (15 minutes up the hill). However, even Ark Hills, where we are, offers you everything as I told you. Did I mention they have a mini market, a bank, a tourist agency and a super nice Starbucks? Oh, we even have Suntory Hall, a concert hall just around the building.

Most Japanese don't believe in one specific religion, but combine aspects of several religions in their daily lives. Often unaware which one they are following. Just like my personal experience in Brazil (till the day I said enough). I've read that Japanese are superstitious and their religion are based on superstition. They simply follow certain traditions.

Besides "Antonio", the ice cream vendor, Nicolas already has a small collection of stuffed animals. He got a Shoe bill stork (I swear that one will be mine when he grows up), a mini crocodile, a green triceratops, a small polar bear (Eri from Facebook gave it to him) and Perry, the platypus.

I got a nano block for myself so far. It's a statue of the Budha of Kamakura. I really want Tokyo Sky Tree (it was opened last October and Nicolas is asking me every day to go there, but B. wants to go along), but is more than 20 dollars and I think I'll let for last.

How did you guess that I'm getting tempted to cut my hair? I just don't think I will be willing to pay the price.

I really liked "The Call of the Wild". And yes, it's Jack London from JL Square. But now I'm reading a book called "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" and I have to say that is the best dog-and-human-book I've ever read it. I'm thinking about reading Underground from Murakami because I'm taking the subway all the same. Or maybe not, right?

Day 25

When you are so used with Tokyo, Nagoya seems very different. It's an industrial city with lots of grey tall or large buildings. It has very large streets, something really different from Tokyo. And I would open a bicycle store if I had to live there because you see people riding their bikes everywhere all the time. Even the crosswalks have a lane just for bike crossing.

I was looking forward to eating a lot, but we had just one dinner that was memorable with traditional Nagoya food. It was a kind of tapas bar. We had chicken wings (so good), tonkatsu with thick miso sauce, cheese tempura, yakitori and some tuna rolls. We ate a lot, had beer and spent 60 bucks. We would have spent a lot more here in Tokyo.

We took the Shinkansen there. In the afternoon that we arrived we visited the castle. Very beautiful, clean and totally recovered from the fires from World War II. I noticed that Nicolas and I are more used to visiting museums because we really take our time, taking pictures, reading the information, hands on when it's allowed. Dad has no patience for all of that: "I came, I saw, I'm gone" is more of his style.

Than, the second day, we visited the Aquarium. They had so many sea turtles! I haven't ever seen so many adult ones together. The beluga training was nice, the dolphin feeding too.

Last day we visited the Science Museum and Nicolas just went crazy. As soon as we got there, he asked me "where are the buttons for me to push?" They had so many hands-on things to see and do he was getting more and more excited by the seconds. We lost him for 5 minutes, when I tried to play on a toy and B. stopped to watch me. He was close by, but we had to remind him that we don't speak Japanese and that it would be very difficult trying to find him in case he got lost.

I guess N.' favorite thing was the ride on the Shinkansen. It's the first thing he talks about when he meets someone.

When we came back I went straight to doing laundry. And at night we took Dad to eat pizza. We came home almost at 10pm and Nicolas slept until 10:30 on Monday.

Today we didn't do much. I had to buy laundry detergent and some groceries, then we had a late lunch and got home by 3:30pm. The sky was telling us it would rain sardines and mackerels, so we stayed home. It didn't.

I'm planning my week based on the weather. It's supposed to rain (or snow) on Wednesday, so we are going to a museum tomorrow and to the mall on Wednesday. Maybe I'll buy myself something, a head scarf maybe.

My hair is totally rebellious. It doesn't stay nice, no matter how I comb. This morning I decided not to comb at all, and it was the best hair day since we arrived.

Tokyo is not perfect, you know. It's my favorite place in the world, but I have to say that it could learn something with California: smoking ban. It's a nightmare. The other night we went to a restaurant and we were the only ones not smoking. I couldn't stand waiting for my food inside and when they brought it, I ate so fast I couldn't believe myself. Next day I had the worst chest pain ever. I couldn't understand at first, because it felt my ribs were aching. Then I realized it had to be from the smoke. I took my inhaler and started feeling better 5 minutes later.

The best thing is the feeling I'm being pampered by every Japanese all the time. They are so kind. I'm friends with some ladies from the market, and the waitress (and Valerio) from the pizzeria. They are so nice, I'm gonna ask to take a picture with them.

I'm not really missing home and I'm starting to get so sad one month is passing so fast. I guess I could live longer in Tokyo. I miss you though.

Day 26

We visited Edo Museum today. It's a very important museum that shows the history and culture of old and modern Tokyo. I loved! Nicolas didn't like so much. I was very impressed by the old books, printings and bookstores. You should have seen. So beautiful, so precious. I could imagine the smell of the books when they were being printed and sold. I was imagining so hard people buying fiction or colorful magazines that I almost could hear them. Maybe I bored Nicolas or blocked him off while having this experience because he found a bench and had a seat. Hilarious! You have to see the pictures!

Lunch was at the museum. It was a Japanese restaurant that served the food in the old Tokyo style (Edo). I thought it was very similar to the food we eat at sushi/sashimi restaurants. Nicolas had soba that came on a beautiful weaved bamboo plate. Surprisingly, it was not very expensive: around 24 dollars for everything, including the tea. The gift shop was one of the most beautiful I've seen so far with lots of old style souvenirs. The pin for my collection was kinda expensive (12 dollars), but because it was handmade I didn't feel so guilty. And it's a good luck cat, black. (Reminded me of Kafka on the Shore, that's my I got it).

Dinner was in a fishing restaurant. Super exciting! You get a table, rent you pool, buy some bait and go fishing. Using a net, you deliver your fish to any waiter with your cooking choice (grilled, deep fried, sashimi and something else) and table number. Nicolas fished 2 and we ordered them deep fried and grilled. The grilled one was the best with lemon juice and some chopped chives. We ordered some edamame, omelet stuffed with roe and soba (Nicolas didn't like it; he's getting very good at telling what is a good soba or not): a feast! We had beer, Nicolas had water and I'm glad we walked a mile to get to the subway station because I was feeling totally stuffed.

It's supposed to snow tomorrow, but I just don't care. I'm in countdown mode and I'm going out anyway. That's why I brought snow boots and snow jackets for Nicolas and me, right? And it's not really a problem to go out when you know where to go. That's because you can get to your destination without leaving the underground. I think I'm headed for Ginza then: get Tameikesanno Station (5 minutes walking taking a shortcut inside the office buildings) and then straight to Ginza Station, exit A7 and you arrive at a huge department store with a lot to do on a snowy day.

That was me today. Hope to hear from you soon.

Day 28

Ghibli Museum today! The guides say two hours are enough to see everything. Yes, indeed. However, I think I would love to spend two days there. So many details, so much things to see and just stay and stare.

You are not allowed to take pictures inside. The goal is for you to enjoy the place through your eyes and not through the eyes of a camera. I say it's fair, but I'm afraid I will not keep memory of all the details.

To visit the museum you need to buy your ticket in advance using a machine located at a supermarket called Lawn's. You should be fluent in Japanese, too. Or know someone who can buy it for you. Then, there is day and time to get there. "Refrain from arriving late", Japanese would say, "otherwise you can't get in. Sorry."

All those rules don't make things very easy, and it should make the museum less crowded, but it doesn't. When we arrived, we went straight to the third floor so Nicolas could play at the "Cat Bus". I wish they had another "Cat Bus" for adults to play. The children were having fun, but I bet all the parents wanted to be inside the furry bus, too. Then, we went up to the roof to see the Robot Soldier (have you seen "Castle in the Sky?"). Then "Museum Shop".

Do you remember Disneyland shopping? Yeah, it was similar. I bought 5 pins, a mini cat bus and the "baby that turns into a mouse" (from "Spirited Away"). I was going to get a t-shirt but I couldn't pay 50 bucks for it. Nicolas got a huge Totoro that I loved, hugged, and wanted to sleep with it. (I told him he could never give that Totoro away, not even if a girl told him she would give him anything for it.) B. wasn't going to go with us, because he was really busy. However, I guess he was so afraid to let me go with Mister Credit Card that he finished work earlier to met us at the Subway Station. He got himself 3 pins and a nice Robot Soldier figure.

We had a late lunch close to the train station in Mitaka. I thought they were making fresh soba, as it took almost 30 minutes for our food to arrive. It was so delicious we forgot the wait and the lady smoking on the tatami next to us. It was a huge lunch: a portion of soba, a bowl of rice covered with vegetable and chicken tempura, salad and pickles. Nicolas chose soba and rice with raw tuna (pardon me: he really likes sashimi). We were so hungry, we ate everything; even the onion salad. The sad thing about not speaking Japanese is that you can't ask them what's is in the seasoning. The onion salad was amazing!

We got back home and decided to cook dinner. So, I went to the grocery store and let Nicolas home with Dad (and Totoro). The wind was so strong, it was difficult for me to walk. We had a simple meal of rice, salmon, cabbage salad with tomatoes and red pickles. For dessert, strawberries and grapes. And a tasting of new flavors of ice cream: rare cheesecake, pumpkin (actually, it's kabocha) and murasaki imo (purple potato). Delicious! Even Haagen Dazs is better in Japan: not too sweet and very original flavors.

Are you going to get sad if I say I could stay another month here? There are so many things to do and to see! It's so easy to go everywhere, people are so nice, food is so good, I have cleaning service twice a week!

However, next Friday we are back in California.

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