Tokyo, Abbreviated

After ricocheting around Narita airport, we took an efficient train to Shinjuku, west of downtown Tokyo. We crashed at the Hotel Sunroute, hard by the train station. We reconvened shortly before noon the next day (10/29). It was pouring so we limited our excursion to the immediate environs.

The lines for takeout were longest at McDonald’s and a couple of pizza joints. I flashed back to my disappointment in visiting France where I expected people to be drinking demi bouteilles of vin rouge and smoking Gauloise. There people were drinking Coke and smoking Marlboros.

A lady at a (traditional) restaurant directed us to a place serving vegetarian food where we had these amazing lunches: a small bowl of a clearish soup topped with a drizzle of chili oil. Next to it, an enormous bowl of flavorsome broth filled with noodles, a half egg cooked just beyond soft-boiled, a shrimp ball (not sure how that counts as vegetarian, but it was delicious), two sheets of seaweed tucked in the side, and some strips of what I decided later were marinated tofu. A separate little bamboo container held another shrimp ball made with rice noodles, a veggie gyoza, and a big lump of white dough, which I didn’t eat.

We sat at a “sidewalk café” under a highway overpass and next to a pedestrian walkway. Heat came from overhead lamps that actually made the place too warm. Some folks were sitting on the raised platform with low tables that mandated the removal of shoes. Another section had couches and chairs smothered in brocade along with tassled candelabra and big colorful designs on ceiling and floor, a touch of New Orleans bordello.

Next up, shopping. First stop was the local equivalent of CVS without a pharmacy where I bought a tub of Nivea and some Vitamin C. Impression: prices for those basics are cheaper here.

The building across the way housed Takashimaya, which might as well be Fifth Avenue, NYC, with Gucci, Hermès, L’Occitane, and so forth. We wandered out of the upscale area onto an escalator to shops that offered more realistic prices. Each level held different wares, ending with stationery on the eighth floor, which proved to be a cross between the Dollar Store and Staples in miniature.

One floor down, the gift cards and wrapping paper put American wares to shame. We took turns shielding each other from Christmas decorations, an unforgivable breach considering Halloween had not yet arrived. We found some truly beautiful bags, which felt more like cloth than paper, for the gifts we were giving our host in Nara.

We ate that night at the hotel restaurant., allegedly Italian. It served up dreadful overcooked overpriced fish.

Impressions:

  • Even though the Japanese never eat while walking, they consume entire banquets aboard trains.
  • I love that every place serving food provides wet towels (paper or cloth) to wipe one’s hands before the meal. I remained stymied throughout because no one supplies napkins.
  • Also, the toilet paper manages to be thinner than our single-ply.
  • Many women have donned high heels, up to four inches in some cases. Not a one of ’em knows how to walk without looking awkward.
  • Except for the French-style bakeries, bread has the consistency of cement or of Wonder Bread.

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