Thursday, June 26, 2008

Raining and Pouring




Today we actually woke up at a normal hour. Unfortunately, we were hung over from the sake, beer, and cigar smoke from the night before. We decided that we were going to try one of the many local French bakeries in our town. We had brie in a french bread roll, shitake/asparagus open face roll, crusty almond tart, and a red bean pastry. All of the bread products were scrumptious, light, and flavorful. The senior baker came out and we told her how delicious her pastries tasted.

We walked to the Japan Folk Museum called Mingeikan. The museum was in a traditional Japanese house with screen windows and wooden architecture. Before we entered the museum, we had to take off our shoes and put on the slippers they offered to their guest. We saw a lot of beautiful textiles from an array of colorful kimonos to lacquer painted sake servers.

After the museum, we walked along this breathe taking neighborhood aligned with many lovely flowers including azaleas, dogwood, and cherry blossoms. It was a beautiful rainy Spring day. We walked to Tokyo University, which looks like a futuristic industrial and sterile jail. It was massive. I told Katie I wouldn't want to attend this University because the lack of life would make me depressed.

We walked down to Yumiko's store in the town over. The store had impressive simplistic displays. It was set up in a very minimalist way highlighting the items she was selling by displaying them in a row. I bought a very beautiful neutral toned light weight scarf. We chatted with Yumiko a bit and she informed us that if we walked down to the train station in her neighborhood that their are some great boutiques in a large outdoor market. As we were walking to the boutiques it started to pour. I got drenched and that along with my fatigue from walking everywhere put me in a sleepy mood. We decided to go back into the hotel to recharge. In the hotel we drank green tea and ate oranges.

We went out later for noodles and nourishment. I slurped down a huge bowl of seafood soba noodle soup. It was very mild in flavor, but soothing nevertheless. After dinner, Katie and I took the subway to Shibuya to check out the famous love hotels. The love hotels are designed for sex and nothing else. The appeal for tourist is their hilarious themed rooms. There is apparently beds that look like genitals and rooms that are themed in very seductive ways. This "sexy" district is completely accepted in Japanese culture. It is displayed in all tour books as the place to check out even if you aren't there to get action. Katie and I were definitely not there to get action, but wanted to see the wacky neon lights and what in the world the rooms would look like. We did see the neon signs written in bad Engrish with signs that read "2 for 1" and "Two Bad Asses." We chickened out and didn't go inside any of the love hotels. I didn't mind, the area really wasn't that impressive. We also were sick of the rain.


Yumiko's shop: www.fog-notebooks.com 4 29 14 daizaqa setagaya tokyo ph 03 5432 5610

Monday, June 23, 2008

Board Eye Fish and Japanese Beatles Band




We woke up at 6:30am. I felt like a huge pile of crap. Luckily, after writing some emails we were able to go back to bed and slept until 11:00am. The extra bonus of sleeping in really rejuvenated us through the day. The third day is always the worst for jet lag. We left the hotel around noon walking and talking slower than normal.

We didn't plan any vigorous day activity because during the night we had plans to go out with Katie's friend's cousin Steve. Steve (who looks like Micheal Bolton from Office Space) grew up in Connecticut and moved to Japan ten years ago. He married a Japanese wife and has small children and no plans of returning back to the States. Steve took us to his favorite restaurant which loosely translates to "Upon The Sea." We ate the most delicious sushi I ever had in all my life! Steve ordered everything for us. The chubby cheery sushi chef took our order of summer shrimp, large ebi with tangy mustard sauce, sauteed fish (translated as eye board fish b/c of its flatness and being hard like a board) with lemony garlic oil, sake, flying fish sashimi, mackerel, and seared tuna. Steve joked that the food was too delicious and was likely to be poisonous. This was his amusing attempt to eat all the sushi.

A Japanese lady sitting with two friends offered to buy us a round of sake. She was an associate seller for a local sake company and was happy to hear Americans having such a great time in her country. She was also interested in talking with us because going to be moving to Los Angeles to sell her product. The shots were poured directly into a shot glass that was put into a wooden box. The bartender purposely over poured each shot so that the sake would fill up into the box. The lady said it was very Japanese not to waste any of the liquor and told us to pour the remainder of the sake back into the shot glass and drink it. We thanked her for her generosity.

The man (Steve) liked his music, smoking, and living the good life. He made for an excellent nightlife guide to Japan. After dinner, Steve took us to his favorite bar, a hidden gem called The Lantern. Steve informed us the only way you hear about a bar like The Lantern is by being introduced to it by a regular. And Steve introduced us to a night of of singing and drinking Japanese style. TL was not just a bar, but also had a Japanese Beatles cover band. And man, could these guys perform.

The best part of this memorable evening was when Katie and I got to sing along with the band. We sang HELP, which was an appropriate song to sing for us both at this point of our lives. It was so magical and we really rocked the house. I felt like such a ham singing and dancing, but it was so much fun. I've always wanted to see what it would feel like to sing in a band and I got to experience it was in Japan. We left the bar and Steve around 1am. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the convenience store in our town and picked up some late night sweets. Katie got green tea ice cream and I had vanilla mousse.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Shopping in Shibuya

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There is so much to write about that I can't stop journaling. It's only day two, but all my senses have peaked. Katie and I walked around the Electric City and stopped into to a little modern American breakfast place called Roy's. We were the only non-Japanese business men at the joint. I really wanted someone to take our picture. We were two colorfully dressed ladies around a sea of smoking men in black business suits. We ordered two large pieces of bread with butter, two mochas, and a bowl of fruit including red bean, almond jello, syrup, ice cream, and mochi. It's all about being experimental when it comes to traveling. We did the same for our lunch. We smelled something tangy baking and saw a woman cooking doughy balls with taco (octopus) topped with teriyaki sauce. Most of the shops were closed because it was so early in the morning. Finally at 10am, a flock of girls in school girl uniforms passed our way. There was so many things for us to do in such a small space. Katie and I were enthralled by the toy dispensers especially this one that had farm animals set on a keychain indicating in Japanese the different butcher cuts.

We left the Electric City and took the train down to Shibuya. We walked around and went shopping at a nine story mall that was separated in three buildings. We however, didn't buy anything. After hanging out for awhile we went back to our new hotel Komaba Eminence. The hotel is only two stops from the wild Shibuya, but it really quiet and quaint. We walked around on the narrow streets only moving around on the narrow streets only moving aside when trucks pass by. There's little restaurents with the food displayed in plastic replicas in the store front. Everything is well-organized for Westerners to point and figure out what they want to eat. We decided to have a small lunch. We grabbed the delicious taka balls and then went to McDonalds. Katie tried the Shaka Shaka Chicken, you shake pepper flakes into a little envelope and walla you have a really delicious snack. I had the tempura shrimp wrap or McTempura shrimp wrap, which was just okay. McDonalds in Japan is a lot tastier than the US.

For dinner we met up with Yumiko she wanted to take us out to a very authentic Japanese sushi bar. She was a bit hesitant that the food we were going to try might be too weird, but we convinced her we were open to try anything. The restaurent we went to was fairly small with the focal point being the sushi bar. We sat at the bar and was greeted by the very sweet elderly sushi chef. The chef sat us down and Yumiko ordered cold clear sake for us. The chef held up two boxes with an assortment of delicious raw fish, sea veggies, seaweed, and tide pool delicacies. Yumiko picked the selection of different foods from the boxes. She picked an eclectic arrangement of sea veggies, gingko nuts (which were warm), two beans which you scrap the contents with a small spoon, lemony tadpools (which were surprisingly delicious, even though they had eyes), raw scallops, clear fish, sake, and mackerel all served sashimi style.

The delicious sea and regular veggies were different than I ever tasted before. The pickled diakons were crisp and slightly sour. The mini pickled eggplants were crisp and very purple. We ate sea potatoes that were slightly slimy and tasted with wasabi. These were my least favorite dishes. My favorite dish was the fresh sea urchin (uni), which was very fresh. To eat it we had to scrap the sides with a little spoon. It tasted slightly like the sea, but was warm and comforting.

Yumiko was the perfect host very accommodating and paid for everything. Katie and I profusely thanked her. The sushi chef just got back from San Francisco so he really loved the fact we were from the area. He even showed us his pictures of his travels where he taught people how to make sushi. He was a very kind man, when we left he gave us a going away present of many goodies including green tea and seaweed. We had a blast and are really looking forward to meeting up with Yumiko and going shopping. When we got back to the hotel we were super sleepy, but we ended up taking showers and fell asleep to some very raunchy anima.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

MELT


14718 Detroit Ave
Lakewood, OH 44107

God came down to earth and said "It is time that I make a wonderful grill cheese sandwich bar with 21 different types of sandwiches and 150 beers." And the people were happy.

MELT's name conjures up images of divine grilled cheese that makes my stomach grumble for joy. Each dish is served with hand cut fries and sweet slaw. The hand cut fries are crisp, pleasing to all senses, and taste like they were freshly made minutes before being served. This place is your all American punk rock restaurant/bar and caters to everyone from meat lovers to vegans.

If you're having a gooey, cheesy, sandwich fit than every single dish served at MELT will win you over. Even if you are vegan and real cheese isn't your thing. You can have vegan cheese substituted for the real stuff on any of their sandwiches. Or if you are still craving something different then try their holy handmade veggie burger ($8).

Beer and grilled cheese go together as well as sparkling champagne and wedding cake. So do try one of their many appealing selections of beers from Great Lakes to PBR. All for a reasonable amount of pocket change. And yes they have He'brew too!

If you're craving some protein then try the West Side Monte Cristo made with honey ham, smoked turkey, Swiss, and American cheese ($9). Or if you are looking for a colossal veg sandwich The Parmageddon with potato and cheese pierogi, fresh napa vodka kraut, grilled onions, and cheese ($9) will keep you full for days.

The heavenly homemade soups are all made with fresh ingredients. Try their house soup with roasted garlic with a tomato soup base. It comes piping hot in a mug accompanied by gold fish crackers.

Cleveland's MELT is one of the best hidden gems you will ever find. This celestial grilled cheese restaurent may even make you go back to church. Or at least thank God that a place like this exist.

Akihabara-The Electric City 4/14


We arrived 18 hours later in Tokyo. I fell in and out of consciousness the entire flight. Airplane sleep is the worst. Once you are tired enough to fall asleep a bump or an unfamiliar ding wakes you up and the cycle repeats and repeats until you arrive at your destination.

Upon our arrival, Katie and I grabbed our bags and went through customs. We were both eager to get to our capsule hotel and crash. We were both exhausted and hungry. Although, the plane ride made us both rather queasy, we were still hankering for some nourishment. We found a little noodle house crowded with businessmen and children playing on their hand held mini-nintendos. (We were in Akihabara known worldwide for its small electronics, manga, and anima.)

Our interaction with the cook was the first attempt for us to communicate with a non-English speaker. We ordered, paid, and congratulated ourselves for what we thought was a successful interactive. We ended up with curry instead of soothing udon. Since the meal was cheap (470 yen) we decided it would be more of a hassle to try and correct the order. I'm so glad we kept it. The curry ended up being the best in all ranges of ethnic curries I've ever had in all my 20 something years of being a curry fan. It was neither spicy or greasy, but rather light with a bold curry flavor that perfectly matched with the soba noodles it came with.

With our bellies full, we walked a couple blocks to the capsule hotel. For 3700 yen a night we thought we were going to be staying in a shithole. We were pleasantly surprised. We took off our shoes and placed them in a locker before walking up to talk with the clerk. The clerk spoke perfect English and was accommodating and friendly. As for the capsule it was way larger than I had imagined. I thought for sure I was going to be suffocating in a little claustrophobic box. The capsules turned out to be clean, comfortable, and spacious rectangular tubes with a personal TV and radio.

We took a shower to erase all the gunk of our travels. The shower stall had 3 spickets aimed to hit each vocal point of a naked body. There was complimentary Shisedo shampoo and body wash. After the shower I used the kimono-esque robe and slippers they gave us. I went back to my tiny yellow submarine, shut the blinds, and feel asleep to a game on the TV of Japanese ping pong. I woke up to find Katie up and ready to go. It was 6am and we had about nine hours of sleep. We were happy, refreshed, and ready to embark on our first day of exploration.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Day 1 Canadian Skies and Sleep Apnea

Katie and I "tried" to stay up all night. We did this to adapt to Japan's time difference. I fell asleep around 2:30 while Katie stayed up only sleeping for an hour. My suitcase was rather light. The things I forgot became apparent only after it was too late. I didn't mind buying replacement shampoo, toothpaste, and deodorant. It actually might be cool to spice up my toiletries with Japanese brands. Before I left I bought a six hundred dollar camera. It's relatively amazing with 6x focus lens and the ability to take pictures of the city lights during the night. I know it is out of my budget, but I thought if it doesn't work out I could always return it, pay the $85 dollar restocking fee and be done with it. Boy, was I wrong.

We got to the airport around 5:45 am in the morning. My energy level was pretty high. I was amped on the fact I was going to a whole new world that I couldn't imagine even something as insignificant as how their license plates looked. Plus I needed some real time to gain perspective on my life. And I believe the best way to think objectively about stuff is to either:

A.Climb into a well until you are enlightened
B. Travel half way across the world.
C. Watch a good movie to change your perspective on things.
I, of course, choose B.

Mikey asked Katie what she most looked forward to seeing in Japan. Katie responded that she was floored to experience everything. I felt the same way. I wanted to see and experience it all; the taste of exotic food, the giant neon signs, temples, people and I wanted to see a lot of them, traditional wardrobes to haijuki girls basically... everything.

After a two hour flight we landed in Vancouver. The airport was colorful and welcoming. It is the most non-airport I've ever seen in my travels. Especially since it had a built in museum-like exhibit on Native American wood carvings. Plus the shopping was similar to what you would experience in a mall, but only very Canadian. Katie and I browsed the duty free shop for a gift of maple candies for Yumiko, who is a Japanese friend who offered to take us around. Yumiko asked Katie to bring her these maple candies because they compliment Japanese teas well. After purchasing the candy Katie and I waited patiently for four long hours until our departure to Yapan!