Nap, a jlan, a canal: Japan

First of all, pictures are up!

Holy cow they took our temperatures with a camera. That was my first impression of japan, and it happened before we even got off the plane. Okay, swine flu blah blah, they have to take our temperatures before we get off, so I’m picturing little disposable thermometers. Nope. They came around with this thing that was for sure a camera, pointed it at us, and moved along. Ladies and G, the future.

My second impression, after a vending machine experience: this green tea tastes like tea. You can’t find sweetened Liptonesque junk if you try. I was stoked! The next day I discovered that you can also buy said green tea hot in a bottle. Fantastic.

Food in Japan: is great. I can’t figure out how it all comes together- I mean, sushi is a thing, and so are soba, udon, and ramen, and so is this izakaya tapas-like thing, and so is just eating a big eel, and then there’s okonomiyaki and monjayaki, and etc. I guess it’s just that I’m actually getting the full breadth of it. I mean, I used to think Indian food was just curry and naan, but then, there’s really a lot of diverse kinds of dishes there too. Japanese food is a huge category!

I think I like it more than most, though. First, it’s healthy (hey, longest life expectancy in the world; can’t be too far wrong…). Lots of seaweed, seafood, miso, and other things that we generally think are healthy. The flavors are pretty unique- not as distinctive as India, say, but it just kinda tastes clean. And finally and maybe most importantly, they seem to care a lot about it. I mean, you can see that in sushi; it’s food-as-art, or art-as-food, or something. Quantities are sometimes small, but quality is usually high. I’m all about that.

Notable things I ate:
- inari (those tofu skin things around a ball of rice)
- udon with lots of funny looking things that were probably all fish cakes in one form or another
- a terrible drink that this bar we went to just made up. They called it the “DOS”, which was short for something that translates to basically “drink for assholes.” It featured frozen pickled plums and gin. Actually, the first one was really good. The second one was a very bad idea.
- awesome sushi! and mostly nigiri; it seemed the thing to get, moreso than rolls. great squid, eel (of both kinds), a giant clam I think?, some things I don’t know what they are, and the famous otoro, which really wasn’t as transcendent to me as to some people, which is good because it’s not great, generally, on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sustainable Seafood list.
- monjayaki, a do-it-yourself grilled pancakey thing that I’m sure we messed up, but it was tasty anyway. Note to self: miso is great. start using it a lot.
- takoyaki, octopus balls!
- tayaki, an unrelated pancake-in-a-fish-shape that has a sweet red bean paste filling
- steamed buns in Yokohama Chinatown
- yuba, which is translated terribly unappetizingly as “soy milk skin” or “bean curd skin”. (’s good though!)
- four kinds of ice cream from Ice Cream City. This includes sesame gelato, turkish tea ice cream (both of which were forgettable), edamame ice cream, and cheese ice cream (both of which were not). But really, any time I’m eating ice cream, I’m pretty happy.

If you’re still reading, you’re into long posts, so you might like this slapdash list of things I did that I’m really putting in here for my own sake so I don’t forget them:
Saturday- izakaya in yokohama, bar in aobadai
Sunday- kamakura, government building, golden gai, karaoke, albert Nietzsche, tsukiji, sushi.

Wait a minute, hold up. This day was epic and requires further explanation. So we go to the Golden Gai, a district in Shinjuku (which is a part of Tokyo) that is full of tiny bars. It was mostly closed up, but we went into one that had about 8 seats and Ram struck up a conversation with the folks. Later, some other foreigners were looking in, and we waved them in too. A few silly conversations later (“you’re from seattle? do you like rock music? do you like Fleet Foxes?"), and we all decide to go karaoke. At this point it’s about midnight, and the trains in Japan stop running at midnight, and start again at 5. So if you’re going out, you’re out till 12 or till 5. So we were going big. (I couldn’t possibly go home!)

Then at about 12:30 our newfound Australian friends bugged out. I do not know why. Lame. So we hang out with this Japanese guy whom we later named “Albert Nietzsche” because we couldn’t remember his actual name, he looked like an Albert, and he liked Nietzsche. We are tired. We go to his house and take a nap. We wake up at 5 and go to the Tsukiji fish market. This was neat.

Back to the listing of things:
Monday/tuesday- staying out late and karaoking again (this time with people we actually knew), visiting some Shibuya staples like Tokyu Hands.
Tuesday- Yokohama Chinatown, trick art museum, Ram’s friend’s shop with a dysfunctional Tarot deck, and the very unique aquarium
Wednesday- Asakusa, Kappabashi-Dori (the cooking supplies street! I bought a knife!), conveyor sushi, the music supplies district and the bookstore district whose names I forget, and then Shimo-Kitazawa, a hip cool neighborhood that Ram and I like a lot.
Thursday- Hokane and Ice Cream City. A lot of trains this day.
Friday- Viking!

And finally, some funny things:

At one point before I got there, a guy came up to Ram and his friend Pat and greeted them by brandishing his fist and shouting (of course) “FIST!”

Ram taught me a drinking chant that you can say when someone’s taking a shot. It translates kind of like this:
What have you got?
You’ve got it because you’re not drinking.
(sound that’s supposed to represent masturbating)
(sound that’s supposed to represent masturbating)
(different sound that’s supposed to represent masturbating)
Tea-bag-gu! (and then on the “gu” you drink the shot.)

My coworker Tyler has a t-shirt that has some funny pictures and says “Spartan Mother.” I met a guy in Japan wearing the same t-shirt.

A step had a warning sign that said “be careful of a level difference.” I found that particularly amusing. If I were playing Dungeons and Dragons, I’d put that as a warning on a dungeon.

After noticing a sign for “Bar April Fool”, Ram and I were joking about what such a trick bar could be. He suggested “it’s not a bar, it’s a barber!” where you come in for a drink and leave with a haircut. Then we saw a sign for a place that said exactly that: “Bar-ber.”

What an anticlimactic way to end this post. So it goes.

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