Monday, October 11, 2010
As always, traveling reminds me how easy traveling is. 11 hours in the air and you're suddenly in Japan. It doesn't feel like a big deal no matter how much I tell myself it is.
Jacquie and I had separate planes on account of me getting mine for $250, a feat I pulled off by using reward miles (I signed up for a few credit cards and checking accounts a few months ago for the bonus miles).
My sister and her boyfriend drove us to the airport. My flight was 2 hours before Jacquie's, which sucked. We sat around the airport lobby until I had to head through security. It felt all wrong saying goodbye to her before such a long flight.
But it was fine. The flight couldn't have been more uneventful. I had a window seat and to my surprise NO ONE sat in the middle seat next to me. This is the first time I've been on an international flight that wasn't completely full. It was a nice trade off for the fact that the entertainment 'system' was circa 1991. Just old school drop down TVs in the middle of the aisles, not even above the seats. And the first movie was J Lo's endearing The Backup Plan. I'm telling you, no man was involved in the making of that movie. It's not possible. Even the leading 'man' must have been a woman in disguise. That's what happens when you fly an old school 747.
Food came around and the three Japanese guys ordered beers. The stewardess asked if they wanted American beer or Japanese beer. Score! The information booklet said the flight would only have American. So I drank a couple Kirin to get the trip started off right.
Got to Tokyo, went through customs, and waited for Jacquie's flight by baggage claim. Saw her as she reached the top of the escalator and started taking video of our 'meeting' (footage is already in a video I'll be posting soon).
Followed our guidebook's advice and followed signs to the Keisei railway and bought tickets to Ueno station. Got there without a hitch (all signs are in English too) and figured out how to buy tickets for the subway to Minami-Senju, the stop near our hotel. Being in New York just two weeks ago (!!) was a huge help to us here. If you know one subway you know them all (LA's subway doesn't count).
The hotel directions were sufficient and soon we were at the New Koyo Hotel. This note was at the front desk:
Hell yes we said we'd do it. The show's coordinator had just put the sign up so the hotel manager called her and she came right over to meet us. We were set to film on Wednesday, three days later. Awesome way to start the trip.
To call our room in the hotel/hostel 'tiny' would be an understatement. With the futon pulled out we had roughly 3 square feet of usable space. But it was dirt cheap for Tokyo, the most expensive city I've ever visited. Maybe the most expensive in the world?
Set out back down the street for dinner. There were not many options in our neighborhood, and we almost just grabbed some pre-made snacks from Family Mart, a 7-11 type store (speaking of which, there are tons of 7-11s in Japan).
Jacquie wanted a real meal though, so we picked the 'cutest' one, which had no English anywhere within 100 feet. All the restaurants here have curtains and other obfuscations, but we could see in just enough to know that there were three other patrons at the tiny bar. We slid open the door and walked in.
It was a sushi bar. There was a hostess/waitress, the sushi chef, and the three patrons. No one spoke more than a few words of English. We sat down and were brought a Japanese menu. We talked it over and decided we'd just point at something. The chef and waitress tried to be helpful but there was a little bit of a language barrier.
Finally one of the other patrons spoke up. "You speak Japanese?" Uh, no. "English?" Yes. She spoke enough English to communicate, and she and the waitress and chef (who she seemed to know fairly well) started talking rapidly. Eventually they offered us an 'off menu' option - a plate of nigiri sushi for 1500 yen each (around $19). Sounded good to us. We got some tea and soup and waited.
The chef then laid down a plate of utterly incredible-looking sushi in front of Jacquie. And then he gave me one.
Massive score. The sushi was incredible. Best squid I've ever had (the one in the upper right).
We talked some more with the English speaker, and then some with the chef and waitress, who we learned was his wife. They were more comfortable with us by now and knew a few more words than it at first seemed. After learning the chef's name I pulled out a 'doy itashimashite' (nice to meet you) and got a solid response back from him, including a deep bow. Pretty happy about that. We took a picture of the couple and then took another of Jacquie and I with the chef. Then he presented me with his card and wrote the name of the restaurant and its contact info in English (really Romanji) on the back for us. Incredible experience.
It was pretty much the best possible way to start our trip in Tokyo. The night receives a perfect score of 18 palm fronds (out of 18).