Monday, July 13, 2015

Japan 2015 Day 5: Straying off the Beaten Path (Metaphorically...)

Well, I'm still waking up far too early, but I have to recognise that my body still thinks it's evening when it's really morning. As they say here, shogannai (it can't be helped). We were all up by about 7:00 am, & had a lovely breakfast to look forward to. I made tea & Charlie peeled another orange & we opened a bag of lovely pastries. The guys had cinnamon rolls, I had a shirokuma (polar bear) bun, & we all shared a mikan (mandarin orange) pastry. My shirokuma turned out to have cream filling & it was delicious!

Before coming to Japan this time we talked about doing some things that we hadn't done before. So we've been actively looking for things that we haven't done before, & darned if we didn't do three of them today! Around 9:45 Charlie & I decided to go for a walk & head off in another direction, toward a movie theatre that we can see from our hotel window. We thought it would be fun to see a movie while we were here, so we wanted to find out the movie times (& pick a movie :). We thought we could walk through the department store across the way, but it wasn't open when we got there, so we walked around it. The day was already pretty hot, with gusty winds. We kept looking up to find the building we were headed for & it wasn't too difficult, being very tall. We walked past one of the oldest department stores in Tokyo, Isetan, which has a beautiful art deco sensibility.

We found the Wald9 movie theatre, which is floors 9-13 of the building. After looking at the movies, we decided to see Mamoru Hosoda's most recent animated film, Bakemono no Ko (The Beast and the Boy). We have loved his other movies- we own them all- so we thought it would be fun & accessible, especially since Charlie doesn't understand much Japanese. So we noted the times & headed back out to explore some more.

One thing that feels very "Tokyo" to me are intersections where the crosswalks go diagonally across the streets. I have never seen anything like it in Rochester :)

Another thing I don't see in Rochester is large video screens showing random content (not adverts or signs for the building they're attached to). We passed one of these that showed a Japanese astronaut.

On the way back, while passing Isetan, Charlie suggested we go in (it was just opening for the day) and look for pearls. I don't have a lot of "good" jewelry, & we'd talked about getting something pearlish in Japan because they actually grow them here :) We followed the folks heading into Isetan & walked into one of the friendliest gantlets I've ever, uh, walked. It's traditional in Japan, when a store opens for the day, to have staff greet the customers as they walk in. Isetan takes this a step further, & all the staff on the main floor, as we walked by, chorused "irasshai mase" (the highest politeness level of "welcome") as we walked by. All of them, all along the main corridor, bowing & greeting. It was almost daunting & definitely distracting. After recovering, we found a store guide in English & took the escalators to the floor with the pearls.

As we were looking at some earrings in the pearl department, a sales lady approached, & I told her, in Japanese, we were just looking, & she told us, in Japanese, to take our time. She explained about the various pearl displays & I actually understood 95% of what she was saying. Good thing, because she didn't speak English :) We conversed a bit & I settled on a pair of earrings with a pinkish colour. She showed me the whole stock of similar earrings, & it was interesting that most of them were screw-back earrings, rather than pierced. Clue #1. When I told her I'd decided on the pinkish pair of pierced earrings, she led us over to a desk with two chairs, a basket for my purse, & there was even a stand for my cane (!). Clue #2 :) As she sat with us & explained about the tax-return process (for folks from outside Japan), the warranty, & how to buff the pearls with a cloth, a gentleman brought us delicious iced green tea. We chatted about the weather & the typhoon that will bring some rain in a day or so, and soon we had paid for our purchase & it was gorgeously wrapped & presented to me. As we left, I told Charlie I had put the clues together & realised that it's mostly older ladies who buy pearls here, as older Japanese women don't often have pierced ears (hence the screw-backs) & they use canes (hence the cane stand). He agreed & we walked out having purchased jewelry in Japan for the first time.

On our way back to the hotel we were surprised by a gorgeous little Buddhist temple tucked in between 2 high-rise buildings. It looked as though it had housing for monks. I wonder if they turn them loose on Tokyo with their begging bowls?

We also passed a little cafe with the menu on a sign outside, & didn't we see the words "vegetable curry"... So we stopped in & I pardoned myself & asked the owner if the vegetable curry had any meat in it. He was an older gentleman who was giving off a "I don't understand what you're saying in my language" kind of vibe, but another gentleman (seemed like a regular) repeated what I said & we established that the vegetable curry indeed had no meat in it. I told him we'd be back :)

We got back to our room & told Brendan about the veggie curry, & he was up for it, so 10 minutes later (around 11:45) we headed back out to our curry place for lunch. It was a tiny place & I was worried it might fill up, but there were only a few customers there when we got back. The master (what restaurant & bar owners are called in Japan) seated us & his wife came over to take our drink order. I asked if the curry was hot, & she said not very. We ordered drinks & vegetable curry all around. I had a cold lemon squash that was amazingly delicious. The music playing was Chopin, & it all felt very civilised. Then Charlie noticed an ash tray on our table. Ah. Well, the place wasn't smoky, & maybe we'd be fed & out before anyone lit up (cigarette smoke is a major asthma trigger for me). Brendan had never actually seen an ash tray before. Whoa.

The curry arrived & it was amazing! I should digress here & explain that Japanese curry doesn't share anything with Indian curry except, maybe, the heat. In Japan you buy curry roux in bars- it looks like Hershey bars- and basically, you make a stew, dissolve squares of curry roux into the stew, & magically the whole thing thickens & develops a lovely brown gravy. I make curry at home all the time in the winter, using Quorn (faux) chicken tenders as the meat. The guys adore it. In Japan it's most common to make curry with beef, which is why we've never had it here. Right, back to the curry:

Soooo delicious! It tasted fresh, & was spicier than what I make at home (I buy mild curry roux), but soooo yummy!! There was a little side salad that cooled your mouth off. We all ate every bit of that curry! And fortunately nobody smoked while we were there! So, the second thing we'd never done before in Japan, eat curry, has been checked off the list.

Brendan decided he didn't want to go to the movie, so Charlie & I got ourselves back to the theatre in time for the 1:40 showing. Our first surprise was that they have numbered seating for movie theaters in Japan. The girl at the register showed us a chart & we kind of randomly pointed, & she issued us the tickets. For the two of us it was 3600 yen (approximately $36.00). I was prepared for it to be more expensive than the States & prepared Charlie :) The next surprise was that we had to take escalators up 4 floors to get the the theatre. Here's a view down the escalators- kind of dizzying:

We got there about 5 minutes before the feature film began, in time for a few trailers. Hearing Arnold's voice dubbed in Japanese for the Terminator trailer was a hoot. And then the movie began.

It was really wonderful, & even though Charlie did not understand a lot of it, he definitely had tears on his cheeks at the heart-wrenching parts :) We will definitely get the subbed version when it's released in the US. And, check off a third thing that we'd never done before in Japan!

Our evening was pretty quiet, after all that. We got dinner at the conbini. I found egg salad pocket sandwiches- yum! Would you guess they were sandwiches if you saw them for the first time?

And for dessert I made tea & we had yatsuhashi that I'd bought a couple days ago. This is a traditional sweet from Kyoto, rolled mochi flavoured with either cinnamon or matcha tea, with sweet red beans in the middle. So much yum :)

We read some Terry Pratchett & Charlie & Brendan played some card games. The sunset over Shinjuku was really pretty:

Tomorrow is our last day in Tokyo before we take the train to Kyoto for a week. Our first job in the morning is to activate our Japan Rail passes, which allow us to ride the trains on an unlimited basis for 2 weeks. We'll also buy our tickets to Kyoto. Then we will meet our friend Marian, who lives in Tokyo, for an adventure in Ikebukuro, another section of Tokyo. 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a fun day. What an experience, buying pearls! Also... love the little pocket sandwiches!