At the end of 2017, we were going on a special holiday.
The main destination was Australia, where for some time it had been planned we would go together with Hans before he later in 2018 would do his 1 year gap stay there. We were now bringing 1/2 of his ashes with us to be scattered over the ocean outside Queensland and we had planned it so we would be away Christmas and New Year, and thus the painful 1-year anniversaries.
On the way to and from Australia we would take in old (known) and new, never experienced, places, and we started of going to Tokyo where we had lived for three years back in the mid-90’s.
We flew from Copenhagen arriving Friday 15/12/17 at Tokyo/Narita with SAS after an uneventful pleasant 11 hour flight. Immigration and customs were straightforward; there is no need for a visa for short stay, all you have to do is to fill out a landing card.
After customs we went to the Narita Express/NEX counter to buy train tickets for the trip to Tokyo or rather to Shinjuku, where our hotel was located. As always the train departed on time and after an hour and 20 minutes journey we were at the extremely busy Shinjuku station. Hyatt Regency, where we were staying, had a Hotel Shuttle Bus service every 20 minutes, but Shinjuku station is really really big, and we didn’t spend much time looking for the bus before just walking the 25 minutes it took to get to the hotel. One reliable hotel assistant was on duty about 20 hours a day, 7 days a week – I assume s/he was being re-charged the other 4 hours. S/he would answer questions about hotel facilities and Tokyo tourist sites. The more human members of staff were all service-minded with a single intent of making your stay as pleasant as possible. The hotel was decorated for Christmas as the Japanese like to embrace foreign causes for celebration. Christmas is very big here and Halloween is also being picked up.
The plan for our 5 day stay was to try as many of our favorite Japanese cuisines as possible and to meet up with old friends and former colleagues,
On Saturday morning, we went to our old neighborhood to check on “our” old house, the local temple and our old favorite restaurants. 21 years is a long time, and our local yakitori, alas, was no more. Nor was the local pizza restaurant which over the three years we were in Tokyo delivered quite a number of pizzas to the family! Naka-me-guro high street looked itself. We went into a couple of the old shops, a few of which were even run by the same people as they were 21 years ago. Nakameguro train station, on the other hand had been completely modernised and refurbished compared to the slightly run-down and tatty station we knew from the past.
From Nakameguro we went to Akihabara – the electric city. In the old days you could buy electronics and camera equipment significantly cheaper here than in Europe and in the alley-shops you could find home-made gadgets and novel electronic devices not easily found anywhere else. This time I found prices for camera lenses were comparable to those at home, and the selection and pioneering spirit over the alley shops were somewhat reduced.
In the evening, we decided to have sushi at the hotels own restaurant, Omborato, starting in the bar with a Japanese gin and tonic. The meal was excellent, but we did pay for the convenience of not having to travel. It’s possible to get as good and much cheaper sushi out in town.
Sunday 17/12 marked our 34th wedding anniversary. We went to the Meiji Shrine in the morning and had a very interesting lunch at a tiny restaurant serving various noodle and rice based pots with local ecological beer. The monks at the shrine historically did a lot of brewing and produced sake for high and low. The sake was delivered in 25 liter containers, a sample of which is still in my possession, having received it as a farewell present from my team in Tokyo back in 1996. It’s encapsulated in concrete, weighs around 200 kg, will keep a long time but when opened needs to be drunk. Since drinking ½ liter of sake is quite a lot, I will open it when I have gathered at least 50 sake loving people! At the temples and shrines you can write a wish (prayer) to a deity and then attach it to a tree or a stand. We also came across the “Husband and Wife” trees – very appropriate for the day, we thought.
In the evening we went to our all-time favorite restaurant in Tokyo, Inakaya, found in Roppongi. There are two sections, a larger with two chefs and a smaller operated by a single chef. The chefs sit behind the food on offer with the guests seated in a rectangle around them. Food is cooked in front of you and delivered to your seat by the chef on a long paddle. I can strongly recommend the red snapper, but vegetables and mushrooms are also fresh and prepared to perfection. The temperature in Tokyo, while we were there, never crept above 5C, so we felt completely legitimized ordering hot sake (atsukan) with our beer. After the meal looking along Roppongi main street you can’t fail to notice Tokyo Tower – their very own copy of the Eiffel Tower.
We went shopping on the Monday, mainly looking for new chopsticks and lacquer bowls. Japanese department stores are huge with an enormously varied selection of goods. All of them now conveniently have “western style” toilets, typically kept very clean and in order. Not all Japanese know how to use a western style toilet, which is why you can come accross some funny signs and instructions. For lunch we went to a standard lunch restaurant where office workers from all the surrounding buildings come for their udons. Sangokuichi is a chain of such restaurants and the food was exactly as good and cheap as I remember it to be. These kind of lunch restaurants typically have plastic copies of the meal outside so you can see what you will be getting.
At night we were meeting up with our friends and former colleagues at a typical traditional restaurants for after work socializing. One of our old friends had organised and had been able to find a restaurant that could cater for one special request I had: I would like to re-try bashimi, which is raw horse. For the whole group we had ordered a set menu, but I had my side-order of bashimi which was delicious. It was so wonderful catching up with everyone after so many years.
Before going to the airport on the Tuesday, we met up with one colleague not able to make it the night before. We had Okonomiyaki for lunch, which was even better than we had remembered. Okonomiyaki is kinda a cross between an omelet and a pizza, with the core ingredients being cabbage, flour, eggs and fish. The name means “as you want it” and it is cooked on plates at your table.
The restaurant we visited, Osakaya, is near Hotel Gracery, which has a big Godzilla on its outside wall and through loudspeakers a roaring sayonara bid us arewell as we made it back to the airport on our way to Australia.