March 29, 2006

The last days in Tokyo

What can I say? Tokyo was a blast. I really enjoyed being there. I could have stayed longer, but it was time to come back to London.

In the last week, we worked a few late nights. But there were some good times too. We had a team dinner on Wednesday night at a little place in Akasaka. The place only has a Japanese name, but it pretty much meant, old mom's place.The place had one tatami room and 3 tables... a small place. The ladies that worked there were awesome. They were like moms who made sure you were fed and made sure you finished the bowl of potato salad. We had agreed to go for shabu-shabu earlier in the week. The meal started with the cook coming out to our table with a big plate of fresh seafood. It was raw and not prepared. You had to pick the seafood you wanted. There was stuff I've never seen before and wondered how it would be prepared. Nevertheless, my coworkers ordered a ton of stuff and I ate everything. One little appetizer came after another. After 4 courses of appetizers, Ryan and I were wondering when we were having the shabu-shabu. Finally, the ladies started firing up the big pots in the table. There were 2 pots for the 8 of us. The pots were filled with boiling water. Then the plates of thinly sliced beef were brought to the table. The word "shabu shabu" means "swish swish", which is what you do with the slices of beef. You take one slice with your chopstick, then do a little swishing action in the hot pot of water. Then bring it to your plate, dip it into the sauce (there were two: one was a lemony, vinegary sauce and the other was like a peanut sauce). I didn't eat it of course because I don't eat meat and the ladies that worked there were concerned I didn't have enough to eat. But let me tell you I was full before the main course started! They brought out the tofu and some greens, then some big sticks of fresh udon. Delicious.

Shabu shabu is very similar to the "fire pot" the Chinese have. The difference is that there is more variety in the Chinese pots... You can pretty much put anything you desire in the pots... You put a broth instead of plain water and the sauce is a bit different. It is typically made up of soy sauce, a raw egg, and scallions. However, the basic concept is the same: water in big community pot, heat up your food in there and eat it. Perfect for the winter time.

Friday night, Ryan and I went to a Tunisian restaurant called "Hannibal" in Harajuku where one of my friends was performing. We got lost and were late, so we missed the 8 o'clock show. Fortunately, there was a second one at 9, so we got to see that. One of the waitresses was from Tunisia and she danced a set with my friend Nadiah. They got almost the entire restaurant up and dancing. There was a party in one table celebrating a birthday, so they were all in the mood to groove. I had cous cous with vegetable stew.

In case I haven't explained before, the food in Tokyo is great. Any type of food, whether it is Korean or Tunisian, it's all tastey. I didn't go to Mc Donald's and I didn't have any pizzas. I had lots of seafood. The point I'm trying to make, really, is that the quality of food is very high in Tokyo. Everything is prepared with pride. If you go to the grocery store and see the vegetables; they almost look too perfect; they put the produce in the US and UK to shame. The vegetables and fruits are gorgeous. Sometimes, I feel guilty eating it because they just look so perfect.

On Saturday, we went to visit the Imperial Gardens. I might have written "Imperial Palace" in the photos, but you can't really go into the Palace. Ha ha. And... only sections of the Gardens are open to the public. Nevertheless, we walked around and enjoyed the good weather. In late afternoon, we headed to Ginza and went back to Mitsukoshi's food court. Man, I just love the food court and the variety of yummy goodness packed into one room. I picked up a futomaki and a couple of inari (tofu pockets) pieces for dinner. After dinner, we went to Roppongi Hills and waited in a long line to get Coldstone Creamery. This happens to be the latest craze. Afterwards, we strolled around Roppongi Hills and found a bookstore that was opened till really late. I couldn't figure it out actually because the sign was like "Hours: 9:00 - 28:00"... What do you think that means? I didn't realize there was 28 hours in the day. Perhaps in Tokyo??

On Sunday, we went to the Shinjuku area. It took us a while to figure out to get out of the train station. There is a big mall that envelops the station, so when we tried to get out from a side exit, we ended up in the wrong side of the tracks. Finally, figured out how to get to the hip area of town. We went to Disk Union. Then we went into another Mitsukoshi in Shinjuku and ate at a curry place in the basement. It was a Indian curry, done Tokyo style. Very yummy. Then we strolled around some more and found the shrine where there is a market of used or antique-y items. I rummaged through some kimonos, really wanted to buy one, but then opted not to. One, because of lack of luggage space, and two, because most were a little dirty and too long for me. For dinner, we had sushi. We waited in line for 45-50 minutes for this place in the Takeshita Time Square (top floor). Then we realized the popularity for this place was because they offered an all-you-can eat price. So, you just keep ordering and at the end, you pay one price. But we opted to not do that since we don't eat THAT much to make it worth it.

As you'll notice in all my writings, I speak mostly about food and eating... This is what I do. This is what I like to do when I'm in a new city. I walk around and find food to eat. I don't really buy things. I might shop and look at stuff, but I hardly buy. Ryan does make fun of me for not buying stuff. But this is me. I look but I don't buy. It's not because I don't have the money. I just look at it and can't decide if it is worth buying. That is my dilemna. If I buy it, who would I give it to? I only buy things if I have someone in mind to give it to. Normally, it happens when I see something and it reminds me of someone. The problem when I'm traveling is that my mind is numb. I'm overwhelmed with all the stuff, I can't think. Second is my luggage problem. I don't have room in my luggage to bring back anything, and if you know me well, you'll know Lily likes to travel lightly.

The most valuable things to me are intangible.

Thanks Tokyo for a great trip! Here are the last installment of pics:


Posted by oneray at 9:23 AM

March 23, 2006

Beautify yourself

I drink a lot of water during the day, thus I visit the women's bathroom quite a lot. One thing that I've noticed (other than turning on the flushing toilet sound) is that they all carry toiletry bags with them. After lunch, you can be sure to find Japanese ladies brushing their teeth over the sink and touching up their makeup. Then at around 5 or 6, they're in the bathroom touching up their make up again. I'm not judging them; as a matter of fact, I'm thinking I should be doing the same. The problem is, I just can't get myself to carry all that stuff with me: toothbrush, toothpaste, makeup. The lot can get heavy... and I like to travel lightly. Perhaps I can start with a travel sized toothbrush and toothpaste or floss.

Anyway, I was browsing to find something for a friend today and found my picture on this website:

It's not terribly weird because I was in one of their club nights, but I didn't know my picture made the website! Coolio.

Posted by oneray at 3:25 AM

March 22, 2006

Shrines, Sweets, and Such

March 17, 2006
Friday night, we worked late... until about 11:30, then we headed over to Tsukishima area to eat manja-yaki again. It was late, but luckily Okubo-san knew which ones were open late. Most restaurants were closed, though. Eating at Tsukishima is so much fun and so Tokyo, that I had to make sure Ryan got to try it. This time, however, I cooked. No one died of my cooking, so it must have been ok. We had the roe and cheese combo (it sounds aweful, but tastes really good!) and the nato bean and seaweed combo for manja-yaki. Ladies and gents, you just can't get this anywhere but Tokyo! Okonome-yaki, however, we have eaten before in London. We had the seafood combination, and I had the difficult task of flipping the giant pancake. Lastly, we had tepanyaki noodles, but Okubo-san took over the cooking here. At the end of the meal, the guys presented me with a manja-yaki spatula! It was in a little gift envelope, very typical of Japan.

March 18, 2006
On Saturday, Ryan and I went to Ginza... not for shopping, but for eating (surprise!). Our manager in London used to live here and gave us a list of places to eat. One of them was "Ten-ichi", a tempura place. Imagine sitting at the sushi bar, except replace the fish with tempura batter and vat. Except, it's not like sitting at a sushi bar and you can call out whatever you fancy. Here, we ordered a set menu and the chef would pull out a shrimp, batter it, then dip it into the vat. Same for the fresh and beautiful asparagus: dip in batter, dip in vat, then put on your plate. This was the best tempura I've ever had.

After lunch, we strolled around Ginza a bit and into Mitsukoshi (gigantic department store) where we headed straight for the food court (surprise!). The sweets were first and I picked up a few items to take back. Unfortunately, most of these are good for only a week or so (no preservatives!), I'll have to eat them before I leave.

Did I mention we're extending out stay for another week? We were asked to stay another week. Of course, we were happy to!

We just kept walking around the food halls, and I had a hard time picking things I wanted to try mostly because I wanted to try everything.

After leaving Mitsukoshi, we went to into the Apple store to check out the MacBook Pro... I'd love to have one, but I don't want to be lugging around two laptops. We surfed quickly, check mail, then left for Aksakusa.

Because it started raining when we got out of the subway, we were only able to visit one of the shrines in the area. We didn't see the main one unfortunately. Most of the shrines here are shinto shrines, so the way they pray is slightly different. They don't pray with the incense sticks like the Buddhists do. However, there are some, I think, that have Buddhist influences and use the incense sticks; they're buildings are most elaborate as well (more colors). There is just something very clean about the shinto shrines here.

We didn't let the rain stop us. We wandered through the little shops selling souvenires. I was tempted to get a little Hello Kitty trinket for my cellphone. Man, everyone here has a little trinket for their cellphone. Even guys. The Hello Kitty trinkets are special because there is a whole line of them. There is a Hello Kitty dressed up in something that represents an area in Tokyo. I haven't bought a Hello Kitty item for myself since 1991, perhaps it's time to get back into it.

It was around 6 or 7, and we decided to eat around the Asakusa area, since we were already here. There was a restaurant we had passed earlier in the day around 4, and there was a line outside the door. We went by and realized it was a kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi). I went to stand in line while Ryan peeped through the window to make sure we would be able to eat there. After minutes of standing there, he did not see one person pick anything off of the conveyor belt. Perhaps it's just plastic food? Turns out no. It was real food. But most of the people who come here get the special stuff, and the chefs make it immediately and hand it to them. After lining up outside, we lined up inside and had another chance to observe. This time we saw people picking plates off of the conveyor belts, so we were happy because that is how we were planning to eat. We were the only non-Japanese in the place.

Just below the sushi conveyor belt is a small conveyor belt for fresh tea cups. After sitting, you pick up a tea cup, fill it with a few scoops of green tea power, then fill the cup with hot water tap right at your table! That is just too cool. Then Ryan ordered a drink, pointing to what the lady next to him was having because he thought it was ice tea. But no, it was iced oolong tea with alcohol, said the waitress. Ryan got it, and it tasted ok. We suspect the alcohol was whisky. But we haven't figured out the name of the drink. When we left around 8:30, there was still a line out the door.

March 19, 2006
Sunday, Rich and his lady friend came to pick us up in a rental car, and we drove to Kamakura. The area is known for shrines, temples, and a giant 11 metre tall buddah.
First, we saw the Hachimangu shrine, then the Hase Temple, which has lovely gardens and you get a great view of the ocean. Our last stop was to see the Great Buddha. See this website for all the info one what we saw:

On our way back to Tokyo, we saw Yokohama and Mt. Fuji from a distance. There were some great views from the highway. We went to Aquacity in Odaiba, a modern shopping mall with big cinema complex. We went to see "Narnia" there, but before had we ate at one of the restaurants in the mall. This place puts all of the malls in the US to shame. The view is spectacular, you can see the Rainbow Bridge and the Tokyo Tower. The night view is the best, in my opinion.

That's about it for this weekend. Tuesday is a holiday here. I'm excited about that!

March 21, 2006
Today is a holiday! This is the first time I'm away on business and gets to take the holiday of that country. This rocks! Ryan and I went to visit a friend in Harajuku/Omotesando area. We had lunch at the Brown Rice Cafe. Then afterwards, Ryan and I strolled through Takeshita Street. It was packed, mostly with teenie-boppers and the narrow street was lined with fringe shops selling anything from cool socks to goth wear. We saw a few girls dressed in the, what Ryan likes to call, "Bo Peep" costume. But basically, it's kind of like what Madonna wore in her Reinvention tour, but with a frilly skirt. I stopped in the 100 yen store (which by the way, is 100 times better than the ones in the US!) and second-hand kimono gallery where I got some kimino fabric strips. In the late afternoon, we headed back towards Roppongi and strolled around Roppongi Hills. It was really windy. The funny thing about Roppongi Hills are the specialy shops. There was a shop selling only expensive hats, a shop selling only expensive hankerchiefs, and a shop selling only expensive umbrellas. How do they stay in business? For dinner, we went to a kaiten sushi place in Roppongi Hills, in the Hollywood Centre. There was a line when we got there, so that was a good sign. The sushi was ok. It wasn't spectacular like the place we go to in London. Then again, that place isn't a kaiten sushi.

There is a Coldstone Creamery in Roppongi Hills. Man, the line was so long. I think there was at least 100 people in line waiting. However, I was told that Japan (or Tokyo especially) is very trendy. When something new comes, everyone wants it, but after a while, the fad will die down, and people will focus on whatever is new and of the moment... no matter how good the food/product is.

Pictures from this weekend are here:

That's all for now. No real plans for this weekend yet.
- Lily

Posted by oneray at 2:27 AM

March 15, 2006

Good food, good fun

Yes. I have been eating some good food while in Tokyo...
jangara ramen (pork-based soup), sushi (of course), yakitori, soba noodles, monja-yaki, ton katsu (except I got the shrimp), etc. This is a pretty famous place in Tokyo: Gonpachi is a restaurant where the layout and interior design makes you feel like you're eating outside, Tokyo street-style. They are famous for their yakitoris and sushi. Check out this review:

Famous for their tonkatsu, where you can pick red or black pork, Maisen was seating diners throughout the afternoon this Sunday. Ryan got into Tokyo around lunch time on Sunday. We went to the Meiji Shrine and saw the kids at Harajuku, then went strolling down towards Omotesando station. We had a late lunch at Meisen where Ryan got a black pork tonkatsu and I got the ebi katsu. I had seen this place the week before, and there were people lined out the door. Most of the people were Japanese and looked like they were in church attire.

Here are some photos from this past Sunday:

ja ne,

Posted by oneray at 5:31 AM

March 11, 2006

Akihabara and Monja-yaki

After a hard week, I finally got out and did the tourist thing... shop!
I started the day with lunch at Omotesando at a little Indian restaurant with a friend. Then, I met a coworker at the Akihabara area (Electronic City). I got distracted once I went inside a multistory department store dedicated to electronics, so there are not very many photos of Akihabara. I did see the girls dressed up in maid costumes and other anime-style, space cadet costumes. They were passing out flyers for different things. I had my coworker pick them up from various girls. Of the flyers we got, they were advertising for a:
1. Salon - You can get your hair cut by a girl in a maid costume.
2. Date - You can pay to have a girl in a maid costume escort you around while you shop in Akihabara. (I think we actually saw this in action.)
3. Cafe - This was the original gimmick. Cafes with waitresses dressed in maid costumes. I had heard about this and had wanted to go to one, but we didn't have time today.

Akihabara attracts the computer and anime geeks... all of these services with a girl in maid costumes helps the guys who are in need of female companionship. Nevertheless, I find this very amusing. If you see one of the photos, there is a sign on the wall recruiting girls for this sort of stuff. The pay is less than $10 an hour.

Then we spotted a shop that actually sold these costumes. There was everything from Sailer Moon to school girl to maid to nurse to anime-vixen costumes. Crazy! The prices for these costumes were in the $100 range.

Then we headed to a new gigantic 5+ floor electronics department store. It had everything you could imagine and had good selection too. I didn't get anything. There was just so much, I couldn't decide what I wanted! I'll probably head back next week when I make up my mind. There was like a 300 GB external hard drive for ~$120. What a deal!

Afterwards, I went to meet another set of coworkers in Tsukishima and went to a monja-yaki restaurant. There are about 70 restaurants all in that street/area that serve monja-yaki. Each restaurant offers different mixes of stuff to cook. One of the guys actually live in the area and goes to this specific restaurant regularly. We plan to go again next week, and it'll be my turn to cook. Yoishi!

Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure. It was a fun Saturday!

Posted by oneray at 11:25 AM

March 5, 2006

Didn't see the Harajuku peeps

Sunday, the perfect day to catch the sights at Harajuku. I took a long walk from Roppongi, through the Aoyama Cemetary, then to Omote-sando street. I saw a sign that said Harajuku, so I turned in there, but there were only cafes, restaurants, and shops... no dressed up peeps. Now that I look at my map again, I didn't go very far down Omote-sando street, but I was suppose to. I turned in where the Ito Hospital was instead. I'll try again next Sunday!

Walking through Aoyama Cemetary was actually a pleasant experience. It's not exactly through. There is a two way street, two lanes on each side, with sidewalk on both sides. The cemetary flanks the street. Because the streets are wide, you don't feel like you're _inside_ the cemetary, but I suppose, technically you are. The sun was shining. The cemetary was peaceful. It was a good walk. My first time seeing a Japanese style cemetary. The tombstones are like pillars.

I was told that Tokyo didn't have very nice architecture. The shops along Omote-sando prove that statement wrong. Check out the buildings for Cartier and Prada (that's the all glass, multi-story, bubbly one).

When I walked back to Roppongi, I decided to go in search of the famous Roppongi Hills. The place is monstrous, although it didn't seem like there were lots of shops. It's very spreadout. It's made up of several buildings. Found Banana Republic and Zara there (in different buildings). Most of the other stores were more high-end and exclusive, that I don't even recognize their names. You do get a great view of the city from Roppongi Hills. I took a snap of the garden and Tokyo Tower afar. The last one is of the giant spider sculpture that was in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern Museum in London last year. It's definitely a good outdoor piece.

Here are some photos from today's walking adventure:

One thing to note: I think the stuff at Muji is cheaper in Japan than in London. What do you think?

Posted by oneray at 8:17 AM

March 4, 2006


I'm just loving it here. But I suppose it might be a premature thing to say since I just got here and haven't really experienced the Japanese lifestyle. I'm learning though... It's just the little things I notice the most and I think it's funny and cute.

For example, the women's toilet. I can only speak of the women's because I have not been to the men's. The toilets are super fancy, even in the office. But I asked my fellow coworkers, and they say these toilets are the norm in Japan. I'm at the office on Saturday, so I was able to sneak in and take a photo for you.


Notice the little music symbol? That's a little flushing sound. Everyone uses it. I didn't know to push it, so these girls must think I'm crude. I was in my stall and heard a few ladies walk in, then the flushing sound started. You pretty much keep pushing that button while you're in there doing your business. Then stop the music when you get out. These toilets are also automatic flush, and ten times smarter than the ones in the US because they actually know when you're done with your business.

Now for the drum roll... the seats are heated! That is just the coolest thing in the world. Even the toilet seat at my hotel room is heated. (No more cold toilet seat in the morning!) I forget to mention in the previous post about my room that the wood floors are heated as well. Heck, you can heat the bathroom.

The last thing I'd like to mention about the toilets in Japan is that they have a small and large flush option. How clever! Because you don't always need a big flush unless you're doing big business.

Last night was my first time in a Japanese taxi. Good thing I was with a local because I didn't know that you are not suppose touch the door handle. The taxi door opens automatically for you. Same thing with shutting the door when you get out. The door closes automatically for you. Now that's service!

The bathroom in my hotel room is small compared to American standards, but seriously, how much room do you really need? I was trying to figure out the bathroom because there was no shower curtain but a tub and a floor area that looked like you can stand to take a shower. I asked a local and was told that the Japanese typically shower off before getting into the bath. So you don't dirty the water you're sitting in. Makes perfect sense to me.

I love the Japanese; they are so clean!

I know you're probably wondering... what does Lily do in the evenings? If I'm lucky enough to not be working, I tend to relax most of the time. However, tonight was a little out of the norm. I went to visit a friend of a friend's in the Aoyama area. Then we went to her friend's birthday bash in the Amanis in the Roi Building in Roppongi. My first night out in Tokyo. I don't normally just go out spontaneously, but it felt good to do it. My natural inclination was to just pass, but I thought, 'What do I have to go back to? My hotel room?' Logically, it made sense to stay out and see the local nightlife. It wasn't spectacular, but I met some good people.

Needless to say, I'm having a great time here. People are just so nice. From the bowing Japanese shop ladies to the friendly foreigners who've made Tokyo their home... they are an amazing bunch. I think I would be happy living here. Broke, but happy.

There have been lots of "firsts" for me in the past few days:
- first time to visit Japan
- first time to pack a suit to go anywhere
- first time to ride in a taxi in Japan
- first time to sit on a heated toilet seat
- first time to ride on the Tokyo subway
... I'm sure there will be many more after today.

Tomorrow, I'm planning to go see the sights at Harajuku and will report back as soon as possible.

Posted by oneray at 1:10 AM

March 2, 2006

Tokyo Rocks!

Hi! I made it to Tokyo...finally! My direct flight on Virgin was cancelled, but everyone got changed to another flight, going to Shanghai, then to Tokyo. The flight left London at 4 PM (late, of course), then landed in Shanghai at about 11:30. We had to go through immigration, baggage claim, and customs. Go through check-in again for our flight from Shanghai to Tokyo. Rested for a bit, then went right back on another plane. The flight from Shanghai to Tokyo was only 2 hours. We landed in Tokyo around 5-something. Went through immigration, baggage claim, and customs without any problems. Bought a ticket for limousine bus (like a greyhound bus) to get into Tokyo. The ride was about 1 hour. Then I walked about 15-20 minutes and arrived at my hotel/apartment at about 8:30 local time.

I love this place. My room is a little studio with a small kitchenette, frige, bed, flat screen TV, toilet room, and small washer/dryer unit. Oh, yeah, and high speed Internet. I took a walk around to make sure I knew my way to the office tomorrow. I walked pass the Spanish Embassy and a couple others. I don't think I ventured too far since I'm supposedly in the Roppongi area, but I didn't see any TGI Friday's or the expected and obvious American stuff. I'm avoiding it actually and have spotted some little Japanese restaurants that look good near by.

I'm not sure exactly how to put it into words what exactly it is about Tokyo or Japanese that I like... cleanliness? clever and efficient designs in their products? Let's go with that for now.

In case you were wondering, I did get mistaken for Japanese... or perhaps someone who speaks Japanese. Everywhere I went. Even when I was in line checking in for my flight at London Heathrow. The Japanese immigration officials, airline stewardess, Seven-Eleven worker, etc. Arigato!

Looking forward to the weekend!
Enjoy the photos of my room in the mean time...

Word of my day: Mizu. Means water, which is what I normally drink.

Posted by oneray at 9:29 AM