You thought I'd forgotten, didn't you?
At last! The Japanese update, three weeks late. How rubbish am I? (Don't bother to answer that, by the way; I already know.)
We spent a total of eleven days in Tokyo, being ready for a break from all the dashing from place to place. It is an intriguing city, and although we got to see a large chunk of it, we would have needed another week or so to do it all.
Japanese hotels are different from Western ones (says Little Miss Stating-The-Blooming-Obvious). We initially stayed in a hotel that catered to tourists. There we had a “twin room” – basically two singles that had been knocked through to make one big room. There were Japanese style beds: a roll-out futon on a tatami mat, plus a pillow that felt like it was filled with dried peas or something. (I swear, never have a pillow fight with these things; one of you will end up with concussion!) This, basic as it seemed at the time, was actually quite luxurious. We then went on to spend the majority of our time at a traditional hotel that had quite a lot of businessmen as clients. This room was… a cupboard. A large-ish cupboard, true, with room for two mattresses - which were the thickness of tissue paper - and not a lot else. On top of that, this was a whole new ballgame for us because we had to learn Japanese hotel rules: taking off outdoor shoes when entering the lobby; the etiquette of using the public bathing area, etc. Actually I’m sure we made a mess of things a dozen times a day, but everyone was very understanding.
It was an interesting experiment, but not one either of us is keen to repeat at this stage. Honestly, I think we are still in Spoilt Western Mode, and things like proper mattresses and en suite bathrooms appeal to us. We’ll get over it – we have to if we want to go exploring in more remote areas, ‘cos I don’t think they have en suite bathrooms in yurts.
Lovely, friendly, polite – pretty much every stereotype you’ve ever heard about the Japanese is true. Some spoke English very well, others knew only a few words, but everywhere we went people were helpful and tried hard to communicate with us. It’s also amazing how much you can say through ‘sign language’, too; Pete and a pharmacist had a fascinating encounter when we were trying to buy mosquito repellent. I wish I’d had a video camera, it made great viewing.
I’ll admit to being a bit apprehensive about this, ‘cos I had never tried Japanese cuisine before (except sushi a couple of times), and I had only the vaguest idea of what to expect. On our first day in the city, Pete announced that he wanted to eat ‘local’. I eyed the many McDonalds, KFCs and other Western Junk Food Emporiums with more than a smidgeon of longing, and agreed with some trepidation.
Of course, finding a place we could cope with took a while. Restaurants are plentiful, but the majority of them had menus only in Japanese. Fortunately some of them had accompanying pictures, so we focused on those. That wasn’t the end of it, however, as the Japanese do love their technology, and even something as mundane as ordering lunch didn’t work the way we expected it to. Instead of going inside and giving our order verbally, we had choose a dish from the window, memorise the appropriate number, then get a ticket from a vending machine outside the building. This ticket was handed to the cook, and it all went from there. Apart from the fact that we spoke no Japanese, the lady behind the counter spoke no English and our orders came with noodles and other bits and pieces that we weren’t expecting and couldn’t easily express preferences for, it all went swimmingly.
Oh, yes… and apart from the fact that I am a fumble-fingered klutz when it comes to using chopsticks. And they gave me noodles. In soup. Are you getting the picture? Messy, isn’t it? Still, we got served one way or another, and I managed to get more food into me than I flung around the restaurant, so we are calling this particular experiment a success!
I’m glad Pete made me do this early on, though. As I say, Western-style food is readily available, and it would have been so easy to chicken out and simply order chicken nuggets! As it was, once I’d survived my first local dining ordeal, I was happy to try other Japanese places, so ate a wide variety of things I’d never tried before (*).
(*) I would like to point out that we did later try Japanese versions of McDonalds (pretty much the same as UK/NZ McD’s) and KFC (better selection than NZ and their teriyaki chicken burger was to die for!), plus we also tried the Japanese chain Mos Burger. In all cases the food was freshly prepared, but it was expensive and servings were small. There ain’t no Super-Sizing in Japan!
Supermarkets were also great fun, ‘cos each time we went we grabbed an MFP: a Mystery Food Product. There were many interesting looking items lining the shelves, and of course we couldn’t read a word on the ingredients list, so we just chose one at random and hoped for the best.
BTW, this is a picture of a Japanese microwaveable ready meal:
Pete assures me that it was every bit as delicious as it looks.
And just to prove that we really did sample the local cuisine, here is a picture of Pete bravely tasting the local brew:
He was so brave, he had several ‘tastes’ one after the other!
To be continued, so watch this space...