Saturday, June 04, 2011

Tokyo indulgences

After a long travel day, we ate dinner late last night at a small yakitori place a few doorsdown from our hotel (recommended by the guys who run the hotel). We had some amazing silken tofu in a peppery, but not fiery hot sauce, along with grilled chicken balls, pork belly with chisu (sp?) (a bitter herb) salt shrimp, asparagus, mushrooms, a wonderful assortment.

Back at the hotel, I donned a yukata and tried out the radium baths (with nano bubbles) that are not only used by hotel guests, but also by thelocal neighborhood, particularly the old ladies. The baths are supposed to be good for your rheumatism and hemorrhoids, and make your skin soft. My sore ankle and knee were definitely soothed by a dip in the very hot water (44C).

We grabbed breakfast this morning in the train station, coffee and rolls, then headed out to a fancy department store in downtown Tokyo (Isetan). I really enjoyed getting to video chat with Chris before we left. After two weeks of being very careful what we picked up, knowing that we'd be carrying it hither and yon, and stowing it, we did some shopping for things to bring back. The top two floors of the store offered traditional Japanese goods and some very modern Japanese hand crafts (little mini kiosks from various high profile galleries in Tokyo). For myself, I bought traditional Japanese wooden shoes, with beautiful black, white and red silk straps, and several wrapping scarves (and the instructions for how to turn them into carrying devices of various sorts). It was fun trying to find things for the boys, but I don't want to spoil any surprises here. The place was very high service, one purchase earned me a seat in a chair, along with an English translator.

We descended to the food hall, which made Harrod's look like a local farmers market. It was amazing: the variety, the display, the wonderful samples. The fruit was a sight to behold, displayed like museum pieces in a future where a cantaloupe was an extraordinary rarity, and wrapped in beautiful boxes if you desired. I bypassed the $50 melon (I joke not) for some tiny sweet Satsuma oranges and two golden kiwi, along with some Shanghai dumplings - in skin so thin you could read the NY Times through it. We ate lunchin a small park on the roof of the department store, an oasis that looked like it might be a small pocket park in Philly, except that it was 8 floors about street level. It was nice to be above the hustle and bustle, nice, too, to have view of Tokyo's towers from a bit of a height.
Near our hotel there is small, offbeat shopping street, not quite all for locals, not quite all for tourists, that we browsed between the day's shopping and dinner. Marc was in search of something particular for one of his sons, so we stopped into the very modern (iPads on the desks to do searches and pull up maps) tourist information office. When Marc asked the young man who was staffing it if he spoke English, we got a very firm "Yep!" in reply. He did, having lived for a while in Fresno. By now it was hot and humid, so I was grateful beyond measure when Marc spotted a vending machine (not hard, they are everywhere, even on rural roadsides) with Coke Zero (that's the challenge, it's not served in restaurants, and diet drinks are rarely found in the vending machines). It was cold anda real treat in ways that a cold fizzy drink is not when I can just grab one from the stash in the basement, or the 'fridge at work.

We traversed Tokyo (about a 45 minute trip by train and subway and lots of walking) to have dinner in Rinpongi, our only fancy meal of the trip (we've been sticking to the equivalent of the local pub and take out places). The restaurant specializes in vegetarian cuisine, specifically vegetarian sushi. We ate sushi that looked like it might be salmon, or uni (sea urchin) but was all faux, recreated using vegetables. The meal was many small dishes, all exquisitely plated. In many ways it was a deconstructed version of the monastic meals we had eaten earlier in the trip.

The trip to dinner was a long walk, on top of a day that had included lots of walking, and my ankle, which had not bothered me at all this trip, was rapidly puffing up. We took a taxi back to the hotel - another huge splurge for this trip - the fare made me blink not twice, but four times. And while I bet the bath would have felt amazing, I opted for my futon.

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