March 27 – “Fried is good”
We needed to get out of the house.
“C’mon, Scud! Let’s go to Shinjuku and stare at the bright lights!”
“You fool! That’s how they kill mosquitos!”
That ominous line withstanding, I dragged the boy and his proboscis away from the all-day Naruto fest on tv with the promise of an English language bookstore.
Shinjuku is neat. I say that as a geek. It’s everything modern Japan is supposed to be. Clean lines, superskyscrapers, people moving resolutely from A to B (and even, sometimes, to C) and a total feel of being in the midst of a nest of ants.
I see the Shinjuku skyline, and I think of Akira and Patlabor and Tokyo Babylon and all the other myriad neoTokyo silhouettes that populate the world of anime.
I alsot think of the other Murakami – Ryu. Particularly In The Miso Soup
, in which the plot focuses on an aging Western psychopath who butchers his way through the bars of Shinjuku.
We got a little lost in the station, but even that was fun for the sake of seeing what we could find.
But, beyond the idle idling, we were on a mission. We had to find the big Kinokuniya.
First, being a bookstore, it’s a magnet for the boy and I.
Second, being Kinokuniya, it’s something we’re familiar with through the foreign branches, so it just seems wrong not to visit.
Third, I’d told Scud they’d have English language manga. (Well, I had to get him out of the house somehow, didn’t I?)
It’s a good store, but, because it’s built vertically, it felt smaller than the ones I know in Bangkok and Singapore. A false illusion, as this was occupying multiple floors in two buildings, but falsehood is the nature of an illusion, and perception is everything.
I just had to say that. Sorry.
Scud did manage to find a copy of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost In The Shell, which satisfied him to some extent. Then he started making noises about buying Shonen Jump.
But, of greater importance, I was finallly able to stock up.
First, I found the Red Book.
I also found a very entertaining little book called “Who Invented Nattou?”. This is a parallel text, in both Japanese and English. The premise of it is that the modern Japanese are continually being caught out by the odd questions of foreigners (like “who invented nattou?”), and this book is meant to arm them for the irrelevant queries that we can come up with.
Like the Michelin Guide, this is something I wish I’d had at the start of the trip, as it discusses food etiquette, kitchens, houses, and a host of other day to day trivia that is hard to find elsewhere. Heck, I wish I’d been reading it earlier.
I lusted after some of the cookbooks, too. There was one titled Izakaya in particular, but I had to consider the issue of suitcase weight. Books pile on the kilos faster than almost anything else (well, besides my diet), and I reined in my desires.
Beyond the English section, we rooted through the manga in the second building. Scud had a short list of things one of his Japanese-literate friends at school wanted, and this was a place where we’d have a good chance of finding it.
Book shopping done, we started looking for lunch. I now had a decent guide book with maps to work from – the Time Out for Tokyo – and it praised a particular tempura shop in the neighborhood.
As happens, Rona did this place shortly after us, but she’s a lot better organized and effective than I, and already has the post up here.
What are the odds that she’d be in the same restaurant as I only a few days apart? And greater odds that I’d be in Lin Heung in Hong Kong a few days after her, but before she posted about there?....Anybody see Rod Serling around?
I can hear Rick Blaine now…….
“Of all the tempura joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
I love that film. Even the remake, Barbed Wire, is excellent (if you haven’t watched the two back to back you should. Pamela Lee Anderson and Humphry Bogart are like two peas in a pod, say I).
Where were we again?......
Ah, yes, Tsunahachi.
For me, it’s a crowded warren of narrow corridors. From the entry point, there was one bar directly ahead of us, and then there was a no smoking section tucked around to the right. I carefully maneuvered my bulk through so as to not trash the place, and Scud and I were seated at the bar.
Her menu was more elaborate in what was provided. Scud and I had just pointed at the middle of the set menus, which I think may have been the lunch specials, and made do with that.
We had two chefs at the bar, the young lady taking care of us and the others at the counter, and the male chef dealing with the crowded tatami room behind us.
First up were the prawns. A pair of ebi, all piping hot and crispy. There’s something wonderful about the taste of fresh fried batter, served up before you straight from the oil.
The miso was very nice, with that Hitler’s Brain sort of cloudy texture to the miso. This one had a very pleasant taste of clams about it, and a poke with the chopsticks confirmed there were shellfish down in those murky depths.
Next was a very buttery piece of squid, for which I have only the shoddiest of pictures. Look to Rona’s shot, it’s much better, and fried squid all look alike anyways.
Then there was a trio of vegetables. The one on the left tasted of starch, and may have been a sweet potato. The green was, well, green, and the other was very nice, but I can’t put a flavour to it.
And then there was the shell, stuffed with good bits of stuff, and then battered and deep fried. Both Scud and I really enjoyed this, with the taste of shellfish about it.
I have no idea what this was. It was green. Rona had suggested aojisai
, but that doesn’t help much. It was refreshing enough, but with an odd texture about it.
And, like Rona, we finished on eel. Scud was very happy with this, as he misses eel nowadays, and I’d put it off earlier in the trip as I had always thought of eel as a Tokyo thing.
We sniped at the clams in our bowl, but there was a crowd beginning to form, so we cleared the way and tried to get to the counter to pay.
At this point I finally missed a beat, and I clipped the edge of one of the chairs in the waiting area, sending things flying. I immediately glared at Scud in the hopes that everyone would blame him.
We strolled back towards the station, taking in the variety of food and beer venues to be had. And then Scud found a game parlour, and we had to check it out.
One floor was all dance machines. Dance, Dance Revolution taken to a far more commercial level. And then there were the drum machines, the guitar machines, and others I couldn’t make much sense of.
Another floor up, and everything was pink. Booths for photos. Lots of the crane machines for trying to pick up Hello Kitty dolls, and more stuff that was just, well,….pink.
Finally we found the manly stuff on the fourth floor, and Scud and I blazed away for a few dollars worth against zombies in the sewer system.
That kept us pretty well occupied until the coins ran out, and then it seemed like a good idea to go looking for food.
That’s not hard to do.
Having satisfied his needs for fairly mindless violence, the Boy had not choice but to follow me into the Depachika of Takashimaya. Rona prefers Isetan, which was also close by (just across the main street from Tsunahachi), but Takashimaya is something I’m used to from Singapore, so the decision was made.
I’m getting used to the pastry thing. The whole initial approach to Takashimaya’s food floor is all pastry. Pastry, pasty, and desserts. But this was okay by us, as one of our missions was to get a sampler of desserts, so we spread ourselves around a bit, buying one or two pieces in the different outlets.
After we’d run the gamut of puff pastries and profiteroles, we made it through to the regular foods.
When we did get through to the foods, I spent a lot of time puzzling through the furikake.
Seeing as how furikake has its own thread
(this is egullet, after all), I’ll put aside much discussion and direct you to here.
Finally, we emerged from Takashimaya and headed for home with our bags of goodies.
Back in the room, we settled down to a pleasant bit of gluttony.
The chocolate one in the foreground had a nice custard filling to go with the roasted almond on top. Behind it was what disappointingly turned out to be a cheese bread type item.
These were both good. I was more partial to he blueberry one on the left, but Scud praised the white powdered sugar with the walnut and plum on top.
Add onto that some more items designed to keep us in the running for the condiment creep awards, and we’d had a relatively successful day of things.
The Boy scuttled away to catch up on cartoons, and I started pouring (poring?) over the Michelin. I did one quick pass, dog-earing several pages, and then did another review.
A lot of the restaurant reviews did look quite similar, which was a little depressing, but there were a few that stood out.
One in particular took my eye, which concerned a young chef who was visiting Spain on a regular basis for the chef’s congress. From this he was bringing back ideas to use in his own exploration of Japanese cuisine.
Sounded good to me. We were going to Ryugin to see Seiji Yamamoto.
Unfortunately, there was the issue of reservations. However, I find that, by abandoning myself to fate, I can often pull things off. A phone call did indicate they were full, but they could possibly fit us in at 10 p.m…..?
Done. They were kind enough, as well, to take my cell and promise to call if anything opened earlier.
This all worked out rather well. We’d just binged out on pastry, it was mid afternoon, I was drinking sake and reading, and we probably wouldn’t be too keen on eating for awhile anyways.
What to do for a few hours?
When I’d asked Scud earlier what he wanted to see on this trip, he’d said, with no hesitation, that he wanted to see the Tokyo International Anime Fair, he wanted to go to some manga and anime shops, and he wanted to see Tokyo Tower.
Why do people build these things? Is it all Freudian?
You do get great views, though.
From the other side of the observation platform Scud could make out the Shonen Jump building out by the harbour.
And the second floor had a small amusement park, with a Pikachu the size of me, a merry-go-round, and this little train ride inexplicably overseen by Hitler.
And I even had the chance to buy some authentic souvenirs.
She’s everywhere. And it’s good to see that she and Doraemon are on good terms again after the sumo unpleasantness.
At the base of the tower was a final treat.
This was like something out of a Shintaro Katsu film….well, except perhaps for the head mike. But the female entertainer working the crowd with her monkey just seemed so….right.
Scud was entranced, and there was no way I was dragging him away from this before it was over. You probably weren’t going to get me away, either.
This seemed like a good spot to wrap up. Needless to say, I failed to do so. Instead we walked down to Shiba Park, and checked out the old neighborhood from when I’d been here back in the 90’s.
Still looks the same. But the cherry blossoms were coming on strong, and it looked like we were in for a good finish.