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Judy from Boise
03-13-2002, 05:03 PM
Part 3 : Tokyo afternoon

A group of us decided to walk around our hotel and find a local place to have lunch. The area where we walked was about a block off of the main street, and felt more like a series of alley ways. Despite this I never had a moment where I didn’t feel safe in Japan. I also had complete confidence that when I handed a store clerk and handful of change, that they took exactly the right amount ( by the second day it was easy to get the hang of the money system ). We ended up having lunch in a noodle shop. Choosing where to eat is made easy by the store fronts having both plastic food displays and prices posted. I ordered a noodle dish with beef. I really like Asian food ( although I enjoy Chinese the most, especially because I am a veggie lover ) but must admit I didn’t care for my selection. The noodles were the thick Soba type….and the beef was as if someone boiled a few slices of bacon…..very thin and fatty. Oh well, it was only about $6. Service was very good, although no one in the restaurant spoke English, we got along fine…..there is no tipping in Japan ( nice restaurants may add a service charge ), so the price that you see is what you get. We kept walking…..the streets were crowded with lots of business men in suits, and high school students in uniforms. There are no vagrants or panhandlers….just people handing out packets of Kleenex with advertising on them ! People are very orderly and don’t jaywalk….traffic was always busy, and pedestrians sure don’t have the right of way ! We enjoyed watching the electronic billboards, one of them was playing the funniest thing….little white terrier dogs walking around on their hind legs…..wearing halos ? ! ? The many Mc Donald’s were advertising “Monsters INC” toys. The Japanese version of the quarter pounder is topped of with a sunny side up egg. The prices were very comparable with the USA. One thing you notice right off is the fashion sense ( or lack thereof) of the average female teenager. Leg warmers seem to be big right now ala “flashdance”, and lots of pants worn under dresses.
And then it happened ! We found a Starbucks ! I kissed the ground and went inside. Inside It looked just like any Starbucks, except a larger seating area since Japanese people do not eat or drink “on the run”. I had no problems at all ordering a large coffee of the day, and it was actually CHEAPER than at home ! It tasted and wonderful….and since I am a muti-tasking American, I got it to go and kept walking ! I was actually on a mission to find the Virgin Megastore. The one thing my DH wanted was some Carpenter’s CDs that had been only released in Japan. We stopped on of the Kleenex people and asked if we were close, she assured us it was only a few blocks further.
We found it and went inside ( I kind of felt like a criminal bringing my coffee inside, but no one said anything ). It was a big store with 3 stories, lots of listening stations and a good selection of both Japanese and Western artists. I Bought 1 of the CD’s Dave wanted, and picked up an Enya CD ( just released in Japan ) for me. They were both in the $18 range.
When you buy something in Japan, at the minimum they take off the price tag, put it in a bag, and tape it shut. As soon as I had more than one small bag, they were more than happy to give me a nice handled shopping bag. At the street vendors they even do nice wrap jobs. Of course every interaction has lots of thankyous and bowing. Excellent customer service.
We headed back to our hotel since we were being hosted that night to a big dinner out.

The Japanese Tourism board hosted us at a typical bar for dinner. We walked through the restaurant ( with lots of smokers yuck ) to an elevated platform where there were two tables that fit 8-10 people each. We left our shoes on the lower level and each took a spot on a pillow. There was room under the table for our feet so it was semi Japanese style. All of us except for one felt comfortable using chopsticks to eat. As per custom we started out by being “served” hot moist towels to wash our hands. Our first course was a piece of baked fish in broth. It was very tasty…then the food just kept coming out ! We had a big platter of sashimi ( raw fish ) that had tuna, yellowtail and salmon, It is much easier to get down if you use a bit of the hot wasabi relish that is provided ( think Chinese mustard but more concentrated ). We had skewers of yakatori chicken, skewers of ground chicken balls ( both delicious, I had seconds ) a fried plate with wonton, French fries, pork sticks, and chicken, skewers of bacon wrapped asparagus, green salad ( I skipped this because the dressing was plain mayo, and I hate mayo ) and ended with a leechee nut sherbet. I washed it all down with a few frosty mugs of Kirin beer. Our hosts were very gracious and we all tried very hard to give our thanks in a culturally appropriate way.
Some final thoughts on Tokyo :
First it is a very urban environment compounded by the fact that hardly anyone actually lives in the city. You could go all day long without seeing a child or elderly person….the streets are just full of business people and High school students. Anyone we stopped and asked for help were very nice, but no one initiated any interaction. I think this was more a product of being a big city that anything else.
I did not find the city to be that expensive if you stuck to eating and shopping where the locals do. Things that are expensive are Western imports….and why would I need to buy that in Japan ! Of course there are enough differences to make you remember you are in a foreign country. Traffic is on the left, the cars are mostly different makes and models than we have. They are so cute ! Just little mini cars and vans, but it reminds us of how wasteful we can be. Instead of handing out advertising on paper flyers, they hand out little travel packets of Kleenex with advertising on them…..very handy especially if you get stuck some where with a “Japanese” style public toilet. Above all it is just astounding to see this society that has only been open to the West for 100 years, and see all that they have accomplished.

Marla Hellwig
03-13-2002, 08:33 PM
Judy - you had an interesting afternoon and evening - I am assuming you had plenty to eat - thanks for posting!

Michelle
03-26-2002, 05:48 PM
This is fascinating, Judy, thanks for sharing! I fee like I'm there with you when I read it. :)