The trains have started running for the day. Despite our daily 6AM wake-up call, we are still enjoying life in Tokyo.
We don't venture into the busy downtown too often, but instead walk around our quiet neighbourhood of Sumida. We go to the ¥100 store for supplies, also hit up some of the Izakayas in the evening for dinner and beer. We really like where we're staying.
Not that our daily Yoshinoya breakfasts are getting boring, but we decide to venture out and try out some other restaurants that are popular with the locals.
We present to you our secondary go-to fast food chain in Japan: Coco Curryhouse! Of course, Neda has eggplant with her curry.
I opt for the much more healthier pork sausages with mine...
Just like everywhere else in the world, curry has been adopted as one of the national dishes of Japan. Curry was first imported onto the island from Britain back in the 1850s, so it's twice removed from its Indian origins. The Japanese have changed and refined it to their own tastes ever since. Today Japanese curry is sweeter and more sauce-like than Indian curry. The way it's served, with the curry on one half of the plate and the rice on the other is so quintessentially Japanese.
Lay a piece of breaded chicken cutlet (Chicken Donkatsu) on top of everything and you have one of the most popular and instantly recognizable dishes in the country. But yet, virtually unknown outside of Japan!
Walking off the curry back to our apartment, we spy a motorcycle. Hmm. That wouldn't be a bad way to see Japan...
Our apartment is on top of a four-storey building, which is one of the taller buildings in the neighbourhood. We discovered that there's a lot of flex in the structure. Every time a large truck passes by on the road in front of us, the building shakes quite a bit and since we're on the top floor, we feel it the most.
The first time it happened, I thought it was an earthquake! But that's exactly the reason why the structure flexes so much - to absorb an earthquake's shaking. A more rigid structure would just snap and topple.
Eventually, we got used to the shake and sway of passing trucks. But late one night (I'm a bit of a night owl), the building shook and rumbled. It was 5AM, there were no trucks, let alone any traffic, outside on the streets. I waited for the shaking to subside, but instead, it got worse! Plates clinked in the cupboards. The chair beneath me felt like it wanted to move across the floor. This went on for over 2 minutes. That's a LONG TIME! This was a real earthquake!!!
Finally, the building stops shaking and my chair doesn't want to creep out the front door anymore.
You know after something exciting happens, you just want to turn to the person next to you and exclaim, "Holy ****!" But Neda was fast asleep, so I PMed her instead. I said exactly that in the PM...
Fukushima... Fukushima... why does that name sound so familiar...?
Oh well. Back to eating...
These guys were hyping up the Annual Tokyo Gyoza Festival. The girl in the back looks like she is wearing a gyoza on her head!
Since we like gyozas (Japanese dumplings), we decide to go. Its held at the old Olympic Stadium at Komazawa Park.
Ate so many gyozas! Some of them weren't very good and it was very expensive. Not worth it.
About 20 restaurants set up booths in the park outside the stadium. You bought coupons at the entrance of the park and then lined up at each booth to sample that establishment's gyozas. There were different types of dumplings: some fried, some boiled, some with seafood, others with meat, so many different sauces.
It reminded me of this food festival held in downtown Toronto every summer. Restaurants would set up stalls in the square in front of the civic centre and charge a lot of money for you to sample a little bit of their food. Overpriced and very small portions. The gyoza festival was exactly the same.
Our neighbourhood izakaya in Sumida had cheaper and better gyozas!
Still, it was nice to get out and experience what local Tokyoans do...
On a particularly clear spring day, we walked across Sumida River over to the next neighbourhood of Asakusa.
The Tokyo Skytree dominates the Sumida skyline
Another Japanese tradition: Buying fresh melonpan at the store
Melonpan is a popular sweet bun that you can find everywhere: convenience stores, grocery stores. I think it's named because it's shaped like a melon, but there's no melon in there. And Pan is the Spanish word for bread. In some places, they'll sprinkle some green sugar powder on top to make it look even more like a melon. It's delicious but mucho calories!
I can't believe the amount of food we're eating here in Japan. Everything is soooo tasty and we want to try *everything*!!!
Of course the best melonpan is bought fresh from a storefront that actually makes it. We eat it straight out of the oven.
As if the sugar bun didn't have enough calories, a popular thing to do is to make a macha (green tea) ice cream sandwich out of melonpan. OMG, I can feel my waist blowing up just by inhaling the sweet aroma emanating from the kitchen!
Consulting the oracle at one of the o-mikuji stalls inside the temple
We watched some people do this, so we quickly learned how this works. For a small donation, you get to shake a metal box containing 100 sticks. Then you pull one out by random and look at the number on the top of the stick. Again, I was surprised to realize I knew how to read the numbers because I know them from Chinese. "Hey, that's number 93", I exclaimed excitedly!
Then you find the drawer marked with the number on your stick and pull out a sheet of paper. Good thing there are many foreign tourists that visit the temple, because the back of the paper is written in English.
Many generic fortunes are written down on the piece of paper, but one stuck out: "It is good to make a trip"
But walk we do. I notice that there are some differences in some of the kimonos that the women wear around town
Then it hit me. Most of the women at the temple wearing kimonos weren't Japanese! They were other Asian tourists - Chinese, Korean, etc. and they had rented kimonos to walk around town for the day.
I realized this when I saw the real Japanese women wearing kimonos with understated colours and patterns. Most of the tourists rented loud and flashy patterns. In the picture above, who do you think the real Japanese woman is? Exactly!
Good thing Japan doesn't care about silly Politically Correct notions like cultural appropriation...
We head back to our apartment. Too much excitement for one day. And by excitement, I mean walking...
Here's a different kind of excitement on the news today...
North Korea is testing its long-range ICBMs in its bid to get a nuclear-tipped warhead to reach the continental United States. Unfortunately for us here in Japan, we are right in its flight path... For the past few days, Kim Jong-un has been lobbing missiles into the Sea of Japan, some dangerously close to land.
All the news programs are broadcasting emergency procedures for what to do in the event of a nuclear strike. They inform everyone that a loud siren will sound outside. However, recommendations like: "Find shelter, hide under a table" are laughable. It's a nuclear bomb... Ain't no table going to save you from that...
Still, I guess if the public has specific instructions and a set plan to follow, it will stop them from panicking in the streets?
Crazy stuff happening in the world today.
I just hope the emergency sirens that warn of a missile attack don't sound like this: PRM-PRM-PRM-PRM-PRM...
August 2017 edit: No more joking around anymore. The siren actually sounds like this. OMG. How terrifying that must have been!
Another evening, we decide to head to Shinjuku for more sight-seeing
Shinjuku district is the site of the famous all-way pedestrian crossing that's in all the TV shows, movies and documentaries set in Tokyo. All the traffic lights flash red for all vehicles and pedestrians are allowed to walk straight or diagonally across the intersection. A cool sight to watch, but to actually do it - it's about as fun as... um, walking across the street...
Pedestrians doing the "Shinjuku Shuffle", as it's known
We make our way back to Shinjuku station. But we're not going home yet. In the yokocho (alleyways) surrounding the train station, there are the famous sake and yakitori bars frequented by salarymen after work. The alleyways are tight and narrow, and the establishments are tiny - some only able to fit four or five people at a time.
I can just picture the Japanese businessmen getting drunk here and missing the last train home. Then having to rent one of the capsule hotels downtown so they can go back to work again the next morning in the same clothes as the day before.
Finding a nice sake bar in Nonbei Yokocho. Another gaijin couple just left the bar, which made just enough room for us to squeeze in!
Some of the names of the alleyways are quite funny, but are probably very apt. Nonbei Yokocho means "Drunkard Alley". We were actually trying to find Omoide Yokocho, which means "Piss Alley". LOL! It's one of the more ramshackle ones in the area with a lot of character. With a name like "Piss Alley", how can it not have character?
But the alleyways here are like a maze, so we settle into a nice-looking sake bar in "Drunken Alley". I've tried sake many times and I'm not a big fan. I just don't like the taste of it. But this bar had a fruity sake, bubbly - like champagne. It was delicious!
We're renting motorbikes and seeing Japan on two wheels!
I really wanted to hire some Japan-only motorcycles, like a Honda CB1300 or something that's never been sold in North America.
This was all the rental company had left... BMWs. Haha!
Oh well. They explained to me that since everyone here already owns a Honda, nobody really rents them out. Instead, they specialize in more exotic machinery, like BMWs and Yamahas. Huh? Yamahas are exotic?!? Apparently, the MT-07s (they call them Tracers in Japan) are a very popular model.
Before the rental company let us loose on the roads in Japan, they made us watch a short orientation video and undergo a quick briefing. They went over stuff like how to drive on the left hand side (which we've basically been doing for the last couple of years), which of the cryptic Japanese documents were insurance and ownership papers in case we get stopped by police (very strict speeding laws here!), how the toll highway system worked and how to say basic motorcycle phrases in Japanese.
The most important one: how to ask for "High Octane Gasoline" at the gas station. It's "Hai-okutan-gasorin".
When I heard that, I literally LOLed! "Really? It sounded like you just said 'High Octane Gasoline', but with a mock Japanese accent... Isn't that offensive to Japanese people?"
But apparently there are some words that don't have Japanese translations, so they just phonetically sound the English words out, taking into account that Japanese people can't pronounce "L"s. For example, "McDonald's" becomes "Maku-dona-rudo".
I think that's hilarious! But in a totally respectful way, of course.
The bikes we got are current-model, low-mileage F800Rs, lots of luggage space now that we don't have camping gear!
Pulling out onto the Tokyo streets, I was struck by how leaned forward the seating position is.
The F800R is not a sportbike, not by a long-shot. But having ridden sit-bolt-upright dirt bikes and adventure bikes exclusively for the last 5 years, my back and wrists were killing me after only a half-hour hunched over in traffic. Plus no fairing and the tiny little flyscreen above the headlight gave me no wind protection in these chilly conditions. How am I going to survive on this thing riding all over Japan? Ugh!
Speaking of traffic, we leave the rental place after the morning rush hour has subsided, but there are still a lot of cars on the roads in Tokyo. What makes it worse is that there are stop lights every friggin' 50 meters in the city! You know how in North American traffic, you can catch a sequence of green lights when going the posted speed limit? We call it riding the "Green Wave". Well here in Tokyo all the traffic lights are programmed to deliver the "Red Wave"... OMG! So annoying!