Friday, July 31, 2009

Where the streets have no name

Our past two days in Tokyo have followed somewhat of a pattern:

  • we get up
  • eat breakfast either in the cafe downstairs (a mostly Western style buffet with a few unusual offerings like salmon) or from munchies we picked up from a convenience store
  • I pick a location to visit that day, as suggested by my Lonely Planet Tokyo Encounter
  • we figure out the intricate route of trains and transfers necessary to get there
  • we spend the morning at that location. The first day it was Shibuya, one of the major shopping areas where young people congregate to blow cash and be seen. Yesterday it was Harajuku....for much of the same reason. We lunch somewhere during this trip.
  • we get exhausted and come back to the hotel to rest for a couple of hours in the heat of the day
  • in the evening, we select a restaurant out of the Lonely Planet, figure out the convoluted subway system once more, and have an adventure in that district trying to find the restaurant in question

The first night was pretty straightforward. I selected the restaurant Komagata Dozeu in the Akasuka neighborhood, and while it was about a 30 minute walk from our rail stop (we purchased the cheapest 1-day unlimited pass, which basically lets us make a circle around Central Tokyo, but is missing many of the non-JR-run lines. So we adjust. And walk. And walk.), it was along the road to which we emerged from the station and we had landmarks to let us know if we were close and when we had gone too far. So we found it with minimal difficulty and enjoyed an amazing dinner.

Dozeu, as in Komagata Dozeu, are eel-like river fish. They are the specialty here and almost everything on the menu was dozeu cooked in various fashions. We had dozeu simmered in rice wine and reheated on a hibachi in front of us with green onions in a special soy sauce, and then we had grilled dozeu. Tavis very understandably was not able to tap into his inner Andrew Zimmern, and seeing a pot of little eely fish with their heads peering reproachfully at him was a little more than he had an appetite for. However, the grilled dozeu were headless and he nommed them quite happily. I loved them all--they were tender and tasty, not fishy at all. I'm such an indiscriminate carnivore. Sake and beer in abundance made the walk home seem much faster than the walk to the restaurant.

Last night proved a bit more of an adventure. This was only ironic because I had picked this restaurant, a yakitori joint (grilled chicken on a stick), based on how close it was to our rail station. However, it was not on a major street. It was down a cluster of small streets with no landmarks and not much context. And here we come to the basic problem with Tokyo.


Unless it is a major street or highway, none of the streets are named. Not just alleyways. Like, my entire subdivision would be anonymous. The address of the place we tried to go, Akiyoshi, was 3-30-4 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku. This translates to "in the Toshima ward (whatever THAT is), go to the neighborhood of Nishi-Ikebukuro and find the 3rd group of blocks, go to block 30 in that group, and you have about a 4% chance of finding the restaurant you`re looking for."

Even the locals got very confused. They had to divine our path in a cup of tea leaves to help us get there. Okay, they pulled out a map, but it was practically divination with as many people as it took to even get us in the right cluster of buildings. After that, we were on our own and it was only because Tavis kept looking for the kanji translation of the restaurant--of COURSE it couldn`t be one of the restaurants with Romaji (Romanized) signs out front, that would be too easy!--that we found the place at all. Until then, we got a good look at the very interesting, very sleazy Ikebukuro district.

However, we both agreed that the yakitori was worth the extravagant amount of trouble it put us through. OMG so good. We got skewers of beef tongue, some other beef deepfried with onions, grilled chicken with green onions, and the juiciest, fattiest teriyaki chicken imaginable. I could have sat there and ordered more all night. The place was absolutely packed, so if you come here, leave early enough in the afternoon to compensate for the frustrated wandering you are bound to experience.

So that's been the memorable eats. The shopping has been pretty fantastic too, if only for the eye candy every which way. The Harajuku district is especially vibrant on Sundays when all the social butterflies come out to frolic, but there were still plenty of people on display down the alleys and in the Vivienne Westwood-esque stores overflowing with frilly maid outfits, lacy corsets and punk paraphernalia. Kitsch doesn't come close. Not even remotely. But they sure do have fun!

Some store names of note, just from a 3rd-grade-humor standpoint:

  • Nudy Boy
  • Bruce Pee
  • Freak Shop
  • Candy Stripper
  • Snoberry (probably Snow Berry but I hear Snobbery)

I must also say that my total of International Lush Stores is up to 2! Yep my Lushdar led me to both of the Tokyo branches of Lush. I'm just that awesome. And addicted. But mostly awesome.

No agenda yet today. Back to the rail map I go....