On my second day in Tokyo, I came across a poster for Berserk (Golden Age Arc I: Egg of the Supreme Ruler), the first part of a three-part film trilogy based on one of my all-time favorite anime series (which was, in turn, based on a wildly popular manga series). The movie’s opening happened to coincide with this Tokyo trip so I took it as a sign that I HAD to go see it – while, hopefully, picking up some Japanese during the viewing since it was unlikely the movie had subtitles (and I was right). I mentioned this to my friend Moro-san who kindly researched and forwarded me information on where Berserk would be screening, the times, and even the closest subway station and exit.
The plan was to head to Shibuya in the afternoon and catch a matinee while Akemi was at her nail salon appointment. I figured the instructions I’d received from Moro-san were more than sufficient. Akemi thought differently, however, and was actually concerned for me, possibly assuming I would wander out of the Shibuya station never to be seen again. Despite assurances that I would be fine (Hey, this isn’t my first Japanese rodeo!) she insisted on writing out a note in Japanese that I was to present at the closest police box should I lose my way – I assume something along the lines of: “My name is Joseph Mallozzi and I am lost. Please take pity on me and help me get back to the Imperial Hotel”.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to use it because, as it turned out, the movie was playing just blocks away from where we were going for lunch in Shinjuku. Akemi was greatly relieved but still insisted on walking me to the movie theater when the time came. She also held my hand when we crossed the street. I had always assumed this was simply her being affectionate.
Anyway, after Akemi enjoyed her massive strawberry for breakfast –
About the size of a golf ball.
– and I enjoyed a papaya (that, incidentally, cost three times as much as the most expensive papaya in Vancouver but, in my estimation, wasn’t three times as good) and the leftover Hattendo cream buns, we headed out to Shinjuku for lunch at the popular Nakajima.
The streets of Shinjuku. Two rainy days in a row! Good movie-watching weather!
I doubt they serve actual gorilla.
By the time we arrived for our noon reservation, there was already a line-up outside. According to Akemi, the restaurant is quite famous for both its food and its head chef who she likened to a Japanese Gordon Ramsay. Alas, there were no verbal fireworks during our lunch (“Look at these scallops! They’re fucking COOOOKED!”). But we did enjoy another delicious – and beautifully presented – multi-course meal:
We were given a private room so I wouldn't offend the regulars with my brutish gaijin ways.
Tofu paste with Asian spinach on the left and octopus, conch, and Japanese spring vegetables on the right. Akemi and I marvelled over the octopus, the most tender we've ever eaten. According to our server, it had been tenderized, then scrubbed, not with salt but with nuka (Japanese rice bran) before being steamed and simmered.
Suppon (turtle) soup. A first for me. It was actually very subtle in flavor. Very nice.
Our server was nice enough to bring us a food encyclopedia that included pictures and explanations of various food items (albeit in Japanese).
Akemi reacts to the sea cucumber section - doing her best Tori Spelling.
The sashimi plate: flounder, Spanish mackerel, and sweet sea urchin. According to Sawada-san, 80% of the sea urchin consumed in Japan hails from North America. This uni, however, came from the sea North of Hokkaido.
Grilled saikyo (sweet) miso-marinated salmon with sweet red beans.
Mozuku - seaweed and vinegar. I wasn't as enthusiastic about the slimy texture, but Akemi loved it. Very Japanese.
Steamed yuba (soybean skin) and snapper. A delicate dish offering a wonderfully complex flavor profile.
Tsukemono - Japanese pickles, which accompanied...
Ochazuke: rice and bonito stock (usually tea) with marinated flounder, seaweed, and rice crackers - topped with dried seaweed which was, in turn, sprinkled with match (green tea powder). The flounder, slightly cooked in the stock, offered terrific taste and texture.
The home made ichigo ice cream to finish, bursting with fresh strawberry flavor.
Service was outstanding. Highly recommended – but if you’re going to go, be sure to make reservations!
After lunch, Akemi insisted on walking me to the movie theater. Since it was raining, we cut through the underground –
Bottom left of the picture - I love the idea of training children to fight fires. So often, firefighters will find themselves stymied by inaccessible hotspots. In cases like these, what better solution than to arm a toddler with a fire extinguisher and send the little monkey in to complete the job!
Apparently, it says something along the lines of "Please don't pee here. Use the bathroom instead." Coincidentally, Carl Binder used to have one of these signs up in his office when he worked on Stargate.
Speaking of the Stargate...so this is where they relocated it to after the closure of Cheyenne Mountain.
And so, Akemi walked me the two blocks to the movie theater and, I’m happy to report, I arrived safe and sound.
Also playing! If I had one more day...
Hey, check it out. I think it's a documentary tracing my fantasy football team, the Snow Monkeys, and their improbable run for the championship!
We went inside. Akemi bought me a ticket from the automated kiosk (in Japan, you can actually choose your seat in advance!), then headed up to the ninth floor cinema to scout the area with me. Since it was an hour to show time, I suggested we head back the two blocks to the Isetan and do some shopping. She seemed uncertain but I assured her that I now knew where to go. Everything would be fine. So we went to the Isetan, shopped in the basement, then parted company – after which I promptly got lost. Fortunately, I found my way back to the theater in time for the 3:10 showing.
The movie was great – epic in scope, beautifully animated, with some gorgeous visuals (especially that huge opening battle) and plenty of bloody action. And I hardly understood a word of what was said. But enjoyed myself nevertheless. It is a prequel that will ultimately cover the manga’s second arc (volume’s 3 to 13). A treat for fans of the anime series, but if I had one criticism, it was that I missed the anime’s stirring opening theme.
For our final dinner in Tokyo, we decided to do sushi and so, headed to Taku in Nishi-Azabu where we enjoyed another spectacular sushi extravaganza. Some of the highlights included –
The smokey, melt-in-your mouth chu-toro aburi.
The sweet Spanish mackerel
Crispy-skinned kime nigiri.
Ultra-tender maguro tataki with daikon.
Awesome knife skills…
And the master of ceremonies, the man behind the night’s sushi creations -
Chef and Owner of Taku - Takuya Sato
It being our final night and all, I only thought it appropriate that we say goodbye to our friends at Star Bar. Akemi and I met up with Moro-san, had a few drinks, then I dropped off some gifts for my friends. Although Akemi and Master Hisashi Kishi had never met, they recognized each other from the blog!
Master Bartender Extraordinaire Hisashi Kishi (left), Akemi (center), and Bartending Pro Yamasak-san (right).
We called it an early night so that we could finish our packing and thereby look forward to a final free half-day. Akemi was bummed that she had lost her two-drink buzz: “Sake magic gone. Not so much funny anymore.”
We catch the 3:30 p.m. shuttle to Narita for our 19:10 flight, so we have time for a nice, leisurely lunch – and then a stroll through the basement of Mitsukoshi where I intend to stock up on goodies for the flight home.
See you all on the other side and thanks for joining me on this trip!
Akemi’s friend, Harumi writes: “I’m glad that I met you. I just wanted to thank you for a great time and nice food.”
Answer: Do itashimashite! It was great meeting you too. See you again in Vancouver (maybe?) or back in Tokyo this September (maybe?).
Birdy writes: “Maybe there is something interesting you haven’t heard of, which you like to catch that even has an anime adaption:Übel Blatt Vinland Saga D Gray man Bakuman Pluto <- awesome scifi and it’s a finished story Dead Man Wonderland”
Answer: Thanks for the tips, Birdy. Once I’m back in Vancouver, I’m planning to re-immerse myself in anime big time. Tops on my list: High School of the Dead, Steins Gate, Another, Bunny Drop, We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day, Mawaru Penduindrum, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Dead Man Wonderland. I’m thinking of subscribing to Crunchyroll. Thoughts?
Julie writes: “Have you been to an onset?”
Answer: Not yet. I’d like to take a train trip from Hokkaido to Osaka next year and maybe hit a couple of onsens along the way.
Lewis writes: “There was something I wanted to ask you… while in Tokyo have you seen any interesting commercialization for obscure products by Hollywood actors (ie- like Bill Murray’s “Lost In Translation” character)?”
Answer: Yes. Tommy Lee Jones really pushing Boss Coffee -
michael1(isny) writes: “For my month in Japan, I rented a furnished apartment through Space Design. http://www.space-d.co.jp/en/“.
Answer: Thanks for the link, Michael. My friend, Koji, also directed me to the same site. I think that, on my next visit, I may just rent an apartment instead.
Shannon writes: “Madoka Magica Glad to hear that everything is working out for Akemi to stay in Canada! Maybe this is a dumb question (or maybe I missed it), but how did you two meet?”
Answer: We met during one of my annual Tokyo visits. Our first date: November 30, 2009: Tokyo Travel Day $6 – Ginza La Tour, Michel Troisgros
Blake Linton writes: “On this day when so many television commercials are unveiled, it seems appropriate to fill you in on my own ongoing campaign of “commercials” aimed at convincing Netflix to revive Stargate Universe.”
Answer: Hey, Blake – thanks for fighting the good fight!
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