“Happy Birthday!”I said, handing my girlfriend, Akemi, her presents. Then, as she reached for them, I pulled them back. “You’ll have to wait until Monday to open them.” And I set them aside.
It was a sad cap to a disappointing birthday weekend that saw our planned Saturday Afternoon Picnic Lunch in the Park to Check Out the Cherry Blossoms go the way of that promised Sunday Afternoon Couples Pottery Class. Now before you criticize, I feel the need to point out that neither missed opportunities were my fault. Fortune conspired against us. Or maybe it was the squid ink risotto. Whatever. One or the other had Akemi waking up feeling nauseous and dizzy Saturday morning, forcing us to cancel our picnic. In retrospect, it may have worked out for the best. We’d failed to locate either a picnic basket or sitting blanket and, by all accounts, the cherry blossoms aren’t even in bloom yet.
“Okay,”said Akemi, throwing a quick glance to her birthday gifts before swinging focus to the task at hand – prepping the dogs for our Sunday outing. “But you have to wrap them for me.”
Damnit! Next to driving around looking for parking and fielding Candy Crush invitations, there’s nothing I hate more than wrapping presents. BUT it was her birthday and even convincing her to let me buy her a new iPad to replace her laboring 5+ year old existing model had been a task and a half. Unlike myself, Akemi is incredibly low maintenance. She generally refuses to let me buy her anything, preferring instead to wear the same jacket she brought with her from Tokyo seven years ago, the same dilapidated running shoes she’s been sporting for years. Despite my insistence, my observation that uninformed passersbys might assume I was dating an escaped mental patient, she has stuck to her guns. Until her iPad starting crashing at which point she knew – it was time. Time for a NEW iPad. AND one of those special pencils for scratching up the screen!
I was able to find some wrapping paper in the back of the upstairs closet and put my little used but unquestionably awesome wrapping skills to good use. And…voila!
Pretty impressive, no? Maybe in my twilight years, I’ll retire to Japan and become one of those professional gift-wrappers.
When Monday rolled around, we celebrated by my getting to set for 7:00 a.m. call, but cutting out a little early (Thanks to Ivon covering for me on set!) so I could put the rest of my plan in motion.
Akemi is a big fan of chouquettes. They’re basically creamless creampuffs studded with sugar granules (that she likes to pick off before eating). She used to buy them in bunches, ten at a time, at a nearby patisserie until sometime late last year when the chouquettes found themselves off the menu along, apparently, with their then pastry chef. I checked online and discovered this place –
I called in and they were kind enough to satisfy my request for 100 chouquettes. I picked them up on my way home and then surprised Akemi. Note her trademark Akemi-esque excitement:
After inhaling a half dozen delicious chouquettes, Akemi changed and then it was off to her favorite sushi restaurant, Yasu, for dinner. Yasu sources its fish from all over (Hokkaido, Portugal, Vancouver, Greece!) and offers a very Japanese counter-style omakase dining experience. Omakase basically means “chef’s choice”. It’s sort of like that time in early high school when a bunch of us went to my friend Nick’s place for a barbecue. After soliciting our requests, Nick poked his head out to the backyard where his mom was manning the grill and informed her: “We’ve got orders for two medium-rares, two mediums, and one well done!”. His mother’s voice was shrill and laced with fury: “You’ll take ’em like you get ’em!”. Nick ambled back to our table and, without missing a beat: “We’ll take ’em like we get ’em, guys!”. So, yes. Sort of like that time at Nick’s, except with fish instead of meat, more rice, and a lot less Dungeon & Dragons.
Anyway, some of the culinary highlights of the night:
Firefly squid (hotaru-ika) – so-called because, well, here they are lighting up Toyama Bay:
Sea Urchin – one from Hokkaido (left), the other from Boston (right).
I did the sake pairing and, of the ones I sampled, this – Wandering Poet – was my favorite. The little blurb on the label reads: “The poet Rihaku would drink a big bottle of sake and write a hundred poems“. I, on the other hand, could barely string two sentences together by night’s end.
We returned home where I presented Akemi with not one but TWO glorious birthday cards – the first a pop-up card that played the Happy Birthday theme when opened, the second an inflatable green dinosaur card she actually picked up and gave me to give to her in the event I forgot to get one.
She went upstairs, I watched the season finale of Better Call Saul (or, as Akemi refers to it, Better Coleslaw), and then we called it a night on Akemi’s best birthday celebration ever!
Next year, that couples pottery class!