Monday, June 01, 2009

Japan '08: Tokyo Miscellany

In this post, I'm going to cover a few odds and ends from my time around Tokyo. Next time, I'll leave the Kanto region and start delving into Nara and Kyoto.

This run down apartment building was just across the street from the first Ryokan where I stayed, in Hongou. It looks like classic Bohemian student housing. The architecture in residential areas in Japan seems to be much more heterogeneous on average than it is in the US; neighboring houses frequently vary widely in vintage, materials and style.

Here's me at a kaiten-zushi (rotating sushi) joint near the University of Tokyo in Hongou. I wasn't bold enough to place special orders, and just sampled what was going by on the conveyor belt. The plates are color-coded by price, and tea is self service via hot water taps and a tin of powered ocha with a measuring scoop. The other important culinary establishment in Hongou was Hotto Motto, a fast food chain where the bentou (lunch box) style food was hot, cheap, and surprisingly tasty.

I didn't spend as much time in Ikebukuro as I might have, just a quick visit near the beginning of the trip. I made a quick dash through the Tora no Ana branch there, then headed to Cinema Sunshine to watch the Gurren Lagann: Guren-hen movie, which was fantastic, though it was pretty much just a straightforward compilation of the first half of the TV series, except for its final 15 minutes. Fellow traveler Sujith went to see Hokuto no Ken: Zero, which was playing at the same theater, while Ray continued doujinshi shopping at Tora no Ana.

The most convenient way to get into the JR train system when I was staying in Hongou was to head to Ochanomizu, which is between Hongou and Akihabara. Here is one of a pair of picturesque bridges over the Kanda River, viewed from the Ochanomizu JR station.

Here's the view of the river and JR station from the western bridge, looking east. The brightly lit buildings on the horizon are in Akihabara, I believe. I saw this scene many times, transferring between trains after late nights in Akiba.

One of the best meals I had in Japan was in Ochanomizu, at an izakaya (traditional eatery and drinking establishment) called Kanda Wadatsumi. The sashimi was excellent, and we tried out some other odds and ends, too, like oden. A few items were above my Japanese cuisine rating, such as a grayish paste--I can't recall the name--apparently crab-based and meant to accompany drinks, but overall the American contingent made a good showing at the table. R-san gets the credit for recommending Kanda, and also kindly pointing us in the direction of one of her favorite brands of sake, Hakkaisan, which it turns out is available in the US. I recently picked up a bottle at the Mitsuwa shopping center in Jersey.

While waiting for the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Kyoto, I picked up a Tokyo Station bentou. Shinkansen stations each offer their own lunch boxes, made with local, seasonal foods. As prepackaged chow goes, it was awfully good.

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