Saturday, June 20, 2009

Drunkard's Alley

With B and E in town, we stayed in a cute hotel in Shibuya. Just North of Shibuya station we discovered a secret little area nestled between the river and the expressway. A narrow street separates rows of even narrower bars that can sit about 6 people max. You know you are at the right place when you see the red lanterns.
We just wanted some drinks, so we chose this modern-looking place, aptly named Tight. The three of us plus the three regulars and the bartender meant the place was full to capacity. One of the regulars even straddled the space above the stairs. This place was so small, that if someone had to step outside, everyone else had to file out to let them by.
We had a few drink, made some new friends and learned about other such alleys scattered around the city.

We also discovered the hidden bars on high floors in otherwise sleepy office buildings. One was called Sangendou on the 29th floor of the Shinjuku NS Bldg in the Skyscraper district. They had lots of small plates, which gave us plenty of vegetarian options for E. They also had a big selection of sake which came in over-flowing shot glasses sitting within lacquer boxes.
We found another of these sneaky office building bars in Shibuya, when we went out with a couple of locals that B knows through a friend. The bars put people down on the street to pass out flyers and try to drum up business. I would have never considered actually taking the person up on it, but apparently this is done quite frequently. The bar was great and the locals ordered a table full of yummy food and drinks. If only I had any hope of ever finding the place again.

Week 2 in Tokyo

This week in Tokyo I had my first visitors. Bibi and Erika came out to start their two week trip in Tokyo. I changed hotels to be with them in Shibuya and got to be a tourist for a few days. The first day we visited the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda, complete with its own moat nestled up against the skyscrapers.
Most of the Palace grounds are closed to the public, but we were allowed to visit the East Gardens, where there are several of these old school guard houses. There is also a small museum and a gym where we think the royal Sumo wrestlers practice.
We were also lucky enough to experience a special treat at the Palace. Apparently the Emperor was receiving a visitor for the day. As we passed the first time, traffic was stopped to allow a carriage and train of horses to exit the grounds.
By the time we walked to the other side of the quad, the caravan had apparently looped through downtown and picked someone up. The visitor waved a small green flag at the crowd as the carriage re-entered the grounds and wound its way up to the Palace.

Monday, June 08, 2009

my new orange baby

Also, I bought a bike yesterday. It is so cute. As soon as I saw the ad for it on Craigslist, I knew I had to have it. 

Eco fair in Yoyogi Park

Yesterday I met up with new friends and went to Yoyogi Park in Shibuya to check out an eco-fair. Since it was the weekend, there were lots of other things to check out as well.  Such as the folks in poodle skirts and pompadours dancing to Elvis music.

There were also plenty of girls in Little Bo Peep outfits, french maid uniforms and various goth gear.  We finally did find the eco-fair over by the former Olympic stadium, but none of the signs or booths were in English so we really couldn't tell what was going on. 

After that we went down the shopping streets in Shibuya and went to the "busiest intersection in the world", which I think is called Shibuya-crossing. I would have taken a picture but I was too worried about getting stampeded.  I bought an atlas and some guidebooks at the Tower records in Shibuya, including one that my friends say will become my dog-eared bible, Tokyo: Here and How

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A wino in Ueno

After that second day of looking at apartments and checking into a second hotel, above, (for some reason they have me changing twice over a 6 day period), I was pretty exhausted. I ducked into a quiet noodle shop once I got back to the University area, but all I really wanted was a big glass of wine. I started walking back to my room in the rain when I noticed a little wine shop. I popped inside and almost broke into tears. For the first time in 3 days I was able to recognize and read things. I wandered back and forth through the 2 aisles of wine and settled on this Australian Shiraz and also grabbed the requisite accoutrements. I don't know if it was real or just the context, but this was one of the best wines I've ever had. 

The next day I made the arrangements to meet up with P, a friend of a friend in the states. She was visiting the museums so decided we should meet in Ueno Park by the big whale.

We wandered around Ueno, which is a dense area of shops with narrow streets weaving this way and that. We had sushi (only 408 yen) from a conveyor belt in a small shop down one of these narrow streets. After that, we had puff pastries filled on the spot with vanilla custard from a little hong kong-based shop. The shop has a funny name, anyone remember what it is?

There are also these funny shops with big hooks to grab toys, as well as domino sets, cologne, basically anything they can tie a loop to. That's P in the foreground. Rode my borrowed bike back to the hotel for more wine and listed to the Obama speech on youtube (amazing!)

Apartment shopping

Well week 1 in Tokyo has certainly been an adventure. I want to try to capture my first impressions before I start knowing what things actually are.

The first night I was treated to what I'm told is typical bar food. All sorts of chicken parts were put on sticks and grilled. I had hearts, livers, skins, ground chicken meatballs and soft bone, which has a texture like nothing I've ever had. All were delicious. We also had little cubes of pork belly (yum) and eel over rice. After dinner, I nestled into my on-campus hotel room (a tiny room not much larger than a twin bed), took a bath (I LOVE the baths here: the water can come up to your shoulders!), donned the complimentary pajama/kimono thing and tried to figure out (unsuccessfully) how to make the BBC play in English.

The next day I went to the lab to get keys to my huge new office, which I'll be sharing with one other regular postdoc and two others who come in only on weekends. I was also electronically fingerprinted for entrance into all of the Earthquake Research Institute (ERI) buildings in which I will work.

Then it was off to meet with the real estate agent and look at apartments. My advisor and labmate went along to interpret and vouch for me. Apparently ~80% of apartment owners will not rent to non-japanese, so even their backing did not ensure that I would find a place.
Apartment shopping is already beginning to be a blur. Nakada-san, the realtor, wisely showed the nastiest, smallest one first, so from then on, everything seemed spacious and clean. We went back and forth on the subway, one stop in this direction 2 back in the other, so that I had no idea where the heck we were. We saw only 4 apartments that day but it felt like 40. The next day, Nakada-san and I alone saw 5 more. He used a computer translator in his office to communicate with me, but once we were out on the street we were on our own. At one point he called his sister (who is married to a European and speaks perfect English) to translate so that she could convey an important point to me. At each apartment I took notes and pictures to share with Ryan over Skype. Finally we decided on one and I pick up the keys before I return to the states.