Back in July, having just returned from Belgium and the Czech Republic, the Missus sent me a text. Something along the lines of "let's go to Japan." To which I replied, "great, so next year, we'll go to Japan". Her response? "No, I mean let's go to Japan in October, after seeing my parents." And so it came to pass....
For some strange reason; I'd never really been motivated to visit Japan. But now, the wheels set in motion, I just couldn't wait. Though busy at work and time was short, I did some research, and found things I needed to know; the somewhat confusing address system, making sure I had photos of the storefronts of the places we needed to be at. I got us apartments in Tokyo and Osaka, and even a Machiya in Kyoto. Had friends make reservations at two places in Tokyo. We don't really plan much in the way of activities; mostly just broad outlines. The Missus likes to do most of that when we reach our destination. This can be a challenge, but She does it based on where we need to be.
All in all, Japan turned out to be one of the easiest places we've ever visited. It's amazingly orderly, folks at the worst are polite and everyone we met was helpful. That the Missus could read Kanji proved to be a major plus as other than the hiragana and katagana, and Japanese pronunciations, She could cull out meaning. I know a handful of words though my phrasing is (sometimes hilariously) woeful. When it comes to food though, I understand much more.
Well, enough of that....I'll get more into it in future posts.
As things turned out, all you really need is a Japan Railpass, Suica Card, the Hyperdia App, addresses both in English and Japanese, the word "sumimasen", and a little patience and you'll do just fine.
I really thought Tokyo was going to be a bear and was prepared to be overwhelmed, and in a way we were, but not exactly in the way we thought we'd be. First off, getting around in Tokyo was very easy for us. Finding exact locations weren't. Tokyo itself is made up of 23 wards.....think of it as 23 cities packed into one mega-city. Yes, it's busy, but also very quiet. The train/subway can be packed to the gills and yet, there's not a single word uttered in anything above a whisper! Folks line the stairs and escalators...all to the left in Tokyo, letting folks pass to the right. They walk...a lot...they eat tons of carbs and are very thin...folks do not eat while they walk, it's bad manners, even though there are very few public waste receptacles, the sidewalks are extremely clean.
We arrived in the neighborhood of Yotsuya and found the business of the person we were renting our apartment from with rather minimal problems. She was in the middle of teaching a class, so we dropped off our luggage, we travel super light, and set off to get something to drink, and to do some exploring. We walked down one of the side streets....
Seeing the sign above we walked down the alley like street and were totally over whelmed by all the restaurants and bars......which led to the big question. How does one actually make a choice here? There are so many places and options. I'm sure Tabelog and Gurunavi would help, but man, there's just so much. The Missus made the comment, "man, there are more restaurants in this little street than all of Clairemont Mesa!"
Luckily, I had reservations taken care of for the next night, had a plan for this evening, and had an outline of where to eat in the area for our last evening in Tokyo. In fact, we went looking for that Izakaya and actually found the place....using my really, really bad Japanese, I uttered one of the few phrases I know, "Yoyaku wo onegaishimasu".... actually getting reservations.
We finally got settled into our apartment, which ended up being in the Yotsuya Sanchome area. A bit more residential, busy main streets, but quiet side streets.
We were meeting an old friend of mine; Reiko for dinner. nothing major, I wanted some ramen, and it would be great seeing Reiko, who used to work for one of my friends several years (actually more than several) back. Reiko was born and raised on Tokyo, so I thought getting to where we wanted to go to would be a slam dunk...well, not quite. You see, first we had to get to Shinjuku Station, claimed to be the busiest in the world (according to Wikipedia, the station was used by over 3.6 million people a day and has 200 exits).
Shinjuku itself is a popular business, entertainment, and shopping area.... lets just say popular is an understatement. Tons of younger folks gather outside the station, just milling around, as it seems to be a popular meeting and socializing area.
The place I'd ask Reiko to find had several locations within Kabukichō, the red light district and the Golden Gai, so it goes to figure that Reiko isn't really familiar with the area. After passing the Robot Restaurant (if you really gotta know, you can read about it here.) and missing the photo op of a large group of business men taking a photo with one of the "Robot Warriors", she needed some help and got a bit of direction....
This was sensory overload....after a while, things started looking like this.
Just in time Reiko pointed and said, "there it is Kirk-san.... Nagi Ramen."
Yes, all this effort for ramen. Would you expect anything less from us? Of course, not just any ramen....
Then of course, there was navigating the ramen ticket machine. You enter in your money and press the buttons for the various options you want.
The tiny shop has a single counter with a few seats. Behind the counter, two guys do everything..... it's hot and hard work.
Nagi is famous for their hardcore niboshi broth. Vast quantities of dried anchovies are simmered for over 12 hours to come up with a heady broth.
The broth is hearty, thick, savory, packing a huge punch. Pungent and full of flavor, it's not eveyone's cup of tea. Indeed it was a bit too strong at first for the Missus. That first sip of the broth will do that to you. We both ordered the combination of noodles, the regular, kind of doughy-chewy noodles and the wide and flat "hirauchimen"noodles which the Missus preferred. The egg had that perfect bright orange orb of a yolk. I had ordered extra green onions which helped balance out the flavor of the broth. My only issue was with the chashu which looked medium rare and was very tough and chewy. Otherwise, this was love at first bite....though perhaps not for the Missus who was a bit overwhelmed by it all.
Leaving the restaurant, things seemed to slow down, everything felt like it was slowing down, all was right in the world, things were starting to make sense.... though I still didn't have an explanation for the Robot Restaurant!
Thanks for reading!