Tokyo impressions

There are more small things to notice here than anywhere else.  People elevate their cameras on long fishing poles to get better shots in a crowd.  The water container has a separate compartment so that, when you pour, the ice cubes do not spill into your drink.  Or you may wonder: why did I have to order my food by paying into a vending machine?  None of the faucets works in an intuitive manner for me.

I hadn’t been to Tokyo since 1992.  What was once futuristic has now become retro and it has made the city more charming and ultimately more convincing. 

Even with the weak dollar it isn’t that expensive here.  Hotels are cheaper than in NYC — not to mention Europe — and you can eat a great meal for $10 or less if you frequent neighborhood restaurants.  At the fish market world class sushi costs about as much as mediocre sushi in the American suburbs.  I have also ventured into the horrors of real Japanese food, including The Creamy Sauce and Worcestershire sauce.  It’s not all hamachi and gyoza, believe me.


Or you may wonder: why did I have to order my food by paying into a vending machine? My thoughts were as follows. This arrangement is most common for small places like Ramen shops, where all the staff are involved in food preparation. Cash notes are thought to carry bacteria and it may be that they are separating handling of cash from the handling of food. Another plus is that the ticket itself becomes a record of the order. Lastly, it may reduce the temptation for staff to dip into the till.

I have also ventured into the horrors of real Japanese food, including The Creamy Sauce and Worcestershire sauce. What are these? I've been here in Tokyo ten years and I don't know what this could be. Whatever it is, it doesn't sound like it could be called real Japanese food.

You forgot to mention the sloppy, gooey mess that is Japanese pizza!

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Geez Mike, things must have changed in the last 20 years. When I lived in Japan the pan was horrible. All white flour, too much sugar.

I was in Tokyo last month and very pleasantly surprised at how affordable the hotels and food were. Nothing like costs in London. It was interesting to see the young men in suits huddled around the magazine rack reading manga comic books.

Mexico has very good prices on food and hotels, but electronics and books? Forget it! I now understand why the Mexicans never read on the airplanes, the reading material is too expensive.

"Or you may wonder: why did I have to order my food by paying into a vending machine?"

There's a good reason: this is to help cleanliness and remove a position. In small restaurants, where the staff has to do everything, with a self-serve ticketing machine, the restaurant staff don't have to handle the money, which is a good thing for food preparation. It also negates the need for someone to handle the register.

If you get a chance, there are three things I'd highly recommend if you haven't done them before:

1) Seeing a Sumo match. There's nothing quite like it and no Western parallels.

2) Visit Kamakura. It's the closest thing to Nara in the Tokyo area. (An easy day trip.) Lots of ancient sites, including Daibutsu, a giant statue of Buddha that used to sit in a temple that was destroyed by a tidal wave. Only the statue remains.

3) Stay in a ryokan -- a traditional style Japanese inn. You sleep on a futon at night and roll it away during the day. I've had some of my best experiences in Japan while staying in these.

And a fourth that might be of interest:

4) Investigate the new fugu (poisonous blowfish) that is being grown to be poison-free. I've had traditional fugu before. I can't say I understand the full appeal, but it is worth trying at least once.

As a side note, here are five mistakes made by first timers in Japan. I'm sure we don't need to worry about you making any of these, although I must confess to having made several of them during my first few trips to Japan.

Enjoy your trip! I miss Japan tremendously...

Tyler, try the pizza. I double-dog dare you.

Does the toilet talk, like on the Simpsons?

I think Japanese pizza is great, just too expensive. I'm not so fond of mayo so that limits my options a bit, but just because westerners don't put corn or fish eggs or squid on their pizza, doesn't mean it can't be done. I'll second the thought about Japanese bread being crap though. It's difficult to find bread that could be considered healthy. Japanese in America would think the rice is terrible, so it makes sense.

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