Photos of Tokyo

Work is busy and I'm barely over the jetlag. Also the reverse culture-shock is waaaay worse than the culture shock itself was, and that gets me down. Buuut these photos are burning a hole in my exports folder, so I post them without commentary.

Beacon of Light

Bike Head

Conductor

Hello, I am a police station

Itakuraya

Shinjuku from Skytree

Skate Nerds

Stairs

Night Scene

Reflecting on Tokyo Tower

Train Approaching

Walkway

Yamamoto line

Yõshoku (洋食) - Western Style Meal

To be honest, I only decided that it was time to go to Tokyo when I found out about Royal Host (and it's relative Cowboy 家族 (Cowboy Family)). You might ask why I'd be so intrigued by a place where the hamburgers come with garlic cream sauce but no buns, and the beef java curry comes with an egg in the morning. Or a place where the staff dress like cowboys and bow after singing happy birthday [I was going to take rakka to cowboy family for her birthday but they're waaaaay out in the burbs]. Those links might be enough to explain it, actually.

But more exciting than the seeming quirkiness, they led me to discover the concept of Yõshoku (洋食). It translates directly as "Western Style Meal" but I think it's really about western foods that have become Japanese. The saucy burger with no bun is a great example. It's not just a kooky thing that they do at Royal Host, it's an established form, ハンバーグ (Hambāgu) and is essentially Salisbury steak. (I just figured that out. I learn so much researching these posts).

These sorts of cultural crossovers are fascinating. Especially if you come from the source culture. It gives you a window into the values of the borrower culture. What they keep and what they leave can be telling. This does need to be tempered with some history though. For instance, to understand Japanese curry you need to know that it was filtered through British Navy culture before it got to Japan. Speaking of curry...

カレー (curry) is the big, obvious example. It's hugely popular in Japan. It has evolved so far from indian curry that it's completely it's own thing (for one, it's often beef). And it's the best thing to eat before you go to prison.

video
Scene from 転々 (Adrift in Tokyo)

I've made Japanese curry before from those roux packets you can get at the asian grocery. Makes my head go all funny (not in a good way) and rakka has made it from a Japanese cookbook recently. But my first taste of the real deal was at CoCo 壱番屋 (CoCo Ichibanya).

Fried Chicken and Veg Curry

Sausage Curry
It's a chain, but no worse for that. Bold curry taste, not too spicy, didn't make my head go funny. I liked it so much that I went for curry in the airport on the way home (it's the only food I had twice in Japan). Airport curry is not as good. CoCo Ichi is the way.


Then there is Omurice (オムライス). It's just what it sounds like. It's an omelette on rice. Usually with ketchup. I got a cheap one from Lawson and it was really tasty.

Lots of ketchup

You can see it's just rice with egg on top, but it's おいしい (Oishī - Delicious)!
Since we've been home we've accidentally invented spicy omurice. We ran out of ketchup so we used Sriracha sauce. Talk about Oishī! And since Huy Fong Sriracha is born and made in America, we have now westernized an easternized western food. I love that.

Spicy Omurice
Oh, and speaking of Lawson. Like 7-11, it's a conbini (convenience store) that started in the US and is now a Japanese company. Unlike 7-11 they don't have any stores in the US anymore. Also unlike 7-11 they are everywhere in Tokyo. Near our hotel in Hamamatsuchõ there was one 7-11 and four Lawsons. Like, they're everywhere.

There is another dish that I've been enthralled by ever since I saw the 深夜食堂 (Shinya Shokudō) movie on the plane. The movie, based on a show based on a manga, is about a diner that's only opened from midnight to 7am (english title "Midnight Diner"). The dish is Spaghetti Naporitan.

Sadly I didn't find any in Japan, but we don't let that stop us around here. Since we've been back there are already two new Japanese cookbooks in the house. One of them has a recipe for Naporitan, and rakka just made it last night. I stupidly didn't take a picture because I'm stupid, but it seems pretty easy. Just spaghetti, some veg and sausage, and a sauce made from ketchup and a little sake and stuff.

Yep. Ketchup again. I guess you can't really avoid the war completely. This dish is said to be inspired by the rations at GHQ, the US's head office for the occupation. (Related, I've heard that the popularity of ramen started after the war too, because the US imported lots of wheat to help with shortages.)


The process of making western foods into Japanese foods is, of course, still ongoing. My favorite new innovation that we found was the モスライスバーガー "海鮮かきあげ (塩だ れ)" (Moss Rice Burger "Seafood Tempura (with salt)) (sorry for the western quotes there, effin' blogger).

Moss Rice Burger
It's a seafood medley on a bun made from 焼きおにぎり (yaki onigiri - grilled rice ball). This if a fantastic idea and I salute it. Even if it was not very flavorful. At least it wasn't as flavorful as this Freshness Burger.

フレッシュネスバーガー FRESHNESS BURGER

It doesn't really count as Yõshoku, because it's just a burger. Hokkaido pumpkin buns not withstanding. It was so oishī though. Better than most fast food burgers I've had in the states. Seriously, In-n-out is like ashes in my mouth compared to even the most basic Freshness Burger.
Add to that all the other stuff we sampled, from various conbini sandwiches, to ice cream (hokkaido melon ice-cream!), chips, and pastries (oh, god the Totoro cream puffs! OMFG, say it twice more) and you can only come to one conclusion: Japanese food is amazing, even when it's western food.

I will talk about "Traditional" Japanese food in a forthcoming post, but honestly I don't know if I'll be as excited about it.


Some quick impressions of Tokyo

If you follow me elsewhere you probably know that rakka and I just went to Tokyo for the first time. I did some G+ and twitter stuff from the road. But here is where the longer form stuff will go. I'm going to start off with a sketch, and I'll fill in some details in later posts.

Tokyo is Dense

And there is a lot of it.
A view from Sky Tree

A view from Tokyo Tower


But for all that, the dominant scale is human

There are Contrasts of Scale all over the place.
Big and Little

But when you get off the main (named) streets and in to the neighborhoods it tends to scale right down to a livable human size. This is true even around business districts. Below, we see a bunch of low rise buildings on one of the unnamed streets of Hamamatsuchō. Here we are only a few blocks away from the Tokyo World Trade Center and two train stations totaling 5 subway lines. It's not overwhelming at all. It gets busy with pedestrians at rush hour, and all the restaurants fill up quick, but you never feel like you're being crushed.

Human Scale Hamamatsuchō (浜松町) with Tokyo Tower

Tokyo can be Crowded

That's not to say that Tokyo isn't crowded. It can be. Just like any city, if you go to a popular place at a popular time it will be full of people. I took this picture at Tsukiji fish market at 6am, before I found the streets that were really crowded (too crowded to mess with cameras). But the walk to the market was basically devoid of people.

Tsukiji fish market
The trick is, that crowds in Tokyo aren't bad to move through. There's a rhythm and a method, and people don't want to make your life hard. So as long as you watch and follow the pattern it's pretty easy to deal with. The only time it gets bad is when there are a lot of westerners around, like in Akihabara. And then wow, the contrast is intense. And stressful.

Tokyo Tower really does dominate western Tokyo

You see it in a lot of my pictures, and that's because you can see it from everywhere. For my money, it's more fun than Skytree (but that could be because we went to Skytree on the exact 3rd anniversary of it's opening; it was a mad house. Mad. House).

Tokyo Tower

Looking down from Tokyo Tower

Tourists are Attracted

Tokyo Money is happy to spend itself to attract more money. On Odaiba, the man made island and emblem of the pre-crash economy, we found the big Gundam. So did everybody else, obviously. That's what it's there for.

It took me a long time, by the way, to realize that the mall's name, Diver City, was a pun. DiverCity, DiverSity. Get it? Yeah.

Gundam at Diver City

To be honest, after the Gundam, I was a little sad that Venus Fort (the Venice theme'd mall across the way) didn't have a river running through it. It did have blue skies and a classic car museum for an entrance, for some reason.

Tokyo is very green

People, myself included, love taking pictures of how dense and populous Tokyo is. That leaves something out though. Tokyo full of plants. There is green all around.

Some kind of tree with droopy things in Shiba park

And there are parks anywhere

In Minato there are a couple Edo era parks. You pay a few hundred yen to get in, but it's worth it. They are perfect, beautiful quiet places. They're also great places to experience earthquakes, which we did in this park. (It was a 5.6 and made the news. Kinda freaky, but nothing bad happened)

Kyū Shiba Rikyū Garden (旧芝離宮恩賜庭園)

We did find a few free parks in other neighborhoods too. Equally nice but smaller and so closer to the noise of the city. Still, a nice refuge if you're in the area.

And lots of them have Shinto shrines

Shiba Park is free (it's near Tokyo Tower) and like so many it has a small Shinto shrine in it. It extends across the street and under the shadow of the tower, where there is another shrine. I didn't get a good picture of that though.

Shinto shrine at Shiba Park (芝公園)
There are also shrines just all over the place. I'll probably do a whole post on them.

Trains are a big deal

We took a lot of trains. From driverless robo-trains through rackety old locals. We didn't spend a single day without being on a train at some point. Most days it was 4+.

Speeding Train

Tokyo people are nice

This is harder to photograph, but it's true. People are very kind. Not just the polite efficiency that everybody exhibits on the job. But even beyond that, people seemed to like us. All we did was dress ever so slightly more formal than your standard tourist garb, tried to speak Japanese whenever we could, and try not to get in the way. And by the third day little old ladies were making sure Rakka got free samples at the Hokkaido Antena Store (more on that later).



That's it for now. More later this week, or next week, or something. I still don't even know what day it is. (Can you believe I'm back at work already? I can't)

A day out

Sunset Over Bremerton
There has been a ton of stuff going on with me. I haven't been sharing because it's mostly like "did some taxes." "did some more taxes." "sent a business form." "oh, it's tax time again." This working from home gig is great, but as a contractor I'm running a business and to be honest I think an LLC reporting as an S-Corp might be overkill. You supposedly save on taxes but you're literally doing taxes and business stuff all the time.

Between that and watching the sidewalk in front of the house finally get repaired (yay!), self diagnosing myself with vitamin D deficiency, scheduling and canceling a trip to chicago, scheduling a trip to tokyo (and another to california), and having a back flair up it's been a busy quarter.

Still, trip to tokyo coming up. That's very exciting. More on that later, probably.

But the big news is that I got out of the house this weekend. That maybe doesn't seem like big news, but when you work from home these things begin to take on significant moment.

And it was great. Rakka and I went over to seattle to visit our friend k. We got lunch. It was a beautiful day; we hung out in the yard with some drinks. Good stuff. Here's what it looked like.
Fried Dill Pickles and Collard's
Ribs
Lillac
Treefingers

Even the trip home was pretty good. That first picture came at the end, but this was the beginning of the end.
Ferry

Oh, and while I'm here. Some unrelated stuff. Another thing about being home all the time, I start to pay more attention to my space. Or maybe I have more time to notice because 4 hours of commuting takes 4 hours, even if it is on a pretty boat ride. Anyway, I got some stuff from cb2 to brighten up the place.
Teapot
Foxy Brown, the paperclip fox
Oh, yeah, and so that barbeque was that first red(ish) meat I'd had in a while. Except for the burger I had the night before, but before that it had honestly been at least a month. You know, I feel much better. I either need to make a habit of this or increase my dark green leafy veg intake by a factor of 1000.

Palm Springs

Last weekend I took a little road trip from Irvine to Palm Springs with a few of my coworkers. My first time in Palm Springs. We took the cable car up to the top of the mountain for a little hike. Ice prevented us from making the full circuit. We were unprepared.

Blue and Yellow, Palm Springs

Blue Mountains, Palm Springs

Mountains, Palm Springs

Open Road

Tree

Palm Springs

Sunny Palm Springs

Wind Farm Highway

Dino Sighting

So that was the trip.

It's hard to find beauty in Irvine, but while I was down there I did manage to find a little. Socal does have some nice sunsets. Even in February. Even when you're standing next to a some giant industrial cooling tower that's running so loud that you can hardly see.
Palm

Sunset in Irvine

Trees and Sun

It's not enough to make me move there. I do really enjoy my job. But I also really love not owning a car. And you can't do socal without a car.


Well, I did, this trip. You can kind of pull of carless in Irvine if you a) don't need to commute farther than you're willing to walk, and b) don't need to go anywhere, ever. You do get the sidewalk all to yourself though, so that's something.