Japan — the country that many Westerners have likened to Lewis Carroll’s “wonderland” for its quality of wacky unpredictability. But what about for other Asians — do they feel as displaced and disoriented there as we do? Our very first Random Nomad, Anita McKay, ventured into the Land of the Rising Sun for the first time this summer, in the company of another Indonesian, P, who had been there once before as a student. This is Part 2 of the pair’s adventures. (See also Part 1.)
After Tokyo and Kyoto, P and I headed to Kobe — with Kobe beef as our main target. We’re Indonesians, remember? Which means we’re always looking forward to our next meal.
Gluttons for gourmet food
Our hotel in Kobe had booked us a table at Mouriya, a restaurant that prides itself on serving superior quality beef from the Kobe Cow and the Tajima Cow. Mmmm…
The meat was really delicious, but not long afterwards, I was craving sushi again. Fortunately, I was able to indulge in some serious sushi eating one last time with my blogging buddy from Yokohama, whom we met on our way back up to Tokyo. She and I went out for a meal at Kyubey, a high-end sushi restaurant in the Ginza. (P couldn’t join as she actually had to work in Tokyo for her Indonesian company for the last two days of our trip.)
Kyubey, which is actually two restaurants across the street from each other, doesn’t take bookings and always has a long queue. Luckily, my friend and I were able to get a table — and, to our delight, the chef had rather fluent English.
He patiently explained to us about the fish we were eating. One particular sushi had to be held with chopsticks in a certain way and nibbled at from the side, not the front.
We told the chef that both of us weren’t too keen on tuna, as the tuna we’d tried had been chewy or smelled too fishy — so we preferred salmon instead. He smiled and then put some tuna on our plates and told us to try it. We soon realized that this might be the best thing we’d ever eaten — melted like butter in our mouths.
Our nine-course lunch, which included eel (unagi), tuna, scallop, and squid, cost only about AUD 50 (around the same in US$). I would happily go back to Kyubey again and again and again.
P, upset at being stuck in the office while my friend and I were feasting on sushi, insisted that we go to Tsukiji market on our last morning in Japan. We got to the market just after 6:00 a.m. — but by then had already missed the tuna auction.
Still, we took a good look around at all the weird and wonderful sea creatures for sale, and then decided to have a sushi assortment for breakfast. While at the sushi restaurant, I discovered that different parts of the tuna are sold at different prices. I also came to realize that tuna costs 2-3 times more than salmon. Remembering what I’d told the chef at Kyubei about salmon and tuna, I think he must have been laughing at us!
Sex (and hugs), please, we’re Japanese!
Our first night in Kobe, P and I had wandered around looking for a place to have a drink after dinner. It was only 9:00 p.m., but outside nearly every club were girls in miniskirts handing out pamphlets.
(If guys, not girls, were standing outside the clubs, it was to advertise that “go go dancing” was on offer. Hmmm…is that a euphemism?)
We passed one big place claiming to be an Arabian club (actually, the building did have a Middle Eastern look), with a big banner of three Japanese girls dressed as nurses and “A Whole New World” blasting loudly.
We passed a couple who looked as though they were in their mid-50s and had had too much fun too early. The lady was leaning against a tree and wrenching; not exactly the picture of elegance!
We decided just to go back to our hotel instead.
Later, when we joined my blogging buddy for some shopping at the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, we rested over coffee as she regaled us with some stories she’d collected of strange and rather lewd behavior engaged in by Japanese men.
And then, as if to illustrate her story, something rather creepy happened. Ever the snap-happy tourist, P had decided to take a parting shot of me and my blogging buddy with the Red Brick Warehouse in the background. There was a young couple doing the same thing, who turned out to be Indonesians, sent by their companies for a training session in Yokohama.
While we were busy exchanging e-mails and phone numbers, a young Japanese man popped up out of nowhere.
He shook my hand, asked my name (in English), and mumbled something I couldn’t understand. He then walked over to my blogging buddy, repeated the same series of gestures — and then hugged her. He walked over to P and did the same thing. And then it was the turn of the young Indonesian couple.
By then, all of us had realized there was something “not right” about this guy — but as he seemed harmless enough, we waited patiently until he finished hugging the last person in the group.
At that point, he walked back to my blogging buddy and hugged her again.
I laughed a little because it seemed so strange — also because I was the only one he hadn’t hugged so felt safe.
But then, to my horror, he came back to me, shook my hand again, asked my name again, and then really hugged me and wouldn’t let go.
My blogging buddy, seeing the expression on my face, started walking away as fast as she could. The rest of us followed her. I broke free and followed her as well. As we looked back at Hugger Boy, he just waved and started laughing.
Another funny, weird, horrifying tale for my blogging buddy’s collection!
Some seriously good people watching
As our time in Japan drew to a close, I entertained myself by staring at the Frank Lloyd Wright wall in Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, spying on a wedding procession at Meiji Shrine — and, best of all, people watching.
As I was sitting on the subway, I noticed two very pretty girls sitting right in front of me. Their hair was almost light brown (a favorite color in Japan), very long and slightly wavy (favorite style in Japan). They also wore fake eyelashes, but there was something about them that made me keep staring at them. After a few minutes I realized that their eyeballs were unusually large, more like dolls than human.
Later I consulted with Google and found that Japanese girls sometimes wear special contact lens that do make their irises look bigger. Odd…
More odd stuff: both P and I had been wondering why so many young Japanese men carry bags just like us girls. There was one guy in the subway who carried a black Dior tote bag. And if that wasn’t weird enough, I saw a guy carrying a brown city messenger bag by Balenciaga. (Google the bag and your jaw will drop, just as mine did.) Oh, and there was also a man with matching red tote bag and shoes in Bvlgari’s Il Café in Omotesandō, where P and I stopped for martinis.
Still, I did enjoy watching that particular man, who was accompanied by his two pooches. One dog kept begging from the cute girl at the next table, while the other kept demanding food from him.
Meow — or should it be nyan?!
Actually, I’m more of a cat person — so before we flew home I wanted to visit the Calico Cat Café in Shinjuku, where people can enjoy coffee or tea in the company of real cats. P still had to work so I went by myself. I didn’t even get lost!
The café has two floors and charges the guest by the first hour, then per 15 minutes. I saw a wide variety of cat breeds: Maine Coon, Abyssinian, Ragdoll, Persian, Scottish Fold, and so on. No Sphinx, though.
The café has strict rules about entering the cat area: you have to change your shoes to slippers, clean your hands with disinfectant, and not take any photos with a flash.
All of the cats seemed rather spoiled. They refused to be petted unless you gave them a snack first. A Scottish Fold named Apollo apparently thought he was the cashier, so he sat at the cashier counter, looking at us lazily.
One hour passed by so quickly that I wished I could spend at least another day in Tokyo! P, meanwhile, wished she didn’t have to work so she could experience the cat café as well.
A fond sayonara
We spent our last minutes at the airport buying Tokyo bananas and green-tea Kit Kats for friends and family back home. I was pondering about buying sake, but then all of a sudden, it was time for boarding!
P is determined to go back again, and I, too would love to go back. But as the seat belt sign went off, we looked at the world map spread in our screen, and started day-dreaming about our next adventure…
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Readers, any questions or comments for Anita? Where do you think she’ll go next?!
Anita McKay is a property consultant, travel junkie, cat lover, food enthusiast. She resides in Perth with her Scottish husband but is still searching for a place called home. To learn more about her, check out her blog, Finally Woken, and/or follow her on Twitter: @finallywoken.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s review of an expat memoir of a cross-cultural elopement.
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Images (clockwise): Anita McKay making a feline friend in Café Calico in Shinjuku, Tokyo; the marble-ous Kobe beef; the bride and groom at a Japanese wedding at the Meiji Shrine; and Kyubey sushi (all from Anita McKay’s extensive collection).