Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Go Go swallows!

Yesterday was a national holiday and so everyone at ECC had the day off. Since it was a Monday, I already had the day off, so it didn't really mean much to me. However, it did mean that I had more people to hang out with yesterday. And so, we went to a baseball game.

We went in support of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows who were playing against the Yokohama Bay Stars. I can't explain why we were Swallows fans other than that Chani got us the tickets and Chani's first ever baseball game was a Swallow's game. So she has a special soft spot for them, I guess. Sadly, the Bay Stars are pretty good and so our team lost. It was still loads of fun, though. I kinda got into baseball games after seeing the Cardinals a few times in St. Louis. It was pretty great how the community rallied behind them, exhibiting St. Louis pride. I'd never experienced that kind of local pride before, let alone taken part in it. It was intoxicating. I totally fell for it. Especially when the Cards won the World Series. Boy, was that exciting.

Anyways, at this Swallows game yesterday, there was quite a bit of organized chanting. But mostly everyone had noisemakers which consisted of two little plastic baseball bats attached by a string. All you were supposed to do was hit them against each other. Of course, I just had to buy my own overpriced set of "noisemakers." What was really hilarious was the umbrellas. Whenever our team scored a point everyone on the Swallows' side whipped out these tiny umbrellas decorated with little Yakult Swallows mascots perched on top of them. They'd open up the umbrella's and raise them up and down while chanting excitedly. I loved that there was absolutely no inclement weather in sight. There were also cheerleaders with umbrellas during the halftime show.

Another favorite part of the Japanese baseball game experience was the beer vendors. They were all cute young girls dressed in neon jumpsuits with big square packs on their backs, full of beer. The packs had big tubes protruding from them that were probably for dispensing beer, but they really made the backpacks look like some kinda high-tech ghostbusting pack. The combination of the backpacks and the jumpsuits just really made these girls look like ghostbusters.I couldn't get over it. I kept trying to sneak pictures of the beer vending girls all night.

Also, people don't eat hot dogs at baseball games here. They eat pan fried noodles! So there were quite a few differences. In addition, I agreed with the other two American girls in attendance it felt like we were at a high school football game. Somehow we all had that exact same feeling. I suppose it was because it was a rather small stadium. I expected something larger, higher, and much more imposing. Also, it just had that vibe: a high school football game vibe. Probably the marching band that played on the Bay Stars' side of the stadium had a lot to do with this feeling, as well. A lot of Swallows fans had also brought trumpets and other brass instruments to the game.

Afterwards, as our group was walking to the station, we saw a cool fountain on the side of the road. We stopped to look at it, and suddenly, a wall of water spouted up out of the ground and attacked Craig. He got quite a bit of a shock, as well as a soaked t-shirt. Then, since he was already wet, he decided to walk through the wall of spouting water to the other side. We thought he was crazy at first, but then he dared us to do it, too. We were soon all on the other side of the watery wall, and all extremely soaked. Quite a few Japanese people from the crowds walking back from the game had stopped to watch us. We were pretty sure we would soon get told off either by some public official, or a grumpy old lady, whoever showed up first. [I tell you, that happens a lot here. One time we got told off by a random old Japanese woman for sitting in an empty parking lot at night, eating some KFC because KFC had sold us food, only to tell us afterwards that we couldn't eat it there because they were closing. Since we had already received our food, we had to do take out. Oh, those evil Gaijin, always eating their KFC out in the open. Who do they think they are?] Anyway, the point was, we didn't get told off at all! Instead, a bunch of the Japanese people decided it was really just too hot and they wanted to have fun too! Soon we had about seven Japanese people join our ranks on the other side. We encouraged more people to jump through and gave them rounds of applause when they finally did it. We felt like we were showing them how to loosen up and have fun, break a few rules or something. Oh those bold and brave gaijin, paving the way of liberty. We were SOAKED when we got on the subway soon after, though. That's what we get for breaking the rules.

here's Craig behind the wall of water, daring us all to come over to the other side...

I still wasn't dry when we went arrived at an izakaya for a late dinner. Although it wasn't a Disgusting Tuesday yet, Adam and I saw there was horse meat sashimi on the menu and felt we had to take advantage of the opportunity. And so, we ate raw horse meat with garlic and soy sauce! And, it was actually quite tasty! I can't believe I ate horse, because I absolutely love those animals, but at this point I think I'd try almost any food. I don't discriminate anymore.

So there you go. What a day.

Also, here's a fun picture I took through one of my baseball bat noisemakers:

At least these expensive dudes were useful for something other than making noise. That's a Yakult Swallow's player you're looking at through the blue tube.

A band's life

Well the band is going well. We've been making a lot of attempts to record lately. Some of them are simply lo-fi, acoustic versions that we record on Daniel's laptop in his room in the guest house. But I think probably some people don't like the noise. Anyway, one night Andy, Daniel and I were all sitting in the lounge being social when we realized we really just felt like singing. We had all had Patti Smith's version of "Gloria" stuck in our heads throughout that week for some reason and really felt like recording our own version of it. However, it was about 1am and we were pretty sure we'd either get murdered by our neighbors that night, or kicked out of the guest house by management the next day if we tried recording in the guest house at that hour. The obvious solution was to go to Musashino park, about a 20-30 minute walk from the guest house. We decided that I should borrow this girl Ruth's bicycle so we could get there faster and we all cycled out to the park toting a laptop, a harmonica, and two acoustic guitars. We wandered the forested park until we found a nice picnic table that was too far from civilization to piss anyone off. We set ourselves up and proceeded to record three different songs, singing at the top of our lungs until 4am. We got eaten alive by mosquitoes and we forgot most of the lyrics to Gloria anyway, but we had an amazing time doing it.

Another hilarious story was when we were all riding the train home from band practice one Sunday night. We entered the train car to find three young, perhaps 20-something, Japanese guys sitting on each other's laps. Basically, the first guy sat on the seat, the second guy sat on his lap, and the third on his lap. We were pretty amazed because this isn't really something that most guys would do anywhere in the world, let alone in Japan. People are usually pretty reserved in Japan, and this was pretty out there. Many of the other Japanese people on the train were staring at them and whispering and shooting them disapproving looks. But, as crazy foreigners we of course, totally endorsed their behavior. We chuckled and gave them our little ECC thumbs up. The third Japanese guy, then motioned for Andy to sit on his lap. After a moment of hesitation, Andy accepted his offer. At this, a middle-aged man who was especially enraged by all this, stormed off the train. Well, that was it. Things got out of control. Next, Daniel sat on Andy's lap. Then I, of course, was obliged to sit on Daniel's lap. We made such a long chain that I literally reached the other side of the train car. It was just utterly hilarious. Our drummer, Leo, took a photo of us all sitting on each other's laps. It's taken me awhile to get ahold of this desirable photo, but here it is. Too bad it's a bit blurry.

Mt. Mitake

Today I went to Mt. Mitake, which is located quite a ways out west of Tokyo. From central Tokyo it takes over an hour, but from where I live it was more like 40 minutes because I live slightly west of Tokyo already.

I went with three of my buddies, Adam, Amanda, and Ben, all from my training group back in February. We didn't know much about the mountain or how to get to it really, or what it would be like. When we got off at the train we were seriously in the middle of nowhere. It was quite shocking. It was very still and quiet, except for the cicadas. Though, by the time we reached the top of the mountain even those cicadas had finally shut the heck up.

It turned out to be quite a walk from the train station to the actual bottom of the mountain. With a lot of guessing, and matching our unreadable Japanese fold-up map to other large, wooden, unreadable Japanese maps scattered around the area, we were able to find it. The walk to the mountain had some great views though. We followed a small path along a rather impressive-sized river. I've never seen a river so clear and so blue. I guessed that meant it was a very clean river, but I really have no idea why. Regardless, it looked gorgeous and refreshingly inviting. There were lots of locals fishing or sunbathing on the shores. There were also lots of little makeshift wooden bridges that I found quite novel and picture worthy. Every so often a little spurt of houses and shops would appear and then quickly disappear. It was all very country and quaint.

When we finally found the bottom of Mt. Mitake we were able to take a cable car up quite a large portion of the way. We stopped for a bit of a ramshackle picnic involving sticks of fish and processed cheese (really disgusting, please don't ever eat this), a block of 700 yen Brie Cheese which Amanda thoughtfully shared and spread upon Ritz crackers for the rest of us, an assortment of nuts, raisins, chocolate, and Calorie Mate, the energy bar that comes in an irresistibly vintage-looking box. We also had cans of Dr. Pepper from one of the many vending machines on the mountain. There are vending machines literally on every block in Japan, and mountains are no exception.

After our feast we took the chair lift the rest of the way up to the official viewpoint area. We couldn't actually see much. It was ridiculously hazy, but some photographs that we decided not to purchase informed me that you can see the Tokyo city skyline from the mountain. It's just too hot and hazy in Japan right now. I'm gonna say it was probably almost 90 degrees fahrenheit.

At the top of the chairlift, we also found a map that revealed the presence of some temples and a waterfall on the mountain,. We eagerly set out to find them. We wandered our way through the mountainside through charming little town-lets that were delightfully rustic and old-looking. We saw a lot of interesting new vegetation, impressive trees, old thatched roofs, old buildings, old machinery, old ladies, and a huge group of children all wearing identical little blue hats and devouring big slices of watermelon. I really wanted to steal it from them. It was also pretty much one of the cutest things I've ever seen.

That was, until we came across another huge group of children. They were sitting on the ground watching each other take turns trying to take a baseball bat to a watermelon. The watermelon was placed in the middle of a big blue blanket, and they had to attempt to smash it after donning a blindfold and being turned in a circle three times by some motherly-looking woman. It was quite an odd sight, especially as they were sitting in front of building that looked like an old temple.

After a long hike through bits of forest, winding cobblestone streets, and mazes of children taunting us with their watermelon, we found the temple. Well, you know the drill: the usual temple stuff. It was red, it was pretty. It had funny roofs. Lots of white paper fortunes were tied to wooden things. There were statues.

We soon started looking for the waterfall. We walked down a ridiculous number of wooden steps, thinking to ourselves we'd probably have to climb back up them again soon. Boy, were we painfully correct. The waterfall wasn't the most impressive, but I quite enjoyed it. I can't say I've really seen that many waterfalls, so I was pretty excited about it. I enjoyed it so much I even took my feet for a dip. Here's proof:

Then we had to make a mad, crawling dash back up those treacherous wooden steps that wound up a densely forested and brutally steep hill. We badly wanted to catch the last cable car down the mountain, so that we could then catch the last bus back to the train station. We were not about to walk all the way back to the station again. Those stairs nearly killed me. If I really want to think about climbing Mt. Fuji sometime soon, I better start getting more exercise. And I was even employing the ever-handy Rocky Mountain step I had learned from my superiors back in the day at camp. Supposedly it saves energy if you lock your knees at the end of every step. Well, it probably did work, but I just didn't have that much energy to begin with.

Anyways, as we boarded the train we were totally drenched in sweat and totally gross and totally proud of ourselves by the end. It was a very peaceful, refreshing trip to the countryside. I was really happy to get out of Tokyo for a day. And there were barely any tourists around. Absolutely none of them were foreigners, other than us, of course. It was quite a satisfying day, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day in Shinagawa

Last Tuesday I went to an area of Tokyo called Shinagawa. Since it was a disgusting Tuesday, my buddy Adam was obviously there as well. He had read about the graves of 27 samurai somewhere in his guidebook and was slightly intrigued. As we had nowhere else to go, away we went.

It turned out to be mildly interesting. Shinagawa is not that exciting a place, but we found an English brochure which gave us more background on the story of the 27 samurai. I honestly don't remember it very well, but it had to do with some rebel samurai leader challenging the Shogun or someone important like that. He led a rebellion and was killed. His followers then carried out a revenge attack on his killers. They, in turn, were all executed and buried in this spot at a shrine in Shinagawa, all 27 of them. We took some nice pictures, but I was honestly more interested in Shinagawa's more modern architecture, which contrasted nicely with the shrine's. Here are some pictures:

After the shrine, we ended up at an amazing aquarium, also in Shinagawa. I initially found it amazing because earlier that morning I was sitting on the train watching the advertisements on the little TV screen. I saw an ad for some place called the Epson Aqua Center. I'd never heard of it, but thought it looked rather fun, seeing as it had a dolphin show. I didn't even know where it was located, but I filed its existence in the back of my mind, never actually expecting to go there. Later that day, now in Shinagawa, we came across none other than the Epson Aqua Center. I just knew we had to go there. It was a sign, or whatever you want to call it. I absolutely adore aquariums. This one was not that large, but it had a great selection of creatures- many things I'd never seen before. Most intriguing were these strange orange fish that have huge suction cups on their undersides. There were tons of them in this one tank that was filled with balloons tied to strings that were weighed down by sand at the bottom. The balloons were covered with these little suction cup fish. It was pleasantly odd.

The aquarium also had a big tank where you could stand in a tunnel and watch sharks and huge sting rays swim over your head. In that tank was also an enormous manta ray. I was honestly shocked. I didn't know they could get that big. They also had some of the biggest crabs I've ever seen. Again, I didn't know they could get that big. I mean these things' bodies were literally bigger than my head. Amazing. I couldn't help but think about how much delicious crab meat was probably vacuum packed inside that thing. I thought about how it would taste in a vat of butter sauce. It made my mouth water.

The best was yet to come. We saw a dolphin show, and that was pretty damn impressive. I won't say much more because we all know how smart and talented those dolphins are. We all know they are capable of doing fancy tricks and synchronized jumps in groups four and all that stuff.

Next was the best part: the sea lion show. There were two sea lions that crawled out onto the stage through a door. They did amazing tricks like balancing chairs on their noses, or a plate, a cup, and a ball all at the same time. They encouraged us to clap for them as they flapped their fins together. It was all very cute and impressive. But seriously, the next part just dropped my jaw.

After the show, Adam and I were wandering the corridors taking a few last peeks at our favorite creatures before we skedaddled. Suddenly, we came upon a large crowd in the hallway. We made our way to the front and found one of the sea lions sitting on the floor in the middle of the aquarium hallway, amidst all the tanks of fish. He was sitting there barking and clapping his fins together, trying to get applause. There he was without a leash, well-behaved, and thoroughly enjoying himself. Soon he decided to take a walk around the aquarium. He began to drag himself with those beefy fins down the corridor alongside the shark tank. So the other human visitors wouldn't slip on a wet floor, two aquarium employees kindly followed him, mopping up his watery trail. Eventually he stopped by the dolphin tank to pose for some pictures. The whole thing was pretty bizarre. Sadly, my camera died so I didn't get a picture of it.

On the way back from Shinagawa, we were rushing to get a spot on a very crowded train in Shibuya. We saw a car with a bit a space and made a dash for it. Suddenly there was a very pregnant silence in the car. Adam sniffed the air, smelled the overpowering presence of perfume and whispered, "Um... I think we're in the "women only" car." I looked around and realized that every woman on the train was giving him the evil eye. Some were just surprised, but some of them were utterly horrified, perhaps afraid he might try to grope them. We immediately shuffled off the train. As we exited, the doors began to close before we could get into another car. The train we had rushed so desperately to get on, left without us.

That was my first and only experience on the women only car. The trains in Japan have women only cars during rush hour times because apparently they've had problems with groping on the super packed trains. I can't imagine them ever being able to organize and enforce something like that in New York City, but here, people take it very seriously.

And now for my favorite picture of the day:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Well. I'm a grandfather.

Last week I was hanging out in the lounge one night, eating my dinner. I was making an effort to try to talk to people I had never spoken to before, especially Japanese people. There was this really cute Japanese girl making funny faces for her friends, including a monkey face. So I finally joined in and did a monkey face with her. It turned into a face off and we kept trying to top each other's faces. That kind of ended when I revealed the infamous "old man face" that was once in such high demand when I was in high school. The Japanese girls pretty much couldn't get over it. They kept asking me to do it again, and trying to take pictures with me while I made the face. At one point, I jokingly pointed to myself and said "ojisan," meaning grandfather. Well, that did it. I dug myself a hole right there.

For the rest of the night I was "Ojichan." Everyone called me Ojichan and gave me hugs and requested the face over and over again. I'm pretty sure the name is gonna stick, too. The foreigners living in the guest house were not so opposed to calling me Ojichan either. One Japanese girl called me "Catojichan," which I found pretty clever.

All in all, I can't say I feel too upset about being called the grandfather of the guest house. I've made quite a few new friends and acquaintances in the guest house as a result. I really am starting to feel a part of the place. I quite like living here and think I may stay for quite awhile. Not only is hanging in the lounge a great way to socialize, but it's a great way to ensure that my Japanese improves. I have become very determined to learn as well as I can. It is probably my major goal of my time in Japan. If I have to stay an extra year or two to really get my Japanese down, I may do it.

Last night, my guest house had a big party because a bunch of people are leaving the guest house soon. Some are Japanese, but many of them are foreigners that have been studying Japanese as full-time students at ICU, an international University nearby. They have been here for a year and now they are all leaving Japan. Three of them are British and one is American. They are really nice people and I am sad to see them go. I had a great time at the party though. I got to practice my Japanese a lot, and it was fun to be at a party. I hadn't been to a party in ages. This one Korean guy who works at a cake shop, who everyone calls Kim Pan because he used to work at a bread bakery, made a HUGE cake for the party. It was amazingly huge and delicious. It was decorated with fruit in the shape of a British flag, cause most of the students leaving Japan are British. We ate through that entire thing with no problem. Well, I was impressed.

Oh, another nice thing earlier this week: I went out to dinner with three of the foreign students who are leaving soon. We went to this Okonomiyaki place where you make it yourself! It was tabe ho dai, which means all you can eat for 1500 yen! (Tabe is short for Taberu, the verb for to eat.) That's fifteen dollars, for all you can eat. And eat we did. We ordered a lot of food. We got traditional okonomiyaki, where you mix cabbage and egg and flour and meat together to make a sort of omelette pancake thing. Then we made yaki udon, fried udon noodles with meat and vegetables. All of it was really good, though maybe it didn't look that nice cause we were rather new to cooking our own okonomiyaki. At the end we made dessert okonomiyaki. They brought us a cup of butter, whipped cream, corn flakes, a whole banana, almonds, chocolate, and who knows what else. We dumped it onto the fryer and heated into a big gooey yummy mess. It was dee-licious.

The place was pretty interesting, too. The restaurant was in the basement of a building and it was totally packed. Half of the place was traditional Japanese style where you take off your shoes and sit on the floor. You huddle around a low table with a burner in the middle of the table, where you cook your food. We sat in the other half though, where we sat in chairs at the table. I couldn't believe how packed it was, though. And, literally EVERY customer looked like a young 20-something. It was unbelievably noisy in there. All in all, definitely a very interesting, new experience.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Non food news

Teaching is going alright. I can't say I'm a perfect teacher, but I do my best to teach the kids the best way I know how. I also try hard to make them like me, which means making them laugh a lot. Usually I'm pretty successful. It's not that hard. All I have to do is pick up a fake apple and pretend to gobble it up noisily like Cookie Monster would. Or, I can jump up and down like a monkey, making monkey noises and scratching at my armpits. It's gets them every time.

However, one little girl didn't like my monkey routine last week. Instead of laughing till she fell over like all the other little 6 year olds in the room, she sat there and frowned at me. Then, she pointed at me, which is apparently very rude in Japan, and yelled "hen," which basically means weirdo in Japanese. The little girl called me a weirdo!! What? She's like six, she's supposed to like this kind of ridiculous humor. What a tough crowd.

Here I am...

But I have no problem making a fool of myself if it makes the kids relax and laugh a little. Recently, in one class where the kids were maybe, oh say eight years old, I was teaching them parts of the body. In the lesson plan it said to sing the Hokey Pokey, dance moves and all. I was pretty sure the activity would fall flat with most of the students and we would have to move onto something else pretty quickly. Well, would you believe it, the kids actually loved it! They couldn't stop laughing. Honestly, I think they just enjoyed it because near the end you have to "put your bottom in, put your bottom out, put your bottom in, and shake it all about..." Yeah, you can imagine. They really got a kick out of watching me put my bottom in and out, and of course, shaking it all about. They liked it so much that they all stopped dancing just to watch me, in all my ridiculous glory.

Loretta Lynn

Let's see. The band is doing fine. We've been practicing together for about a month now, I guess? We practice for about four hours every Sunday night and we now have seven songs. Two of them are covers: the Loretta Lynn song, "Fist City," sung by me, and a song by Nick Cave, sung by Daniel. The rest are Blazing Cranes original songs. The last song is still a bit of a work in progress, though. Andy wrote the guitar and bass parts initially and then I tried to write lyrics and a melody on top of them. I've never written lyrics to anything before, so I don't know how good they are, but it was fun to try. Since I wrote the lyrics, I also get to the sing the song which is always fun. However, we all keep feeling that something is missing from the song. We keep changing things every week about it. It's frustrating, but at the same time it's nice to all be working on a song together as a band. The first line of the song is, "I wanna be as big as a pony..." That's all I'll tell you. I'm looking into buying a second hand electronic keyboard so that I can practice on my own between our usual weekly practices at the studio. I also think it would help me in writing more lyrics or melodies in the future. I am wishing I hadn't quit my piano lessons quite so eagerly back in middle school.

I've had fun being in this band not only cause I enjoy music and singing, but because I've enjoyed getting to know the other band members a bit. I've also been getting to know a lot more people in my guesthouse, which is nice. I've even begun talking to the many Japanese people that so intimidated me before. It was tricky cause most of them don't know much English and until recently I didn't know any Japanese. But my Japanese is slowly improving and I'm trying to practice by talking to more people. I started talking to some Koreans who live in the guest house, cause their Japanese is really really good and they're really friendly. I was amazed at how much I was able to say to them in Japanese. They were pretty surprised and impressed, too, I think.

Shimokitazawa ( i didn't take this picture)

A few weekends ago I went to a club in Shimo Kitazawa with Andy and Daniel from my band and another Japanese guy from the guest house named Shin. The club was having a 50s/60s night. So the music was all American 50s/60s style. It was all really obscure, amazing stuff. We couldn't stay very long because of how early the trains stop running, but we had an awesome time dancing our hearts out to the music. We did the twist, we did the-- well, I don't know the names of the moves, but we did them all. The place apparently filled up after we left, but while we were there we were the only people dancing. The walls were lined with awkward Japanese people dressed in 50s attire. Apparently they asked our Japanese friend if we were comedians from a TV show or something. They couldn't understand why a group of people would dance in public so vigorously and unabashedly. Crazy foreigners.

Anyway, Shimo Kitazawa is a cool place. Reminds me a little of the village in NYC. Here's a link to an article on Shimo Kitazawa: http://krax.typepad.com/krax/city_tokyo/index.html

Not much else. Recently made plans to visit Kyoto in early August with my mother and grandmother who will be visiting. Really looking forward to that. I also enjoyed using as much Japanese as possible to speak to the travel agent when I was reserving the package tours for Kyoto. She knew a lot of English, but still seemed to prefer speaking Japanese to me, so I just rolled with it. I understood quite a bit more than I expected to.

I also recently bought a plane ticket to attend the wedding of one of my very best friends in September. I'll be using four of my 5 paid vacation days available. I'm extremely excited. I get to be a bridesmaid for the first time. I get to wear a fabulous orange dress. I get to see my family, and her family, and a bunch of my closest friends from home. I get to be present at a very important day in a good friend's life. What's not to look forward to?

This week's food column:

So I did go to Disneyland back awhile ago and it was very strange because there were moments when I thought to myself, "Have I been here before?" The layout of the place was often identical to the layout of the Disneyland I went to in Florida when I last went in middle school. Of course, it seemed much more exciting back then. Most of the rides are the same as they were back then, but this time most of them seemed pretty tame. Luckily, I still like good old fashioned fun for children, so I had a good time. Space mountain was still pretty scary actually. More than once on that ride I was sure we were either hurtling into real outer space or a wall. Either way, I was fairly petrified. Turns out that rollercoaster has some wickedly fast turns. Woopee. We also had a huge buffet dinner for like 20 bucks. It was awesome. And it was served on Mickey Mouse shaped plates:

About a month ago I had dinner at my boyfriend's family's apartment. We had a fabulous home cooked meal provided by his mother. I hadn't eaten such good food in quite awhile. We had this one dish that was a bit similar to the kind of stew we'd make back in the states. In Japan it's called niku jaga, meaning "meat potato." Niku is meat, and jaga is short for jagaimo (potato). The ingredients were mainly beef, potato, onion, and carrot. But the beef was that thinly sliced beef that is so commonly found in Japan, that is not quite so common back home. The sauce was what really hooked me though: mirin or cooking wine, with brown sugar, and soy sauce. Amazing. Sweet, salty, and delicious. His mother told me how to make it and a few weeks later I tried it. I swear, I'm not a good cook but it was the best thing I've ever made, in the kitchen at least. I definitely plan to make it again. Perhaps we'll make a good cook out of me yet. Anyway, back to the dinner. It was a couple days before my boyfriend's birthday so we had cake, and jeez was it the best cake I'd ever had. I don't know how to describe it: light, fluffy, creamy, with strawberries on top. The cakes are really good here cause they aren't too sweet like desserts back in the states. Oh what a meal. I'm still dreaming about it.

Another recent food adventure I had, faithfully embarked upon on a Disgusting Tuesday, was eating escargot! I had always (never) wanted to try it, but lately I've been able to try almost anything. In fact, I am decidedly on the lookout out for new, disgusting, strange foods to try. So when my friends Adam and Amanda and I were trying to find a place to eat the other night, we happened upon an Italian restaurant chain called Saizeriya. We'd never been there and so we we peeked at the menu that had been helpfully parked outside on the sidewalk. I admit it was not a very impressive menu, but the moment I saw escargot on it, I knew we had to eat there. Here was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. It came out on a round platter, with little craters in the dish, each containing a little snail swimming in a pool of garlic sauce. I don't usually even like garlic very much, but these things were surprisingly delightful. They had a pleasant taste and texture. I couldn't believe it. I'm sure escargot must be even better at a more expensive restaurant, or perhaps in a more appropriate place such as oh, I dunno, say, France?

Honestly, I shouldn't have been eating at such a boring, low quality food establishment. Personally, I think the Italian food in Japan is pretty bad. Or maybe it's not bad but it's just very different from any Italian food I've ever eaten, especially from the Italian food I've eaten in New York or Italy. It's just extremely Japanized in a way that I cannot appreciate, as of yet. In addition, I shouldn't have been eating at such a place because I was in an area called Shimo Kitazawa. In Shimo Kitazawa, probably any restaurant would have been better than Saizeriya.

I recently discovered Shimo Kitazawa in the past few weeks and I've gone back there quite a few times. It's a bit like Harajuku, but bigger and better... and less strange. Harajuku is the place where people dress like crossbreeds between Little Bo Beep and Marilyn Manson.
There are always tons of young people in Harajuku, and lots of interesting and exciting clothing shops, cafes, and restaurants. Shimo Kitazawa has less weirdos, and more vintage clothing stores and record shops. It also has lots of cheap, interesting, amazing, and delicious resturants, bars, and cafes. It also has a lot of live music venues.

I went back there again this past Saturday with my boyfriend and we found an old vintage toy shop that sold every toy imaginable from the past. It was wonderful. I admit I bought a few things. They had really nicely made figurines of literally every Disney character that ever existed. Even the unimportant characters that you never see toys made of. Like the owl in "The Sword in the Stone."

After that we had Okonomiyaki for dinner. It's a famous Japanese dish that I badly wanted to try. Usually you make it yourself, but at this place they cook it for you. It's basically a savory pancake made of flour, fried in a pile of noodles, egg, cabbage, carrots, other random vegetables, meat, huge delicious prawns, and some amazing brown sauce smothered on top of it all. It's just a big, gooey pile of goodness and they cook it on a big flat metal table in front of you. We ordered one plate and shared it between us, cause the servings were enormous. The place was a tiny crappy little hole in the wall, and it was super crowded. But, boy, was that food delicious. We finished the night with some Baskin Robbins ice cream (yes, they have it here. they have everything here, and more.) Again, I must relate the deliciousness of the ice cream. I ordered a new flavor called Blueberry panna cotta. Hot damn. If it's available in the states, I recommend you get over there immediately and try it.

P.S. This blog is becoming a bit like a food column in a magazine. I do apologize if you are not as into food as much as I am.