(March 1 - March 21, 1999)

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We have been in Tokyo for a week and, although I have never been here other than in the fall when the weather was perfect, it has been pretty nice, albeit a bit cool.  I still prefer T-shirt weather.  Unfortunately, I wasn't writing travelogues during my first assignment in Audit, so it's hard to give first impressions of Japan since my first trip here was for eight weeks back in the fall of 1993.  Back then I had first impressions on the 1 1/2 hour ride in from the airport; of the city as we approached the hotel; of this magnificent Hotel New Otani that our team always stays in and which most of my colleagues have also loved; of the first temple and shrine that I visited; of Yoyogi Park and the many hundreds of young people enjoying the music of bands lining both sides of the street that was shut down on Sunday afternoons; plus many many other first impressions.  The Shinkansen (Bullet Train), Kyoto (the old capital of Japan) and its marvelous temples and shrines, Nikko, Asakusa with its great temple and shopping area and, of course, Mt. Fuji.  Trust me, there is nothing about Japan that I haven't liked, including the aesthetics, the culture, the people, the food. 

There are five of us on this trip to Japan: me and Diane; Nick, who was on assignment in Tokyo and lived here from 1984-86; Borhan, who has only been through, but not to, Tokyo; Alan, who has been here previously, but only for eight days.  Nick left on Sunday to go work with the team in Singapore and Alan and Borhan are scheduled to leave at the end of this week.  There is also one Japanese person, Takahiro Wakizaka, who is on the team.  He is on loan to us from the Japan Audit department.  That will leave Diane and me here for week #3.  Last week was work and dinner.  Alan and Borhan arrived Monday evening and we just ate near the hotel at the Cozy Corner, a good first night place to grab something quick.  Tuesday started a round of some favorite places.  Although Takahiro lives in the area, he came out to eat with us a few times.

*  Tuesday was shabushabu.  Now this is a great dining experience.  I found the following on a web site that best explains what it is:

"Shabu Shabu is a traditional Japanese dish that translates as 'swish swish' since you swish thinly sliced ingredients (meat, usually beef, or vegetables) in a pot of boiling water set right at the tabletop, then dip them into sauce. The sauce cools the steamy morsel before tantalizing your tongue with Eastern flavors. It's akin to Boeuf Bourguignon, or meat fondue.

This meal is sure to fill you with warmth, and it's subtly intimate; it relieves cabin fever, and lets you have total control. The steaming, aromatic pot teases the senses and satisfies, while the speed of cooking preserves much of the nutrients in the food.  You may even work up a sweat.  Shabu Shabu can be found at select Japanese restaurants."

Our favorite shabushabu restaurant is Shabuzen in Roppongi.  The ambiance is perfect because it is designed as a shabushabu restaurant, so the pot is actually built into the table.  It's a cozy restaurant and makes for a great dining experience when eating with colleagues and friends.  They offer an "all you can eat" meal for 4500Y (about $45).  Combine the shabushabu with some beer, wine and/or sake and you think you are in Heaven.

*  Wednesday we went to Moti's Indian Restaurant, of which there are three in the area.  We went to the one in Roppongi (we are working in the Roppongi area).

*  Thursday the guys wanted to go eat Yakitori in Roppongi and I didn't want to ask Diane to come over from the hotel again.  So I went back to Akasaka to meet Diane and we went to our favorite kushiyaki restaurant, which also serves yakitori,  in the Belle Vie building.  Yakitori is chicken.  Kushiyaki serves chicken, but you can also get other items, such as octopus, ox tongue, etc.  These are all grilled and served on sticks (skewers).  Great stuff, although Diane passed on the octopus after one taste.

*  Friday we all went back to the Belle Vie building (lots of restaurants in the building) and ate at a favorite tempura restaurant.  We mostly had fried prawns and pork, some miso soup, and Japanese salad, plus beer.

*  Saturday we went to eat with some Japanese friends, Tad and his wife Teruko.  Tad was on assignment in Atlanta back in the late 1980s and it has been nice to visit with them on each of our trips to Japan.  He took us this time to a place that served a sort of teppanyaki called 'MONJA'.  This dining experience turned out to be the highlight of the trip so far.  There are different kinds of monja, such as beef, chicken, seafood.  We met Tad and Teruko at the Tsukishima (ski shima) subway station.  Since this is very near the famous Tokyo fish market at Tsukiji (ski g), Teruko thought that fresh seafood was in order so she ordered the seafood monja.  Diane and I, and our old team, have never been to this part of town because it is not a tourist area.  Tad referred to it as downtown Tokyo and more in a residential area.  It is known for its monja restaurants and many Japanese go there to partake of this meal.  I found a web site for monja that has some photos on how it is prepared for you culinary fans out there.  The words are in Japanese.  Monja was the first and third courses of our meal.  So what the photos show is the preparation of the two monja courses that we had.  It was fun trying to keep the broth inside the circle of food as it absorbed it.  YUMMY.  Check out

The restaurant was a couple of blocks walk and it was a small place, as were most of the restaurants in the area.  It was traditional so we had to take our shoes off to sit.  Luckily, it had a built in bench so we didn't have to sit on the floor.  Done that and it gets harder to do as one's bones get older unless, I guess, you're used to it.  Teruko sat traditional style with her legs bent under her on the mat on the bench, but Tad sat with his feet on the floor.  This was a big table and had two built in griddles.  The meal itself was SIX courses, as follows:

course 1 - monja.  This consisted of sprouts and other veggies, as well as seafood, and was in some broth in a bowl.  The contents are put on the griddle, except for the broth, and cooked.  A couple of times during the cooking the broth is added, mixed in and more cooking.  Teruko cooked on one griddle and was the expert.  Tad said he wasn't a cook and had no problem passing the baton to yours truly.  Not that I'm a great cook, but it looked like a fun thing to do.  After some cooking on the griddle, the food was spread out on the griddle so the underside could brown.  Then everyone just scraped some off the griddle and ate.

course 2 - teppanyaki.  This consisted of beef, shrimp, ox tongue, scallops, octopus, squid and some sprouts.  We all were able to cook our own and eat at will.

course 3 - monja.  Same as course 1, but with some other items added to the mix.

course 4 - okonomiyaki.  This was presented in a bowl with egg, flour, cabbage, seafood.  Turns out to be just like a big omelet that we all shared.

course 5 - yakisoba.  Soba is noodles, so it was noodles, shrimp, squid, octopus, sprouts, ginger, scallops.  Same as before, all cooked on the griddle.

course 6 - anzumaki.  This was dessert and was cooked by one of the restaurant's workers.  It was like a crepe and we had two of them.  One was apricot and the other sweet bean paste.

Add some beer, sake, and soft drinks and what an incredible dining experience.  I think shabushabu has met its match and we will have to try and do this again before we leave.  However, Tad and Teruko are leaving for vacation in Atlanta and Las Vegas next weekend and will be returning to Japan on the day we are going home.  So we'll have to do it by ourselves.  It is always much easier to have a Japanese speaking person along to help with the ordering.  Of course, when we are by ourselves, it becomes more of an adventure.

* Sunday was a cold, rainy day and we decided to eat in one of the many restaurants in the hotel.  There are more than 30, yes THIRTY, restaurants in this hotel complex.  So there are plenty of choices.  We wanted to do the yakitori place, but they were packed.  So we picked one that served beef, fish, and Italian food.  Small portions, big price, nothing special.
For sightseeing, we decided to stay local on Saturday because Nick wanted to do some shopping before he left on Sunday. That worked out pretty good because it allowed us to visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine ( and  This is a shinto shrine.  Most of the Japanese are both Shintoist and Buddhist.  Shintoism is the oldest religion of Japan and is closely linked to nature.  It is based on the cult of kami (gods).  Buddhism was introduced from continental Asia in the 6th century AD and is based on the idea of enlightenment through meditation.  (The preceding came from one of our travel books.  You don't think I really remember this stuff, do you?)  ;o)

NOTE:  We can't remember why we don't have any photos of the Meiji Jingu Shrine, except for a wedding party, or Yoyogi Park.  Diane thinks there may be more photos stored in our daughter Jill's house and not with us as I get these international travelogues up on our website.  I'll update the photos at a later time if we find some stored in our photo boxes in Jill's basement.

After the shrine, we walked over to the adjoining Yoyogi Park where there was some political rally going on.  We decided to get some lunch there and we got our favorite Yoyogi Park lunch of fried noodles.  Alan had wanted to try the 'octopus balls' so he got a bunch of those.  No, it isn't what it sounds like.  It's pieces of octopus wrapped in a doughy type mixture and served with some spices.  Not bad.

Although this was not my first trip to Yoyogi Park, I have to tell you about that first visit here because I will never forget it.  This was back in 1993 and Peter, Sue (who later became manager of the department) and I went to Yoyogi.  What a place.  They closed down the wide avenue every Sunday at 1 PM.  The street is separated by a median with a hedge along the entire median.  The local bands would come out and stake out a spot on the street (both sides were full of bands) and the street was full of young Japanese kids, mostly girls in their school uniforms, like what we might refer to as teeny boppers.  The kids would stand in front of their favorite groups, some at ground level, some on stages they set up, and have a great time.  Behind the kids would be the tourists taking it all in.  I think Peter and I went to Yoyogi on 4-5 of those first 7 Sundays we were in Tokyo.  After the first couple of visits there, we started to also enjoy watching the tourists watching the bands and the kids.  The bands ranged from 50s, to rock, to punk.  Some of the kids were also dressed in punk.  We also found some groups we liked, especially a group named Seek that always seemed to get the largest crowd in 1993.  By the time we returned in 94, Seek was nowhere to be found and after that trip I found that they had a contract with Sony. 

Then there was a change in government and they closed down Sunday afternoons at Yoyogi Park.  Such a shame.  We never saw any problems there and the only people we ever saw getting drunk were, if you can believe this, two American kids walking around with a bottle of Jack Daniels.  Idiots.  I always maintained that we probably couldn't allow activities like this on a regular basis in the USA because there would be people that would somehow manage to ruin it with booze and/or drugs.  I'm sure you all know that I am not one to shy away from expressing my opinion, so I found a sort of Chamber of Commerce address for the Yoyogi area and sent a note asking why it was shut down and expressing my opinion that I thought it was too bad they did that since everyone seemed to be having a great time.  As usual with people in power, I got the normal 'non answer' that didn't say anything.  So Yoyogi Park is a thing of the past.  It was pretty famous and I've seen articles in old travel magazines and the web that talk about it and have photos. 

NOTE:  Although I didn't write travelogues back then, and I was taking lots of video of everything we saw in Japan, Diane remembers taking photos in Yoyogi Park.  I will include some of those photos of the happenings in Yoyogi Park at a later date.

After lunch in Yoyogi Park we walked over to Harajuku and Omotesando to do some shopping at our (actually, Diane's) favorite shop, the Oriental Bazaar.  It's a tourist trap, to be sure, but we loved going there every time we were in Tokyo.  We ended up buying stuff for ourselves and as gifts, such as tea sets, sake sets, and some beautiful geisha dolls that sit on the mantel of our fireplace.  Nick had a couple of places to stop first to get some herbs and Alan wanted to stop at a place that Diane found that sold Beanie Babies.  They were pretty expensive, though, at 1800 Yen, which is about $15.  Finally, we headed over to get some Hagen Daaz.  There used to be a shop next to the Oriental Bazaar that was a favorite Sunday afternoon stopping place, but it closed down.  So we had to go to a different one.  But it was sort of on the way back to the hotel.  They had a deal going for 7 scoops of ice cream for 500Y, about $4.75.  Wow, what a deal.  Nick and Borhan devoured the 7 scoops.  After ice cream, we walked back to the hotel to rest up for dinner.

A quick word about the Hotel New Otani.  This hotel has sort of become home when we are in Japan.  We have normally worked in Kawasaki or Mitaka, both about 45 minute commute.  There was one trip where the commute was almost 1 1/2 hours to Yamato, but the team opted to stay at the New Otani and commute.  That's how much some of us have loved this hotel.  It is huge, somewhere around 1500 rooms, several shopping areas, almost like a small city.  It has a beautiful Japanese Garden in the back with a great waterfall.  Check out   or  It is quite busy on the weekends as many Japanese people come to spend the weekend in the area and stay in the New Otani.  We were told that people will save their money for a long time just to spend a weekend in the New Otani.  The rooms run around $400-$500 per night.  Even with the discount we get via the local IBM office, we still pay around $250 per night.  There is a wedding pavilion in the hotel and many people plan their wedding in the hotel.

On Sunday, we went to Asakusa, which is the site of the Sensoji Temple.  To get to the temple from the main street, one goes down a long corridor for several blocks with shops on both sides.  Unfortunately, it was a cold, rainy day on Sunday and not as much fun as when it is warm.  Diane and I have been there several times.  Actually, Diane gets to roam around during the days while I'm working and had already been to several of the places we covered over the weekend.  We ate lunch in a small restaurant in Asakusa and then headed to Akihabara, which is the electronics section of Tokyo.  Store after store after store filled with electronic gear, some of which has not made its way to the USA yet.

Well, that brings week # 1 to a close and what a week it was.  The current plan has Borhan and Alan leaving at the end of the week, which will leave Diane and I here by ourselves.  This is quite different than when I work with my normal team as there are usually team members here until the end.  If the weather is nice, we think we may try to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano for a day over next weekend.  But that's next week's travelogue.  We did spend a weekend in 1993 in Kyoto and Nara and rode the Shinkansen.  It was quite an experience.  So fast, yet so smooth.

Until next time.

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