We’re back in Japan, again! For those keeping score, I applied for my visa two weeks before Libby, and now two months later, Libby is still the only person who actually has obtained her visa. Womp womp.
So, lots of waiting. Waiting for word on my visa, waiting on our apartment hunting process. Nothing we can do but try to keep ourselves entertained.
Getting here hasn’t been terribly easy, too. I’m sure Libby will mention the details, but just our flight into Japan met with considerable delays and unfortunate turns. We almost didn’t even end up sitting next to each other on the long international flight, but I insisted on trading seats with the lone traveler sitting next to her, so we sorted that out (we had originally selected seats next to each other, but had to take a different flight which had no two consecutive seats available).
So for good news: tonight’s dining experience was unusually hilarious. We wandered into a Korean restaurant, which isn’t too unusual in Tokyo, but we soon discovered just how “authentic” this place was. It was run by two older Korean ladies, one in the front and one in the back. It was occupied by a crew of Mandarin speaking Chinese kids (Libby pondered for awhile how they even managed to order until I observed one of them ordering in Japanese.). The whole experience was a fascinating clash of worlds — American and Chinese tourists, speaking Japanese to overbearing Korean hosts.
And overbearing they were, lol. In a… Well-intentioned way. First, no sooner than sitting down was the lady in the front hovering right in front of our faces whispering Japanese in a thick, thick Korean accent, “What would you want to eat? What do you like?” At first I muttered some options we had seen outside the door, but she was quick to dismiss those, “Nah, we don’t make that here.” Uh, ok. But still, she insisted to know what we wanted. The menu was super hard to decipher — it was all Korean words transliterated in Japanese Kana! No help from Chinese characters, I was at a loss how to begin to even pronounce or understand the items on the menu, and so too was Libby flustered. Then, the lady, still hovering over us, begin pointing to items on the menu and insisting each were “delicious”. Oh, ok. Me and Libby locked eyes and we knew. We were going to have to fly blind and just order a couple of items that the little old Lady was insisting us to eat. So I pointed at a couple of items on the menu with a bit of resignation to what might come from what I had insisted with only my finger to guide me. What was this feeling? Oh, the feeling of being a tourists in a strange land with a strange language. I haven’t had that feeling so pronounced in such a long time lol.
Satisfied that we were going to eat, the little lady left us some typical Korean appetizer plates and we were alone with our rice, kimchi, fried squid, sprouts, and pickled veggies. The Chinese party across from us were clearing having a great time, drinking and eating BBQ while chatting gleefully. The food must be good. This was promising.
Our orders finally came around, two PIPING hot soup bowls, and boy do I mean hot. Even after waiting a few minutes and blowing several times, I managed to burn the tip of my tongue, but fortunately still the taste came through. One was a rather decent tofu soup with crab, and the other a very savory, peppery stew with chunks of tender beef. Man, that peppery, oily taste really hit the spot.
The little old lady did returnith. “Was it good?” She kept confirming with us, pleased at our replies.
Finally, it was time to pay. Upon opening my travel pocket to retrieve the money, the little lady had a good chuckle. “You’ve got quite a lot huh?”, she mentioned as I struggled to pull a smaller bill out to pay. “Well, we are on vacation, sort of.”
Even as we left, the little old Korean lady came walking us out the door to see us off. She saw us off into the night, thanking us for eating, very pleased in having obviously satisfied us. The whole experience was too cute; it had been as obnoxious and yet endearing as you would expect from an overly eager mother duck tending her troublesome little chicks. And we were those wide-eyed chicks for sure, but safely we navigated a good meal. Lol. Am I beating this metaphorical dead horse enough?
Anyways, there are some other interesting experiences worth detailing, I’ll leave that for Libby now. Ciao!
For sure it’s been a crazy couple of days. We left abruptly last Thursday Pacific time since I had to come back to wait around here for my company to get back to me. As Zach said, we got stuck at SFO due to rain and because the crew was supposed to be able to land at 1pm while our plane was to leave for LAX at 11am. We had no choice but to stay in LA overnight, which the airline gave us a hotel discount voucher for.
Boy! You should always think twice before using those vouchers, or at least check what you’re getting into before saying okay. We stayed at the Ramada LAX El Segundo, wish you should avoid at all costs! We started to get the feeling it was going to be a sketchy hotel when the van didn’t arrive in about 30-45 minutes and right when it did I was yelping on how it only got 2 stars. But too late, already committed!
When we opened the door to the room, we knew that we were in for a treat. I tried opening the window and I found dead bugs in the sill. The fire alarm went off not once, but twice. I’d find a white crusty spot on one pillow and then find a black smeared spots on two others. There was no remote for the fingerprint smudged TV. Oh look, the big spider from the window whose web I ruined is now on the wall behind the TV. I looked too close at the bathroom wallpaper and found mold splotches. And there was mold on the curtains as well which I touched previously. It drove me nuts finding all these little gross things reveal itself! There was a Denny’s that we went to for dinner and I much preferred hanging out there than going back to our creepy and gross hotel. To top it off there was a giant water leakage on the side of the hotel in the middle of the drought (I also noticed the houses in the neighborhood have reallly green lawns). TSK just when I was starting to be ok with you, LA!
Anyways I’m glad we are out of that hotel and back into bunk beds haha. This time we are staying in a pretty quiet residential part of Tokyo, with curvy back alleys and 100 yen vending machines (yay!). While we wait around, we’ve mainly been catching up on things we haven’t seen. We went to a suburban area way north of Tokyo at the station Shin-Misato. We explored Ikea and Costco to scope out what things we could buy for our potential apartment. It was really fun to see what different things were offered in the Japanese version. For Ikea, many things are very similar except there were many more space efficient items, like folding out sofa beds and short cabinets if you have a floor setup. The demonstration walk seemed much longer, and halfway I thought, why isn’t this over yet? The cafeteria section is also a LOT BIGGER and well, the meatballs are unfortunately a lot better than the US, being more meatier when you bite into them. How will I transition back to US IKEA meatballs?! The Costco had a lot of interesting product such as pizza with seafood or with a white sauce, swiss roll cakes in the cake section, really cheap shitake mushrooms, and tasty-looking nigiri sushi, unlike those watery California rolls that are back home. Costco is really popular with expats and locals alike!
We also checked out some things we missed out the first time, such as the National Art Museum, the Shinjuku garden, followed some Chinese bus tourists toward the Imperial palace, and the Shin-Yokohama ramen museum. In the ramen museum we got to buy vending machine tickets for an assorted amount of styles in a re-creation of 1950s Tokyo buildings. You can check out the different types in our gallery!
While we’re in a limbo transition right now, this is a really good time to be in Japan. From what we’ve seen, a lot of things are gearing up for the cherry blossom festival, with some sakura flowers starting to slowly open in the park, art exhibits devoted specifically toward hanami (flowering viewing with friends and picnicking), and sakura-flavored soft serve and starbucks lattes. I’m excited for Spring to fully arrive!