Archive for June, 2006

The Penultimate Post

June 10, 2006

Well, I'm back in Canada. Yep, the Japan Odyssey is over. More on that in the next, last, post. I wrote this after my fourth day in Japan:

Today was a day full of setbacks, and some really good eating. And that’s all that really counts, isn’t it? As long as the food is good, nothing else really matters. It was a Sunday, and my last day to wander around aimlessly, Monday being my first day of work. I decided to head back to Namba with two primary goals:

1) To see the Sony Tower, as I’ve heard this is an interesting place to check out, chock full of gizmos, doo-dads and gadgets.

2) To see Amerika Mura, or America Town, another must-see area, supposedly.

Before we get started, I’d like to submit the following for entry into the “only in Japan” file: “Mother Garden,” a store whose sole purpose seems to be to sell clothes for dogs.

First thing I set out to do was goal number one, Sony Tower. Easier said than done. I have a little map of the Namba area provided by Nova, with a bunch of interesting places to see marked down. Much like the other map, there’s very few road names. So attempting to find the tower was a confusing process of trying to find my way via random landmarks, as well as trying to match up my map with the many maps placed around the city.

In my confused wanderings, I passed a movie theatre, and something caught my eye:

They’re playing Memories of Tomorrow, a movie starring Ken Watanabe as a businessman who finds out he has Alzheimer’s. I’ve been wanting to see this since I first heard about it a few months ago. Do I really need to mention the cruel irony of being mere steps away from a theatre playing it, and still not being able to see it? Frustrating.

I started walking away from the movie theatre but then stopped dead in my tracks. Coming from some restaurant in the distance I breathed in the most enchanting smell to ever waft its way into my nose. You know in the cartoons when Yogi Bear smells a pie cooling in a window and finds himself floating towards it? That was me with that smell, which as it turns out was coming from this place:

This was a noodle place, and the ordering was conveniently done via vending machine.

As you can see, their vast and varied menu consists entirely of “noodle in soup” and “noodle in soup with extra pork.” I chose noodle in soup, and was presented with a ticket…

…which I brought into the restaurant. Moments later I had my bowl of noodle in soup, and I was ready to eat. Here’s a very blurry picture of the place:

You can’t really tell from the picture, but the tables are all on raised platforms, and what you do (or at least what I saw other people doing) is take off your shoes, and then sit at the table with your legs crossed. So I did that. Here’s my meal:

It doesn’t look like much, but it was quite delicious. It was basically like one of those instant noodle dealies, only about a million times better. Plus there were pieces of pork in there, which were definitely the highlight. They had some kind of seasoning on them and they were outrageously good (they were also what was producing that heavenly smell). I’ll order extra next time. I should probably note here that I am really glad I learned how to use chopsticks back in Toronto, because it seems like everywhere you go here, chopsticks are your only option. After I finished the noodles and the pork I wasn’t sure what to do with the broth; no spoons were provided. I kinda figured it was okay to just bring the bowl to your mouth and drink out of it, but I waited until I saw someone else do it. I didn’t want to horrify the whole restaurant with my oafish Canadian manners.

I wandered around some more after that, and after a lot of walking and wandering and backtracking, I finally found it! Success!

But wait… What’s this?

Closed! That’s right. The whole freaking building was closed. So it was a long (long long) walk for nothing. Oh well, at least I ate those delicious noodles.

Next it was off to Amerika Mura, which I actually managed to find quite easily, and which wasn’t all that far from the (closed) Sony Building. This wasn’t quite as impressive as I was led to believe. It was basically just a little area with a bunch of American-inspired clothing shops and such. It was clearly a hangout for the local youth, as I don’t think I’ve seen that many young people concentrated in one area since I got here. The only thing here I deemed photo-worthy was this weird looking McDonalds.

I also bought a candy bar in this area, called “Choco Bar.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this, but I was pleasantly surprised. The bar itself sort of resembled an Oh Henry, but the inside was primarily cookie pieces. There were also some peanuts and raisins, but the cookies were definitely the dominant flavour. The whole thing was held together by chocolate, which is sort of unusual, since North American candy bars are generally held together by something chewy, like caramel or nougat. I enjoyed it.

Next, I passed by that restaurant with the giant crab you may recall seeing a picture of a couple of posts back. This time there was a guy outside selling grilled crab legs. I saw Anthony Bourdain eat these on his show, so obviously I couldn’t pass them up. Here’s the guy grilling them:

And here’s the crab legs themselves:

Best crab legs ever. I’m not kidding. I’ve never had crab that tasted so good. I never even knew crab could taste that good. They just had a really robust, grilled flavour, and the meat itself was so soft and moist. Five hundred yen seems a bit pricey for the little amount of meat I was able to scrape out of these things, but it was still worth it. Again: best crab legs ever.

After this it was time for dessert. I went to a department store, always a reliable source of good food, and I found this place:

They seemed to only sell green tea soft ice cream, and they seemed to be doing pretty well (it was empty when I snapped this photo, but there was a line a few minutes before). I figured it looked interesting, so I gave it a try.

Well, they can’t all be winners and this certainly wasn’t one. I think it may be an acquired taste. For one thing, it could barely be classified as soft ice cream, as it was pretty thick and closer in consistency to regular ice cream. Whatever, that’s not a problem. But then there was the taste. It was barely sweetened at all, and it just had a really strong tea taste. I don’t mind the taste of tea, but here it just seemed bizarre (I’ve had green tea ice cream before, and it was way sweeter). I ate about half and then threw the rest out.

Since I didn’t finish that cone, I figured it didn’t count as dessert, so I set out to find something else. I came across this place and thought it looked interesting:

Basically what they sell are pieces of deep-fried sweet potato, tossed in some kind of caramelized sugar. Here’s what I got:

I wasn’t expecting too much out of these — I was more curious than anything else — but wow! Just wow! These things completely knocked me out, they were so good. The outside is covered in caramelized sugar, which is crispy and delicious and perfect. The potato on the inside is soft and fluffy and almost like cake. The combination of the crispy sugar and the fried potato was pure awesomeness. It’s definitely one of the best things I’ve eaten here so far. I’m going to dream about those potatoes for as long as I live.

And so, I ended the day on a high note, and went home. I’ll again leave you with a couple of pieces of mangled English I’ve run across. The first is just confusing:

I’ve read it several times, and I’m still at a loss. What does it mean? It’s almost poetic in its confusion. The second one actually made me laugh out loud:

“Let’s keep things friendly for our own good.” Is that a threat? What happens if we don’t keep things friendly?

Here’s a few random photos.

And finally, here’s a video I took of a guy outside a department store ranting really angrily about… something. I dunno. He’s really passionate about it, whatever it is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZquCtF_zFY

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Day Two

June 1, 2006

Okay, I'm finally here in my real apartment, and I have a reliable internet connection. So without further ado, day two:

On my second day here, a Friday, I knew that the first thing I had to do was go to the city office and register for my Alien Card. This is basically a card that all foreigners in Japan need to get. You need it to sign up for a bank account, or get a cell phone, basically you just need it. The office was closed on the weekends, and I needed it before my first day of training on Monday, so today had to be the day.

To take the subway to where I needed to be, a transfer was involved. I got to the first station and suddenly got very confused, and a little lost. I couldn’t really figure out where I needed to go. So I was standing there, looking at my little map, looking lost I guess, and this Japanese guy walked up to me and asked “Do you need help?” Now this guy didn’t work for the subway or anything like that, he was just a random Japanese guy who wanted to help. If you were looking lost in a subway station in North America, the best you could hope for is a hobo asking you for change. So that was nice.

After being helped by the friendly Japanese guy, I managed to find the subway I was supposed to take and get to where I needed to be. This is where things went south. Now the first thing I want to emphasize here is that this was NOT MY FAULT. I know, I’m not exactly Magellan, and I’ll pretty much get lost anywhere I go, but this time… the blame? Not on me. I had a map from Nova, describing how to get from the subway station to the city office. It was just a straight path from the station to the office; no turns, pretty simple. Now the map had absolutely no labels for street names, nothing to really tell you where you are other than a few significant landmarks. The most obvious one was a McDonalds, which the map indicated was about a sixth of the way to the office. So after about ten minutes I hit the McDonalds, and I’m thinking “wow This place is really far ” but I kept trekking on. After about forty minutes the street finally ended, and no city office. Now I’m starting to panic. I remembered seeing a cop directing traffic a few minutes back, and I decided to find him to see if he could give me directions.

As a credit to Nova, they at least did one thing right: on the top corner of the map, the address for the city office is written in Japanese. I pointed to it, and hoped the officer would realize I needed directions. He did, but unfortunately he didn’t speak any English. He tried his best to help me but he just ended up confusing me more. I wandered around a bit, found a guy standing at a bus stop and asked him (or pointed to the map, to be more accurate). He didn’t seem to know, but at that point a bus pulled up, and he asked the driver. The driver knew how to get there, and even better, was going to pass by it with his bus. So I hopped on and a few minutes later, I was finally there. At this point I noticed that there was a McDonalds across the street, but I thought nothing of it and I went in to take care of business. When I came back out it suddenly dawned on me: that was the same McDonalds I passed by at the beginning of the wild goose chase. And that’s the story of how I got completely screwed by Nova. Hopefully this isn’t a harbinger of things to come.

After that fiasco I thought it might be nice to explore a different area of Osaka, so I went to Umeda. It was raining, which kind of put a damper on things, but I wanted to at least eat something and walk around a bit. The first place I saw after walking out from the subway station was this gigantic department store:

 

It’s hard to really get a sense of scale from this picture but trust me when I say the place was HUGE. It advertised a “restaurant zone” on the eighth floor, which sounded pretty good to me.

I went up there and was disappointed to find that, while the place was quite enormous, it was all classy looking sit-down restaurants. Defeated, I left that store and walked around looking for a placed to eat. Shortly thereafter I found this place:

There was a picture of some pretty decent looking noodles posted near the door, and I wanted to go in, but I wasn’t sure what to do. It’s tough not speaking a word of the language of the country you’re in. I loitered around the entrance, and the lady inside waved me in. From this point it was easy; I pointed to what I wanted on the menu (there were pictures), and a few minutes later the waiter brought it along with the bill. Here’s a picture. Excuse the blurriness, I’m still trying to figure out how to take decent pictures with this camera:

That’s noodles, a bowl of plain rice, and some kind of soup. It was mostly just broth, but it was really good. That fried thing on top of the noodles was…. something. I don’t know, I think it might have been a really soft cheese, but I could be way off on that one. It was good, anyhow. The whole meal was quite tasty, actually, and all for an even 500 yen (about five bucks). Good stuff.

Next, I went to the first store I could find to buy an umbrella. I went in to a convenience store, and as well as the umbrella I found this:

Kit Kat Fruit Parfait, perhaps the oddest flavour of Kit Kat I’ve ever tried. The chocolate part was white chocolate with a very strong banana flavour, and the stuff between the wafers was some kind of berry. I was a bit disgusted by it at first, but after a few bites it won me over. I’d get it again.

Then after walking around some more, I found it. One of the greatest places I’ve been to so far. Remember in the other post I was talking about the food area in the lower floor of a department store? Well I found another one, except this was like double the size, and way better. It was awesome. It was really just an overwhelming amount of food. If there’s a heaven, I think it’s something like that place. In fact, even if there is a heaven, Jesus would be looking down like “Man, I’ve gotta get in on that place ” and then God would be like “Oh you know it, J ” and then they’d both high-five.

Here’s a guy in the sushi area cutting into a giant fish:

Here’s a few more pictures, though they really don’t do the place justice:

I would have taken more photos, but shortly after snapping that last one I was accosted by an enormous Japanese guy who informed me, “No pictures! Just shopping!” I mean, he was nice about it, because I don’t think it’s possible for a Japanese person to be impolite, but still, I was a bit stymied. Anyway, without taking at least thirty or so pictures, it would be impossible to convey how gigantic and how wonderful that place was.

That was pretty much the end of that day. I’ll leave you with a few pictures I took while wandering around.