okyo 2010


March 27 - May 10, 2010

Japanese flag

Cherry Blossom
Cherry Blossom

While still in New Zealand, we started searching the web for somewhere affordable to stay in Tokyo. We relied as usual on Craig's List and after a failed attempt with one supplier, got a very good deal from Blair, a transplanted Kiwi. We were even lucky enough to get to meet him before we even left NZ as he was on a visit home with his son. We do like to have some personal contact before renting from someone. We are only too aware of the possible fraudsters that inhabit the web and do our best to not become their victims. Blair was clearly above board and we were only a little disappointed that we had already committed to someone else for the first few days of our stay.

That someone else was Neil, an American ex-pat who rented out a room in his shared apartment. We spent a pleasant four nights with him and got to know Azubu-juban and Roppongi quite well. The best memory was of our first morning when we set off to find breakfast, having not needed to stack the fridge the previous evening because of a generous offer from Neil to share a delicious curry with him, his flatmate, and girlfriend. It happened to be a Sunday and the narrow streets of Azubu-Juban were deserted, which just added to their charm. It was very, very cold and so we were anxious to find somewhere warm to have breakfast. And that's when we stumbled upon Jonathan's. As we quickly learned it is a chain of restaurants that offer a mix of westerna nd Japanese food. The closest equivalent in the US in terms of price and menu would be Denny's. We each got a different breakfast tray. Jan's was basically western, with toast and a fried egg, while Gerry opted for a Japanese tray that had rice and seaweed and some unrecognizable paste that was some kind of dumpling. Jan opted for the drinks bar too and had her pick of hot and cold drinks that, alas, did not include decaf coffee.

Only too soon, however, we had to decamp to our new digs in Shibuya. We had very detailed directions but still wondered how easy it would be to find, especially when we stepped out of Shibuya subway station and landed in the busiest part of Tokyo in the middle of the day! Shibuya is a very happening place with huge department stores atop the rail and subway stations that serve urban and suburban destinations. Altogether there are some five or six subway lines and two regular rail lines that converge on Shibuya. In front of the Japan Rail station is a huge square criss-crossed with crosswalks. On a busy day there are literally hordes of people crossing the square in every possible direction. It is a sight ot behold, especially as it is all backed with giant video screens advertizing the latest fashion and fad to Tokyo's young people. Mixed in with large-scale shopping is a myriad of small-scale restaurants and boutiques from the very chic and expensive to the very folksy and reasonable.

But on our first day we didn't have time to gawp too much, because we had to negotiate the labyrinth of overhead walkways to get ourselves from the Shibuya train station to the nearest landmark to our new apartment: the Cerulean Tower. A landmark in the district although barely a decade old, the Cerulean houses a five-star hotel and all the dining and shopping that goes with it, including of course a very elegant and very desirable bar cum restaurant on the top floor with great views over Shibuya and the rest of Tokyo. Somehow, Gerry's sixth sense when it comes to navigating strange cities triumphed again and brought us to the door of our building with nary a step wrong. A short elevator ride to the fourth floor and we had arrived.

Our apartment was owned by Blair but occupied by an assortment of ex-pats living and working in the city. Erin was employed by the Canadian Embassy to shepherd around their guests. She was American, fluent in Japanese, married to Etienne, a member of the Canadian foreign service, but living a bachelor life as her husband had been posted back to Canada without her. Paul was a Brit and working as a teacher of English as a second language whenever and wherever he could get work. His girlfriend was Japanese and he was trying to figure out if Japan was where he wanted to be and as a couple they were working on whether their relationship was a forever kind of thing or not. Toby, also a Brit, was a certified accupuncturist, fluent in Japanese, with a private practice as well as a full-time job in an accupuncture clinic. He also claimed to be in Tokyo only temporarily, but he seemed so well adjusted it was hard to believe he wouldn't settle down here. Food for a soap opera if ever I saw one. We didn't really fit at all. We liked to eat breakfast in the dining room and socialize with anyone who passed by. They seemed to relate to one another like ships in the night: a quick wave hello and goodbye, but little real communication. We spent evenings watching TV, they all scuttled into their rooms as quickly as they could and rarely re-appeared. We not only washed our dishes after eating, but also put them away, which improved the look of the kitchen tremendously while we were there, but it quickly returned to the status quo once we left. Soon after our arrival we had to insist (diplomatically, of course) on a cleanout of the fridge and kitchen cupboards so that we could have some space to store our stuff. But they survived it as did we.

We had our own bedroom, equipped with cupboard space for our clothes, a desk for Gerry's computer, and a chair for me and my computer. The bed was a futon that we could have folded up during the day to have more room, but that we always left as a bed. We had access to the common areas and used them more than anyone else in the place. Blair had installed a nice big flat-screen TV with cable service and so we could watch foreign news and even some BBC drama shows. We ate most lunches out and most suppers in. We became afficionados of the cooked food department of the Shibuya department store Tokyu. But mostly in the evening we ate salads and other light fare. At lunchtime we would most often eat a "bento", a Japanese boxed lunch. Sold in convenience stores and supermarkets throughout the city, they consist of a serving of rice, a serving of fish and/or meat and a variety of pickled vegetables. We found them always filling, balanced, and tasty. Sometimes, for a change, Jan would choose a sushi box.

We ate out too, of course. In Shibuya we found a Korean-style barbequeue restaurant that we really liked, We also liked the top-floor restaurants that can be found in most sky-scrapers around town. They would serve a buffet lunch for a very reasonable price and during lunch we would get to enjoy the views of the city from up on high. Our most exotic evening was to have a drink in the Cerulean Tower across from the apartment, courtesy of our landlord Blair.

January 23, 2011