Thursday, June 28, 2007


THIS MAY be my favorite ad of all time. Unfortunately, my picture has bad lighting (it was on the subway wall) but the lighting in the picture itself is awesome. And there's so much bound up in the characters' faces.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

shibamata, vol. 1

LAST WEEK I was given Taishakuten as an assignment. Taishakuten is a Buddhist temple, rather well known in these parts. It was an achingly hot day. My shirt kept sticking to me all day as I dreamed of surfing and cold mountain waterfalls.
In Japan, you know you're really in the countryside when you start using train lines you've never heard of before. I had traveled for more than an hour and barely occupied trains, until I was literally off the Metro map. My train slowed down for the last time: it was the end of the line, Shibamata.

I knew something was different as soon as I disembarked - I blinked, half expecting to have my head jerk upwards after dozing on the train. An empty plaza stood in front of me, quietly holding in the summer heat. A bronze, life size statue of a man in a suit stood in the middle. The village roads bent around the plaza, and a small yakisoba(1) stand stood on the left, cooking steam silently escaping from its roof, as large characters silently advertised tasty noodles. Very little has changed in Shibamata since the Edo Period - the street vendors, the temples, even the streets themselves are small and narrow, as if cars haven't been invented yet. I felt like I had walked into a Miyazaki film; Shibamata is 5% myth.

Not particularly inclined to follow maps, I took the most promising street(2), which led me past a yakitori stand (right), an ancient toy store, and several restaurants. The street gradually broadened into a sort of promenade introducing the temple up ahead. Venders and souvenirs shops began to multiply rapidly; so did the people. There were mochi sellers, imo ice cream(3), fishmongers, lantern sellers, and a lady selling 25 different kinds of daikon who had lived in New York and spoke decent English. She gave me a few samples of the vegetable on toothpicks. All and all a grand time. Yes, and I ate all of the above food stuffs.

Above: jars of senbei (Japanese rice crackers)
right: stores and tourists approaching Taishakuten

(1) yakisoba is an originally Chinese dish of fried noodles and toppings like pork, cabbage, ginger, and bean sprouts. Easy to make, very cheap, yakisoba is the hamburger of Japan.

(2) streets mean something different in Japan. here a street can have pets, small vans, motercycles, and pedestrians traveling both ways at once, missing each other by inches, in a space that is narrower than, say, the tire-to-tire width of a Hummer.

(3) imo is potato. Potato ice cream is delicious. It's also slightly purple. You can usually only find it at rural, touristy places, so I leaped at the chance.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

tempura, anyone?

HERE'S AN example of what I do. Last week I went to what is now my favorite tempura restaurant of all time. Below is a short review I wrote about it, which will appear on my company's website in its September debut.

RATING: 4.5/5
Imoya is one of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo. I ducked under the white sign at the door and sat on a waiting bench for one of 15 seats at the bar. At first I was worried about the long wait, but the turnover rate at lunch time is surprisingly fast - I was seated in 10 minutes. A friendly old man asked each customer one word as they took their seat: "Tempura?" Every once in a while there's some maverick who wants more "ebi", “ebi teisyoku” is on the menu, but most of the time everyone simply nods. When it was my turn, I asked for tempura, and was immediately given hot tea and sat back to watch the old man carefully drop breaded strips of fish and vegetables into a giant wood cauldron full of boiling oil, his hands just inches away, red from the heat.
Imoya is clean, bright, and minimally decorated. Everything is metal or exposed wood - the ceiling's wood beams, the metal cooking equipment in front of you, the great wood tempura cauldron.

I received my food in 10 minutes. Hot miso soup, hot tempura, and more hot tea; it was a Tokyo summer day and I perspired helplessly, but I didn't care: the miso soup was "asari," made with very small clams and slightly sweet. I've never seen it executed this well, and this is a tempura shop. I was handed a plate of tempura perhaps 10 seconds old, and a large bowl of rice to eat it over. The ebi, sweet potato, parsley, and eggplant were all very fresh, and the batter itself tasted light and crunchy - I just wanted more.
I had all I wanted to eat for 600 yen - that's cheaper than McDonald's! I'd go back if they tripled the price.
There's no English whatsoever, but just say "tempura" - it's all the Japanese you need to know.

Top: fresh tempura; middle: Imoya interior;
bottom: entrance, with traditional shoji sliding doors

My Job

MY OFFICE is in a 5 story high-rise in downtown Akasaka, a Tokyo business district. It has a balcony. This morning I took a few minutes to look out at the city and relax. They are building yet another skyscraper next door, or else the big red crane lies. Two other towers are almost finished, rocketing up 50 stories or more. I think of them as candles, burning in reverse - each skyscraper rises at the same speed as the others, but some are higher, some are lower. They've been hammering away the whole time I've been here, and I hope to see something like the finished product when I leave. Soon my baby neighbor skyscraper will outgrow my own building, until my balcony is dwarfed. Maybe I'll get some shade then; it's ridiculously hot here.

OK, let me introduce my bosses (I have three of them, sort of): Masa, Jun, and Yoshi (left to right). Yoshi hired me, Masa is my navigator, and Jun laughs at my jokes once in awhile. They're all great people to work with, and I'm sure they'll make cameos throughout this blog.
Today I journeyed to Ginza to review the Sony showrooms, wherein lie the highest-tech electronics the brilliant minds at said company have come up with over the years (I pity my Japanese friends who are trying to read that last sentence). I took pictures of it before I got too narcissistic with a video camera.

OK, I'm going home.

Above: Yakitori restaurants in Hibiya, Tokyo

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I'm Back


I am now back in Japan after a year's absence at school. This summer I am working in Akasaka, Tokyo, at a English-Japanese social interface web service company, Active Corp.
My duties consist of riding the train train to work (probably the topic of a future post), scouting out and reviewing interesting Japanese destinations (restaurants, temples, museums, nightclubs), and helping to make my company as English friendly as possible as we develop a powerful website for English-speaking expats in Tokyo.

I've been in Japan for about 2 weeks, and a lot has happened. I doubt all of my posts will be in strict chronological order for the next month, but hey, you'll never know. It should be interesting.

From top: me drinking Turkish tea; man preparing sashimi in Shinjuku restaurant; tempura dinner