Friday, 18 May 2012

Day 5 - Robots & Samurai

16th May 2012
Actually, to be honest, there are neither robots or samurai in this post. There is, however, the thought of them!

The first part of today has to remain a secret from my colleagues in the Japan J&J offices! When I got home from work a few weeks ago and told Mike that a tour of the Toyota manufacturing facility was being organised for us, he was so envious that I investigated if we could do a tour this week. We could, so we did. The Toyota tour starts from the Toyota museum, which is in Toyota city – about 1.5 hours from Nagoya. Of course, when you research this, everything tells you that the Toyota tour is “in Nagoya”. It's not. It's 1.5 hours away. Got it??

The tour starts at 10:30, so we were leaving the Ryokan at about 08:15. This does NOT feel like a holiday! Mind you, the sleeping mats in this place are particularly thin, so in some ways it was good to get out of bed, as my back is not terribly happy with me! We left the Ryokan to the sound of a school teacher greeting his pupils at the technical college next door (“Ohio.... Ohio....Ohio...”). Each boy received an “Ohio” and a tie inspection.

Saw this on the way – a drunken raccoon (or tanuki, as they are known in Japan) As I took this photo, an old man pointed at me and said something in Japanese (presumably “he's like you”). Now, I know I like a glass of wine or two, but really! Mike calmed me down (“he's pointing to your sunglasses...”)

Now, I cannot show you photos of the Toyota tour, as cameras were banned, and I think my commentary is only going to appeal to a narrow group of you. So, I shall write that in a separate post. (I think that if you are a manufacturing / lean specialist, then my blog will be lame, and if you don't really care about factories and stuff, you are probably wondering why on earth Mike and I would expend holiday time going to a factory!)

I can, however show you that they have a gargle machine in the “restroom” (I think they mean toilet). I think it is basically a frothy water fountain. They really do think of everything you could ever need

I will just write about a couple of the other people on the tour, because this might amuse you. There was a delegation from a Polish automotive lighting company. One of this group must have been seven feet tall. That's tall in normal life; in Japan it is giant! On the way to get on the tour bus, we passed a mother and child. The child took one look at the giant, and started crying... in the factory, there were parts of the tour where he could not stand up straight. It's a shame.

Second oddity was a man who was carrying a “Kaizen Institute” clipboard, wearing a “Kaizen Institute” tee-shirt, and probably “Kaizen Institute” underwear. Now, either the man has Scottish blood running in his veins (those of you from Inverness and Puerto Rico know who I'm thinking of... short, from Kilmarnock, tendency to wear anything free that came his way....), or he is the founding (and perhaps only) member of the Kaizen Institute. Not sure which – but I'm not sure he appreciated me laughing at him (rather like Gordon really).

OK. I will write about the tour itself, but I shall do that separately. What I will say is that if you are ever in the Nagoya area, you should seriously consider taking time to do this – it was interesting. I will give you more details when I go again next week!

After the Toyota tour we took a long, long long train journey to the other side of Nagoya to go to the Inyurama-Jo. This is the oldest surviving castle in Japan (most of them have been blown up several times over the centuries, and rebuilt. The one in Nagoya itself was rebuilt as recently as 1959). The reason Inyurama-Jo is not as well known as Matsomoto-Jo or Himeji-Jo is probably because it's very small. Anyway, as it was relatively nearby, we decided to visit.

As I've mentioned before, there is not much to do on long train journeys other than sleep. This girl was sleeping for the whole time we were on the train. Maybe she lives there?
Mike found a new delicious drink to try – Calpis Soda (his previous favourite was Pocari Sweat). This is him pretending to enjoy it.

Final train pic, and sorry that this is a bit glary. I've already mentioned the cute health and safety notices... well, on the public transit system they seem to take an alternative approach. If you get your hand caught, they cut the end of the tail off a monkey. There was also a picture where they threatened to chop the fin off a dolphin. Seems an over reaction to me! (seems like a Japanese recipe to Mike...)
In the words of my heroine (Miss Elizabeth Bennett) “I don't think I have ever seen a castle so well situated” as Inyurama-Jo. It is perched on the top of a hill overlooking the town on one side, and the river on the other. I thought I'd taken a nice clean shot of the castle through the trees here – but no, Mike snuck his head into frame. As you can see, it has the scale more of a town house than a castle, but had it been bigger, it would have made an easier target for the allied bombers in the second world war (like Nagoya-Jo)

Inside is all shiny wood and low ceilings. Tall people beware! There are staircases that would just not accommodate six footers. Mike and I are both on the shorter side of tall... (Sorry – apparently Mike is just as tall as Shane Williams, and he does ok doesn't he?)

Whilst the castle is only four stories high, it is also perched on a hill (cliff on one side) so the views from the top are stunning. I have lots of these photos – but this one combines Michael and view, so you get a twofer. The rest will be on Flickr (once I get internet to load them). By the way, that low wooden barrier is all that stops you falling to your death. There is a sign suggesting you don't lean on it....
Final picture of the castle is this roof detail. I love the fact that this is five hundred years old. (I know, I know, there is plenty of 500 year old architecture in Europe, but I'm not sure it is as fine in detail as this is? Certainly not castles – which tend to be built out of lumps of rock, rather than delicate wood and tiles. Maybe we are getting to heart of why Japanese castles need to be rebuilt so often??)
OK, I lied. This is the last picture from the castle. Mike is pretending to write in the visitors book in Japanese. I think it is a pleasing picture.

We walked back through Inyurama at an easier pace than we had gone towards the castle (we'd only had a short time before closing time, so were basically running!) It's a nice little town, but with no concession to the fact that there might be folk who aren't able to read Kanjii. We were amused by the radio station which is broadcasting from this little shop (and through a loudspeaker into the street). The spectators presumably don't own radios?
We headed back to Nagoya, and decided to eat before going back to our Ryokan. We had a couple of refusals (we refused them, rather than them taking one look at us and shaking their heads - although, that could happen, I'm sure!) before we chose to go into a place called Yabuya (or Yabu Yabu as Mike insists on calling it) which is probably best described as a pub that also serves food, although food is also quite important. You might just be able to make out from this photo that there is absolutely nothing in this place that bears any relation to english. Even the staff (who are quite young, and you could normally rely on having a few words) did not speak any english.

With a combination of hand signals and pointing, we agreed that our waiter would choose us a selection of his finest food – up to a limit of 25 quid. Unfortunately he misunderstood and took us to a limit of 25 quid each. I have rarely eaten so much. It was, I think it's fair to say a mixed bag. This photo shows us barbecuing some nice beef, and it is accompanied by salad, tomatoes and cucumber. All good.
This picture, however, shows us barbecuing some parts of a pig that we don't really want to consider too much. (Ears? Cheek? Who knows!) Certainly it was quite chewy.
Thought for the day: Gibbons are NOT monkeys!!!

Day 4 - No-zoooooooom-i

15th May 2012
Today was a travel day and it was raining, so don't expect too much! We were heading to Nagoya on the FAST train. So, after Mike got back from his two hour run(!?), we packed up in a hurry and headed to Toyko main station. Our train was at 0950, so we were travelling right at the end of rush hour, but even so, it was very busy. We elbowed our way onto the train, and tried not to fall over backwards with our rucksacks!

At Tokyo, we bought bento boxes, and then Jane had several attempts to get us onto a train to Nagano rather than Nagoya. (Easy mistake to make I think). Luckily, the guards were having none of this, and sent us on our way, and me into a panic that I may have booked a hotel, train tickets and a tour round Toyota factory all in different cities... I checked, I hadn't. Perhaps I even deserve the (planner)2 in my job title!
We bought ourselves a bento box each for brunch, and headed to the platform. As usual, Mike's choice looked better than mine.
I have a knack of always picking something slightly inedible. Although this time I might have had crunchy bits of chicken grizzle in mine – but Mike had a scary array of undefined fish. Both came with the obligatory piece of tie-dyed tofu.
Once we got past the barrage of guards (stopping us from heading to Nagano) we made it to our platform just as our train was coming in. Suddenly, an army of uniformed cleaners swooped out of nowhere, and in about six minutes, they completely cleaned the train. I think there must have been four per carriage. All the men in blue, all the women in pink. Very effective. Not sure about efficiency though.

On the train, as members of staff entered the carriage, they always took a bow before proceeding to check tickets / sell coffee / sell buns with bean paste in them... etc. Very formal and proper. They have high expectations of the passengers too. The guard was not happy that my rucksack strap was dangling; he gave me a pronounced bow before sweeping it up onto the rack correctly. Last time I made sure my straps were not dangling from my rucksack was the time I left my bag on a train at Clapham Junction... Not sure I was 100% happy with his fastidiousness – but I let him off with it because of the bow!

We disembarked at Nagoya, and I was amused that one of our fellow passengers got off the train, ran to a handy Kiosk, bought a packet of cigarettes, before jumping back on. Now, let's be clear, if I am not standing in line at the spot where the door will be, ten minutes before the train arrives, I am tense. To watch somebody presumably leave all his bags on a train (and his very expensive seat) to grab some cigarettes is astounding to me. Do not think that these trains hang around either, they stop for a very short time. By the time we got to the stairs, it was gone.

At the Ryokan, I think we took them by surprise. I'm not sure they've seen guests for a while. Our room was not ready, but the thing that worried me a little was that none of the rooms were ready (I know this, as me and our host had a little misunderstanding; I was asking for a moment to reorganise my bag before he stored it; He thought I wanted to get changed and was trying to find me one of his ten rooms that would be acceptable) In our two days here, I saw one other guest... slovens!

Anyway, host was a very nice man, and gave Mike a map telling us where we could go for two hours and stay out of the rain, as well as a recommendation for a restaurant – the big pig. More on this later!

The Ryokan is beside a temple, and as we walked towards Nagoya centre, we passed the gates to the temple garden. I do like a Japanese garden, and honestly, they are best in the rain. Somehow it is more atmospheric.
This garden is not the best I have ever seen – but it had the advantage of being here, and being free to enter! This is Mike in the rain ahead of me, walking towards the exit... Eventually he dragged me out, and we headed into town.

The Ryokan man had suggested that we take a look at the Ozu street shopping centre. I think he suggested this mostly because it is under-cover.
There is a network of streets that make up this shopping centre – all undercover. We entered via the street nearest to our Ryokan, which is the street furthest from the centre of Nagoya. It was strange. all the shops were hippy shops selling the kind of stuff you would find on a bad market at home. Nevertheless, we perservered, and spotted some intersting stuff, like this lucky cat. You see these everywhere in the world – even in your nearest Chinatown, but not normally wearing a neck brace. Not sure that is a particularly lucky cat, honestly!
Cute toys are everywhere in Japan. Cute basically came from here –  in fact the Japanese word for cute, kawaii, even sounds cute. I'm not sure about this though. The only clue we could find was that he is called BAD GRIZZLIE or something similar. Seems to have been so bad that he has been shot in the head! Remember, this is a teddy bear, presumably intended for children. That's a bit shocking I think!
I may have mentioned before that the only vegetables we have eaten are generally of the pickled variety? Well, I think we discovered why in a food market today. This is a picture of tomatoes and strawberries. Very nice tomatoes and strawberries, I am certain, although, I'm really not sure they are worth the price. The tomato punnets are priced at 2,980 Yen. This is about 30 CHF, 30 USD or £25 (not certain of the Euro exchange rate, but trying to cater for as many facebook friends as I can!)

Having exhausted all the entertainment that the shopping arcades had to offer we had a coffee in a tiny coffee shop. Again, I believe they were surprised at the idea of customers, but once they'd remembered how, they made us welcome enough. In choosing this coffee shop, we had snubbed the “french maid” shop, where the waitresses were decked out in frilly french maid outfits. I don't know why – I suppose every business needs a mission statement. Theirs is, I presume, “we will provide horny men with tantalising glimpses of french lace whilst serving mediocre coffee”? I did peer in to french maid shop, and spotted that one of the customers was dressed like Michael Jackson, complete with pork pie hat with a glittery band around it. (do I mean a pork pie hat? I think you'll probably know what I mean)

In the coffee shop, we'd had a review of the entertainment that Nagoya had to offer ten years ago, when the guide book was published, and were thrilled at the idea of a pachincko museum! It was just a few stops on the subway, so we decided to head out there. Unfortunately, the global economy being what it is... etc... all that stood in the place of the pachincko museum was a derelict building and some old adverts for the restorative powers of pachincko. This is a photo from within an actual pachincko parlour instead. This man has won millions of ball-bearings, and is clearly a pachincko hero (Mike's photo, not mine).

From here, we dejectedly wandered to another coffee shop, for a cup of iced coffee. This is a drink I can trust. No matter how hard they try, it is virtually impossible to screw up.

It was still very early, but we could not be bothered going back to the Ryokan to come out again later for dinner, so we went to big pig restaurant. It was odd. This is the place that the Ryokan man recommended, yet nobody spoke any english. Not even an english menu.
We muddled through though. Here is Mike with our meagre portion of food that we managed to order... This is two standard set meals from the menu. It was an immense amount of food! (Also, I seem to have done something funny to the perspective. Not sure how, but my plate of breaded pork is not really bigger than Mike's entire body!) The restaurant is famous for its pork with miso sauce (the brown stuff just to the very right of the picture at the front). It was good. Not sure that this Japanese diet is as healthy as people would have you believe!
Thought for today. If you don't want people to park bikes against your bike stand, well, don't leave it where people are likely to park bikes!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Day 3 - Fish Heads and Rice Snot

We decided to get up early to visit the Tsukiji fish market here in Tokyo today. Well, we intended to get up early to visit the fish market, however to be honest, 0630 came around a bit too soon for my liking, and really, if the auctions of the endangered species all happen at 5am, why worry!

We finally left the Ryokan at about 0745, and reached the market at exactly quarter to nine. This is fifteen minutes before the general public are allowed into the wholesale market, so to be honest, I'm quite glad that we didn't get there earlier.

The wholesale fish market is a fully functional industrial operation. I am used to hanging about in fast moving warehouses, but I was quite scared of the volume and speed of movement all around me. I tried to capture this in a little video – but I'm not sure how to share. if I work it out, I will.

Barred from the market, we walked back to the (erm?) market, and had some breakfast. Firstly, we set ourselves up with some protein. Egg lollypops! (They're not as nice as they look!)

Then we had some carbs. I had a bundle of slightly burnt rice (yum!) and Mike had some donburi (a bowl of rice with some eel on top) Against all the odds, I think Mike made a better choice.

Luckily we found a nice quiet place to sit and eat our breakfast... Before heading back to the fish market, we had a look around. There were, unsurprisingly, lots of food stalls, some selling fish, most selling cooked food. There were some pickle stalls (which is the only acceptable way to eat vegetables in Japan I think), and a few kitchen gadget shops which seemed to specialise in anything you can possibly think of!

Inside the wholesale market, even after the 9am curfew, was a bit fraught. The trucks, and the carts, their technological predecessors, were still being thrown around at quite a rate. Also, it's a fish market, so the floor was quite nasty with the bits of fish and crabs that only their mothers would love lying around. Although, as it's a fish market, and it's a fish market every day, I would have expected it to stink. It really didn't.

I took this photo for my ex-boyfriend, Brian, (who, as far as I know is not friends with anyone here on facebook, so I'm out of touch) who loved a song that went:
Fish heads, fish heads, rolly-polly fish heads;
Fish heads, fish heads, eat them up, yum.
They're not good dancers, they don't wear make up
da-da da da da, da-da da daaaaa (can't remember any more)
Please can one of you help me identify this bloody song and the missing line – it's stuck in my head! (I asked Mike, he looked at me like I was deranged – but then that's how he normally looks at me!)

There were also samples of fish on display that were not in buckets. There was, for example, this fine example of a beheaded yellow fin tuna. Just look at the size of it compared to the men standing nearby (sorry, it's out of focus – I did call this bad photographer – that should have been a clue!). I know Japanese people are known for being, shall we say, slightly below global average height, but these guys were not short. I have no idea how old this fish was – but that's one step closer to extinction of an entire species. There was also stuff moving around in buckets. I didn't like that much, so you don't get to see photos.

Bear in mind that this writing lark is just an excuse for me to show you my (bad) photo album without having you run for the hills, this photo is truly gratuitous. Don't you think they look like they are singing in a choir??

We made our way back to the Ryokan for a skulk about, before venturing out to do some admin. I needed to drop my work stuff off at the hotel I will be staying at next week. It's 43 floors high! Unable to contain our excitement, Mike and I jumped in a great glass elevator, and headed for the sky. Urm, that was it. Forgot to take a photo. Didn't jump. No story really! I'll take photos on Saturday – promise!

The other piece of admin was to buy train tickets for the rest of the week. Holy moly, and you all think Switzerland is expensive?? Mind you, we did reserve seats for both of us on four seperate shinkansen journeys. Two of them on the nozumi train (which Mike is quite excited about – it covers 346km in 100 minutes, which is quite fast apparently, so I've been told!) Even so! I found it amusing that the ticket guy thought it would be ok to have a twelve minute “layover” in Tokyo. “It's 8 minutes between platfoms” he said “you cannot have less time”. I think he misunderstood my expression.

We went back to Akihabara (Mecca for electronics freaks – I'm just saying, not accusing anyone who may read this and think I was talking about them...) Mike needed another sim card (most people make do with one!) However, there was a stationary department in this shop. I likes stationary, I do! Mike has a photo of me with just some of my purchases - but i don't know how to share. Who'd have thought you could spend so much money on pens?? (Not as much as you can spend on trains, but it's all relative I suppose).

Back in Asakusa, we went to the restaurant straight across the street from our Ryokan. Mike ordered soba noodles and tempura (this is getting a little repetitive) and I ordered raw fish and snot. Really, the bowl of white stuff with green bits on top (not the rice, stupid) has the consistency of snot. I would not be able to judge if the taste is the same, having never tasted snot. The chef came over and told me to pour soy on it, mix it up, and pour it on my rice. Not on your nelly, I needed to eat the rice! He assured me it was good and had “no calories”. Well in that case, one might ask, why on earth would I bother? I did try some of the soy enhanced snot and rice. Yep, tasted just like I would expect salty snot and rice to taste.

For comparison, here is Mike's fare. Now, doesn't that look appetising. See? Deep fried stuff is much better than snot!

Finally, just a thought. These are my feet. I think I'm turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so...

Published in haste - apologies for errors!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Day 2 - Drunk Mens Bottoms and Soba Lady's Crackers

We carried out an uncontrolled experiment last night. One of us read somewhere (probably in the New Scientist, so not too unlikely to be true) that you can reset your body clock through basically starvation. If you stop eating about 16 hours before breakfast, then restart at breakfast, your body is fooled (no matter what time of day it thinks it is) into believing that it is breakfast time. We ate dinner last night at 4pm, then nothing more until 9am this morning. It seems to be working, it's 8:30 pm and I'm awake and typing! Anyway, this is important for you to know only so that you understand that breakfast this morning was key to my survival (and by default, Mike's...)

Honestly, there was not much consideration given to where the food was coming from, so long as it came! There is a Ryokan at the end of the road which has an attached cafe. That was good enough. We opened the door, and a man shouted “KOHI AND TOSTU 600” which I believe loosely translates into “I can offer you coffee and toast with a fried egg for 600 yen”. See, my Japanese is quite good really. We took him up on the offer, and I have to say, the eggs were really something. Somehow they managed to fry the eggs in an earthenware dish – which was brought to the table so that we could give ourselves third degree burns, rather than the cook, I guess. What I do not fully understand is why Mike's egg was nice and runny – but mine was as hard as a very hard thing that had been overcooked.

I REALLY needed a second coffee – but not a second egg or indeed TOSTU, and frankly 600 yen for a coffee is a bit steep even by Swiss prices. So, we went to our favourite shop, Mister Donut. We did toy with the idea of joining the Mister Donut loyalty club (the Misdo club) but rationalised that (a) hopefully we would never earn enough points to gain anything and (b) even if we did, we don't really need a mister donut scouring pad, I mean, really?

From here, we ambled over to Ueno. Mike had an idea that he could buy a pay-as-you-go sim card and get t'internet on tap. Not sure why – that's just what he does. Imagine our surprise when we rounded a corner to find that there were a group of men in the middle of the road with no pants on. Well, we naturally took photos! Here you are.

Apparently there was some sort of festival on at the local temple today. Everything we know about this festival is what we found out by wandering through it. We spoke to no-one – this is pretty much all guesswork. It seems that each area in the district creates a “float”. This is an inappropriate word, as there is nothing float-like about these things. They are made of solid wood, and I imagine weigh quite a lot. The men (and occasionally women) of the area then take it in turns to carry this ridiculously heavy object and drink beer, whilst wearing no pants (men only, women, sensibly keep pants on). Do any of you have an issue with this?

Anyway, as is often the way with festivals the world over, near to the temple at the centre of this mayhem there was also a market. This might have been a good place for breakfast, but as I warned you yesterday, often things are not as good as they look. Take the lollypops in this picture. You may think, “oh, a nice sweet snack”... you may even be more worldly wise and say, “oh, perhaps they are savoury” – little nuggets of delicately grilled chicken perhaps? No, they are Fish Lollypops. I think, in most parts of the world you could be arrested for that.

How about this picture of e-numbers? Radioactive juice. (Juice, only if you are from, or have lived in, Scotland for more than five years, otherwise it is pop).

We resisted the food on offer, but could not resist these ladies playing to the tourists. I presume it is their husbands who are running around pantless. They should be ashamed – not flicking us the v's!

Even the kids were at it. This is a couple of girls that were part of a mob towing a couple of drummers on a wagon. As they pulled, they were chanting, as you can see, with passion.
I think this is the cutest panda bus I have ever seen. I think all of you will have to agree. Maybe if we took this approach to public transport in the UK, then more people would like pandas? Not entirely sure – but I tell you, I do not remember the last time I stood in the middle of a six lane carriage way in the UK to get a good photo of a bus. That must mean something.

Once we reached Ueno, we wandered through a covered market underneath the railway lines. Normal place, normal stalls... well, that is, except the gun shop. I was alarmed to find that for the princely sum of 26,000 yen (about 260CHF) Mike could have been the proud owner of a gun. Now, I know that they give guns out like confetti in Switzerland, and for those of you from across the Atlantic, you get them as kindergarten graduation presents or something. But for me, standing in a market with a stall sellling dog dungarees (no joke, check out the photo) to the left, and another selling bloody big guns to the right, I was a bit alarmed. Mike ventured into the gun stall; they were also selling vintage guns, which they displayed in front of an imperial Japanese flag. Nice.

In Ueno, Mike wanted to wander around electronic shops, and frankly, I didn't. So, we parted. I sat in a shady part of Ueno park, violating the rights of the locals by sketching them (it's ok, I don't think anyone will recognise themselves!) I also enjoyed watching many, many, many children derive hours of fun from the drinking fountain in the middle of the square. It appears that if they turned it on, and held a hand over the nozzle, they could create quite an impressive real fountain.

Mike didn't discover much in the way of electronics shops, but he did find capsule hotels, and pachincko parlours. Pachincko is a game based on the same principles as the “push penny” game in most seaside amusement arcades, but in pachincko they play for ball-bearings. The noise in one of these places is unreal. If I can bear it, I will try to record you a bit of video before we leave so that you can experience it, and never need to do so again.

Once Mike and I had met again, we decided to wander through Ueno park. There are museums and gardens and.... a zoo!! I do like a zoo. So this is what we did. It was not until we reached the shop, at the very end of our stroll that we realised that we've been here before, except last time we called it Tokyo Zoo (Mike to Jane “these elephant enclosures look familiar”... “oh, look, monkey mountain just like that other zoo”...). There were lots of animals. You'd have liked it (if you like animals). The photo upsets me somewhat, however, it appears that they give you very detailed instructions in how to butcher an elephant.

We headed by accident towards Akibahara after the zoo. Akibahara is the famous electronics part of Tokyo. Mike loves it. I found a iPhone with a word game on it to amuse me whilst Mike wandered round the shop and bought a sim card which might be mostly useless, as you have to activate it from a Japanese mobile... Duh?

Back in Asakusa, we realised it was close enough to dinner time for us to eat. We broke a rule. We returned to a place we had already been to. We went back to the soba restaurant. This time, we intended to order soba!

We were shown to the counter this time, which is always interesting in a Japanese restaurant. In this place, the tempura frying is done just behind the counter, so it's a good job they had an effective extractor fan. This also helped with the fact that the man sitting to out right was smoking like a chimney. We ordered soba with stuff. Mike ordered his with tempura, and we were a little surprised that the tempura showed up about twenty minutes before the noodles. The smoking man was concerned that Mike did not understand this, and insisted that he eat now! This, naturally started up some sort of communication (conversation suggests a greater level of interaction than was possible, given that Mike and I have five words of Japanese between us, and smoky has four words of English!) Him and his wife / girlfriend are from Chiba, and are sightseeing in Tokyo. They were out for a good night, he was knocking back the beer, and she was knocking back the sake. Also, I have never seen two people eat so much. He was normal sized, but above the waist, she looked tiny. As Mike says, maybe under the counter she expanded hugely. We will never know. We conclude that this is how Japanese restaurants are meant to work – a bit like tapas restaurants.

All this interaction drew the proprietor from her lair. Earlier in the evening we had observed several young men bring her flowers (it is mothers day in Japan today). After the second man showed up, and then sat at the counter and ordered food, we concluded that they were customers, not that she had many sons! Anyway, at some point in the evening (probably after we had ordered sake and more tempura) she came over to us and gave us a bag of rice crackers. Honestly, I cannot even now say why she did this. We spent some time learning how to say Senbei (rice crackers), how to write it in Japanese, how to say thank you etc... and then she left. She came back five minutes later with a charm which she presented to the bird from Chiba, and she also had a photo album with pictures of her on her hols in Korea. The entertaining thing about this holiday was that the in flight entertainment on her flight featured her in a TV documentary about soba restaurants in Asakusa – so she has photos of her on the seat back screens.

Because we were so interested in her photos, she pulled out another album. This one of her in New York. By this time I was pissed, so I took a photo of the chef putting the mushrooms away. Don't know why. Neither does he. They probably think we don't have mushrooms in Engerland.

Finally, and only because it is a nice photo, here is one of Mike and I looking happy (that's the Sake!)

Also, I'm quite inept, so cannot link them - but these photos are in better quality here at Flickr