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

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