An embarrassing incident in Tokyo...The Ginza...Chicken Cartilage on a Stick
TOKYO - An interesting first impression, followed by an international incident. Almost.
I left Toronto on an Air Canada flight around 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, flying due north over Lake Muskoka - awesome - and over the roof of Canada and then past Kamchatka to Japan. I had an upgrade certificate from flying sooften and noticed the biz class washroom had a window. You get to pee and look down at the world at the same time, and that's pretty cool on a really sophomoric level.
Dozed and read and watched Robin Hood (corny but a great airplane movie) before landing on what I thought was a Tim Burton set. It rained heavily in Tokyo during the day Thursday (we're 13 hours ahead of Toronto) and I rode into the city on an airport bus (called a limousine, but really a bus) that was all lit up inside with a slightly garish blue light. It made the rice fields near Narita Airport look rather mysterious, not to mention the giant blue-green Ferris Wheel we passed on the way in, and all the high-rises and small canals and rivers we drove past. Looking down at the motionless, glittering water and seeing the high-rises for some reason made me think of the Batman sets; kind of eerie and other-worldly.
Before I forget, I loved that when the workers at the airport were finished loading suitcases and getting passengers onto the right bus, that they all bowed in unison toward the bus driver. Kinda like a city politician bowing to the TTC union leader, I think.
Anyway, I got a very nice room at the Imperial Hotel, just across from Hibiya Park and a five-minute walk from the Ginza. I had hoped to try some grilled chicken bits in what's called Yakitori Alley, down under the bustling train tracks at the Yurakucho station (see top photo for the area near the station). Alas, Thursday was a national holiday of some kind in Japan and they were shuttered closed.
I managed to find a decent yakitori spot outside the actual alley that's famous for it, and it wasn't bad. For 160 yen, about two dollars Canadian, you get a small skewer with three pieces of grilled chicken or chicken and leeks or meatballs or chicken heart or gizzards or liver or even chicken skin or chicken cartilage. Wow. Where I stopped, you get either salt flavour or bbq sauce flavour, so I got one of each. Nothing to write home about but a nice snack and a cool, local atmosphere.
A local Suntory beer cost a whopping $7.25, and it was a small-ish glass. And you thought Canada was a ripoff.
The Ginza's pretty cool at night, even when you're huddled under an umbrella trying to keep your camera dry. But most of the stores were closed, including the giant department store I had hoped to wander through. Still, it's a nice way to spend an hour and soak up the atmosphere.Before the yakitori is when I think I really caused a stir. I was sitting at a small sushi place and had just been given a lesson on how to fetch one's own green tea by taking a cup, shaking some green powder into it and then pressing on a dispenser that shoots out hot water. I was more or less minding my own business when I suddenly reached into my pocket to find a tissue, being all stuffed up much of the time.
"Honk."I let out a good nose-blowing shout, and I think the entire restaurant went dead still. A half-second later I remembered reading in my tour book that it's considered "disgusting" to blow your nose in public in Japan.
I wanted to crawl out the door, but I figured maybe they'd cut an ignorant foreigner some slack. Nobody said anything, of course, but I still felt foolish. I could, however, breathe a lot better. I've got a tour of the Imperial Palace and a shrine or two tomorrow before taking an afternoon train to Kyoto, so I'll have to brush up on my manners.