Cool Tokyo shopping, Japanese airport security and cold red wine with noodles
TOKYO - My last morning in Tokyo, and I hit the jackpot.
On my way to Roppongi the other night I had passed through an area of Tokyo called Harajuku, then past the Omotesando Hills shopping mall and down through the plush stores of Aoyama. I didn't quite know I was staying that close to the area, nor had I realized how posh it was, so when I got up and had some time to kill before heading to the airport I grabbed a cab for the Harajuku metro/train station. It's a lovely, brick and wood affair on the edge of a park, and it's quite the spot on Sundays when Tokyo teens show up in wild costumes.
This was a weekday, so there was only a hint of crazy couture, but there was plenty to look at, including, if you look closely, two adorable young girls in matching purple outfits with cute hats. I wasn't quite sure where to go when I got out of the cab, my Tokyo maps being hard to read and my knowledge of Japanese at zero. I was struggling to figure things out when I heard a guy yell, "Hey, you need some help?"
My rescuer was (and is) a great guy named Darrell Green, who moved to Tokyo 17 years ago. We got to talking and I said I was from Toronto and he said he grew up in Philadelphia and moved here the year the Jays beat the Phillies to win the World Series. I don't think that's why he moved to Japan, but I didn't ask.
Green sells umbrellas across the street from the Harajuku station, and he was mad the other morning because it had rained overnight and not during the morning commute when he needs to make his money. The drizzle was starting, however, so he was optimistic.
Anyway, he told me how to find the Omotesando shopping centre, but said I'd be wise to skip it. I told him I'd heard that the streets in and around the shopping centre were fun.
"Exactly," he said. "If you want Beverly Hills, go to Omotesando. If you want to see Japan, get off the main street."
Good advice for any tourist in almost any major city, really. and particularly excellent in this case. Not that the streets around Omotesando are filled with everyday Tokyoites; it's too expensive a neighborhood. But there were small homes and small, independent shops - one was called Crack Unit - and even a couple homes with single-car garages, and I can only imagine what those cost in a nice part of central Tokyo. I saw some beautiful Rolls Royces and Beamers, but mostly I saw ordinary things like small gardens and mailboxes and neighborhood cats and kids lining up for the school bus; great stuff. There also was a small memorial in the window of one shop with a note that read, I believe I have the name right but I couldn't quite tell, "Christopher Kenneth, God Bless You." If you notice, there's a small can of Kirin beer at the bottom of the photo.
Thanks for the tips, Darrell, and may the daytime rain continue.
NARITA AIRPORT, AND GOODBYE
It didn't take as long as I thought to get from Shinjuku to the Narita airport; only about 50 minutes from the last hotel on my pickup route, the Hilton. But I found it weird that when we arrived at the edge of the airport, the bus stopped so security folks could get on board and check everyone's passport. Then again, I realize not everyone has the luxury of relatively lax security that we take for granted in Canada. And it was certainly no big deal; just interesting.
I was lucky enough to get an upgrade from the good folks at Air Canada - always handy on a long flight, particularly when I'm headed to Dubai in a few hours, and I mean a few hours. Anyway, that allowed me to get some work done in the ANA lounge prior to boarding. It's a nice lounge, with plenty of food and a hot noodle station.
I don't really like the buckwheat soba noodles so much, so I opted for udon with tempura and fish paste. As iI got my bowl from the cook and said my obligatory "arigato, arigato," I noticed a small bowl filled with what looked like cayenne pepper and other spices.
I reached over and got a small spoonful, and the noodle cook started gesturing at me and laughing, as if I was about to commit some serious damage upon my mouth and intestinal system. I reduced my serving portion a little bit and tossed it on my soup, and he kept smiling and laughing quietly. It wasn't really so spicy, and it might have been one of the best bowls of soup I've ever had.
They had plenty to drink in the lounge, including serve yourself draft Kirin beer. I opted to relax with a glass of some interesting-looking red wine from the Ardeche region of France. It's a beautiful part of south-central France, and I'd never had any wine from the area, so I thought I'd give it a try. Lo and behold, the wine was not only resting on a bed of ice but was shockingly cold.
It was the second time in three days I'd seen red wine chilled to the bone. And I gotta say, I love Japan, but someone has to stop this immediately. Ice wine from Canada in the fridge, of course. Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay or Riesling or Champagne, yessir. But frosty red wine doesn't cut it, guys.
Anyway, I departed in a good mood, with a lot of wonderful memories and the tune of Bruce Cockburn's Tokyo rumbling through my head..."Oh, Tokyo, I never could sleep in your arms. Mind, keeps on, ringing like a fire alarm. Me and all these other dice, bouncing around in the cup. Did you have to show me that accident scene didn't I get enough shaking up? Still, I'm gonna miss...you...."
To the noodle cook at the ANA lounge, to the Park Hyatt and the Palace Hotel in Tokyo, to the wonderful Hoshinoya Kyoto hotel staff, to my tour guides in Tokyo, Kyoto and at the Tsukiji fish market, and to the cab driver in Kyoto who insisted on taking my picture at the boat station for Hoshinoya (see photo), I say, "Arigato gozaimasu."
See you again sometime.