BLOCK OUT THE SUN OVER ME

On Thursday I met my friend Yutaka after training. (I was so excited I forgot to punch out my timecard.) He’s a tour guide in Christchurch, but has been back in Japan until tomorrow, so he offered to show me some things in Shinjuku. First, some skyscrapers.

West Shinjuku is known in Tokyo as ‘the skyscraper district’. There must be somewhere between 10 and 20 buildings that are 35 stories or more. Pretty much all of them are about 80-90% offices, with supermarkets on the ground/basement floors and restaurants on the highest floors. Some of course, have observation areas, so we checked a couple out. The most impressive was the tallest building in the city, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings, with its twin towers and modern interiors.

Generally I would say a view’s a view and there’s no point explaining it, but this was special enough to warrant more than just a photo or two. In every direction, buildings cover the land (apart from the parks, like Yoyogi), all the way out past your field of vision. This means there is an obscene amount of pollution, so you can’t really see that far – like, if it was NZ, you’d probably be able to see Mount Fuji, but here you can only see it about twenty days a year. The point, though, is that one has to marvel that a lot of this sprung up in the wake of World War Two. That’s 50 years to get from near-decimation to arguably the most impressive, advanced and certainly largest metropolitan area in the world.

From there we went to an alley crammed full of very traditional yakitori bars: tiny establishments serving mostly barbecued meat on sticks to salarymen. The ‘men’ there is key, because while we there, I would’ve only seen about four or five women out of the hundreds of people dining in the alley. Every time a pair or group of young girls walked past, Yutaka would say they were probably from out of town, because local women would always go somewhere else and leave the blokes here to drink, smoke and banter.

I quickly realised the art of choosing which establishment to enter. First, you want one that’s full (or nearly full) of people. If there’s nobody there, that’s usually for a good reason: the food’s inferior. Better to have to keep your elbows tucked in tight and enjoy incredible food than be able to spread out and not want to finish what’s been put in front of you. Second, the chef shouldn’t be too vocal. The vast majority will be calling out ‘Douzo’ (please), ‘Irrashaimase’ (formal welcome) and ‘Oishii desu yo’ (It’s delicious), loudly and almost desperately. The good chefs a) are too busy cooking to yell at potential patrons walking by; b) know their stuff is so good that people will come anyway.

Which brings me to the food. I… words fail me. Certainly one of the best meals I have ever had, and a dream experience. We had mung bean sprout/chicken liver salad, seasoned pork/spring onion skewers, macaroni/tuna/ham salad, tofu/pork/radish stew, seasoned chicken mince skewers (a house specialty), and seared bonito slices (just amazing), accompanied by several Asahi beers. I’ll post a photo soon, but seriously, every last thing was incredible. And we were sat right in front of the charcoal broiler, so we could watch the chef work. Everybody was friendly, too – obviously quite surprised to see a foreigner in a place like this, but keen to communicate.

We then met an Aussie guy and a couple of American girls, so we had a few drinks with them, which was cool. I found myself talking like a teacher: smoothly and very demonstratively. Perhaps not a good thing, but I’ve resigned myself to it, because these procedures and philosophies I’m being trained in won’t allow themselves to be put to one side. Actually, maybe it is a good thing. I’ve never been very good at verbal communication, so if if the only downside of changing that is sounding like I’m in an infomercial, I guess I should embrace the trade-off. Either way, it hasn’t been that difficult thus far. Kids training next week! Singing and dancing! Woohoo!

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