Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Radio Ham

Apologies for the delay in posting.  The trip took place in September but I only managed to write these notes a couple of months later.  For contemporaneous reports, take a look at Track My Tour -- a brilliant app that I used to ... well, track our tour.  Here is the link.

In the 1960's there was a wonderful radio programme called Hancock's Half Hour with Tony Hancock wherein he got himself into various situations and they humourously worked themselves out over the next 30 minutes.  The most famous was probably the "Blood Donor" episode but my favourite was the "Radio Ham".  It all took place in Hancock's flat where he connected to various hams all over the world including one from Japan whose English was poor but who had a stock phrase that he used: "It is not raining in Tokyo".

Classic Stuff!

When we landed there last week in the modst of a deluge, that immortal phrase immediately sprang to mind.

"It is not raining in Tokyo".... much!

Our arrival did coincide with a typhoon on the east coast of Japan and with Tokyo being "the Eastern capital", it felt some but thankfully not all of the weather impact.  Traveling 16,000 miles to land in the middle of a hurricane/typhoon would not have been good!

We'd taken Japan Airlines (JAL) from JFK, a 15 hour trip during which I made the decision to stay awake as our arrival time in Tokyo was 4 pm and watched 6 movies on their in flight entertainment.  I think this decision meant I'd be jet lagged and therefore find it difficult to sleep fior the next 3-4 days.  So not a wise decision.  But I did manage my first Japanese beer/sake combination of the trip.  This was to be repeated during the remainder of the trip!

For the first couple of nights while the rest of the party arrived, we'd be staying at the Tokyo Hilton which is near the main train station in Shinjuku and which also happens to be the business district of Tokyo.

The first day of course was a mess with all jet lagged but as we arrived at 4 pm, 11 pm and 12.30 am, the team of Indy and Cat, Gordon and Thelma, and Viv and I were able to move on out exploring  reasonably early the morning after looking for that first bowl of noodles.

Near the station (which is immense incidentally) are hundreds if not thousands of small places to eat, some so small that you cannot reasonably call them restaurants.  In Japanese they are called Izakaya's.  Very small with room for maybe a dozen people seated at the counter.  And of course at any time of the day or night, the drink of choice for most patrons is beer and sake.

A classic Izakaya in Food Street
Very nice indeed were the noodles once you got the hang of making your selection at a machine on the wall, paying at that time and being issued a ticket which you gave to the people behind the counter.  No chance of making special requests here!

One thing to remember about Japan is that all government closes on Monday and as our first tourist stop was the National Museum through the park, by the time we arrived to find it closed, we were all thoroughly soaked by the same storm/cyclone that ripped into the east coast a few hundred miles away.

This was true of all the shrines we subsequently chose to visit as well!

The first shrines of the day in Ueno district
However our next stop in Akihabara was not affected.  This district is known for its cartoons, anime and electronics.  One city block in particular was a high tech supermarket on 10+ floors that caused immediate sensory overload if you weren't a geek.

Akihabara, outside the massive tech supermarket

However after visiting, Cat had organised a ridiculous adventure whereby 20-something girls dressed in French maids outfits served you tea and cakes and generally giggled like schoolgirls calling you "master" and all that... this isn't a joke.  It's for real.  To call this weird is simple understatement.  It is not something Viv and I would have gone to ourselves, but having gone through it, I also wouldn't have missed it either!

Some of the other patrons are just plain weird.  It did seem that some may go there simply because it would be their only female contact.  For a few yen extra, the girls would play cards or other simple games with you!

Our night time extravaganza was at a really nice restaurant in a nearby building where we'd eat what is locally known as shabu-shabu, a hot pot dish where you have a bubbling vat of broth (this was clear) into which you successively put in this case Wagyu beef and crab (the house specialty) and then a bunch of veggies and noodles.  I'd eaten this before but in those cases we'd done the cooking ourselves.  In this case, it was the various staff who did it for you.

Great stuff.  The beef was spectacular.

"Wagyu, Wagyu very much..."

What a start.  Cat had written up detailed itineraries for most days of the trip and this was a crackerjack opening!  Here is the first day's itinerary in full (but largely not done):

1.  Breakfast in Shinjuku (Yes)
2.  Go up to Tokyo government building, wander round, Disk Union for vinyls (No)
3.  Train to Ueno Park.  Ameya-Yokocho market under train tracks, National Museum, Lake, Temples (Yes)
4.  Yanaka -- picturesque, street food, temples (Yes)
5.  Train to Akihabara.  Maid Cafe at Homecafe in Don Quixote (Yes)
6.  H line to Ueno then west on E line to Shinjuku. Stop off at Iidabashi to view Koishikaw Okra Kuen Garden (Partly)
7.  Pre-dinner drink at Peak Bar in Park Hyatt (Yes)
8.  Dinner at Seryna Hon An (in Sumitro 1 Building) (definitely yes)
9.  Omoide Yokocho (piss alley) if energy... which unsurprisingly was found wanting! (No)

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