Thursday, July 22, 2010

Updates and About the First Meal

First, I am excited to tell you that my first choice apartment has been reserved. Weird though because the deposit showed up in my bank account almost immediately the day I paid them and today it disappeared.

So, when I get to Narita Airport I will take the train to Shinjuku Station. I haven’t done this before because my travel agent has always pre-purchased a bus ticket directly to the hotel in Shinjuku. I’m looking forward to trying the train and hoping it costs less that the bus. The one consideration I have is the luggage. The bus has lower compartments for storing luggage. I’m sure the train will have overhead racks but we shall see and I find I have very little patience for luggage after a long trip. If my carry-on bag slips in my grip or the roller luggage flips on a wheel I’m ready to drop kick it through the goal posts to hell where they are welcome to burn for eternity.

The other reason I like the train idea is that if I have visitors and want to meet them at the airport. If the train is less expensive it will be worth doing and if it turns out that luggage is better handled on the bus I can get my visitor going in the right direction from the airport on the bus to Shinjuku and I’ll take the train back and meet them there.

For my arrival, my friend will be meeting me at Shinjuku Station. From there we will lock my luggage, if I still have it, in a locker and we’ll walk over to the rental office which is just outside the west exit of the station. The rental agency won’t do any of the work ahead of time so you have to go there to get keys to your apartment and pay the first month’s rent. The deposit is for cleaning and damage and I could get 2/3rds of that back after I vacate.

My guess is that I will be in the apartment by about 7:00 PM after about 18 hours of travel. I actually enjoy the trip and get a lot of reading done, plus I watch a movie or two. I like to stay up the first night at least until my regular bedtime. That way I get a regular night’s sleep, waking up at a normal time in the morning and get on Japan time right from the start.

My friend and I will probably check out the apartment then go get something to eat to kill a little time before I go back to unpack before pulling out the futon and putting together my sleeping apparatus. I don’t recall if I mentioned that the apartment has the straw mat tatamis on the floor and that means no western style bed. I’ll be sleeping on the floor with a futon for 3 months and I’m looking forward to that experience.

I’ve purchased all the toiletries and OTC medications I’m going to take so it’s now a matter of deciding about clothing. Usually not a difficult task for me; socks, undies, slacks and some golf shirts. I’ll wear a jacket so I don’t have to pack it.

Over the past few trips it became a tradition that the first meal upon arriving in Japan would be okonomiyaki with my friend from the Keio Plaza Hotel. There is a restaurant we go to in the basement of a building between the hotel and Shinjuku Station. It seats about seven customers and we always end up standing in the corner beside boxes of cabbage waiting for a seat. It stays that way the entire time we are there, with people standing and waiting for openings. If two singles get up and leave at the same time and there is a twosome waiting, people have no problem shifting over a seat to let parties stay together. Everyone is so courteous in Japan and you just fall into being that way as well when you see how readily they accommodate each other.

My friend prefers Hiroshima style okonomiyaki and did some research to find a restaurant that served okonomiyaki in the layered, noodle filled format. He was also really happy when he discovered it was so close to the hotel. He always makes sure to be working the day I arrived and after I check in he gets off work and we go for dinner.

Okonomiyaki is sometimes called Japanese Pizza but it isn’t even close to being pizza. Hiroshima style is cooked in stages and then the stages are stacked. The chef cooks a crepe, some seafood, some noodles, a pile of cabbage and finally an egg on a teppan, a large flat iron cooking surface. This is the type of cooking surface you see in Japanese restaurants where they cook the meal in front of you and flip shrimp and fried vegetables.

In America, teppanyaki cooking is part entertainment and part food preparatioin. When we went for teppanyaki in Japan it was all about the food preparation, the chef displayed his skills at cooking and we benefited from the chef's skills by enjoying the flavor. The show in America is fun but don't expect that type of entertainment if you go for teppanyaki in Japan.

Once the layers are stacked they are left to cook for a while then the whole thing is flipped, covered in okonomiyaki sauce and allowed to cook a little longer. Some places put a lid over top of the stack to help the cooking. When done, the chef sprays Japanese mayonnaise over the top in a grid pattern and cuts the whole thing into smaller more manageable pieces then the okonomiyaki is placed in front of you, still on the teppan to keep it warm. The teppan is cooler on the edges.

There are bottles of extra sauce in case you need it. Okonomiyaki sauce is a date-fruit based sauce that is a bit sweet. It is certainly umami. I was able to find the same brand at an Asian grocery store near my home in Arizona.

Of course sake goes great with okonomiyaki but cold beer is also a nice accompaniment. The last couple of times my friend has also ordered beef tendon as a side dish. They’re slow cooked and as tender as can be. A little gelatinous but they have the most intense beefy flavor I’ve tasted in a long time. We eat in about an hour and then my friend catches the train home while I get back to the hotel.

I did a search on the internet for okonomiyaki and there are plenty of hits. I figured out a recipe and have begun to make it at home. My kids and girlfriend love it. They think I make a pretty good version of okonomiyaki and they’ve eaten the real thing in Japan.

It is one of the foods of Japan that I knew nothing about before going on our first trip. We went out to find a place for dinner one night in Kyoto and ended up at a small Japanese restaurant. We think my daughter may have ordered okonomiyaki for dinner that night but we don’t remember exactly what it was called. After my friend introduced me to it, we all think it was a great find.

Our tradition will be broken on this trip because I won’t get to the rental agency and out to Mitaka in time to make the trip back in for okonomiyaki. I do have that dinner date scheduled for the next night and will probably eat at that particular restaurant on more than one occasion. I don’t know the name of it so I can’t provide a link but I know where it is.

I leave in less than 2 weeks and I’m starting to get pretty excited. While I’m preparing I’m also staring to work on a publicity campaign for my novel. I’ll be doing a lot of work on that while I’m in Japan.

To read more about my novel and me, please visit my publisher’s website at

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