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Sunday, May 4

How I Led My Brother Deeply Astray in a Foreign City

The Friday that my brother spent with me here in Japan dawned cold, gray, rainy and regrettably quite windy. This didn’t bode well for the plans I had made that day, a boat tour through old and new Tokyo followed by an afternoon of meandering in Asakusa. It boded even less well because for the first time ever, I was going to drive us to Tokyo to the place we would be staying, the New Sanno Hotel, a hotel created for American military visiting Japan. We had a lot of luggage to haul to the hotel, plus this is the one place in Tokyo that you can park for free, so it only made sense to for once drive it instead of train it. The wind and rain outside of my windows that morning said something altogether different about driving. After a moment’s deliberation, we deemed the best course to wait out the roughest part of the storm clouds and then proceed northward.

Despite the morning’s delay, we were still on track to get all the planned activities in for the day. That is until I drove us through Tokyo on the Shuto B Expressway, landing us smack into the worst traffic I have ever encountered in Japan. While puttering across bridges in the rain and wind was nerve-wracking enough, I also couldn’t help feeling like I was completely disappointing my brother who likes to keep on the move… a course he was certainly not taking at less than 10 km/hour. As we neared our exit, we kept our eyes peeled for the ramp. This was where we would encounter problem number two for the day. I read the directions wrong, which led me to completely miss our exit. Back home, this was never much of a problem. You just got off the highway at the next exit and turned yourself around. Well, sure… at home, but we were maneuvering through a foreign country, which simply doesn’t work like that. We had already lost an hour and a half sitting in traffic and now we would spend another hour and a half trying to figure out how to get back on the Shuto B going south. The next exit was miles away, but we took it as our only hope getting well northward in the city limits, only to find ourselves crossing the longest ramp ever that took us, not only further away from the highway than a lost soul would ever wish for, but also over a river and through a completely foreign part of the city. The path we had chosen had only further muddled the way back. Not losing faith (or at least appearing not to, so as not to panic or frustrate my already antsy brother), we swung onto another ramp only to find ourselves deeper into the city. Knowing it was a lost cause, I chose to stop at a gas station and do my best to explain where I was going. Needing a huge landmark, I asked how to get to the city of Yokohama, which is south and the way we would need to go. It took two Japanese gas station attendants several moments of discussion in the pouring rain before one turned back to me and started announcing the directions… of course in total Japanese. Now my directional Japanese is pretty good… when someone is going slow and giving me time to let it sink in. With this guy, I had to memorize what he was saying as fast as I could. I got two turns down before he lost me. Surprisingly, he got us on the right starting path, only to find ourselves still lost after the two directions away. Giving up on attempts to get back to the highway after several failures, we guessed a bit, shimmied the Japa-Capa straight through the city and seemed to feel like we were getting warmer as names again looked familiar. I felt we could only be around the corner, when I decided that to take those last few blocks and pay a cab to follow him there. Pulling up behind one, I explained in broken Japanese where I wanted to go and how I would follow. He refused. Flatly. And I think he even laughed as I splashed my way back to the car. Before laughing, he did give me a little insight about crossing the Rainbow Bridge, which we managed to get to. This bridge is the exact bridge you need to cross to get to the hotel. Only one problem… we were on the lower level and the exits are completely not the same as the level above us. As we drove through the city on the other end, I thought I would try the cab thing again. I mean, it seems to work so well in Amazing Race! I didn’t see why it shouldn’t work for me. Finally, the next cab I stopped took pity on me and led me the rest of the way. Were we close? Hell no! That cab cost me 1,900 yen! It it was worth every damn penny.

Exhausted, wet and seriously hungry, it was only moments after checking in and changing clothes that we left that car behind and peddled the way God intended through the streets… on foot! The rain kept coming down, not helping our already bleak moods. What else didn’t help is being shut out of two restaurants that told us they were closed. It appears they close in between lunch and dinner. Grr. Feeling less than eager to walk our now puddle splashed selves much further, we choose the first restaurant that appeared open and willing to give us something to eat. Of course, this was a restaurant with no plastic food, no English menu and nary a picture to help us along the way. In the end, we called the waitress, pointed to two meals and figured if one had raw egg on it, that would be my brothers. (The Kimono Critter is obviously anti-raw at this stage.) We ended up with a beef plate of sorts with raw egg on it and a spicy tomato sauce on top of rice. Not the best meal I have ever had in Japan, but to our eager palates, anything was worthy. We walked a bit further, but the day had really been lost in the mornings troubles, so we called it to head back and wait for Kimono Hubby’s arrival to the hotel via train. In the meantime, I entertained Kimono Bro at the hotel bar, for it was the best I could do to make up for the lost day.

Still shaking off the earlier frustration of the day, I was more than wary of the evening reservations I had made. I had first read about the place from a fellow Japan blogger, and had since heard from many others that it was worth a visit… Ninja in Akasaka. I wasn’t willing to risk anymore transportation adventures in the rain, so we opted for a cab to get us there. It dropped us off in front of the Akasaka Tokyu Hotel, of which the restaurant was supposed to be under. Now, Ninja is another one of those crazy places where not only do the staff dress up and perform crazy skits for us, but the restaurant is completely decorated to follow the theme. So to make the entrance easy to find would simply be pointless for a place where Ninjas chill. After several missteps, we finally entered a completely darkened closet where a hostess called for our ninja. If the entrance was dark, it was nothing compared to the narrow meandering hallways our ninja led us through to get to the secret ninja training camp where we would be enjoying our meal. To finally arrive at our table, they pointed to the name of it written on the wall, surely to help those of us who would be needing a bathroom every five minutes, but would quite likely never see their table of friends again. The stealth entrance was enough to immediately lighten our trios dour moods from the long day. We sat down only to laugh nervously about what they were going to come up with next. Our ninja (read: waiter) presented the menu on a scroll, which provided six our seven course options. The prices were high, as we expected, but I kindly asked the waiter if they were for the trio or per person. The answer was something like ‘all,’ so we moved forward with choosing the 10,000 yen option. After receiving the order, the ninja asked if we had any allergies so I mentioned my aversion to raw seafood these days, but assured him that KH or KB would be more than willing to eat what I couldn’t. And stealthily, he was off. Drinks were served, KB trying a warm sake this time, which he will probably never do again, but the moods continued to warm with that sake.

Not only is the atmosphere crazy here, but so is the food. I guess you could consider it kaiseki (top of the line Japanese food). Some of the courses were quite normal, like Japanese tempura, but then there were others… like the box that came out with fumes of dry ice spilling out its sides. Only the guys received this dish, as they were to reach inside the mist and pull out the dish… a hollowed egg that had been refilled with fish bits in jelly. They were to break it open over some greens and chow down. Fortunately, this was where my course first differed and I instead received duck. This would have been fabulous, except for one tiny thing. It was only seared on the edges, which meant it was largely a dish of raw duck. Again, raw anything is just not meant for a fetus. Still, I give the chef kudos for sticking with my ‘no fish’ mention. The next course was just as odd… a shotglass of weeds and foam, which were mixed together and then slugged down. Not particularly tasty, but surprisingly not the first time I have been served this oddity. I have had it at another kaiseki restaurant. Neither time now can I say I cared for this. Another dish or two that was relatively normal for an upscale Japanese restaurant and then we were served what the ninja called ice candy… literally lemon and rosemary frozen into an ice cube and eaten. Good. Weird. Moving on… Japanese beef with our choosing of wasabi sauce… a highlight for the night of oddities. Next a plate of sushi, Kimono Bro’s first true sushi while in Japan. Big slices of raw fish on even bigger mouthfuls of rice than he had ever seen. With his first bite, he tried to actually take only half, which we opted to tell him then that, yes, you do shove the whole thing into your mouth at once. My sushi was a true surprise and a relative delight with all vegetables piled on top of the rice. A nice twist for someone who misses sushi and was willing to get anything close. And finally desert… one a cream cheese frog which was more cream cheese than anything else, one a bowl of white cream which we never figured out what it was but we did get a huge laugh over its strange consistency and taste, and a pretzel shaped bonsai tree with green tea powder to form the leaves, all sitting on top of chocolate and ice cream. If the meal had left us in peals of laughter, dessert surely did. While we were scrutinizing these odd dishes, a ninja magician appeared. That’s when things started getting really weird. His tricks were good, his English was quite good and his jokes were truly the best. He actually seemed to mock us for being idiots for not figuring out one of the tricks. Were we offended? Hell, no! We laughed harder!

It had been several hours of eating, drinking and laughing, with the bad day truly put behind all of us. KB ran off to the bathroom first and we asked for the check. When we opened it, there was a bit of a shock. Now, my dear brother still does not know the truth about this bill, but he surely will now. From reading several websites, it appeared that the cost would be about 5,000 yen or $50 per person, which is what we had told my brother and what he had budgeted for. Remember that price from the beginning… 10,000 yen? That wasn’t for all of us… that was indeed per person. Add the drinks and our bill totaled just shy of 40,000 yen. Here would be where KH would surely smack me upside the head for the first time ever. At least yell at me a little. And yet he didn’t say one. damn. word. It probably would have been different if we had chosen the 30,000 yen per person option. When KB returned to the table and asked the cost, we both quietly said 5,000. Kimono Bro returned with ‘surely it cost more than that… here’s 6,000.’ My truly kind brother. Know you do not owe us any more, but we do hope you liked the place. We did. And it was worth every penny of the $400 to share it with you. Just rest assured that if you are planning on visiting us in the future and would like to try this place again… you are on your own. (EDIT: New research has shown that there appears to be an alacarte menu, which was probably how others came up with their price. But when that wasn't offered, we assumed there was no other menu. Note to self: ASK next time, dumbass.)

As we exited the restaurant into the wet night, we offered hitting a bar or two in the area. Both KH and I were more than thrilled when Kimono Bro said that the hotel bar would be sufficient. It’s damn cheap there… which was about all we could afford after dinner.

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