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Saturday, October 31

Tokyo Times

Every once in awhile, KH and I just want a bit of American normalcy without dealing with the base. There is a haven for us. And we only have to go as far as Tokyo! It's the New Sanno Hotel. Stuffed full of normal sized bedrooms, normal styled meals, normal shopping and normal salon services. Okay, a bit of Japan seeps in, but overall the place perfectly fits the bill when we want a homestyle getaway without paying several thousand to actually go home.

We picked a random weekend and headed up on Sunday morning. This is an extremely important day at the New Sanno because of one very important event... BRUNCH! This is a brunch like you have never seen before. Ice sculptures grace the several buffet tables. A man sits at a baby grand. Others stand behind waffle stations, meat carving stations, pasta making stations, fresh sushi stations, and that doesn't even begin to tell you all this is on the menu here. I tend to eat very small meals, but when I go here, I always make it to a third or fourth plate. It's just that damn good.

To arrive on a Sunday is wise. Otherwise leaving on Sunday means you have to lug your bloated self into the car and try not to fall asleep from your severe food coma while crossing the Rainbow Bridge. We've made that mistake in the past three years more times than I care to admit before we finally figured out a better way.

So this long weekend began with a brunch. It was too early to check in, so we decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood or Hiro-o, checking out some shops and temples in the area. A motorcade of black and white vans and cars zoomed by us with speakers blaring some message and music. We would love to know what it was all about, but couldn't begin to tell you what the message from the speakers was. By the time we got back, our room was ready for us to collapse into. However, I had planned on treating myself to something else from back home... a massage. And while this seemed like a really good idea, it turned out to be one of those strange Japan experiences. I made my way down to the salon early and ready for those weary muscles to be soothed and pampered. It was only moments before they called me back. At first I stepped into the room, but my Japanese male masseuse called me back to remove my shoes at the entryway. How very Japanese and my first clue that this wasn't going to be exactly like I thought. First, I had never had a male masseuse before, but secondly and more importantly, I couldn't imagine a reserved Japanese person (a guy at that!) rubbing my defiled, tattooed body. For those long time readers, tattoos are a no-no here, despite the fact that most youngsters have them these days just like any American generally does. Another point on this - the New Sanno is a military hotel, running strictly for those associated with the military to use. How many people in the military DON'T have tattoos? We tend to like our ink. Back to the point. So this Japanese guy is getting ready to rub down my towel-wrapped body? Alright... if you say so!

I ask him where do I undress, but his English is rather limited so either he didn't understand the question or was too embarrassed to answer it if he did. He only says something about the sheets on the table and how I should lay under them, face down. It was very clear at this point that there would be no articles coming off. How do you massage if you can't dig in to those raw, naked muscles? I was going to find out.

Now I'm on the table, face down, sheet over my jeans and blouse. I expect he will at least lift the sheet off of the part he will be massaging, but no! Not so! The whole reservedness that is the Japanese way, they take it to extreme here. He massaged through the sheet, through my jeans, and while it felt good, it also felt... odd. It was as if he feared to touch any inch of my unclean skin! I took a shower! I swear I was clean! But he massaged up and down, always through the sheet and my clothes. When he got to my feet, he actually wrapped them in the towel so a tricky wouldn't dare slip out and touch his precious skin. As strange as all this was, I was pleasantly surprised that when I stood up (a bit rushed after a massage if you ask me), I actually did have that light headed and floating feeling in my body movement. I guess the massage did what it was supposed to, but I still miss stateside where they strip you down and dig deep into those tissues. Ahhh.

I headed back up to the room to rest for a bit with my boys. There wasn't much rest as it was getting close to dinner and we had big plans. We had made reservations at the front desk to go to Gonpachi. Have you seen Kill Bill? Do you know the fight scene with Uma Thurman where she kills the Crazy 88's? "Silly Caucasian girls likes to play with samurai swords." That Gonpachi! Well, the inspiration behind the scene anyway. Tarantino thought it would make a great place for a fight scene, but the movie was actually filmed in China. I like to think it was the same place anyway. Gonpachi is also famous because it is where our ex-President George Bush went when he visited Tokyo. It's located in Nishi-Azabu, just a tiny walk from Roppongi. Sure it's tourist-y, but some place that you should definitely visit when here. KH has actually been several times, but this was my first.

We started the meal off with drinks, mine a mikan-sho, basically an orange shochu drink that didn't taste like much, but sure snuck up on you. KH went with the lemon sour. Both were gone too fast so we ordered a large Kirin to share. On the dinner menu - tempura, tomato and tsukune yakitori, some type of clams, some type of beef and potato and orange chicken. I forget which dish it was, but I was asked if I wanted egg with that. "Sure! Why not?" is always my answer. So she brought a raw egg placed into a bowl with the dish. Only problem... I never figured out how to get whatever it was we were to eat it with into the tiny bowl of egg. So that untouched egg sat on the table the entire meal. Not one server would remove it when they cleared each course of dishes. We eventually left it on top of the signed credit card receipt.

I wouldn't say the food is much to write home about, but we have more often paid for ambiance in Japan than for food. In case you are wondering, Kimono Peanut was with us doing his usual charm act on everyone around him. He giggled and smiled and nibbled on bites of whatever we put in front of him. If one thing is for sure, we are definitely encouraging this kid to be open to all kinds of experiences! It was early, but that doesn't mean a thing when it comes to KP's bedtime, so we paid our bill and caught a cab back to the hotel. It never fails that no matter how many times we take a cab from Roppongi to the New Sanno, each driver has gone a completely different way. I have yet to ever figure out what roads we could take on our own to get there.

For Monday, we didn't have any exact plan. I had always wanted to go to the oldest Kabuki theater in Tokyo, so we decided to head in that direction. With KP in his stroller, we made our way down to the subway station that would take us to Higashi Ginza. What I didn't tell KH is that
there usually isn't an elevator at these smaller train stations, so we would have to carry the stroller down several flights of narrow stairs to get to the train platform. My usually very even-keel husband was really not so even-keel on this day. In fact, he was damn mad when I explained the situation at the top of the stairs. He let me know exactly how mad he was the entire shaky walk down the stairs with the stroller balanced between us. I tried to tell him that this was way better than when I have to do it on my own, but he really wasn't in the mood for that. What's worse is that to get to the platform we needed, we had to go back up another set of stairs and down again to get to the other side. KH didn't speak to me much while we rode the train, nor while we hiked back up the stairs once we arrived at the Ginza station. He only began to talk again when we arrived in front of the theater. It's just as amazing as I expected. The sad thing is that it is scheduled to be torn down. Like all Japanese structures, it is cheaper to tear down and rebuild than to fix up an old one. I personally don't get the need to tear down all these old beautiful buildings. I would preserve every aspect of this amazing culture! The new stuff is way too Western! I fear that some day, all these beautiful and ancient cities are going to look exactly the same as any other city in the world.

While I would have loved to have gone in to see one act of kabuki, we did have the peanut with us and I wasn't sure about his tolerance for the apparently long wait until the beginning of the next act nor his ability to be quiet during the performance. The last thing I ever want to be is that American who can't obey the rules of decency here and not make even a tiny peep, so we skipped going in. I have seen kabuki at least, just not in a theater such as this. We're debating a babysitter and heading back up to Tokyo to see one, but honestly I can think of way better shows to see if we are going through that kind of hassle. To be frank, kabuki is really boring. One small scene is stretched into an hours worth of acting. A man could seriously be taking his final breathe for a half an hour. I seemed to have found a patience reserve when it comes to being a mother, but just haven't found it for kabuki or many of the Japanese theatrical arts.

We'd never really looked around Higashi-Ginza, so we decided to do that instead. What we discovered? There ain't much there. It's essentially a business district from what we saw, so the restaurants are cramped and cater to the in-and-out crowd and close as soon as the lunch rush has passed. We found a fast food soba place that looked promising and stuff our two American sized bodies and a stroller up to a table in the back. It took us a few minutes to pick meals out of the electronic board, written (obviously) all in Japanese. We both kind of guessed in the end, punched a button and hoped for the best. Not bad. Nothing to write home about.

October is just gorgeous in Japan. Warm and not humid and this day was no exception. We decided to just begin walking in the direction of the famous Ginza district, where all the big shops all. It's like Rodeo Drive, but add in some ritzy Japanese department stores. I'm not the kind to splurge on designer clothes nor could I fit in anything there anyway, but the window shopping is always fun. And then we kept walking. We passed a flower shop dedicated to making only arrangements that look like Hello Kitty. If you live in Japan long enough, you can't help but fall in love with her. We walked and walked and walked some more. All the way to the Imperial Gardens, which we hadn't find impressive the first time, so we didn't feel the need to try again. What did amuse was a sign showing paths all through the Gardens and surrounding area and there in the middle of the park was a spot that said "Shelter for people who cannot go back home". Who are these people and why can't they go home? And why are they living on the grounds of the Imperial Gardens? It seemed like a pretty strange place for a homeless shelter, if you ask me. We walked some more, now in the direction of the hotel. We basically were following the path of the train below us that would take us back to the hotel. I suggested taking the train back, as I could see that KH and KP were both done with the walking. You can probably guess the response I got from KH in regards to carrying the stroller up and down the stairs at the train station again. It wasn't nice. Instead, he hails us another cab for us all to jump in. Hey! He makes the money in this household, so I guess he can spend it any way he wants to.

It being our last night in the hotel, we were all for staying in and getting more of that delicious American cuisine. I wanted wings to be exact. We pondered room service, but decided to drag ourselves downstairs to the restaurant instead. Surprise, surprise, it was another buffet! We went for it! And some wings. And then I died from all the food I had consumed in two days. Or maybe I just collapsed back into a food coma until morning, but I don't remember much of the rest of the night. It poured the rest of the night and as we were heading home the next day thanks to another tropical storm that was headed through. Fortunately all the fun was had long before that first drop was felt!

Now all that is left to do is plan for another long weekend up there!

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