Home Travel #TBT: Japan, April 2005: Traveling In Tokyo Like A Local, With Some Locals

#TBT: Japan, April 2005: Traveling In Tokyo Like A Local, With Some Locals

by SharonKurheg

Woke up at 7:30am and got ready for the day, then went online while the guys got ready. I am SOOO behind on the stuff I read regularly online.

We’re on the 7th floor of our hotel and have a pretty good view. Joe woke up and happened to look outside…and we could see Mt. Fuji from our room! The girl at the front desk had said we’d be able to see it if it was clear enough, but we didn’t think that would ever happen…we couldn’t see it from the train rides between Kyoto and Tokyo or when we were in Hakone (when we were the closest to it), but were SO glad to finally see it!

Got a call from Hiro, who is Joe’s bowling friend (Hiro came to Orlando for 4 months last year to learn how to bowl better. When Joe told him we were coming to Japan this spring, Hiro gave him his phone number to contact him when we were in Tokyo)…he was running late and could we meet at 11am instead of 10am? Sure, no problem.

We caught a quick breakfast at a coffee shop near our hotel, called Benugo. I had a bagel with egg, bacon and mayo (yeah…mayo…the Japanese apparently love mayo). Not bad…better than the coffee (I’ve been promised Starbucks on Monday, when go back towards TDL).

When we got back to our hotel, we found Hiro with his female friend, Midori. Hiro’s English is pretty limited and Midori’s even moreso, so they got one of the hotel’s staff people to translate for us, just to get a better idea of what we all wanted to do today. Then we were on our way.

First order of business was getting gas for the car. Now THAT was an experience! The gas station attendant wore a uniform, pumped the gas, emptied and cleaned the ashtray, cleaned all the windows and the rear view mirrors AND guided us out of the gas station, into traffic! And she did all of this with a smile on her face! The closest I had ever experienced something like that was when I was a VERY little girl, in the late 60’s, when they’d still check your oil and squeegee your windows.

Midori said we were going to Odaiba for shopping. While driving there, she and Hiro tried to get a better handle and Steve’s and my names (of course, they already knew Joe’s name). That was fun. The Japanese don’t have the letter V so Steve became, phonetically, Steeb. My name was even harder…I even had to get out my English-Japanese dictionary to help them pronounce Sha-ro-nu. But they still couldn’t remember (I heard they saying to each other “Sharomu? Sharonu? Shambu? Shamu?”) I said, “Not Shamu! Shamu is a whale!” They’ve both been to Florida, so they got the joke. Anyway, I guess they gave up DSC07694because I was “Joe Wife” for most of the day. That tickled Joe to no end, because of all the times he’s been referred to as “Sharon’s husband.”

We parked at a mall, where we all agreed to meet in an hour. Joe, Steve and I went to a Toyota exhibition next door. They were showing off a bunch of cars (most only sold in Japan) and offered an automatic test ride in a mini car.

We all met up again and agreed to go on Tokyo’s big Ferris wheel, which, in 1999, was listed at the world’s largest Ferris wheel in the Guinness Book of World Records. It offered a great view of the city.

We next had lunch at Botejyu, an Okonomiyaki-style restaurant (that the kind of place I mentioned while we were in Hiroshima…egg pancake with “stuff” in it. I have no idea what we ate…Hiro and Midori just promised no octopus and no squid).

After lunch, we drove through the Ginza district and stopped in Akihbara, the electronic area. It reminded me of Times Square, with lots of people and lots of neon signs. We went into a few stores and bought some Apple stuff but not a whole lot…a LOT of the stores sold DVD’s and we can’t play Japanese DVD’s at home unless we have a DVD player that we dedicate just for Japanese DVD’s.

Steve had requested to see a toy store, so they took us to what else but Toys R Us . Actually, it was kind of cool because they had lots of totally different stuff from U.S. Toys R Us stores…even wound up buying 2 or 3 things there.

Hiro, as I said, is a bowler, so we went to his bowling alley (where he plays and sometimes works), which was conveniently located across the street from the Toys R Us. They use vending machines to rent the bowling shoes (not big enough to fit Joe’s size 12 shoes), which we thought was very cool. The rest of the bowling alley seemed to be about the same as any other, though.

The town we were in, Saitama, was where Hiro and Midori both lived, so they offered to show is Midori’s stationery store. By this point, we had a better idea of the “Hiro and Midori” story. Hiro is single, in his early 30’s and works at the bowling alley and in Midori’s store. He often sleeps at Modori’s house. Midori is probably 40-something. She’s married and they apparently have a lot of money because they own the apartment building that they live in (and the stationery store is on the bottom floor) (single family homes in Japan are only for the wealthy…I can’t even imagine how much it would be to own an apartment complex). They have been friends for about 3 years and are both passionate about bowling.

After seeing the store (and Midori asking us to each pick out something to keep, as a gift), we walked to a restaurant called Choya. It was an izakaya-style restaurant, which is the equivalent to a pub, with a wider variety of food and drink and a very casual atmosphere. After we reviewed the “food laws” (no squid, no octopus, nothing raw for Sharon, no mushrooms for Steve), Hiro and Midori ordered a bunch of different things. Most of the foods were identifiable but a few were not. We didn’t get most of the REALLY weird stuff on the menu (horse and whale meat), but one of the dishes DID have a huge fish head on it, the shrimp were whole (with heads attached) and both Joe and Steve sampled sea urchin. Hiro, Midori, Joe and Steve also played a game of “Russian Roulette” with some salmon sushi that had one piece laced with a lot of heavy-duty wasabi (Japanese condiment…EXTREMELY spicy-hot). Hiro won. Or maybe he lost. But he had tears coming out of his eyes . We noticed a hole in the wall of the establishment and made a comment about it. Hiro said, “Some Japanese are crazy. And some Japanese are son of b**ch.” We just lost it with THAT one!

When we were so stuffed that we couldn’t eat another thing, we walked back to Midori’s place and she invited us into her apartment. We stayed about an hour or so…the 3 of them mainly talked about bowling. Before we left, Hiro gave Joe a cute photo holder from his bowling alley and Midori gave me a stuffed panda puppet.

Because Hiro had about 3 beers during dinner, he called and asked a friend to drive us back to our hotel (they have strict “no driving after drinking” laws in Japan). When they dropped us off around midnight, we exchanged addresses and phone numbers and promises to visit again in the future (them to Orlando maybe next year, us to Japan hopefully in 5 years).


(L-R) Hiro, Joe, “Joe Wife,” Midori

It was really an awesome day. We didn’t get any touristy stuff done, but we got a taste of what “regular life” in Japan is like and discovered that communication is possible even if you really don’t know the other person’s language. We had a LOT of fun.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is our guided tour of Tokyo. Until next time…

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