Go West Young Man
Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
260Trip End Ongoing
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Our flights were uneventful. For anyone who knows me, it will come as no surprise that we weren't done packing until a couple of hours before our flight. I'm the consummate procrastinator and rarely do things in a timely manner. I also don't play well with others and have a biting problem. But Miguel and Christina got us to the airport on time and the long night made it easy to sleep away much of the four hour flight to San Francisco. From there it was just a short 11 hour flight over the Pacific to Tokyo. My first view of Japan was Mt. Fuji burning red with the setting sun. And since I would probably only recognize a half dozen landmarks in Japan, it was a great start.
Customs was fine. Japan had none of the suspicion, fear, and cavity searches of Western customs officials. But they don't have the same concerns. At the airport in San Francisco, a voice over the loudspeaker informed us every few minutes that we were at Terror Threat Level Orange. When I laughed out loud at this, people moved seats so they could keep a better eye on me. I told a stranger next to me that Terror Threat Level Orange should never hang out with Terror Threat Level Blue. They just don't look good together. It's a Terror Fashion Faux Pas.
My first impression of Japan is how incredibly friendly and helpful the people are. It's a populace of happy ambassadors. At every turn someone smiled and pointed us in the right direction. And they did all this despite the fact that I entered their country without having bothered to learn a single Japanese word. Not "hello," "please," "thank you," or "did you realize we're at threat level orange?" I was helpless and they were happy to help. I thought Lindsey was sweet and docile. These people make her look like an angry Mongol.
So we navigated the Tokyo mass transit system without much difficulty. But we didn't have specific directions as to how to find the hostel from the metro stop. So I walked around with the address in hand, asking strangers to point me in the right direction. Everyone did. And when directions would not suffice because of my utter lack of Japanese, a lovely woman walked us four blocks to the front door of our hostel. She then apologized for her poor English, thanked us for allowing her to walk us, and disappeared into the night. I felt like an ass. I showered her with thank you's, but it didn't seem enough. My conscience kept saying (in a New York accent) "Why doesn't this son-of-a-bitch bother to learn the language? You don't come to MY country and expect us to accommodate YOU." I was what so many loathed. But was I mad at myself or at how incredibly arrogant and inhospitable many of my countrymen are? Both I guess.
So we checked into our hostel and hit the streets. We needed something to eat. And we wanted to explore our language barrier a little further. So we wandered into a place that was most likely a restaurant in the hopes that we could name a handful of items our guide book suggests and have a bite to eat. We flipped through and found the page that lists all the noodle dishes one can enjoy in Japan. We named a few. The nice waiter/owner/cook shook his head with a smile. He flipped our book back to the page explaining Sumo. We looked around at the walls adorned with Sumo illustrations, photos, and Japanese characters. We were at a sumo restaurant. They didn't serve noodles. The served some sort of sumo food. Since the menu had only Japanese characters, I finally pointed at a specials board on the wall. I had no idea what it said, but it had the number 600 yen next to it. I thought this was a fair price to pay for mystery food. So I said bring it out and we'll eat it. It'll be some sort of soup. Some vegetables. Some something. What we got was raw, delicately sliced fish, with a little wasabi and soy sauce.
I don't eat fish. Particularly uncooked fish. But the waiter/owner/cook stood over us smiling waiting for us to enjoy his delicious 600 yen sumo meal. I broke out some chopsticks, put a healthy amount of wasabi on the slimy flesh, and threw it down. It squished in my mouth. It was like eating wet marshmallows. But it wasn't awful. It was obviously fresh and well-prepared. I was quite proud of myself. I glanced over at Lindsey who had turned deathly pale. How does a girl that white turn even more pale? Put raw fish in front of her. I thought I was finicky. But I'll try things. I'm a when in Rome kind of guy. Lindsey loves Rome, but she wasn't going to eat this stuff. So I fixed her a bite with a healthy dose of wasabi. I held the bite out demanding she take it. She assured me she would gag. I told her she was being dramatic. I forced her to take the bite. She gagged. Just a little. Then she turned a very cool hue of green. Then gagged a little more severely. Then she searched for a napkin to spit the food in. None was present. I laughed heartily. The sumo cook smiled expectantly. She leaned over in an obvious attempt to spit the food on the floor without concern of whom she might offend. A last desperate effort on her part forced the bite down. She gagged again. I laughed then cried a little. The man could have charged me a thousand dollars and it would have been worth it. Fortunately, he just wanted $6. We headed of into the night in search of edible food. We failed again and decided to get some sleep and try again tomorrow.