The virtues of Tokyo

09Sep12

The Japanese instrumental rock band Mono performed to a sold out crowd Aug. 31 at the Liquid Room in Ebisu.

In my last two posts I spent an inordinate amount of time bitching about Tokyo. Sorry ’bout that. Apparently I was in a bad place.

And the sweltering weather (4th hottest summer in Tokyo) was causing a bad case of crankiness.

Well, today I have taken some of nature’s prozac (beer) and am feeling much more appreciative toward the country that has begrudgingly adopted this son of America.

I have to remember that Japan never asked me to move here. They just got stuck with this unwieldly gaijin who carries empty beer mugs into grocery stores and leaves his briefcase on the subway.

Which takes me to the first thing I love about Japan. Safety is of utmost importance and they are always looking out for the best interests of the residents.

Case in point: Three weeks ago, hungover as hell from a karaoke binge, I left my briefcase on the overhead rack of the Keio line. By the time I realized it was gone, I was on the Chuo line and my bag was on its way to Mount Takao.

Like the good keeper she is, Lisa reported the lost bag at the train station, who took note. Three days later I received a phone call asking when I was going to pick up my bag. It was at the Iidibashi police station.

When I went to pick it up, everything was in tact – the expensive business card case that Lisa bought for me was still there, as well as my bank card. The only thing missing was a 99 cent notepad. The bag itself was an expensive Italian number Lisa bought a few years back (you will notice a pattern – anything nice I own was purchased by Lisa – and lost by me).

The recovery of these valuable items would never happen in the U.S. That’s just the first reason Japan is tops in my book.

The second reason is the demand for English writers. When I first moved here it was a little intimidating because it seems every gaijin has a blog extolling the virtues of Japan or highlighting the goofy English translations on signs and T-shirts. Here is one more. Also, prior to moving here I had an e-mail exchange with a freelance writer currently working in Japan who told me that writing opportunities are slim to none in Japan.

However, these people don’t have the same contacts as me (namely Lisa).

VIP is the only way I roll, even in Tokyo.

Within two months of living here, I published an article in Wall Street Journal-Asia. It was a profile on the Japanese instrumental rock band Mono. Here is the link.

In America, the WSJ New York office would file my submissions in the junk pile. Not in Tokyo. This article has led to a bidding war of sorts among the other English language publications in Tokyo, and now I have several story proposals to consider.

So that is going well – for now.

The third thing that is amazing about Tokyo is the entertainment and nightlife.

The Liquid Room, where we watched Mono perform last weekend, was a cool venue. It was similar to the Theater of Performing Arts in Philadelphia. We had a spot directly behind the sound man and right next to the bar. Perfect.

This weekend Lisa and I and some of her Wharton friends spent a couple of hours at the Belgian Beer Festival in Roppongi Hills.

The Roppongi Hills Arena – site of the 2012 Belgian Beer Festival.

Tokyo knows how to do beer festivals. The Japanese love beer. So do I. It is a match made in heaven.

The Belgian beer festival had 75 different beers, and was relatively cheap. It was 3100 yen (roughly $35) for 11 tokens. Each beer was 2-3 tokens and food was 5-6 tokens. Additional tokens were 4 for 1000 yen. So for about $50 I had three good beers (I went with the Chimay tripel, Satan Gold and Delerium Tremons) and two plates of food.

There was a decent band playing and even though there was a crowd of about 1,000 people, that was growing as evening approached, the lines kept moving. I never had to wait.

It is safe to say the Japanese have the most organized lines anywhere in the world.

There are a million things I could keep gushing about – the cool fashions, the efficient train system, the great taste in music (j-pop groups aside), the customer service, the gardens, the loose alcohol laws, etc.

But I want to finish by talking about the food in Japan. Tokyo recently usurped Paris from its position as the culinary capitol of the world. Tokyo now has the most Michelin starred restaurants of any city.

And while the top restaurants are expensive as your monthly preschool tuition, you can find reasonable menus that still feature some of the finest cuisine on either side of the Pacific. There are over 22,000 restaurants in Tokyo, which makes it overwhelming when trying to choose just one.

Here are a few recommendations:

For affordable, mouth-watering sushi, Lisa takes me to Midori-zushi, which is on the 4th floor of Mark City in Shibuya. This place can be crowded, but it is pretty friendly to foreigners.

Two Japanese, two French-Morrocans and one redhead at Hantei in the Shin-Marunouchi building.

For delicious okonomiyaki in a traditional Japanese atmosphere, check out Sometaro in Asakusa. This is where famous actors and writers hung out back in Asakusa’s hayday. Okonimiyaki is basically a dashi-flavored pancake filled with different ingredients – cabbage, shellfish, pork, ginger, you name it. At Sometaro you are supposed to cook for yourself on a griddle in the middle of the table, but for those unaccustomed to menial labor, the staff will help you out. The only issue with Sometaro is it gets really hot inside during the summer. Don’t go there expecting to beat the heat.

Our favorite nabe restaurant is Izumida in nihombashi. This is a covert operation down a dark alley. You have to climb an inconspicuous staircase to the third floor of the building where the chefs greet you heartily. They love foreigners here because the chef is trying to learn English, and most of his customers are locals. If you are looking for a traditional Japanese dining experience, this is the place to go.

Lastly, we tried Hantei restaurant last weekend for the first time. It is a kushi-age restaurant, in that they bring you a bunch of deep-fried delicacies on a stick (I’m sorry – skewer). After a google search I learned that the original Hantei restaurant is in a quaint wooden structure in Bunkyo. We went to the new branch which is in the Shin-Marunouchi building in downtown Tokyo. I’m sure either is nice.

Really, you can’t go wrong with most restaurants in Tokyo. We are still exploring the places in our neighborhood. I will be sure to keep you posted.

Lisa just asked me what I was writing about. I told her I was writing a blog post about all the things I love about Tokyo.

She said, “Me!”

Oh yeah, I love my wife too.

I also love karaoke.

There’s no sharing the mic in this room.

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