13 months
Jan 16:
where did i put that building?
Jan 21:
winter wonderland
Jan 22:
too-tall charlie
Jan 23:
black eggs & boiled octopus
Jan 28:
roley poley fish market
Jan 30:
spot me a yen?
Jan 30:
the low down
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Doraemon unjustly trapped in a claw vending maching
Tokyo (Ueno neighborhood), Japan; Jan 27, 2005

meat & greet (yakitori alley)

Last night we decided to brave the weather and try Yuraku-cho Yakitori Alley (if you don’t know what yakitori is, see the sidebar). The guidebook indicated that we’d be sitting outside, even in cold weather, huddled next to other yakitori eaters, crammed into a little roadside stall. It was freezing cold out, but we decided we wanted to experience this in spite of the arctic weather, so off we went.

After wandering around for 20 minutes in the general vicinity of the alleged alley, we finally found it (see japan: where did i put that building?). To our relief, the yakitori shops all had temporary heavy plastic sheets in front of them functioning as make-shift walls, buffering the patrons from the cold. The downside of this is that they all basically look the same from the outside, since everything on the other side of the plastic is just a blur. We slowly walked down the alley, and just as we were about to play rock-paper-scissors to see which shop we should try, an energetic man popped out of the Velcro door in one of the plastic “walls” and said something enthusiastic to us in Japanese. We decided that he was probably telling us that there was a table free in his shop, so we smiled and went in.

Mmmm…. it smelled great *and* it was warm and toasty inside. We also noted that the other folks in the restaurant, all of whom were Japanese, looked pretty happy about things, so that was another good sign that we had stumbled on a good place. We inquired about an English menu and they produced the closest thing they had, which was a partially English menu of a subset of their offerings, but it was good enough. With a little bit of help from the very friendly owner, we ordered a variety of skewers, some more adventuresome than others, and it was DEEliscious (except for the chicken cartilage which Grace didn’t really like much, especially being a recovering vegetarian).

our new friends at Yakitori Alley

As we were waiting for our second round of skewers (that’s how it’s done, you order some, eat ‘em, then order some more), a fellow at the next table bravely turned to us and, in tentative English, asked “Where are you from?” In most countries, this occurrence would be no big deal, but it just doesn’t happen much in Japan (they’re very reserved with strangers). Needless to say, we were very happy to start chatting with him (his name is Fujiwara), and soon the other folks at his table joined in. There were a number of awkward silences (awkward for us, that is, but not for them; the Japanese think carefully about what they're going to say next), but the conversation continued at some length, with all parties doing their best to keep it going. For example, they asked what other things we were planning to do while in Tokyo, and we answered that one of the things that we’d like to do was to go to Hakone for a day or two and visit an onsen (hot-spring bath). The conversation continued for a while, with one or two of them speaking to us in broken, but fairly good English, and the others translating and speaking amongst themselves in Japanese. All of a sudden, one of them (his name is Dote) announced, “Yonekubo has a plan.” We didn’t know which person at the table was Yonekubo, but we were nonetheless interested in hearing what he had in mind. We were surprised to hear that his idea was for all of us to meet him tomorrow (Saturday) near his home, a suburb outside Tokyo about halfway to Hakone, and drive to Hakone together. Of course, especially since the discourse so far had been fairly jovial, we thought they were kidding. But they kept talking about it, and finally decided that 11am would be a good time to meet. Over and over, we said that we thought it was too much trouble for them, but in the end, we decided that they really did want to go, or at least three of them did. So that was how we planned our trip to Hakone, with three Japanese men that we had only known for about half an hour (see japan: black eggs & boiled octopus for the continuation of the story).

And by the way, the rest of our yakitori was yummy.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


I saw your account of a trip by the message from Fujiwara-san. It is recalled like yesterday. Thank you for a very happy time. I had drunk Sake too much at that time, because it was a too happy place. I reflected that I didn't go to next day's Hakone trip with you. [See japan: black eggs & boiled octopus]

Please contact us when there is a chance to come to Japan again. We looks forward to being able to do the chance to meet. We pray great of your travel in the future.

--T. Dote (Tokyo, Japan); Jun 7, 2005

Hello Dote-san!

It is great to hear from you! Thanks so much for your comment - we're really excited that you looked at the website. That is a big honor for us.

We hope very much to see you again on another trip to Tokyo. Of course, if you ever come to San Francisco, we will be the hosts!

Grace & Susan; Jun 11, 2005