The day before my birthday was spent in outragous style, beginning, as ever, with a fabulous breakfast of coffee et des gateaux! Our former haunt having a genuine lack of custard, we were in search of vanilla, eggs and cream. The end of our odyssey was a fabulous wee bakery right near the entrance to Shinjuku station. European style pastries, bread and cakes of so many varieties were available along with pizza slices, croque-monsieur and croque-madame.
Ian loves to indulge in a bit of croque from time to time, so took advantage of this opportunity. No dead pig can ever enter my mouth, but lots of custardy cakes can! Cake after cake, choc-full of custard, fruits, chocolate...! Heaven on a plate and all washed down with a most creamy cappuccino! The Japanese really know how to create good coffee!
I'm sure the staff in the bakery/coffee shop must have been muttering things like, "Fat, greedy pigs!" under their breath, though, to our faces, they were beyond helpful and polite. The other customers, all exclusively Japanese, sat down to beakfast with a small glass of water and a tiny bread roll. Lord above us! The penny's just dropped. Do you think we were in the midst of a POW camp rôle play group?
Before leaving for Japan, I'd actually hoped we could make it to the Tokyo Edo Open Air Architectural Museum. Like walking into the past, apparently, and they even have a sento for visitors' use! Sadly, it was a wee bit out of town, quite a journey away, so we opted for the Edo Tokyo Museum instead. In a way, I'm glad we did.
The museum was like a journey through time and to my relief and amusement, contained very few pots. I hate museums crammed with pots. Pots, pots, pots and more pots. What is the bloody point? Oh, great, in the fifth century BCE, they drank out of this kind of clay pot with squiggly markings on it. Two hundred years later, the markings were square. Really? How interesting.
There were pots in the museum, yes, but were few and far between. Also, many museums, particularly in the west are more a commentary on leaders, whether they be kings, queens, queens, presidents or prime ministers. The Edo Tokyo Museum dedicated itself to old Edo, its people, their way of life and how they've changed from the days the first people pitched a tent to today. Wonderful, fascinating, enlightening. At points, I felt I was unconscious, in a dream-like state, in a trance, part of the fabric of the building. Everything else faded away, melted beneath my feet. I was in a four hundred year old theatre or polishing rice with a stick or rebuilding my home after earthquake and floods or tuning-in my first portable radio.
Everything was laid out before me. From above, from a reproduction bridge, once could see all of time and space. From below, the journey began... While Anne of Denmark was crowned queen of Scotland, Japan was united by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Edo's story began.
After our tour of the museum, we took lunch in the Japanese restaurant. Any British museum sees tourists as a foolish and captive audience. They're baffled with numbers, prices and currency conversions and are prepared to pay twenty pounds for a plate of greasy chips. Such abuse does not take place in Japan, at least, it's never happened to me. Ian and I enjoyed a most delicious meal of local delights freshly prepared on our giving the order and at a reasonable price, too.
The maître d' was an outlandish mary with a George Michael style beard. I'm sure there was a wee bit of westerner inside him. And hey, if there wasn't, I'm sure he'd take some. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. I have a notion, and Alan thought it too, that if Japanese men are able to grow beards, they do so. Some kind of showing off. Peacocks, as my Mother might have said. But really, dear reader, I don't mean to bitch about the man. He was very kind to us, asked if we needed a knife and fork and showed suitable facial expressions of surprise and delight when we turned his offer down and used the chopsticks provided. A battle of language, though, soon ensued. He was very keen to show off his impressive english skills, we were keen to use what little japanese we did know. Our first lesson of the day came, on leaving, when I said to our man, "Oishii!" which is japanese for delicious.
He corrected me, with a wry smile, "Oishii kat-ta des."
Obviously, these are probably very poor attempts at spelling, but the phonetics ring true.
A delightful man, really. We left with him smiling, saying, "Good-bye," and throwing a wink. To be frank, I'm surprised he didn't blow us a kiss. I'm really not being rude or sarcastic, he was such a nice guy. His kiss would have been genuine.
Marys have an uncanny way of recognising one another. Don't ask me how or why, and let's not get into the gaydar debate, but a knowing look reciprocated with something similar is all it seems to take, regardless of language or location.
After lunch and a telephone call, we made our way to Azamino to meet up with our delicious friends, Alan chan and Jun Kun. Arriving slightly early, we popped into Tully's (nothing to do with Susan) for a coffee and, quel surprise, a cake. My fourth or fifth of the day, I think. Fat pig!
Smoking is a popular hobby in Japan! I noted, though, that this seemed to be the first eatery in which I'd been where there was a designated smoking area. Most other places, if not all, were crammed with people smoking wherever they liked. As a reformed smoker, I should object to eating in a blue haze, though I actually don't. I don't mind it at all. Unlike most former smokers, I don't whine on about smoking or comment on how unhealthy it is. I'm not trying to blow my own trumpet, really, I'm not, just making a comment. Why it doesn't bother me, I'm not sure. I wondered if all this passive smoking might make me reach out for a packet of fags, but not once was I tempted, though I will admit to considering it, chiefly when I'm looking for something to do. And asking Junya for a draw on his smoke did flash through my brain, though a feel of the scar on my tongue with my teeth put pay to that.
After clearing my plate and drinking down my cappuccino, Ian and I left and waited for perhaps only thirty seconds to a minute for Alan and Junya to arrive. Perfect timing. Off to the sento we went.
Edit - in checking out some links, I came upon this. It's fabulous. The first thing a sento azamino google search throws up is Alan's Travelpod blog!
A taxi to the sento from the station was all of a fiver. Not a bad price and another arrow in my qiver, more ammunition to contradict the, "But Japan's so expensive..." argument. I'd pay the same price for a taxi ride here in Edinburgh, perhaps more.
A sento, basically, is a public bath house, a place where one will go not to swim, but to wash, in the time-honoured Japanese style with strict rules to follow. One washes with soap and water; either running water or by throwing bucket loads over oneself. After the washing and complete removal of soap, soaking takes place in very hot water and in a variety of forms: bubbles, waterfalls and even an electric current passing through l'eau! Sexes are separated, though I have, from time to time, seen young girls in the male areas with whom I presume to be their Fathers. This may be a big deal in the west and although I was uncomfortable with it, the Japanese have a wildly differing opinion to the naked body. Although the genders are separated, the naked form is not seen as something dirty, nor, I think, a thing of beauty. It's just a naked body. No big deal.
Nudism. Yes, and the ability to dispell yet another myth! Japanese men come in many different shapes and sizes, as do their cocks! We saw average ones, big ones, massive ones and tiny ones! In fact, one was so tiny, it looked like a hole! Yes, Alan and I do admit to taking a closer look from time to time. Strictly for educational purposes, of course!
After the sento, we got dressed and took a drink. My fluid intake must, I'm sure, have replaced the ounce I'd lost while bathing. I plumped for melon cream soda (it was strange) while Alan went down the traditional route with a wee bottle of milk. Milku?
From the sento, we returned to the port area of Yokohama through Sakuragicho station, met up with Alan and Junya's pals, Dan and Masumi - then went off for okonomiyaki! My favourite! Delicious! And, antibiotics all finished, washed down with copious amounts of sake!
Dan and Masumi are husband and wife; a very interesing couple and very funny. I loved chatting to them and hearing Masumi's English accent. "Who farted?" and "Home James, and don't spare the horses!" I actually thought Hyacinth Bucket was in the room!
From the okonomiyaki restaurant, we headed out to the water to watch the fireworks, part of the Perry celebrations. Very impressive. Just like the Edinburgh Hogmanay fireworks, but went on for about forty five minutes instead of the ten to fifteen I'm used to.
The colourful display over, we headed to an izakaya for drinks and nibbles. Sadly, I forgot the playing cards. I was very much looking forward to playing Scabby Queen and Cheat. We've had such fun times in Japan in the past, playing cards and drinking sake. I was really up for a repeat. Alas, ne'er mind, with the outragous company and free-flowing booze, cards were not needed for a good time. I really had the time of my life.
Our journey home was peaceful. Surprisingly few people on the train to Shinjuku. I sat, in quiet meditation, thinking of the day that had been, the day that was to come and wondering what my friends and family might be doing, scattered all over the world. Some sleeping, some going to bed, some just getting up. My birthday was only an hour away, yet at other points on the earth, it was almost a day away. Without going off on a tangent, I would like to say my mind seems, ahem, to have a mind of its own at times. At the most inappropriate times and in the most inappropriate of circumstances, I can sometimes think the most inappropriate things. I began to wonder about the mysteries of time and space, the idea that time does not exist, that it's just an invention by we humans to measure distance between events. I found comfort in that. In my vanity, I realised I wasn't going to be thirty five years old at all in the next hour, and even if I were, somewhere on the earth, I would be thirty four. Perhaps somewhere in the universe, I'd be thirty three. I'd be a time-traveller. If time exists, of course.
Or is thirty five just a number?
Back at the hotel, I took a shower and climed into bed. Indeed, in strictest terms, after looking at the clock, I was thirty five. Though I thought nothing of it and drifted, very rapidly, off to sleep.