March 10, 2011
I landed in Tokyo on the afternoon of the 10th and took the slow (read: cheap) train from Narita to the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo, an area of low-rise residential buildings and sprawling temple complexes, far removed from the glittering neon of Shinjuku or haute couture of the Ginza.
On the train I seemed to be the only foreigner, awkwardly trying to keep my rollaboard suitcase from bothering anyone. Most tourists take the high-speed express train from the airport into Tokyo but I wanted to save the $15. The woman sitting next to me spoke excellent English——she was a tour guide, returning from dropping off some clients at the airport—and we exchanged a few words as we slowly made our way into the city. She had a son studying in America and gave me her business card when we reached her stop. I become utterly confused at my own stop where I had to switch trains. I was in some suburb of Tokyo, one that probably doesn’t see a lot of foreigners, so I wandered worryingly around the station trying to find some sign that I was in the right place. I waited on the platform, looking over the top of an apartment complex and a jungle of electrical wires wondering when the train would appear.
At the hostel, sending some emails and figuring out where to start, a Finnish girl asked if anyone wanted to join her for shabu-shabu. I had no idea what it was at the time but I joined in along with four other European guys. Shabu-shabu is a Japanese form of hot pot (literally meaning swish swish). We sat at a large group table and ordered the 90 minute unlimited option. A boiling pot of broth on the table, whatever vegetables you want from the buffet and tray after chilled tray of thinly sliced meats. Pick up a slice with your chopsticks, give it two swishes through the broth, dip in the sauce of your choice and eat. Then eat about seventy more slices. At least, that’s how it felt.
Americans are fortunate that English is the natural language of travelers like these. A Finn, two Dutch guys, a Frenchman, a German and me, the American. The only one at the table not bilingual. Some of them came to Japan for anime, the Finnish girl was studying in Osaka and one to train as a chef. The Finnish girl spoke Japanese and dealt with the waitress for us. That poor waitress never caught a break, as soon as she brought more trays of meat we’d be ready for more and she’d repeat it all over again.
Not a bad start to my first trip to Asia. I had a very detailed itinerary laid out for my two weeks but rather than go wander around Shinjuku as I had planned for my first night I hung out with these guys and we formed a fun group over the next few days. We stuck together in the days to come as we worked our way through the disaster.
After a ridiculous amount of shabu-shabu we stumbled back to the hostel and I promptly fell asleep, jet-lagged after the fourteen hour flight from Houston.
Every time I return to Tokyo, I go back to this restaurant.