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Published: September 27th 2016
A full Japanese breakfast, taco stuffing yanks, Toyo and, finally, Tokyo!!
A number of years ago I lived in Hong Kong and while I was there I did a bit of English teaching. It was mainly conversation classes for adults and I still keep in touch with two of my students, both of whom have visited me in England. Today it was time to return the favour for one of them as one of my students and friends was a Japanese lady called Toyo. I hadn't seen her for quite a few years and she'd never met Claire and we planned to meet at Yokosuka station at 10am.
We were up early and meeting various people in the house. Breakfast was included and our host has published vegetarian cookbooks and used to run a restaurant in Tokyo. We were expecting big things....and we weren't disappointed. The food kept coming and we thought they were kidding when we were told dessert was coming too but out came freshly baked cake from the oven. Crikey! Kamakura vegetarian house it's called on Airbnb in case you're interested. And she even gave us a lift to the station.
Her house is a bit chaotic, probably made more so by the fact she had friends staying but people kept appearing from all over the place. There were three cats to keep Claire happy and it was great to stay in a proper Japanese house and share a meal with them.
And so to Yokusuka where Toyo was waiting. I think we worked out we'd known each other for 22 years but hadn't seen each other for about 15. She was very happy that we had visited her town and has insisted on paying for everything all day even though we tried to intervene. She even gave us money for our accommodation in Tokyo as she regrets not being able to put us up as her apartment is so small. We tried to refuse as it is no problem but, as I'd put her up in England twice she felt she owed me. She didn't at all but we didn't want to offend someone else with not knowing the Japanese way.
We started with a boat tour of the harbour where there are a number of Japanese and American warships and even
a submarine. Toyo works in the cafeteria in the Aamerican base where 20000 yanks can be stationed at any one time. Lucky them you think, all that amazing Japanese food to eat.....well no. There is no Japanese food anywhere on the base. Toyo cooks and serves tacos all day for overweight Americans who ask her why is she so thin and they are so fat.... I'm not sure why they need 20000 Americans eating tacos all day but maybe send the less clever ones like the ones who ask stupid questions home?
The tour was good but the commentary was all in Japanese of course. Next we had a quick flit around a famous Japanese warship which was huge but we didn't have much time so we probably missed out on a lot. Next stop monkey island!
Where there are no monkeys....
The name comes from a legend of a lost ship being steered to the safety of the island by a white monkey. Anyway, monkeyless it sits now but is uninhabited and a sort of oasis from the city for people to get some fresh air, maybe do some fishing,
relax, have a barbecue that sort of thing. We had a pleasant wander round, saw a cave, wandered through some tunnels then headed back to take the next boat back. I reckon you could spend more time there on Sarushima chilling out but we had more to see.
The fountains Toyo took us to see weren't working but from the bases they looked like they would be quite spectacular when in action. We nipped into Toyo's apartment next and boy is it small. The bed is in the way of the TV if you sit on the sofa so we could see why there was no room for us to stay. It costs $650 a month to rent though and she earns less than £8 an hour.....
It was getting late in the afternoon now and that hearty breakfast was beginning to work itself off so we headed for a nearby restaurant. And a ninety minute all you can eat shabu-shabu buffet. You don't get time limits back home which is maybe why we're much fatter.... Anyway, shabu-shabu is where you have a hot plate in the middle of your table and there are
an array of vegetables to choose from to chuck in and cook yourself in the hotpot sat on top. I shared one with Toyo while Claire had one of her own as there was some thinly sliced Japanese beef to chuck in as well. There was rice, noodles and beansprouts as well as lots of veg so we ate way too much and then Toyo had somehow ordered another plateful of beef for the two of us. Good job it was all delicious and maybe I won't need an evening meal....maybe....
An excellent way to dine though as it's all very social and interactive and tastes great too. I'm not sure the two of us would have managed without someone to show us, particularly as Claire is vegetarian so it was great that Toyo took us there. We tried to pay but Toyo looked insulted and rushed to the till to pay for the three of us.
Oh, nearly forgot. We changed some money earlier and Toyo took us to a bank where they seemed insistent on making it as long as possible a transaction. I had to fill in a form then wait for my number to be called then go the counter then sit down then wait for my number to be called again then go to another counter to be given my money. That change machine that did it in seconds in Hiroshima seems but a distant memory now.... At least it was air conditined in there as today has been very hot.
A quick stop at Toyo's apartment to get our bags and then we walked to the station to collect our rucksacks that we had put in lockers earlier. We are on our second train on the journey into Tokyo and glad we got the green car rail passes as the rest of the train looks very crowded. We are actually on our way to Tokyo!!
Claire has just reminded me about a funny incident earlier. Toyo asked me what a woody...peckerhead is.... Try and explain that one to a Japanese person! She gets notification of my blogs but only reads the title as her English is not so good reading and writing. So she won't be reading this....and hopefully if she does I haven't said anything wrong. I suppose that's the only problem here-not knowing the customs and trying not to offend anyone. We can only do our best. .
And so we arrived in Tokyo, well Ueno station anyway. They don't make things easy here. First you need to know which line/railway you need before you can start finding your destination station before you can start finding your platform before you can start finding your train. Eventually I found an information screen then the right railway then had to buy a ticket as this railway wasn't covered by our pass.
Cliare had mapped out where we would be walking once we reached our destination station and I had every confidence in her following recent successes. It took a while standing looking at a map to work out which way was up on the map on the ipad before we eventually set off in what we thought was the right direction. The excitement of walking down the streets of Tokyo waned pretty quickly in the heat and with heavy bags and we soon realised we were lost. We headed to the nearest main road and did our best looking confused act which resulted in some extremely kind soul using Google maps on his phone and actually walking us to our hotel.
Our hotel is in a quiet back alley and our room is small but perfectly adequate for the next four nights. At the end of the day I have finally made it to Tokyo!! We had a brief walk and stopped in a huge supermarket where we bought some grapes the size of a small African country to share back in our room while we plan the days ahead. And finish our blogs obviously.
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