Shirokane ooh wee a lah

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Published: August 21st 2023

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Kabuki TheaterKabuki TheaterKabuki Theater


Lovely tourists in front of the Kabuiki-za.

As I sit here by the wide window wall on the second floor of the Karaksa Hotel’s breakfast buffet which also serves as a lounge with free snacks and drinks in the late afternoon, a parade of working stiffs in white shirts, dark trousers and loafers are walking down the street below all in lock step, ready and eager to make Japan a better place for the world to do business with and an enjoyable tourist destination for those of us who are neither business minded nor care about the hustle and bustle of every life. Maybe not. And not that we really don’t give a hoot about the day-to-day lives of ordinary folks because after all, we are working stiffs ourselves, but we’re tourists in Japan enjoying life without having to think about work. And why should we?

I feel like the big, fat, dumb and happy Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn lounging around in his wide expanse of a samurai estate, inspecting the spectacle down below, enjoying his position as an adviser to the shogunate of the old feudal Japanese society and all that life has to offer in the orient. But I suppose the Dutch

AkihabaraAkihabaraAkihabara


Alibaba

and the Japanese gained a good strong relationship, perhaps more so than any other western country in the world including the United States, in part because of Yan Yuseten, but mostly due to the most famous Gaijin Samurai of them all, William Adams, who was not even a Dutchman but an Englishman pilot for the Dutch ship de Liefde. Adams was given the name Miura Anjin because he was provided a large estate in the Miura peninsula off the coast of Japan, I think, although I’m not sure, I’m just guessing because why would they call him Miura Anjin if it was just a name and not associated at all with any place or region in Japan. They could have called him Tokyo Joe and be done with it, simple as that, but the name Joe was not even in the consciousness of the Japanese people at the time I don’t think. The Japanese Shogunate eventually had to kick out the Portuguese and the Spanish out of Japan because they were suspicious of their religious ties to the Pope. The Pope under the huge awning of the Catholic empire funded the voyages of these Spanish and Portuguese trading ships to

Kanda ShrineKanda ShrineKanda Shrine


Yet another gorgeous temple.

the orient in exchange for conversion of any pagans willing to submit to Christianity and to keep proselytizing the faith until there are no more sinful souls to convert. The Japanese Shogunate were more friendly to the Dutch however because whatever was on their agenda had nothing to do with religion. They were most probably just interested in trading goods and services with the Japanese, which means that they were not out to corrupt the minds and souls of the local pagans with their version of god, but perhaps to convince the Shogunate to unwittingly empty their pockets for the good of the Kingdom of Holland.

The Ginza district, which is just a train stop away from Tokyo Station, is where we’re headed to today, to see some Kabuki theater and to simply just stroll around the area because apparently it is one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in all of Japan. We got off at the Yurakucho station at 10 am. Today seems abnormally sunny considering that it’s been raining all week. As a matter of fact I didn’t bring my sunglasses with me because I figured I wouldn’t need them. Well

Anime gamesAnime gamesAnime games


A favorite pastime for Japanese kids.

it turns out that I do need them, because by mid-morning in this here wonderful shopping district of Ginza the sun is already beaming down on us with full intensity. That was right after we got off the Yamanote line at the Yurakucho Station where as soon as we started walking out from underneath the Tokyo Expressway the clouds started to disappear. Now, we have no idea where we were exactly, and being wary of looking like an idiot tourist with a guidebook in hand, flipping through the pages like a doofus while looking to find our place in this here big wonderful world on god’s green earth, I opted for my iPhone’s google maps instead to help me navigate around the area. We were on Sotobori-Dori right across the street from the multi-story Uniqlo department store. Ginza, I suppose, is one of the only few districts in Tokyo and all of Japan for that matter that has street names for the benefit of the visitors from the west who are not familiar with Japan’s addressing convention. Japan clearly has no use for street names when delivering mails, packages and such.

We turned right on Sotobori-Dori

Takeshita-Dori in HarajukuTakeshita-Dori in HarajukuTakeshita-Dori in Harajuku


Pronounced Ta-kay-shah doe-ree for those of you Americanos out there.

heading south, walking on the sidewalk just below the Tokyo Expressway where cars are buzzing above like bees in a hive. But the strange thing about the Tokyo Expressway, even though the buzzing cars are audible from above, is that it doesn’t look like an expressway at all because underneath it are department stores up the yin-yang inside the Ginza INZ shopping mall. This mall runs across a length of three blocks of the expressway from the south end of Yurakucho station all the way up to the north end, which is divided separately into three sections called Ginza INZ1, 2, and 3. We did not bother to go inside one of the Ginza INZs because quite frankly, we didn’t care, it’s just another mall with food courts and retail stores up the wazzu. And if that wasn’t enough retail for your ass then they got more shopping malls underneath the elevated expressway. Just across from Ginza INZ1 is another shopping mall called NishiGinza, capitalizing on the glamor of Ginza with Rodeo Drive retail stores, shops, restaurants and clubs. I don’t know if the Ginza district is well known for clubbing but it’s definitely up there when it comes to

Tsukiji MarketTsukiji MarketTsukiji Market


A wonderful street food vendor bonanza. You will love it.

the DKNYs and the Ferragamos of the world. Shopping and eating places are everywhere, and I can’t emphasize everywhere enough because everywhere you look, north west east and south, you see more of the same thing.

On the other side of the elevated Tokyo Expressway are more tall buildings occupied by more corporate offices and more shopping malls just in case you have not been properly convinced that the shopping mall market in Japan has been fully and flatly saturated like your head after being smacked by a ton of lead. One of these shopping malls is a department store with a logo that I found familiar, O1O1. So why do I find this logo familiar you may ask? Well, I first saw it on a poster of the Pipeline Masters, perhaps the most celebrated surf contest in the world that typically ends the professional world surf tour in December. Back in the early nineties this Japanese O1O1 company sponsored the Banzai Pipeline Masters, calling it the O1O1 Marui Pipeline Masters. To be quite honest with you, I’m ignorant of the Japanese writing system. I don’t know a kanji from a squiggly line on the board. I could write something that’s Japanese looking with a couple of slashes above and a slightly curved line right next to it, like this “), but it wouldn’t mean anything other than that it might look like a smiley face LOL kind of deal if you just put a colon, this character :, in between the “ and ) symbols. But I clearly remember the O1O1 logo, which I was told at the time was how you say Marui in Japanese, but I don’t believe it. I’m not convinced. To me it looks like O1O1, not Marui. Japanese, like Chinese and all the other writing systems in the orient, is difficult to learn, and knowing my poor skills in foreign languages I probably could not even pass the most elementary level of the language no matter how hard I’d try, but I did try and in fact learned a few things, like the character for the post office mail box 〒 and the basic characters ワ ツ セ. Now if you ask me what these characters say I will tell you that it’s Watsuse, but its meaning lies somewhere else, perhaps not in this wonderful world that we live in and love so very, very much so help us god amen, because I just made it up and it most likely means absolutely nothing at all.

At the edge of what I call the Yurakucho neighborhood for a lack of a better name, basically the neighborhood which I just described in detail above, is a four-way pedestrian crossing that’s common in Tokyo. We have these types of crossings in the Bay Area as well, in the Chinatowns of Oakland and Frisco. What that means, if you’re unfamiliar with such crossing configurations, is that the pedestrians can either cross the street straight across from corner to corner or diagonally from one corner to the opposite side. This type of crossing will allow you to stand right in the middle of the square of this intersection, which many people seldom get to do, the part that I find particularly amusing. Of course, I did not waste my time standing in the middle of the street for the sheer thrill of having done so because we have more important things to do. We came here for Kabuki and to experience the Ginza district, whatever that means. So we turned left heading east on yet another street with no name even though this is probably the main drag of the Ginza district. It’s a wide four lane boulevard that is busy, glitzy and fancy that fits perfectly for a district that’s considered the premier shopping destination in Tokyo. Office buildings and department stores stand side-by-side with construction sites, beauty shops, high end restaurants, low end izakayas, yakinikus, burger stands, and designer outlets galore with signs written in both English and Kanji that are uniquely Japanese and always confusing to my monolingual abilities. The historic Seiko House with its Seiko clock tower sits at the corner of the main thoroughfare with no street name and a narrower street called Chou-Dori which to the Japanese have no real meaning at all, just a name to call a street that tourists can talk about when they come back home from vacation to tell their friends where they were at and what they did. You just can’t tell folks back home that you went to Ginza at the 104-0061 Tokyo, Chou City, Ginza, 4-Chome-5-11 because they wouldn’t understand what you’re talking about. They want to know street names and which corner to turn and which stoplight to look out for. The Japanese addressing systems will not provide you with that information. Instead it will tell you the block and building location once you know which city, district and chome you are standing in. A chome is another animal altogether which I don’t intend to explain to you because it’s incomprehensible to me.

It’s 10:50 am local time in the Ginza district of Tokyo. Most stores and shops usually open around 11 am. That explains the group of people standing and waiting outside a department store called Mitsukoshi, another multistory department store just across from the Seiko House. Since they were all waiting for the large department store to open, we figured it must have some outstanding items to offer if people are really lining up outside to wait for the store to open, they’re so excited about this place that they just can’t wait to get in. So we followed a herd of people like cows to the slaughterhouse excited to get our heads chopped off, or to get the money out of our pockets emptied, because it’s basically the same thing. They lure you in with fancy displays and decorations. In Japan, there are always at least three people dressed professionally to greet you at the door giving you the VIP treatment even though you may look like a slob, like I do. We’ve been here for a while now and looking decent is not at the top of my mind. I just want to feel comfortable in my own skin and my own clothes, so looking good, or even decent, means very little to me at the moment. We knew it was a mistake coming in to browse because I knew I needed something, a pair of sunglasses to shield the bright sun from my eyes, and of course I ended up paying over two hundred dollars, close to thirty thousand yen, for a pair of Oakleys. The Oakleys looked good, but I basically got my head chopped off for following the herd to the slaughterhouse.

We left the Mitsukoshi department store a little stunned, amazed that we could spend hundreds of dollars in a very short amount of time. We kept walking east until we arrived at the Kabuki-za, the classic theater showing live shows and musicals. Although we don’t understand Japanese, we were interested in seeing a show as part of our cultural enhancement for this trip. Afterall, you can’t understand one’s culture without considering their art. The longer hour and a half show that starts at 11:30 am were all sold out, so we opted for the shorter thirty minute show that starts at 1:30 pm. It’s two hours away, which means that we had time to walk around even more and enjoy as much as what the Ginza district has to offer.

The Ginza district has a lot to offer. Shopping, eating, drinking, sightseeing, more shopping, a Kabuki show, more shopping, Izakayas all over the dadgum place, more eating, drinking, and shopping, shopping, shopping. There are lots of tourists. There are lost tourists too, which isn’t surprising when you’re a stranger in a strange world of Kanji characters and extraordinarily incomprehensible languages, and Japan’s got plenty of those. One big fat Americano was walking around and eating a burger that he bought from one of the fast food vendor kiosks. Walking and eating is supposedly a no no in Japan, bad manners and all that, but since tourists are generally clueless they sometimes get a pass. The local Japanese folks are helpful and respectful, but other than that they tend to not interact with us strange looking gaijins unless they have to. They have to because culturally that’s what they’re supposed to do. The society as a whole encourages all to help those that need help. To consider others around you who may not appreciate the greasy burgers dripping down to your chin, looking gross, disgusting, and smelling like a big fat Americano. So he walks in blissful ignorance, which can be a most joyful experience for those of you out there who have never had that opportunity.

I expected the Kabuki-za to be grand, just like the pictures I’ve seen of it from magazines and guidebooks about Japan. Maybe it would look grand in the evening when the lights are at its full effect. But not in the bright sunlight of noon, where it seems to me that the colors are lifeless, unenhanced by the bright sunlight beaming down on it. It looks drab as a matter of fact, which I found disappointing. But at the moment that we contemplated, or considered rather, the magnificence of the Kabuki-za architecture, my stomach was growling because it’s already past noon, so my wife suggested a place just around the corner that serves fresh oysters. Shazam! I love oysters, the fresher the better, so I was all in. My daughter was not. She’s a kid who will try oysters but will prefer a hamburger. Ain’t no hamburger for mommy and daddy, so she got outvoted again, unfortunately.

The place is called Ginza Kaki Shabu Ya, a tiny little restaurant tucked in an alley off the Kabuki-za in between other shops and restaurants, which is not easy to find unless you’re looking for it. It just barely opened when we got there, so we were their first customer of the day. The restaurant itself is on the basement floor, and the whole dining place couldn’t have been more than four hundred square feet, it looked so tiny. But the food, especially the oysters, were fantastic. Of course, they offered other items like eel and other seafoods and they even had chicken karaage which my daughter liked, but the highlight was the fresh oysters. It wasn’t the Kumamuto oysters that I prefer back in the states, but the large ones that came from Hokkaido, but it was fantastic nonetheless. There is nothing better in my opinion than slurping a dozen fresh oysters doused with a little lime and hot sauce, and downing it with an ice cold draft of cerveza, in this case a Sapporo on tap, and it was delicious. This place was truly a hidden gem.

Now that we’ve filled our stomach with some satisfying lunch we were ready for some Kabuki theater. We didn’t know anything about Kabuki, we just wanted to experience something we knew nothing about, and since a Kabuki show is a definite must do while in Japan, we couldn’t resist partaking in a little local theater. But we also did not realize how popular it is not only with the locals but with the tourists as well. Since we were one of the last people who bought tickets for the 1:30pm show, our seats were obviously not prime front row viewing, up close, and personal. Far from it. As a matter of fact we were four stories up in the rafters that we could barely see the show below. They looked like tiny little ants in Kabuki customs, doing a song and dance in Japanese, all performed by men I might add, including the women parts like the queen, empress, princess, or a damsel in distress. It was only a thirty minute show, and we understood very little of it through the crying routine of a wounded victim in battle and the victory dance of a shogun after conquest. There were plenty of those too. But what I was most surprised about was the enthusiasm of the audience, specifically the Japanese audience. I have always thought of artforms such as the kabuki, the ballet, and even broadway theater for that matter are relics in the grand history of entertainment that’s enjoyed by those who specialize in them. I mean, does anyone really enjoy a ballet performance other than those who practice it or understand it? I will enjoy the beauty of a ballerina but I couldn’t possibly appreciate her art.

The Japanese enthusiasm for the kabuki show was not only pleasantly surprising but uplifting as well in knowing that a relic of an artform can be enjoyed by the common man and woman in the land of the rising sun. I wonder if it’s a good topic of conversation at the breakroom at work for the salary men and women of Japan? Imagine how a conversation like that would even develop, I would never know because I don’t understand the nuances of their daily lives. As for us, it was merely an item checked off our list. There was nothing bad about the whole affair, but you have to understand something sometimes to enjoy the thing that you wanted to do, and this thing that we are doing now is one of those things, and as a result, there was very little cultural enhancement experienced by all of us, and especially from my ten year old daughter. But it was fun nonetheless.

After a taxi ride to the Yurakucho station, we hopped on the Yamanote Line going north. Next stop is Akihabara. I have been there before many years ago. I remembered it as a place to buy the latest electronic gadget on the planet. I didn’t realize about the abundance of manga and anime content all over the dadgum place. I didn’t notice it then because I wasn’t interested in them, but my daughter loves anime, and she knew about this place through the internet from all these youtube and tiktok videos that she watches all the time. This part of our journey is really for her because to be quite frank, all the things we’ve done since we arrived in Tokyo have been about mommy and daddy, and very little consideration for her. So as soon as we got off the train the little person ran to the nearest anime shop she could find and just started browsing, touching everything, and flipped through the many books that they’ll allow you to flip through. The mind of a ten year old is a wonderful thing. I know because I was a ten year old once. When I was ten, I never had the kinds of things that my daughter has right now, but I was still happy because my parents made sure that we, my brothers and sisters, were taken care of. We do the same for our daughter and by all indication, she seems pretty happy. And if the mind of a ten year old kid is happy, then that’s a good thing, right? I’m asking because many people, the majority perhaps, take happiness for granted.

We must have spent more than three hours roaming around Akihabara, visiting every manga and anime store, playing various types of videos games that we were never really good at, occasionally venturing off to the electric city part of the district to browse at Bic Camera or the some other giant electronic store selling all kinds of gadgets and accessories until my daughter starts complaining, in which case we would have to enter another anime store before finally ending the journey at some cheesecake factory outlet of some sort. They served a creamy cheesecake in a very soft and velvety crust that my daughter absolutely loved. Then we got on back to the Yamanote line to Tokyo Station and back to our hotel for a little afternoon rest before dinner.

Dinner is a treat for my wife and I once again. It is also a treat for my daughter because she’s a meat lover, and my wife found a gem of a restaurant that was highly rated by the foodies of Japan. How she got the information in the first place was suspicious to me since it came from one of those yelpy sort of deal in Japan. But if it’s highly rated, then there must be something to it, so we figured why not give it a shot. We had to take a taxi because there was no JR train station nearby. We could’ve taken the subway or some other means of getting there but we figured why bother, just take a taxi, so we did. This is really when I realized that street names are meaningless in Japan. We got the address of this restaurant called Shichubo Yung, a supposedly marvelous Michelin kind of restaurant, from this yelpy internet site that described such wonderful things about Shichubo Yung.

As I showed the taxi driver the address, he copied it on his smart pad that all taxis in Japan seem to have now these days to get the directions. I followed along closely, looking at the taxi’s smart pad and tried in vain where in the heck we were. I already knew that Japan has no street names, but how you get from one place to the next depends on the numbers displayed on every street corner in Japan. If I had told the taxi driver that this place is on Shirokane Street, like it said on the internet, right across from the Kitasato University campus, he could not have cared any less. He just wanted what the block number was on that street, then he’ll worry about the building number once we get there. He had a tough time finding the building though because it was tucked in between a residential building and a commercial building. It was located on a narrow two-way street, but only as wide as an alley, and it did not help that the building numbers are not in order as you would like to have just like the house numbers on the streets in the United States, one side numbered low to high in even number order and the other side odd number order. Not here in Japan. It’s random, I think, but I’m not sure exactly, all I know is that I don’t understand it. Eventually the taxi driver found the place. It seemed to be closed. So the taxi driver was kind enough to knock on the door. It took awhile before somebody finally opened the door. It is indeed a restaurant, but a restaurant that I never got an opportunity to experience because they don’t take walk-ins, only by reservation. Somehow we missed that little part of the deal.

It was still early in the evening, at eight o’clock, but our taxi driver had already taken off. We figured since we’re already here, why not just try one of these restaurants in the neighborhood? You might be surprised like they always say, so we walked a few yards east of Shichubo Yung and found a couple candidates for dinner. Burger Mania-Shirokane or Yakiniku of some sort next door to Burger Mania. My daughter surprisingly chose Yakiniku of some sort, so by unanimous decision it was Yakiniku of some sort. This some sort of deal is called Yakiniku Uchiwa, and it’s a good, very good quality Yakiniku. And it’s a very narrow restaurant as well, the private cubicles they serve you in are lined up in one row to the right of the restaurant’s entrance, and there were only no more than five of them I believe although I can’t be sure because quite frankly, it was a little dark in there. Three types of sauces were already on the table. Hopefully it’s not someone’s leftover. It’s one of those wonderful restaurants where you have to ask for an English menu, which means the place has not been flooded with tourists. It may never be, which is just fine and dandy with me. We ordered the usual meat including lamb which my wife doesn’t like, but I love them so I ordered some for me and my daughter because she likes them as well. The sauces were rather a little on the edgy side of tradition but it was good, a nice little effort by the resident chef. Our week in Tokyo could not have ended any better with this gem that we found in the Shirokane neighborhood of Minato City in Japan.


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#Shirokane #ooh #wee #lah

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