Thursday, July 2, 2015

Japanned, Day Nine

My Wife and I went to Japan for ten days. We had a blast. I took notes.


The return to Tokyo...

We woke early on Day Nine, our last day in Kyoto... well, early for us anyway. It was probably 7:00 - 7:15 in the morning. Early, ya' feel me? Y'see, we had to get up early today, because today was the day we were headed back north, back to Tokyo.

It was a cool morning and, except for the birds, the neighborhood was quiet. There was a nice spring breeze, the air crisp and clean-smelling from last night's rain. While Ela showered, I sat with the glass wall open, enjoying the view, eating Japanese doughnuts and drinking some Boss coffee I bought from a vending machine the day before. The little hanare house smelled like fresh-cut cedar.

I will definitely miss having vending machines chock full of all kinds of drinks on every corner.

We got ready. We packed. I wrote a haiku about staying in the hanare house in the guest book, but I didn't write it my notes, so I forgot how it went. 5 - 7 - 5 4ever, bitches. Then we walked over to the main house, where a pair of little tiny smiling ladies in kimonos refused to let us hold our bags while we all waited for our cab. They insisted on loading everything for us when it arrived, too. Arigato. Sumimasen. Arigato. Arigato. Sumimasen. Arigato. Bobbing and bowing, that old familiar Japanese song and dance. I thought Ela's bulging rolly bag might crush the poor lady straining and struggling under its weight.

I didn't get a picture of them, but I think this was them...

They were very nice. The Ryokan was really great. If you're ever in Kyoto (a place I highly recommend, as I really enjoyed it), and you're looking for a special experience, then you should check out Ryokan Yoshido Sanso.

Highly recommended.

The cabbie knew the words "Kyoto Station" so there wasn't any need for a game of First Contact Charades this time. Everyone in Kyoto knows the station, it's the beating heart of the city. We slalomed down out of the twisting-turning streets of north Kyoto, zipped along the languid stretch of the Kamo River, passed back through downtown Kyoto with it's wide avenues and narrow alleys, each part like a whole new world (don't you dare close your eyes), all right next door to each other, all filled with people going about their normal mid-week morning activities, until we finally reached the massive swooping edifice of Kyoto Station.

We made the Shinkansen Hikari just in time, navigating the station and flashing our JR Passes like old hat at this point--except for Ela, who for some reason refused to keep her pass in an easily accessed pocket for the entire trip, opting instead to scramble for it in the bottom of her very full bag, all at the last minute... every single time--but we made it, and settled in for the long ride. It was going to take us about four hours to get back to Tokyo. We had books. We had snacks. We had comfortable seats. It would be an easy four hours. Outside the window, as the train climbed to its cruising speed of 200 mph, the crowded cityscape melted into the long sprawl of the suburbs, slowly becoming idyllic small towns nestled among the rice paddies and tall, heavily-forested hills...

Huh... that's weird.

At one point, I looked up from my notes and, for a second, I thought I caught a shutter-quick glimpse of a giant golden head and shoulders rising up over the top of those forested hills, the tall slim point of a golden spear next it. What was that? Was it moving, slowly striding off through the greenery? It almost looked like it had been... I didn't get a chance to take a picture. It was there and then gone too quickly, falling away behind us, lost behind the hills. And now, despite an exhaustive and extensively branching synonym-based and word-order jumble google search, I can't seem to find anything like it on-line anywhere. Did it actually exist? It was probably my mistake, right? There probably isn't a giant golden sentient statue, armed with a golden spear, roaming the forests of Japan, right? That kind of stuff doesn't happen, right? Weird stuff? In Japan?

Nah... I was probably just imagining things...

Anyway, it was too hazy to see Mt. Fuji, so we had some snacks and relaxed. Soon enough those green forests, quaint small towns, and rice paddy fields laid out like patchwork quilts began to fade, becoming houses and roads, the buildings crowding together, piling up and growing taller, steel and glass towers climbing toward the sky... Tokyo, the East Capital, one of the World's Great Cities.

The Tokyo Park Hyatt is the Lost in Translation Hotel, and let me tell you, my friends, it is next-level fancy. Iggy Azalea said she already knows, but... she does not.

When we arrived, they made us leave our bags with the attendant in the lobby, assuring us that they would be delivered to our room... but they didn't take our names... The hotel itself started on the 41st floor of the 52 story tall building. It has its own lobby, separate from the rest of the building, and there is almost no signage, other than a smiling silver Medusa head. I guess, you either know you're supposed to be there, or you don't belong.

The elevator was a deeply-polished wood and mirror paneled rocket to the sky. The lobby on the 41st floor was sedate and cheery, a politely pleasant  and sun-bright, glass-enclosed atrium filled with greenery. A dim hall leading into the building's interior. Tokyo stretched off in all directions. Within the hotel's hushed and plushly-carpeted, softly-spotlit and tastefully appointed hallways, I feel like a heavy-footed giant stuffed behind a little girl's tea set, lumbering about and dropping shit.

It's very nice. Super nice. One of those places where the check-in feels more like an interview, with the question of whether or not you'll be allowed to stay still within doubt. The computers are all recessed within the desks too, the keyboards hidden, so at first, it seems like the attendant is just momentarily turning away from you and doing a little shoulder wiggle, before turning back and asking more questions. Wherever you turn, there's a smiling attendant ready and eager to do something trivial for you. They're like extra-helpful tuxedoed ninjas. They open doors at every opportunity. They push elevator buttons. Whenever you pass one in the hall, they stand aside, bow, and gesture with their hands as you pass, a gentle sweeping motion to help you along, as if showing you the way, even if you didn't ask. They even offered a nightly turn-down service, but that was just too weird, so we ended up declining. What do you do while they're touching your bed, and turning down your sheets? Mill around in the background?

The strangest part of all, though, was the other guests, the people for whom this kind of opulence was normal. The wealthy, dolled up in their everyday clothes and jewelry that probably cost as much as your car. In those mellowly-lit halls, they looked formidable, assured, impeccable, but when they passed through the sunlight, and if you were close, suddenly the excessive pancake make-up looked flaky, and the waxy botox-smooth features too taut, the leather of the tough guy jackets suddenly as supple and soft as a baby's butt, the delicately manicured hands seemingly even softer. There was a pair of Persian kids staying there--a fat little boy and his pig-tailed little sister--we saw them all over the place, always imperiously ordering around the staff, "All the best! All the best!" but their clothes were too small, their stomachs hanging out the bottom of their t-shirts, their tube socks were frayed at the top from too often pulling them too tight up to their knees. Everyone looked expensive, sure, but silly, deliberate, and oblivious. This high up in the sky, it was a plush, but insulated world.

Still, that only meant that it was hella comfortable, know what I mean? And the staff was more than accommodating. It was splurge for us, sure, but it was pretty fun, in the way that it's sometimes fun to stay in a super fancy hotel. But mostly... it felt familiar, y'know? It felt Western. I'm glad we did it, it was cool, but it didn't feel like "Japan", it felt like any super fancy hotel in any big city in America.

But for one night, I wasn't complaining. The minibar was full. Plus, as I was originally making these notes, I was also eating tiramisu in our giant bed, because that option existed.

Fancy-pantsy, my friends.

By the time we had reached the Park Hyatt, checked in, gotten up to our room, and our luggage arrived, it was lunchtime. We decided to eat in the hotel and decide what to do with the rest of our day over food. The Hotel offered several options, and since we were going to be eating at the New York Grill on the 52nd floor later that night, we opted for Girandole, which promised to be "a European-style restaurant offering a high degree of refinement and elegance."

It was certainly elegant and refined, but I found the Beef Curry and pickles to be disappointing...

From the 42nd floor of the Park Hyatt, it quickly becomes apparent that Tokyo goes on forever. It is nothing but city, city upon city, stretching on to the horizon. Apparently, it is the most populated metropolitan area in the world. It looks it.

There was so much we could do with our day, it was hard to get started. We decided to walk back to Shinjuku Station and take the train over to Omotesando, because Ela really likes this one Comme des Garcons sweater she has, and she had looked on-line and discovered that there was a store there, so... why not go check it out?

I'll tell you why not... Omotesando is bougie as fuck, people, that's why. People drive Lamborghinis and Ferraris there like it's a normal thing that regular people do. It's the place where names like Prada and Coach and Louis Vuitton  and Dolce Gabbana all crowd in, shoulder to shoulder, all vying for street space. When we finally found Comme des Garcons, the sweater Ela ended up getting came with a Customs Declaration, because it's exclusive to Japan. She told me not ask how much it cost. Omotesando, man... bougie as fuck.

However, there was a ton of interesting architecture in that neighborhood.

Look at the Starbucks!

So, anyway, we had some food from Mos Cafe, which is maybe a kind of fancy McDonalds crossed with a coffee shop and pastry shop? Maybe. It seemed like a popular chain, there were a lot of these places around Japan, but it wasn't anything to write home about.

Except for just now, I guess...

After that, there wasn't much else for us to do in this area, even the window shopping felt too expensive, so we headed back to Shinjuku Station. Now, on the average, about 3.64 million people pass through Shinjuku a day, meaning it's one of the world's busiest transit hubs. It has 36 train platforms and over 200 exits. It is huge. It also has a giant mall attached to it, both above and below ground, and that place had everything.

So cute...

We wandered all over the place. It was packed with endless, endless things. Ela found some long-gone from America, and very much lamented by her, former-favorite hand cream from the Aveda store, so our ambling tour ended up getting a thumbs-up from her just for that alone. Hawaiian Pancake Factory? Is that a thing?

Before we knew it, it was five in the afternoon, and suddenly the floodgates were flung open. People, my friends, a horde of them. Wall to wall people, all 3.64 million of them, I think. The whole of Tokyo was suddenly on the sidewalk all around us as we made our way back to the hotel, and they were all heading in the opposite direction.

Here's three unflattering, and probably not really all that true, things I noticed while on our trip...

1. The big make-up trend in Japan appears to be using liberal amounts of rouge right to the cheekbones, and then not blending it in at all. Just one big pink dot, like they're all precious cherubs freshly inside from a cold winter's day of sledding, ready for their hot coco. It's everywhere. It's so prevalent and weird looking, clown-blatant I would call it, that it makes me wonder if they just don't know about even the idea of "blending".

2. People don't have their face moles removed. Normally, I wouldn't comment on this kind of thing, but after a few days of these big, honking, comedy-skit-waiting-to-happen, sticky-outtie moles, it's like: "What the fuck, man. Clip that shit off." According to Kelly, it all has something to do with a good luck superstition, possibly dependent upon the placement. Now to me, that sounds like, a long time ago, some Japanese kid with giant face moles had a very convincing mother. "No. No... your moles? No, they're not... that bad... besides, they're... uh... good luck...?"

3. This is another thing I wouldn't normally comment on, but it was shockingly common... For such an appearance-obsessed culture, there was a lot of fucked up teeth. Like old church graveyards fucked up, people. It doesn't seem to be a class issue either, rich or poor, old and young, the gray snaggletooth appears to be king in Japan.

 So... there's that...

Anyway, finally back to our hotel, we showered and cleaned ourselves and dressed up all nice, because the Hansen/Rausch team was moving on up, to a deluxe restaurant in the sky-high-high! The 52nd floor, the New York Grill. You might recognize it from Lost in Translation as well. The view was astounding. Tokyo at night is a sea of twinkling lights, a dense pack of earthbound star blotting out the sky overhead. There's so many skyscrapers, it's a forest of blinking red lights.

It was fantastic. The service was friendly, ready, and eager, but never intrusive. We dined among wealthy Japanese, old white people, and that particular type of polo-wearing, crew-cut Business Bros that are either Private Security Mercenaries, or on a Pacific Rim tour looking to have sex with as many underage prostitutes as they can. There was even a table of four guys eating next to us that looked so much like the standard cliches of the various types of Yakuza crime bosses, that I have decided they couldn't be anything else but a quartet of Yakuza bosses having an emergency meeting on the eve of an explosive gang war breaking out. There was the big smiling bald guy with a goatee, lots of rings, and dressed in a white suit. He seemed to be the meeting organizer. Then there was a slouching guy in a rumpled black suit without a tie, with medium length stringy hair parted in the middle that obscured his face, and a scowl. He didn't talk much. There was a very nicely dressed old guy, he was very straight-backed and severe looking with a steely gaze locked on the last member of the group. The fourth guy was an arrogant young buck with comically spiked hair, wearing a colorful motorcycle racing jacket, slumped in his chair and very pointedly not listening. He seemed very amused with himself. I couldn't hear what they were talking about--plus, it was probably in Japanese--but I can only assume it was some kind of nefarious, underworld stuff.

Seems reasonable, right?

Or maybe not... Whatever.

I digress. Seriously, the restaurant was amazing, super fancy. The silverware was real silver, people! I can't even imagine how much time they must spend polishing it. Best of all, the food was delicious. Absolutely delicious. We ate to bursting. It was a beautiful space with an even better view.

We talked about sitting at the bar for awhile, but there was some kind of easy-listening, pop-jazz cover band going on in there, so no thanks. We considered maybe heading out into the city again, but... nah. It was our last night in Tokyo. We headed back to our room.

Tomorrow... that's all she wrote,

Day Nine Done,


the library bird said...

conjure that haiku from hanare house!

the library bird said...

a whole new world (don't you dare close your eyes). Priceless.

the library bird said...

tiramasu in bed at the lost in translation hotel is too perfect

Jon said...

The haiku is gone,
a breeze never repeated.
Its moment has passed.