|Date||Monday March 9th|
|Days in Japan||Day 6|
|Hotel||Sotetsu Fresa Inn Higashi Shinjuku ($56.78)|
Today’s Japanese Lesson
|Recommend||“o su su meh”||おすすめ？|
|Is It?||“des ka?”||ですか？|
Map of Travels
A Little Alice in Wonderland
Woke up today a bit sore from the soccer the previous evening but had time to get a little breakfast and do a little research before leaving the hotel to meet up with Mai again (always have a plan B, C, and D!). Once I felt like I had a pretty good set of plans I headed out as we’d agreed to meet up at the same location as the day prior. This time around I was more prepared and opened up the conversation with a recommendation of a themed café that was hidden in the basement of a nearby building. The particular café I’d chosen was an Alice in Wonderland themed café that I’d added to my list of places to visit prior to landing in Japan. Mai seemed open and a bit excited to check it out so we began our search for this mysterious café. I had to lean on Mai to help with the translation of Kanji as we searched for the elevator that would take us to the main reception which was located in the basement. Finally, we stumbled on the correct building and located the sign leading us to the elevator to take us downstairs. The actual café had just opened a few minutes prior to our arrival.
We’d arrived in a small waiting room with a few colorfully themed chairs and what looked like a receptionist desk. After waiting for a few minutes without noticing any signs of life, we range the service bell to let the staff know of our arrival. After about 5 minutes of us awkwardly looking around we rang the bell again just as a couple of colorfully dressed men exited the elevator also looking to experience the café. The four of us waiting only another minute before a woman appeared from behind a hidden door. Her first question was which of us had a reservation and it occurred to me quite abruptly that this probably was a super popular café and we may not be able to get in without a reservation. More concerned with the embarrassment of attempting to get into a café such as this without a reservation opposed to the disappointment that Mai would feel, I began to stress a little as my heart rate quickly escalated. Mai exchanged a few comments with the hostess, apparently explaining that we didn’t have a reservation. The hostess didn’t seem too shaken with us just dropping in like this but did ask us to wait as she did a fancy knock and put on a little performance before escorting the two gentlemen behind the hidden door. While waiting for her to return another two younger women exited the elevator and immediately gave the service bell a ring (obviously experienced with this scenario). The hostess returned from behind the wall and yet again took the two girls whom had apparently made a reservation behind the wall. As hope was beginning to crumble, I began to consider what my Plan B was to visit as a substitute to this café. While spooling over the options in my head, the hostess returned and waved us over to the door. Woohoo! We’d made it and were able to go into the back which was a magical room with an abundance of Alice in Wonderland themed decorations. I haven’t seen the Alice in Wonderland movie in forever but I did feel like I’d stepped into another world. The staff were all dressed up and it felt much like the maid café I’d visited the day prior. There were even performances that came along with most of the items on the menu. Mai and I took our seats and began to scroll through the relatively short menu while observing the performances that came along with each specific item in which the surrounding tables had ordered. We finally decided on some colorful looking (non-alcoholic) drinks and “tea party” snacks. While there were Instagram moments occurring all around us, Mai and I were relatively silent and motionless while we awaited our snack and drinks. We’d completed most of our basic conversation topics the day prior and with my lack of Japanese, and her lack of English, there wasn’t a whole lot more we were able to discuss. We enjoyed our snack while sipping on the delicious and rather sweet drinks that we’d ordered. As the cafe was starting to quickly fill up we both agreed that we’d soaked up the experience and decided to pay the bill and prepare for another adventure.
As we returned to civilization we were anxious to see daylight again and ready to exert some of our new sugar-induced energy. Mai had mentioned the day before that she really enjoyed playing ping-pong so before leaving the hotel I had attempted a quick search on my phone and was able to find a cool bar with some ping-pong tabled located inside. Although Mai doesn’t really like alcohol, I chose a pub-game-room of sorts and figured I could enjoy a beer while we played some games. We found the bar/game room which was located once again in the basement of a building (notice the trend). The bar space was small but the gaming area was vast and consisted of two floors (making it B1 & B2). We let the host, who was dressed as a butler, know that we would be playing ping-pong for an hour or so. The place had the feel of an old wooden cabin and you completely forgot you were actually in the basement of a large building just off one of the busier streets in Shinjuku. We secured one of the ping-pong tables and checked out the menu, I chose a beer and Mai chose a soda. To make our order we had to find our table # on a LAN-line phone located on the wall. After picking up the phone it instantly called the barkeep which allowed us to place our drink order without having to get his attention or going back up to the main floor. Our drinks were quickly delivered as we began a casual ping-pong rally. The game room consisted of three ping-pong tables, 4 pool tables, 3 private rooms which hosted some sort of virtual reality golf game, and more than a dozen electronic dart boards. We continued to rally and mess around on the ping-pong table while I fought off the desire of getting too competitive and hitting difficult shots in fear of getting my butt kicked. We ended up extending another hour and I placed another order for a 2nd beer and some snacks.
The draft beers in Japan always have a HUGE amount of head on them – so the glass itself was maybe 12oz and my pour was maybe 9oz which goes down pretty quick. Not sure what initiated this trend but I noticed it all throughout Japan.
After another hour of some friendly ping-pong we decided to pay our tab and make our way back into civilization once again. After some more walking around and exploring we were getting a little hungry and dinner time was slowly creeping around.
Restaurants in Japan (and all over the US) follow the "restaurant hours" pretty religiously. This means that places are open for lunch from ~10:30a-1:30p and then close to reopen around ~4:30-10pm. People are pretty programmed to eat during those times, but unfortunately for me, I'm not very good at keeping a routine schedule and found myself often trying to eat during off hours when nothing was open.
Since I was pretty open to anything, having eaten quite a variety of Japanese foods over the past few days, I let Mai pick a cuisine for dinner. She requested some Italian food and wanted to eat some pasta. This caught me a little from left field but I was able to utilize Google Maps to find us a quaint little Italian restaurant located, guess where, in the basement of yet another building not too far from where we’d wandered to. We headed over to the entrance which was located in a small alleyway and were greeted by what I imagine was the restaurant manager who was trying to pull some extra business by handing out coupons for a free soda/drink with each order. We took one of the cards and entered the Italian themed restaurant located just below our feet. I avoided the beer order this time and just settled for a coke and some water.
They have VERY limited soda selections in Japan. They also serve very small portions and there aren't usually refills. Not many places have "soda machines" so an order for a coke (one of the only types of soda they usually have) will yield you a small bottled for $2 or so. I happen to love having a beverage with my food and resorted to ordering beer more often with my meals just because of the price vs quantity factors.
I was a little surprised by the large variety of pastas which allowed us to each order what we wanted. While waiting patiently for our food to come out, a couple entered the restaurant and headed for the back corner. My first impression, and apparently everyone else’s, was that this was a host and a client out on a dinner date. Given the area, the constant glances everyone was giving them, and the obnoxious flirting in the corner, Mai and I came to the conclusion that it was very likely. The guy seemed pretty hungry by the way he ate and while he appeared to be the “host”, he showed little interest in the lady who was dressed up and desperately trying to talk him into doing romantic stuff for her. Our pasta finally rolled out and it was actually pretty tasty for an underground Italian restaurant located in the heart of Shinjuku, Tokyo. We finished our food and headed back upstairs and towards the station so I could see Mai off and get back to my hotel to get some rest. The next morning I’d be meeting up with Rui once again and we’d be heading out of town to stay in a super swank resort located lakeside in a small mountain town. The resort was called KAI -Hoshino Nikko and just dropping the name to locales caused a look of surprise as it was very well known. This stay had been one of my biggest highlights when planning my trip and I was super excited to experience it with Rui. I wanted to be well rested and ready for a day of travels and adventure so I took a little shortcut and went down memory lane to get back to my hotel and was asleep within the hour.
Memory Lane, also known as Omoide Yokocho or Piss Alley, is a small alley that features an abundance of Izakaya and little bars. It’s a prime spot for cheap food, drinks and back in the 1940s it hosted many illegal drinking quarters. Here’s a cool video featuring the alleyway. It earned the title of Piss Alley as many men used to piss in the alley since the places are so small that they don’t have restrooms.