Back from Japan!
Gun-slinging photo shot above by Enrico "Quickdraw" Casarosa
I have photos, six hundred or so, to prove that I was there. Otherwise I could question that it happened at all. I woke up this morning from the first full night’s sleep since I got back from Japan yesterday —the sleep of the dead, depth charges couldn’t have roused me from the jet-black-lagged coma. I can recall the details but already they are slipping away—the constant sound of announcements out to the ever moving crowd, the roar of Pachinko parlors, boot legged women well appointed to the nines riding bicycles, men in business suits pouring out to lunch counters, trains whistling into stations heralded by chimes and voices, the oppression of second hand smoke. It was all marvelous!
Enrico’s sojourn in Japan had started two weeks earlier and we had conspired to meet on his third week there. It was a great deal for me, since I don’t speak a lick of Japanese but Enrico can converse freely like a local. Instant guide and translator! I swear, if it wasn’t for him my trip would have been infinitely more boring and frustrating. We met at Shinjuku station on December 2 after my JR express ride of gawking at the country side. Shinjuku station, the largest of the train stations in Tokyo, where literally millions pass through on a regular day is also an amalgam of shops, malls, stairs, turnstiles, ticket machines and rushing crowds. From there we trudged over to my hotel and checked in. We knew it was likely going to be small but I was still struck by how small. It was a long closet with a bed, a dresser and a bathroom (I will notice that all toilets here are built to have your knees just inches from the door that closes on it).
We immediately head out to walk the night streets of Shinjuku. The lights, noise and the sound of commerce on full throttle. After an eyeful of the delights being offered by Pachinko parlors, girl clubs -- and there were men clubs for equal opportunity dates for sale, complete with a star roster of matinee idol head shotss and slick asian mullet coifs—we headed past the small eateries in an alley (Piss Alley, though Enrico assures me only the name persists) he settles on a more conventional restaurant to eat our first meal together in Japan. Noodles and Mochi soup. Yum. I also took the first photo of what would be a near perfect documentation of all my meals there. It would all be glorious eatin’.
Before I forget I have to thank a couple of people, Heather Feng for helping us out with the Ghibli people and Michele Spane for making sure we got in the museum and treated to a special tour. I had a little scare at the very start of the trip. On the way to the airport I rummage through all the pertinent papers needed for the trip and found the tickets furnished by Michele weeks earlier missing! ARRRGH! NO! I was in a panic and called her at work before my plane left. She wasn't worried at all, she said she'll call ahead and will take care of it then told me to just have fun. That was so nice. Heather continued to correstpond with Studio Ghibli to pave the way for our visiting the studio well in to the trip. My eternal gratitude to you both.
I know that I can't possibly post everything I experienced here in one post so I'll break it into several. There were many highlights in a trip that's left a sad yearning for the place. The best part were the people I met through Enrico's network of friends he's garnered over the eight times he's been visiting Japan. The Tamori's :Yozo, Mitchiko and their son, Atsushi who works for Studio I.G. We had dinner with them in Mitaka on December 3 at a small restaurant that had bar seating and tables at back. Apparently Enrico had earlier seen a curious looking horizontal slot running along a wall and peered in. It was a window to this restaurant and Mitchiko decided that reservations were to be made. I found the Tamori's to be so welcoming that you can hardly believe how genuine it is. Throughout my stay I will meet them several more times and each time I grow more fond of them.I also met Brian who works for Hitachi. Originally from Texas he fell in love with Japan when his parents took him to visit a cousin. He vowed to work there someday and to date he's been in Japan for eight years. Brian speaks fluent Japanese and in all gatherings from hereon I will be the only one who will need an English translation of conversations -- I now wish I'd taken the same Japanese lessons my kids are taking. Dinner was great. That's an understatement. Personally prepared dishes as well as grilling on coal bowls set between guest made such an evening so unique.The chef did a masterful job of creating rather avant garde dishes (I think, but what do I know) some of which I featured above. He's quite young to be chef master, kidding around with us even as we ask about other guests' orders being prepared right in view. I snap a picture of him as he hams it up with a fish head as you can see above--and now I'm making good on a threat that I would post it on the net. Hello, Chef!
Alright. I'm going to skip and go for a teaser. We are great fans of Tadahiro Uesugi and this visit was just as much about meeting him as anything. We couldn't believe our eyes when we see the email that invites us to "have a party" at his place. He's not kidding, is he? Well, meet him we did. Party? Did we ever! A lot happened that blew the doors off of my fragile mind that night and I am still reeling from it. I am such a lucky bastard--pardon my English--but I just met a modern master of illustration and he had us over for dinner! I am so insanely lucky!
And as if that wasn't enough, we met illustrator Takahashi Hikaru there as well. He was taking photos and sent me one of them, that's it above. More on the Uesugi party, his lovely wife,Kuro-chan, Takahashi Hikaru and the rest on the next post.