Thursday, May 29, 2008

Love in the Time of Tequila

It's wacko weather time here. Sunny and hot yesterday, rainy and cold today. Ah, the rainy season.

So, Jeff's Birthday (Party) Present last Friday was a success. I think it was everything he hoped. Red Shoes is a really cool space, and a famous one, too, at least at its former location (Rolling Stones played there back in tha day, as well as Sheena and the Rockets, and other famous folks) .

On this evening, there was musical entertainment by Tequila Muchos

Darkside Mirrors

and Golden

and DJing by several people, like Macky, Tomoi, Max, and Jeff himself, making his DJ debut.

Tequila Muchos, true to form, forced a lot of people to come up and do tequila shots to, you know, that song, including me (again I show my love -- everyone knows I despise tequila). Abby had Jeff's mom write a birthday letter, which was read by Macky and translated into Japanese by Abby (at least, I believe it was; I had to assume he wasn't supplying his own version). Accompanied by sentimental music, it was quite touching. Awww.

Abby also ambushed the crowd all night with his hooch-filled squirt gun.

Lots of friends showed up, from all our various tribes (this is just like the Society section in Vanity Fair or whatever, right?)

Golden, playing last and finally forcing me to recognize the guy sitting at the bar all night (Kota! What's with the mustache?!), was the hit of the night. Their performance was followed by an impromptu rendition of "Yokohama Hachi-ji No Densha" by Jeff and much dancing (DJ Max was under orders to get everyone up and dancing. It worked. Can't resist "Rockafella Skank").

At the end of the evening, Helen, Cynthia, Osamu, Jeff, and I attempted to find Whitney, who had theoretically absconded to a local place for some quieter conversation (all conversations at the Red Shoes were necessarily conducted through shouting), but we had to give it up as a wild goose chase. Helen, justifiably annoyed at our drunken Tokyo meanderings (she'd had a rough week), escaped in a cab, while the remaining quartet of us ended up at the Train Bar (used to Mistral Blue) in Rappongi. The owner/bartender treated us all to shots of Jameson's, which made my third shot of the night (I never do shots, ask anyone. I can't believe I was still upright, let alone coherent. Maybe I wasn't, I was hardly a good judge of that).

When Jeff and I walked out of there, it was full daylight, and lemme tell you, there are few sights less beautiful than Rappongi at the other end of a Friday night. We attempted to find a nearby love hotel that the Train Bar guy told us about, but that ended up another fruitless endeavor, so we hopped a cab to Shibuya.

There was another frustrating search, because, as we should have guessed, it's really difficult to find a love hotel in Shibuya with a vacancy at 6 am on a Saturday morning. But, we had success at last, in the form of a room that was twice as expensive as we had planned. But, at that point, it was totally worth it, and besides that was a "Living in Japan" box we had as yet unchecked.

OK, I guess I need to explain what a love hotel is to those some of you who don't know. Love hotels only exists for one purpose, and I bet you can guess what that is. The reason for them is that privacy is at a premium in large Japanese cities: a lot of Japanese live with their parents or other family members, because apartments can be very expensive. If you are lucky enough to have your own place, it's tiny and has paper-thin walls.

These are the official reasons for love hotels. Any others are not mentioned in the tour books, but you can pay for "rest" (an hour or 90 minutes) or "stay," which means you spend the night. You cannot leave once you are in your room. We were happy to find that our check-out time was 3:30 pm. Woo!

The room was nice, and a little what you might expect. It had no proper windows, so we were suspended in whatever time we chose (which was not daylight). The bed was round, and so was the bathtub.

Said round bed revolved, which may not be the best idea in our condition, but the controller was awesome, reminiscent of those giant buttons one finds working factory conveyor-belts.

There was the oddest vending-fridge, and lots of toiletries.

As for the rest, I'll leave up to your imagination. This is a family blog.

We rolled out of bed and took the train on a surreal afternoon to go meet up with our kids, who were in the patient custody of Jeff's folks.

We spent our last day with Rich and Mary Lou doing the Shibuya tour, which every visitor has to see at night (which came rather quickly due to our late waking time). Rich and I got yelled at for taking pictures from the Starbuck's upper window (which has the best view of the outrageous intersection), which is absurd. I guess our product-empty hands prompted such ridiculousness. Whatever.

We had a lovely Italian dinner at Jeff's favorite Italian place (really good, can't remember the name, but I must recreate the anchovy-olive-basil-capers-red pepper pasta I had), and we said our goodbyes to the elder Davises. I hope they had a great trip. They are, as always, easy guests, and are welcome to stay with us anytime. At this moment, they are basking in the Hawaiian sun, recuperating from their busy Japan vacation. Aloha!

I leave you with a PSA we spotted Saturday morning:

No, it wasn't at the hotel, it was at the train station. Read the fine print. Better than doing it driving. I've never been able to do that.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Black Ship Festival, Shimoda

Theoretically, Jeff and his folks are on their way back from Kyoto, but I can't get a hold of them. Or anyone else, for that matter. I suspect someone forgot to pay the phone bill.

Anyway, we had a fabulous time in Shimoda. My fourth trip! Such a great place. I think I would like to retire there. Have to make some buckets of money first.

Coincidentally, it was the 69th Black Ship Festival, which celebrates the opening of Japan to the US by Perry and his fleet of scary black ships. Kind of odd that they celebrate an invasion and humiliation, but whatever. There's also a Shimoda festival in which they remember this chick Okichi who was forced to "keep house" for Townsend Harris, the US Consulate left there, separating her from her lover. When this guy went back to the States, he left her there, where nobody would touch her and she drowned herself. Seriously. There's a neat article on the whole Black Ship and opening the country to the barbarians thing here.

We got down there just in time for the fireworks that kicked off the festival weekend. Fantastic display. There were also taiko drummers that danced with us by force.

We went to the Paradise Cafe, of course, afterwards. No Keni. Apparently he and his wife were off on vacation, but there was a new bartender called Ross, the bizarre Andy from London and his dog Lamb, and my favorite person to drunkenly sing Pogues songs with: David Nix. His wife and one of his daughters were there, too, so now I believe in their existence.

Midnight, and Jeff's birthday, was approaching rapidly, and the bartender was insufficiently inspired, so I hissed "just give me something flaming or sparkling or something!" Andy ran off somewhere and came back with a large pack of fireworks (while I settled for getting Jeff a double shot of tequila - which proves my love, as anyone who knows me and my no-tequila-for-Jeff-in-my-presence rule knows). The staff was totally cool with the sparklers burning in the bar, though we had to go outside for the bigger stuff. The kids had passed out in Grandma and Grandpa's room next door at Ernest House, and we adults got all kinds of sauced.

The next day, Jeff's proper birthday, we had lunch at a lovely place where Rich ate rice.

Happy birthday Jeff!

We ended up downtown looking for an ATM that was open past 12:30, where the matsuri was going full-swing. There was the usual matsuri food and games, plus one of those portable shrine things covered with musicians and lots of old ladies dancing. All kinds of people were walking around in Black Ship period costumes, as well as American sailors from a Navy destroyer there for the occasion.

Another night at the Paradise Cafe, this time with a BBQ and shooting off fireworks on the beach. We were joined by this twelve-year-old kid Daniel who spoke like a 19th-century scholar, and his journalist parents (I swear I can spot a fellow Jew within two sentences. It's amazing. Not really. Their New-Yorkness is what really gave them away). Rich & Mary Lou didn't make it too late, as we had messed them up the night before.

Sunday was a beach day, at the Sand Ski beach we had driven by on the day before. We had never been there before. Really cool rocky beach with little tide pools for D to explore and corral tiny crabs in, and a huge sand hill to ride down on plastic toboggans. We had a little picnic on a grassy patch and enjoyed the warmish and windy day. The kids, and Jeff, got sand in their every orifice.

The trip back took, naturally, twice as long as it took to get there, but the 'rents got to see the Spiral Bridge and some great mountain views. Still no Fuji, tho, sadly for Mary Lou, who keeps hoping to catch a glimpse. Maybe she saw it on the shinkansen to Kyoto.

One more weekend with the folks, including the night they are watching the kids in Tokyo: Friday night! You're coming to the party, right? You'd better. Very sad that Kevin has to miss it, since he was so excited. But if you haven't heard, he has TB and will be in the hospital for at least 2 months. See Helen's blog for details (a link is to the right). This would be the part where I say to keep Kevin in your prayers, but I'm not into that stuff, so I'll just say to send Kevin your happy thoughts, because this sucks for him. And for Helen.

There was supposed to be a cool montage of all the music and dancing and stuff from the festival, and some footage of the sand-skiing, but I am experiencing technical difficulties, so maybe next time. You can, however, see more pictures of our picturesque weekend here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Adventures of Ma & Pa Davis, Part I

Jeff's parents, now retired, are blowing all their money on a two-week trip to Japan, followed by two weeks in Hawaii. Then they will settle down and live in a tent in Madison, Ohio. Just kidding.

Their first week here has gone swimmingly, except for the crappy weather they seem to bring with them, or so we like to tease them. It's been really nice the last couple days, and we are off to Shimoda for a beachy weekend that happens to coincide with the Black Ship Festival.

Firstly, to satisfy my loyal readers the Piazzas, here's proof that they went to the famous Blue Corn Cafe. I did not take this picture. Look at it like those UFO-spotting photos.

Helen, Kevin, Cynthia, Michael, and Shingo joined us. Sadly for those that left (everyone but Helen, Cynthia, and me), they didn't get to meet the fabulous Hya-chan, who believes you are never too old for hot pants.

On Mother's Day, we had brunch at the top of the Landmark Tower

then caught the buskers outside

and spent some time at Cosmo World

Monday or Tuesday night, I forget which? Macky came over and cooked us a sukiyaki feast. We also tried whale meat.

The meat tasted like fishy ham. The blubber tasted like fishy rubber bands.

Macky had secretly invited Toru, Ben, Tomoi, and Nori-chan so Jeff would look popular in Japan for his parents. Hence a stupid amount of food and a late ending hour. He and I fell asleep on the floor while the feast continued.

We took the folks to the Ramen Museum, where Rich and Mary Lou got to try their first proper ramen. We ate a Fukuchan (which Rich liked to pronounce differently). I don't know who this guy was supposed to be, but he liked Rich.

Then next night, Mary Lou taught me to make homemade noodles for the Secret Soup Recipe from Rich's mother. I am privileged to have the secret passed down to me.

The folks spent the next day on the base. Or at least they tried to. They didn't bring their passports, and apparently those are needed to get on. They managed to amuse themselves in town, though, so it was OK. We had a big steak dinner at home. Rich is the steak-grilling master. I ate a whole deliciously rare steak, almost still mooing, and I can't remember the last time I did that. Seriously. I never eat steak. Usually too much jaw-work.

The weather finally broke yesterday, and we had a sunny afternoon in Chinatown, followed by a surprise at Yamashita Koen: all the roses were in bloom! Gorgeous colors and smells.

Dinner was at that crazy fish-for-your-dinner place in Tsunashima. D caught the first, and biggest, fish. M was a close second. Rich was rather unimpressed by the still-twitching sashimi. Luckily, he doesn't eat sashimi anyway, and they had lobster and a personal hibachi for him to play with, so he was happy. We ended up with a ridiculous surplus of fish, because the boys wanted to catch another one, and Macky caught one, and I don't know what happened, but it did all managed to get eaten, mostly by Jeff & Macky.

Today, as soon as the kids get home from school, we are off to Izu. Send us happy sunny wishes so we can do lots of hanging out on the beach.