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November 6 Ikebukuro

Ikebukuro and Kappabashi (and how to eat sushi)

In the morning, wandering around Ikebukuro, engaged in a fruitless search for a laundromat. I've seen 'em around, was hoping to located a small apartment building's laundry room for quick access to the coin-operated machines, but of course when I actually need to use one, I found nothing. Back to the hotel for some Euro-trip-style sink washing.

After a brief foray into Akihabara, where I got a couple "greatest hits" CDs by 1960s pop artists whom I'm sure won't see any percentage of my purchase price, had lunch at Nippori. This was at a third floor restaurant, where my seat was next to a television showing golfers. Afterwards, took a pedestrian overpass across the train tracks and found myself in the Shitamachi neighborhood I'd visited previously, approached from an alternate direction.

Eventually I went over to Ueno, to pass through the religious-goods and kitchenware areas en route to the Kaminarimon Gate in Asakusa. (The latter is a traditional Tokyo tourist stop to which I'd return in a couple days.) Kappabashi is the area known for its concentration of kitchen and restaurant supply stores, marked by the big chef's head at the beginning of the street. Many visitors to Japan wonder where they can get some of that model food, the shokuhin sanpuru displayed outside restaurants - this is the place (but that stuff isn't cheap). My mission there was to locate a requested Christmas gift, a personal bento box; as I figured, stores devoted entirely to these could be found along this street. I examined the stock: many of the rectangular kind were available, with their little compartments; also the square stacking kind (like I'd seen Yuko take to work Monday morning) but I was most intrigued by a hexagonal version, so that's what I got.

Later, back near the hotel, had a wonderful revolving sushi meal - I found the place near this dragon, whose head moved back & forth. There was a two-stage line to get in, so popular was this restaurant - first we stood outside, then moved inside to sit along the wall, on a bench. Finally a seat was available, and it was at this specific point that I began using the hashi (chopsticks). Of course I'd been eating with them all along, but my usual attitude towards sushi is it's finger food. The literature says using your fingers is acceptable; after all, the chef just prepared it with his bare hands, and I've followed suit with gusto;* but after observing the natives, the conclusion had been reached that since the Japanese use their hashi in the sushi bar, I should too. (The result is, instead of stretching each nigiri into two or three bites, now they're always just one big mouthful.) Had my first taste of the shrimp-like shako here, and unlike most kaiten sushi bars, where the color-coded plates are priced differently, they had a mono-price policy here, the adjustment made by varying portion size (for example, dishes of less expensive fish might have not two but three nigiris; on the other hand, the unagi eel came as just one (large) piece.)

Afterwards, several evening hours riding around and around on the Yamanote, searching for the best sonic opportunities to capture, carrying around my little recorder again, filling up the rest of the tape. Something was amiss with the system because twice the train I was on was taken out of service, and a lot of additional rail personnel were around, on the platforms, doing things manually, it seemed: they had little lanterns with bright white lamps (perhaps mini-halogen or even xenon bulbs) which they were using to signal.

Next: Harajuku


* Of course there's exceptions: I deploy my hashi to extract the seaweed and chunks of tofu from the miso soup, and to transfer the gari ginger as well as those little tekka-maki cylinders into my mouth; but I've observed way too many pseudo-worldly yuppies awkwardly grappling with the larger nigiri sushies, and dropping the whole thing as it messily falls apart - there's no desire to resemble them.

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