Saturday, July 09, 2005

Shinsaibashi and Umeda

We ate misoyaki tonkatsu at a small but delicious restaurant. Perfectly crunchy, but not oily at all! Why can’t America have this kind of attention paid to fried food? I will never be able to enjoy fried foods again when I return home. Now we tried to visit the Van Gough exhibit but will try another day as it was too crowded. We are talking a 20 minute wait outside and who knows how long once you get inside. I love art, but no way will I wait that long. Better to return early morning tomorrow!

Instead of seeing the Van Gough exhibit, we decided to visit Shinsaibashi, a popular hangout to see Sammy (retro restaurant and shopping complex). You pay admission to go inside, but then the interior is a mock 1920s Japan. It is like shopping in a Disneyland complex – old posters on the wall, and old music piped in the background. It felt as if I was in another world.

We also got to see female bunraku.This was formerly a popular entertainment for the masses in the prewar times, but had disappeared after the war. A woman is now trying to revive this art form.

Yoko had stepped on my glasses over the night, and so I got them fixed at a store called“Super Megane”("Megane" means "glasses"). I could not believe the friendly service. I did not buy anything but they offered to fix my glasses for free! They even accompanied us to the door to tell us goodbye when we left to shop somewhere else while they fixed my glasses! If all stores in Hawaii had this kind of service there would be a lot less angry people, as they made you feel like royalty. We left in a good mood and must now spread the kindness to another stranger.

We kept looking around Shinsaibashi, and then saw many underground malls. So many stores, that it makes Hawaii shopping seem so boring and have so little variety. Of course things are cheaper back home, but everyday low prices only go so far. Now the Japanese may be known as "imitators" (which I disagree), but they do keep alive traditions long after they have died out in their place of origin. You know how Tang Dynasty court music has died out in China but still survives in Japan? Well, for those of us old enough to remember...

We ended up shopping at Umeda. I had never in my life seen such crowds of teens and young people, except for going to Shibuya in Tokyo. I visited Uniqlo and bought some quick dry long pants. Now, I had to buy the biggest size in the store. Am I that huge or are Japanese that slim? Again, great service: they will alter your pants for free within one hour! And when I came home I noticed that Uniqlo goods were well constructed, and had an extra button in case you lost one. These were quick dry pants, for the frequent rains during the summer, and had UV protection. All store clerks, as usual, welcomed us and said goodbye when we left. So now you know why Wal-Mart with their concept of “Everyday low prices” does not do well in Japan. The market here likes quality goods; even for cheap clothes they want quality.

We ate at "Pizza Ball House," a do it yourself takoyaki restaurant located next to a store that sold Hawaii goods. There is a huge Hawaii boom in Japan, running concurrently with a Korea boom. If you click on the picture, you can see the sign for the Hawaii goods shop behind the Takoyaki sign. So choose which culture you like, Korea or Hawaii, and then buy goods pertaining to that area. I had no idea what relationship this restaurant had with pizza. The takoyaki was delicious, aided by the fact that Yoko deftly turned the takoyaki dumplings and cooked them perfectly.

First the young waitress comes to pour your batter:

Then you cook your takoyaki at your table.

As we rode the subways, I kept thinking of the London subway explosions. It must have been pandemonium and I kept visualizing how it must have been to have bomb go off on a crowded subway train. I really felt sad as watch the scene unfold via the BBC (which we can get here via cable). Ironically, we later received a phone call from Yoko’s relative who lives in the U.K. She wanted to speak to me, and after I expressed my sympathy, she invited me to visit sometime. I will have to visit as it has always been one of my dreams to visit the U.K. Must have been all of those Benny Hill and Monthy Python shows, as my image of Britain is that of the 1970s and the women all look like men dressed in drag or like Hill’s Angels.

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