Somewhere around week two in Sri Lanka I announced that I missed abundance. It’s ironic since part of our decision to pack up our lives and travel was the desire to experience a less cluttered life. To have the freedom to shoulder our backpacks and go wherever we want. Well welcome to Japan, where abundance is always an option.
We made our first trip to Japan in 2007, before smart phones with translation apps. This time, we were ready for all Japanese menus. Our index fingers and thumbs were all warmed up for google camera translate. Uh huh. We bought SIM cards from a vending machine at Narita Airport but had not installed mine correctly yet, and Rich was using our US cell phone data sparingly until he got his new SIM installed. Well, long story short- the first restaurant we walked into we failed to navigate the confusing situation and quickly abandoned ship! Thankfully we found a small place with on screen ordering and settled in for our first meal.
The automation is fascinating to see. As with many countries Covid accelerated cashless payments and waitstaff free ordering, but in Japan you get a fun mix of traditional and modern.
A Sakura (cherry blossom) post will follow with many photos, but this is all about food. We were craving Japanese food for the past few weeks so we’re thrilled to walk and sightsee and eat. Our walking mileage has gone up sharply which helps with the eating. We took a train out from Tokyo to Koganei Park to visit the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. There was a festival going on despite the rain so we snacked our way through that.
With four nights in Tokyo we had a chance to try to get into a small neighborhood izakaya restaurant on Friday, and when it was full up, make a reservation for the next night. Another good travel hack, especially in places where you either have no local phone number or where calling is beyond challenging due to language barriers. Two folks working the small restaurant, no fancy automation here. We were grateful for our young server/owner’s help. We always find the further out from the heart of a tourist district the more patient and helpful the locals are.
After four nights in Tokyo, and a longer stay running into Sakura prohibitive pricing, we hopped on the trains to head to Kanazawa. Our JR Rail passes will be getting a work out this trip as the Japanese train system is beyond amazing.
Our first night in Kanazawa we struck out three times, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant with a closed waiting list, an unagi (eel) restaurant which was closed despite the hours listed showing it should be open, and another full up sushi restaurant all by 8 pm. We figured out it was spring break week for schools so things were quite crowded. We finally saw a small tempura stand restaurant and got two seats at the bar. Another kind and helpful waiter sat us, got us an English menu, and took care of us the entire meal. We had a great view of the chef working his tempura fryer with chopsticks and tongs.
So far no breakfast photos, you might be thinking to yourself. Well, we’ve been having hotel room or apartment breakfasts of Musilix and fruit and yogurt, but we did get out early for cherry blossom viewing and then had a second breakfast our first morning in Kanazawa. Cafe Tamon is a small easy to miss but for the help of a passerby who saw us looking in confusion at our phones, pancake specialty cafe.
Remember that conveyor belt sushi place with a closed waiting list at 7:40pm? We went back the next night at 6:40 and put our name on the list. About an hour later we were in! The nice thing about being the only tourists willing to figure out the drill, was that the host knew who we were – not one of many tourists: the only slightly confused looking non locals.
Conveyor belt sushi has had a hard time recently, apparently from a social media trend that has attention starved youngsters misbehaving and filming themselves. Insert eye roll here. I’m not sure if the screen ordering is a result of that stupid trend, but it worked out just fine for us.
Our third and final night in Kanazawa we were determined to try the unagi (eel) restaurant again. The Japanese name came through Google translate as eel welfare. We marched over at 6 this time and the lights were on! Yay! We went in and congratulated ourselves on being some of the first customers of the evening. One gentleman was just leaving, and another man came in and placed a to-go order. The sole proprietor sat us at the counter, gave us a menu and bustled about behind the counter. We got two draft beers and settled in.
Our eel man turned away a group of five Japanese, and then two western tourists. What is going on, we wondered? This is a frequent state for non Japanese speakers here. Confused but pressing on! When it came time to order all became clear – he only had two pieces of eel left. Ah ha! That’s why he had been closed two nights before- he closes when he sells out of eel. Two pieces of your best (only) eel, sir, and some tempura. So many times as a tourist a mystery remains a mystery, so we were happy to have this one solved.
It’s been a good start to our four weeks in Japan. We’ve honed our perception and empathy skills since our last visit here, and we know how quickly the world can change under your feet. (Poor conveyor belt sushi restaurants. ) We feel empowered by google translate, but a few key phrases in Japanese learned on line (link in our link page) quickly telegraph both our helplessness and our desire to be polite and thankful. There is so much more to experience and share, but for now itadakimasu! Let’s eat!