So let's say you're a software engineer or computer programmer in search of good hair styling, and maybe some pampering, too. Well, there's only one place to go when you're in Yokohama near the main train station -- and you can treat yourself to Buffalo Chicken Wings right after, too!
UPDATE: Okay, I'm back home. Yes, I went into downtown Tokyo and Suntory Hall this morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of President Barack Obama. I shot that photo with my camera phone while standing by a pack of TV news crews standing on the corner by Wolfgang Puck's, and caught a glimpse of the motorcade as it came down the hill from the Hotel Okura and into the ARK Hills underground parking garage, then and e-mailed it directly into Typepad.
It may not be of the highest quality or very informative, but with modern technology it was by-God fresh.
Update 2: I was joined by a friend outside Suntory Hall, where we waited, hoping (along with a small crowd) that President Obama would step outside, even briefly. Also thanks to the wonders of other modern technology, by the time we finished our wait, had lunch, and walked back to the Metro station, I was able to download and read the New York Times' story on the speech, and my friend and I could discuss what it meant.
Anyways, I might just as well put up a better photo, one taken with an actual camera:
It's probably been cooler than average in terms of raw numbers in Tokyo this summer, but man, the humidity is just awful. Essentially, I've had difficulties sleeping for the last month because of weather (and no, I'd rather not run the air conditioning all night, thank you), not getting to sleep until oh-dark-thirty sometimes -- which contributes to a sense of torpor throughout the day.
Heat I can take -- after all, I used to walk a mail-delivery route in 100-degree California weather -- but Asian tropical humidity? Not so much, still.
A big snowfall hit Tokyo on Sunday, and I took my video camera to see the effect of snow on the landscape. What I got was an eerily beautiful lightshow at the park behind the Tokyo Midtown development in Roppongi...
This is the letterboxed, Quicktime version, supposedly in HD. We'll see.
Another late start, as is usual for me on Saturdays. First, I stopped by my old company’s offices in Tamachi to drop off some paperwork – technically, I’m still a part-time employee there, even if it’s one (1) hour a week – passing by a group of Japanese Christmas carolers inside Akabanebashi Station. Not completely fluent – no surprise – and while I have no proof, I suspect this wasn’t a Christian thing, but a hobbyist thing, kind of like people in the U.S. who sing Latin Masses for fun even if they’re not churchgoers.
Paperwork dropped off, I went on to the GA Gallery in Yoyogi to see another architectural show. The GA Gallery is the bookstore/exhibition space for a publisher of big glossy books and monographs on modernist architecture – in a small modernist building, of course – and they regularly put on exhibitions displaying models, conceptual drawings, and presentation posters for contemporary projects and proposals. A few months ago, for example, they had one on the latest work of French architect Jean Nouvel, highlighting his designs for the huge new Quai Branly Museum in Paris and the new Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Today, it was a catch-all covering recent proposals/projects by modernist Japanese architects. This included a competition entry proposal by architect Arata Isozaki for a massive mixed-use development project in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), Vietnam. The project, called the Diamond Island New Urban Quarter Development, I quite liked the look of, including the look of how some of the residential units were stacked on top of it each in oddly overlapping ways.1
I headed back to Yoyogi Station and did my biweekly browsing of the magazine rack at the big Kinokuniya Books nearby (bought three) and browsed the travel guides for Italy – I’m considering a Spring vacation there – and by the time I was ready to leave it was dinnertime and I was hungry. I crossed the pedestrian bridge to check out the new Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on the other side, maybe to buy a snack or a box to bring to the office on Monday but it was still jampacked with an incredibly long line. Still, the sign on the door said they open at 7 AM, so if I really wanted a doughnut, I should come back early Monday morning as a long detour on the way to work.
So, wanting dinner and not wanting to wait until I got home, I headed back in the direction of the GA Gallery, to check out a place I’d passed earlier, a French bistro calling itself Bistro d’Artemis. It’s small stand-alone building – rare enough in this densely built urban center – tucked on an odd-sized lot under a highway not far from Yoyogi Station. Maybe 20 seats total, informal-looking, open kitchen, windows and walls covered with an assortment of authentic-looking bistro signs, menu in French. Seeing this had given me a bit of a craving to try cassoulet2, so, stymied in my attempt to buy a doughnut, I went back for that. You might ask, “A choice between some sugar-laden American fat bombs and what is probably authentic (this being Japan, probably disturbingly so) French bistro food? You had to think about this?” Yeah yeah, I know.
Inside the Bistro d’Artemis, it was very Gallic – though I don’t know if the average Paris bistro has a four-meter (15-foot) tall glass-enclosed wine rack with attached ladder built into one wall. In any case, I ordered what I believe was some variant of Navy Bean Soup (as I say, the menu was in French) steak tartar, and cassoulet, along with a small carafe of red house wine. I’d never had steak tartar (it was good) and the cassoulet was pretty much how I’d remembered it. Of course, I’ll need to run further experiments to be sure, or maybe I can try some of their other specialties, like boudin noir (blood sausage, if I recollect, but my French is more than a little suspect). I'll have to bring my friend Sonja, who is very much into French food, being, you know, French.3 I'm sure she'll love it.
Notes: 1I looked it up when I got home, and sadly, it looks like the developers rejected Isozaki's proposal in favor of a much blander proposal by a German architect named Albert Speer. No, not THAT German architect named Albert Speer: this one is his son. Speer the Younger’s much duller proposal for the project, in my opinion, looks like it would fit in, say, Berlin – East Berlin, that is, before the Berlin Wall. Blah.
2A cassoulet is ”a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the southwest of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck, and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans” says Wikipedia. The first and only time I had ever tried this was during my vacation in Paris, and I was still unsure about how authentic it was. If that sounds strange (“How could you be worried about whether you got authentic French food in FRANCE?!?”), it’s because the cassoulet I had was frozen.
Really. Short version: while in Paris, I was listening with my iPod to an episode of the radio show This American Life (previously recorded, of course) featuring an American expatriate named David Sedaris who’d moved to Paris to be with his lover, not because of any inherent love of the place. In fact, he bragged that he’d never been to any of the obvious landmarks such as the Louvre (“Why go to the only place in Paris that won’t let you smoke?”) – which struck me as a really annoying reverse snobbery, but neverthemind. In the course of the show, Sedaris mentioned the Pantheon. Nope, never had been inside, but he knew about it because it was across the street from a frozen-food store he frequented.
Now, it so happened that a few years ago I had heard a radio news story about a relatively new chain of stores in Paris that sold frozen foods – but high-quality frozen versions of classic French dishes, or so the report had it. I filed it away mentally, but had no recollection of the name of the store or where to find one – now, with Sedaris’ mention, I now had a landmark and knew exactly where to find one: across the street from the Pantheon, just down the road from my rented apartment in the 5th. So late one afternoon during one of my rambles I aimed myself in that direction.
The Pantheon, it turned out, was fairly large, so “across the street” covered a LOT of territory, meaning that I had to almost completely circle the Pantheon to find it. But there it was: Picard, a modern and spacious store with wide aisles and nothing but frozen-food cases. I went in and browsed, but since the store also had one entrance and one exit (through the cashier stands), I felt somewhat impelled to actually buy something rather than run the risk of having to explain to a cashier I had to pass that no, I wasn’t actually shopping, I was merely playing tourist in a frozen-food store. So I picked up a frozen duck-sausage cassoulet, frozen broccoli florets, and raspberry sherbet for that evening’s dinner. And you know what? It was good.
3Okay, technically she's American, but her parents are French and she spoke French at home in rural northern California where she was raised. so it's pretty close.
Today was the big day I had to go to the dental surgeon to yank out my three bad wisdom teeth (see this post for why). Yes, it absolutely needed to be done – the alternative of a permanent diet of codeine and liquid food sipped through a straw didn’t seem practical – but I absolutely loathed the idea of doing this, of dealing with needles stuck into my gums and big metal pliers being jammed into my mouth. I woke up this morning feeling all squirrelly and anxious, dreading this appointment.
Bad dental history My long-time discomfort with dentists and dental surgery comes from my experiences back in high school in suburban California, when I went to my dentist's one day for a routine exam and cleaning. The guy, after looking at my teeth, announced that I had a wisdom tooth that needed to be yanked immediately, and he knew a dental surgeon across town who had an opening today and could do it right away.
Doing it immediately meant that I couldn't have general anesthesia -- i.e.; gas -- since it requires a 12-hour period of fasting beforehand: it was the needle or nothing. But he was the professional, and if he said the tooth had to go immediately, it had to go immediately, so I went along, and drove over to the dental surgeon for the extraction.
That experience? Horrible, even nightmarish.
"Don't worry about our sticking a huge needle into your gums," the dental surgeon back in California had assured me. "We'll use a local anesthetic first so you won't feel it." Except, of course, that local anesthetic was applied using a needle, albeit a smaller one -- poke poke poke -- and I STILL felt the big needle full of Novocain -- jab jab jab -- when he jammed THAT in, too.
And, of course, there was the unforgettable experience of lying back in the dentist’s chair, half-woozy from the anesthetic, looking up at the ceiling as the dental surgeon kept jamming a variety of cold metal implements into my mouth, culminating in my distorted view of a pair of pliers coming in at me, clamping on the offending tooth, and feeling my jaw being pulled up as he tugged away, finally loosening the tooth and yanking it free.
The right side of my face was utterly numb to sensation for an hour or so after -- poking it gave me the curious sensation of being able to feel it with my finger but not getting the corresponding feedback from my face, so it was akin to fondling a rubber mask – and the codeine pills the dental surgeon gave me only just took the sharp edges off the pain with I suffered over the next few days.
I was supposed to eventually remove the remaining three wisdom teeth, but there was NO WAY I was going to repeat that experience, absolutely not unless the dental surgeon knocked me out cold with general anesthesia. But finding a dental surgeon who used gas, when I went looking, proved to be more difficult than I thought, so I eventually gave up and returned to my program of benign neglect.
The present-day consequences Which brings us to the present day.
Fearing the worst, I took the entire day off, figuring that I would be in no shape to return to work afterward. It was with extreme trepidation that I showed up at the dental surgeon’s office this morning – the pain had mostly subsided, depending on how I chewed – and I was rationalizing up to the last minute about how I could get by without the multiple extractions. “Stiff” would probably be an accurate description both of my demeanor and posture in the chair, like I was awaiting execution.
Bottom line result: not even close to being an ordeal. Quite the opposite, in fact.
My first hint came as I was lying back in the dentist’s chair, staring up at the lamp lighting up my face, its brand name -- “DELIGHT” -- looking back. (“DELIGHT”? Har har, just the message I want to read just before someone RIPS MY TEETH OUT.)
“Open wide, please,” said the dental surgeon, and I complied, shutting my eyes and bracing myself. I felt as he swabbed my gums with a Q-tip, and I waited, eyes shut, for whatever came next. What I felt, after a short wait, was an instrument inserted into my mouth, resting slightly against the side of my open mouth. I could feel very slight movement, like metal or plastic being rubbed, through the instrument. The instrument was moved to another part of my mouth, and I felt the very slight movement again.
Because I had my eyes shut and wasn’t expecting it, it took me until after it was done to figure out what had happened: the “instrument” was a hypodermic syringe, and what I felt was the movement of the plunger inside its cylinder, delivering anesthetic through a needle inserted into my gums. I opened my eyes and said, “Did you just inject anesthetic into my gums?” The dental surgeon admitted he had. Huh, and I hadn’t even noticed.
The rest of the experience was, essentially, just as pleasant. The only thing that really qualified as unpleasant was the moment when he was reapplying some anesthetic and some of it dripped down my throat, gagging me. God, the stuff tasted awful.
But after some relatively mild poking, prodding, digging, and pulling, he took out the three remaining wisdom teeth, displaying their fragments to me: they varied from peppercorn-sized to pea-sized. Unlike the dental surgeon I went to years ago (where the memories of his handiwork with his instruments runs through my mind like a cinematic cross between Barry Sonnenfeld and David Cronenberg), this was a VERY skillful and gentle job of work.
He gave me a few pain pills to take when the anesthesia wore off – I took one, later, because that was all that was really needed for some slight discomfort – and I made an appointment for next month for a long-overdue teeth cleaning – given that the interval between my dentist’s visits are measured not in months or even years, but in Presidential administrations, it’s going to take two visits with anesthesia, using some technique called “dental planing”, to remove the plaque. I’m surprised he’s not going to be using C4 to blow it off.
I was presented with a booklet on aftercare (which advised me to avoid chewing on the side where the tooth had been extracted, difficult to do when they’ve been pulled from both sides) and the bill, which was ¥63,000 total, with each tooth charged at a different rate – how they figured it out, I don’t know, maybe by the gram? – which will be reimbursed by my New Zealand-based insurance company after I send them the receipt.
The whole thing, from the time I arrived until the time I was out on the street, took about 40 minutes.
And other than a slight soreness and that rubber-faced numbness around my jaw, I felt fine, so with plenty of free time on my hands (since I'd taken the day off), I called up my friend Sonja, who worked in the area and left a message on her voicemail. This message astonished my friend Sonja, which she later told me she found slightly boggling because my calm tone seemed to clash with my meaning (“Hi, Sonja, this is Cal. I just had three of my wisdom teeth pulled at the dentist’s, so I’m in the area now. Want to have lunch?”).
Maybe going to the dentist won’t be so bad after all.
After puttering around the house, I headed out to Shinjuku on Saturday afternoon, having nothing really better to do and curious about this new Krispy Kreme doughnut shop that had opened the day before. It turns out to be in what used to be a two-story Italian restaurant at the foot of the pedestrian bridge over the tracks, the walkway that leads over to Takashimaya Times Square. (Here's the map, or you can use this satellite photo to get a sense of the location: it's on the left side of bridge in the center of the photo, though the location is obscured by the office building) So it wasn't a little hole-in-the-wall, like I expected.
I expected it to be crowded, what with the novelty and all, but there was a huge freaking line of a few hundred people snaking around in front of the building, behind the rope lines next to the traditional good luck floarl arrangements new businesses always put up, with security guards directing traffic (foot traffic, this being a pedestrian mall). The line even extended out onto the pedestrian bridge. The doughnut machine was working full blast, and they were selling box after box of the things. I looked into the place, and thought, despite my plan to maybe buy a box on Sunday night to bring into the office on Monday morning, I had to try it again right now. Yes, I had a lingering toothache -- perhaps a sign I ought not to be eating doughnuts to begin with -- but doughnuts are soft and not likely to cause any real pain, and it was a little late to be worried about tooth decay now anyways.
So I joined the line on the bridge, just ahead of a young Asian-American couple (Vietnamese, I think -- their conversation kept veering between Valspeak and an Asian language I couldn't identify). The woman seemed particularly excited to see Krispy Kreme again ("Like, when I'd see the sign lit up when I'm driving on the freeway, I'd take the exit and go in").
I waited about forty minutes -- I was actually killing a little time, as I'd called my friend Sonja and she was coming out to meet me for dinner -- and would have waited longer if I hadn't taken the offer to jump the queue: as I was nearing the door, a Krispy Kreme employee came up and offered to let people go straight in to the register selling boxes to go, if that's all they wanted. Geez, a dozen doughnuts at once...but what the hell. The Asian-American couple followed me, because by that point in the line they -- well, mostly she, I think -- had worked themselves up from wanting two to wanting a full dozen. I snagged my box and went out to sit on a nearby planter.
While fresh doughnuts are good, there is such a thing as too fresh: my doughnuts were probably, due to demand, straight off the line, so the first doughnut I ate then and there -- okay, two doughnuts -- were far too soft, sort of being mushy and falling apart. Once I gave a few minutes for them to set, as it were, they were good, if incredibly sweet.
Today's Statistics: Cost of a Krisy Kreme doughnut (Original Glazed) in Tokyo: ¥150 (tax included) Cost of a dozen Krisy Kreme doughnuts (Original Glazed) in Tokyo: ¥1,500 (tax included) Number of calories in one Krispy Kreme doughnut (Original Glazed): 200 Grams of fat in one Krispy Kreme doughnut (Original Glazed): 12