Tokyo 2

Ah! A good night’s sleep and I am refreshed and relaxed again! Today we have an outing to visit a factory about 70 km outside Tokyo. I negotiate the Tokyo subway accompanied by my faithful Man in Japan to get to a main line station and transfer to a train. Without the MIJ’s help, I would be lost in seconds: stations and roads have occasional signs in Western alphabet, but once you get off the central areas, it’s strictly Kanji (Japanese ideograms) only. There are often big signs promising “INFORMATION”, but on closer inspection, they are exclusively in Japanese script!

So we ride the train for about an hour, for about 50 km the apartment blocks and factories are closely packed, then the countryside begins and there is more space, although still heavily built up. We arrive at our destination, our host arrives in a car, more exchange of meeshi (biz cards), then off to lunch: it’s a sushi establishment!

Sushi! The world renown Japanese food! I’ve tasted it before, but never with three locals to guide me. Our restaurant is an “automatic” sushi place, with a little conveyor belt bearing dozens of little plates of different sushi styles. The diners sit on tables placed around the conveyor and help themselves to the plates as they glide along. The sushi chefs are in the middle, moulding balls of rice and forming new sushi with deft finger movements and placing them on the conveyor. We help ourselves to green tea and a side dish of pickled ginger, then pile on the sushi: raw tuna, raw salmon, ground tuna with leeks, prawn, crab meat, egg and seaweed, sea-cucumber. It’s a revelation for me – I usually loathe tuna and can’t even bear the smell of it, but this tuna is delicate, tastes rather like salmon, maybe it’s a different variety from European tuna?? I find it an experience: my Japanese friends think it rather ordinary, apparently there are far superior sushi establishments! Cost? JPY 120 (about EUR 1) a plate of two sushi bites. We eat 17 plates in four. A bargain!

Afternoon spent perusing a plastic cap factory, efficient, well-organised, clean, but I fail to see why it has any bearing on our own products. But my MIJ thinks it is important we “build relationship”. So I smile politely, exchange meeshi with all and sundry, drink green tea, take ritual photographs. On the long drive back to Tokyo, jet lag makes itself felt again, zzz….zzz…zzzzzz…

With the crawl in the rush hour we arrive in Tokyo in the evening. A long wait in the MIJ’s office whilst he attends to some business. I attempt conversation in pidgin Japanese with my other friends, explaining the rudiments of European geography. None of them have ever been outside Japan. My MIJ is ready, takes a look at me and decrees: “Daniele-san, you need to be strong, we go for Korean barbecue – very potent!” Well, whatever he may mean with THAT, we head for the Korean place.

Korean barbecue! A grill piled with charcoal is set in the middle of the table. My MIJ orders for all (menus are incomprehensible to me), and soon plates of meat begin to arrive. We pile them on the grill and cook them ourselves. I soon learn Koreans use every part of beef – we sample tongue, brisket, diaphragm (surprisingly tender) and sliced up intestines. All very tasty, makes me wonder why Westerners consider these cuts to be inferior. Side dish of kimchi, a fermented cabbage not unlike sauerkraut but hot and spicy. Also dried seaweed, used as a kind of salty cracker. Plenty of Sapporo beer to wash everything down. Evening rounded off at a scenic cocktail bar on top of a large hotel. Tokyo by night is a spectacle of multicoloured neon!

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