Friday, September 25, 2009

"Fish" Adventures and Hakone

I woke up fully rested and ready to start the day around 3am.

Preferring to keep Jen as a friend for the next 9 days, I waited until 5:45am to poke her and hiss, "Hey Jen. It's a quarter to 6. Can we wake up now?"

Because she is a morning person and also wonderful, Jen popped right up and attempted an energetic, "Sure!" before I turned on the fluorescent light and blinded our sleep-sticky eyes.

We'd wanted to get up early since we were headed to the Tsukiji fish market for a sushi breakfast; something Jen had wanted to try now that she was traveling with an adventurous eater. I was happy to not be the one planning everything and readily agreed, despite an uneasy, jet lagged stomach. We threw on some clothes and headed out the door. On our way to the train station, I caught sight of the golden poo atop the Asahi brewery building and snapped a photo for Andy (who is as mystified by the Japanese obsession with golden poo as I).

We were early enough (and conveniently at the end of a subway line) that we missed quite a bit of the commuter rush. We did get to see the strange and extremely orderly lines of people waiting for the trains.

That's the Japanese rail system for you. Not only are the trains ALWAYS, and I mean ALWAYS on time, they also stop in the exact same place so the lines are directly in front of the doors. I'd seen the videos of the people pushing onto the train like cattle, but didn't witness any of that firsthand. Everyone was very polite and orderly in their little lines and would even wait for the next train if one was too crowded! I've seen much worse after Cubs games and Lollapalooza in Chicago, so this was positively peaceful for me.

We walked around outside the fish market, my stomach a little queasy from the jet lag and weird eating schedule, but I powered through the fishy odors and we settled on a semi-popular and clean-looking sushi stall.

We reviewed the pictures and Jen went with a safe looking tuna and salmon sashimi combo. Feeling adventurous, I went with what looked like pieces of tuna with jalapeno and a fried egg on top. I think the egg and jalapenos are what sold me. Damn my love of Mexican breakfast foods!

If you're in my network of friends on a well known social networking site, you already know how this ends. For everyone else, The food came and I was a little confused by what was put in front of me. I'd had plenty of tuna before, and it never looked quite like this. It was lighter pink and had a weird, filmy coating on it. I mixed up the egg and took a bite.

This was not fish.

At least no fish I'd ever tasted before. I questioned Jen, and as she examined my bowl, she got a strange look on her face.

"I think it's chicken," she said.

"Um, excuse me? I thought this was a sushi restaurant!"

"Well, it is raw," she said.

Apparently, raw chicken with an egg on top (the whole family together again) is a semi-popular dish in Japan. The good friend that she is, Jenn tried it as well, thinking she might be able to eat it and trade her safe tuna and salmon sashimi for my bowl of salmonella. Alas, one bite is all she got down before pushing it away in disgust.

I went in one more time and needed a big gulp of miso soup to keep the second swallow from going in reverse.

Defeated, I ordered a bowl of tuna and salmon for myself since I knew my chopsticks weren't going anywhere near that chicken again.

Much better.

After our raw breakfast, we wandered around the stalls. I saw the "dried fish parts" Jen's always telling me about.

Apparently they're like bacon bits or croutons over there. Need a little something added to your meal? Dried fish parts!

If you look closely, you can see these are actually tiny dried fish. You can see their little eyes. I had some of these buggers cooked into some rice in Tahara.

It was not my favorite.

With the morning commute almost over and full of fish, we headed back to the trains to start our day trip out to Hakone. We enjoyed a variety of transportation including this train that crept up the mountain at about 10mph with a crazy amount of switchbacks, the view getting better the more we climbed.

Before getting on, though, we took a break and went to the Hakone Begonia garden to experience their onsen. While buying our pass inside, the woman wanted to MAKE SURE we knew that we knew we'd have to be naked to experience the hot springs. Apparently not all gaijin are so gung-ho about stripping down for a communal bath as I was.

No photos, of course, but wading in the steamy pools set in the mountainside with jungle-like trees all around us was definitely an amazing experience. I felt relaxed and refreshed after an hour of leisurely moving from pool to pool.

After all that hot water, I was a little dehydrated, so I had to perk up with some awesome ice cream back at the train station. It was the creamiest vanilla I've ever had--made with the cream from Hokkaidō cows.


Up the mountain we went!

We stopped for lunch at Gora before heading on up the funicular.

Yes, you read that correctly, Gyoza Center. With more types of gyoza than I could count and the home of the best and only crab gyoza I've ever tasted.

I could've eaten 4 plates of those suckers. Such a nice change from the raw chicken and sushi I'd fed my stomach that morning.

From there we were headed up the funicular. "Fun" is right there in the name, so how can it not be?

I'll tell you how. When you're sitting knee to knee with a teenage couple who can't keep their hands off each other and apparently forgot to use deodorant that morning. Then the window-locked funicular isn't so much fun as it is a suffocating box of humanity and body odor.

The views from the top were worth the short, uncomfortable ride.

After wandering about, we headed on to our next mildly-claustrophobic mode of transportation, the gondola! Hooray!

We rode up and over the mountains, swaying with the wind and entering into an area full of sulfur springs. The familiar smell of rotten eggs made me smile and Jenny's nose scrunch in disgust.

Not as pretty as the ones I'd just seen in Yellowstone--these springs were more "apocalyptic" than "prismatic".

You can buy magic eggs that are hardboiled in the springs, too. They're supposed to give you longer life and turn black during cooking from some sort of reaction with the sulfur. My stomach was still doing some flip-flops from the time traveling flight and raw food from the morning, so we passed. Even though Hello Kitty seriously wanted us to buy them.

It was pretty hazy and cloudy at this point in the day which meant bad news for our chances of seeing Mt. Fuji. Jen's still never seen it and has been dubbed "Cloudwoman" by her Japanese friends for all her bad luck. I didn't mind since we still got some pretty spectacular views from the cable car.

She cheered up a bit when she saw that our next mode of transportation around Hakone was going to be by pirate ship.

Try to ignore the guy behind us totally photobombing the shot.

There was a Japanese pirate, too, but you had to pay to have your photo taken with him and his beard was so sad, it looked like an old afro wig he taped to his face. Not very authentic.

The clouds were plentiful, so we didn't see Fuji, but they did make for some pretty cool photos.

After the boat, it was starting to get dark, and we were facing a 2-hour trip by bus and train back, so we hit the road.

We stopped off in Shinjuku to grab some dinner and see what we could see before heading back. Luckily, I got to see Tommy Lee Jones stumping for a local coffee drink.

Oh crazy celebrity Japanese advertisements, I don't understand you at all, but love you all the same.

Japanese people really respond to neon apparently. This is what I figured Tokyo would look like.

We eventually found a place with Japanese curry which was on my list of foods to try. (Yes, there was a list. And it may have had over 10 different items on it. And I may have hit almost all of them. Hold your applause, please.)

Jenny also added some tempura to my plate since she was a little hungry after eating a crazy bastardization of a bagel earlier in the day.

Everything was DEE-licious, though I was pretty hungry, so that might've skewed my experience slightly.

The jet lag was hitting me pretty hard at that point, so we decided to go home and rest up for a full day in Tokyo the next day.

If you guessed that I slept through the night finally? You'd be wrong.

No comments: