Yokohama Ryuugaku Kikou

Monthly Archives: October 2012

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Slices of Life

Something I would probably never think to do at home: realize thirty minutes to midnight that I don’t have bread for breakfast tomorrow morning, then fix that instantly.

So, I’ve got this sort of experiment going, of buying progressively thicker slices of bread. It’s amusing, really. The bread I just bought has slices twice as thick as bread back home (the volume of manga in the picture above is my attempt at illustrating this terribly), which I think is sort of awesome. In order to get this bread, I used my commuter pass to hop down one stop to visit the supermarket at one of the exits, then catch the next train back — something that I also think is pretty awesome.

(One might ask, why didn’t you just go to the FamilyMart next door? I did. They were out of stock of four-slice loaves.) ◆

Ramen Jiro, Round One (Or: Mattie vs. Japanese Sizes, Part 3)

One cold Saturday morning, right after the first trip I took to Tokyo, I’d decided that finally having real ramen for the first time was a good idea. See, I’d had at least eight varieties of the instant stuff (my current favorite being Nissin’s original Chicken Ramen above), and I’d had shio ramen from one of the cafeterias on campus, but I’d never actually gone to a true ramen place.

I’d had two suggestions thrown at me thus far: an old high school friend suggested I try Yoshimura-ya, by Yokohama station; and, an acquaintance on Twitter suggested I go to any one of the Ramen Jiro stores around the Tokyo area. Both have excellent reviews and ratings on Tabelog (the Japanese analog to Yelp); Ramen Jiro, being the higher-rated (and the closest) store, won my vote.

Looking up the closest Ramen Jiro was a cinch: the Kannai one happened to be a short walk away from the Isezaki-chojamachi subway station. The place opened at 11:00; when I got there slightly past 11:30, there was already a twelve-person line waiting outside of the packed shop. The shop itself was quite small; it featured only one counter, two cooks, and some fifteen-odd seats.

Eventually, I got to the front of the line; one of the staff confirmed that all of us here in the front wanted small (sho) sizes of ramen. Continuing my bad habit of simply replying “hai” to everything, I confirmed, then realized what he was saying, somewhat begrudgingly went up to the food ticket vending machine and hit the respective button.

After sitting down and once again reflexively saying “hai” to “ninniku irimasu ka”, I traded my ticket for this:

Turns out, ninniku irimasu ka is sorta translated into English as “should I put garlic in?” And while that lump of garlic on the side might seem innocuous, it ended up destroying me — never before had I had any sort of broth with an garlic flavor as intense as what I got served at Ramen Jiro. It was so strong that there were still remnants of this garlic in my mouth the next morning.

The ramen noodles, by the way, were fantastic; they had a rather firm yet chewy texture. The bean sprouts and cabbage added a nice fresh crispness to the texture and taste of each bite — yes, even through the garlic, but boy, oh boy that garlic was nuts. And it’d be hard to forget the two slices of chashu that came with my order; they were really tender and melted in my mouth.

I’m also glad I got the “small” — because the noodles were nice and dense, they were very filling; I was struggling to finish this bowl (I’m sure the garlic didn’t help things, either). In retrospect, I was very, very glad I didn’t opt for the large size; that would’ve turned into a waste of good ramen right there.

I definitely want to go back. The mission plan for next time: get a small with extra pork, hold the garlic. Or maaaybe put just a little in. Chotto dake. ◆

Pepper Dinner

Pepper Lunch is a Japanese fast food chain serving a good chunk of Japan, a good chunk of Asia otherwise, and one lone shop in Milpitas, California, USA. I’d somehow completely overlooked the Akihabara branch right next to one of the three or four Sega arcades in the area, but thanks to a friend and his trusty smartphone-plus-data-plan, I finally had the opportunity to visit one of the chain’s Japanese shops for a quick dinner.

Above is the large version of their signature menu item, the Pepper Rice plate (780 yen), served on a sizzling platter that cooks your dish and keeps it hot. In America, there’s far more meat on the perimeter than what you see here, but I actually don’t mind having less meat — the rice is far more flavorful than I remember it. One might say they definitely put more pepper into the Japanese pepper rice.

By the way, those familiar with the Milpitas Pepper Lunch branch: you know that special sauce? There are two varieties in Japan: sweet (which the US has), and spicy (which the US doesn’t have). The spicy sauce’s spice is just barely within my limit. (For reference, I can’t handle too much spice.) ◆

Excuse Me, I Need A Moment

So I went to Tokyo for the first time since landing here to visit a couple of friends…and coming back to the dorms has honestly been a profound experience. I mean, yeah, I’d realized I was a stone’s throw away from the world’s largest metropolitan area, but I think the realization sort of actually hit me when I stood in trains for an hour while taking two JR lines and a subway to get back.

And as I was standing in front of the dorms, that feeling sort of developed — my dorms aren’t just a hotel or anything. This is my home for ten months, and I’m just getting started. I mean, when I start saying “it’s good to be back” when I’ve just gone to Tokyo for an evening…yeah, there’s something happening.

Oh, and Akihabara hasn’t changed one bit from when I last visited in 2008, I swear. Just replace the advertisements and goods for the anime and games of 2008 with advertisements for the anime and games of 2012. Makes sense. ◆

Running to School with Toast Dangling From My Mouth

I haven’t done it yet, but if I continue to ruin my sleeping schedule, it might just happen. ◆

Mattie vs. Japanese Sizes, Part 2

A quick post — yes, I’m alive, and things are already quite busy around here! Going to campus, getting to know my fellow dormmates, getting a prepaid phone, going to the arcade at least thrice…well, in any case.

The smaller sizes in Japan aren’t just limited to food, if I’m interpreting this right… on the left is a laundry basket from the local 100-yen shop Seria; and the other is a 400-yen clothes hamper I bought from IKEA today.

Granted, the basket might just be for the tools needed to wash laundry like detergent and softener and whatnot? But that was, like, the biggest basket they had in the entire Piago building… ◆

First Lunch: Mos Burger

So I went to Mos Burger and ordered a Double Mos Cheeseburger set with a large fries and medium drink (860 yen). This is what it looks like (Dodekamin can for scale):

If you’ve ever heard that Japan has small portions…there you have it. 😉

The Double Mos Cheeseburger was quite good and juicy; it consists of a bun, two patties, cheese, tomato, mayonnaise, onion, and meat sauce. The meat sauce and onions sort of bring to mind a sloppy joe and are almost as messy. The fries are your standard fast food fries, sort of thick, super-light on the salt. The melon soda is how you’d expect melon soda to taste, if you’ve had it before — but not too fizzy like the ones you get in bottles (or like Coke products back home). ◆

First Breakfast: St. Marc Café

After walking down the local shopping center and finding everything closed (most places in Japan open at 10, see), I took a look at what was open for breakfast, and found the Keikyu Gumyoji Stationfront store of St. Marc Café, a chain of bakery-cafés that specialize in chocolate croissants. Pictured from left to right, their normal Choco-Cro (170 yen), their Andes Salt Daifuku Choco-Cro (180 yen), and an M-size iced “premium” cocoa (390 yen, and amusingly, the largest size they offer for that drink).

The croissants were quite good, and had a really nice flake to them; the chocolate was quite rich in both of them. I didn’t quite catch the subtleties of the daifuku one (if they exist), but it was also good. The premium cocoa is a darker chocolate than what I’m used to in chocolate milk from America (great!), but I didn’t think it was worth the 390 yen price.

In any case, it’s certainly a good meal to wake up to. (And it’s definitely a healthier pick than the other close alternative that’s open at 7 — Mos Burger. I’m saving that for lunch.) ◆

Chasing the Sun: An Account of Getting There

San Francisco

I didn’t get much sleep. I don’t think I got any proper sleep, actually. After talking with a couple of people online, I lied down for an hour and a half, successfully losing consciousness for a good chunk of that and then staying restless thereafter. At a certain point I’d decided I should probably work on getting the site up, so the installation went through and the first post and about page went up.

The plan was to head over to the airport at 4. By this time, it was 3, so I took a shower and had a cup of water and orange juice, but no actual breakfast. (This would come back to bite me later.) My parents drove me over to the airport at 4:20, arriving at 5. Both check-in and security were speedy due to the airport being rather barren that early in the morning. Only one restaurant was open; I took a peek and decided I’d tough it out until Vancouver.

The gate was pretty empty when I got there, but as we got closer to our 7:oo boarding time, more people showed up. A good chunk of them went for coffee or cocoa — a thing I was rather tempted to follow. It wasn’t until I got in line that my hunger started to make itself known to me, and by that time, it was too late.

Thankfully, not long after takeoff, I dozed off to sleep for an hour, marking the first real hour of sleep I got.

Vancouver

The airport at Vancouver’s pretty slick. In fact, it looks like a small airport grafted onto an upscale mall of duty-free gift shops. But, first, I had to go through Canadian customs (despite not actually getting off here). The way to customs for international connections looks sort of shady and ominous, actually:

Clearance was granted without a hitch, and I immediately went to go look for my gate, which was fairly easy to find. Nearby was a food court with a Tim Hortons, which I’d never tried before, so I had breakfast: an apple caramel bagel and some Timbits (donut holes). Thankfully, they accepted US bills.

A couple of hours later, I boarded the plane. It wasn’t very crowded — something I was very thankful for as there was an empty seat between me and my neighbor. The middle seat and tray table became communal, allowing us to put our tray tables away as soon as we were done with food. (Due to the way the seating works, I also got extra leg space — something that I completely took advantage of.)

Seven Miles a Minute

The only in-flight entertainment I squeezed out of Air Canada’s system was an hour of GoldenEye before I started drifting off to sleep, so I put my screen to sleep and I, along with it. While watching it, lunch was served: beef over rice, warm bread, salad with some sort of vinaigrette. That’s how I spent the first two hours of the flight.

The next eight hours were stuck on a rotating flight information screen that wouldn’t let me back out to everything else,  so while I was well-informed of where we were, I couldn’t follow through with my intended James Bond marathon. Instead, I played with my phone; Anodia sucked an hour away, and Final Fantasy Tactics gave me a 30 minute battle, before I fell asleep again.

When I came to, it was 7:30 back home — so we’d been flying for six hours. I used the restroom to stretch a bit and wash up. The rest of the time was spent trying to go to sleep or idling on my phone, wishing it had an Internet connection. Dinner came, and consisted of soy-glazed chicken over rice, a refrigerated piece of bread, and a cup of fruit; it was actually lighter than lunch. (I’d like to note that Air Canada’s food, while it doesn’t look particularly appetizing, is quite scrumptious.)

Narita

My flight landed at 4 PM — a good hour-ish late — so I hurried, hoping to get through immigration and customs as fast as I could. Immigration was a very quick process — a debarkation form and passport later, I had my gaijin pass Resident Card given to me on the spot (nice!). The bottleneck, instead, was waiting for baggage. (While I’m on the subject of baggage: thank you, NRT, for offering free baggage carts at international baggage claim — try that one, SmarteCarte. Addendum: Apparently SmarteCarte does offer such a service — thanks, Miluda!)

Customs was also completely painless — handed them my card and passport; was asked what my purpose of stay was, and they let me through. Exchanging my dollars post-security to yen at 75 JPY to USD was sort of painful. Getting a ticket for the Airport Limousine Bus was awesome, as they were offering promo ¥2000 tickets for students (normally they’re ~¥3500); and their English service was quite nice.

When things weren’t in English, they came to me in super-fast Japanese. The Limousine Bus station was one of those times: attendants talking to me about getting in line, grabbing my bags, showing them my ticket. It took me two seconds to process, but because of that lag, I reflexively just said “hai” over and over even when the Limo Bus staff asked things like “There isn’t anything breakable in these pieces of luggage, right?” Which there were. Oops. (Thankfully, the two breakables I’d packed were not shattered.)

The bus itself wasn’t crowded; each person pretty much took a pair of seats, aside from a couple of businessmen in the back in deep discussion. By the time I’d left Narita, it was 5:45 PM, dark, and raining. I wasn’t starved of scenery: I was able to take in the sights of the cities at night. While doing so, I mused over a couple of things:

  • Even though it was heading for Yokohama, the Limousine Bus played back a series of videos for the first leg of the trip. Among these is a slideshow labelled “Have a great time in TOKYO”…and a slideshow of, for some reason, Utah.
  • I have to think in metric now. Seeing a handful of gas stations that started at 149 yen, I thought to myself “WOW THAT IS CHEAP” until I realized that it’s 149 yen a liter for unleaded…which translates into 563 yen a gallon. Mercy to those who drive cars in this country!
  • Speaking of cars, my jetlagged self, bereft of sleep, took a while to realize once again that Japanese drive driver’s-side-is-on-the-right cars and they drive on the left side of the road. Until then, from my seat in the bus, I’d seen a couple of cars pass by with seemingly no driver at all…nope, just hiding on the right-hand side.
Yokohama looked pretty as we drove up to it; the Cosmo Clock ferris wheel looked very pretty, ticking away its seconds through its spokes.

Yokohama

Arriving at Yokohama Station, I immediately found myself in the care of my tutor, who walked me through the station to my dorm. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

It would be, but Yokohama Station is HUGE. Like, FREAKING HUGE. Like, they built a mall and a subway station underground and the Japanese weren’t just satisfied so they ordered, like, four more of each, and combined them into some super-giganto-mega-mall-slash-station-o-tron. Following my tutor was a bit like that one maze part in Majora’s Mask where you have to follow the Deku Scrub butler, except with a crowd and without doors closing abruptly in my face.

The station was filled with people returning home from everything — I’d thought, I guess this makes sense, it’s 7 PM — and the train to the dorm was just as packed. The chats that I had with my tutor were fast-paced; he either didn’t speak that much English, or he overestimated my Japanese ability.

The moment we got to the dorms both my tutor and I were greeted and I was sent straight into dorm orientation (this is how you separate trashfigure out where your emergency exits are, and so on and so forth). This took about thirty minutes; afterwards I was given my room keys, and we went up to my room and I was given a lowdown.

By the time everything was said and done, it was 10 PM. Internet was already built into the room; thankfully, I’d brought my own LAN cable so I hardwired my laptop in and shared the connection with my phone. Things were sent. Updates happened. Dinner happened shortly thereafter: two meat buns and strawberry milk courtesy of Famima.

At 11 PM, I finally was able to get more than an hour of continuous sleep for the first time in 36 hours. In three hours, I’d wake up, and write this post. ◆

Awake at Two Thirty-Five

Hello, world, at 2:35 AM on a nice Tuesday morning. Bear with me as I get settled in and stuff — both here and in real life. ▲