Leaving Tokyo: vegetables, electronics, kimono

May 24, 2012

My last night in Tokyo I wound up at dinner with Yuka, Yuki, Yumi, and Salvador (spot the outlier) at my favorite restaurant that Yuki found: 野菜の王様, King of Vegetables, in Hibiya.  We’d visited the other location in January, and I was so excited to see vegetables that we went again.

They had this one vegetable I’d never seen before: barafu, or ice plant, notably coated in tiny pearls of water that feel gelatinous to the touch.  This isn’t your California invasive ice plant, but a salty, edible leafy green of African origin.  Like other desert plants, barafu takes in carbon dioxide at night, storing it as malic acid, then in daylight uses the malic acid for its photosynthesis (source).

I loved the taste and the texture of barafu, and I piled it liberally in my glass for vegetables from the salad bar.

In addition to our salads, the restaurant brought vegetables that we cooked in a recessed pot full of broth at our table.  All the rage in Tokyo these days is adding collagen to the broth, so we opted for that options.  Desserts were crafted out of vegetables as well.  ごちそうさま!

One morning I made Hitomi-san, my gracious host, breakfast with radish sprouts, an omlette, and strawberries.  いただきます!

Vending machines are everywhere: train stations, on the side of the street.  I’m always on the lookout for drinks that aren’t Pocari Sweat, so I tried this “salt & litchi” one that was quite good, without being too sweet or salty.

After leaving Kappabashi, the Kitchen Town, my next stop was to get a Japanese Android phone for a friend’s startup.  I headed to the electronics district, the center of all things with circuit boards in Tokyo, where a sign warned about “upskirting”.  Good thing I was wearing jeans.  Moving on…

Disembarking at the Akihabara station, a JR employee was loading a number of JR-branded futon onto a cart.  これらは布団JRのです?  はい、JRのです。  Well then.  Moving on…

I was in Akihabara, the electronics town. Clothes and Bollywood DVDs from India, novelties, op amps, anything small and metal, you name it, they sell it.

Capacitors, fasteners, plugs, wire, cable ties, tools, bolts, capacitors, fuses, ammeters, and pantyhose.  Maro-san took me here during my first weekend in Tokyo in 2011, but I didn’t bring my camera.  The shops were crammed into this maze of low passageways in a building, dark in the center but glowing with hundreds of multicolored LEDs.  Outside this heart of Akihabara, skyscrapers pulshed a host of bright billboards advertising video games, slicker electronics ranging from ricemakers to USB hubs, video games, maid cafes, and anything an otaku could desire.

Refurbished Android phone acquired in a shop with cables a tenth the price of what they were at Softbank, I hustled toward the airport.

At Akihabara station, a small farmers market was set up selling beautiful vegetables and produce for reasonable prices… from ふくしま as it says on the banner or 福島県 or Fukushima Prefecture. That Fukushima Prefecture was undergoing some rebranding.  After being told for all of summer 2011 to not eat food from that region, whether fish or vegetables, I was apprehensive.  But for this much effort, perhaps the food was safe, over a year later?  Fukushima-ken is a large area, and maybe the southern part of the prefecture has safe food?  How much food had I eaten from Fukushima-ken in the two-plus months I’d been in Japan to date?  Had it been safe?  I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life worrying about 放射能 or hoshano, radioactivity harming my food, so I pressed west and south toward the airport.

Next stop: Tokyo Station to hop on the express to the airport.  One required stop was the shop selling souvenirs depicting the mascot on your subway card, Suica’s Penguin.  There was penguin candy, cards, notebooks, cloths, stickers, and even an apron for sale.

Suica's penguin

Here I am in January of 2012 with Suica’s penguin at the same store.  Penguin and I were both bundled up against the cold!

I arrived at the airport, intending to buy bags of souvenir candy and snacks for friends back home.  Photographs, souvenirs, and assignments all complete, I could relax a bit and enjoy endless gifts and chocolate. To my absolute delight, a group of cultural ambassadors stood, fitting departing tourists for kimono.  I waited in line and watched as couples were tied into the intricate knots and garments, still worn for celebrations.

This gaijin, with her wide feet, had a hard time fitting into the narrow geta sandals, but being tied into a kimono was a great way to say sayonara to the country I’d visited three times in 10 months and come to love.  I’m not sure when I’ll go back, but I hope it’s soon, and with a stronger command of Japanese under the obi sash of my metaphorical kimono.  ありがとうございました。

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