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The Other Side of Tokyo

Posted on 2006/09/16 04:03:38 (September 2006).

[Thursday 14th September]
Tonight I'd arranged to go out with TK - he wanted to take me to his friend's restaurant near Asakusa. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but went along with an open mind anyway.

We met up around 7 in front of Sensoji, the main tourist attraction in Asakusa (actually almost the only real tourist attraction in Tokyo). We had our first quick drink of the evening in nearby Kamiya bar as it is a bit of a favourite of mine. Strangely, despite being less than a minute's walk from the tourist ridden Sensoji, Kamiya feels very Japanese indeed - on the three times I've been in I've always been the only non-Japanese person in the place, and the other customers are not just Japanese but very Japanese. A bit hard to put what I'm trying to say into words, but I'm sure if you ever went there you'd know what I was talking about. Izakayas in Japan can often be a bit superficial, and you generally sit at your table with your group of friends in complete isolation from everyone else. Kamiya, on the other hand, is a free-for-all - we almost always end up sharing a table with some complete strangers. The atmosphere is really lively too - I would heartily recommend it for anyone in Japan wanting to experience something a tad more genuine.

Anyway, after our quick visit to Kamiya we got in a taxi to head over to the evening's main venue - the restaurant owned by TK's friend Kobayashi-san. Actually to my slight embarassment I didn't actually catch the name of the place. It was in a very traditional hanamachi district near to Asakusa which apparently has lots of ryoutei - a type of very traditional (and expensive!) Japanese restaurant.

Whilst this place was apparently not a full blown ryoutei, it did seem very traditional to me - we sat on the floor (tatami of course) at a small table, in a little room with those paper panelled sliding doors. Kobayashi-san's chef prepared a special menu for us, having been prewarned about me being vegetarian, and so we dined on lots of interesting little vegetable side dishes, and a set of excellent vegetable tempura.

Upon seeing the tempura, TK half shouted "MATSUTAKE?!?!?" - apparently this variety of mushroom is somewhat expensive, and tonight was TK's treat. Sorry mate!

Later on in the evening, to my surprise, a couple of bona fide geisha arrived - I didn't think these people really existed any more, outside of Kyoto at least. TK said that many of the nearby ryoutei had geisha working there, and that really made this feel like a whole side of Tokyo I had never seen before - almost like a step back in time. TK referred to one of the geisha as his second mother, she was a charming lady who persuaded us both to drink a whole load of suspect beverages I would normally steer well clear of on a school night. Sho chu just doesn't seem to mix well with anything else - in fact even sho chu with more sho chu seems to be a recipe for disaster.

We rounded off the evening with a final drink at a bar called Barley, which, as you might expect from the name, had a fairly respectable selection of malts (although of course, my loyalty in this area still rests very firmly with Quercus).

I really did feel like I'd seen another side of Japan tonight, which was quite fascinating. A slightly cruel irony that life here gets suddenly more interesting just after I've made a decision to leave!

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