Japan Day 3 - Tokyo to Sendai

We woke up to a rainy day. We did come to Japan during rainy season. Most of my trips here have been during rainy season and it has never been a bother before. It was quite early so I spent some time scouring the internet for breakfast places. Japanese breakfast usually consists of rice and fish, and while I do love fish and Japanese food, my palate isn’t quite ready for such adventures yet first thing in the morning. I’m a big fan of fruit and/or eggs.

My early morning search brought us around the block to a Hawaiian chain restaurant called Eggs ’n Things. I know, I know, succumbing to the comfort of American food already on day three, but egg breakfast is hard to find in Asian countries, so you have to take advantage of it when you can find it.

Eggs 'n Things, Ginza, Tokyo

The restaurant was up on one of the top floors and had a very bright and open atmosphere inside, quite a change from the cramped and cozy little holes in the walls that most Japanese restaurants are. That had to be the American influence. It really is an experience to visit at least one American restaurant on a trip to Japan, because while the menu items may seem vaguely familiar, it is most definitely not the food you find back home. Take for example the basil and shrimp eggs Benedict that I ordered. When have you ever seen basil and shrimp on a Benedict before? The restaurant’s claim-to-fame seemed to be the pancakes that every table was ordering. Four little pancakes sat beneath a foot-tall tower of whipped cream. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but Fletch and I discussed at length how many cans of Reddi-whip it would take to create a tower that size. America may be the land of super-sized everything, but I’ve never seen that much whipped cream served up on a breakfast plate before. If anyone from Hawaii who knows this restaurant is reading this, I’d love to hear if that’s an Eggs ’n Things thing, or a Japan thing.

Why yes, that is lettuce on my shrimp and basil eggs Benedict. 

When we walked into the restaurant, the hostess told us “two hours,” scrambled in with some Japanese words that my brain wasn’t registering yet. In the USA, this would mean a two hour wait, but the restaurant was practically empty. Remembering that Japanese people are notoriously fast eaters, it dawned on me that she was telling us we couldn’t stay any longer than two hours. There are lots of things that are considered rude in Japan that are completely different from other cultures. Loitering in a restaurant for more time than it takes to eat is one of them.

Since we were in the high-end shopping district, it occurred to me that there might be a Pandora shop here. There was, and so with no help from Google Maps, which couldn’t figure out our position between all the skyscrapers, Fletch took me shopping for a charm to commemorate our Japan trip. The Pandora shop in Ginza, Tokyo had the best selection I’d seen yet.

We made our way back to the train station, and almost navigated it successfully, except that the name of the train had a number which we took to be the platform number. That put us in line for the new “Gran Class” car, a class above even first class. How did we manage to score that? But when the ticket lady looked at our tickets, she informed us that we were on the wrong platform. Luckily the platform we were meant to be on was only one track away. Note to travelers: Japanese train tickets do not list the platform number. 

Shinkansen arriving at Tokyo Station

We rode the shinkansen and hour and a half north to my old home up in Sendai. I wanted to show Fletch the place where I spent a summer in high school exactly ten years ago. My how time flies. I spent a good deal of time trying to track down my host family when I was booking the trip, but to no avail. Facebook was brand new when I lived here. I had just set up an account, but it had not yet caught on in Japan. My old email address that I used to use must have gotten corrupted or something, because by the time I finally figured out the right password, it was completely empty. I also tried emailing my study abroad organization, but no one ever responded. As a final resort, I spent a day searching Facebook for every combination and spelling of my family members' names that I could think of. No luck though. Their names were probably written in kanji, the Japanese characters, if they even were on Facebook. Sendai has a population of 1 million people, so I wasn’t exactly hoping to just bump into them either.

Hotel Vista Sendai was only a five minute walk from the train station, and Google Maps led us around the block the long way. We were grateful for the extra walk though, because it brought us down a block with some delicious smells floating out into the street. We agreed to come back after dropping off our bags.

The hotel was very nice, although missing a few of the little comforts that the hotel in Tokyo had already spoiled us with. They did not have any coffee, or face masks, or a smart phone to walk around with. The bathroom was more Japanese style in that it was split up, rather than having the toilet and the shower in the same room. A lot of times in Japan these are separate rooms. The layout did make it a little easier to walk around.

We went back around the block to the noodle shop where the delicious smells had been coming from. The sliding door led us inside a little hole in the wall where another couple was slurping their soup. The place was quiet aside from the slurping. In the corner was the vending machine to place our orders. Noodle shops in Japan don’t have servers, just a vending machine to order what you want, cash goes in, and a ticket comes out. Present the ticket to the chef behind the bar and voila, several minutes later you will be treated to a piping hot bowl of noodles in soup. This was a soba shop. Soba noodles are made out of buckwheat. My knowledge stopped there and we stood bewildered, staring at all the kanji on the vending machine. There were pictures, but all the pictures looked identical. We incorrectly tried to test a few buttons before putting cash in, and the machine started yelling at us in Japanese and making error noises. The volume was turned up way too loud for the quiet little shop, and I’m sure the couple eating and the chef got quite a kick out of watching the gaijin (gringos) trying to figure out what to do. Suddenly we were back in the Japan I remembered, the Japan where English wasn’t an option.

We finally gave up trying to figure out what was what and just fed the machine our cash and pushed a couple buttons, then sat down to wait and see what we had ordered. The noodles and soup that arrived were good and filling, though apparently we had missed all the toppings. No matter, by that point we were just happy to eat. There was a mysterious green sauce on the counter that added some excellent flavor. No, it wasn’t wasabi.

On our way back to the room we stopped at one of the numerous conbini (convenience stores) to pick up some drinks that did not have the word “zero” printed on the can. Fletch picked up some ume or plum flavored concoction that he did not like and so passed to me. I thought it was delicious. Ume and alcohol go well together.