I wake up and the room is pitch black. I fumble for the button to open the blinds. I find my phone and the time reads 5am. But it’s my first day in Tokyo and I’m not going to waste a minute in bed. I arrived last night after a 12-hour flight. My husband [Anthony Boudain] is shooting a show and my daughter and I decided to tag along.
Since I was a kid I’ve always loved everything Japan. I’m passionate about the food. I’ve been collecting Japanese toys for years and I have an affection for cosplay that has led to misunderstanding and mockery. I used to manage a Japanese restaurant, where I met some amazing Japanese guys who taught me some very bad Japanese words.
Our first mission is a trip to a store in Shibuya; MapQuest is telling me it’s fairly close and easy to reach. In the hotel lobby I tell one of the porters our destination. He calls us a taxi and proceeds talking to the driver for what seems to be a good five minutes. I’m a little worried: Where the hell is he going to take us? My husband explains to me that in Tokyo, there’s no such a thing as an address as we generally think of it. Many streets don’t even have a name. If you want to go somewhere you have to give specific directions.
My husband introduces me to one of Japan’s greatest delicacies: Lawson’s red chicken nuggets. Lawson is a convenience store much like 7-Eleven. They sell an incongruous combination of snack foods and light porn. But their fried chicken and their egg salad sandwiches are truly special. I’m usually a pain in the ass about food, always reading the ingredients list, making sure there’s no sugar or preservatives, but it’s clear after the first nugget bite that I’m just going to throw the diet out the window and go full YOLO for the rest of the trip. There are just too many interesting snacks to try, and the ingredients are all in Japanese so I’m fucked anyway. And if I get sick, so what? You can never spend too much time on a warm and comfy fully automated Japanese toilet.
The following day husband decides to take us to buy plastic food: replica food that restaurants put in their window to attract customers. We head to Kappa-Bashi, the restaurant supply district. My husband’s show’s slogan is “Get hungry, get curious, get lost.” “Lost” is right. He says he knows exactly where we are going, but he’s clearly lying. Eventually I’m the one who finds the store he was looking for, and I’m the one who finds a decent place to eat after walking for hours in a nearly deserted district. We have sukiyaki: thinly sliced beef and vegetables cooked at the table and dipped in raw beaten egg. Delicious. I guess getting lost was not such a bad plan.
Next mission is buying toys. We head to Nakano Broadway. It’s a shopping mall filled with stores mostly dedicated to anime and manga characters. In Japan there’s a name for people obsessed with such things: Otaku. It definitely applies to me, but even husband is tempted by the figurines of his childhood heroes and buys an array of large, ugly monsters whose names he’s frighteningly familiar with.
I’m particularly tempted by the Hentai section, because yes, I’m a big pervert and no one does perversion better than the Japanese. But I’m with my daughter, and “What’s that octopus doing with his tentacle, Mommy?” is not a question I want to find myself dealing with. The “Why are all the schoolgirls showing their undies in the ads?” question is something I’ve already had to dodge.
The Japanese male’s seeming obsessions with frottage, underage girls, and tentacle porn aside, I’m loving everything about Japan: It’s clean, safe, and extremely efficient, but with a quirky, kinky, and sometimes depraved current running just beneath the surface. I love the food.I love the vending machines selling all the kinds of hot and cold mysterious drinks. I love the toilets, with their soft, warm seats and their oscillating water streams that leave your butt fresh and clean after every use.
Way too soon our last day in Tokyo arrives, and I dread leaving. I need at least another month. There is just so much to do, so much to explore.
I had a little girl-crush on Ottavia Bourdain after reading this. All in all, agree, agree, agree.