Wednesday Jan. 2, 2013: Sunny and dry.
Sash heads back to work and we spend the day with Max, finding our way on the subway to the Edo-Tokyo Museum – an enormous complex relating the history of Tokyo over the past 2,000 years with dioramas, recreations, artifacts, film clips, re-enactments. It’s family time and grandparents, parents and children are out for the day, although there are surprisingly few children as has been evident over the past week. More than one child per family seems rare. We have no idea what the puppet shows, kabuki shows, and sword demonstrations actually mean but they are colorful and it’s fun to watch everyone else’s reactions. At the display of Tokyo and WWII there is no indication that Japan was anything more than an unfortunate and helpless participant — firebombed, leveled, and A-bombed. On the one hand, the latter is only rarely mentioned or memorialized (at least not obviously) but on the other, there’s no sense of how they found themselves in this misery to begin with. (China? Korea? Burma? The Philippines? Pearl Harbor? Oh, that…) I have seen only one atom bomb memorial in Ueno park at a Shinto shrine – a permanent flame kept alive from a building burned in Nagasaki.
We leave the museum and try to find the Sumo wrestling studios that are allegedly nearby. We wander into a Sumo restaurant with a ring, but it is closing (?) at 3:30. We find our way back to the subway – making sure that it is not the JR train station and Max and I go over the route as though we are preparing for a polar expedition.
Back in the US compound (much bowing and waving to the guards, but really, we could be packed with explosives – who would know?) and we agree to finally eat high-end Sushi – which because the city is so empty turns out to be possible without a reservation.
Many years ago in Japan-town in San Francisco we wandered into a restaurant and in a moment of bravura I ordered something that turned out to be a giant basket of fish with glassy eyes staring up at us through carrot sticks and parsley sprigs. We were the only gringos in the place and it came to a standstill as the basket was presented and we froze in a combination of –“no, sorry, you have made a mistake” and “there is no fucking way you can leave this thing on the table.”
D. isn’t crazy about Japanese food at the best of times, and Max, who was then about 8 years old, buried his head in my lap and refused to even look – much less taste – the recently breathing “food”.
So, many years thence, and trying not to be a wet blanket in Sushi-land, I make a joke about this which is not well met by my grown offspring. We are sidetracked en route to the restaurant by a bar serving only Belgian micro brews (seriously) and thus fortified we enter what is basically a fish morgue – er – fine Sushi resto. OK – it smells like a cathouse (not that I would know) but I am grinning forcefully all the way. Sash orders brilliantly so that whatever we are eating is somewhat disguised and does not have eyes although it also doesn’t have wasabi which is the only reason (in my unsophisticated opinion) to actually eat sushi. But here wasabi is only used to hide what is otherwise bad sushi which no one would eat anyway.
The restaurant is tiny and there is the usual call and response tag team from the waiters and kitchen (which evidently alerts one another that someone is coming through and do not move with that sharp knife) and we are immediately pegged as the white people in the corner taking up huge amounts of room, mishandling our chopsticks, talking much too loudly, making faces at the food, engaging in friendly forceful arguments, hanging around way too long and generally being barbarians. Everything is delicious, including the eel (I refuse to think of eel and snake in the same thought-bubble but fail) and we try not to stare at what everyone else is eating which does not resemble what we generally think of as food: A mass of something worm-like, a plate of clear, cellophane-like membranes, and something that looks like fish brains with tiny black dots.
Detlev suggests that perhaps this is why they lost the war.