Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tokyo! and flea market sake

Rulon-Miller Books exhibited at the Tokyo International Antiquarian book fair in March, so I made my sixth trip to Japan and Rob made his twenty-somethingth, probably close to thirtieth, trip. We arrived in Tokyo on the 8th and checked into the Hilltop Hotel, known as "the hotel with personality" and "the hotel to maintain health, probably the only hotel, which circulates oxygen and negative ions into the rooms for the guests to appreciate the refreshing atmosphere as of Karuizawa while in Tokyo." It was a nice change from our usual place, the New Otani, which I still get lost in after spending a total of about three months of my life there. The Hilltop was the tiniest bit threadbare, but it made up for that with an abundance of charm and it is near bookseller street as well.

We ignored jetlag and headed out early on the 9th to check out some flea markets. The first, at the International Forum, was disappointing. There were very few sellers and it seemed that many of them were selling new items. Still, the venture turned out not to be a complete failure because there was a section of food stalls and I found one selling what one of the salespeople called "farmer's sake." The lady in charge of the booth (pictured on the left) was able to speak a bit of English and explained to me that I shouldn't store the bottle on its side. She was right...there was a hole in the cap (which seemed to be there on the bottle didn't explode??) with only a piece of paper under it, so I had a mini disaster in the mini bar. Unfortunately, I think I waited too long to drink this. It was a really thick, chunky sake and whenever I see something like that, I expect it to taste like a pina colada. This was very bitter, so much so that I think it had gone bad. Very fizzy too, which I thought was probably not unusual for fresh, farmer's sake.

The second flea market was bigger, but just as unsuccessful. There were quite a few kimono stalls, but the competition (mainly foreigners) was fierce so I stayed away.

Dinner the first night was at Yamano-ue, the famous tempura restaurant at the hotel. It turned out to be quite a treat. I had 2 fresh prawns ($15.00 each), asparagus, kiso (white fish) and sweet potato, which was served last because of the time it took to prepare the fist-sized vegetable. It was served with brandy and very tasty. The server was very sweet...Rob asked her a question and she said "yup," and Rob asked if she had been educated in Britain. She was very embarassed at having been caught being so informal with a customer, but I really liked her. She suggested the sake that I had with my meal, Tateyama (Toyama Prefecture) according to the notes she made for me. It was a very fine sake...light floral aroma with a taste almost like lightly flavored water. Rob tried it and said "smooth, easy, cherry."

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