I suppose this entire season of Tokyo posts have been about me given that they are from my own perspective, but this time around I'll share the joys of turning 30 in Tokyo in the company of a clever and crafty husband, a 2 year old son who is pretty good at keeping secrets, and the ever-increasing bump; followed by a blow-by-blow description of our day spent packing today – this is about as unadventurous as our trip gets, so unless you're interested in reading about how I managed to stuff most of my dirty socks and undies into various souvenirs for people, now's a good time to bow out.
For a change, I have few photos to share – I had one of the most wonderful and memorable birthday celebrations to date this year, in part to the incredible place that I'm in, and the amazing people I am with. I was awoken at the disrespectful time of 6.30am by the serenades of a two-year-old shouting his ABCs through the bedroom wall, which were quickly dispelled by Kent's lightening-fast leaping out of bed to shush him. My greatest birthday gift? Kent taking Vivian to the playground at the crack of dawn while I lay diagonally on our tiny futon, relishing in being alone (with facebook, instagram, words with friends and my email).
Eventually Kent messaged to say they'd return soon as our sad little son was so weirded out about being kicked out before breakfast, and then further distressed that Kent tried to buy yet more flowers, but all the flower shops were still shut. I was treated to a home cooked breakfast, some wonderful shouts of 'happy birthdaaaaaay!' and a 'bag of secrets' – I still have no idea how or when Vivian and Kent managed to collect said bag of secrets, wrap them all, and hide them from me in this thimble of a house.
I was handed each item one by one by Viv, with comments like 'Here's another secret mum,' followed by a description of the contents in the form of a question to Kent 'Is that the octopus one dad?' It turns out that Viv is also very accomplished at unwrapping secrets himself and was quite helpful in that department. What made the day so special was that we had no immediate plans, no pressure to be anywhere or do anything – something we've put upon ourselves almost every day we've been here. Once we'd all been fed, we decided that coffee (der) was in order, followed by a last trip into Shibuya to go apeshit at the Adidas shop.
|Viv's daily shave, and quote of the day:|
Kent (whispering): 'Say, happy birthday mama!'
Viv (shouting): 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY SANTA!'
Perhaps the biggest anticipation for the day was that we managed to snag ourselves a FUCKING BABYSITTER! Thanks to the fortuitous events of friends of friends making suggestions, then said friend only being free on my actual birthday, Kent and I were lucky enough to have a proper date night. The madness of visiting one of the world's most vibrant night time city and never getting a glimpse of it is not lost on us. One thing that is quite common in cafes, bars and restaurants here is even if there are 14 tables free, sometimes you will be turned away due to them being full. We expected that we would need to attempt 3 places for dinner before finding one that could fit us in without a booking, but were so fortunate that our first pick was free.
There is a restaurant in the next street near our apartment that we've looked longingly through the windows of many times since being here, Cafe Otanova – definitely not for children (because Kent and Viv actually got told to leave a little while ago). It is in an old residence set up as a bar/restaurant – it has been completely opened up, and is almost all on the second floor. Impossible to photograph (we tried!), we managed to snag the one private area off the balcony. We had no idea what kind of food they served, but by that stage I was happy (and slightly hopeful) to have cheesecake for dinner.
|Gorgeous and alluring Cafe Otanova|
And this is how I came to have Spaghetti and cocktails to the soundtrack of French music, in Tokyo on my 30th birthday – the non carb-eating, non-alcohol drinking yogi. Amazing what pregnancy hormones will do to you, neh? We got lucky with an English menu, though our waitress didn't speak much – there was some serious confusion when I tried to order a drink, but was adamant that I didn't want anything with caffeine, but I NEEDED something with alcohol. It went like this:
Me: 'Oh! Mmm ... yes. I'll have a cocktail. I like the look of this one, but what's Tiffin?'
Me: 'Hrmph. I can't have tea, I won't sleep.'
Her: *flips menu and shows me the list of teas and soft drinks
Me: 'Oh, no no, I'd like a cocktail!'
Me: 'Tiffin with ginger ale it is then'
Her: 'Oh ... but... alcohol'
Me: *brightly 'Oh yes!'
Her: *gesturing to my belly 'Uh ... oh ... um. Baby?'
Me: *brightly 'Oh yes!'
Her: *turns bright shade of purple and looks concerned
Me: 'It's ok, just one for me!'
Her: 'Oh. Um ... this one ... have ALCOHOL. Ok?'
Me: 'Yes PLEASE!'
Her: *looks like she might cry
Me: 'It's ok. I will share with him. Just tasting.' (I'm lying so much.)
For the rest of the meal I can feel her eyes on me every time I lift the glass, which is 90% ice, but delicious (she asks me after the meal if the baby is coming next month – NO. It's NOT THAT BIG!!!). It's so good that we order 3. I am allowed a few sips of each one – the more Kent orders for himself, the more alcoholic they become. After some googling, we discovered that Tiffin is in fact tea liqueur, and I signed myself off for an awake all night.
The meal itself was light and fabulous – appetisers of pickled vegetables, a huge salad (with NINE types of vegetables according to the menu – I laughed a little at this, and then shut right up because most food I've eaten here is brown, white or yellow, so to enjoy a rainbow of fresh really was a delight). The pasta was incredible. We were very bemused that the menu stated 'please note that if you order more than one pasta dish, they will not arrive at the same time as we will cook it one by one.' And yes. We shared one bowl of pasta (Japanese-style tuna and mushroom. Mum! I ate tuna! It was good!), waited a little bit, and shared another (tomato, eggplant and chorizo). A common thread in cafes and restaurants here is how down to earth they are. I am searching for the right term, but all seem insulting (amateur, unprofessional), because it's what makes them work. It feels like you are at a friend's place, and they are cooking you a great meal, making you the perfect coffee (coffee also only ever comes out one by one, no multitasking there – in fact at our 'local', I noticed that they weigh the group head [yes of course I fucking had to google it] THEN add the coffee, tamp it, then weigh it again).
So we found ourselves not feeling full and stodgy as you might do in an Italian bistro back home, where you munch on bread while you wait, and then eat all of the things at once. We had a pleasant gap between each dish, around the time you'd expect someone to efficiently make it for you. The entire restaurant had two staff members, the chef and waitress – incredible for a space that had space for at least... I don't do maths. It was a modest size, but let's not forget that it was two storeys.
|It looks giant, but not as giant as the Titanic-iceberg block of ice inside. Or my belly, apparently.|
|The view from our table to downstairs. The centre room had been removed to open up the space, creating a mezzanine. The centre was filled with a very flamboyant and trendy dead chandelier combo.|
The restaurant took last orders at the all too respectable time of 8 and closed at 9, so we were at a loose end pretty quickly. After the big deal about getting a babysitter who was happy to stay as long as we needed, I wasn't about to waste that, and besides. It was my birthday and I hadn't had any cake. It turns out that Asakusa on a Sunday night is like Kyneton – bitterly cold and mostly shut.
We found ourselves in the almost-shut mall, and before I knew what was happening, I had already inserted ¥400 into a vending machine for Kent and I to get 'hot twins cutie girl photo decoration shoot!' It was ... the best coin I have ever spent, for the shortest and most frantic interaction with technology I have ever had. 4 booths, at least 6 photos and lots of loud music. Mostly in Japanese, half the fun was finding the English language before the timer took you to the next screen or the next booth. First we had the photoshoot, where our helpful models showed us what gestures and expressions we needed to make. Then we had our enhancing booth, where our helpful program made many decisions for us to make us more attractive, THEN we had the decoration booth, which is how Kent came to have a scrotum on his chin (top right image), THEN we had the collection booth – this was the most exposed, where the security guard (who so obviously wanted to go home) stood swirling his keys while thinking terrible thoughts about us as we doubled over laughing. There was also a booth where we had to write in our names – which, thanks to the machine only offering a Japanese keyboard, was how we came to be Suketo and Tehireyo.
|I would like to point out that the machines generously gifted us the majority of these enhancements without us even having to ask – like the rosy cheeks and creepy eyes.|
|I just love what they did with Kent's everything. He really is the 'Cherry so pretty twins ... xoxox' that is stated on the other side of the picture.|
|I forgot to take any obligatory photos of my dinner, cake, the atmosphere of our old school coffee shop, but I think their bathroom pretty much sums it up.|
|The roller door nearby, offering me up some reflective wisdom for the year (I only have to have it from 9-7 at least).|
So, I snuggled up in bed with the deep understanding that cheesecake at 10pm will certainly not help you sleep, and settled in for a night of oh well – the kind of night where it's almost a relief when the mini comes in at 6.30 (again?!) to play. I have to say though, I am quite impressed with Viv's discipline – every single morning he tries it on (some kind of being very awake activity), and every morning we scrunch our eyes tightly shut and lie:
Us: 'It's still night time. Take a book back to bed with you and we'll come and get you in the morning.'
Viv: 'But I want to play/draw/wake up!'
Us: 'Do as your told! Take a book! Now!'
Viv: '4 books?'
Us: 'Yes! Take as many as you want! Go to bed! Close the door!'
And he actually does it (?!!?!) for at least 20 minutes. Sometimes with song. Sometimes with whinging. Normally with narrative.
|Poor chap was pretty devastated to wake up from his nap to find all suitcases full and none for him to 'sleep in'.|
|Kent's curiosity gets the better of him and he spends some time google-translating the local playground signage.|
They make a fair point.
|Some more merchandise gold on Kappabashi street|
|So much pride at how bold this boy has become in his playground adventures. If he can survive the insanity that is Japanese play equipment, he'll kill the terrifying swirly slide now at the Kyneton library playground.|
|I'm JUST KIDDING!!! There were no tears, only sweat, aching backs, and some of the most ruthless stuffing of things inside other things to the point that customs better have some comfy chairs for us, because this could take a while.|
And so almost concludes our mini-home in Asakusa, Tokyo. We some time in the morning to bustle around returning the apartment to its original and STUPID condition (wall hangings, tea sets and other space-filling wank) and lavishly leave out some money for the things we admit to breaking, and then surreptitiously hide the things we pretend we had nothing to do with (the kettle was definitely already melted when we got here). We have 7 hours in which to get to Narita airport tomorrow, something I am almost grateful for, because what with those three beasts of suitcases, a stroller, carry on, and a Vivian, it's going to be slow going.
I feel I should be more reflective of our time here, finish with something poignant and witty, but in all honesty, bed is calling. My actual bed. Not this piece of shit mattress on the floor (which isn't even a real futon by the way, which would actually be comfortable). Kent and I have not slept through the night since being here, and are demented with exhaustion. I figure we settle in for an all nighter tomorrow night (because we're hardly going to even attempt sleep on the plane).
However, I could not be happier that we took the plunge and did everything we could to make this trip happen, with all its highs and lows. Despite the many challenges, it truly was a special opportunity for all of us. Kent has made some wonderful connections, some of them will no doubt be instrumental in exciting career progressions in the future. I could not be more proud of his efforts here, in a foreign city, putting in the amount of energy and work in that he did, nor am I surprised. For me (because remember, this post is really about me), being here at this time in my life will be something I will never forget. It is absolutely not where I expected to be, and while it makes me a little (extremely) trepidatious, I suspect that might not be a bad thing. This time marks huge change for all of us, and it is with excited anticipation that we start the long trek home to our still very new home in Kyneton, filled with inspiration, ready for the next chapter.
Holy shit we're about to have another baby. ARGH!
See you on the other side!