It happened almost two months ago (see last bullet point here), so I’ve thought it is about time I gave you some impressions about my Tokyo trip :-). Obviously I do not plan to get into what you can find described in detail online, e.g. the more than decent Tokyo-wiki source.
For starters, very briefly, some (incomplete, random, and likely very personal) general impressions about Tokyo. My good old friends Sae and Folkert gave me plenty of information and advice on what I must see, but unfortunately I did not eventually manage even half of that… For instance, places outside Tokyo, like Yokohama and Kamakura, are priorities for next time (though Kyoto is clearly my number 1 priority in what regards my next trip to Japan, will try to make that happen as soon as possible). I also had very little time, however, for Harujuku (but, just from what I did see, I have to say that I like Ginza as shopping area, and also simply as city area, much more) and I only saw Roppongi by evening/night time (restaurants in the area are lovely; the persistence of the many black American guys trying to get you in every (strip)club is quite annoying). Loved the Tsukiji fish market (though I arrived there pretty much after the main action was gone; I am not a morning person…), particularly eating very fresh sushi right in the middle of it (after queing ad infinitum: I guess I am not the only sushi lover). Very very unfortunately, I did not have enough time to look for and try this place called Daiwa sushi, allegedly the best sushi place in the world (see the third bullet point from here for that Guardian list), very close to the Tsukiji market as well. In any case, once you eat sushi and sashimi even in average places in Tokyo, you will never ever want to eat them outside Japan– there is simply no comparison! To the other Japanese delicatesse: the “Kobe beef temple” in the middle of the electronic town (Akihabara) was fantastic; I could have basically eaten all that beef raw.
People in Tokyo are very stylish, in general. The style and very good taste are actually extending beyond personalia and are to be found everywhere; for instance, quite impressive is that the most unassuming, average restaurant/ cafe, will play Norah Jones, or Gershwin, or Mozart, or Takemitsu (of whom more below). I was negatively impressed however by how few Japanese speak English, and how bad they speak it when they speak it (just try to ask for directions to random people in the street…you will not try a second time). They are also obsessively polite (which, very likely, you know already: what I am telling you is that they are even more polite than whatever you heard/imagined). The center is extremely crowded, at every hour (Amsterdam is Mickey Mouse compared to Tokyo, in that regard); I am still puzzled by the (seemingly stable…) equilibrium consisting of pedestrians and bicycles in full speed, sharing the very same sidewalk. Too humid and warm for my October mood, but I guess one can get used to it. The Japanese toilets are just the finest piece of technology ever put to basic needs use: I am actually very surprised that they did not get popular outside Japan; in Japan they are (still) en vogue (the very funny conference guide we had explained us that Japanese people might not want a dishwasher, but then every single one of them will have the latest technology toilet). The guided bus trip around Tokyo after the CAED conference, with a long stop at the legendary Senjoji temple in Asakusa, and particularly the great dinner & cruise on the Tokyo Bay (under a beautiful starry night) that finalized it all, were by far the best sightseeing part, from my perspective. Needless to say, the dinner ended– as usually in Japan, I am being told– with a very succesful karaoke (no, I did not participate in the singing part; you really wouldn’t want me to participate) where, inter alia, I learnt that David Neumark has another competitive advantage next to that of the economist: he is the best interpreter of Deep Purple songs after Deep Purple themselves :-).
One of the absolute highlights was the lunch at Les Créations de Narisawa (many thanks to Valérie for the extremely inspired suggestion), a superb 1-star Michelin restaurant and the best restaurant of Asia (number 20 in the world) in 2009, according to San Pellegrino (this is by no means little accomplishment, particularly given the sea of Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo alone! Actually, I conjecture that Narisawa’s restaurant will receive the 3 Michelin stars in 5-6 years, the latest). There are simply no words to describe my impression about the food, so I will let Valérie’s pictures speak instead (I am too lazy to put mine online for now, but this will happen… at some point– I might then link back to this blogpost): the menu, first appetizer, second appetizer , third appetizer, first starter, second starter, main dish, dessert plate, dessert 1, dessert 2, dessert 3, Japanese white whine (instead, I tasted a fabulous Chateau Lestrille, Entre-deux-Mers, 2008: it is the first wine described here), I also had the best mint green tea in the world; unfortunately you will have to imagine the taste from looking at the pictures, at least until you manage to get there…). The service was beyond perfection. And, to top it all, no less than the famous chef, Yoshihiro Narisawa himself, came at the end of the lunch to greet and have an informal chat with us: now this is what I call caring for your customers; I solemnly declare myself the biggest fan of Narisawa-san! In a nutshell, this was by far the best lunch I’ve ever had.
I’ll end with a few lines on one of my alltime favourite-things Japan, i.e. my favourite Japanese music composer, Toru Takemitsu. Unfortunately, although I planned it carefully before getting there, it turned out I could not save enough time to go and look in Tokyo for a bunch of Takemitsu works that I definitely definitely must have. So I’ll probably end up buying them from Amazon instead. Anyway, here’s just a flavour (with thanks to YouTube… and hoping they would not be removed from there any time soon) of some of my favourite Takemitsu pieces. Just ideal for starting the week, my very number 1 Takemitsu work, a 200% masterpiece: November Steps (Part 1; Part 2). And if you have even more time (you must!), listen also to my preferred Takemitsu soundtrack, Black Rain, and to one of the finest piano works out there, Rain Tree Sketch (which I actually heard being played in Tokyo, in one of the nice cafes from Ginza). Enjoy!