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Midnite's Global Journey of Spiritual Discovery*
midnite
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 1230
From: 37? 47' N, 122? 26' W
Posted: 2010-04-20 11:39 pm   Permalink

JAPAN
Yokohama - Tokyo

Part Two: Ain't this the life?

Let's talk tiki, yes? It's why we're part of this online community, one hopes Japan has something for those of us so inclined. The answer is muddled. Among Tokyo and her greater confines their are two big names: TIKI TIKI and Trader Vic's. I checked them out, the results were mixed.

TIKI TIKI YOKOHAMA

Our choice was to first visit TIKI TIKI in nearby Yokohama, as I heard it is bigger and perhaps a bit nicer than the Tokyo location. Plus, it is in Yokohama, providing the chance to visit another city in Japan. We arrived too early, a mistake. We left pretty quickly, not a mistake. It's not so much that TIKI TIKI is a bad tiki bar, it's just not my tiki bar. To my taste TIKI TIKI is P.F. McFuddlebee's tiki.



Yes, it is a bit of a "mega-excitement big terrific aloha" gestalt. I did my best to have a good time, and the TIKI TIKI employees were receptive and helpful to a pair of American tiki-philes. Service in Japan is uniformly good, earnest without approaching obsequiousness. Are the drinks good? No, not hardly. It was not because of what else I experienced in Japan, that would be an unfair comparison. No, the drinks were below par on their own merit. Nice garnish, lots of variety...but poor. The food was acceptable. I've had worse, but that is really no endorsement. We got off on the wrong foot at TIKI TIKI, and unless you wish to hop around all night on your other leg, things will revert to that initial impression. We did not care for TIKI TIKI, so much so I opted to pass on the Shinjuku location. That decision was not regretted for a second. No, not hardly.


TRADER VIC'S TOKYO

I like Trader Vic's. Sometimes I like Vic's too much, to wit, I canceled a trip to China when the Beijing and Shanghai locations ceased operations just weeks before my departure. To paraphrase Jonah Jones, "I dig Vic's!" So enthused about visiting this location we even chose to stay at The New Otani Hotel which houses Tokyo Trader Vic's. Same building, just a couple of elevator rides, twenty-two floors. We visited everyday. The New Otani was a great decision, even if we did spend less time at Vic's than I had anticipated. More on that later.

Tokyo Trader Vic's is positively superb. In my opinion it is one of the best worldwide. The reasons are many. The decor is classic and authentic. It is what Trader Vic's should be, now, then, and always. It remains, like a bit of the past preserved in amber, one of the seminal franchises along with London, Atlanta, and Munich. We were treated very well and that was even before they learned of my tiki status. Wink wink.



My Trader Vic's corporate contacts were disappointingly unfruitful for me on this trip. I would be on my own, solo and without air support, schmoozing the staff. Alas, I had a secret weapon at my disposal: Super Happy Fun Time Lobster Shirt! On our second night I wore one of my older Sun Surf shirts and while at the bar I was warmly greeted by Tokyo Vic's greatest asset: General Manager Larry Murakami. On this trip Fun Time Lobster Shirt was my ambassador. We spent more than an hour with Larry talking Vic's, Japan, food, drinks, even Tiki Central. Larry's commitment to his Vic's is without peer and his storytelling skills are first-rate. He also has fine taste in shirt wear.



One negative aspect of a good time at Tokyo Vic's, and a lobster shirt helps not a bit on this front, is the place can be expensive, almost prohibitively so. Your favorite Navy Grog or Mai Tai? That will be over twenty dollars, American. Drink slowly. Notwithstanding the pain-inducing exchange rate our cocktails were consistently well made and enjoyable. The sole mistake was Michelle's selection of "Miss Cherry Blossom". It was a special for the season, a Sakura infused cocktail with, umm, cakes? Little cake-like squares on top which are to be stirred into the drink and....I had better stop now. We sent it back after one taste and no photograph. It was frightening. This was in no manner a special happy fun time drink.



Tokyo may rightly become one of my all-time favorite locations. Beautiful, original decor and design (except those windows in the bar) with wonderful service. The cocktails are what one expects of Trader Vic's, do try the Tokyo Sour. These features make Tokyo a fine Trader Vic's. Care to know what makes it perhaps the greatest? That would be:



Three, let me repeat this for emphasis: THREE! different club sandwiches on the bar and lunch menus. All were good, the American Clubhouse fantastic. Our last day, before we left for the flight home, we had lunch in the bar. We were served by the friendly and able bar manager, Mr. Takeshi Uehara. I had the American Clubhouse sandwich and a Mai Tai. Hell, I like just typing that. What transpired can simply be described as one of "life's moments." Sitting in the bar at a world-class Trader Vic's, drinking a well-made Mai Tai, dining on a stellar club sandwich.

I am trying to get Larry to rename the American Clubhouse after me, we'll see. I mean, I am big in Japan.

Go to Tokyo Vic's, have the club or three. The natives are friendly and the lobster's free...
midnite





 
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midnite
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 1230
From: 37? 47' N, 122? 26' W
Posted: 2010-04-21 12:01 am   Permalink

JAPAN
Tokyo

Part Three: This must be the place

"I'll be at the bar...in Tokyo."

That will be my response. Put it on the voice mail greeting, perhaps send a mass email, notify whom it may concern. I shall be in the bar, and I will be happy.

May we dispose of the niceties, the social platitudes, the protocols of everyday polite discourse? Yes, the temple is nice, the cherry blossoms pretty, the cities clean. Japan's is a lengthy history; she is a land of great innovation and accomplishment. It is a cultured and advanced society. I do like it so, but I can leave it. I can leave it all behind for that tiny room, likely without windows, and simply live. I mean by this not just imbibe to drunkenness. Any one coin bar in Shinjuku will satisfy that pedestrian goal. No, I mean a real cocktail bar. The sort of place one orders a drink and savors both it and the convivial atmosphere it engenders. An elegant glass, a measure of liquor, that glorious ice. Perfection.

The best bars in the world are in Tokyo. If you care about cocktails like someone I know, you must get there someday. You will saddle up to the polished hardwood, and while upon that bar stool you shall be king, or queen, of the mountain. Having ascended the cocktail summit, reaching the genre's pinnacle, you will never again think of your local in the same way. These bars are that great, their proprietors that dedicated to their craft, their concoctions that magnificent.


THE BEST BARS ON EARTH

The Japanese did not invent it. We did. They didn't originate many of the recipes. We did most of that, too. They don't produce much of the booze. Numerous others do that. They just do it, better. It, is the art of the cocktail and in Tokyo it is produced at the highest level. The best bars, the best service, the single greatest cocktail I have ever had. The...best...cocktail...ever.


Bar Ishinohana

You may have seen this Shibuya bar featured on Anthony Bourdain's Travel Channel program. In the first basement of a non-descript office tower, Ishinohana, like so many of Tokyo's great bars, appears as a plain wood door and simple metal sign to the unknowing. Step inside and one enters a cocktail laboratory. Spend a few moments looking at the ice. It is astonishing. It's just frozen water but the stuff is a sight to behold. Clear, diamond-like. Ishinohana is a high-end drinking emporium dedicated to the fine arts of bartending. Notice I refrain from using the trendy parlance of the day: mixology. These gentlemen, and a few ladies, tend bar.



The room is modern, dressed up more than the other bars we'd visit during our stay. Mr. Ishigaki was not behind the bar when we arrived, so his able assistant bartender made our first drinks. The fair Michelle orders the cocktail that put Ishigaki on the map, Claudia. A bit over the top with its cascading garnish of cut radish, cherry, lime peel, and pineapple leaf, I am suspicious of its close proximity to goofy-cocktaildom. I am wrong to judge this book by some random vegetation. Rum-based with a dusting of red peppercorns on top, this mix of vermouth, pineapple juice, and caramel, is fantastic. Shoot, it may look gimmicky, but this thing did not win a worldwide drink contest because of a cute name and salad garnish. We continued to drink from Ishinohana's menu of original drinks.

My first selection was not as successful. A mango-based martini I believe the bartender failed to prepare properly. A bit alarming when one is talking nearly $20 per drink, but things got much better when I tried the Ishinohana original "Oriental Beauty". A simple cocktail of anisette and kurant vodka it possesses a layered array of flavors. Michelle had a Wasabai Alexander which she declared quite good, thank you very much. Mr. Ishigaki arrived soon after and I decided to have one of his signature Claudia cocktails. It seemed appropriate to have one made by the originator. It really is an amazing drink. The two types of pepper contrast with the sweet caramel resulting in a surprisingly tasty combination. We left impressed.


The other bars we frequented were located in Ginza district. Ginza is home to literally thousands of small bars, restaurants, parlors, and lounges. The sheer amount is astounding until one realizes there are over twelve million Tokyo residents and most of the bars are tiny establishments capable of seating perhaps twenty or thirty patrons. The two following bars in Ginza, and those like them, do pack more cocktail expertise and drinking enjoyment into their small footprints than any places in the world.

Tender Bar

If Japan made me feel at home, which it did, Ginza's Tender Bar was my home address. If someone asks, Tender Bar is where I'll be...where I'll be.

Tender Bar is set in a utilitarian office building, on the same floor as a hairdresser. Its plain entrance belies the sanctuary behind it. Enter that door and one is immediately greeted by a white-coated bar steward. Soft, difused light fills the bar. Appropriate music is piped in, quietly. There are no windows. It is a cocoon. One's blood pressure seems to lower the minute the door is silently closed behind you. The proprietor and head bartender is Mr. Kazuo Uyeda. His is a name known by bartenders and drinking connoisseurs the world over. Originator of the "hard shake" one can learn much about him on the net. That is not my intention herein. No, I wish only to convey the sense of what it is to drink at Tender Bar.



Mr. Uyeda masterfully prepares and serves the classics. Old recipe cocktails mixed with attention and service as they must have been served in the States five or more decades ago. Each ingredient, each liquor bottle with its label facing the customer, is placed on the bar in front of the customer. Everything is immaculate. The glass, the shakers, that beautiful Japanese ice. Yes, the incredible ice, expertly hand-carved into varying shapes for specific drinks. If serving a cocktail can be art Uyeda is a true master. The customer's interests are queried if one desires assistance in selecting a cocktail. "What liquor do you prefer, sir? Do you enjoy short or long drinks? Is there a flavor you wish to investigate, do you prefer sweet or sour?" Sure, many bars do this sort of thing, even here in Frisco. No one, I mean no one, does it like these bars. It's not feigned, it's not an act, not some hoops they jump through for a bigger tip. Mr. Uyeda and his disciplined crew of bar stewards deeply respect cocktails and those who enjoy them. There is passion here, dedication to a craft that is founded in mastery of a particular skill set. Bartending in Japan is a respected and desired career position. Tender Bar, like others in Tokyo, has taken the American experience of fine cocktails and preserved it. They're keeping the theme alive here, and they are perfecting it.



We went to Tender three of our four nights in Tokyo. Our new friend Gary the bar steward (not his real name but it seemed to fit) told us no Western tourists had ever been back three nights. We'd have gone a fourth but for our visit to Yokohama's TIKI TIKI. I tried a multitude of cocktails because although the price of these gems is steep, the alcohol content is set for Japanese tastes and body types. Translation: I could burn holes in the Amex and never get toasted. Gimlet, Sidecar, Sours, Coolers, even my dear friend the Old Fashioned. Simple, elegant, timeless drinks made by an expert, true to the original recipes. My favorite was a grapefruit-based drink Uyeda made for Tender Bar's first anniversary. These cocktails take time to make and one enjoys them much longer than normal. There is no hurry here, you are expected to savor the drink and relish the experience. We would finish our first round and notice an hour had passed. During our final visit the elegant older couple next to us ordered a cocktail and much discussion ensued between Mr. Uyeda and them. They had been, as were we, ordering different cocktails while most customers sipped the ever popular single malts. I asked this couple the drink's name and ingredients. This started a conversation which resulted in their insistence I sample their drink. The stylish dame knew enough English, both really knew their cocktails. In a fit of awareness usually reserved for more sober moments I realized, "They're us!" The two of them, spending a long time in a bar, talking drinks with Uyeda, sharing with those around them. Yes, a bit older, invariably much more sophisticated, but they're us. The Japanese midnites!

That was a smile and a half among the special evenings at Tender. Mr Uyeda's bar is my favorite spot in my new favorite country. This must be the place, I thought. It is.


HIGH FIVE

The best for last? Yes, in some respects. Tender Bar is my favorite, no doubt. However, for pure cocktail excellence there is but one place to visit, and one bartender to make the drinks. The place is Bar High Five and the owner/bartender is Hidetsugu Ueno. Again, one can read much all over the net about the man and his skills. I concur with the conventional wisdom about Mr. Ueno's talents and his dominating stature in the Tokyo cocktail scene. Suffice to say, at Bar High Five in Ginza I had the best cocktail of my life.

The man does not suffer from bouts of humble modesty. He is full of himself and his abilities. His opinions on cocktails, bartending, the state of other bars including those of some well-known Tokyo masters, are freely shared. He knows he is good, he'll tell you as much. He walks it, though. The bar is smaller than my college apartment, with seating for maybe fifteen. It is nothing special. The space is a dark shoebox of a room, not really that well decorated, a bit shabby. The place reminded me of a professor's home office, whose many books are instead bottles of high-end liquor. There's a huge ham (he cures his own Iberian-style Jamon) at the end of the bar, a small hot plate behind a curtain in the corner. A single dirty picture window offers a birdseye view of the Tokyo expressway. The place is a bit of a downmarket stepsister to the elegance of Ishinohana and the luxurious comfort of Tender. Absolutely none of it matters once the glass is set on the coaster in front of you.

I had read up on Ueno and learned from other bartenders that one should try his Pina Colada. "Yes," wrote one bar expert, "have the Pina Colada." So, Michelle did just that as she does enjoy a good blended tropical drink. This was not simply a good Pina Colada. This was Godzilla Pina Colada, destroying all other such drinks, leaving befuddled, stunned, and astonished any drinker who got in its way. Devastation in a simple glass, no garnish necessary. Nothing to distract the drinker, simplicity in the form of utter perfection.

My initial strategy was to enlist the bar stewards' help in making my selection. What I really wanted was for them to say, "Here, we know more than you, drink up." However, that is really not the Japanese way. After some discussion the conclusion was I like rum (I suggested Havana Club), long drinks, on the sour side. The bar steward told this to Ueno along with his choices for my drink. Ueno, with the wave of one hand dismissed the employee. He muttered a few words to his bar stewards, shot his cuffs and pulled at his braces. He paced a bit, deep in thought, formulating a recipe on the spot. Sure, it was a bit of a show, but I gladly bought it. The ingredients were placed in front of me. It was a type of cooler, with a Sakura liqueur employed as a nod to the season. It was refreshing, light and entirely appropriate once Ueno told me his thought process. He explained that this morning in Tokyo had been bright and clear; the sun coming out after several days of rain. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom and it seemed to him that this was the best day of the year. The nameless drink, said Ueno, was his expression of the Spring which had just started. Okay, this guy is good.



I figured this was going to be expensive but the time was so right, the drinks so exceptional, I could not leave. Another, yes, I shall have another. This decision was more difficult. I knew we had much more on our plate for Tokyo and I likely would not be back to High Five. Do I order an Old Fashioned, maybe a nice Martini? This time it was soley my call, and I was stumped. I was blocked. Yet in the back of my mind I had this recurring thought, something I had read about Ueno. "Singapore Sling... Singapore Sling", was the refrain. I kept hearing it. His were purported to be legendary. But another tropical drink? Okay, let's do it: Singapore Sling.

Eight ingredients later (the most of any drink he mixes) it was placed in front of me. I tried it. One eyebrow arched and I could only think: Holy shit! Ueno awaited my reaction. Playing it cool and not feeding his ample ego I merely said, "Pretty good." He shrugged and responded with a sense of dejection, "Hmm, pretty good? Okay." Then I bust out laughing, telling him in all truthfullness that this was the best drink I had ever had. No hyperbole, no exagerration, just the facts. The...best...cocktail. Ever.

I had reached the summit. For those brief moments I was in the ether, atop the cocktail world if you will. Ueno, playing my bartending sherpa, got me up the mountain, showed me the view from the highest peak. It was time to descend. The ample bill settled Mr. Ueno walked us to the elevator and warmly bid us farewell. For some time I did not speak, I was stunned into silence. A quick glance to Michelle and a wry smile was all I could muster. She knew what I was thinking. She'd know, if the need arose, where to find me.

At the bar in Tokyo.

midnite




 
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Bora Boris
Mr. Unreasonable

Joined: Mar 25, 2005
Posts: 2585
From: Boogie Wonderland
Posted: 2010-04-21 6:59 pm   Permalink

WOW!! Amazing follow up Midnite, Thank you. I've always wanted to go over there but now I do more than ever.



I'm glad to hear that you really are BIG IN JAPAN!!


 
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Bora Boris
Mr. Unreasonable

Joined: Mar 25, 2005
Posts: 2585
From: Boogie Wonderland
Posted: 2010-08-10 11:06 am   Permalink

WAIT A SECOND!!!



Are those Menehune picks holding that club sandwich together?

Nice.


 
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pablus
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 23, 2003
Posts: 2155
From: www.crazedmugs.com
Posted: 2010-08-16 6:08 pm   Permalink

A lovely tale, Cap'n.

Worthy of a great cocktail.




 
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pablus
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 23, 2003
Posts: 2155
From: www.crazedmugs.com
Posted: 2010-12-29 08:22 am   Permalink

Where lurketh the midnites?

 
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midnite
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 1230
From: 37? 47' N, 122? 26' W
Posted: 2011-04-21 01:03 am   Permalink

Ahoy Hoy, it certainly has been some time since the last post-worthy excursion. Honestly, travel has taken a backseat in the last ten months or so, maybe that will change.

SOUTH KOREA & JAPAN 2011

A quick note about this trip: Its original embarkation was scheduled for the second week of March. Yes, mid-March, Tokyo. Obviously, a happy-go-lucky drinking and club sandwich-eating holiday in Tokyo was not in the cards. At the same time, we feel so strongly about Japan we refused to stay away for more than a brief time. We believed going there AND enjoying ourselves was a proper expression of support. Many Japanese we encountered were surprised to see Western visitors. So, just three weeks after our original departure we headed to Seoul, landing in Tokyo approximately one month after the earthquake/tsunami.


SEOUL

Existing knowledge and perceptions about Seoul? Minimal. Initial impressions: the second largest (or so) city in the world is that big. I mean it is BIG. And modern. Final impressions: It possesses a real American sensibility. Just as the U.S. is not steeped in much history Seoul seems to have been born in the last few decades. Everything is new, clean, and very state of the art. Our brief visit would not provide any serious insight into the city, but what I was able to see and experience I truly enjoyed. South Korea was not just another country to check off on the list, I'd really like to visit again.

Our big "see" while in Seoul was the DMZ. Specifically, the JSA at Panmunjom. We were part of a USO tour to the famous blue buildings in Panmunjom, along with other military and civil aspects of Camp Bonifas and the surrounding area. The trip is chaperoned and lead by U.S. Military personnel. Starting with a short briefing on history, there are numerous and continual security warnings and directions. At points I wondered why they would allow tourists to wander up here if it were really that dangerous. Some of it seems a bit of theater, but one leaves with a very distinct impression: this place is intense. Yes, that's North Korea right there, those are mine fields, that is where battles with NK troops took place in the last few decades. In the first photo below you can just make out the NK soldier watching us with binoculars. The one of me shows NK's "Propaganda City" in the background, with the road to the "Bridge of No Return" in the foreground. That's the bridge in the third photo. One is not permitted anywhere near it on foot.






Spooky, interesting, a bit depressing. I've never been anywhere remotely like this, and that's a good thing. I could go on and on about the visit, from the ghost town aspects of the last rail station in the South before NK, to the traditional Korean tiki-like carvings near the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel area. If you ever get the chance to see the DMZ, take it. Then again, perhaps sense and reason could prevail and there'd be no need for the place. I'd not hold your breath for that outcome.





The remainder of our brief stay was spent exploring bits of Seoul. The city is just immense, a few days provides one only the thinnest exposure. Subway trips of thirty minutes were commonplace, vast distances must be covered while traversing this mega-opolis. Seoul reminded me of Tokyo, for obvious reasons, but a lot of it could have been NYC or Los Angeles. It's definitely a city of the future, one senses their best days are ahead of them. I'd hope to spend a few of those days with them.




Tiki and Club Sandwiches Seoul style? Well, there is one bar. A sort of faux-tropical place, in Itaewon: The Bungalow. We visited but did not take in the waters. It's not quite our scene. A good club though? Oh yes, at the Park Hyatt Seoul they do a lovely turn on the traditional with a particularly fine toasted bread. A bit heavy on the mayo/lettuce combination...more slaw than anything else, but eating a good club high above Seoul looking out at miles and miles of cityscape? Thumbs up from this judge.







TOKYO



At first I was dismissive, I'd already heard of it, it is old news. The "news" was a big earthquake in Japan. I got notice of it at another website I frequent but dismissed it as the rather large quake that hit but a few days earlier. No, was the reply, this is a new one and is much worse. I turned on the television late Thursday night and saw the live footage from Japan. It was a harrowing few days of worry and contemplation about friends there, our upcoming trip, the long term health of my favorite country.

When I saw the long lines for the reduced subway trains, troubles with food/water supplies, and the deep sadness of such a tragedy I knew a few days of even mild "good times" in Tokyo would be impossible. We'd be more in the way than not and I felt it would be inappropriate to visit so soon. We delayed the trip three weeks and hoped that we could go, showing at least a form of solidarity with the the people of Japan. Yes, we'd try and do just that if only for a few days. Sure, the city was darkened by voluntary electricity cutbacks and much of the talk was of tragic and terribly depressing events. Still, here and there the place was back to a "new normal" and life went on pretty well, if a bit subdued. One moment encapsulated it very clearly. A pedestrian walkway near a small amusement park in Asakusa, a local garage busking with some Japanese Pop. It was a very authentic Japanese scene, and then the rumbling started. At first I thought it could be the foot traffic on the walkway's artificial surface. Maybe it was the subway? No, after a few seconds I knew. Earthquake. One of the medium-sized aftershocks we'd experience. One of a number I stopped counting. Everyone held in their tracks for a second or so, gauging the force, assessing if more serious safety measure would be needed. Nope, just ride it out, there'll be another in an hour, or two. And there was.




The fair Michelle and I did our usuals in Tokyo. This trip we made an effort to spend more time at Trader Vic's. A better time I don't think could have been had. General Manager Larry and his crew (family, really) treated us so well it makes me smile just thinking about it. From Deano-san the Bar Manager, to Mr Cherry Blossom, the Asst. Bar Manager. From our favorite bartender, and inventor of the Sakura Mai Tai, Bob, to veteran server Judy Roast Beef. Hey, even server Gori (need to get him a better nickname, Larry) who is a short-timer at Vic's with only five years tenure. They're the best, and Larry oversees it all with more enthusiasm and dedication for the job than just about anyone I have ever seen. If anyone was truly born for a job it has to be Larry and the General Managership of Tokyo Trader Vic's.







This time we were able to introduce our good pal, Gary(Kazuki), to Trader Vic's and our deep appreciation of tropicals. I am hoping he takes to the place and the drinks. Our hours at Vic's were filled with many great cocktails (the Mai Tais are better here than other Vic's locations) and numerous American Clubhouse Sandwiches. No Miss Cherry Blossom cocktail this year, not sure why.

While caught up in a fevered moment of adventurism we visited TIKI TIKI's Shinjuku location. It's better than Yokohama. Yes. It's better. I had a "Lava Flow" which was better than Michelle's "Plumeria." Yep, it's better. Better. What's one millimeter above "awful"? That's it. That much better.




Of course we made shopping excursions for my favorite Japanese shirt-wear and thanks to Mr Cherry Blossom himself we found Sun Surf nirvana in nearby Yokohama. Standing there weeping like Daisy, I've never seen such beautiful shirts before. Now I have to get back to Tokyo Vic's and wear them while sipping a few cocktails at the bar. Speaking of bars we did visit some of our favorites in Ginza. I strongly recommend a visit to Little Smith. Pictured below is the Old Fashioned I was served there. Ginza's Little Smith is amazingly good and is now a midnite fave. Regrettably, I can no longer say the same of Tender Bar, the Ginza bar which was just about my favorite spot on Earth a year ago. Let's just say I shan't be returning.







I will continue to happily frequent another favorite from last year, Bar High Five. Mr. Ueno is back behind the stick after losing almost all of his liquor inventory to the quake. Yes, he's still serving the world's greatest cocktail, his Singapore Sling. I had three, I think, and they remain that good. We first went to Bar High Five soon after landing on Thursday, but due to the evening's earlier bad news/difficulties we were not able to fully enjoy our visit. That was a real shame. Saturday, Michelle and I were shopping in the restaurantware district near Asakusa when a well-dressed Japanese man started waving at me. Now, I know perhaps two people in all of Tokyo who would flag me down for a good reason so I figured I was doing something terribly wrong. Then I recognized him, it's Mr. Ueno from High Five! He and his assistant bartender were doing a bit of errand-running and he recognized us from Thursday and also our visit last year. I told him I was in the area trying to buy a cocktail shaker and other bar supplies. Without a moment's hesitation he motioned toward a store and said, "Here, this one." He proceeded to show me the right shop, the best pieces, and then spoke to the proprietors, assisting me in the transaction. How cool was that? Cooler than blowing off meeting Paul McCartney in London if you ask me. In a city of what, thirty million, I run into the owner of one of the most famous Ginza Bars and he helps me shop. High five!

That was a smile, a total "only in Tokyo" smile that will not soon be bettered. Later that night we returned to Bar High Five, had another Singapore Sling and talked cocktails/Japan/travel with Mr Ueno, my new shopping buddy.

Last year, Japan was a special gem which seemed to exist for my appreciation. It was a fantasy land, carefree and fun-filled. This year was different, but in a sense it was better. Yes, we escaped our own troubles for a spell, but not those of our Japanese friends and acquaintances. We were in Tokyo for some good times, while also sharing in some bad. With that came a deeper connection to the place and its people. Yes, it was sad, but it was real. That type of experience is not common in my travels, it was a special experience to me. I just wish it had not come at such a price to the Japanese people.


Stay strong, Japan.





EDIT: PS I was directed earlier today to this haunting article about stone markers in Japan.

The tsunami stones are warnings across generations

ANEYOSHI, Japan — The stone tablet has stood on this forested hillside since before they were born, but the villagers have faithfully obeyed the stark warning carved on its weathered face: “Do not build your homes below this point!”







[ This Message was edited by: midnite 2011-04-21 09:35 ]


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aquarj
Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Apr 02, 2002
Posts: 1080
From: SF bay area, CA
Posted: 2011-04-29 5:07 pm   Permalink

Thanks midnites for another trip report! Nice summary of what it felt like to visit at a time like this.

But I couldn't find the NK soldier with binocs.

-Randy


 
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christiki295
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 09, 2003
Posts: 3813
From: LA-2547 mls east Hawaii &5500 Easter Is
Posted: 2011-05-02 07:12 am   Permalink

Quote:

On 2011-04-29 17:07, aquarj wrote:
Thanks midnites for another trip report! Nice summary of what it felt like to visit at a time like this.

But I couldn't find the NK soldier with binocs.

-Randy



Exceptional traveloge!


 
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midnite
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Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 1230
From: 37? 47' N, 122? 26' W
Posted: 2011-05-12 12:35 am   Permalink

Thanks for the kind words, guys. Always nice to hear someone enjoys the rum-soaked ramblings of this rambler. It was indeed a difficult time to visit our favorite country. I really don't think I did justice to the atmosphere in Tokyo. Failing, from lack of eloquence, to convey the sense of visiting soon after the disasters. Things were just, subdued. Uniformly so.

I am very glad we went, though.



The North Korean soldier checking us out? He's right there, the curious Commie:




The drapes are open in the window next to him. That's where more recording devices are set up by NK. Not sure what they think a bunch of goofy tourists have to offer sigint-wise, but they take it all down. The whole place is rather silly. Except for the axe killings and shoot-outs, that is.

Korean BBQ in Korea is really good, better than anything I've eaten here. Makes up for the "Guinness in Ireland is way better" cliche.

I even liked the kimchi!
midnite








 
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pablus
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Joined: Jul 23, 2003
Posts: 2155
From: www.crazedmugs.com
Posted: 2011-05-12 07:12 am   Permalink


Welcome back and thanks for the story and pics.




 
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Trad'r Bill
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Joined: Oct 14, 2008
Posts: 484
From: Hercules, CA
Posted: 2011-05-12 1:31 pm   Permalink

Tasteful way to support the country - nice writeup too... see you at Vic's tonight.

 
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GatorRob
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Joined: Aug 20, 2004
Posts: 1770
From: 3 hrs 33 mins to paradise
Posted: 2011-07-18 2:57 pm   Permalink

I'm considerably late in reading your latest superb trip report, sir midnite. Always an enjoyable read though. I just don't make it over to the Travelin' Tiki forum terribly often. I need an RSS feed on your trip thread.

Keep 'em coming. We're paying attention. Most of the time.


 
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GatorRob
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Joined: Aug 20, 2004
Posts: 1770
From: 3 hrs 33 mins to paradise
Posted: 2011-07-18 3:03 pm   Permalink

And that "NK soldier with the binocs" has to be one of the creepiest pics I've seen in a while. Just... bizarre. It's like they're caught in the Twilight Zone. An alternate universe. Someone needs to tell them the war's over dudes. Ditch the paranoia and join us at Trader Vic's.

 
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midnite
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Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 1230
From: 37? 47' N, 122? 26' W
Posted: 2011-07-28 11:20 pm   Permalink

On 2011-07-18 15:03, GatorRob wrote:
And that "NK soldier with the binocs" has to be one of the creepiest pics I've seen in a while. Just... bizarre. It's like they're caught in the Twilight Zone. An alternate universe. Someone needs to tell them the war's over dudes. Ditch the paranoia and join us at Trader Vic's.



The one photo does not tell enough of the story. The whole place is too tense for words, bordering on lunacy, really. One starts the tour of the JSA at the Korea Freedom Building. This is where I was standing and took the photo of the NK chap looking at me. The building is huge, ornate, and practically unused for its initial purpose of family unification. Next to the NK chap with the binocs is usually more guys looking at the same, plenty of listening/recording devices. War's not over to those guys, they're in it to win it.

I'll be at the Tokyo Vic's sipping a Tokyo Sour and lunching on a Club. Life is TOO short.

Just got back from Scottsdale's soon-to-be-departed Trader Vic's. Sayanora, Vic's. No snappies worth posting, no stories to tell. Someone was right, dead men (or Trader Vic's) tell no tales.

midnite





 
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