We started off our week bright and early, catching a 6:30 train into Tokyo for Yuka’s Monday-morning Visa appointment at the US Embassy. I felt like telling her about online application for an Amazon.com Visa, which gives you a decision in roughly 30 seconds, but I refrained. On the train ride into the city, we happened to spot Fuji-san for the first time this trip, looking majestic as always. When we got off the train, we found a nice little coffee shop around the corner from the embassy to have some coffee and breakfast, and I stayed there and read while she went to the appointment, which ended up taking about two and a half hours-more than two hours, fifteen minutes in a waiting room, and barely ten minutes of interview, at best. Once that was over, we made our leisurely way through town, passing through a shrine and by a couple temples on the way to Tokyo Tower. We didn’t go up to the observation deck this time; even if we had wanted to, the tourist crowd was too thick for comfort. Instead, we walked through the little park nearby where I asked her to marry me nearly two years ago. We found the same spot, and I hit a knee, took her hand in mine, and asked if she still wanted to marry me. “Hmm. I guess,” she said with a laugh. Works for me.
We hopped on another train, which took us out to the Tokyo Bay area. Apparently the little islands in the bay were built on landfills, so the mall we spent our afternoon wandering through was basically sitting on a huge pile of trash. We ate a late lunch at a nice little Indian place in that mall, then went and took each other’s pictures with the scaled-down Statue of Liberty on the waterfront. We both agreed that Tokyo’s version of Lady Liberty looks a little more bloated than the original back in NYC. We chalked it up to typical Japanese perceptions of Americans. More than once on this visit, I’ve heard the term “American-sized” used to refer to oversized products. I wish I could take these people to Costco; that store would probably blow their minds!
We stuck around long enough to see Tokyo Tower get all lit up as part of its 50-year anniversary celebration, followed shortly by the lighting up of the bridge over the bay in rainbow colors. The view was great, but the only pictures we got were taken with my cell phone, as Yuka’s camera battery seems to have reached its end, and I left the charger for my camera in LA. Oh well.
As soon as we walked back into her house, (conveniently very close to the train station), we were told that Yuka’s uncle wanted to take us out for sushi, so we should hop back on the train up to Utsunomiya. We turned right around and got back on the train, and were soon retrieved from the station by her uncle (father of the young man who works in the ramen shop we visited the other evening), who took us to the best sushi shop in Utsunomiya (possibly the whole prefecture?) for dinner. We sat at the sushi bar and had the chef just roll out all of the day’s recommended items, which ended up keeping us eating for a good hour or so. Only a few pieces came that I wasn’t sure I would be able to stomach, and all but one of those were actually pretty good. The one piece, though, really made me work hard against my gag reflex, and I nearly lost that battle. It was a slimy white fish eggs sort of piece that was just too much. Aside from that, it was all very delicious sashimi, including the (avert your eyes, PETA-friendly friends) kujira-whale. It was an excellent and probably very expensive meal that her uncle seemed very happy to treat us to. He and the owner of the place, who is also the head sushi chef and an avid surfer, are apparently pretty good friends.
All in all, it was a very nice day. Today we took it easy, going back to Utsunomiya to help prepare Obaa-chan’s house for a nice family New Year’s celebration. Yuka and I had lunch with an Utsunomiya friend I first met at the conference I came to in LA two and a half years ago. He had been in LA again in April and joined me and some other friends for some decent ramen, as authentic as you can get in LA (pretty authentic), and told me to call when I come to Japan. It was a nice lunch with pleasant conversation.
After an afternoon nap followed by a thorough deep-cleaning of Obaa-chan’s home, Yuka’s other uncle took us all out for burgers, Japanese style. As the family’s heir apparent, he shares the house we cleaned with Obaa-chan, and seemed thrilled that the handful of us had pitched in to get the job done. The burgers were fantastic-Aussie beef-and we ran the waitress to death with requests for refills on drinks and rice. She would’ve really earned her tip, in my opinion, if only tipping was practiced here. Another excellent meal in great company, and now we’re home to get some rest, so we can get right back into it tomorrow.