For a serious people-watcher and first-time visitor to Asia, this past month in Tokyo has felt like an extended stay in one big amusement park. As an honorary Griffen last week– my last full one in Japan– Tim, Suz, and Heidi went all out to complete my total Tokyo experience, hitting as many unusual, traditional, and entertaining spots as possible.
My first day with them, we went to a cultural fair that featured traditional Japanese dancers and drummers and food stalls from all over the world.
Then we went on a spin the through the city, stopping to look at the Imperial Palace, detached prince’s palace, and a typical Japanese electronic store… and still made it back in time to watch the London Marathon with Suz.
(As a side note, Suz is a self-proclaimed running nerd, a fellow LetsRun fanatic, and the ideal host for a slightly banged-up athlete. Spin bike? Check. Foam roller? Check. Very obscure spiky ball used to break up fascia in a foot? Check! Largely thanks to her and her family’s extensive running resources, I’m feeling good and think I sorted my calf out before it got too feisty.)
On a nice afternoon, Suz took me on a walking tour of their neighborhood, casually stopping at the Tokyo Tower to get a 360 degree view of sprawling Tokyo…
and then wandering around a pretty little garden and a moving shrine where families of deceased children grieve and pray.
I mentioned the Griffens’ annual sushi party in an earlier post, but one mention hardly does it justice. The memory of that dinner will taunt my tastebuds for a very long time (until I sneak back over here for the 2014 party, that is!)
Early one morning, I got to see the source of that spectacular spread on an insider’s tour of Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market that employs 65,000 people and brings in 7-8 billion U.S. dollars each year. Over the past twenty years, Tim has befriended some wholesale vendors so was able to slip me through some of the usually closed-to-visitor areas and show me all over the incredibly productive chaos that is Tsukiji.
The Griffens also took me to a few great restaurants including an izakaya place, an amazing bakery, and Heidi’s favorite ramen spot, and rescued me from ever having to try to decipher a Japanese menu. Even if I spoke fluent Japanese, however, I still wouldn’t have interfered with their impeccable taste in all things edible.
Their food expertise extends beyond ordering, however, as Suz proved through an awesome seafood risotto and Tim demonstrated with his world-famous pizza. He’s known for creating some crazy concoctions like pumpkin curry pizza and Japanese pizza, and treated us to Mega Veggie and Thai Chicken varieties one night.
One night they joined me and a former Watson Fellow for dinner and another former fellow’s jazz concert in the Park Hyatt Hotel, which you might recognize from Lost in Translation. I found it awesome that both guys moved to Tokyo after spending part of their fellowships here and are still very involved with their Watson projects (Andre looked at Japanese gardens and is now getting his PhD in Japanese history, and Kevin studied music-making in urban settings and now makes a living doing just that).
Another highlight of my week was visiting Susan and Heidi’s favorite onsen and experiencing fish therapy for the first time.
I might have squealed spontaneously for the full fifteen minutes…
But at least I was in good company!
So I guess it’s official– I’ve been literally and figuratively tickled by Tokyo. Thanks, Griffen clan, for whisking me all around this spectacular city and filling me with fascinating tidbits about Japan, seafood, architecture, and radish-plucking devices and such. My future house guests will owe y’all for showing me what a supremely generous, fun, and gracious host family looks like, and I’m hoping that will be you in not too long!