A Whirlwind Trip To Tokyo, Japan

Tuesday - Hachioji

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Tuesday started with the alarm going off about an hour before the planned 8:00 AM breakfast meeting. I woke at about 4:00 AM after going to sleep at about 11:15 PM or so - given that I've got 13 hours of jet lag, that didn't seem too bad. The view out my window shows both the railroad station and the more industrial side of Hachioji

The breakfast was a huge buffet with both an American and Japanese side. I opted for the Japanese.. lots of veggie (but otherwise unidentifiable) dishes and an interesting hot & sweet beef. I ignored the American buffet - it was mostly fatty bacon & sausage, etc, plus some scrambled eggs loose enough to pour yourself a glass.

Our trip to the business location was a 15-minute cab ride, and provided my first daylight look at Hachioji. Along the route we took, it looked pretty heavily industrialized, with a density of construction like Queens... only cleaner. They drive here on the left, of course, and in some cars that are pretty small by US standards... but that's what  $4/gallon gas will do to you.

The time (and date!) difference between New York and Tokyo will pose some challenges. This morning was busy with a series of meetings, and by the time we broke for a late lunch it was already 1:20 AM (tomorrow) back home, a bit late for a phone call. From my limited experience so far, Japan looks like a manageable place, even for a tourist with no Japanese. Of course, my experience thus far is *very * limited. Lunch with our business associates in their company cafeteria was a blast. Sadly, photos were prohibited on-site, but it was more feel and karma of the experience; in a photo, all you'd see would be a drab, crowded, cafeteria anyway.

The office complex where our partner company was located consisted of a large complex with many buildings, a departure from the othewise drab décor (or lack thereof) took the form of a garden in front with flowers and fish pond. Generally, though, the place looked a bit gloomy - functional, but surely not decorative... reminiscent of what you'd have found in the United States in the 1960s. After a morning of meeting, we headed to the company cafeteria where I had a lunch of tea, miso soup, some sort of fish dish, and rice (of course). I was complimented on my use of hashi. The engineers we were meeting with seemed more than a bit curious about *why* I'm interested in Japan; apparently Americans are generally though of here as believing the United States to be the center of the universe, so I'm viewed as something of a curiosity.

At Mariko's request, I'd brought along several brands of pretzels that she was fond of, but which were unavailable in Japan. She reciprocated with some rice-based snacks - one of which had a rum coating and a warning label in Japanese that she swore cautioned against driving after eating them.

She also mentioned that she'd worked out the details for my ryokan visit - I'll drop my bags on Friday morning, spend the day exploring, and return for dinner. Saturday will include breakfast and then a day of exploring, including finding meals on my own. Sunday, I'll fake breakfast at the airport and then try to get some sleep on the flight.

After work, but before dinner, we quickly stopped off at a high-tech store where one of our party needed to make a purchase. The place consisted of at least six levels, with every high-tech device known to man, from CD players to white appliances to tabletop dishwashers, to digital cameras, to flat-panel TVs, to Pokemon cards.

Dinner was at a place the others from Symbol knew of, called Ukai-Tei. I'm not sure what it translates to, but if you saw it, your impression would be that this is where Benihana  got the idea; its a Japanese Steakhouse, but this place seemed... well, authentic (duhhh). Lots of wood, at least three levels, beautiful combinations of foliage and stonework on the grounds, and the entire place was atop a hill looking down on downtown Hachioji.

I opted for the Kobi Beef, as an experiment. My take on it was that its darn good, but not dramatically better than a good quality steak in a good quality steakhouse. If this makes me a western barbarian, so be it. One of our party inadvertantly ordered Sushi Steak - thin slivers of raw steak. He ate one before, gaijin that he is, he asked the chef to cook it. When ordering from a Japanese only menu with the assistance of a waiter who has almost no english, the process becomes sort of a cross between an adventure and a unique cultural experience.

For example, my appetizer; a slice of fish grilled in front of me, was accompanied by three ivory-colored spheres. They tasted a bit like potato, which would make this the Japanese equivalent of gnocchi. I asked the chef what they were, and in a thick accent, he replied... 'gnocchi'.

Desserts were yummy, too - mine was chiffon pie in a lemon sauce, with what was described as a cheese topping covered with toasted nuts. The 'cheese' turned out to be whipped cream - making the whole thing a pretty good combination. Part of the tradition is to move to a second, more cozy area for dessert... an idea us westerners would do well to adopt.

Tomorrow, post meeting, we're taking our partners out to dinner at a restaurant of their choosing, which should be interesting.

We returned to the hotel room fairly late and, being as tired as I was, I missed the opportunity to call back home and catch people early in the business day. One of the features of the hotel room I neglected to mention earlier was a high-tech toilet seat. It detects the presence of someone sitting on it, regularly circulating water in the bowl when an occupant is present, and can be converted with the push of a button into either of two types of bidets (male and female?), along with a 'throttle' control. Sadly, the idea of making a Quicktime movie of the sprinkler head in action came to me only after I'd left.
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