26 August Yokohama, a gourmet lunch, an all-comers record, and a trip round the bay
Stephen had to go to work this Sunday morning, one of the penalties of being a teacher in a private school when prospective parents have to be wooed. Val and I (OK, mainly Val) took the opportunity to pack as much as possible for our return tomorrow. The reality sank in: this was to be our last full day in Japan. How the days had flown by!
Stephen returned around mid-day, and the four of us took the train to Yokohama. Stepping out of the train, we walked the short distance to Minato Mirai 21 (Future world). This is a colossal shopping, office and leisure complex, opened in the last couple of years. Alongside the Landmark Tower, Japans tallest building, is a historic sailing ship, a reminder that Yokohama historically has made its living as Japans major port.
We entered the Landmark Tower at ground-floor level, taking the stairs to the basement level. We were feeling hungry, and after a brief flirtation with an American hamburger joint (discovering it would be over half an hour before a table was available) we found a sushi restaurant. Surprisingly, we had not so far been in a specialist sushi restaurant. The restaurant turned out to be owned by Mr Watanabe. He is a Japanese celebrity chef, a winner of the prestigious televised Iron Chef competition. As luck would have it, the great man was present and personally made up some of the wonderfully delicious nigiri and other delicacies we ordered.
Val had her photo taken with him, and his autograph was secured. The manager/chef of the restaurant was meanwhile busy with spines he had taken from some fish or other. With deft strokes, he feathered them to make very delicate and fine-looking toothpicks, elegant enough to double as a brooch. He shyly presented a sheaf of five of them to Val, who was quite charmed.
Having feasted on these fine foods (I am a devotee of raw tuna maguro - now), we bought tickets for the fastest lift in the world to the sky garden on the 69th floor of the Landmark Tower. There were fine panoramic views, looking down on the sailing vessel, and watching the sightseeing boats cruising in the harbour. Everything seemed tiny, reminiscent of Madurodam, the model town we had visited in Holland some years ago. Stephen hired some binoculars, which were useful. But even without their aid, we could see across to the stadium that will host the World Cup Final in June 2002.
For the benefit of any Americans who have persevered thus far, the World Cup - the international Association Football (Soccer) Championship - is arguably the biggest sporting event on the planet, at least in terms of television spectators. The Summer Olympics is in the same league. It is the cause of some derision in the world outside the USA that they call their domestic Baseball championship the World Series, when it is only commercially-franchised American clubs that can take part. Of course, other than Japan, no other country (correct me if I am wrong) plays or follows baseball at the professional level, so a true World championship is an impossibility. But then, baseball is only rounders writ large.....
Apart from the bars and cafés ringing the 69th floor, there was an area where a crowd, with evident enjoyment, were watching a lone performing chimpanzee jumping over hurdles on stilts. It was - I hope - his handlers commentary that caused the merriment, for I thought the sight rather pathetic.
Val saw none of this. Acting as Her Britannic Majestys unofficial Champion, she had limbered up and taken herself off to the ladies loo at the top of this Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan. She is thus joint holder of the All-comers highest use of a toilet in Japan title. [Pause for fanfare.]
Eventually, after a second circuit of the observation platform, we descended via the fastest downward lift in the world, to ground level. Everything was back to normal size.
We walked through wide pedestrian boulevards flanked by fountains and water features, passing the Yokohama Street Musician of the Year 2002 contest, where a succession of earnest Bob Dylan sound-a-likes performed earnest Japanese songs for an earnest, sparse, though appreciative, audience. We eventually arrived at a large store called the Sports Authority. Here we bought Japanese national football shirts as presents for Adrian and Christopher, our two younger sons, back in Blighty. Later, Stephen demonstrated the Japanese footballers Gut Pose wearing Nakayama's No 11 shirt. (Nakayama is the, er, Beckham or Ronaldo of Japan.)
Entering another shopping mall (Japan is full of em) we stopped for a while to hear a school band play - to a high standard - selections from The Sound of Music. We took a taxi down towards the seafront, and found a café where we sat on the patio overlooking the bay and supped long refreshing drinks while fending off a hopeful cat on the scrounge.
We walked down through a small park, and joined the many couples walking romantically along the promenade. Night was falling fast, and we could hear the occasional romantic splash of those jumping fish. We walked romantically along and on the spur of the moment, bought tickets for a romantic round the bay evening cruise. We sat on the upper deck of the boat, while below us, there were several fully-booked restaurants serving delicious-smelling food to their customers who had had the forethought to book a meal in advance. At least we could buy drinks.
The boat stopped a couple of times, and other passengers embarked. A party of jolly middle-aged women boarded at one point and immediately got stuck into the booze. There was great hilarity and banter between them. Yasuko was eventually able to decipher their peculiar accent, and discovered that they were former pupils at an elementary school in the remote north of Hokkaido, who had met for a girls weekend reunion in Yokohama. The cruise showed us the skyline at night, and was good value.
Eventually disembarking, we walked inland into Yokohamas Chinatown. This is a very Chinese Chinatown, and has been such for over 150 years. Quite a number of the restaurants were closed or closing, but we eventually found one still open and ordered a meal, complete with Chinese rice wine. The meal was exceedingly good, but the wine was something else. It had an aroma of - sorry about this, folks - ancient, sweaty socks, with an overtone of over-ripe Brie cheese. It actually tasted better than it smelt, rather whisky-ish. Wisely, Val stuck to Coca-Cola.
We took the very last train home, and walked from Myoden station towards Stephen and Yasukos apartment. This took us past the Gusto family restaurant. For symmetry, since Stephen and I had eaten there on our first day, we went in for a nightcap. 22 days had just flown by. In a sad, though celebratory, mood, we went home.
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