Japan: One Man’s Hari Kari and the Ritual of Soju

Our last day in Japan was a bit of bust. Our plan for the day blew up in our face, but we did go on to have some successes. One of the highlights was breakfast, which we had at another little spot the boys found when they were out exploring. It was another quaintly Japanese place, with all manner of lanterns decorating the outside, and a long row of tables across from bar seating inside.

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It was a family run operation, father/son/wife, and the father could not have been any fucking cuter had he tried. There was a fantastic poster of him on the wall behind Mikey, so I got to delight in his face throughout the meal. He was curious about us as well; he chatted us up and introduced us to his family, then he strapped on a scooter helmet and took off on an ice run.

They gave us some options in broken English…I can’t remember now if we chose one or if we just asked them to choose for us. I still don’t really know what we ate there, but a spectacular assortment of dishes soon arrived.

We headed back to the hotel to do a quick load of laundry in the Sunlines pay-machines. It ended up being not so quick at all, and there were issues with our room heat/AC, so by the time we finished, we were heading out for our day trip to Hiroshima pretty late. It must have been around 1:00.

I had read beforehand that the trip would cost us about $15/pp. The Sunline could not be better positioned to facilitate train trips around Japan, Hakata station being virtually next door to the hotel.

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We got to the station and found the ticket counter, where we expressed our desire for a one day round trip ticket to Hiroshima. The ticket agent seemed amused and a little surprised, which we thought was odd at the time, but he held up his little calculator with his yen computation, we made our purchase, and then we ran for our train which was approaching. As we were literally stepping on to the train, Mikey was struck with the realization that we had paid $150/pp, not $15/pp. See that’s the tricky thing when you go from Korea to Japan, the conversion in Korea is 1000 to 1, in Japan 100 to 1. It’s quite easy to revert to Korea when you are in fact, in Japan.

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We all panicked and ran through the station, randomly yelling at different employees that we had made a very big mistake and we need our money back. I think we may have even appealed to the janitor. It was so ridiculous. Finally we made our way back to our ticket guy, who saw us and cringed, then we tried to explain our mistake and he just kind of stared at us like he was willing us to go away. A patron at a neighboring counter came to our aid as translator. We could see the moment of understanding on the poor ticket guys face. He refunded us our money, looking like he might throw up the whole time, and as we walked away, he stood, and slowly lowered his curtain, his head hung low. Pretty sure he knifed himself in the stomach after that, having shamed himself and his family.

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Our plan for the day ruined, we hopped in a cab for Canal City, a 1980’s shopping mall that used be the business in Tenjin but is now just a lame mall with a cheesy canal running through the center of it.

We went in search of “ramen stadium” where there was said to be a collection of some of the country’s best ramen spots, all in one place. We found it, but our bowl of ramen there was sub par compared to Ichiran, once again. We did chose a place without a line, so I’m sure there were better bowls available, but ours was just meh.

That was about all there was at Canal city that was of interest. We wandered through it for a while, but honestly, it was just a bunch of stores that we have in San Francisco, except everything was double the price.

Bored, we walked through that long row of shops again-the one that spans at least half a mile from block to block to block. Really we were looking for a bar, but there just weren’t any. Every place that sold alcohol was a restaurant. So we just kept plugging along until we saw a “British” pub with an outdoor patio, along the edge of the water. We took residence there for a few hours, just to kill some time, basically. We come to find, over and over and over, that nowhere in the world seems to be able to make a cocktail like America; I’m sure fancy spots and hotel bars do, but the average bar? Not happening. After one gross soju screwdriver, we just stuck with the straight stuff, and more out of boredom than anything, an order of chili cheese fries.

Eventually we decided to seek out some Japanese curry. We caught the most literal of pink panther cabs (bright pink!) piloted by our first, and I think only, female cab driver in Asia, and headed to Curry Club Ruu.

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I had read it was the best, and also that you can buy their curry to take home. It was the cutest damn spot. A long counter views the open kitchen, inside which was a long haired, bespectacled, Japanese hipster (the only employee in the place) and a bubbling pot of curry, waiting for takers.

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There were laminated menus, but also, a board with some neon cartoonness and the phrase “top 3” in English, but everything else…your guess is as good as mine.

We ordered their two most popular/written about dishes, the chicken namban and the cheese curry. Chicken namban has its origins in Kyushu province and is a rare find (made properly) elsewhere. Curry Club Ruu is known for theirs; a type of fried chicken that came with curry over rice and a cabbage salad. We were treated to a nice little bowl of broth to start, while the hipster went to work preparing our dishes, browning the top of our cheese dish with a torch. Once he served us he worked hard to politely avert his eyes, through truly there was nothing else to look at but us. We loved the curry; like, licked the plates clean kind of loved. I tried to buy some to take home but it required refrigeration. I understand it is available online but I can’t seem to find their website for some reason.

From there we walked back to Tenjin, passing rows of yatai on the streets, to the standing bar. I found a photo of the front, though kadoya doesn’t seem to be the name, if you are in Tenjin you may at least recognize the façade.

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We abandoned the boys in search of cheap Japanese cosmetics and instead landed ourselves in an absurdly expensive japanese cosmetic emporium. Maybe we weren’t going to buy anything, but the opportunity for amusement was endless with all of the bizarre offerings.

By the time we made it back to standing bar, the boys had made friends and were getting a tutorial on how to properly pour soju for someone and also how to accept said soju if you are the receiver. The soju administrator fills the little soju cup with ice, then the receiver holds the cup, cradled in both hands, while the administrator pours the soju in there. We went through this song and dance a few times, since there was a language barrier, all we could really do is keep pantonmiming and showing we understood the soju ritual.

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Standing bar is apparently a yakuza hangout. When two old yakuza dudes showed up, the amount of reverence they were shown made it quite clear they were legit (as did their cover-all clothing). On our way out I passed an old dude who was in turtlenecked spandex, from head to toe. I decided he was the grand wizard or whatever applicable term those guys use.

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Our last stop for the day was our beloved sushi spot. After about ten minutes our adorable Chinese server appeared, though we knew it was his day off. They called him in just to deal with us. Sorry about that bud. We started with these fried cheese bites, filled with hot, gooey, flavored camembert. I know it’s just fried cheese, but the batter was quite delicate and also, fried cheese is always awesome.

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Next up was our repeat order of the chicken stuffed fried rolls, the thought of which makes my eyes roll into the back of my head.

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We also got to try horse meat, which we had in sausage form in Budapest, but here we had the opportunity to eat it raw. It was fairly tough and a little…gamey? I’m not sure that’s the right word, but it did have a unique flavor to it.

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We got a platter of sushi that was absolutely delectable. It made me really understand the whole concept of sushi rice, wherein chefs train for something like three years just to learn to make the rice before they are allowed to even look at fish. In Japan, this is no joke, and it makes the sushi a whole different thing, where you can truly feel each individual grain of rice in your mouth.

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The fish, of course, was sliced to perfection. It was soft, and buttery. My teeth just bit clean through it. There was none of that nonsense where the whole slice comes off and chokes you on its way down.

Our server came over then, and said “my master would like to offer you something.” He left and returned with the most airy tempura battered onion rings. They were like light little puffs of onion cloud. We were honored that they weren’t just enduring our visit, but enjoying it.

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When we left there were huge smiles all around (even from the serious mask wearer) accompanied by lots of bowing and laughing and heartfelt goodbyes.

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2 Comments

  1. Sparky

    I wonder if the cost of that trip to Hiroshima was, in any way, negotiable. What a shame to miss that opportunity. Was that option explored?

    1. postandjones

      It wasn’t. It was such a fiasco to even communicate that we wanted a refund, and the train had already left, and it was later in the day and the journey would have taken two hours, so we just kind of gave up. It’s my one big regret from the trip. Had I realized I would have budgeted for it ahead of time:(

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