8 AM: Breakfast, included with my room, turns out to be a beautiful buffet of both Japanese and Western foods. I chuckle at what seems to be the Western selection: scrambled eggs, sausage, French fries, and spaghetti. Instead, I assemble lots of little savory Japanese bites.
Clockwise from top of plate: cold tofu with dashi broth, a mini steamed bao that tastes like Thanksgiving stuffing, a pork shumai, salted salmon, cabbage slaw, steamed broccoli, kinpira gobo (carrot and burdock), and what tastes like mashed sweet yams with bits of konnyaku, carrot, and leafy greens. With a bowl of miso soup and some pickles, I’m all set. I love how many vegetables I can fit into breakfast here.
Also the restaurant seems to be playing the same instrumental song on repeat. I don’t know how the staff can bear it.
10 AM: Wandering the streets around the hotel. I like planned trips, but my favorite way to travel alone is to wander without any schedule, exploring whatever neighborhood I’ve found myself in.
It’s a stunning day, crisp air and bright blue skies. Hotel Garden Palace sits in what seems to be a small town with many little cabbage farms. This morning, the streets are quiet but for the occasional bicyclist. After strolling the residential area awhile, I find myself at a larger avenue, where I discover marts and markets, little eateries, and – thank goodness – a McDonald’s. (Kidding, kidding.)
Also, how funny is this pizza place? Named for, of course, the American state most known for its pizza.
12 PM: I head back to the hotel to do some work, but fall asleep again once I reach my room.
2 PM: zzzzzzzz
4 PM: I figure I better try to stop sleeping, so I take another walk, with the vague idea that I should go investigate a noodle house I noticed earlier. The cheerful red banners all shouting “UDON! UDON!” seemed like a sign I should not ignore.
Since the hotel staff start to speak English as soon as they realize I’m American, this is my first attempt on the trip to navigate a whole meal in my halting Japanese. I’m comforted by the fact that I’ve never met an udon noodle I couldn’t eat, and I have enough cash. Unless I manage to irreparably offend the staff, I should survive dinner.
I sit down at the bar and study the menu for an unduly long time, picking apart the letters and words I know. After some conversation with the waitress, I’m delighted to receive exactly what I expected. Points to me! I happily eat my udon noodles, thinly sliced pork, and fried tofu, with wodges of green onions bobbing around in the rich meaty broth.
After leaving the udon shop, I see another sign I can’t ignore. This time I can’t read the kanji, but I can read the French, and it’s telling me to eat cake. The shop sells bite-sized, exquisitely decorated sweets: sticky rice, sweet beans, cakes, and custards, many of which cost only about a dollar. After you make a purchase, the cashier personally accompanies you all the way out of the store, and bows formally to thank you for your business outside the front door. I wonder what they do if the shop gets busy.
I buy three dollars’ worth of treats: a little white bean-stuffed manju cake, a shortbread-like cookie with a bit of chocolate cream in the middle, and a tiny pudding flavored with black tea. For even just a single pudding worth a dollar, I receive a perfectly-sized takeaway box, complete with mini spoon, and – get this – an individual disposable ice pack. Amazing.
6 PM: Walking back to the hotel, which I know is within a ten minute radius, but the route I take is…perhaps not the most efficient. Hush, reader. I can hear you snickering. I’m not lost. I just don’t know exactly where I am.
Through some grid searching on foot, I make it back in time to welcome the rest of my party from Hawaii!
8 PM: Visiting with my mom and grandparents while they dine after their flight. The menu lists “flesh salad” as a side dish served with their “hamburg.” Engrish is the best.
10 PM: I try and catch up on some blogging, before finally letting myself go back to sleep around 1AM. Tomorrow our Japanese adventure will truly begin!