yokohama's chukagai : january 08
Christmas Day 2000. Before you dismiss this entry thinking I already talked about it previously, take heed that this is something new. You may recall the Millenario (Christmas Night 2000) entry from last week but that's what I did Christmas Night 2000.
Christmas Day is a different story....
Woke up with a heavy feeling inside. It's Christmas Day. And what the hell am I doing alone in a hotel room without a man next to me? Snapped on the tv and opened the blinds to see a sunny Tokyo. In the distance, I can see the tops of Mt. Fuji from my 39th floor room. In the foreground, I see the cluster of skyscrapers in Shinjuku reaching towards the hazy blue skies. I know I cannot always wake up to a view like this.
Lucky. That's what I am. Lucky to have gotten a good rate at a 5-star hotel in Akasaka. The New Otani to be exact. Where I would normally never have been able to afford a place like this, my contact in Tokyo was able to pull it off. Luxury and value in one. I may never have a chance like this again.
It's one of those hotels that's like a city within itself. A bit on the old side since it opened in 1969, but still considered to be one of the top notch ones here in Tokyo. The staff must think this bum of a chick must be some rich divorcee. But then again, I look too young to be a divorcee. Ok, I must have a rich Dad. (Those who know me in real life are rolling on the floor by now because they all know I'm dirt poor!) Or perhaps I'm one of those kept women - but then there's no way I could be given my unsightly looks and figure. I think the hotel staff pities me. They see me walk about by myself all the time, and especially during this time of year when the hotel is booked full of couples on a Christmas getaway, I stand out like Geisha without a Memoir.
The hotel houses more than 30 restaurants but all of them, including the coffee shop have prices that only the Rich and Famous can afford. I picked up their Christmas set menu dinner for all their restaurants. Meals BEGIN at 8,000 Yen and reach skywards of 350,000 Yen. <gulp> So ok, although I can't afford to eat a decent meal here, I can take full advantage of their fluffy white robes, their cotton yukatas for sleeping and lounging in, free English newspapers delivered daily to my door and their private hot water dispenser for making my instant soups and green tea. And of course, there are slippers, shampoo, conditioner, body soap, hand soap, razors for the taking too. In fact, they even have high speed internet access in the room......if I had a computer that is.
Every night I look out the window and I cannot imagine myself being anywhere else. I peer upwards toward the 40th floor. It's the highest floor and there's a couple restaurants including a bar up there. I see people sitting by the window sill looking down at me. I wonder what would happen if I began stripping. Just a thought. I considered going up to the 40th floor to get a drink and look at the view. But fuck, the view's going to be the same one floor down right? Besides, I can sit here and watch tv, look at the view and not have to deal with horny men looking for a Christmas fuck. I've been out of the dating loop too long now. I don't even know how to talk to men anymore. Not that I ever did really. And no more Arabic Octopus men for me on this trip. Please.
So, it's Christmas Day. And I'm watching a cooking show on tv. I feel dejected. No tree. No presents. No Ho-Ho-Ho. Where should I go today? The Japanese don't observe Christmas as a National Holiday, so everything will be opened and bustling as usual. I shower and remembered that I haven't called home in 3 days. I forgot I have a family at all. I feel like an orphan.
K picks up the phone. He's so happy to hear my voice. He tells me they are all leaving to go to my friend's house in 30 minutes for a Christmas Eve get together. I begin to cry. I miss them but it was my choice to be in Japan. So I should be lucky to be here during the holidays and to experience it like a local, except for the 5 star hotel bit.
40 minutes later I was on a subway train to Tokyo Station. Spurned on by a recent article I read on Yokohama's Chinatown and by K's goading, I decided that's where I'll spend my Christmas Day at. How odd that I rarely go to Chinatown here in Los Angeles and go to Little Tokyo much more often - but now that I'm in Japan, I choose to go to Chinatown. Strange. Maybe it's because I miss Chinese food.
I take the Chuo/Sobu rapid line. It's fast. It skips alot of stops except for a few that are marked. Don't ever take the rapid line if you're not sure if it's going to stop at your station or not. No one's going to pity you for being so dumb. It pulls into Tokyo Station. As big as it is, I find the correct platform to take the Keihin-Tohoku/Negishi Line train down to Yokohama.
Most of you don't know Yokohama. Sure, you've heard of the TIRES named Yokohama, but do you know anything about the city? It happens to be Japan's second most populated city, right behind Tokyo and followed by Osaka in third place. It's also home to Japan's largest Chinatown.
It takes 45 minutes before I hit my destination stop, Kannai. Chinatown is about a 15 minutes walk from the Kannai Station and is actually located in between Kannai Station and Ishikawacho Station. If you ever visit it, I'd suggest you take the next stop, Ishikawacho Station since it's much closer to Chinatown (as I later found out). I hop off and look at the local street map inside the subway station.
Everyone looks at the giant posted street maps in Japan. It's a huge place and addresses are not easily found unless you're truly familiar with the city. But I noticed on many an occasion when I'm standing at these wall maps that other Tokyo-ites will also converge there to find their destination point too. Given the numerous exits any subway station may have, it's best to check the map before going forth or else you'll end up much farther from your destination point than intended. And sometimes, that's not a very good thing. So although I didn't want to stand out looking like a foreigner at first, I found that everyone looks at the maps on the walls. I just don't whip out my road atlas in plain view of the public that's all.
So I plan my route. It's obviously past the Yokohama Stadium and I should hang a left, then a right and then I should weave in some streets and it should be there somewhere. If it's a big place, I should find it. I have to admit and I know I'm not being humble here but I have very good directional skills. It's better than all my guy friends and well, I'm just a fucking GPS.
I follow my gut instinct and 12-14 minutes later, I arrive at a street full of Chinese signs. I think that's a clue. I proceed further and see a giant red Chinesey kind of gate before me. More Chinese shops line the streets and before I knew it, it was the real thing right before me. And it is BIG my friends. Chukagai as it is known in Japanese is similar to the one in San Francisco, except less hubbub, less garbage lying about, no hills and all the restaurants here have those plastic displays in the window. I look around and I notice the giant red gates are dotted throughout all the main thoroughfares leading in and out of Chinatown. They are red of course and are ornately fashioned with gold and turquoise colors. Dragons, phoenixes and such adorn the poles and even the lights that line the streets are reminiscent of days gone past. People are out and about. Most of them are here for food, as the Japanese have a penchant for Chinese cuisine. They are here in particular for all those giant pork buns. No, not charsiu baos mind you, but a bigger bao that has steamed pork, veggies and such inside. They call it, buta man. Every few stores lined up along the streets have a giant steamer on the very outer periphery of the store with a person manning it. People line up all around for the buta mans. It was certainly a sight to see, especially on a chilly winter afternoon. I stopped to watch several groups of people buy these buta mans and munch on them with relish. Hot steaming buta mans.....better than sex you know?
Also readily available every few stores or so are chestnut roasters. Nothing quite brings me back to the first time that I was in Japan at the age of 5 than roasted chestnuts. Here, you can watch the person roasting chestnuts within its large circular roaster and bagging them up for people. Hot, roasted, chestnuts that you crack open and pop into your mouth as you watch the steam rising from its core. Nutty, slightly sweet, soft. Delicious.
Their Chukagai is slightly Japanese-fied. There are shops selling meat, fish, Chinese canned goods, vegetables and herbal medicine of course, but I don't hear much Chinese spoken. Of course, they don't expect their customers to be Chinese, so they all speak some Japanese. The people are mainly from Northern China, which explains the large amounts of Szechaun and Northern Chinese foods available such as Jia Jiang Mien, Mabo Tofu, and plenty of other spicy dishes. The displays show noodles of all sorts with some seafood or meat topping on it, seafoods in sauces and vegetables, and yamucha (dim sum) being the huge favorite in Japan.
I venture onto smaller alleys being that it is daytime but it grows eerily quiet on the outskirts of Chinatown and I have to remind myself that although I can get away with looking like a local, I am not a local and need to be cautious, especially being a single girl. My stomach is growling being that it is nearing 3pm and I head back onto the main streets looking for food. All of the sudden I stop and listen to some language of familiarity....Mandarin. The Chinese are easy to pick out here since they look very Chinese and their Japanese is heavily accented. But I wasn't about to get all chummy with anyone just because we speak the same tongue.
I pass every single dining establishment and find that all are closed. Restaurants normally take a break in the afternoon after the lunch hour rush and open again nearing dinner time. Just my freakin luck. Just when I want to eat something, they are all closed. Most of them will hang a sign on the door saying that they are closed. Some of the signs on the other hand will say that they are still opened for service. I had a huge craving for jia jiang mien, but I couldn't find one damn place that was opened that had it. Shit! Of course there are buta mans but I wanted a place to sit and rest my tired feet before catching the train back to Tokyo Station for the Millenario event.
I take a look at the local map to see where the Ishikawacho Station was and when I turned around, I spotted a Cafe de Crie in the middle of freakin Chinatown. It was getting cold. I needed food. Certainly didn't want to be sick while here alone. Went in, grabbed a table by plopping my bag down and then went back to order a sando, soup and ice tea. 780 Yen.
I'm within my budget.
I eat and watch a Chinese cook on his afternoon break talking to his girlfriend. They speak Cantonese. She speaks some Japanese too but it's really really poor because I heard her ordering in front of me. The waiter could barely understand her. I also watched the girl at the table next to them. Don't misunderstand, I do not stare. I casually observe without being intrusive. But I observe a lot.
It was a tiny place. But at least I'm here.
I clutch my jacket tight against me as I walk back out into the chilly air. It's getting windy and I head towards Ishikawacho Station. With 560 Yen, I buy myself a ticket back to Tokyo Station. The sun is beginning to set in Yokohama.
And I have to remind myself today is Christmas.
Happy 30th Birthday Felix!