Twice I have visited Tokyo. Each time I have travelled to and from alone, but each time I have spent a portion of my visits with friends. It’s a nice balance, and especially by the end of my second, much longer visit I was grateful for some company, some familiar faces.
We met in Harajuku, two Hawaii transplants living in Japan, two Hawaii residents just visiting. It was a few nights after New Years Eve and the streets were packed with young and old, so much that the pedestrian bridges had been blocked off for fear of someone accidentally being shoved over (or so we theorized). The days after New Years are a busy time in Japan, with everyone traveling to the temples to pay their regards. Colored balloons formed giant heart shapes. Bare winter trees were covered in white lights. Along the sidewalks were food stalls, and we jostled through the crowd to try beautiful fried potatoes cut in a spiral. I regret not having a photograph of that.
I hadn’t been to Harajuku before. We ducked into a colorful store piled high with character goods, narrow aisles made more claustrophobic by the crowd. Back on the sidewalk we randomly encountered one of my friends’ classmates, and he joined us on the search for food.
This search was not an aimless one– my friends had a particular restaurant in mind, and we wandered for blocks spouting a more adult version of “are we there yet?” as she insisted that it had to be just this next aisle, maybe.. When we found the place, the wait was longer even than the search, and we shivered as we sat on a bench beside a sliding door, scowling silently at the people gliding in and out. We were shown to our table at last, a big metal grill at the center, and bent our heads over the menu to decide on our dinner.
We’d come for the monjayaki, it was just a matter of deciding what we wanted in it. We placed our order, and not long after the server brought our bowl of ingredients. It’s a self-make sort of food, quite similar to okonomiyaki, but we were a bit clueless as to how to cook it so persuaded the server to demonstrate. I can’t explain much better than the video my friend made of our delicious experience:
The dessert monjayaki was delicious. Both it and the dinner course were eaten straight off the grill with tiny spatulas. Theoretically, you would press your spatula against a bit of food until it stuck then bring it to your mouth. I became impatient and started using mine as a shovel.
I knew I couldn’t stay much longer for fear of missing the last train home, but as we left the restaurant I made a final request. I’d seen them all over on my trip, but now that I had a group I could no longer resist the Purikura photo booths. Much more sophisticated than your run of the mill photo booth, Purikura are so popular in Japan that you’ll find entire arcades filled with different ones specializing in different looks. He found a large enough group to cram all of us in and began frantically mugging for the camera. Once the shots had been taken, we hurried over to the processing booth, where the real fun began. My friends were the pros, so I let them take over in adding decorations to each photo, adorning them with hearts and smiley faces and cheerful bubble letters spelling out Happy New Year! The filters even beautified us, giving us flawless skin and big bright eyes (the guys weren’t as thrilled for this). At the end we each were printed off our own wallet sized copy, a memento to our night in Harajuku.