This is me sitting on the stairway/road next to Yasu's house in Iidabashi.
Yasuyuki's home turned out to be quite small, but very comfortable. One thing that surprised me was the complete absence of furniture from his house, with the exception of a few bookcases, a small computer desk and a couple small refrigerators throughout the house, where it seemed he mostly kept water and a few condiments. There was one room that we didn't spend much time in, and it was Yasuyuki's 90-something year old mother, whom we met very briefly. Perhaps there was some furniture and kitchen area in that room but we never found out whether that was the case or not. Upon arriving to the house we removed our shoes, and I went to the bathroom. The way it was set up was very, very different from the United States. There was one curtained area with a sink, a glass door leading through a shower room (as in it was the same as a shower but large, like a room.
Typical squat toilet in public restrooms.
There was this thing that looked kind of like a grill in there (which I assume was meant to be used as a bench for bathing, but again, I am not sure) and a sort of rubber plunger looking thing on top of it (I have no clue what this is used for). There was also a big window, which gave it somewhat of a zen-like feel because of the cool breeze and the beautiful foliage of the trees outside. The toilet area was in a completely different room. It was a tiny room with a pair of little slippers with smiling cats on them exclaiming "toilet!!!". This would have caught us extremely off-guard had we not read a little bit about Japanese culture and manners before our trip. The Japanese are extremely hygienic people, and in Japanese households (and even some public restrooms at really raditional places) you are expected to put on the toilet slippers as soon as you open the bathroom door, and then take them off after you are done, in order to keep all bathroom bacteria that might be on your feet in the bathroom.
One of the VERY basic "Western-style" toilets. I say basic, because there are others with three times as many buttons- scary!!
It took a little getting used to, but if you think about it makes sense. Why would you want to carry germs and dirt from bathrooms into the rest of your home, especially since so many people in Japan spend a lot of the time sitting on the floor, on tatami mats or just sitting on the ground...?
Something else that was pretty quirky and unique about Japanese bathrooms were all of the insanely high-tech toilets. At Yasuyuki's house the toilets were pretty simple compared to other ones we saw throughout our trip, but it was still a lot different from your standard American toilets, in the sense that it had heated seats and it had an alarm button on it, I guess in case Yasuyuki's 90 year old mother needed help of some sort... again, I don't know.
Shoe cubby at traditional restaurant in Japan (you have to take your shoes off before entering).
.. there was also a little sink on top of the toilet, where what would run every time the toilet flushed. I do not know what this was for, but my boyfriend seemed to think that it was there so that you could wash your hands. I didn't really feel comfortable doing that, though, so I would just go to the main bathroom area. A lot of the things I saw in Japan still remain a mystery to me, since I do not speak Japanese and was unable to ask anyone about them. A lot of the toilets that we saw throughout our trip were either one out of two kinds: the squat toilet or the high-tech toilet. The squat toilets were basically just holes in the ground that kind of resembles a bidet, and the high tech ones were simply insane, to an intimidating level.
The entrance to the restaurant.
There were lots of buttons on them , where you could do everything from play music so that no one would be able to hear your bathroom activities, or you could heat your seat, or deodorize the toilet, or there was a bidet option, where you could choose the temperature of the water that would spray out. When I say it was intimidating, I mean it in the sense that if you, for any reason, hit a button by accident, your entire bathroom floor could end up drenched in water. There were other buttons to, but I never figured out what their function was.
Anyways, going back to Yasuyuki's house, it was really small, yet very comfortable. At about 6:30 Yasuyuki told us to be ready in a few minutes because he was going to take us to a traditional Japanese restaurant.
Udon soup with clams and eggs (I think) at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Tokyo.
We each grabbed an umbrella, as it was raining, and stepped out into the dark neighborhood and descended the narrow streets. As we approached the main street we were immediately hit with the wafting smells of curry and yakitori; scents that were immensely appealing to us in this weather. The exquisite aroma was so overwhelming that I was tempted to ask Yasuyuki if perhaps we could just eat at one of the many eateries in his neighborhood. As I was trying to figure out the proper way to ask this question without coming off as rude, a tiny black minivan zipped around the corner and pulled up next to us. "Get in!!!" Yasu said, and we all jumped into the van, and there in the van waiting was Miho, the woman who had picked up up in the airport.
About 15 minutes later we pulled up to a large building with tile roofing, and a Japanese flag in front of it, as well as a huge banner in kanji which we could not understand.
Yasu and Miho playfully posing for the camera at the traditional Japanese restaurant we went to on our first night in Tokyo.
We carefully opened the door and stepped inside, which appeared to be some sort of spacious indoor terrace, with shiny floors made of a rich type of wood I don't think I had ever seen before. There were shoe cubbies at the entrance, where we all placed our shoes before stepping up to the restaurant level. It felt really strange to walk around in our socks in a fancy restaurant. The tables were all very low to the ground, so we sat down on thin mats on the floor. We looked around at the people at the tables around us, which were mostly families. A lot of the people were smoking at their tables, including Yasu and Miho.
We were soon greeted by a waitress who made eye contact with us, smiled and spoke to us in very rapid Japanese, even though it was very obvious we did not understand a word she was saying to us.
Miho finishing off the whole fish that was in our sashimi platter.
Yasuyuki and Miho laughed as they put out their cigarettes, and went on to order us a feast. They kept listing off all kinds of different things that we could not understand, occasionally pointing at the pictures in the menu, which for the most part we did not recognize as anything we had ever eaten before. The waitress patiently entered the massive order in this electronic touch-screen gadget and ran off. Within minutes everything was brought out to our table. Our dinner consisted of a large box plate of unagi over rice, tempura, miso soup, an enormous plate of sashimi (including a whole raw fish- with scales, eyeballs and everything!), edamame, a big pot of udon soup with eggs, clams and other ingredients that I did not recognize, a sort of pudding made of egg and green onion, accompanied by endless amounts of green tea and biru
(beer). Yasu and Miho started picking everything up and happily slurping away, but we were all hesitant as to how we would approach this enormous feast. I ended up trying everything on the table, except for the whole fish, simply because I had no idea how to go about eating it, especially with chopsticks. One thing that I had a lot of trouble eating was the egg pudding. It turned out that it was basically a raw egg that had been slightly cooked over on the top. I ate a little bit, and so did my sister. My sister is not a very adventurous eater, so it was extremely hard for her to eat about 99% of the food that was on the table. She did actually go through with it and eat the raw egg and the sashimi, which was very impressive considering she is one of the pickiest people I have ever met. Alex (my boyfriend) and I both agreed that the unagi (eel) was the best we had ever had in our lives, along with the sahimi. Everything else was good, as well. We did, however, experience a cuisine-related form of culture shock that night, and basically, it was Miho enjoying a raw shrimp while its guts, intestines and green slime ran down her chin. I felt bad because as the three of us (my sister, my boyfriend and I) watched in a state of unblinking horror, Miho looked up and saw the expressions on our face and got very embarrassed. I felt kind of bad, but I honestly couldn't help it!
One thing I realized about Japan that night, is that its people were incredibly warm. I was always under the impression that they were very reserved and quiet, especially in comparison to Latin America, which is where I am originally from. By the first day of our trip, I had realized that although the Japanese may appear to be quiet and reserved, once you approach them they are among the kindest people that I have encountered in the world so far. Aside from their manners, the strong emphasis they put on respect and their hospitality, they are filled with a very gentle kindness that I will never forget... everyone from our hosts, to the waitresses, to the strangers we would later approach on the streets to ask for directions- despite the language barriers, there was an incredible sense of kindness...