Fantastic Asakusa

Dear Friends,

On March 21, my friends and I formulated a list of twelve things we had to do while in Tokyo; among them, my three that have been completed thus far are: 1) Visit Tokyo Tower 3) Visit Sensoji in Asakusa and 4) Take a trip to an onsen in Hakone. Slow and steady wins the race. Tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain, I’ll tackle number six: ride my bike to the Imperial Palace and tour the garden. For the complete list, please see the original post:

I visited Asakusa today, three months after writing that list, due to a lucky encounter with N. It was my good fortune to teach her two weeks ago at a time when I was supposed to be teaching another group that couldn’t make it. It was her first day of re-starting English lessons, after a long absence, and her enthusiasm and love of language made the group come alive. As often happens, we were starting the food chapter, and after the lesson, N invited me to lunch and a tour of  her neighborhood of Asakusa. Of course, I jumped at the chance to be guided around Asakusa by someone who has lived there for more years than I’ve been alive. N, whom I’ve already dubbed my Japanese mother, (she sounded exactly like my mother, “You can do anything, you’re clever, etc., etc.), treated me to a really special day. Visiting Asakusa on my own, while leafing through a Frommer’s guidebook, just would not have filled me up (literally and figuratively) the way this day has. Let’s look at Asakusa, starting with… you guessed it–food.

1) N took me to one of her favorite Italian restaurants, because she wasn’t sure if I was a fan of Japanese food. Very often my students express surprise when I tell that I’m a huge fan of sushi, sashimi and wasabe. We lunched at Ristorante Giardino, that has an outdoor patio for dining, where we enjoyed one of the lunch set menus: an appetizer, two main dishes in perfect Japanese sizes, dessert and coffee.

*Prosciutto, potato cream soup with shaved pistachios,  grilled chicken in pesto, greens, and a small omelette. (Definitely Japanese inspired Italian).

*Spaghetti in tomato sauce with shrimp and green beans.

*Grilled fish.

* Chocolate cake, tiramisu, and coffee gelato. At the restaurant N taught me to say “I like cake” in Japanese, but it’s the coffee ice-cream that rocked my world, and I quickly changed my “I like cake” to “I love ice-cream.”

2) After our long lunch, N suggested that we tour Asakusa by rickshaw. She’d never ridden in one before, and I never even take taxis, so we were both hyped for the adventure. Our very lovely rickshaw guy (and by lovely I mean personality and (such) a cute face) carried us down multiple streets where I touched three silver statues of raccoons for good luck, beauty, and prosperity, saw the Japanese version of Robin Hood perched atop a building, and passed countless restaurants, shops and tourists. He went out of his way (it wasn’t a part of our package) to show us the amusement park, and then he carried on with the famous sites: the Buddhist school, the hall for comedy and magic, and the sidewalk with the impressions of celebrity hands. The weather in Tokyo, today, was warm, with a cloudless sky, and it was nice to feel the breeze on our faces as he made stops to point out various landmarks.

* Look up on the building, a robber who steals from the rich and gives to the poor.

* The Tokyo Sky Tree Tower, the tallest radio tower in the world, in the distance.

* For 19, 800 yen, you too can look like a geisha.

* Parting is such sweet sorrow. 

3) The Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, has swarms of tourists year round. Though it was a Thursday afternoon, there were many  groups of schoolchildren, locals and foreigners from all over the world, some who wanted to pray, shake a good fortune out of a wooden box, and others who simply wished to marvel at the beauty of the temple, the gates, the shrine, and the surrounding grounds.

* Kaminarimon Gate

* The God of Wind

* Under the lantern is this image of a dragon guarding the gate.


* N showed me the right way to pray at the temple; first, wave the smoke towards you to rid yourself of darkness and negativity, then take a ladle filled to the brim,wash both hands, rinse your mouth (spit), then pour some water on the ground for the ancestors.

* After purifying oneself, it’s time to pray. For obvious reasons, I didn’t take photos before the shrine, but after I said my prayer, I did get a shot of the ceiling.

We descended the steps, and though we were less than ten steps away, we left the bustle and high energy of the temple behind, .

A few days ago, my daily inspiration from Brahma Kumaris was, “Great souls take advantage of every moment and every opportunity to give happiness to others through kindness in their thoughts.” On my journey through life, I’ve been blessed to meet some truly great souls, not just great but fantastic. Fantastic N, had not only kind thoughts, positive actions and a willingness to share her neighborhood and culture, which she holds dear, but she gave me the gift of her time.

“It’s On Fire Tonight… Haha Ah Yea!”

Can I get some kick please? – DJ Flex (The Waterdance)

Dear Friends,

Saturday was a rainy, dreary day, which was absolutely perfect, because I had to work.  The only thing more ideal than going to work would’ve been staying in bed all day with a box of anchovy topped pizza, a can of Coke, and a large Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar, watching shows on Hulu, but duty called. (I hung up on duty, but she called again).

Is you with me?–  DJ Flex

On my way home at 6p.m, I stopped at Lawsons and bought a large can of Sapporo, a bag of potato chips, and a bag of french fry chips. I didn’t buy more than one beer, because I knew that I’d have to wake early on Sunday for work; I got chips for anyone who wanted,  but I knew everyone in the house already had their favorite and differing brands of beer in the fridge.

When I arrived at home, Y was sitting in front of the television watching a baseball game; the team I root for was playing, so I joined him (I would’ve joined him anyway, as he’s cool as beans– let’s be clear, I could care less about baseball). Pretty soon, RT came home and sat on the couch. It was then that Y brought out his friend Ginjō-shu sake.

Let it run, let it run, this ain’t the water. – DJ Flex.

I insisted that I’d only have one glass, because as aforementioned I had to get up pretty early, and with an alcohol content of twenty-five percent, too many glasses of Ginjō-shu, plus my beer, would knock a sister out (in the bad way). Ah, but friends, it only takes one glass. Pretty soon, we were laughing at things that I’m pretty sure weren’t funny, I was starting to feel my braids unwind on their own, and Y was downright giddy, even though his team was losing.

Wait a minute…. y’all going hard tonight. – DJ Flex

Then Y came up with the idea that he’d take RT and me to a spot he knows in the neighborhood. I asked him if we were walking there, because as far as I knew, Oshiage was a residential neighborhood with little to do.

The hood, the hood, ah ha.

He called the place and made a reservation, and the three of us trooped over. The wine bar to which Y took us is about seven minutes from our house, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Right beside 7-11, behind a nondescript door, is an otherworldly wine bar/restaurant. It just doesn’t fit; we hurried in the rain, down a dark alley, through an unmarked entrance, and entered a restaurant that could rival any in the coolest neighborhoods of Paris or New York. It’s very dim inside, bottles of wine line the walls, there’s a bar where five or so can eat, and about six or seven round tables.

Throw your hands in the air. – DJ Flex

The minute we sat, the party started. I was unaware that Y was a baller; let me explain: a) First, glasses of wine were ordered b) Then, a bottle of shiraz was ordered c) The bottle of wine was followed by an appetizer plate that included foie gras, prosciutto, olives, French bread, and  pâté.

Y’all with me, is you with me?… Let’s take it up a notch.- DJ Flex

I thought we were finished; we were rosy and glowing and laughing and twinkly; then, a mini, roasted goose was brought to the table, and more glasses of wine were ordered. Can I just say that I’ve never had goose (crispy, and resting in its own sweat), and it was heavenly. Sweet times in Oshiage. When we decided it was time to brave the rain again, Y  refused to let us see the check and paid for the whole thing.

Hey ladies, hey sexy, you want me to put you in the water? Hey fellas, hey soldiers, you want me to put you in the water? – DJ Flex

Friends, the rain was coming down outside, but it was raining harder inside Borderless House. I should’ve gone to bed, but for some reason I wound up in the living room. T, another “soldier,” joined us for the Sunday night revelry (I love it!). We lamented the news that Y‘s leaving for his own space; we kanpai-ed new friendships; and, we drank one or two more glasses of the lethal Ginjō-shu.

The next morning, I woke up on time, a little groggy, in my scarf, sweater, jeans and socks. Would you expect less? – DJ Flex

Letter from Tokyo: Totally Taken With Tokyo

Dear Friends,

After my first twenty-four hours in the largest metropolitan city in the world (, and by far the most expensive city I’ve had the pleasure to meet, I thought it to time to pick my jaw up off the floor and hands from jet-lag mode and let you know what’s going on here. In 24 hours, it’s plain to see that I’ll need to multiply that by 244 more hours x 244 days to get a handle on this city. Tokyo’s metro map ( makes Paris’s metro map look like Billabubb, South Dakota’s tram system (if there is a Billabubb, South Dakota that is).

In this post, I won’t tell you about how easy it is to get lost in Tokyo because the streets have no names (hey, is that why U2 wrote that song?), or how utterly confusing the streets are because they’re packed at all times (and nameless!), or how Tokyo makes NYC look like a pumpkin patch in the middle of Nebraska, or how everyone has an iPhone because they’re cheap, or that Tokyo was deemed the most expensive city in the world for expats in 2011 …(in the WORLD people:, but I will tell you about my house.

The school where I’ll be working sent me a list of housing options and out of the list, I chose one of the Borderless House’s of Tokyo for its proximity to the subway (less than five minutes walking), its newness, and its nearness to the school itself. The house, just renovated in August of this year, is located in Oshiage, which isn’t central Tokyo, but in a quiet neighborhood about thirty minutes away by train.  Borderless Houses are shared houses, and by regulation house half international residents and half Japanese residents; they can range from nine to sixteen residents. In my house, there are five private rooms and two shared rooms. Out of my desire to save yen, I chose a shared room. If I regret my decision, I’ll change to a private room for a small fee when someone moves out. These shared houses are usually temporary situations for many residents, so the stays are anywhere between six months and one year.

Can I digress and tell you a little about Valerie S., and why my mother thinks it’s incredible that I’m sharing a room, albeit a large one, with someone else? I have two older brothers, who shared a room when we lived in Jamaica, as the girl I had my own. Flash forward to New York, my older brother went off to NYC, my other brother had his own room, I was still in my own room. Years later in college, I never once had a roommate– requested a private room in a suite at HU and lived in that. Left that college, went back to my own single rooms from NY to Sao Paulo (slight hiccup there– I shared a room for six months with a girl who’s now a sister) to Kingston to New Jersey. I had flatmates often, and always swore I never wanted to live with anyone again, and that I never would. I swore. Then the rents for Tokyo flats rolled in, and I realized that there was no way, no how I was going to be able to afford my own place and save. Let me just tell you that a private room in the house is close to a US$1000.

I’ve met all my housemates , except one and we really are a diverse group; there is an Economics student from Fukishima, a student who’s studying Japanese and waitressing, a professor who’s teaching sociology at Meiji University, an assistant headhunter for an IT firm, a runner, a part-time worker at a French language school, a woman who I haven’t met yet, thus have no idea what she does, and me. Sadly, I have only photos of only five of my roommates (for now), so that’s what we’ll start off with:

* I start with R, because he was the very first housemate that I met. I was so happy to hear by email that there was a Smith in the house, because I knew that meant that there would be someone with whom I’d have little difficulty speaking. He’s lived up to his Smithness by being gregarious, sweet and funny.

Y’s energy and sparkle is captivating. She lived in France for two years, and now works in a French language school. When we went to the supermarket earlier, she looked as cute as can be in her heels. It’s no fallacy that Japanese women are always well put together.

* T’s cool as heck. He went to bed at 2:30 am (a few minutes ag0), so I know that he’s the one that will hang with me to the wee hours. He’s a brilliant student at Meiji and wants to get a job helping those in developing countries build better financial structures… believe me, it sounded better when he said it, as I’m merely paraphrasing and know nothing about economics.

*M (not pictured) is T’s professor at Meiji. She’s from Chicago, but speaks fluent Japanese, as this is her third time living in Japan. Right before this, she was living in Brooklyn. M’s so intelligent and well-rounded having lived and traveled to numerous places, that she’s an inspiration and an eye-opener. She also has a special place in my heart, because she introduced me to the Shibuya neighborhood of Japan and my first taste of authentic Japanese sushi (with wasabi inside the roll– yum).

* I is my roommate… and the best possible roommate that I could have (she’s not reading this, so there’s no kissing up involved on my part). She’s not too neat, and therefore not uptight (yes, in my book the equation is overly neat=anal=uptight (needs behind – stick); she fits with those she’s around, and is an adaptor. She’s amiable, and talkative but not overly so, and definitely one who sleeps early as her job requires her to be up at 6am.

* E‘s a 22 year old Russian hostess at a restaurant in Tokyo where the entrees start at US$100. Her co-workers are all blonde Italian, French, and fellow Russian women who’re hired to be eye candy. She’s fun-loving and at this very moment of 3:09am, she’s sitting behind me at the kitchen table on her laptop. My  fellow late-nighter!

* YH— Can you tell that YH‘s wacky? He speaks little to no English, and thus we need a translator between us; but not a person, his phone has an app that he types what he wants to say and it spells it out in English. The only problem is I can’t answer him back in Japanese, so there’s a whole lot of head nodding going on. Let me tell you one more thing, I expressed to YH that I’d love to run with him in the mornings, in the quest of fitness, and he translated that he runs 10 miles a day. Needless to say, that idea was quickly squashed by me. He finished his run with a huge green bean and watercress mixed salad.

Now, let me introduce you to the house:

* One of the toilet rooms. Like many bathrooms in Europe, the toilet is in a separate room than the bath; however unlike Europe, for efficiency, the sink is on top of the toilet, and automatically turns on when the toilet is flushed.
* My favorite room in any house by far, but especially in this house. Please notice that there’s a television placed above the tub, the small white box beside it regulates the heat. To the left, there’s no shower stall, but there is a shower head, because the whole floor drains. Genius. Believe me when I say that we each take and love our 20 minute showers.

* The front entrance. In true Japanese style, our shoes are removed at the door, and our slippers await us.

* The living room… we have a small balcony.

* The kitchen– 2 rice cookers, sliding cabinet doors, and a convection oven/microwave/toaster in one to save space.

* We have two refrigerators, both sectioned in three parts: food on top, fruit compartment, freezer on the bottom.

Now, you know the house and soon I’ll send photos of the streets.