Getting more than we bargained for on a simple Friday night.
Like most people on Planet Earth, cooking is the last thing on my mind on a Friday night and so we usually eat out – whether it’s grabbing something quick at one of our favourite haunts or trying out some place new. Saying that, with the humidity levels currently closing in at 90% in Tokyo, eating can sometimes feel more like a chore than an actual desire. And so in hot weather, sushi is usually my go-to food. It’s cold, but it is also manageable – allowing you to eat slowly and not be intimidated by a huge plate of food in front of you.
Last Friday, Naoko and I decided to check out a sushi place just round the corner from our house. Truth be told, there are actually two sushi shops within 50 metres of each other, but not much info is available about them online. With no menus outside, and frosted windows meaning you can’t look in, all I was able to find out was that one of the shops was pretty cheap, and one of them was pretty expensive – so off to the cheap one we went! Or so we thought 🙂
Once we opened the doors we were immediately greeted by the sushi chef who was also evidently the owner. His wife, dressed in a full kimono, pulled out our chairs and sat us at the counter handing us a wet towel and pouring us tea. “Oh shit. We are in the expensive place.” I whispered to Naoko. My initial reaction was to bail – to just stand up and basically run away with our tail between our legs. But we stayed. And while it was a little more pricey than we intended to pay, it was enjoyable talking to the chef who seemed to be genuinely interested in us.
Quite often you can tell when restaurant staff are just making small talk, but I liked this guy. When he found out that I liked going to matsuris, he gave us more info about a festival that will be happening in our neighbourhood next month – where people will parade round the area hoisting a giant snake made of straw, as well as portable mikoshi shrines with lights attached to them at night. And the bill wasn’t too bad. Actually, I only say it was expensive because I had only intended to pay about ¥1,000 for dinner. My small set of nine pieces came to ¥3,000 which is £20.
After dinner, we decided to go for a stroll and check out a Bon-Odori dance that I knew was happening nearby. Obon (お盆) or just Bon (盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori. A typical Bon dance involves people dancing in unison around a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival called a yagura. The yagura is usually also the bandstand for the musicians and singers. For whatever reason, these yagura seem to be set up right outside train stations, the reason maybe being because there is a lot of space here were buses and taxis would usually park.
A nice breeze was blowing through the streets during the Bon-Odori, and the atmosphere was nice and relaxed – a mixture of old people dancing, and newborn babies dressed in traditional garb for photos. Anyone can join in these dances, and indeed it looked like some men and women had literally got off the train from work and were dancing while still holding their briefcases. I think my favourite part of the whole night was that it was all so effortless – we ate sushi just by our house and then walked down and were able to see this beautiful sight.