Eating in Tokyo & a Lesson in Perspective
"Perspective is the way we see things when we look at them from a certain distance and it allows us to appreciate their true value." (Rafael E. Pino)
We got off the elevator on the 45th floor and I immediately remembered coming here for drinks the last time we were in Tokyo. It had somehow slipped my mind when we were booking the trip. I remember feeling out of place. We were two youngish foreigners, indulging in overpriced drinks to catch the city views from the fancy Ritz-Carlton lounge. My cocktail was some tea infusion served with dry ice that bubbled like a witch's cauldron. After our first round, we went straight to Havana Cafe, a dive bar that's known on TripAdvisor for having the cheapest happy hour in Tokyo.
We weren't married. We were child free. He went to a conference during the day. We explored the town at night. We went to the Tsukiji Fish Market, a crazy place called the Robot Restaurant, and the Park Hyatt's New York Bar from Lost in Translation. We visited countless shrines and enjoyed many delicious meals out. We had no clue we'd be back in a few years with our eight-month-old who would learn how to crawl in our hotel room.
This visit to Tokyo has been different, but that's true of most things these days. As a rule, life is more exhausting, more surprising, and more sweetly amazing with our baby. Bringing him to Japan has given me a fresh perspective on a few things I did not know before he came into our lives.
Going out to eat was a major focus of our first time in Tokyo.
The morning after we arrived, we waited in line for 30 minutes to have sushi for breakfast at Daiwa Sushi. It was a shock to the system, especially for my husband, but a true sign that we had arrived. On our second night we went to a fancy shabu-shabu restaurant where we cooked strips of raw Kobe beef in a traditional Japanese hot pot at our table.
In a tiny basement restaurant named Agaru, we sat at the counter and watched our chefs prepare ten Kaiseki dishes, each more refined and delicious than the last. We also discovered our love for the simple, but satisfying combo of draft beer and ramen at Kyushu Jangara in Harajuku. Of all the places we tried, our favorite was a smoky neighborhood yakatori bar called Ganchan where we shared 13 plates and 2 rounds of beer.
During that trip I took pictures of all our meals. I ate with both hands and actually tasted my food. I was unencumbered... and unable to appreciate the simplicity of dining without a small person on my lap, grasping for my attention and the food on my plate.
Coming into this trip, I set my expectations low when it came to eating out. I tried to be realistic, knowing our days (and nights) of being foodies are on hiatus... at least until our travel companion can feed himself.
We continued our "first meal in Japan must be sushi" tradition at Sushi Zanmai. The fresh fish and draft beer were as delicious as I remembered. Seated in a small restaurant amongst locals, a familiar feeling rushed over me. We were again outsiders in a foreign place, but this time as a family of three.
When my husband was away at his meetings I skipped lunch or had a small bite at the hotel's lounge. The idea of getting to a place and eating alone while managing the baby in a foreign city is overwhelming to me. Perhaps I should've put on a brave face and given it a try, but instead I ate through our stash of "emergency" Larabars.
Dinner was much less glamorous during this visit to Tokyo. Most days, I put the babe down for his afternoon nap at 3:30 or 4pm, only to learn that he was down for the night! Jet lag is a whole new beast with a small baby who has yet to reliably sleep through the night and can't tell you what time of day it is.
Since going out to dinner was off the table, we resorted to takeout most nights. The Tokyo Midtown shopping mall was in the same building as our hotel, so the hubs picked up pho and curry after work. We ate quietly, sharing stories from our days while the baby slept. Fortunately, the bathroom in our hotel room was big enough to roll the crib into. Every night we put the baby to bed in his makeshift nursery so we could hang out with the lights on for a few more hours.
On our final night in Tokyo we managed to keep the baby up late enough to grab dinner at 5pm. On our walk back, I realized it was the first time I'd seen the city lights from outside our hotel room.
Being out of place and out of routine is disorienting. It is one of the things that makes travel hard. It's one of the things that makes travel so wonderful. In these past 8 months of baby-raising, I have learned to cozy up with discomfort. I have nestled into the unfamiliar.
That youngish woman in the hotel bar would have smiled and nodded if I told her about our life in a few years. She would be excited, perhaps a little envious about the prospect of marrying the man she loved and raising a little baby together. She might even mention that it looks like "future me" has my act together. I would assure her that we're all just making this up as we go along.