Tokyo Blond Is Not Porn

Tokyo Blond is not a porn blog, about hair or even, as one pithy friend remarked, a micro beer or late 1980s glam metal band ("Dude, I just saw Skid Row and Tokyo Blond opened and played a killer set").

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my experiences in Tokyo - poignantly, visually, irreverently - for fun.

Anybody can tag along...that is if I like you. This blog will endeavor to be entertaining and honest and frequent enough to keep those following interested including me.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Chinatown Otherwise Known As "Chowtown"

So of course we can't live in Tokyo and not go to Chinatown.  What?  I know.  That doesn't make any sense.   Well, the plan was to go to Yokohama which is the second largest city in Japan.  Yokohama is where Russell spends half his time because that's where his client's offices are located.  It's also the origination point of his five hour trek home after the earthquake.  I'm surprised I got him to go there on the weekend.

But according to Frommer's it's a recommended side trip from Tokyo and boasts the tallest building in Japan (the Landmark Tower which has the fasted elevator in the world).  We gotta see that!  Not only that, but Yokohama has the largest Chinatown in Japan with over 100 Chinese restaurants.  I had the whole day planned....We would take the train to Kannai station, walk to Chinatown for lunch, then check out Landmark Tower, the silk museum and Yamashita Sea Side park.  And finally we'd take the Sea Bass shuttle boat back to the main Yokohama train station for a scenic view of the harbor.  As usual, Russell had his own plan.  He wanted to hit Costco.  Or as the Japanese pronounce it, "Cost-o-co".  It took up half the day. 

After our little Costco shopping spree, (we bought a BBQ, well actually a Smokey Joe), it was already 2pm and we hadn't eaten lunch so we went to Chinatown.  It was a veritable feast of sights and sounds, even in the rain!  I know they said there were over a hundred restaurants but I didn't realize they were all in one tiny compartmentalized section.  It was like squeezing every restaurant in L.A. onto Olvera street.  Yeah, that small.   

It was crazy, a cacophony, sensory overload.  I can only imagine what it must be like at night when everything is lit up in neon and glowing lanterns - magical I'm sure.  We'll have to come back here for dinner some time.

The streets were teeming with brightly colored umbrellas and pandering street vendors.  Every few feet someone was thrusting a freshly roasted chestnut in your hand with a smile.  Yes, chestnuts.  It almost felt like Christmas.  I'd never had a freshly roasted chestnut before.  They smell awesome.  They're surprising sweet, not just nutty, and pleasantly warm. 

Everywhere else vendors were selling freshly steamed buns or "Bau" with any filling you could imagine, sweet or savory or both.  I chose duck.  It was wonderful.  The bun was so soft, so fresh, the duck meat succulent and savory.  Oh, I'm salivating just remembering it.  And every so often we passed a bakery with still more scents to tempt us.  Of course we had to stop and buy a few pleasures.  I had the almond cookie which was deliciously fragile, crispy and nutty.  Russell bought some paste filled cookies - equally tantalizing.

Which restaurant to choose?  It was impossible so we walked into the very first place.  They didn't speak any English.  No matter -  the menu's had pictures.  

Before I go any further let me just confess right here I am a bona fide Chinese food snob.  Yes, me.   My first um, "love", was Chinese.  His name was Peter (think Keeanu Reeves) and he lived across the street from my grandparents.   His father was a professional chef for a famous Chinese restaurant in Santa Monica,  called Madame Wu's.  They ate dinner an hour earlier than my grandparents did.  So many nights I'd eat at his house first, then come home and eat dinner at mine.  It's true what they say - you're always hungry an hour later after Chinese food.   Suffice it to say, I was spoiled for life.  I've had the best Chinese food made by a professional Chinese chef - home made, fresh, not like the crap you get at your local Chinese restaurant in L.A., made with MSG and frozen vegetables. 

The restaurant we went to was nondescript, except for the patina photo of it from the 1950's hanging in the foyer.  It had been around for a while - a good sign.  We ordered mostly dim sum and some fried rice.  Russell ordered egg rolls - he's so American.  The food was good but not as good as Peter's dad's.  At least there were no frozen carrots or peas in the fried rice.  To me this is the quintessential example of Americanized Chinese food, that and "chow mein" with noodles thickened by a gelatinous sauce made with corn starch - yuck!  If you want to try a great example of Chinese food, especially fried rice and dim sum, I highly recommend Din Tai Fung anywhere.  There's only one location in America.  It's in Arcadia, California.  There's always a line but it is worth the drive and the time.  We actually came across one in Tokyo - we recognized it by the line.

Anyway the food was good but later, after walking around more, I realized we probably picked one of the lessor quality restaurants judging by the decor and offerings.  They didn't even have dumbwaiters - otherwise known as "lazy susans".  You know, those turntables in the center of the table at every respectable Chinese restaurant.  And you thought I meant something else!  The menu offered mostly chicken or pork, not seafood.  Peter taught me, in the Chinese culture, the more seafood the higher the quality.  This was relayed to me at a Chinese wedding he took me to.  They must have served 15 courses.  The final course was an entire fish for each table and there were twenty tables!!!  The most distinguished guest at each table gets the honor of eating the fish eyes.  Thankfully I was not the most distinguished guest at our table. Apparently this holds true for Chinese restaurants too.  We found restaurants whose windows were adorned with "lobster trees".  I'm going back for that place!

As we were walking back to the train station, we came across guests leaving a Chinese wedding.  It was raining again so everyone was carrying an umbrella.  Everyone except these three very important looking gentlemen who had matching black suits and their very own umbrella valet guy.  Where do I get one of those?  While compatible in so many ways - Russell and I are not umbrella compatible.  He's too tall and I'm too short.   When he holds the umbrella I get wet and when I hold the umbrella he gets crushed.  This is a sore point for him as he insists we are absolutely umbrella compatible.  We're not; I have the soaked pants to prove it.

I was curious.  Why are those guys carrying umbrella's for those men?  Why not the women?  And then I realized - they were Yakuza - Japanese mafia.  I'd heard about them.  I saw the movies "Rising Sun" and "Black Rain".  I was excited.  I looked for the tell tale sign and sure enough they were missing a part of their pinky finger.  Scary!!! I didn't think it would be a good idea to take pictures but I wanted to.  I love danger....

Archway to Chinatown from the train station.

To my knowledge none of these are dog.

A glimpse of the cacophony.

A pretty little gazebo in Chinatown.


  1. Hello there,
    I really love reading your blog.
    I live in Australia, but I'm originally from Italy and I'm married a Singaporian.
    I first came to Japan last year in june and I loved it.
    I stayed in Yokohama, so you bring back all my beautiful memory with your blog today.
    We came back as a whole family this January for 3 week and we stayed again in Yokohama, Tokyo and Koriyama, we stay with a family that my husband know
    for years.
    Since the earthquake I ve following all the news, reading anything I could and send information to the family that live in Koriyama.
    I ve been really sad and worried.
    I had a trip planned to Yokohama this June, and i' ve thinking of all the pro and cons regarding this trip. Is been a rollercoster of emotions. I really always wanted to came anyway.....
    How do you feel at this time leaving there, are they still lots of earthquakes?, I really never experience much of that, Australia has none at all.....
    And how do you feel about the radiations?
    Seem that you are eating and drinking without thinking to much about it.
    I hope I'm not bothering with my questions, but I like to have a prospective of someone who is leaving in it. News don't really help....
    Thank you so much, Elena

  2. You're right - the news does not help. Don't believe everything they say. You should absolutely come to Yokohama - for several reasons. 1) It's safe. Yokohama is south of Tokyo and there are no radiation issues in Tokyo at all. Everything is safe. Water, food, air - pure. 2) They need the money. Thousands left Japan after the earthquake and the economy is suffering. 3) There are probably good travel deals to be had because of this. 4) There are still earthquakes but you really don't feel them. Japan has the strictest building codes in the world. Realize that Yokohama survived a 9.0 earthquake and there was no damage. Nothing to worry about. 5) Think how comforting it will be to your friends, if you came to visit them. It would be special. And finally, thanks for reading my blog and asking my opinion. I truly appreciate it. Tokyo Blond