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24 November 2014 @ 07:23 pm
A Tour of Chiyoda! Part III  
The Corner Store
We didn't realize what this was for probably the first year that we lived in Chiyoda. It looks like it's called きもの ("kimono"), so we thought it was a clothing store or something, but it's actually きもと ("kimoto") with a stylized と. It wasn't until much later that we went and realized it was a grocery store with mostly packaged stuff but a small produce and butcher's section. They also had umeshu by the carton. It wasn't as good as the umeshu that our neighbor brought by, which looked like some kind of filthy water with plums floating in the plastic jar it was sealed in but which tasted amazing, but it was pretty good.

That store is also where softlykarou ran into someone who claimed that he had been to Europe and he could guess any foreigner's nationality. softlykarou invited him to try, and his first guess was "Swiss!" His second guess was German, and his third guess was British, after which softlykarou told her she was American.

The response to all this from the shopkeeper was to the effect of, "How can you tell? They all look the same to me."

Poplar Conbini
There's two examples of what's usually called カタカナ英語 (katakana eigo, basically "Japanified English"). "Conbini" is an abbreviation of the Japanese pronunciation of Convenience (like Spanish, there's no V sound in Japanese) and it took me an inordinate amount of time to realize that the leaf symbol next to ポプラ (popura, "Poplar") meant it was the tree. The chain's website here here, though the usual warning about Japanese website design applies.[1]

We'd drive or walk down there when we needed a snack. Unlike America, Japanese convenience stores are actually worth going to. I mean, it's still not healthy, but it's not bottom-of-the-barrel packaged crap. They've got fresh-daily riceballs, bread from the Takaki Bakery just down the road (turn left and click down the Yae Bypass a ways if you want to see that), pre-assembled bentō with fresh rice from the conbini added, and so on. To this day, I still occasionally get the urge to head down to a convenience store for a snack before I remember that I've been to American convenience stores and very little there even looks appetizing, much less tasty.

The Ubiquitous Pachinko Parlor
That giant king there is one of the town pachinko parlors. Yes, one of them. If you turn the view left and look at the empty field next to the huge parking lot, there used to be another one there. The third one was there when we moved in, but closed and was demolished while we were living there. Apparently, the reason pachinko parlors are so common is that they're used for 天下り (amakudari, literally "descent from heaven"), the practice of public officials retiring and taking positions in organizations that they gave favorable considerations toward while they were government employees. Blatant corruption, basically. The associations that run pachinko parlors are owned mostly by former police officers, which makes the yakuza/pachinko connection even more unsettling.

To the right is a small ramen stand that we'd go too occasionally when we wanted a quick bowl of ramen. It was run by a roughly 150-year-old man who was quite possibly the friendliest person I've ever met. I think his advanced age meant we all looked the same to him as well, because he'd keep bringing out plastic toys and little trinkets for softlykarou when we ate there, as though she was getting a ramen happy meal.

We also ran into him at a festival one day running an unagi stand. He was a man of many culinary talents.

Funky Tonky
This is almost certainly the saddest picture I'll post in this series, because that blank wall and empty storefront used to be Funky Talky. I wrote about the second time I ever went here, and it was probably the restaurant we went to most often in Chiyoda, usually going twice or three times a month. I say Tonky instead of Talky, which is what the little English on the menu said, because the inside was done up like a honky-tonk bar, with round tables, a carved wooden railing, a bar with a bunch of alcohol, and so on.

It was run by a woman and her son--we never got their names--and she did a lot to make us feel at home. Her mother brought her a ton of vegetables to use in her restaurant and sometimes she couldn't use them all before they would go bad, so she'd give them to us. I mostly got the yakiniku pilaf, which you can somewhat approximate by going to Sunshine Cafe in Andersonville and getting the Nanbanyaki, but it doesn't have the fried rice with bits of meat that yakiniku pilaf had. They also had a bunch of versions of American food, like the american hamburger that I mentioned above.

The sad part is that March of the last year we were there, right after the 東日本大震災, we went to go to dinner at Funky Tonky to find it closed. There was a note on the door, thanking people for coming, with another message below that I couldn't read at the time. I didn't think to take a picture and translate it later, because I thought it might be temporary closed. But it never reopened, and we never saw the owner or her son again. To this day, I have no idea why it closed.

I wonder how she's doing, and if her son ever put that French sommelier training he got to use elsewhere?

Iwata Izakaya
This is one I don't have a ton of memories of, but I'm including it for a couple reasons. The first is another example of how in small towns, shops often hide in the most innocuous of places. That's a restaurant, with houses on its side of the street and a lumber shop across the street. We passed this place dozens of times without realizing it was anything special until softlykarou's jūdō club had an enkai there, and she called and invited me towards the end.

Izakaya are basically tapas bars, where the focus is on both eating and drinking. We mostly went to them for the food, though I'd occasionally get some umeshu (I really, really love umeshu), and Iwata had some great dishes. The main one I remember is 豚キムチ (buta kimuchi, "Pork and kimchi"), which was served all mixed together with these scooped rice cracker chips to pick it up and eat it. It was amazing. They also had 串焼き (kushiyaki, "Fried foods on a stick"), rice dishes, お茶漬け...all kinds of great stuff. I wish there were an izakaya to go to in Chicago, but as near as I can tell we just have upscale ramen restaurants. photo emot-doh.gif


[1]: Japanese web design is strongly influenced by the early availability of internet on mobile phones in Japan, so aesthetics are mostly based on optimizing for low-bandwidth phone connections even though smart phones are now common there. Packing tons of text in, no white space, bright-colored images with high contrast to be visible on 256-color screens, and so on.
 
 
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