Umbrellas and ramen

So I learned something new today about umbrellas in Japan.  There is a whole process / culture around them.  I knew people had umbrellas here, and they use them often, in sun or rain.  Keep in mind, you do a fair amount of walking in Tokyo – to / from the subway station, meals, shopping, etc.  Taxis are expensive and I get the impression they are a bit tough because addresses here don’t work.  (Have I mentioned that before?  I’ll go into a bit more detail later on.)  Cars are even more expensive – maybe not the vehicle itself, but the act of parking it someplace.  Have I mentioned the robot garages?

I’m digressing.  Umbrellas.

Apparently people are likely to own several of them.  You go out of your house, and you’ve left yours at home, either because you forgot or you didn’t expect the weather to turn.  You’re leaving the office, it’s raining, you go to the konbini and buy another.  Now you’ve got two.  Repeat that in one direction or another and suddenly it’s like rabbits mating – you’ve got dozens.

At the same time, you don’t want this darn umbrella to be at your desk, in your hotel room, etc.  You need a place to keep it.  Well, at the office, just drop it into the giant rack of umbrellas.  That way they won’t get lonely because they are hanging out with their friends.  Of course, if you aren’t familiar with what exactly your random konbini umbrella looks like, I’m really not certain what you’re supposed to do.  I’ve decided I’ll just scuff mine up a bit (more) to make it more identifiable.  Today, however, I just carried the stupid thing to my desk.

At the hotel, its different.  You’ve got a big open atrium where anyone could walk in off the street and grab your umbrella.  So here, they’ve got a rack, but with keys!  Drop in your umbrella, retrieve the key and head upstairs.  Ready to go out?  Unlock your umbrella, leave the key for the next guy and head out the door.  Who knew!

So for dinner tonight I examined the map from the hotel and decided I wanted to eat ramen.  I tossed around the idea of sushi, but I thought ramen would be more filling and that was high on the list – my konbini lunch was too small today.  I sorted out how to get to the place, and headed out the door.  I made it to the right block, took a right, walked all the way to the other end without seeing a ramen place.

Maybe I don’t know what a ramen place looks like?  I mean, I have only see one and that was in Shibuya last November.  I slowly made my way back, knowing that even if I didn’t find ramen, I had a vast array of other restaurants to choose from along the way.

I stopped in front of one place that seemed ramen-y, and looked at the pictures a bit.  Did they seem like pictures of ramen dishes?  No… I don’t think so.

I walked a little further and there it was!  I had passed right by it because it looked just like the last ramen shop I was in – a teeny, tiny shotgun restaurant.  This place is only big enough for the kitchen, bar, stools, and for one person to walk.  And, just like the last ramen shop, you order via vending machine.  Neat, right?  Not exactly.  In the Shibuya ramen shop the vending machine had pictures.  I didn’t know what exactly the pictures were of, but I could at least get an idea in my mind of what might show up.  Tonight the vending machine only had words and numbers.

I carefully considered the set up.  There were two rows of 3 big buttons with the top row all 630Y and the bottom row all 730Y.  Well, the big buttons must be the actual meal, and I’m hungry, so I probably want the more expensive one.  Now… I have 3 big buttons remaining… which do I – middle one.  I punched the button, it popped out a ticket (I expected that – its given to the chef), but then I had change coming.  There were a dozen smaller buttons on the machine, most of which were flashing indicating that I had enough money left over to purchase them, but they had absolutely no context… I just wanted my change darn it.  So I shrugged at the chef, who leaned over, pressed the electronic display at the bottom and out came my change.  Stupid gets Success!

I took a seat at an empty stool with an empty at my right and a guy waiting on my left.  He was poking at his phone, so I figured I would to.  I actually started the notes for this blog post right then.  Eventually he food arrived, so I watched with my peripheral vision what he did.  He grabbed the little silver box and spooned out something.  Then he took the spicy pepper stuff and spooned that on.  Then he got the two squeezy bottles of liquid and squirted each of those on, and finally (given there was only one thing left) he grabbed the black pepper and put that on.

Finally he began to eat.  ssssllluuuurrrrpppp  Ah, ramen.

Soon my food arrived and I went through as much of the ritual as I was willing to risk.  Someone had taken the stool to my right, but he was poking at his phone.  I grabbed the chopsticks, pulled up a wad of noodles and… bite, bite, pull.

I couldn’t get the slurp!  I couldn’t get the slurp throughout the entire bowl of ramen.  I don’t know if it was the selection (doubtful) or my preparation.  I think one of the squeezy bottles is oil and I think that creates the ability to slurp it, but I felt like my face was getting covered in oil and I couldn’t deal with adding more.

Oh yeah – it looks like I chose ramen with pork.  The guy to my right had egg.  I don’t know if that was a small button add-on or if it was a main dish.

I saw a number of people leave while I was there, so I knew how to exit – you placed your bowl, water glass and napkin on the upper bar.  The chefs thanked you and wished you a good evening.  Of course, I had to hear them say that at least a half dozen times for it to register… Pimsleur doesn’t teach you how to slur / mumble these phrases.  Maybe that’s a new product…?

So, another night of conquest – headed into yet another completely unfamiliar and non-English restaurant, getting fed and leaving happy.  I hope I can maintain this, as it certainly makes things easier… and my belly fuller!

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