Look, I have the utmost respect for Japanese culture. I know that's usually a prelude to someone saying something horrible. Usually, it's an anesthetic for some hideously offensive comment. "I have the utmost respect for the Muslim religion. But it is the work of the devil and intends only evil." "I have the utmost respect for Bob in accounting. But he is a goat-molesting simpleton who couldn't wash his hair if he were meeting the Queen of England."
But really, I do respect Japan. It's just that I'm on vacation and for all the temples and museums, I have to see some ninjas or this trip really isn't going to be worth it. I paid a lot of money to get here, and while I'm not expecting the final scene from "You Only Live Twice" a little fanservice would be appreciated.
So yesterday we hit the Sasuke challenge at Muscle Park, a venue created by the same guy who created G4's "Ninja Warrior," which actually is a real show in Japan on TBS. And people know about it - the line was quite long, although I had the good fortune to be in line with a guy from Oregon (he was in WAY better shape than I am).
If you haven't seen it before, then go watch it. You'll understand in about 5 minutes. If you don't have cable (Sonia) then a brief explanation. A series of increasingly difficult physical challenges are set up in a series designed to break the strongest of men. Olympic athletes regularly fail. In fact, normally almost everyone fails. And then they apologize to everyone for their failure. It's so Japanese.
Anyway, it was awesome. I did horribly, of course. The "dreaded 'salmon ladder'" really is as horribly difficult as it appears. I watched one guy all day tackle it and survive. But no one was able to make it through the course. I chose to retreat to the "workout challenge" which was a set of timed situps, pushups, and pullups. Heck, that's a morning at SeatTeamPT - that I can handle.
But Odaiba, as I had been warned, it otherwise a horrible cesspool of sanitzed consumer hell. I realize Japan is a consumer culture, and that Japanese people love things to be clean, but there is a way in which these things are combined in Odaiba that is disgusting. It is basically just a giant Palisades Mall. We escaped as soon as we could.
This is where I am reminded why I like traveling with A. "Where do you want to go?" "Akihabara." Awesome. Off to the land of electronics and maid cafes. Annie took all the maid cafe pictures (no, we didn't go inside one) so I'll hold off on discussing them until later, except to say that I have completely changed my mind about what they are all about. Maid cafes are for women, not men, and they are about play, not...well, you know.
Akasaka is home to expensive clothing shops, and is just west of Minato-Ku and the center of government for the island nation of Japan. But hidden beyond the Akasaka-Mitsuke subway stop is, well, a ninja restaurant. I made a reservation here not knowing exactly what to expect, even more so because I did not, in fact, make the reservation. One advantage of having a concierge at a hotel is that they can turn your 2nd year Japanese ("I like ninjas. I want to eat with ninjas. Thursday. At night.") into actual Japanese ("Please excuse my interruption. I would humbly like to request that you establish a reservation for two of my honored guests at your establishment. Please excuse me. Is 8 pm not available? Oh, thank you very much. Please excuse me. Then I will tell my guests that the reservation is 8 pm on Thursday. Please excuse me. Thank you very much.)
A expected something on the order of a pirate-themed restaurant in Orlando, and I guess I figured maybe 2 steps above that. What we got was a cross between whatever the best restaurant you've ever been to in your life was, and a cave run by ninjas.
First step was finding the place, which would have been nearly impossible if Japan did not place maps of anywhere you are every 30 feet - wait - 30 meters? (Damn metric system). Second step was introducing ourselves to the woman who was clearly the maitre d' (a podium and a microphone-headset are a dead giveaway - bad disguise). Third step was convincing them that we spoke enough Japanese to get treated like Japanese guests. Since my Japanese is still terrible, I used my tried-and-true trick of making a couple of stupid jokes that only a middle-aged dad would make. No one learns these jokes in their "Lonely Planet" book because they are otherwise useless, and also, not funny.
I really wish I could have videotaped what happened next, because basically the wall opened up and some ninja girl jumped out, kneeled on the ground in a ninja-crouch and blathered on something about being in training and honored guests and follow her. Oh, and the entire night everyone called A "Hime-sama" (Princess). Lead through elaborate darkened hallways, past a trap door (I'm not kidding) we reached our own private room where we were presented with a menu in Japanese (for me) and a menu in English (for A.)Now, I'm in Japan to speak Japanese and chew bubblegum, and I'm all out of bubblegum. But one look at this menu and I started to cry. This was not Japanese like in some Azumanga Daioh cartoon ("oh, I forgot my homework." "Baka!" "You are mean!"). Each dish had a unique "ninja" name, either playing on words or colorfully describing the dish in some elaborate code. ("Sinister Lobster concealed within Shimmering Tofu of Camembert"). And there were dozens of these dishes.
Look, describing the rest of the night is almost impossible. So I'll give you 3 quick sentences to convey what happened next. Ninja magic show. Food to match the best New York restaurants. Best meal ever.
I love Japan.