Tokyo Nights

I’m slowly catching up, but still way behind with my Tokyo activities. Apologies if there are horrendous spelling and grammar mistakes, but it’s hard enough to draft a post on this thing let alone do any quality control.

Another day of vascular surgery, another wound sutured. I didn’t expect to be so involved, but it has been great here. Suturing, coiling aneurysms, and even stent deployment. I think I’m just training to be a vascular surgeon. This would be great if I wanted to do vascular surgery. It’s an interesting specialty, but I couldn’t deal with the surgical lifestyle. Long hours, nights, weekends, on call, and no life. You can live for your work if you like, but that’s not me. I would prefer to enjoy what I did, but I want a life too. I don’t want my work to be the only thing that defines me. It was a reasonably long day, but I had the prospect of sushi with the vascular surgery group to look forward to. That is until plans changed.

Shabu shabu (Photograph by Robyn Lee, serious eats)
Shabu shabu (Photograph by Robyn Lee, serious eats)

The plan was sushi on Friday, then dinner with the professor on Monday, but he decided to change things up and planned to go on Friday instead. And since he was coming we were no longer having sushi. He’s the equivalent of a rock star in the vascular surgery world and the supreme overlord of surgery in Jikei so what he says goes – and he said shabu shabu! I had absolutely no idea what that was, but I’ll try anything once (or many times, in the case of ika – damn squid!) Shabu shabu is a kind of DIY meal, where you have a gas burner on the table with a bowl of stock/pork jelly to which you add a literal tonne (and I mean literal in the literal sense, not the figurative sense people keep throwing around casually) of sliced spring onions, and keep adding them throughout the night. To that, you add slices of pork (essentially bacon) and boil them for a few minutes. You eat the pork and spring onions with salt and other toppings, and it was actually quite nice. After that things went sort of downhill. There was plenty of pork, but then seafood was thrown into the mix. I’m going to come out and say it – shark is just awful. Like salted garbage, to borrow a phrase from Peter Griffin. The other stuff wasn’t bad, not that I can remember what it was, but it was an assortment of fruits de mer. The meal was accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol, and finished up with a little cheesecake. I couldn’t understand the majority of what was being said, but I was still having a great time. Humour is infectious in any language, and my language CDs totally lied about Japanese not being a tonal language. So much is conveyed by tone of voice, and Japanese people make the most amazing sounds, particularly when they’re interesting in something or have a strong emotional response. Lots of “eeeeeehhhhhh”s, and cries of “omoshiroi!” (interesting). The night started with shabu shabu, but that wasn’t the end. Far from it. Everyone has been so generous here, and the prof paid for everyone’s dinner which was crazy considering how many of us there were. This didn’t look like a cheap place, either. The restaurant was in Ginza, one of the most fashionable and upmarket areas, and home to all of the big designer brands like Gucci and Chanel.

Cabaret clubs - this pretty much sums them up
Cabaret clubs – this pretty much sums them up

Onwards we marched, to a mystery venue of the prof’s choosing. I expected a nice bar, or somewhere we could get a table and drinks, and was half right. He brought us to a cabaret club, which is one of those things unique to Tokyo (there happen to be a lot of those things). It was like walking into the 1920s, with tuxedo clad waiters leading us to tables with bottles of Japanese whiskey and classy looking women pouring us drinks. Chandeliers and extravagant décor all around. Business men relaxing after a hard day, smoking and telling their life story to a receptive host. The whole setup was rather bizarre, and can be considered a hostess service. You pay money to drink and have attractive young women pretend to be interested in your problems, and everybody wins. Well, not really. Though we were just there because it was an “only in Tokyo thing” and the prof wanted to wow me, the reality of the situation is quite sad. The people visiting these establishments are often lonely and may have no real friends or contact with people outside of work, thanks to the good/horrendous work ethic of Tokyoites. They’re paying good money for some human contact, even if that person has no other interest in them than financial gain. I actually had a good time trying to explain the concept of Game of Thrones to the woman sat at my table, and discovering that almost all of the people around me had never even heard of it. How does that happen with everything being online! It was rather bizarre seeing two of the doctors I was sitting with light up cigarettes in the middle of a club, with smoking in public spaces having been banned for a long time at home. It really was like a time warp – a scene pulled straight out of Mad Men. A glimpse into the life of a highroller. Again, all paid for by the prof.

Bonus points if you get the's an old one
Bonus points if you get the reference…it’s an old one

After a while we left in search of taxis, but I was separated from the group with one of the doctors so instead, he brought me to a hidden away private member’s club. This night was getting even more bizarre. D’s bar was the name, and he told me it started as a bar exclusively for doctors. It was heaven. No noisy patrons, no overpowering music (just ambient jazz), and only a few seats at the bar. Not bar stools…arm chairs. And of course, smoking was permitted. I asked for a Manhattan, because the time felt right, and because I had never had a Manhattan before and only knew of it from an old episode of the Simpsons (Bart had to mix one at Fat Tony’s bar). It may be an acquired taste. I’m sure it was a great cocktail for people who liked Manhattans, as the guy who made it looked more suited to cocktail making than anyone I’ve ever seen before. Plus, he knew what it was so that was a good start. The drinks were served, then for an added surprise we were given a few blocks of great chocolate. After much musing about world history and my poor attempt at speaking Japanese, we had to depart as D’s was only open until 12 am. Man, I miss D’s bar already. But there was no time to mourn! It was time for more food. Apparently ramen is the Japanese equivalent of a kebab and chips back home, and the place was completely packed out. It was a vending machine joint, so you bought your ticket at the machine and sat at a little seat/booth and handed your ticket through a window in front. One of the chefs collected it, and then came the ramen. A little cover came was closed over the window and you had peace (relatively speaking, in a loud eatery) to enjoy the noodles. They were really good, and the doctor who brought me there ordered me extra noodles for reasons unknown to me. I wasn’t even hungry after the several hours of shabu shabu eating earlier. That was one of the strangest nights of my life, but also one of the best. The night concluded with a taxi ride back to Kachidoki. Earlier, the doctors had put money together to pay for a taxi for me and gave me £25 for a £10 taxi, then the doctor I was with refused to let me pay for it. They’ve made me so welcome and all been so generous – I couldn’t have afforded half the things I’ve done so far without them, so many thanks to the awesome vascular surgeons at Jikei Hospital.


I should also say that taxis here totally blew my mind during the same night. The back door opens and closes automatically! It’s really bizarre to watch, but kind of makes sense. Well, a strange kind of Tokyo sense.

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