東京: Day Three or is it Day Four?

Probably Day Four.  Must be, I’m nearly sure of it.  Yes, time difference and jet lag confuse my relationship to a sense of time.  Then, too, ironically, I know my way around the city, pretty well, and the feeling of being a little bit at home adds to disorientation.

Tokyo: 東京.

It makes me happy to be here.

I love the pace, which is brisk, and people seem to have a way of moving and observing suggestive of purpose.  They appear to be purposeful.  I suppose that is an illusion, in many if not most cases, but that, too, adds to the experience.  It feels at times as if I am in a movie.

The second night I went to the Old Imperial Bar in the hotel for a little whisky and sat at the bar.  The room was dark, perfectly lighted, and I was the only Westerner there.  I appreciated the quiet, the moodiness, and the way things winded down after a day of rehearsal for my work as MC at the Congress where I am working.

Previously, the night before, it was delicious, first-rate yakitori with two Tokyo friends, R and K, whose laughter and company I prize.  Every restaurant they choose is elegant and restrained.  This one was in the basement of the Tokyo Station Hotel.

The day of my work went well, and rapidly.  The people I interviewed on stage about their work as chefs and hoteliers and technology experts knew a lot, and each had an ability to impart that information with clarity and joy.

Today are more talks and meetings, about food and life in Japan, and tonight is the farewell gala.

Then onto Kaga Onsen tomorrow.  Eki-Ben!

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Back to Japan!

In a few hours, I’ll be flying directly to Narita, which is something I haven’t done in many years.  Normally, I change planes to get to Japan.

I like the long flight, dozing and reading and watching a movie or two.

I’ve had Japan on the mind for many years, since I was a teenager.  Channel 13 in NYC ran a series of movies by famous directors.  I was twelve when I saw, “Rashomon,” and I loved the idea of narratives being true and untrue.  It kind of fit home life.

From there I read , “Snow Country,” by Tanizaki.  Then a couple of novels by Mishima as well as a biography of him by Henry Scott-Stokes.

I let it go in college.  But in graduate school, I wrote my doctoral thesis on the psychological effects of the nuclear threat, which led to reading a lot about Hiroshima.  Robert Jay Lifton was on my committee.

Much more recently, I’ve been to Japan 22 times, starting in 2002, and have tried to understand the complexities.  I prize the silence.  I especially love the concept: aun no kokyu–“breathing in harmony.”

The work continues, and there is much to learn, embrace, and accept.

 

M.C. Scotto: The Latest from Japan

In just under a week, I’ll return to Japan, trip #23, 3rd this year, this time to be M.C. at an international Congress for a well-known luxury group of hotels, inns, and restaurants.  The plan is to spend a few days sorting through the detritus and facts about cultures, East and West, and have extraordinary experts on hospitality express their knowledge to others with common interests.

Tokyo this time of year seems fragile: White skies, a chill in the air, people hurrying to get out of the cold or rain, and an ebullience in facial and body expressions meant to bring others closer.  It’s not like summer when nature brings us closer to the environment and serves to isolate people, ironically.  Now is a time, in Tokyo, of proximity between people.  It’s fascinating to observe, and lucky to participate in, one way or another.

From quiet whisky bars that prize silence to small clubs with fine acoustic jazz, the city embraces.

 

PABU BOSTON

Pabu Boston opened in Boston a couple of weeks ago, and good thing, too, because I was hungry.  It’s a very upscale izakaya, the real thing, and you might as well be in Marunouchi or Ginza: The vibe is young, urban, relaxed, confident, and soothing.  I’ve been in three times for dinner out of the past nine nights.

The place operates with a menu that is really going to be the template or trend of the future: Small plates of the best-sourced ingredients.  Nothing culled from a chef’s meagre imagination, nothing meant to shock or awe, no surprises.  Just exceptionally first-rate food.

Anago that tastes as if it was just fetched from the sea.  Thinly sliced burdock root.  Little pork gyoza.  Yakitori that has just the right amount of marinade: Tsukune, negime, kawa

All in all, great raw fish, great small dishes of vegetables or various animal proteins, grilled chicken.

It’s by far the best restaurant to open in Boston in years, along with Babbo Pizzeria.  Again: Small plates, great ingredients, pleasant rooms, and consistent service.  Neither place is chef-driven, and both recognize the importance of focusing on high-end products.

 

Coming in From the Cold

As people get older, their memories improve, then remain about the same, and towards the end, many report (or are observed by others to have) a decline or loss.  Along the way, events can improve or impair memory, from trauma to diet.

I think that something must be going on.  If I could only remember what it was.

I’m pretty sure that something happened last week, something pretty important: People this week sure are acting differently.

I noticed the change late last Tuesday night.  Some people seem more glum than before, others appear to be angrier, and a whole bunch?  A whole bunch are as gleeful as a Christian kid on Christmas morning!

Speaking for myself–I mean who else can I speak for?  The dog?–I’ve been more numb, exhausted, labile, angry, confused, fearful, suspicious, anticipatory, and distracted than before.

I’ve been cooking.  Nice.  And drinking.  Not so nice.  And planning Thanksgiving dinner.  Um, OK.

Of that dinner: Maybe vegetarian appetizers like fried, pressed tofu squares with sesame seeds.  Maybe sides of daal and rice and Collards.

Now if I could only remember what happened last week.  It’s on the tip of my tongue.

What Me Worry?

Look, I’m not saying Paul von Hindenburg was the best candidate, but at least he would have kept Weimar going.  As it stands, our new Chancellor has big ideas and while that’s good–I mean, who doesn’t like big ideas?–one has to wonder: Who will be blamed when the big ideas fail?

With tariffs coming of 30-45% on goods from China and Mexico, and the price of those goods going up, and then those two nations placing tariffs on U.S. imports, which will decrease the demand for those products, the obvious result will be inflation.  Without wages to match the prices because more money will be needed by many Americans to pay out of pocket for health care and education.

And when that all leads to discontent, who will be blamed?

Who will be identified as “the misfortune” of America?

Then, too, when those who are blamed protest, in one way or another, what civil liberties will be taken from them in the name of national security?

On the other hand, maybe it will all work out.  Maybe once the Chancellor achieves power, he’ll work things out.  Maybe he’ll build a governing coalition.  Maybe pigs will fly.

The State of the Square

I know, I was thinking the same thing: What’s new in Harvard Square?  Where and what can eat?

As of today, there are four bakery/cafe places, all but one are really good.  There are five burger joints.  There are three venues which sell pizza.

All of this is really good if you’re between the ages of nine and nineteen.

For real food, I mean sit down and eat delicious plates of memorable food, there’s Night Market, which is truly first-rate.  As good as it gets in any city.  Beat Hotel is a lot of fun when music’s playing.  And Giulia is opening a spinoff inside the Charles Hotel, which means at last there will be terrific Italian food in the Square.

It’s all certainly a big improvement on years past when bank after bank, drugstore after drugstore, phone store after phone store opened.

 

Small Wonders

It’s not as if there is a tradition of democracy in the United States for people of color and women.  The former got increased access to the vote about fifty years ago, and the latter got access to vote in 1920.  Globally, name five political leaders you admire or who inspire.  I came up with three.

So it’s no wonder that Trump is as close to gaining power.  Context is everything.

The underestimation, however, of what is going to happen should he achieve the Presidency is alarming.  People don’t know how swiftly, as well as incrementally, changes will occur.  Media outlets will indeed be shut down, civil liberties will be taken away, and reproductive rights will almost vanish.  To say nothing of creating a climate in which ideas and strategies outside of dictates will be condemned.  Think Breitbart.  And all in the name of fighting a war on “radical Islamic terrorism.”

 

It’s the First of November…

…and another Halloween is behind us.  Where does the time go?  Last night we had few–zero–trick-or-treater’s, and small wonder when just around the corner are manses decked out with stage-worthy monsters, pumped in sound, and brilliant and twinkling orange lights.  Kids from all over the region are driven there by their parents to grab fistfuls of big candy bars.  So, in fact, the two bags of Snickers go back to the freezer.

Meanwhile I picked up today’s paper and discovered that Chobani is hiring refugees to work in its factories.  As a result, the CEO is getting threats on the Internet, and there are those calling for a boycott of the products.

Looking ahead, it’s prep and planning for Thanksgiving.  Who wouldn’t want to buy a local turkey?  But $85 for a 10-12 pound bird?  No, thanks.  Jaindl sells its turkeys, from Pennsylvania Dutch country, at Whole Foods and $35 or so gets you top quality.

Closer to home, it’s Game Six and turkey-Salvadorean red bean chili.  That’s about as local as it gets around here.