Sunday was my last night with Takuji and Sachi.
We met in Shimokitazawa--the area Takuji grew up in. Part of a town within Tokyo, it is "famous for the rock bands." He took us to his favorite restaurant, a small and cozy place called Hiroki. Popular and easily packed, we stood in line outside for our chance to sit down, meanwhile taking advantage of the wonderful waiting period to talk and let our hunger stir. We talked about everything from our trip thus far and our plans for these next two full days, to the business of Lomography, to the traditional Japanese "American Christmas" holiday and the KFC fried chicken dinner that is its centerpiece. Sachi said McDonald's is now trying to steal away the business by expanding from chicken nuggets to the inclusion of drumsticks and such on their menu. We all laughed at what gets lost in translation. They said Christmas is a romantic holiday, similar to our Valentine's Day. It is apparently very important to have a date on Christmas Eve here.
At one point during our wait to be seated, there was room for two of us to step into the inside waiting area and out of the cold, so Takuji and Anthony remained outside and had man-time while us ladies moved in and continued chatting about education and friends and traveling to places such as India and Italy. We were brought menus while waiting in line, and Takuji once again took on the responsibility of ordering for all of us while accommodating superbly to my vegetarian needs. This restaurant is known for okonomiyaki, or what Sachi tried to compare to a pancake, only with meat and Japanese vegetables in them (I'm told the ones we ate were Hiroshima style). Takuji has been eating at this restaurant since he was ten years old, and he knows the menu in every direction. He ordered for us the best okonomiyaki they have. There was a sauce on top kiiiiind of like teriyaki and also slightly sweet, but much tastier. The dishes were tall and fat. While waiting for these main courses, we had Takuji's favorite appetizer: beer, and a small dish that contained deliciously flavored mushrooms along with some scallops and baby tomatoes. The food could not have been better. It felt very necessary that we consume all of this before returning to our homes in America.
After dinner, we wandered around the small and colorful streets of Shimokitazawa, lit up and foggy and bustling during this Sunday night. We went into a hilarious shop filled with all kinds of oddities, souvenirs, funny items...kind of like a lot of stores I've seen in Ashland, only all in the same building (and there was even a toy camera/Lomo section). We picked up things and tried on things and made jokes about things and stood in awe at things. Then, Takuji led us to Cafe Ordinaire, an adorable and hidden cafe (hidden = no line to wait in!) that had vintage posters adorning its walls and old, faded looking Japanese books lining its shelves and counters (and you are welcome to browse the books while you're there). We came here for dessert and drinks. I had a slice of banana cream cake, with almond flavoring and chocolate chips and a small pile of homemade whipped cream with a mint leaf beautifully resting on top of it. I've never eaten cake like this: modest in sweetness in order to activate taste buds which my American tongue was not previously aware of. The slices were small and perfect, and we ate them with tiny forks that made everything feel just right. We had talked about getting coffee and sweets, but we all kinda knew we could go for another beer. Anthony and I compromised and had kahlua on the rocks, and our mouths and bodies couldn't have been happier.
We talked about the stupid movies we love and Takuji and Sachi's honeymoon and our favorite beers and death. We constructed the ties that all strong and sincere friendships are based on. It was only my third night seeing these two people who, until these last two weeks, I had only known through the internet and mail. Yet something about this friendship, and the four of us sitting at the same table in a neighborhood within Tokyo, made so much sense. Takuji and I met through Lomography and our shared interest in analogue photography, and soon after we were mailing film to each other from 5,000 miles apart and shooting double exposures over each others pictures. Now, on this Sunday evening in Tokyo, we were sitting a foot apart, sharing food and drinks and stories. It has been a very personal and genuine friendship from the start, and the fact that my once in a lifetime, first-time-out-of-the-country trip led me to him and his wife's company is proof of that.
When the night was over, we walked back to the train station and said goodbye to these two amazing people, vowing to someday again spend time together, be it in Tokyo, along the West Coast or in Rome. I felt sad as I shook their hands one last time, but I knew it was more of a see you later than anything else. I'm thinking now about all of the hands I've come in contact with on this trip, and the similarities between here and home in how we use them: for introductions, body language, and aid when ordering things at a restaurant (I love when menus have photos...kore, onegaishimasu); for locating, exchanging, and typing love letters to people far away; for respect, for spirituality, and for extending a bit of love to someone in a temporary goodbye.
And of course, for camera holding.