Chasing Planes Day 6: There are Good Days, and there are Great Days

Side note: I'm really terrible at this, aren't I? But better late than never, I guess?

Most vacation days don't turn out perfect, but there are those times when things just fall into place. Like my hair, for instance.

I've been trying for years - years! - to curl it with a flat iron, to no avail. But that morning, I was somehow able to coax it into submission. I haven't been able to replicate this feat since, so I'm convinced that this was a singular case of the universe being nice.

I was so pleased I didn't mind lining up for an hour by my lonesome (everyone was late, and the boyfriend went perfume shopping) so we can all have lunch at Midori Sushi in Shibuya.

I must confess that despite having spent hundreds of days in Japan, I never formed a love affair with sushi. And not for lack of trying - in fact whenever I see someone rolling his eyes in ecstasy after a bite of what I can only assume is really exquisite tuna I think to myself, maybe, maybe, today's the day I finally appreciate the delicacy that is raw fish. Minutes later and I'm desperately trying to dislodge that tiny piece of tuna stuck to my throat. After so many failed attempts, I have accepted the fact that like carrots, and nori, and bangus belly, it's one of those things I just could not grow to love. Until that fateful day when I found myself face to face with o-toro. 

I ordered mine torched (aburi), because I still cannot deal with really raw fish and also because it lends a light smoky dimension to the fish. O-toro is the fattiest portion of the tuna, surrounding the belly. It's wonderfully marbled, and as cliche as it sounds, it literally melts in your mouth. In Midori, a single piece costs about as much as a complete meal in Tenya, but I assure you it is well worth it.

There are things that you eat that make you smile, and there are those that make you close your eyes and be thankful you are alive. If there is one thing you are going to eat in Japan, please please please let it be o-toro.

After lunch I didn't expect the day to get any better, but surprisingly it did.

We knew we were too early for cherry blossoms, but having sat through more hanami sessions than I care to remember it's not that big of a deal to me. If you've ever gone to an extremely crowded cherry blossom park in full-bloom with ten engineers with spankin' new cameras who insist on taking the perfect shot every ten steps you would know that even the best things cease to be pretty in exactly twenty minutes.

Le boyfriend hasn't been subjected to that torture though, so it was a welcome sight to see a couple of trees blooming in Shinjuku Gyoen.

What happened afterwards was a bit of a blur, particularly because our friend, let's call him Nark, was planning to propose(!!!) to his girlfriend, and so we had to scurry off to this park in the middle of nowhere (Sagamiko) that was all lit up in a bazillion Christmas lights. It was a long journey, but well worth it. And although it is not my story to tell, I can say this much: she said yes. Interestingly enough, so many people I know got engaged in Japan this year. I've never would've pegged it as a country that evokes romance, but I guess I was wrong.

You would think this is the end of a very successful day, but there is one more wonderful thing around the corner.

Back when I frequented Japan, the ramen du jour was Ippudo. My colleagues were so addicted to it they were able to complete a set of point cards and ended up with a set of Ippudo paraphernalia that included bandanas and bowls and things. And that's apart from the hundreds of pounds that they collectively gained. But now there's a new kid on the block (actually for all I know it might have been around for a hundred years already but we were sadly unaware of it): Ichiran.

There is something immensely comforting about a place that encourages alone time with a bowl of piping hot soup. I like eating alone from time to time, and this was just perfect. The dividers do go down if you have company, as was the case when we went there.

So this is how it works: you punch in your orders from a vending machine by the door. There is only one type of ramen, so the only actual choice involved is the condiments that go with it. You then sit your ass on a booth, hang your coat and your bag in the conveniently positioned hooks, hand the order tickets to the person on the other side via a tiny curtained window, and fill out what I can only describe as a ramen customisation form.

After a few minutes, the curtain in front of you lifts, and out comes a steaming bowl of the most amazing ramen. There is no food more perfect on a cold, windy night.

So often when we travel, there are good days and bad. But it's the completely awesome days, days like this, that make it more than worth our while. 

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