JAPAN — Day 1

Well, I’m in Japan.

My trip started with three hours of sleep and a 13-and-a-half-hour flight to Narita — a small city with a huge airport, located roughly 80 kilometers from Tokyo. Here’s what it looked like on the plane:

You know how some planes have computer monitors built into the seats? Check this out:

Evidently the quickest route from New York to Japan is over the Arctic Ocean.

I’m in Japan with my mom (Naomi) and half-sister (Martha). You might remember them from the trip we took last year to Barbados.

After making it through customs and getting our luggage, we headed to a train station, which had a spiffy vending machine on the platform:

Here’s the train:

In the photo above, Martha is standing on the left, and my mom is sitting in the 2nd row.

During the hourlong ride, we passed farmland . . .

. . . and a few cities . . .

. . . and something that resembled a baseball field:

(Whenever I see a random baseball field, I try to calculate how far it is to various objects in the distance — and what it would take to hit them. In the photo above, could Prince Fielder hit a ball onto the bridge? I think so.)

I was VERY excited when we made it to Tokyo . . .

. . . and as you can imagine, I photographed everything, for example:

Here’s a photo of Martha and my mom outside our hotel:

We were all exhausted and took a lengthy nap, and by the time we woke up, it was dark. We wandered outside in search of food and ended up at a non-touristy restaurant on this side street:

We had to remove our shoes upon entering and, after much confusion, discovered a nearby area of lockers:

In the photo above, do you see all those little metal boxes with numbers on them? See how some of them have wooden pieces sticking out? Those were the empty lockers. For two solid minutes, we seriously had no idea what the hell was going on; the lone employee had mumbled a full sentence in super-fast Japanese and then disappeared.

Eventually we were led upstairs to a classy, cozy, bustling dining area. There were lots of little booths and side rooms. I really wanted to take photos, but we were the only non-Asian people in the whole place, and I didn’t want to be obnoxious.

I don’t mean to brag when I say this, but I spoke better Japanese than our waiter spoke English. In other words, he spoke NO English words. And then he brought us a menu that was pretty much all in Japanese. Thankfully there were pictures on it . . .

. . . but we were still in trouble. Oh, sure, the food in the pictures might LOOK good. It might even TASTE good. But if you’re not careful, you might end up eating horse meat.

That’s not a joke.

The waiter eventually brought us another menu . . .

. . . and, well, just look:

Marbled horsemeat? How about no.

I do realize the hypocrisy of my squeamishness. I mean, why am I okay with eating pigs and chickens and cows, but not horse? Or cats and dogs?

Speaking of chickens . . .

. . . the restaurant offered “Deep Fried Chicken Cartilage.”

Thanks but no thanks.

I chose something that was a bit of a mystery, but seemed harmless: “cheese in minced katsu.” Here it is on the menu . . .

. . . and here’s what it actually looked like:

I didn’t know what “katsu” was. Martha tried to look it up on her iPhone, but there wasn’t WiFi. Years ago she went to culinary school, and in the more recent past she has traveled A LOT, so I trust her in all food-related matters. She assumed that “katsu” was beef or pork. I feared it was ground octopus testicles, but you know what? Even if it was, it still wouldn’t have been nearly as gross as a hot dog.

Martha and my mom each got the same thing: “yakisoba on iron with rich sauce.” It was pretty much just a spicy noodle dish with vegetables.

We finished the meal with three deserts. Can you guess what any of them are based on the photos below? Think about it before you scroll down. The answers will follow immediately:

On the left: organic cheese and mango vanilla.
In the middle: homemade vanilla ice cream bread.
On the right: kamakura pudding.

“Day 1” was actually a day and a half. We woke up early in the morning in New York on March 25th, then crossed the International Date Line during the flight (which meant it technically/suddenly became the next day), and because of the 13-hour time difference between New York and Tokyo, we are about to go to bed on March 26th. Actually, it’s now 1:04am on March 27th here in Tokyo as I write this, so my first “day” has spanned three different calendar days, and I’ve only slept for a total of . . . I don’t even know. Maybe five or six hours? I managed to sleep on the plane for a bit, and then there was the hotel-room nap. I haven’t brushed my teeth or changed my clothes since . . . let’s not go there. Everything is so weird and awesome here. I can’t believe that I’m in Japan — JAPAN, SON!!! — and that I’ll be attending a major league baseball game in a day and a half.


  1. George

    You live in New York and never had katsu? I just assumed katsu was something that was breaded and deep fried like fried chicken strips. It also comes with a sauce.

    If you’re in Japan, why not try some curry? I like Japanese curry.

  2. JonMadden

    that’s awesome man- i’m looking forward to the game you’re going to. i’m hoping on using japanese on the new rochester red wing 2nd baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka who apparently has a translator (which i won’t need… :D)

  3. Nicholas Badders

    I asked my school principal (he is a Red Sox fan) if I could go to Japan as a “Cultural Learning Trip” believe it or not, he said no…

  4. Zack Hample

    Thanks so much.

    What can I tell ya? I’d never heard of kutsu. I do like curry, so I’m pretty sure I’ll end up having some of that.

    1) Ha, okay. We actually have one here in the hotel room’s bathroom, but I’m kind of scared of it. Does it preclude wiping?
    2) I shall mention it to my tour guide, aka my seeeester.

    I think you’re joking, and if you’re not . . . ew.

    Yeah. I’m sure, though, that some of the food I eat in America seems horrible/weird to foreigners, so I’ll call it even.

    Thanks and good luck in Rochester.

    That’s hilarious. :-)

    I’ve heard (from the guru at bigleaguebaseballs.com) that there *will* be commemorative balls at these games, though I doubt I’ll see any during BP. Third-out balls, here I come . . .

    Ignore the time stamp on this comment. It’s a bit past 8am here in Tokyo on March 27th. We will soon be heading out for the day.

  5. Nicholas Badders

    So I just saw him at the store and asked him if he would reconsider… the answer was no… then I offered to snag a ball for him… still no chance… then he pointed out that I have a school Leadership confrence in LA thursday and friday and I got all sad…

  6. Cook & Son Bats

    Ah, lucky you, Zack. I wish I could be there too. Hey, could you do me a favor? Could you take a picture of the Toyko Dome roof? From what I can tell, it looks a whole lot like the Metrodome roof, but I haven’t seen a shot looking up at it. Wanna see just how much it really looks like the Metrodome roof. Thanks! GO MARINERS!

  7. connor

    Reminds me of taiwan 2 years ago, the taiwanese host guy I was staying with convinced me and my friend to try this popsicle looking thing. I thought it was just that red bean stuff but no…after I had a bite I was informed that it was fried pig blood. Anyway, have fun. And you should stop over here in SF on your way back, the time difference isn’t as extreme :)

  8. Andrew Gonsalves

    Zack, the washlet is really simple. You do your duty, then turn it on. It produces a concentrated stream of water aimed right at your abyss and blasts all of the remaining debris away. From there, all you need is a couple dabs from the paper to dry yourself off. I’ve been wanting to get one in my apartment, but the constant threat of having to move has stopped me.

  9. kslo69

    Katsu is a yell given by martial arts practitioners. Tonkatsu is a Japanese pork dish. Shintaro Katsu is one of Japan’s most famous old-school screen actors, probably best known in the west for the role of Zatoichi, the blind, butt-kicking masseur, and brother of Tomisaburo Wakayama of “Lone Wolf and Cub” fame.

  10. Mike

    Zack, the route you took is called a “great circle route” and is actially the shortest distance to travel around a sphere. That’s why you went into the Artic to get to Japan.

    Trust me on this and have fun

  11. Robin

    Katsu is fried cat, obviously! Actually I did some research and it seems to be the Japanese version of a cutlet?

  12. Zack Hample

    I don’t blame you for being sad.

    Yeah, but who goes to Japan to eat french fries?

    The Metrodome has indeed been moved to Tokyo.

    UGH!!! That’s beyond disgusting.

    I love your euphemisms.

    You lost me.

    I’m not arguing.

    Thank YOU.

    I never got close to him, and my camera’s zoom sucks.

    I’d eat cat, as long as it was a healthy cat. No stray-cat stew for me.

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