Eating Soba in Toranomon Hills

Across the street from our hotel, we saw a line outside a small eating establishment. The line was out the door and around the corner. It moved quickly though, so we also took our place in line and in a few minutes entered Minatoya, an establishment specializing in soba noodles. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis place was a model of Japanese efficiency! A small (but elegantly understated) room consisted of a counter and a cubical table taking up most of the room. People were standing around the cube and slurping their noodles. At the entrance, we ordered from a menu of 6 soba dishes, received a ticket, proceeded several steps further, relinquished our tickets to a worker who passed it on to the people behind the counter. Upon our approach to the counter, we received a tray with a cup of water, a bowl of the house special sauce, and a larger bowl of noodles with meat, topped with a bouquet of seaweed. As diners around the table were finishing their meals and leaving, others were taking their places around the table. Bags and purses went into the designated slots on the side of the cube. There was very little room between the soba eaters and the wall, so care had to be taken not to push them and not to drop your trays as you maneuvered to your place around the cube. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On the table, there were bowls of onion-type vegetables, crumbled tempura, and raw eggs. Photographs of the counter and beyond were not allowed as the recipes were kept secret. You sprinkled the condiments on top of your bowls and put one egg on your tray. Then you dipped your noodles into the sauce and ate them to the soft sound of Chopin’s Impromptu. Repeat.
Then the raw egg was broken into the sauce halfway through the meal to alter the taste.
This was a ritual, and we learned it by watching other, experienced soba-eaters.
Mind you, this was an experience and the highlight of the day!
The rest of the day we spent just wandering the city, mostly Ginza, its depatos, shops, and cafes.
Tokyo is a great city. I wouldn’t call it beautiful, but it’s an ultimate CITY; the city all other cities should strive to recreate. It’s clean, vibrant, efficient, there are no bums, no homeless, no panhandlers. Street cleaners are a constant presence picking up rare trash, sweeping the streets, and even, sometimes, scrubbing the pavement with  toothbrushes!
People make sure they look the best they can – their collective taste level is the highest of all other nations. Contrary to popular belief, all Japanese women are not beautiful, but they take great care of their appearance. They are stylish and feminine. The country was decimated during WWII, but they they didn’t seem to harbor bad feelings, didn’t dwell on their losses, and instead of blaming others for their misfortunes, picked themselves up by their shoestrings and built for themselves this amazing country.
So we left Tokyo today and made an arduous journey to Hakone. It involved taking a taxi to a train station, taking a bullet train to another station, then a slow train to the third station, and then the slowest of them all, a country switchback train OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto our final destination, Gora, from where we took a taxi to our next hotel. But Japanese efficiency and discipline made this seemingly arduous journey easy. What’s interesting is that trains don’t stay at the stations for more than a minute. People get on and off in what seems to be a few seconds.
It’s late and dark now outside, but I can make out some shapes in the windows. They are mountains. One of them just might be Fuji.


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