Small fish (C)
I lived in a block of apartments that were built on reclaimed industrial land. There were quarries nearby. Later, factories were built on the landfill. Even later, the area was designated Pao'ai Number Eight Residential District. Workers from factories in the central districts were demobilized and sent out to the edge of the city. Apartment blocks were built. The factories were abandoned. The dormitories in Number Eight were taken down, mostly, but there are a few there still, brick cubes with propaganda on their sides in faded yellow paint. There are new apartments being built now. It's been a while since I've been to Dalian and out to the edge of the city. I'm sure the old apartment block that I lived in has been torn down and replaced. There was an abandoned railway bed running through Number Eight. When it rained, it floods like a canal. The shores were occupied by vegetable plots and mulberry bushes divided with woven twig fences. There was garbage everywhere. When it was cold and when I had money, I would take the Number Thirty-eight bus to Pao'ai Market. In front of the supermarket, a man from Xinjiang named Tomur set up a tent. His wife wore a sequined headscarf and had sharp cheekbones and round, round hazel eyes. His son did homework at a folding table in the back. The tent was made of blue tarps. There was a plastic canvas sack of beer bottles. When I had money, I'd go there and fill up a metal tray with lamb dusted with cumin and crushed chilies, chicken hearts, and sardines. Everything was wiped with a vinegary chili sauce and grimy grey sea salt.
Small fish (B)
An earthquake shook the building and it swayed for two long minutes. We were eating shishamo dipped in mayonnaise. We were listening to Bobby Womack. These shishamo are lean and have no eggs inside of them. The grill dries the flesh away from the skin. The skin is thin. I grill them until the tails are burnt but the meat inside hasn't dried out. The guts taste like bitter blood. The building shakes again. For the next few hours, sitting on the bed, working on my book, I stop every now and then, thinking the building is shaking again. It's only the blood flowing in my legs.
Small fish (A)
Un rayon de soleil matinal / sur la tête / des sardines. We were eating shirasu last week. The market is full of shirasu. It's the season. We ate them on soft tofu and on rice with salt and lemon. After that, we ate shishamo with ume mayonnaise. There are sardines in the market now, iwashi. They take more work than the shishamo, which can be grilled with head on and guts in. They're beautiful sardines. Their sides are gleaming blue. I enjoy the work of cutting them down, rinsing them under cold water. I grilled the iwashi and ate them with a salad of fava beans and asparagus. I cooked the iwashi in a glaze of soy and brown sugar and ate them on rice. I bent over the bowl and breathed in the scent of sugars and fish and hot white rice. It's raining. We can't open the windows. The kitchen smells like the fish guts in the plastic bag hanging under the sink.
Orenji (series: kissaten reviews)
I spend a lot of time alone. I live in a foreign country and can't speak the language beyond a basic level. I work from home, sitting against my bedroom wall. I miss conversation. I miss it for this reason: I can burn off or test ideas. As it is now, material that would be used up in conversation circulates and I waste my time writing things like this. When I sit in a kissaten with a notebook, I can try to burn through some ideas. If I go back to the notebook, the idea was valuable. When I sit down with the notebook later, I can do the actual work of smoothing down the raw idea and grafting on already refined small ideas. Kissaten are a good place to work. They are meant for long aimless afternoons, scribbling in a notebook, flipping through a book, watching the street outside. Orenji is a good choice. If I walk in Joyful Minowa, I stop there. It's between the Toden Arakawa Line's Arakawa-itchūmae Station and Minowabashi Station and before the overpass with the Jōban Line thundering overhead. The alley has a genuine ancient dagashiya, an Italian restaurant and a few coffee shops. The melon soda is syrupy, with a good scoop of vanilla on top.
Karabina (series: kissaten reviews)
A short walk from Machiya Station, where three lines meet. I ride the Toden Arakawa Line to get there. The area around the station is a typical commuter hub. There are chain coffee shops, a department store, video rental and karaoke places, girl bars, family restaurants, pachinko parlors, and alleys of izakaya. Walking beyond the station, one the larger commercial areas in Arakawa, the neighborhood is interesting and lively, with many kissaten and cafes in the alleys off the main street. I walk a circuit down from the station on Otakebashi-dori and back, looking through the second hand shops. There's a self-serve vintage shop near the station, where you put money in a box. The kissaten is down an alley. My son was born at a clinic further up the alley. On one side is a shrine and on the other side is a small izakaya. There's a coffee roaster running outside the front door. A warm room with lots of wood. There is the smell of roasting coffee and cigarette smoke. Toast comes with homemade apple jam. If the afternoon is warm, I often take the walk back to Minowa.
Miyoshi (series: kissaten reviews)
I order iced coffee and buttered toast and they are served with syrup and milk for the coffee and a salt shaker for the toast. I might write in my notebook but only to look occupied. If I have a book to read, I might open it and skim a few pages. I wanted to take a walk through the places mentioned. I go out to get away from work. The kissaten is a five minute walk away, in Senzoku, right on the edge of Yoshiwara, behind the Ōtori Shrine. The interior is austere. Natural light comes in from the big windows that face an intersection. Maybe the lack of a particular atmosphere has kept this kissaten alive, while dozens of others in the neighborhood are shuttered. This is not a neighborhood kissaten, where people you know might stop by. There is no chit-chat. Tables are far enough apart that it feels private and anonymous. The coffee is not outstanding. The menu has no surprises. There is no smoked glass Shōwa glamour. But the blankness is appealing. The proprietors are professional. Men walking through Yoshiwara stop here and drink their iced coffee quickly and go out again to walk back to Minowa Station. Women working in Yoshiwara stop here and eat plates of Napolitan. The coffee is gritty.
Buying vegetables (A)
There are five or six supermarkets within easy walking distance. I prefer Y's Mart, which is between my home and Minowa Station, but I will also go to Olympic, which is larger and has a second floor that sells household items. Niku no Hanamasa is where I go if I'm walking back from Asakusa. But there's also a supermarket near Minowa Station and one in Nihonzutsumi and one above Iriya. And maybe a few more that I'm not remember or haven't come across.
There are two shōtengai within easy walking distance--more if we include less formally organized shopping streets because there are about ten in the same circle I've drawn on the map but they tend to be mostly shuttered. Irohakai is a short walk away. From Edward Fowler’s San'ya Blues: Laboring Life in Contemporary Tokyo:
The Iroha (“A-B-C”) is a roofed arcade running nearly a quarter mile from the western edge of Nihonzutsumi northeast into the heart of San'ya just shy of Old Streetcar Boulevard. It competes with two other commercial areas, the Asahi Shōtengai, a shop-lined street (with metal awnings on the shop fronts but no roof) located a five minute walk to the southeast; and Minowa Joyful (near Minowabashi Station), a venerable but well-kept arcade located a fifteen-minute walk to the northwest. Unlike Asahi Street, the Iroha Arcade is not open to automobile traffic, and unlike the Minowa Arcade … it is not fed by any commuter train…. It is patronized by day laborer and permanent resident alike, as well as by shoppers from farther afield.
There's a vegetable shop at the side of the shōtengai closest to the Minowa Station side. The proprietor sells organic vegetables that come mostly from local farms (within Tokyo or from Saitama and Chiba and Kanagawa, and sometimes Gunma or Shizuoka). Above the vegetables, there are handwritten notes as to their provenance.
I sometimes stop by just to have a look, match the vegetables to my calendar of monthly seasonal vegetables, pick up a bag of greens and weigh it in my hands.The vegetables have dirt on them.
I bought a daikon there today. I washed it in the sink at home and it left a fine layer of sand in the basin. I bought a bag of mustard greens that concealed somewhere inside of the bundle two tiny white worms with black heads.
Hotel La Cachette (A)
I often take a picture of this particular love hotel in Asakusa. I noticed that it appeared in a series of Franck Bohbot photographs called Tokyo Murmurings, which is pictures of empty Tokyo streets at night or at dusk. The hotel is a short walk from my tower in Senzoku. It's in a stretch of Asakusa that feels somehow in-between--in between the tourist quarters around Sensō-ji to the south and the pink neon district of Yoshiwara to the north. Maybe Hanayashiki Amusement Park is in that in-between area, too. I think it might be. Even on days that Nakamise-dori is clogged with pedestrians, the area toward the park is quiet enough that you can hear the creak and rattle of the roller coasters. The covered sidewalks on Senzoku-dori are in there, too--not quite Asakusa and not quite Yoshiwara. Gone soon. Too close to Asakusa not to scoop up and put condos down on. Hotel La Cachette is a holdout. It looks out of place there, rising above the low city, with the plastic shell over its concrete core shifting from soft green-turquoise-blue to a sharper neon red-jade-emerald and back to the softest purple-pink-yellow. If I am in the right part of the neighborhood, when it's dark enough to enjoy the illumination, I'm usually going to a bar that's a few steps from the entrance to the hotel. There are bars closer to my tower and on the walk to Asakusa, I pass the narrow bar streets that run along the southern edge of Yoshiwara. The bars nearest to my tower have never pulled me past the front door or kept me for longer than a single drink. The small bars near Yoshiwara feel unwelcoming. The bar I go to in Asakusa is a dive. There are ten stools. There's a good range of bourbon. The boss drinks milky shōchū on ice and smokes Peace. When you order a second drink, you hand your glass over the bar and get it refilled. It has a theme, too: the sign on the door says "& VARIOUS BLACK MUSIC." The last time I went, the playlist was: Bobby Womack, the Delfonics, Howlin' Wolf, Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton, James Brown, and Willie Hutch. The Willie Hutch was from a dusty copy of The Mark of the Beast (1975) brought in by a man that was not a regular but lived in the neighborhood and brought in the record thinking the boss would appreciate it. He accepted a highball, while the first side of the LP was played. There was one other patron in the bar, an older woman, who came in late, drank highballs and requested the Kenny Rogers-Sheena Easton duet. I drank three oolong highs. I took my picture of Hotel La Cachette as I left, sometime around 2:30 in the morning.