Though I typically travel solo, I am rarely ever alone. Between the Couchsurfing project, alumni and professional groups and the random people I meet, there is usually someone around while I explore a new destination. This trip, I connected with 2 members of the MSU Alumni group of Tokyo, Fumiko Masuzawa and Keeichi Higuchi, who showed me an amazing time – Thanks again you two!
We started the night at a sake tasting just a short walk away from my hotel in the Shimbashi district. Similar to happy hour or a wine tasting back home, we sampled fried cheese, octopus, grilled onion wrapped in bacon (mmmm bacon), fried potatoes and more while sipping on the 18 different variations of sake all made from one particular type of rice. The name escapes me, but when translated means strong — and good and strong it was!
After drinks and appetizers , we headed off for the main course. We passed the infamous stream train outside of Shimbashi Station (which can be seen in the background on CNN and other news shows when highlighting Tokyo commerce) and several bars and restaurants before arriving at Torigoya (aka Chicken Cage), a traditional yakitori restaurant (kabob shop). I devoured round after round of various boiled and grilled cuts of chicken and pork skewers, veggies and rice balls (all with chopsticks) before finishing up with a bowl of clear soup. I was pleasantly stuffed!
Equally as good as the food was the conversation with Fumiko and Keeichi. They offered interesting insight on various neighborhoods, cultural shifts within the country and the economic challenges the city faces after the economic downturn and recent earthquake/tsunami. Top of mind seemed to be the expected summer blackouts. Fumiko pointed out how much dimmer the skyline was and all around efforts of the city to reduce electrical consumption. Despite the cut backs, Tokyo is still vibrant and full of energy and I had an amazing time.
The next time you travel abroad (or domestically), reach out to your Alma mater’s local alumni group. You never know who might be willing to meet up with you and how it might add another dimension to your trip.