Wednesday, April 26, 2006

in the kingdom of kawaii

"The Quest for Katsudon in the Kingdom of Kawai" appears in the latest issue of iReport, the quarterly journal of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

It is a story I tell endlessly about our stay in Japan.

An excerpt:

My personal quest for the perfect katsudon began inadvertently, when I stepped off the airport shuttle in Tokyo, hungry, grumpy, and tired from the plane ride from Manila. “We need to eat,” I informed my wife, who was traveling with me. “Miniscule airplane meals are not real food. We need to eat now.”

“Okay,” replied my oh-so-supportive helpmate. “If you spot a McDonald’s around here, let me know.”

‘Around here’ was one of the many perplexing prefectures that make up the city of Tokyo, festooned with dozens of neon and cloth signs that no doubt offered tons of helpful information—if you happen to read Japanese, which neither of us did. It was past midnight and I would have given my luggage and possibly my wife for a heartening glimpse of those famous fast food golden arches.

Instead, we managed to find a little hole in the wall dining establishment—which Nikki probably thought of as ‘quaint’, while I immediately classified it as ‘dubious’. Still, we were in what has repeatedly been ranked as one of the safest cities in the world. So I let my hunger win out over my cautiousness and we stepped into the tiny eatery, which even I had to admit was done up charmingly inside with movie-perfect wooden tables, paper panels, and little cloth banners with brush stroke calligraphy.

My charmed state lasted mere moments, as we were immediately chased out by billowing clouds of steam and an equally gasp-inducing volley of hollered Japanese. After much confusion and frenzied gesticulation, I realized that we were supposed to order our food by using a sort of vending machine just outside the door—you pushed the button for the item you wanted to order and got a little slip of printed paper which you then presented to one of the apocalyptically scowling service staff within.

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Go and check it out.

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