Christmas Eve, we spent the morning looking around Shinjuku, a vibrant neighborhood in central Tokyo that looks like a living manga strip. It is the entertainment headquarters of Tokyo. Although we visited in the morning hours, it was still full of energy and people looking for a cheap thrill.
Our host also took us to an observation tower, from where we could look out over the whole metropolis of Tokyo - civilization spread as far as you could see.
Before we left Tokyo, our host took us to an okinami restaurant. Okinami is a traditional Japanese food that consists of layers of crepe, cabbage, bacon, bonito (not sure what that is but it looks like rice krispies), noodles, egg omelette, dried herbs, a sauce similar to BBQ sauce, and mayonnaise - whew!
It's made on a large hot plate. When the chef finishes making it, he slides it over to you. All the customers - only about 12 seats in the whole joint - sit facing the grill, watching the chef prepare the food. One thing I've noticed about Japanese cuisine is that many restaurants sit facing the chef so the customers can watch their food being made. I think this gives the diner a deeper appreciation for their dinner and respect for the chef. Also, because so much of the food is completely unknown to us, it's fascinating to see all the ingredients and flavors come together. Trust me, it was delicious.
After a quick pit stop at an electronics store (you've gotta go there while you're in Japan, right?), we boarded a bus and rode through the night towards the mountains in Hakuba. We arrived after dark, barely able to glimpse the mountains through the dusk, slopes lit up with tall lamps left on for night skiing and for grooming the slopes in the morning.
It was the first snowy Christmas Eve in two years, and we could hardly sleep for the excitement of snowboarding the next day on Christmas Day....