Akasaka has quickly become my favourite neighbourhood in Tokyo. It has all of the international amenities and none of the annoying tourists. The streets are full of restaurants from all over the world. The bars are chic and woman-friendly. I’ve been coming to this area for work and I LOVE it. There isn’t much to see or do as such – but if you’re a foreigner that’s been in Japan for a while and are longing to feel at ‘home’ – Akasaka will sort you out.
I even got to eat Hainanese Chicken Rice after AGES. Home is where the Chicken Rice is. The restaurant is in the basement of Akasaka BizTower: a mall that’s full of international restaurants. The first thing I noticed when I walked past Hainan Chi-fan was the Merlion. Well – if you ever need a super cliche hint that it’s a Singaporean restaurant. I’m not exactly keen on the icon that has come to represent my home country but the Japanese seem to love the Merlion for some reason that is incomprehensible to me.
The restaurant itself has a nice décor, and is very reminiscent of old world Singapore with its rustic charm. We Singaporeans love eating outdoors and this place tries to retain some sense of that. And then came the Chicken Rice.
It was good – but it didn’t quite meet the mark for me. We Singaporeans are diehard chicken rice people with the most stringent standards. We harshly and unapologetically judge the quality of the meal by four main criteria – the rice, the soup, the chilli and the chicken. The chilli was a little on the sweet side and didn’t have the intensity of the Singaporean chilli. I understand that restaurants in Japan want to cater to the local palate – but considering that this restaurant is in an international neighbourhood – they could always have two options for spice levels. The chicken was bland. Instead of roasted chicken, they had fried chicken – err why? There was too much white pepper in the soup. The only thing the restaurant did well was the rice. And no – I’m not saying this cynically. The Chicken Rice rice is made with a special broth – so it’s not as easy as people think to get it right.
Ah well. The search for a good chicken rice continues. After dinner, I hung out at a café and enjoy mulled wine and cheese. This is the life.
And then it was off to work.
Lights. Camera. Action.
The Journey Home
After it’s all done – I walk past my favourite bar in the neighbourhood, but it’s really crowded. There are no women at the bar either. The bartender signals me to come in but I bow slightly to apologise and make my way to the train station.
I’ve come a long long way from where I was last year. I used to watch it go past – the masses of people in that overcrowded train. Commuting is the biggest pain in a salaryman (woman’s?) life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much repressed misery as I have on Tokyo’s infamous rush hour train. The cattle class. I hated every minute of it.
But today I am spared that fate. I stop to purchase a ticket for the Green Car. The gentleman in front of me is so drunk that he can’t even read the screen to buy his own ticket. He asks me for help but I am so stunned by the stench on his breath that he mistakes the horrified look on my face for a lack of Japanese speaking ability.
When I get on the train, I find the only spare seat that’s next to a woman. It’s a whole different scene to the commuter cattle class where most people are on their phones, watching YouTube or playing a game – their faces zoned out from what’s going on around them.
On the Green Car, it’s different. Everyone is reading a book, a newspaper or typing away on their laptops. Many men are sipping on a beer or whiskey. Others are eating their dinner. I breathe in and out – relishing the experience after a long day’s work. I’ve spent enough time in commuter hell to not take this experience for granted.
We cannot appreciate or understand our highs unless we’ve experienced those lows. The familiar repressed misery still lingered in the air. Money can buy comforts – but not happiness.