On my way to Sensoji I had noticed the simple display: a pot of bushy, russet-coloured chrysanthemums and several bottles of sake on the stoop. This spot, a few steps south of my hotel, is fixed on my highly reliable restaurant-radar. I hesitate. There is no picture menu posted. No English. With no idea what I’m in for I take my chances.
Sliding the door open, I stick my head through the noren curtain and bow to the couple inside. I’m the first customer. Let’s see how far I get with my minimal Japanese: For one please.
To the rapid-fire answer that greets me I respond hesitantly. I’m sorry. I don’t speak Japanese very well. I don’t understand well. Do you speak English? No. No English.
That’s fine; I say still managing in Japanese. I remove my shoes, face them in right direction and unbutton my jacket. The proprietor hurries over to put my shoes in the cupboard and hang up my coat.
I can eat everything, I say. That gets a laugh. I settle in, request some sake (or Nihonshu as it’s called in Japan), ask for their specialty and put myself in their hands. For the rest, I don’t need conversation. But we try anyway, passing a translation machine back and forth all evening. More frequently we shake our heads and hiss through our teeth. That’s nonverbal Japanese meaning it’s very difficult.
Observing that I fully appreciate their cuisine, they encourage me to sample various Nihonshu brands, too, pouring until the glass overflows into the bamboo box containing it. Before leaving I drink the contents of the box as well.
Tonight I can relax and imbibe without restraint. The hotel is mere meters away. I can safely do that distance on my hands and knees if I must.