HORSE’S MOUTH: About Japanese Eateries

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YOSHINAGA-GEORGEBy GEORGE YOSHINAGA

Golly, when I checked my calendar as I began writing today’s column and saw that it’s already December, I wondered, “What happened to the rest of the year 2013?” In a few weeks we’ll be celebrating the arrival of 2014.

Maybe it’s because we Nisei are getting older and older, which makes time fly faster and faster.

When we think back to the time when we Nisei volunteered to join Uncle Sam’s military forces and realize that it was nearly 70 years ago, we understand time has passed us by.

I guess we just have to adjust to the “time passes” situation.

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Usually on Sunday, my wife wants to dine out instead of preparing our supper at home. The first question I ask her when she says, “Let’s eat out” is “Where do you want to go?”

There are a lot of places we kind of consider our favorites. Of course, included in the choices are Japanese eateries. However, when we consider eating out on Sundays, I am more prone to non-Japanese places, unless it’s a place we don’t usually go.

There are a lot of new Japanese eateries opening in the L.A. area almost on a daily basis. In this weekend’s newspapers, three new ones were listed:

In Pasadena, there’s a new Benihana. Of course, we may never go all the way to Pasadena, but one day we might give it a try.

In Marina del Rey, there’s a new sushi restaurant called Iron Sushi. I’m not that much of a sushi fan, so I doubt if I’ll try the place.

Thirdly, in Downtown L.A. near Little Tokyo is a place simply called The Q. Kind of an intriguing name.

One thing to note about Japanese eateries is that most of them are on the expensive side, and those who know me also know that I’m very price-conscious.

Yeah, you’re right. I’m a cheapskate.

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A friend who just returned from Vegas called to tell me he couldn’t get a room at The Cal because it was sold out, so he had to stay at the Fremont, which is under the same ownership as The Cal and Main Street.

That would be Bo Properties.

Last week, The Cal was also sold out because of a large group attendance. Mostly, when large groups visit Downtown, they’re from Hawaii.

They arrive by the hundreds, so I can understand why rooms are tough to get.

My suggestion: What I do is call a few weeks ahead to see if there are rooms available. Then I make my travel plans.

My next trip? As of now, I haven’t decided. I hope to make it to The Cal once before we turn our calendars to 2014. Usually around Christmas, it’s tough to get accommodations, so maybe it will be January before I hop in my car and head out to Vegas.

My sister, who lives in Northern California and visits Vegas at least once a month, told me there is a new Indian casino in her area that is larger than anyone might find in Vegas or Reno.

She is planning to visit the casino to compare it with Vegas, and she said she’ll give me her opinion on the new site.

I’ll be waiting for her report.

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As most readers know, I don’t travel to Japan anymore. In the past, this was not so. I used to visit Japan at least twice a year.

In those days, I was frequently asked, “Where is the most popular place in Japan that American tourists make it a point to visit?”

According to a story in the English-language Japan Times, Harajuku is the most popular tourist spot for American visitors to Tokyo, best known for Takeshita-dori, a narrow lane crammed with shops that runs for about 350 meters from JR Harajuku Station to Meiji-dori.

Since I lived in Shibuya when I was a resident in Tokyo, I can accept this bit of information.

In a survey earlier this year by global travel information website Trip Advisor, Harajuku was voted the most popular tourist destination in Japan.

The street has become famous for its large number of shops and boutiques targeting youths, especially high school girls, with fashion items having unique tastes.

Since Takeshita-dori has been designated by Shibuya Ward as an adult entertainment-free district, there are no pachinko parlors or “fuzoku” sex shops nearby. That is one of the reasons why schools across the country choose the area as a major destination during their traditional trips to Tokyo.

The number of visitors peaks during spring break in March and Golden Week in late April and early May. According to data compiled by JR and Tokyo subway companies, an average of around 110,000 people visit Harajuku every day.

After World War II, the Washington Heights housing facilities for high-ranking U.S. servicemen was built in what is now Yoyogi Park. Not long after, shops selling furniture and toys to the U.S. visitors began to spring up around Harajuku.

Local merchants say the current shape of Takeshita-dori based on youth fashion was formed in 1974, when a nine-story commercial complex called Palais France was built at the end of the street near Meiji-dori. The complex was demolished about a decade ago.

Kazuhiro Osozawa, head of Takeshita-dori Merchants Association, said he hoped the shops in the area will make young people’s dreams come true.

So, there you have it. Those of you who are planning a trip to Tokyo might put down the information included in this piece so you can say you’ve visited the most popular place in Japan.

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I found a recent story in The Rafu about three Nisei who served in Japan after the end of World War II as members of the Occupation Forces. Included was an old friend, Bruce Kaji.

I also served as a member of the Occupation Forces, but I was assigned to the British Army in Okayama, which was quite south of Tokyo, so I guess I never got a chance to meet and chat with Bruce.

My main chore with the Counter Intelligence Corps was to round up Japanese military officers who were tried for their involvement in the Japanese war efforts.

I guess one reason I wasn’t assigned to the roles played by Kaji and other Nisei was that my Japanese wasn’t that great. That is, I couldn’t really interrogate Japanese military officers in their language.

I remember one of the Japanese officers I interviewed told me, “Your Japanese is lousy.”

Fortunately, he went to school in the U.S., so his English knowledge was pretty good.

So, how did I end up as a Japanese-speaking GI?

I told those who were assigning GIs that my Japanese wasn’t very good, but because I was a Nisei, most of them thought I was using it as an excuse to avoid serving in the Pacific Theater of the war.

I told one officer, “Sir, my Japanese is lousy.”

He laughed and said, “You’re just saying that because you want to avoid going to the Pacific area.”

Those who knew me knew I wasn’t kidding.

I was thrown out of Japanese school before the war because my language skill was zero. The principal at the school told my parents I couldn’t qualify as a student there.

Oh well, that’s the way it went in those days.

In this day and age, my Japanese language skills are a little better, but I doubt if anyone would want to use me as an interpreter.

I still remember when I went to Japan after the war to work for a Japanese firm.

One day I was driving a car in Tokyo when I was stopped by two motorcycle officers.

They asked me for my driver’s license, which I didn’t have, and when I responded in my broken Japanese that I was not a “Japanese,” one officer chuckled and said, “Nan da, kare wa gaijin da.”

They let me go, after telling me that in Japan, I had to drive on the left side of the street, not on the right as Americans drive, and that was that. I gave up driving in Tokyo.

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I’ll wind it up for today with the following, which is entitled “The Porch.”

A young blonde girl in her late teens, wanting to earn some extra money for the summer, decided to hire herself out as a “handy woman” and started canvassing a nearby well-to-do neighborhood.

She went to the front door of the first house and asked the owner if he had any odd jobs for her to do.

“Well, I guess I could use somebody to paint the porch,” he said. “How much will you charge me?”

Delighted, the girl quickly responded, “How about $50?”

The man agreed and told her that the paint and brushes and everything she would need were in the garage.

The man’s wife, hearing the conversation, said to her husband, “Doesn’t she realize that our porch goes all the way around the house?”

“That’s a bit cynical, isn’t it?” he responded.

The wife replied, “You’re right. I guess I’m starting to believe all those ‘dumb blonde’ jokes.”

A few hours later, the blonde came to the door to collect her money.

“You’re finished already?” the startled husband asked.

“Yes,” the blonde responded, “and I even had paint left over, so I gave it two coats.”

Impressed, the man reached into his pocket for the $50 and handed it to her along with a $10 trip.

“Thank you,” the blonde said, “And, by the way, it’s not a Porsche, it’s a Lexus.”

Hope all of you got the gist of the last line.

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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