Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tokyo Redux

The visual effects studio I work for recently finished working on The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. This movie takes place in Tokyo, but much of it was shot in downtown LA. Our job was to digitally turn downtown into the Shibuya station intersection and its surroundings. This weekend, I managed to turn LA into Tokyo in my own right.

One day last summer, 5 of us took a long lunch and went to Venice Beach. We sat ourselves down at On the Waterfront, a beergarden on the boardwalk with sidewalk tables overlooking the ocean. Somehow between the setting and the company, the conversation bypassed day-to-day small talk, and became introspective. But in a fun supportive way -- we reminded each other how young we were, and how important it is to do stuff. Five sandwiches, many fries, and two pitchers of Erdinger (make sure you've got your speakers on when you click the link) later, Team Tokyo was born. There was this sense of urgency and excitement -- we had to go to Tokyo. For one thing, Brian studied Japanese and lived in Japan for 3 years -- not going with him would be missing out on the chance of a lifetime. In the end, one of us had to bow out due to work obligations, but on November 2, the other 4 of us giddily and groggily boarded a jet to Tokyo.

In 10 truly action-packed days, we walked and hiked miles, experienced culture shock, had silly interactions with Japanese club girls, witnessed the awe of the Giant Buddha, purchased everything from beer and canned hot coffee and a peculiar drink called Dakari Life Partner to scantily clad school-girl action figures straight from vending machines, navigated the labyrinthine subway system (thank God we had Brian to be our collective brain!), were overwhelmed with an inexplicable euphoria as we experienced a bustling, clapping, joyful local festival, and of course, we ate everything. We giggled so much on this trip -- there is so much in Japan that, to western eyes, is just so cute and humorous! The comic book and cartoon mentality that is generally limited to children here in the states infiltrates Japanese pop culture and lends a sense of childlike cuteness to everything! Add to this an entire culture of mistranslations -- earnest but somewhat misguided attempts to imitate western culture, that lead to a hilarious and distinctly Japanese hybrid style that makes its way through advertisement, junk food, convenience stores and more.

6 months later, here we are in Los Angeles, and it's Brian's birthday. In addition to his superhuman knowledge of geography and cheese, a large part of Brian's brain is devoted to Japan -- pop culture, music, food, slang (not to mention an exhaustive knowledge of military craft that I for one will never understand). So, this year for his birthday, he decided to pay homage to an authentic reverent Japanese tradition: sake bombs.

Before all the fun though, I needed to get him a gift. I tend towards consumable gifts, in an effort to minimize clutter. I decided to give Brian a taste of Tokyo, in the form of snacks! There's a market called Nijiya in a strip mall on Sawtelle Blvd. (LA's 'nanotokyo'), and I had a little shopping spree in there. It was so fun to be reunited with some of the tastes from our trip.

Among the loot were:
  • Men's Pocky dark-chocolate-covered biscuit-sticks
  • matcha flavor Collon snacks
  • 'Ebi Flower' shrimp snacks (reminiscent of the 'Ebi-Filet-O' -- the fried shrimp sandwich at McDonald's in Japan)
  • Pokari Sweat sports drink
  • Calpis sports drink (they change the name to Calpico stateside...can't imagine why)
  • Crunky chocolate
I also sneaked in a pint of green tea ice cream and some fresh melon popsicles for myself. I still search for Meltykiss -- truffly squares of chocolate with a green tea center -- no joy at Nijiya on that front.

OK, gift is good to go. On to the next chapter of the Tokyo deja vu weekend: the birthday party. Brian and 15 of his closest friends alit ourselves on Sake House Miro, a tiny unassuming spot on La Brea at 8th Street. They're going for a 70s izakaya feel, with dark wood walls and lots of old Japanese movie photos. The decor is funky, the crowd is hip but understated, and the cozy place gets pretty crowded. We were greeted by the ultra-friendly proprieter, a man we always think of as the Japanese Tim Curry, who led us to the back room, which is designed to be like an old alley in Tokyo -- complete with lit-up beer signs and laundry hanging from a balcony.

We enjoyed large amounts of beer and sake, in addition to many small plates (sweet crab tempura is delicious), lots of sushi (the sashimi combo and caterpillar roll were highlights), and even some Korean favorites (the menu includes a kalbi plate and steaming sizzling bibimbap). By the end of the night, if you would have told us we actually were in Tokyo, we'd probably believe you. Besides, our Tokyo trip may be long gone, but Team Tokyo lives on in our hearts... and definitely in our bellies.

Nijiya is at 2130 Sawtelle Blvd # 105, 1 block north of Olympic, in the strip mall with Curry House.
Sake House Miro is at 809 S. La Brea Ave., at 8th Street. A reservation is not a bad idea: 323-939-7075


  1. Your life really rocks! I can so feel the energy and the fun you and your friends encounter each day, this is a great blog! Thanks for sharing, hope you don't mind my eyes pouring over your words!!!

  2. thanks for the kind words, Tracie! I feel very lucky for the friends, the adventures, and the fun I have. And, you think I mind you reading? It's a blog... go to town! =)

  3. this is an old post, i know but i came back to it as i needed to link it to something... but anyway, i totally ate at a place that looks like this tonight! it was in a back alley and there was laundry hanging off the balcony and everything!!

  4. Sawtelle rocks. Here's a list of all the great restaurants: