I love Japan. I love the culture, the sights, the sounds. I even like the way it smells! After an extremely long 13-hour flight, most people would be tired and just read to hit the sheets, allowing jet lag to take over. Arriving back in Japan for the first time in months gave me life. It gave an anxious energy to see, to explore, to do. As I wandered the streets of Tachikawa, a far western district of Tokyo, with my eyes glazed over, mouth slightly ajar taking in the sights, I couldn’t even begin to think of what I wanted to do first. Of course I had a game plan – everyone has one of those until you actually get there and just see everything for yourself. The lights, the sounds, the smells, the people! Giddy doesn’t even begin to describe it, it’s like your first time in Times Square at night…just overwhelming! As I gawked down the streets with my coworkers and friends, my ears finally tuned into the conversations they were having without me. They had been here several times before and while I had been to Japan quite a few times, nothing had prepared me for Tokyo. “You haven’t been to Tachikawa before?” asked Francisco, the Filipino Indian Jones/flight attendant/frequent flyer and strange and exotic places. “No, I’ve always wanted to come here and I finally got the chance,” I responded looking dumbfounded at the teenage girl wearing the stereotypical school girl mini skirt and knee high socks with loafers in the frigid temperatures smiling awkwardly at Francisco.
“Then let me take you somewhere new we go to every time we come,” he said. I shrugged and shuffled across the busy intersection behind my coworkers. Naturally we were bombarded with 3 food stands immediately crossing the street. While the Japanese like to eat what I call the “Japanese Diet” consisting mostly of fish, rice, and vegetables at every meal, including breakfast, they also had their fair share of fried dumpling, chicken, and donuts stands beckoning you to come and fulfill your watery mouth desires. But we passed those, passed the notorious 100 yen store and a few others. We finally came upon a rickety hole in the wall with large Kanji symbols painted in black on a white silhouette and bamboo walls and entered. Looking around I took in the small little shop, kinda cute. Francisco briefly showed me how to look at the pictures on the machine near the door, choose my selection and get the printed ticket I would give to the cook who came around the corner to take our orders. We sat down at one of the small tables as everyone gabbed about their plans and love of sticky rice, the meal I had ordered at their suggestion and apparently the sole reason for us being there.
We laughed and talked, the usual banter that occurs when flight attendants get together during their off time. We even enjoyed our small cup of soup that to this day I still have no clue what it is called. Finally the sticky rice came – and the understanding why it’s called sticky rice. When the rice is brought to you, it’s brought in an extremely hot skillet, much like ones you receive your fajitas in. The rice has already been cooked but the cook will pour fresh eggs on the edges of the skillet. He will then pour a small amount of garlic sauce on the rice as he brings the skillet to your table. With the two large table spoons you’re given along with your soup, you then stir the eggs in with the rice. You can add different spices, soy sauce, or kimichi as you so desire. It sounds pretty simple, and it is. Being the over eating American I am, I had it in my mind that the sticky rice wasn’t going to be enough. WRONG! My first taste of the infamous sticky rice was glorious! It was sin! What was this strange concoction? This sorcery in my mouth? Who could have known something as simple as rice could be so good?
At this point all conversation had ceased as we all effectively devoured our food, and of course as we Americans like to do, we sat around and talked for a while immediately after finishing our meal. Some pictures were taken, sideways glances were exchanged. The joy of sticky rice has made us become those Americans. Satisfied and full, we discussed our plans for the rest of the day.
The full-on assault of sticky rice had made us all lethargic, unlikely to do anything else.
Now that sticky rice was conquered, it was time to go out and see what else Tokyo had to offer. Now two years later, sticky rice has become a much celebrated, often deliberated and sought out tradition for myself and fellow crew members every single time we go to Tachikawa, even if it’s every week. It’s 9:30 in the morning right now in Japan and my schedule just changed. We don’t have to be ready for work until 12:15. Can you guess where I’m going for lunch today?