Istanbul to Tokyo, arriving August 16th, 2005 – This is my second trip to Japan, for Maha it’s the first trip. But then again, Tokyo is hardly a culture shock for somebody born and raised in San Francisco who loves New York City. So Tokyo turned out as a place where we both felt immediately…

In a new environment, everything takes a little bit longer, and it was already early evening when we arrived at our hotel (booked just an hour earlier at the Tourist Information), a really nice Ryokan called Andon, near the Minowa Train Station. The area was residential, so what to do for dinner? We tried our luck by wandering the streets, and found a place that could pass for a restaurant, but that wasn’t too clear, as the writing on the door was unreadable. We didn’t have much time to hang around, as the door was suddenly opened, and a friendly woman asked us to come in (in Japanese, of course). It turned out that we stumbled into the tiniest Karaoke-Bar in Tokyo – one wall was just a long bench, and after Maha and I were seated, it was full with the two of us and three Japanese, and we were sitting there like birds on a wire.

Nobody spoke English, not even a word – but that didn’t stop them to try to make us as comfortable as possible. And after some beer and some Sake, communication indeed got better. Places like this one are referred to as Izakayas, and all the guests (all male except Maha) called the owner who ran the place just “Mama”.

Even though the place was tiny, it was big enough for two TV screens and… the Karaoke machine. And every once in a while, Mama would throw a coin in the machine, and one of the guests would sing – and at some point, one of the guests was singing a duett with Mama, and they were both pretty good! It goes without saying that Mama had plenty of flirtatious energy for her boys. And of course, Maha and I had no chance of excusing us from singing either. First we tried to point out that we couldn’t read the Japanese texts – only to be hit by a telephone book-sized catalog of songs that included an extensive English section. Oh, well. We made asses of ourselves, but we were with friends and had a blast.

Much later, when we stumbled out of the place, drunk and jet-lagged, we whole heartedly agreed that this was the best welcome to Japan we could have wished for.