Updated: Feb 27
Who is Emiko? I am glad you asked. It truly feels like a fever dream or some distant memory. Yet, I still can taste the Soju and Mega McMuffin I had the morning following. Emiko, made our experience in Tokyo, Japan an unforgettable one. Well, sort of unforgettable... Korean business men like to drink.
In 2016 while in Tokyo following my wife's work conference we stayed in an Airbnb. I attempted to look up the location but it has since been removed. It took us some time to locate the apartment and had to use hand signals and pen and paper with a mailman to locate it. It didn't help that I flew in to Fukuoka that morning and then got on another plan to Tokyo with my wife, who had been in Fukuoka for about two weeks already working. I spent probably a total of 24+ hours awake and traveling up to this point. After locating and entering the apartment and promptly taking our shoes off to place the home slippers on we relaxed.
The apartment came with complimentary pocket Wi-Fi, a must for international travel where language will be a barrier. Once connected to the internet I began my arrival ritual. I don't like pre planning my trips or looking into a destination too much prior to arrival as I think you will just get touristy recommendations or miss the little things you get from exploring on your own. Well, the first recommendation that populated was McDonalds. The second was the infamous "Robot Restaurant" which has ceased operation since COVID-19. We had plans to visit the Robot Restaurant the next evening with co-workers of Kerstin's anyways. Armed with the knowledge of where the nearest McDonald's was in case of emergency we set of to Shibuya Crossing.
Tokyo is surprisingly easy to navigate with pocket wi-fi but also extremely dense. Small alleyways, streets, and walkways are everywhere. On our way to Shibuya Crossing I convinced my wife to stray a little off the path as I found a side street that looked, well... quaint. It was down this street that we saw a cute flower shop, a nice looking restaurant where you grill your own food at your table, and the establishment that houses the hero of this story, Emiko.
The sign sat out front the smallest building I had seen since arriving. The building was probably 15ft by 20ft and looked rather nondescript. The black a-frame sign was surprisingly mostly in English and said,
Hi, my name is Emiko. Please come and speak English. I am learning. Bar open at 19:00.
Who are we to deny this sweet Emiko from learning English.? Also, the prospect of not fumbling through conversation and ordering food and drinks without issue was a plus. My wife and I continued to Shibuya Crossing and attempted to take in everything we could. Talk about information overload. After a visually stimulating experience we made our way back to the bar that opened at 19:00.
We arrived slightly after 19:00 and inside was a woman setting up a rather small bar, could seat 5 people. When she looked up and saw obvious travelers she got extremely excited and stopped what she was doing and began talking to us. She said she was studying English and wants to go to America for University. My wife and I ordered a beer each, Sapporo if memory serves (something that will be tested here). We continued to practice certain phrases and expressions in both English and Japanese. We then ordered wine and Emiko struggled with the corkscrew and eventually broke the cork into the bottle. We didn't care at all but Emiko refused to serve it, she was so apologetic because the wine we selected she only had one bottle of. She then called someone on the phone and she became even more apologetic and serious. We told her over and over it was fine and that it was fine. She finally relented and we drank "cork wine" as she called it.
Enter Korean Salaryman
After sometime the door opens and a "salaryman" walks in and sits next to me and orders a drink. We don't talk at first but he listens as we continue to practice English with Emiko. He finishes his drink and gets another. While Emiko makes his drink he taps me on the shoulder and shows me his phone. He hits a button and his phone says, "Have you ever had Korean Green Tea." I shake my head yes and then he points to the glass that Emiko sat in front of him. Emiko says the drink is a Korean Green Tea and it has Korean Soju in it. He gestures for me to take a sip. I was hesitant but then take a sip. Wow, this drink was delicious. He points at the drink and says something to Emiko and she makes another.
At this point Kerstin finished the wine and started on other drinks. The Salaryman continues to chain smoke cigarettes and down his teas. We start taking shots of Soju, Sake, and Japanese Whiskey together, Emiko, Salaryman, Kerstin, and I. Many of you have read to this point and thought, "I have seen Hostel, Taken, or (insert other kidnaping movie) and figure Kerstin and I are about to wake up in a bathtub full of ice." Well, we didn't and sometimes you have to live a little for a memorable adventure. One of the last things I remember is finishing a bottle of Jack Daniel's with Salaryman and then making a quick exit to catch some fresh air... I puked ok, I had to go outside and puke on the quaint road. I regret nothing. Before memory fades we were able to swap contact information with Emiko on kik. She says she will give us recommendations for our trip. We pay, say our Arigatōs, and stumble back to the Airbnb which was easier to find hilariously.
We wake up rather early because jet lag and being on the other side of the world and decide to hit the Emergency Button and go to McDonald's, also a bucket list item for me. I grab my phone to google maps our route and see that Emiko has sent a lot of recommendations that we will later use to curate our time in Tokyo. Before we make it to McDonald's and I can grab the coveted Mega McMuffin I ask Kerstin to go down that quaint road again, mainly to see if my mess was visible. We pass the flower shop. We pass the restaurant where you grill your own food at your table. We pass an a-frame sign that now also reads "Thank You Travis and Kerstin." We reach the end of the quaint road and turn onto the main street when we cross paths with someone. Walking towards us is a man dressed in suit and carrying a briefcase. I exchange a head nod of recognized acknowledgement with the man. Exit Korean Salaryman, cigarettes and all.
Thank You, Emiko
-The Empathetic Traveler-