Ramen – we were looking for ramen. Not a “touristy” kind of place but a small little shop, maybe a mom and pop kind of place, where locals like to eat. Making our way through the now very crowded, narrow streets, we stopped outside several possible ramen shops, review the photos or plastic models of the food and beverages served in the shop. My husband spotted an alleyway, even narrower than the other streets in Chinatown. There was a small arched “gate” that read “Hong Kong Road.” Looking promising, we headed down the narrow alley and found what we were looking for. A tiny little mom and pop ramen shop, maybe 15-20 feet wide, but very long. As we made our way to the back to an available seat, it seemed like we had found what we were looking for-no tourists, at least no Americans or Europeans in sight.
We found our seat right next to the steam filled, tiny kitchen in the back, where servers were busting in and out. The aisle was so narrow, the servers had to turn sideways to pass one another. I made it a point to watch to see how they passed one another carrying trays of food, and I was amazed. No problem – I guess they had done it so many times that they hardly broke stride walking to or from the kitchen. We read over the menu, no…we really just looked over the pictures, and made our decision. Our server, who did not speak English, was very patient as we explained what we wanted by pointing to pictures and using our very limited Japanese restaurant vocabulary.
As in every ramen shop, I couldn’t help noticing all the slurping going on as customers enjoyed their ramen. Slurping is not considered rude here, but has several purposes. Practically, slurping helps cool down the noodles by sucking in air with them. Also, it is a way to convey your approval of a dish. In fact, in tea ceremonies, slurping the last bit of tea in your cup is a way of indicating that you are finished. While my husband has mastered this technique, I have not. Two fears prevent me from even trying it. First I am afraid I would suck the noodle straight down my windpipe and choke, ending up in some dramatic Heimlich maneuver scenario or worse being carted away in an ambulance. Second, I am concerned that I would not be able to “unlearn” this when we leave Japan, creating some awkward moments socially. The wait wasn’t long, and our server brought our “sets.” In Japan, a set is a main dish (in this case, a huge steaming hot bowl of ramen) and sides (for us, it was gyoza, rice, salad, and dessert). The food was delicious, and we ate every bite. It was a good thing we were on foot, because we really needed to walk off some calories. We had a date with a ship.
The Hikawa Maru, launched in September 1929, was a state-of-the-art cargo-passenger ship built to provide service between Japan and Seattle, Washington. Known for her superb food and art deco interior, she was known as “The Queen of the Pacific.” In World War II, her mission changed to being a hospital ship. During the war, the Hikawa Maru hit mines on 3 different occasions, but never sank. After the war, she was revamped back to its original cargo-passenger ship configuration and for a time served as a floating youth hostel. During her active years, she carried more than 25,000 passengers on 254 voyages. Among her notorious passengers were the Royal family of Japan and America’s Charlie Chaplin. She was retired in 1960, was refurbished and reopened for public tours in 2008.
We boarded the ship on B Deck where we watched a brief movie about the history of the Hikawa Maru and then proceeded to the front part of the ship to see the “First-class children’s room,” a very small play area with a table, chair and rocking horse. We never saw a “second” or “third” class children’s room, but hopefully there was area for these little ones too. Next to the first-class children’s room was the “First-class dining room.” The room was rather small, with dark wood paneling on 3 walls and a floor to ceiling mirror on one wall. The light fixtures were a beautiful art deco design and the tables were not only set with silverware, but also with the plastic, fake food (including wine) that I mentioned earlier. It looked like a room just waiting for the passengers to file in and enjoy a delicious meal. One piece of furniture, a buffet chest I think, was a simple, but elegant design crowned with gorgeous marble.
Taking the staircase up to the A Deck, we followed the hall around to the “First-class reading room” and the “First-class social hall” where we were again impressed with the beautiful décor. A black and white marble fireplace topped with a huge mirror was the showpiece of the room, which was apparently, more often used by ladies. The lighting was again art deco and really striking. Continuing down the hallway toward the back of the ship we found the “First-class smoking room” which also contained a little bar area. This area was where men would gather after meals for conversation, a drink and a smoke.
Further down the A-Deck hall we found a First-class single passenger’s room, equipped with a sink, a small writing/eating table and a twin sized bed. The first class room for couples was a little larger, with two twin beds, sink, small table and a dining room table with four chairs positioned in a corner of the room with stained glass windows looking out onto the deck. We continued down the hallway and exited through an interesting wooden door and found ourselves on the deck. White deck chairs sat on a brightly polished wooded deck, providing an opportunity to sit, relax and enjoy the harbor view.
We made our way up some very narrow, steep stairs to the ship’s wheelhouse, where we saw all kinds of instruments, including an Engine Order Telegraph (EOT), the actual ship wheel, mouthpiece for making announcements, etc. Leaving the wheelhouse area, we went down the C-Deck where we saw rooms for third-class passengers, and much to my husband’s delight, part of the engine room. At the time of the ship’s launch, her engines were state of the art for those times. The engine room continued down to D-Deck, and so did we. Afterward we said our farewells to the amazing and beautiful Hikawa Maru – what a lady!
Our last night in Yokohama was not exactly what we had planned. We had originally thought we would eat ramen, since Yokohama has its own special versions of the traditional dish. But, we had already had enough ramen that we both wanted something different. We decided to eat at a little dive-looking kind of place called Laser Rush in an area of Yokohama called Motomachi. Although we couldn’t read the Japanese description of the place, we were pretty sure that the place opened at 6:30 on that particular day. Catching the bus, we got to see parts of the city we hadn’t seen yet, and were dropped off at the entrance to Motomachi.
At first I questioned myself because this area seemed to be a very upscale shopping area, and from the picture we had seen, our little dive of a restaurant looked like it would be totally out of place here. It was still a few minutes before the restaurant opened, so we decided to first locate the restaurant and then if we had time, we could stroll along the beautifully lit streets and do some window shopping. Thanks to our cell phone GPS app, we located the restaurant rather quickly. It was on a side street and indeed looked like a dive – but one we thought we would like. There were no lights outside the restaurant and it was dark inside, too. According to what we had read, they should be getting ready to open. Not worried, but getting really hungry, we did take that stroll down the street. We wandered into clothing shops, a bakery and a pet store, amazed at the cost of puppies. Hunger got the best of us, it was 15 minutes after the restaurant should open so we headed that way. When we arrived, the place was still dark. Tired and hungry we decided to head back to the hotel and just eat at whatever place we found along the way…and that is just what we did.