We are learning that Tokyo is a city built not so much for cars or feet as for bicycles. The flow of bikes is constant. Be warned—rather than share the road with cars, the pedaling pack rule the sidewalks with a metal alloy and rubber fist. All of us have been nearly flattened. They come hurtling down the middle of the walks like wobbly missiles steered with one hand (the other arm is for umbrellas, phones, groceries, or babies, duh!). The warning signs? There are none—save for a throaty bike bell, which serves less as a warning and more as a eulogy: He was a good man, until he took an old lady and her metal basket full of packaged frozen fish parts to the backside. To be a pedestrian is to be forced to keep your head on a swivel, ready to flatten yourself against a wall or hug a street sign on a moment’s notice. All of us have barked the phrase “Phil! Bike!” more than I care to count. Learning to say “sorry, I am a fool” in Japanese has become our first priority.
But as a by-product of all this vehicular near-death on two wheels, you start to realize the good shops and restaurants are not along the main drags, but in the sidestreets and alleyways. Such was Café Arles, a strange little place we found before our show in the Shinjuku district that served tasty rice omelets with hamburger steaks and gravy on the side. I have never witnessed a more informed or curious art collection under one roof—a combination of cat art, clown paintings, and shelves of racy Japanese comic books. In the bathroom stall(!), I faced off with one of the most beautiful French paintings I have ever seen on one wall and a vintage Snoopy cuckoo clock on the other. Magical. And yes, there is a cat roaming the restaurant defying the American concept of health codes. Sean tried to woo the cat, but it was wise to his advances. It made a sour face and dashed away. The owner, trying to be a good host, cradled the cat in his arms, cooing at it and before passing it to Sean. The cat promptly scratched Sean and leapt to freedom.
On a side note, no tipping is allowed in this country at restaurants. It is considered nothing less than an insult to your kind host who is trying to serve you. Your tip says “I cannot receive your wonderful gift of food without imposing myself on the equation.” Receive and be happy. I love this country.