Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shabu-shabu and no underpants

This is a continuation of a previous post on a shabu-shabu dinner the other night in Tokyo with a fund manager friend visiting Tokyo from London. To see the first part of the conversation, on falling real estate prices in Tokyo and crazy prices in London, plus our idea of a dream house, click here.



Another topic over dinner -- a wonderful shabu-shabu dinner of Maezawa beef and Yonezawa beef (both of which I consider some of the best beef in Japan) -- was the recent Tokyo earthquake (read my account of the Tokyo earthquake in the April-May issue of Travelife Magazine). Apparently, he was supposed to be in Tokyo in March, shortly after the earthquake; but of course he'd canceled his trip when the earthquake happened. Interestingly, he'd rung his Tokyo office about fifteen minutes after the Tokyo earthquake occurred, and their skyscraper building in the Marunouchi business district was still shaking and everyone was still highly strung.

Having lived in Tokyo so long, he'd grown pretty blase about earthquakes. And since he'd called just after the earthquake, he also had no idea about the extent of the seriousness of this particular one. He thought it was just another one of those daily tremors -- albeit one that was stronger than usual.


"We've just had an earthquake," his secretary in Tokyo had informed him. And he'd made a light joke about it instead. It was only much later that he realized that this had been The Big One. "My hat's still under my desk in case you need it," he'd told her then. And she'd gotten just a bit miffed that he was talking about some hat when they'd just been screaming their heads off in Tokyo and thinking they were going to die. To make things worse, from their windows they'd seen a couple of construction workers working on a building site on a giant crane -- and when the earthquake happened, the crane swayed like a pendulum run amuck during the earthquake. That alone was a pretty horrific scene straight out of a doomsday Hollywood movie. Pretty authentic nightmare material.


I had to smile. "There were lots of instances like that, actually," I said. I was stuck in the Tokyo earthquake as well and I remembered how a friend had BBM-ed me just after the earthquake as well -- just minutes after I thought the airport bus I was riding was going to fall into the icy waters of Tokyo Bay and that was truly the end of me and my time had come. When I told him there'd just been an earthquake, he'd BBM-ed back: "Don't die on me." He'd put a smiley face next to his message as well.

Little did my friend know how accurately he'd hit the nail on the head. Fortunately, when he realized just how serious the earthquake was, he spent the next eight hours redeeming himself by keeping me company as I sat in a stranded bus with no food or water, and no other contact with the outside world except for his messages. The phone lines were all down but strangely BBM was working just fine. So it was just him on BBM for eight hours.


Back to dinner the other night. The shabu-shabu that night was so good that we stopped talking about the earthquake and started talking about food and restaurants again.

"Wasn't there once a restaurant in Tokyo where waitresses served shabu-shabu wearing really short skirts and no underpants?" He asked.

I nodded. There had indeed been such a restaurant. The gimmick had created a ruckus and it became a big hit. All the expatriate men trooped to Akihabara, on the other side of town, to try and find this restaurant. It did seem pretty innocent, after all, to kiss the wife goodbye in the morning and say: "Honey, I'm going to be late tonight because I'm taking Alan from the New York office out tonight for shabu-shabu."

It was like a free pass to stay out way past the witching hour, when in fact they were having a ball at a restaurant where waitresses without underpants were serving shabu-shabu to mostly male customers. In the same vein, not a few male foreign correspondents based in Tokyo were falling all over themselves to get assigned to do this story -- even the serious journalists who normally don't write about food and life.

The idea behind this restaurant and way of serving shabu-shabu (it's since faded into oblivion, by the way, in case you're wondering, after a couple of government officials were caught having dinner here on official business) -- dubbed "no pan shabu-shabu" (hopefully, you get the gist) by the local media -- is that, indeed, waitresses wearing very short skirts and no underpants would go up to your table and serve you shabu-shabu. It was certainly a hit and a media sensation, for a while.

But last night, we had the normal kind of shabu-shabu in a traditional Japanese restaurant where waitresses served our plates of juicy beef wearing lovely kimono. Thought I'd tell you, just in case you're wondering exactly what kind of shabu-shabu we got up to.

Travelife's Special Summer Issue
with Angel Aquino in Boracay
Angel Aquino in Bora
for Travelife Magazine's April-May 2011 issue


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