I was looking out the window of the plane as it started to taxi away from the gate when I noticed that the airport grounds crew not only bows to the planes as they taxi away (this is to be expected, Japanese people bow all the time), but they also—get this—wave goodbye to the planes until they are out of sight as if each and every one is full of their closest and dearest friends. Tell me that isn't adorable.
When did Japan get so paranoid about visitors? At some point between now and when I last visited in July, they've instituted American-style immigration check-point, with photo taking and fingerprint scanning (in fact, they've gone one-step further and scan both of your index fingers).
Plus, their customs is now almost as invasive as Customs Canada. It used to be you could just breeze through customs, you didn't even need to fill out a declaration. Now, they are carefully searching through nearly everyone's luggages. They even took my tripod for an x-ray and asked me a ton of questions about where I'm from, where I'm going, what I'm doing, etc, etc. Even padded me down for good measure.
What the hell are they so afraid of?? Customs Canada's excuse is that they want to soak every last cent of every poor Canadian who travels, but what about Japan? Do they have such a huge smuggling problem that they need to do this to every visitor? Or are they just targeting us Taiwanese?
Anyway, perhaps because of their unfailing politeness or my unfailing love of everything Japanese, all these added invasions of privacy didn't really seem all that unwelcoming. You get the sense that the people doing the searching are just following new bureaucratic rules versus a lot of the U.S.
immigration officers sorry, I meant Homeland Security officers who seem to be on power trips over all their expanded powers to keep you out. A few smiles and "thank yous" go a long way.
My brother Yutai suggested that we go try something nice while I was in town visiting him in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago so he picked Kappa based on some glowing Yelp reviews. (We wanted to go to the French Laundry but I didn't know I was coming for sure until it was too late to attempt to make the two-months-ahead reservation).
I have never used Yelp so I don't know how accurate it is in general, but at least with this restaurant, I can tell it is reviewed by easily-impressed neophyte Japanese food eaters.
The tiny 10-bar-seat restaurant is located in Japantown, hidden in a dark entryway above a Denny's. The sign by the door is small and only in Japanese. So you're thinking: "Wow, just like one of those fabled hidden Tokyo eateries where only regulars are allowed inside! This must be good!"
While Kappa has a small regular menu, they pride themselves on their seasonal omakase menu, starting at $85 per person. The omakase menu has to be ordered ahead of time when you make the reservation, which is what we did.