Thursday, August 02, 2018

Looking back at 2007...

While going through things in an effort to reduce the amount of stuff I have in my apartment, I came across a printout of something I wrote in 2007 about a restaurant I really liked that was about to close.  I'm pretty sure I have the file saved somewhere, but it's been long enough ago that I'm thinking I may as well just type it up again (while looking at the printout).  I have some idea of how to find the file, but it would involve digging out an old back-up drive and hunting around, and I'm not entirely sure which device it's backed up on, so....
I originally wrote it specifically for the family that owned and operated the restaurant, to express my appreciation for the restaurant (I handed it to them on the last day the restaurant was open), but in rereading a copy of it eleven years later, it occurs to me that I'd like to have it posted to one of my blogs, so... here it is (slightly edited).


March 30th, 2007

To Everyone at the New World Service Restaurant

I first saw the New World Service Restaurant about 22 years ago while walking through the arcade of the Sanshin Building.  It looked interesting, and from that first time and and on each subsequent stroll I took through the arcade, I always had the wordless feeling in the back of my mind that I wanted to go in and have lunch or dinner there.  Like so many of the people living in Tokyo, I always enjoyed the ambiance and history so very clearly felt within the arcade, but I was always in a hurry to go somewhere and I never actually went within any of the shops until the end of last year, 2006.

What prompted me into action was the evening I wandered into the arcade with a French man that I was showing around Tokyo, and as we walked down the arcade, a woman told me that there were plans to destroy the building....  I was shocked to hear this, as - in some wordless, yet strong way - I had always thought of the Sanshin Building as an integral and eternal part of Tokyo.  I then determined that I must finally actually walk into the New World Service Restaurant and finally have dinner there.

From my first visit, I was struck with the friendliness of the staff, the quality of the food, the relaxing music, and the timelessness of things done right.  This was all mixed in with a sadness when contemplating the always proud, but nearly empty Sanshin Building.  And so many other thoughts and impressions.

The beginnings are easily defined and described, but then the flood of feelings, thoughts, memories, and impressions that follow are overwhelming and impossible to describe in mere words, but please allow me to at least attempt to describe some of them (in no particular order) - many in the form of images, feelings, and distant memories.

- Mustard!  I loved mustard while growing up in the US, but have rarely had that type of mustard since coming to Japan in 1984.  My first meal at the New World Service Restaurant was the "Deluxe Hamburger Set" and I was quite happy to taste and smell the old familiar mustard I had taken for granted in the US but suddenly found to be an exotic and longed-for taste/experience.  (Sorry I used so much of it!)

- The relaxing atmosphere with perfectly matching music - music that seemed to be an integral part of the restaurant, part of the air, the tables, the chairs, something belonging there in the most relaxed and relaxing way....

- The lettering on the glass of an office on the second floor (on the Hibiya Park side of the building) with "San Francisco" at the bottom - possibly a lawyer's office.  I'm from San Francisco and that, combined with the feeling of the wooden door, glass window, and general feeling of business in an era when people were where they were, and not constantly talking on the phone or e-mailing with people in far off places while they ignored the people in the same room.

- The salt & pepper shakers.  My mother's cooking was typically English, with meat prepared with no flavoring, so it was a daily way of life to add salt and pepper (and mustard), barbecue sauce, etc.) to meat.

- The past decades and the resonance and feelings of the people who had enjoyed eating in the restaurant - people from the same building who enjoyed eating there nearly every day, people who ate there from time-to-time, and people who met each other there.

- Echoes of overlapping cultures and eras.  This is the most complicated and intriguing aspect of the New World Service Restaurant experience for me - and is tied in with my original interest in Japan.  The meeting and interaction between old & new, east & west, north & south....

- Memories of 1984 Japan.  My first experience (as an adult) of life outside the US was when I emigrated to Japan, and the summer of 1984 showed me a Japan very different from the country I see around me now.  Like always, some of the changes are good, some not so good.

- Imagining how life was for the people who worked in or visited the Sanshin Building in each decade of the building's existence.  The history swirling around the building.

- People's perception of the building over the years - from modern elegance, to ordinary working building, to nostalgia for times past.  For this reason alone, old buildings have an important cultural function for a city - how else to sense these things - the flow of history and the inter-connectedness of the eras?

- Vanilla Milk Shake!  I didn't realize that it was on the menu until last night, and I was very pleased with the taste and quality of what you made!  The last time I had such a good milk shake was about 37 years ago, when my grandfather told a small restaurant we ate at (we were sitting at the counter) how to properly make one.  The quality of milk shakes at most places has gone downhill, and the ones sold at fast food places are just vast amounts of sugar and no good.  Thank you again for the wonderful milk shake I had last night!

- The music.  I didn't realize how nice it was exactly until I bought a CD (by Wong Wing Tsan) and listened to it at home - at which time I realized how important the music was to the relaxed feeling in the New World Service Restaurant.

And... more, but that - more or less - sums up my general feelings.  I hope you are able to find a good place to reopen - at which time I look forward to once again having dinner at the New World Service Restaurant.

So, from this happy customer, a very big Thank You!  And I hope to see you again soon!

Lyle Hiroshi Saxon


Back to August 2018...  I never did discover if they had reopened the restaurant somewhere or not.  At this point, if they didn't, then it isn't likely to happen.  I really do miss that place though.  With chain restaurants you are generally guaranteed a certain level of quality, but you never get originality or the very special kind of atmosphere that restaurant had....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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