A Korean barbecue joint in the Katsushika suburb of Tokyo (2005)
Before I visited Tokyo I always pictured it as a place where people constantly filled the streets 24 hours a day… not true. While it certainly seems a little more like that in the urban centers, the city does sleep, especially the greater Tokyo area “suburbs” like Katsushika ward. Walk down the street at 5 in the morning here and it’s likely you will not see another soul, just completely silent streets that seem as if the whole place had been rapidly deserted, leaving behind only potted plants and hundreds of bicycles lining the sidewalks and alleys – not a single one chained to anything. If, like me, you can’t read many words in non-roman characters, times like these are when the shops and storefronts become a complete mystery. You can’t go in because they are not open, sometimes you can only guess what’s inside. The photo above taught me one of the most profound lessons in language and expectations I’ve ever learned, not only was this place not what I thought it might be at first (noodle shop?) the sign actually contains 3 languages, Kanji (Chinese characters borrowed by the Japanese), Katakana (a phonetic set of Japanese characters used for foreign words) and Korean characters (Hangul).
The sign says:
炭火燒肉 – Sumibi (charcoal fire) Yakiniku (grilled beef) in kanji
불고기 – Hangul characters for the Korean word bulgogi / pulgogi
プルコギ – Purukogi (Japanese word for Korean bulgogi) in katakana