It happens that at the end of the year, you happen to be near the streetcar terminus at Minowabashi. And since it happens to have been a while since you rode Tokyo’s last remaining tramline…you happen to get on.
The tram hiccups along, pauses for a traffic light. You realise you are starving. The sun is setting. Shops pass by the window. You can see a tasty-looking gyoza shop, and a curious-looking junk store. The station Machiya Nichome looks like the place to get off.
Ichiryu Gyoza has had a recent renovation, in the plastic prefab style. It looks a bit more like someone’s dine-in kitchen than a restaurant. But don’t be dissuaded. A self-proclaimed gyoza specialist is a good thing now. The madam Mrs Beniya, or Kikue, explains you must order at least five. Each gyoza costs between 100 and 250 yen. Fillings include umeboshi salted plum, natto fermented soybeans, squid, shiso leaf, and prawn. The master, Masaaki, who has been filling gyoza out the back, says the natto is the best-seller. It tastes lively. The gyoza are very big. Kikue brings out some sharp scissors and snips them in half.
Masaaki points out how the old set of tracks took the tram right past here in the 1970s. Ichiryu has been in business for 68 years. The takeaway branch is the one you saw from the tram, next door to the greengrocer.
Masaaki says, The shop was set up by my wife’s aunt who had been in Manchuria for the Japanese railway before the war, with her husband. She came back when war broke out, though he died there. She wanted to make the gyoza she ate in China.
They’re not really Chinese, says Kikue. They’ve been arranged. She uses the English word. Arranged.
She writes up some specials on a whiteboard and goes back behind the counter. She starts putting out some kimpira – sauteed burdock, carrot and red chilli. You have to have some. You love kimpira. Do you want a separate order, asks Kikue. Or shall I just give you a sample. Being a bit full, you take up her kind offer. Of course it’s homemade, she says.
Masaaki gives you a paper crane. A bit different from the standard fold. A customer made it, he says. Happy new year.
You get lost in the backstreets of Machiya. A yakitori shop blows smoke onto the street. The man at the junk shop is inspecting a flute.
Ichiryu Gyoza is at 6-42-10 Arakawa, Arakawa-ku tel 03-6458-2378