I often comment about how happy we are when we actually find the restaurant or attraction we we are seeking. Perhaps you are wondering how hard that be? It turns out to be surprisingly difficult to find things. We are illiterate. Pretty much totally so. When we've been in, say, Germany I may not know what kuchenstrasse means, but at least if I see it on a sign I can recognize it. In Japan the odds are pretty good that I won't even be able to recognize the symbols.
As an example, while in Fukuoka we decided to go to a ramen restaurant called Ichiran. We knew about it. We had a very good English language map provided by the tourist information centre. We knew where we were. We walked up and down the street a bit. Nothing. We looked down what looked like an alley but turned out to be a short street of restaurants. No Ichiran that we could see. Check out the picture at the bottom of this post. That is, in fact, the restaurant. We figured it was the one because there was a line up. Nothing on the ticket machine, though, that said Ichiran. We asked someone in line. I'm sure they're thinking 'Lady, it says Ichiran all over the front of this place'.
While Wilf was taking the picture I looked at the row of boxes in front of me. In tiny little print in one corner it said 'Ichiran'. So why is it famous? Porky ramen of deep porky porkiness. Oh boy, was it good. We bought our tickets from the machine out front and went inside. We were seated at a long counter that looked like a series of library carrels - dividers between the seats, a curtain that rolled up directly in front of you. Suddenly up comes the curtain and someone you cannot see is there handing out a form (thankfully in English) on which you specify how spicy, how much garlic and green onion, how hard the noodles, etc. Down goes the curtain and you wait. Shortly the curtain goes up and there is your bowl of ramen. Once our ramen was delivered the curtain came down, leaving us in solitary splendour to slurp up the delicious tonkotsu. Save some broth and ring the bell, hand in another form to order extra noodles or, in our case, additional slices of pork. Pay the person and wait. Up comes the curtain and your order appears. Still no direct contact with a waiter. No chitchat with your neighbour, either (although we did figure out how to unlatch the divider between us and fold it back a bit)
So that day was a successful expedition. It isn't always so - last night I finally went into a real estate office to get help finding the restaurant we wanted. And when we did find it I could actually read the hiragana writing that gave the name of the place - except that they had folded one panel of the curtain out of the way and that panel had the character that made it all make sense. It's always something.