When in Tokyo, do as other tourists do …
Tokyo is so big and there are so many things to see and do, it is impossible to cover them all in a few days. Inevitably, we all gravitate to the same hotspots ie Ginza, Roppongi Hills, Akihabara, Harajuku, Asakusa etc etc and only cursorily.
Here’s some of the places I went, 3rd time in Tokyo.
Ginza – we came to Ginza because we needed to shop ie Ascis, Uniqlo, Shiseido, G.U. It was golden week, so the streets were closed to traffic that day and people could stroll leisurely on those roads. In the evening, while waiting for my pals, I lost count of the number of luxurious vehicles that zipped past. Japan is in recession? Really? But then, cars here probably cost a fraction of what we need to pay for in Singapore.
Roppongi Hills is an up class shopping area but we usually head there to do 2 things: gawk at Tokyo Tower and shop at the Phiten shop at the basement. The metro station is also connected to Tokyo Midtown, a sprawling integrated development that has shops, apartments, hotels, galleries. everything is quite pristine. But the other side of Roppongi Hills is a different story. There’s a hint of sleaziness, the lights are gaudier, the stores are more haphazardly arranged. Apparently, foreign streetwalkers had been soliciting for business on the roads. check out the signboard below.
Harajuku is the place to watch fashionable young people saunter by. It was also the place where we would alight, to visit the Meiji shrine and head to the immensely popular Burberry Blue/black label shops. Alternatively, head to the alleys tucked between the buildings and you would find something interesting. For example, at Takeshita street, we discovered many small shops selling surprisingly cheap, fashionable wares. Crowded, but worth the jostle!
For something a little off the beaten path, try Daikanyama. Daikanyama is an upscale residential area and home to many chic shops. but, my purpose heading there was to see the Tsutaya t-site bookstore. it was included in the 20-most-beautiful-bookstore-in-the-world-list so how could I not go? The t-site was rather understated, but the place grew on one. I would have dawdled there the whole day, if my friends didn’t have a plane to catch.
As bonus, a smallish makeshift Sunday market suddenly materialised outside; they sold produce, freshly-made bread, fresh eggs, rolls made from those eggs etc. It was reasonably priced too. I bought a whole swiss roll for only $20/-(!!) as a goodbye present for friends. They told me it was very very good.
The imperial palace grounds is a good place to look at green and relax away from the shopping crowd. Start from the Nijubashi, walk through the imperial east gardens to Kitano Maru park and then cross the road to Yasukuni shrine. Wear comfortable shoes because it’s quite a walk.
Don’t get dragged into the Chinese-Korean chest-beating over the Yasukuni visits. the Yasukuni shrine is a place where the Japanese pay respects to their dead. That’s all. Read more about it here.
Yasukuni is where the Japanese come to pay respects to their ancestors. A really tranquil place.
The new kid on the block is the Tokyo Skytree. You can take lift to the top of the tower (this will set you back by more than S$30, for a panoramic view of the city) or indulge in retail therapy at the lower floors. We chose to admire the Skytree from outside and spend our $30 on delicious confections at the basement instead. There was an excellent selection, Better than Narita’s. Get your omiyage here.
Soba inJapan tastes really good. After having eaten soba in Japan, I started to crave for more. I wished I could visit Kanda Yabu Soba again but it was burnt down last year (see my earlier blog here). So, this time we tried another equally famed Sobaya, the 200+ year-old Sarashina Horii. Reknowned for its white soba, it is located deep in Azabu-Juban, an interesting enclave near Roppongi. Expect to queue and expect to spend a pretty tidy sum there (if you order other stuff besides soba). To avoid waiting too long, go during odd hours ie between lunch and dinner.
The white soba was smooth, crisp and light – in other words – delicious but somehow I still prefer brown soba, which is more earthy, more textured. Can’t wait for Kanda Yabu to be resurrected!
At Meiji shrine, we were in need of ice cold beer and look what we found. Not just any ice cold beer, but one with an icy crunchy cold beer head! Simply subarashii!
I dunno what made me decide to have chicken for lunch. Chicken cutlet in Tokyo feels a bit mundane but it was no ordinary place I went. This was Tebasaki Toriyoshi @ harajuku which is famous for its fried chicken wings and special chicken broth in miso (which I didn’t try). I had the modest chicken cutlet set which was not just cheap but yummy. I was satisfied. Here’s the address and the map.
One of my most unforgettable meal was at a small hamburg restaurant, Otona no Hamburg (or grown-up hamburg). The hamburg was served on a sizzling hot lava stone mined from Mt Fuji. The whole meal was under S$20/-. I was surprised that dining in Tokyo could be so delicious yet so affordable.
Another beef place the I’d like to go is this one: Meat Yazawa.
I went to Nakameguro for some pudding but it was closed. Mahakara Happy Pudding is really awesome. Will come again!
I love Calbee prawn crackers so when I saw a Calbee shop, I couldn’t resist sneaking in. One of the more interesting items was this: a chocolate flavored prawn crackers!
Lost & Found – A Good Memory
It is true that if you lose something in Japan, you can almost be sure that you’d get it back.
One night, we dropped a Suica card in a busy ramen shop in Shibuya; when we went back, we had barely popped our heads in through the door when the staff whipped out the sSuica and asked cheerily if we were looking for it. Yeah! perhaps there was a ‘we lost our suica‘ look on our faces? We were relieved to get it back because there was still more than 3000 yen in the card (almost S$40/-). not a lot of money but losing stuff sucks right.
Belatedly, I also realised that my handphone was gone. I was hoping I had left it in Tokyu Hands and not dropped it on the streets. Thankfully, when I went back the next morning to enquire, it was with them. After a pretty lengthy verification process to satisfy them that I was the real boss of said handphone, they removed it gingerly from the ziplock jacket they had placed it in the night before.
That day, I felt an immense outpouring of love for my handphone like never before.
(Gah-brah is Singlish for making a mess, state of confusion etc)
Train timetables in Japan may differ from weekdays to weekends so it’s good to double-check. Always ask and then ask again.
I made a major blunder when I bought a ticket for the Keisei Narita Skyacess to Narita airport but boarded the wrong train (took me to Narita City, instead of Narita Airport). Turned out I had referred to the wrong schedule (for weekends instead of weekdays).
Luckily I managed to connect at Narita station to Narita airport without waiting too long. A I rushed out from the gates, the officer stopped me. Oh dear, what now? Actually, he only wanted to refund me part of my fare, since I had taken the slower train instead. I used that money to buy a beer. And thankfully, the Delta counter was still open and I could check in and move into the transit area.
Sunset @ Narita hadth never looked lovelier.
There were a few other places I wished I had gone: Akihabara, Ebisu beer garden and Itoya etc. Well, I’ll be back!
This is the last chapter of my Japan 2013 trip.