Tokyo: Food, Shopping, and People Watching (and a day trip to Nikko)

When I left you last time, we were on our way to meet a friend Atsushi for a dinner cruise on Tokyo Bay. Here’s what we did in Tokyo since then:

Friday June 8 due to my misguided estimation about how long it would take to reach our pre-determined meeting place with Atsushi, we missed the shuttle bus from the station to the pier, and nearly missed the boat launch too! Thankfully Atsushi called the company to let them know we were still coming, and we jumped in a cab (something not reccommended except for occasions like this as the cabs are very expensive here). Thankfully we got in just in time to get on the boat. It was a fantastic expereience – all you can eat monjayaki and okanomyaki (oishii – delicious!) and all you can drink beer! Yum! The cruise was intended for Japanese people, so Atsushi was our very own translator and tour guide. It was fun to learn how to cook the dishes, and to see Odiaba and the rest of the Tokyo skyline all lit up too. What a great way to wrap up a week!

Saturday June 9 was rainy, so we headed to Shibuya, a massive shopping district. Everyone here uses umbrellas and we rapidly discovered why. It is far to hot and humid to be wearing rain coats! We made buying umbrellas a priority. I chose a clear one with red polka dots, and Mike went for the clear version almost everyone else had. Clear umbrellas are a great idea – you can hide under them and still see what’s going on around you. Before we tracked down the umbrellas, we avoided the rain by spending most of our time exploring Tsutaya, a huge entertainment store. It was like HMV on steroids – places to rent and buy music and videos. I think there were maybe 6 floors to it! Two things were very noticeable there: the Japanese music industry is booming in a way that isn’t really happening any more in North America, and they LOVE jazz. After picking up umbrellas, it was time for lunch. We went to Niagara curry, a train-themed curry joint. Basically, order japanese curry from a vending machine, and when it is ready it is delivered to your booth by a model train. Awesome! For more details on that, check out Mike’s post about it. After lunch we headed back to Shibuya, walked around a little bit more, and then headed back to the hotel. We have had some really long days walking around, and combined with last night’s adventure, we were a little worn out!

Sunday June 10 We woke up to a beautiful day! We headed to Harijuku to people watch. After Akihabara, I didn’t find Harijuku as shocking as I was initially expecting, and it was a little more upscale than I was expecting too (although I don’t think we saw any gothic dress in Akihabara). I was expecting more ‘underground culture’ type shops, like what Queen Street West used to be in Toronto. It was excellent weather, so we decided to walk over to Shibuya and take some photos of the madness there in good weather. We stopped off at a local grocery store and 100 yen shop to pick up some food, and dried off and ate in the hotel. The pre-made grocery store food was pretty good, and there were lots of healthy options! We grabbed some sushi (which had lots more fish than you would get in Toronto), fried chicken, and rice.

Monday June 11 We thought we would wrap up our time in Tokyo with a day trip to Nikko, a quiet city famous for its UNESCO World Heritage designated shrines and temples. Of the many places to see, some are very tourist-oriented, with entry fees and crowds, and others are quiet and seemingly all but forgotten. We paid the entry fee for the Toshugo shrine there, which is exquisitely beautiful, and has well known carvings such as the Three Wise Monkeys (of hear, speak and see no evil fame) and Nemuri-Neko (the sleeping cat, who represents the arrival of peaceful society). After vistiing the shrine, we took a hike up one of the mountains, to see many other smaller shrines and monoliths along the way. The climb was fairly strenuous, and when you consider that the materials to build these things had to come the way we did, their existence at all is very impressive! The mountain peak was quite a ways away, and since we had a late start, we turned around and wandered the rest of the grounds in the park at Nikko, observing many more temples, shrines and graveyards which were much quieter than the Toshugo shrine, as well as a beautiful little waterfall. We stopped for a late lunch at a yakatori restauraunt in town recommended by the Lonely Planet (Hippari Dako), and then caught the trains home.

On the way back, we tried a fantastic tapas place across the street from our hotel. We had walked past it many times, and each time there were LOTS of young people crowding the bar and making merry. The staff was hip, calling out “Kon Banwa!” instead of “Kon nichiwa! and Irasshai-masse!” like we heard from other places. It was definitely a good choice – we had garlic fried shrimp and some spring rolls and a couple of drinks before heading back to pack up our things. Yum!

Tuesday June 12 – moving day. We packed up and headed to Tokyo station to catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto. We bought some boxed lunches and hopped on the train. The Shinkansen is a great (but expensive without a rail pass) way to travel – it took around 2.5 hours to travel about 450 km with a few station stops. I will certainly miss all the great smells in Tokyo (everywhere you go it smells like some kind of delicious food), but I don’t think I will miss the crush of people in Shibuya and in the railway stations in rush hour. Overall, I think Asakusa and Ueno were probably my favourite areas in Tokyo. They had a nice balance, and Ueno in particular reminded me of the time that Mike and I lived in downtown Toronto – near the craziness but not right in it. I would certianly visit again – there is a tonne of stuff we didn’t have time for!

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