Just after I awoke before 8 (there should really be a rule against noise in a shared room before at least 9am), I felt the beds start to shake. At first I had no idea what was going on, but then I realized: it was an earthquake! It shook for about 30 seconds and then stopped. A very different experience, if unexpected.
The hostel breakfast consisted of thick white bread and hard boiled eggs, so I set off in pursuit of something edible. Below Shibuya station, we stumbled upon the Tokyu Food Show, a huge food hall. I bought what I thought was a green tea mochi but turned out to be a bready, chewy, vaguely matcha flavored ball. It was interesting, and I kind of liked it.
We walked through construction into what quickly became a residential neighborhood, past an elementary school, before arriving at Coffee Elementary School, where I had a delicious cold brew served on a coaster made of fabric. Daikanyama is a cool neighborhood to walk around, quieter but seemingly hip and happening. I found an awesome bookstore in the Daikanyama T-Site complex, an agglomeration of modern constructions and stores with Chanel sculptures outside. The clientele seemed to me to be on the more upscale side, although it’s not totally clear. The bookstore was huge, stretching through three buildings. I took advantage of some of the toilet’s features, always an adventure, and then we wandered around the neighborhood a little.
We walked through yet another part of Shibuya that was more cosmopolitan to Uobei, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, where we sat at the counter and ordered ¥100 nigiri from a tablet, which was then delivered via conveyor belt. Not the best, but great for what it is, and certainly an experience worth having.
From there, we walked through the continually evolving Shibuya to Theodora, where we split an exquisite if expensive chocolate cake (which we had seen on Worth It). The place was delightful, and sitting down, you could imagine yourself in an Austrian cafe. The slow pace impressed once again. The cake was fudge-y and flavorful, a wonderful representation. We got a few goodies for the road and set off towards Tokyo Tower.
Tokyo Tower is in the likeness of the Eiffel Tower, and while similarly monumental, it doesn’t hold any of the same charm or majesty that the original does, at least for me. It’s interesting as a structure, but it’s more kind of mechanical, and less beautiful, even though it’s colorful and large. This area is busier, with more tourists. We got a good view of the tower from the Zojo-ji temple in the adjacent park. Then we walked through a busier district, past a good-looking yakitori place that people were lining up outside of just before it opened, to the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden, a 17th century garden with a lake set in the middle of urban Tokyo. Where the Meiji-jingu gardens felt removed from the city, these are integrated into the city, but the change of feeling is remarkable. It feels slow, like a relic lost in time. Except for the trains and office buildings, you could be in 1600s Edo. We sat and contemplated in the garden, and then walked up towards the Hamarikyu Gardens by the water. By then the sun was setting, so we were treated to a nice dusk stroll through a huge and calm garden.
Afterwards, we walked up through Ginza, a ritzier part of the center, under the tracks between Shinbashi and Yurakucho Stations. It was busy and the pace seemed sped up, and there were hundreds of yakitori and other joints under the tracks in the arches and on the side streets. I loved walking under the tracks and hearing the trains constantly passing by above. The yakitori smelled amazing and I wanted to check out every place we passed. Eventually Jake got a little hungry and impatient so we ended up going into one of the places on a side street. The staff didn’t really want us there, but the 5-piece yakitori we each ordered was decent, and it was pleasant enough. I should have known to go into one of the first places we passed that looks really great.
I know I say this all the time, but as I pass an Ikinari Steak and a McDonald’s, I really wish I had been born a couple of decades earlier, before rampant globalization. I understand Tokyo is one of the centers of business and culture, but even still, it’s a little disheartening to see the extent to which American culture has penetrated here, and everywhere.
We got to ride the rush hour train again, this time on the Yamanote loop line, above ground. My favorite part was when the train leaned and all the standing folks leaned in unison. I see why people carry briefcases instead of backpacks, because of the crowds. At least, I assume. It could just be a style or function thing.
I know I need to get a real job, and I will as soon as I get home in January, because I want to be productive and useful, but people working seem pretty miserable. Or at least, not happy. I don’t think that’s different here, I think that’s true in the us too, even among my friends. Or if not miserable, just average.
We tried to go to another yakitori standing bar near Akihabara Station, but it was full, and it didn’t seem like they wanted us to wait, so we didn’t know where to go next. The Electric District in Akihabara was kind of disappointing, although I have to admit I didn’t really know what I was looking for, nor am I a fan of any of the shops there. The culture was interesting, with a lot of sexual themes and games and things everywhere. Very touristy, though. We went into the Sega shop, where there were arcade games galore. The maid cafes, one of the area’s draws, seemed pretty sad to me.
Walking around Akihabara, I asked Jake to take over looking things up for a bit, but the problem is, I got tired of doing everything but I don’t trust anyone else to navigate or choose so I’m stuck either way.
I wanted to walk back to Kagurazaka to see some different neighborhoods but Jake was tired so we took the train most of the way back. I’ll never get over how quickly the areas here go from crowded to quiet. We stopped at a convenience store, which are awesome here. They have actually decent food, lots of drink options, and all kinds of products and supplies.
I took us on the wrong train trying to go back towards the hostel. I had a feeling I had gotten on the faster commuter train rather than the local metro but decided to risk it. Luckily, we only went two stops out of our way and were able to backtrack pretty easily.
We ended up at Karari, a yakitori place a few minutes away. The skewers were perfectly prepared, the sake the waitress picked out was a little sweeter than I usually go for, but delicious, and the plates and bowls were handcrafted. I wished I hadn’t eaten so much at the first mediocre yakitori place, but I was still happy, and we were both in good spirits. I really felt like my dad when I told Jake he should smile more. What’s wrong with me, what have I become?
It was a good end to the day, even if I’m realizing that quality vegetables might be slightly hard to come by here, and we stopped and got some more cash (easy at the ATM in the 7 Eleven) before heading back to shower and sleep.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first two days in Tokyo, and I have a lot to ponder and also some basis for comparison and analysis. I look forward to returning, but I’m also really excited to see the rest of the country. In some ways, I’m most excited to see the parts less trafficked. Oh no, scratch that, I’m most excited to ride the Shinkansen, which I get to do for the first time tomorrow! I’ll hardly be able to sleep.