One Truth For All
The short vacation is all over, alas. We're in Narita Airport waiting for our flight in the Premier Lounge (Noel has been flying enough that we can come in here, plus we upgraded to business class for the trip home). We have a late flight out -- 7pm -- so we were able to do a bit of our usual silliness today.
In the morning, we made another one of our epic subway trips, all the way out to the other side of Tokyo to see a yarn store, Puppy Yarn. Yeah, Noel kinda owed me one for a couple of hours at the Tokyo office on Tuesday.
As it turned out, the store was kind of small and the selection, while probably great for Japan, was mostly uninteresting to me because a) most of it had wool, and b) I can buy that stuff in San Francisco and be able to read the labels. But I did pick up some nice silk/mohair along the lines of Kidsilk Haze but softer and in better colours.
We wanted to get a drink, but the idea of going into a place labeled "Scandinavia's Smell" was a bit much. I got a disappointing tea drink from a machine, and Noel got one of those espresso shots in a can.
We went back to Omote-sando, mostly to see how different the neighborhood was by day. Here's an advertisement from the sidewalk:
We have no idea what it is for.
We went into this toy store (five stories of Japanese toys!) on a mission from a friend. Afterwards, Noel had to pet this dog, which was easily the biggest dog we saw. Most dogs in Tokyo seem to be very small.
This was really interesting: at this intersection, the road is made up of bolted-down plates, so they just lift the plates to deal with the infrastructure below, rather than having to dig. There's a subway station below this, too.
We went back to the ryokan, picked up our bags, and headed out to Narita. After my disappointing tea experience, I was a little hesitant to buy another drink, but let me be the first to say that "Miracle of Grapefruit" really is delicious.
As you take the train (we paid extra to take the express with comfy seats), the city goes from dense high rises, to closely spaced smaller buildings, to individual homes in the suburbs, and eventually it melts away into fields and rivers.
A great trip.
(End note: we just found out that we can't buy sake duty-free because of the liquids restriction; apparently we get re-screened and then any liquids get confiscated at customs. I mean, how does this help?)
Tonight is our last night at the charming modernist Ryokan Andon. We've really enjoyed staying here; it's out of the center of the city so while we have a longish subway ride, the neighborhood is delightfully quiet.
This morning we had breakfast downstairs for the first time (it's a Western breakfast, so we haven't been that interested). Then we set out for our day's adventures in the city. We got an earlier start than usual, so there are more photos today.
We started our day cruising the restaurateur's shopping district on Kappabashi-dori. Every shop there serves restaurant owners or cooks, and we went into most of them. Imagine a specialized store that only sells metal kitchen sinks. That was Kappabashi-dori.
One shop specialized in coffee things, so we went in to check it out in more detail. Mostly stuff we can buy in the US, but it was fun to look at things.
This plumbing fixtures display with the mini-toilets was fascinating. I'm not sure why you need a little model toilet, but maybe they are glaze samples.
One stunning moment: we looked down a side street while on our way back to the subway, and saw this: a temple with a graveyard. It's the Tokyo Hongan-ji, and you can just barely see the tops of the grave markers over the tall wall there.
Here's a great shop: they sell plastic food for restaurant displays. I love how they display it as if it were real food.
When we were all restaurant-supplied-out, we made our way down the subway to Ginza, which is a high-end shopping district. While the Western haute couture stores were not very interesting, the Japanese department stores and other specialty shops were fascinating. Like this "fruit bar." All you can buy is fruit.
The sun was setting when we were getting a bit tired of Ginza, so we walked along the main drag for a while toward the subway station. Everything is very shiny and smooth there, and all the people are fashionably dressed (except for us, looking like we'd just spent a morning trolling various cooking implements in dusty storefronts).
One fascinating element of this trip has been the preparations for Christmas. The Japanese are getting into the holiday big-time, but they mostly go for the commercial aspects. So as we were walking along looking in store windows, we saw this spectacle: a Christmas tree, with a crowd of Japanese people around it taking photos and videos of the lights turning on and off.
After Ginza, we took a series of trains across town to Omote-sando, which is yet another posh shopping district, but there were a few stores of interest to us.
Obviously, the Dior building was of interest chiefly as an architectural feature.
The level of design in these places is very high. This is a public toilet, right on the street, and it's spotlessly clean and has a high level of detail in its construction. In the US the same toilet would be utilitarian and plastic.
We took a train during rush hour to the place where we planned to have dinner in Shinjuku. This is the train right after we got off it. But it was very polite and non-pushy. Of course, if we had not planned to get off at Shinjuku, we would have had to wait for the next train because we ended up just sort of pushed out of the train by the mass of people.
I like this building.
We had dinner at a great restaurant, Tsunahachi. They do tempura, but not the tempura you're used to in the US. It's all very fresh, and we sat at the bar and were served pieces one by one. It was delicious, and not as heavy and greasy as American tempura can be. Afterwards we wandered around and did a little shopping. We bought the new digital camera I wanted, poked in a few other stores, and then allowed the mass of people funneling into the subways to lead us back to the ryokan.
Tomorrow, we have a morning of piddling around and then off to the airport to go home. Not a very long trip for me, alas (I missed a whole day because of bad weather in LA), but it was definitely lots of fun. I think the next time we come it will have to be for longer.
We got off to a bit of a late start today on account of some phone calls and general lazing around we were up to in the morning.
The thing I love about this city is how nicely information is displayed. This sign in the Metro station by our ryokan has the station name in Kanji and English alphabets, the stop number (H01, etc., with the H standing for Hibiya, which is the name of the grey line) and then the time to get to that station. On the bottom are the connections. Very easy to parse, for both Japanese and non-Japanese speakers.
We spent the afternoon in Akihabara, which is a giant locus for technology shops. Multi-story, loud, crowded technology shops. Everywhere we went, somebody was yelling, often into a megaphone, and there were signs and flashing lights all over the place. The crowds didn't bother me but the noise was overwhelming.
And there was a lot of weird stuff, like this display of home bullriding machines. For real. I have no idea who wants such a thing, or why there is a market for seven or eight different models.
Here's how one store was displaying their printer cartridges: in a dairy case. Not chilled, but definitely that grocery vibe. Alas, they did not carry cartridges for my printer.
In the later afternoon, we went to Noel's company's office near the Imperial Palace to do some work stuff (well, he did. I played tennis on a Wii with one of his coworkers and lost horribly). Here's the moat. It was pretty grey and cold today.
Afterwards we went to a little sushi place Noel had gone to before I got here, and had some of the most amazing sushi I've ever eaten. It was expensive, but it was so totally worth every penny, including the airfare.
After a little mishap with the airline (in which my flight from LAX to Tokyo took off without everybody on my flight from SFO to LAX), I did finally get to Tokyo yesterday, had a nice soba dinner and basically passed out instantly. This morning we slept in then went out to look at the city.
Here's what I woke up to:
We began the day at Shibuya. Here's the crossroads from the station. One thing I find fascinating here is the scale of things, which is much smaller and more delicate than I am used to in high-rises. Those cars that look American-sized? They're tiny. And so are the buildings, compared to what this sort of neighborhood would be like in the US. Instead of feeling really intimidating, it feels... delicate.
Here's an example of delicate. One feature of these high-rises is that there is always always always an external egress stair. In the US, egress stairs are inside.
We had lunch here. We walked in, were puzzling over whether a word on the menu meant "duck" or not, and they just sort of said, hey, do you want some tuna and tamago? And we said yes and it was terrific. And cheap, too, by our standards. And can I say how nice it is to have a Japanese pickle that is not so sweet it makes your teeth ache? The American sweet tooth really irritates me sometimes, and especially when it comes to pickles.
We then spent like five hours in the Tokyu Hands department store, which was totally great and everything you would ever want in a department store. When we got out, the sun had gone down and the neighborhood looked like this:
We walked around some more, went over to Shinjuku for a little looking in more stores (we're semi-shopping for a new digital camera) and a super-cheap sushi dinner, then our feet finally won the argument and we came back to the ryokan where we are staying and settled in for the night. Tomorrow Noel is going to put up with my dragging him to Habu Textiles's Tokyo store.