Japan 2018 – Tokyo… Part 2!

Thursday 5th July 2018

We woke up this morning and went for a walk out to the Imperial Palace to start our day. Today would be a big day as we had to change hotels from the Marunouchi/Nihonbashi area out to Shinjuku. We had a light breakfast in the hotel but our first job of the day was to get our bags packed. For a small amount ($18 per bag) we could send our bags across town with same day delivery. That was so easy for us as we didn’t have to drag out suitcases on and off trains or through stations. Bargain! We got that sorted with the help of the concierge (after a back and forth about what we had been told vs what they were going to do on the day, but it all worked out) and let them handle our bags and we paid for it on check out.

As we departed the hotel we headed off towards the subway so that Heidi and I could head out for a day visiting my friend Rumi. We went to TAFE (Technical College for all my seppo friends) when I was just out of High school. We have known each other a long time. She moved back to Japan in the early 2000s and we caught up the last time I spent a good amount of time in Japan (2011) but it has been a long time since we last saw each other. Rumi wanted to meet up just below the Tokyo Skytree area so we headed out on the subway.

Sadly today the weather was not that great with plenty of rain around. We looked around the shops below the skytree and even stopped to get a bit of a photo of the bottom of the skytree. After walking past the Japan Post Museum we stopped in there as well. It was a small place but still extremely interesting. My favorite part was exploring all the stamp collection they have of stamps from all over the world!! We had a stop for lunch in the food court area because there was so much selection and we enjoyed each other’s company a lot. Eventually though Rumi had to go meet up with her son as he got off from school and Heidi and I were off to keep exploring.

We braved the rain in Asakusa to see the Senso-ji Temple and that was when I realised I had lost my umbrella 🙁 It was a fantastic umbrella that could withstand a lot of punishment and I was gutted to have lost it 🙁 Heidi gave me hers (since she doesn’t like using them) but I was still pretty gutted and made me feel awful losing it. We explored through Sensoji and I bought some little Ningyo-yaki which are little red bean filled pancake kind of things. They are usually different shapes as well (birds, fish etc). Very tasty! We decided to walk back towards where we could take a subway home and the rain started to come down heavy. As we walked down a street Heidi saw a sign for a cat cafe and it was as good excuse as any.

The cat cafe didnt have a usage charge for the first hour, just a minimum drink requirement and the drinks were not cheap (which is probably why there was no usage charge). It was also technically a bar, so you could get beer or wine if you wanted. It was pretty relaxed and a great way to escape the rain. Heidi was pretty happy so that is a win win I guess. We left just before an hour was up and headed off to catch the subway back to the hotel. After grabbing our bags from the concierge, we were off to Tokyo Station to get the train to Shinjuku. On the way through we tried to find the second assassination spot, but we couldn’t from the way we entered the station. O well, maybe next time! The train was relatively packed but not that bad so we had come through at a good time.

The Chuo Rapid line out to Shinjuku takes about 10-12 minutes and it is an easy ride. We hopped off at Shinjuku and it was time to battle our way out of the world’s busiest train station. We had decided to take a taxi to the hotel rather than trying to find the free shuttle, because I had read that it was very badly sign posted. Finding the taxi was easy and within a few minutes we were off to the hotel. The ride was short and relatively cheap (600Y) and we were dropped right at the door of our hotel, the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Funnily enough as we arrived, the staff were just getting our bags we had sent to the hotel onto a cart. It was quite the coincidence! We were shown upstairs to check in and after a little while was walked up to our room.

The check in took a little while because they had to check on the status of our room. Which was strange because the room we had been assigned on the form was a higher floor than what we recieved and the room we were shown into had someones suitcases in it…. Awkward!!! We eventually settled into the room and got ourselves situated. The room was definitely still luxurious compared to Osaka but not the best of the trip. The hotel was nicely kept up for a hotel that hasn’t had a major overhaul since opening but the green colored hallways are a tough choice.

We rested up for a little bit as we had been on the go for quite some time and contemplated dinner. We decided to take the shuttle over to the station (so we knew where to go) and then walk around to the far side of the station to a spot with plenty of nightlife. I was hoping to find a place that I had visited in 2011 but I didn’t know the name, just the look and only had a photo to go by. We did manage to find it and I enjoyed my Okinawan dinner. Heidi didn’t seem all that pleased to begin with but she did enjoy what she chose. The meal was cheap and plentiful and we both walked out with full bellies. We strolled around Shinjuku, picking up some stuff we needed for the next few days and ended up getting the shuttle back to the hotel and passed out on the stupid hard japanese bed 🙁

Friday 6th July 2018

This morning we had a quick breakfast after waking up later than usual and we got ready to meet our tour guide. We were going to meet a guide and head off to the Tsukiji Fish markets today. I had been before but Heidi had not. In my visit I was up stupid early to see the tuna auctions but Heidi vetoed that and just wanted to see the wholesale market and the surrounding areas. With another free guide planned it was going to be an easier day and a better explanation of how things worked and what things were.

We met our guide in the hotel lobby (he was waiting for us as we got down the first set of lifts from our room) and we headed off towards Shinjuku station. It was a rainy morning so I made sure to have a hotel umbrella with me today (since I was not going to risk losing another one). We were heading towards the Toei Subway’s Shinjuku line which took us to the Tsukiji fish market area. It was a simple ride we just got on and waited for a while before getting off. Simple. Even though it was after 9 before we got on the train, the commuters were still in force and the crowds were there for a while before they emptyed out around Roppongi.

We got to the market and the guide took us into the outer market area which was all we could access for quite a while. We wound back and forth through the streets looking at items for sale. While not much fish around this area there was plenty of other items for sale for both locals and tourists alike. One of my favorite items was the 100 Yen stick of Tamago…. It was delicious!!! We also saw some of the more famous Sushi shops and they were stupidly crowded. Some of them were over 100 people in line…. Pass!

We did what we could to pass the time as the wholesale market just changed restrictions to now only allow access after 11am so there was lots of people standing around waiting to get in. When 11am came it was like the flood gates for tourists opened and everyone bolted for the gates. We wound our way through this area but it was mostly closed down with very few stalls still open and most people were cleaning up. Sadly this will probably be our last ever visit to the market as it moves next year. O well!

We left the market headed for the Ginza area and a stop for sushi lunch. The guide took us to a rather respectable looking place that I would not have even approached. It didn’t have any english anywhere and those are the places I would probably not try on my own. The restaurant opened at 11:30am and we showed up at 11:28am giving me time to pack up my umbrella before we sat down. We got in before the big rush of people coming in for lunch as this was Ginza and there are plenty of businesses around. Being in Ginza you avoid the Tsukiji mark up prices that everyone in the market area charges, but you are close enough you get the exact same fish. Score!

As soon as they opened we were shown to a table and several other people joined us directly after. The chefs were churning out sushi minutes later as people came in and sat down. As we were at a table and not the counter we had to wait for our plates to be finished first before getting food, if you were at the counter, they got shoved in front of you as they were finished being made. The sushi was delicious and the omakase was a good choice. It was around 1600 Yen each so very reasonable for the quality and size we were served.

After leaving lunch our guide walked us down to the central part of Ginza and we parted ways as we thanked him for showing us around. He suggested we head up to Ginza Six to the new garden on the rooftop and you know how Heidi likes gardens. The view of the buildings was good from up there and I could see how nice it would be on a sunny day, but the rain was a killer. We left Ginza Six and walked our way through to Yurakucho station (after some shopping) to jump on a train. We had to change in Akihabra to a new train line for this trip as we were taking the local towards Shinjuku not the rapid.

We jumped off at Iidabashi and headed towards the main shopping street and Kinozen. If you have seen some of the random shows that pop up on Netflix you may have seen Kantaro the Sweet Tooth Salaryman. This is one of Heidi’s favorite shows and her favorite episode is the Matcha Bavarois. Well that episode is filmed at Kinozen as the show may be a drama but the places they go to are real. So we decided to head off to Kinozen for some Wa Sweets.

There was a small wait while some people headed out but we didn’t need to look at a menu, we knew how to order this one. Ni Matcha Babaro kudasai… well that’s what i attempted to say, whether that was correct is a different thing. The wait was nothing and we had the lovely Senbei Rice Cracker in the shape of a pig (delicious) in our hands within seconds. The dessert showed up and Heidi was excited. It looked delicious, it tasted devine and I can see why people come here a lot.

Japanese desserts have always been so good with the attention to detail you don’t get anywhere else. They will pick one specific item and focus so much on it to make it perfect. It warms my heart! After finishing our desserts we decided to walk along the canal to the next stop on the train since the rain had stopped and it was only about a 30 minute walk. By the time we made the other station we had been on the go for a while, so we headed back to the hotel for a bit of a relax. For dinner that night we headed off through the park around the hotel to find a Coco just a couple of blocks over…. Delicious way to end the day!

Saturday 7th July 2018

Our last full day in Tokyo before heading home was a Saturday and that would be ideal for the kinds of places that don’t really happen during the week. After a gym work out this morning we headed off on a bus (for the first time in Tokyo…. ever), The first stop of the day was NHK Studio Park. We both love Domokun and they have a small NHK store at the main studios in Tokyo. They also have like a small museum place and for 200 Yen entry its a bargain.

After a small hiccup finding the right bus stop we finally got moving towards NHK along the edge of Yoyogi park. The park looked great and had a lot of different parts including the Youth Olympic facilities, the Horse Club and a number of small playgrounds. We got off around the corner from NHK park and walked up to be greeted by a Giant Domo Statue… love it! There wasn’t any english translations for a lot of stuff at the Studio Park but we made due and it kind of kept in line with a lot of what we did while in Japan. Found random things to go to, where we couldn’t really read it but still had a great time. We got a number of freebies for our $2 including a wrist strap, some file folders and some stickers. We made one or two purchases at the store but we also got to watch rehearsal for an NHK talk show thing… maybe… we weren’t sure.

After leaving NHK we walked down into the Shibuya area taking a stop on top of a building with a free view of the scramble crossing before braving the crossing on our own. We were getting hungry but neither of us could make up our minds what we wanted and we spent plenty of time just wandering around trying to find something. We decided on a couple of sandwiches and some salad from the Tokyu department store. Pretty delicious! After walking around some of the department stores we head off to the Mega Don Quixote for some shopping. This was when we had both decided to leave all of our souvenir shopping till so that we didn’t spend all trip carrying them around Japan.

I went a little bit nuts getting all the different Kit Kat flavors and almost filled the entire basket. I wanted to check out a few other things while I was at it but Heidi got a few pieces in the stationary sections. We were able to get our purchases tax free as we spent over a certain threshold (and were willing to not touch the items before we left….. tomorrow). It was a good deal. We came out of the store with a 100 Yen soft serve to help with all of the stress and frustration of dealing with a Don Quixote store (Aisles are small, lots of people). We made our way out of Shibuya via some back streets before heading up to the station for our next stop… Harajuku.

This was going to be a rough stop as it was by now the middle of Saturday afternoon, it was hot, humid and the crowds of tourists were out in force. If the train was any indication of what was to come, I should have cut and run. But we made our way over to Takeshita Street in Harajuku for the street of doom. It was wall to wall people walking up and down one tiny street. We shopped for a little bit, but didn’t spend much just browsed slowly up and back. By the time we got down to one end, we were truly over it and just wanted to get out. Back through the crowds to the station we went, bravely exiting the tourists for another day.

We journeyed back to the hotel via the New South Exit from Shinjuku station and after walking for almost 6 hours we were done! We collapsed on the bed of the room for a little while before heading out for a final dinner in Shinjuku. We headed to a place recommended by Rumi as her favorite Ramen. I loved it (Heidi wasn’t loving it too much due to the shellfish broth) and thought it was a great place to go! We left there and Heidi wanted to play some pachinko, but she didn’t realise just how noisy they were… holy crap they were loud… like deafening loud. You need earplugs just to even walk in the building. Instead we hit up an arcade to have some fun spending some last cash.

Sunday 8th July 2018

We woke up this morning, our final morning in Japan and walked down to Yoyogi Park. Intending on just walking around the park itself we ended up coming into the entrance with the Meiji shrine. So we walked up to the shrine, explored for a little bit and made our way back to the hotel to pack things up. Packing took a while as there was a lot to do. We had packed an extra bag so that we could carry all the souvenirs (although we usually just fill it with dirty clothes).

We spent a short amount of time out of the hotel checking out the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building free observatory and trying to find an overview point of Shinjuku station I went to last time (but I couldn’t find it) before going to Mos Burger for lunch before heading back to the hotel. Our final morning in Japan was over, time to get back to reality.