On August 14, we took the Shinkansen to Tokyo. We had reserved seats, but they turned out to be in a smoking car — and at the very front of the train. We decided to look for new seats, but all the unreserved calls are at the back of the train. I walked from car 16 to car 4, where there were lots of open seats, then went back to get Evan and our bags. It took until we got to the first stop to get everything settled.
We got in to Tokyo in the early afternoon and made our way to the fancy Keio Plaza in Shinjuku. We stayed a night, then spent the rest of our stay at the brand new Shinjuku Best Western, which was nice and cozy and had decent prices for Tokyo.
In Shinjuku, we went into plenty of fancy department stores and movie theaters and had a nice and filling Indian lunch at Pina Maharajah.
August 15, 2008
Our second day, we set off for Ginza to see the Sony showroom, where we played with cameras, TVs, phones and music players. It was fun, but less interactive than I’d hoped. The we went off to find the Godzilla statue that was marked on the map in our guidebook. We nearly missed it is was so small! It was quite a let-down, though it’s possible that was the original size of the claymation Godzilla. After taking a quick photo, we went to see the parks around the Imperial Palace, which were very pretty, though much of the area is gated off.
Godzilla: smaller than he appears
After strolling around a bit, we used our Passmo cards to take the subway to Roppongi Hills to check out a giant shopping mall. Like Kanyon in Istanbul, it was modern, clean and a nice place to spend an afternoon.
August 16, 2008
The next day, we spent the afternoon at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park, looking at old Japanese paintings, armor, ceramics, sculpture and clothing. It was a nice, concise collection that gave a good overview of Japanese art and culture. The park was also very pretty.
August 17, 2008
We took another museum excursion, this time farther out of the city, to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. We bought tickets months earlier, when we were still in London, because it was recommended to us, and we were not disappointed. The museum was fanciful and fun, with beautiful Zoetrope exhibits, sketches and painting. The building itself was also fun, with lots of small doorways, staircases, elevators and walkways. There was rarely a direct way to get anywhere. We also went to the cafe, where we had a great lunch, topped off by a giant piece of strawberry shortcake.
The robot on the roof of the Ghibli Museum
We went to a great macrobiotic place in Harajuku for dinner and had a lot of fun walking around the area. There are lots of funky little shops, and people make a real effort to look different, with candy-colored hair, Little Bo Peep-style costumes and neon clothing.
August 18, 2008
It was surprisingly hard to find vegetarian food in Japan, especially at standard restaurants. It was even harder to find menus in English. I learned to say “I’m a vegetarian” — “Watashi wa bejitarian desu,” but that didn’t always mean I’d get a vegetarian meal.
Evan wanted to get some good sushi while we were in Japan, so we tried to go for a nice sushi lunch. The nice place recommended by our guidebook was closed, so we found a small place with a good lunch special nearby. I told them I was a vegetarian, hoping to get a selection of vegetable rolls, but it apparently translated to “Don’t serve me anything.” I ended up picking some veggie rolls off Evan’s place while he enjoyed the fish, soup and other small dishes.
For the afternoon, we took the elevated train on what felt like a fancy urban monorail ride to Odaiba, in Tokyo Bay to go to Toyota Mega Web in Palette City. We checked out cars, rode in simulators, and went to an arcade to play some air hockey. We also did a reaction-time race car driver test, where we had to press buttons as they lit up on a big board. I did a bit better than Evan (sweet!). The elevated train back to Ginza was fun again on the ride home since it was dusk and the city’s lights were coming on and the towering glass buildings were becoming even more transparent.
Ginza by night
We went to Harajuku for dinner again and spent time in an English pub before getting a fantastic feast at Fujimama’s, where I had a pink Hello Kitty cocktail and Evan had an orange Crouching Tiger one. We shared a grilled vegetable salad and Evan had something meaty while I had some really delicious handmade noodles with mushroom and truffle sauce. Of course, we had dessert, too, though our Oreo mousse was my least favorite course.
August 19, 2008
For our last day in Japan, we visited the Toto Super Space to check out — and test out — some fancy toilets and other homewares. The Japanese sure have a monopoly on fancy toilets, they have ones with auto-up seats, adjustable sprays and bidets that can move around and change temperature and intensity, and they have toilet sound cloaking noises you can turn on.
We stopped briefly at the Nikon showroom, which is just a couple of floors up from Toto, then we picked up a picnic lunch to take to the park. Unfortunately, since it was our last day and the ATMs would only let us take out a minimum of 10,000 yen (about $100), we were back to where we started in Japan — with no cash. We had just enough to buy lunch, but we couldn’t scrounge up 400 yen ($4) to get into the park. Instead, we ate on some benches by the visitor’s area, then went shopping in the department stores.
Late in the afternoon, we hopped on to the Narita Express from Shinjuku station to go to the airport for our flight to Hawaii.