Part 4 in the Japan 2019 series. Part 3 is here.
Like so many places in Japan, Shibuya crossing is unique. Two thousand five hundred pedestrians crossing with each signal change at rush hour. A crazed mass of people moving in every direction. It’s a tad overwhelming. Just pick a point and keep walking towards it.
After the madness, we wandered around the area and found an umbrella for Sarah, and in what is rapidly becoming a tradition, we sought out the Lindt café for an iced chocolate beverage (I visited last time I was at Shibuya.) Japan is reasonably fond of Belgian and Swiss chocolate hence the availability of Lindt and Godiva.
Didn’t it rain, children
It was truly the beginning of the rainy season, We got up the next day to a downpour to rival all others. Most of the things I had planned involved walking around outside, so it was time for a Plan B. Where do you go on a rainy day in Tokyo? Time for the subterranean metropolis that is Tokyo Station.
Tokyo Station, with the rather impressive Maronouchi building front, is even more impressive underground. Several levels with around one hundred shops, restaurants, and cafés. The main shopping area is called First Avenue and has everything from jewellery and clothes, to Pokémon and Moomin merchandise. A great place to spend some time on a rainy day.
The queues for lunch restaurants were starting to build, so it was time we found somewhere to eat. Trying to figure what we could both eat took a bit of a time, and there were many foods I didn’t recognise even after having spent a month in Tokyo. We settled for a little ramen place, where I ordered a bowl of ramen and Sarah had barbeque pork on rice, with a side of gyoza.
Exhausted from the shopping, we made our way back to the hotel. Not before a brief stop in 7/11 in Kayabacho. For the uninitiated, convenience stores (conbini) in Japan are truly unique. Want to buy a magazine? Sure, they’ve got those. What about some fried chicken? Yep. Okay, how about tickets for Disneyland at 4 o’clock in the morning? Of course! They truly are convenient, open 24 hours and stocked with a surprising variety of items given their size. I had to print forms last time I was in Japan, and was able to upload them to the print service and print them at a convenience store. They also have kettles, microwaves and seating areas so you can even cook and eat food bought in the store.
We bought some ‘doughnuts’ that ended up being ring shaped cakes almost entirely different to the doughnuts we know and love. Other classics you can find include mystery flavour Pringles, pizza flavour crisps, and Belgian sandwiches.,,
Roppongi and Shabu Shabu
Ah, Roppongi. The first place I set eyes on when I got off the bus on my last trip didn’t disappoint on our return. Glistening neon and a mish mash of multi-storey bars and restaurants, with Tokyo Tower glowing in the distance. We stopped off at Donki before trying to find Shabuzen, the restaurant the Japanese doctors had booked for our reunion. I only expected to see a few of them, but almost everyone made it. It was really nice to see them, even if my Japanese had fallen by the wayside.
We had beef shabu-shabu, which is more of an experience than a meal. The host places a pot full of stock on a hob/hotplate on the table, and beside it a selection of exquisitely thinly sliced beef, and some vegetables. You lift a slice of beef and drop it into the stock, and cook it to your liking. The beef was amazing quality and there was no shortage.
We brought a bottle of Penderyn Welsh whiskey, a couple of bottles of nice Cornish cider and some Dairy Milk chocolate. Whiskey is huge in Japan with entire sections of menus devoted to ‘highball’, or whiskey with soda, lemonade, ginger, oolong tea or any mixer really.
At the end of the meal we were presented with gift bags, which was quite unexpected (though knowing the gift-giving tendencies of the Japanese I should’ve anticipated it!). They gave us our own tenugui (traditional Japanese handkerchiefs) and hapi (festival coats). I had my eye on a hapi for some time, so this was phenomenal and incredibly kind of them. It had only been a few days but already this was a trip to remember.
Alcohol and a 5am start don’t mix…
Continued in Part 5