Tokyo, revisited (part II)

This is the second part of a bumper post covering our time in Tokyo with Katie (see yesterday’s post for part I).

Day two: A palace, soba noodles and manga

We had another clear day, so headed to the Imperial Palace gardens to explore. The gardens within the inner moat were closed, but since we’d read that what you could see inside was quite limited because the Emperor still lives here, we weren’t too disappointed. Instead, we explored Kokyo Gaien National Garden, which has views of the palace and moat.

I think we were secretly all slightly relieved that the main palace gardens were closed, as we’d had another late start and were ready for lunch! We’d had soba (buckwheat noodles) several times since arriving in Japan, but always served hot. To us, this seemed the natural way to order them, but we started to notice that most other people ordered them cold, so I gave it a go when we visited Kanda Matsuya. They were delicious and perfect for a light lunch.

Cold buckwheat noodles topped with fried tofu

Our next stop was Akihabara, Tokyo’s home of subcultures like anime and manga, and unusual eating establishments like maid cafes. We’d already paid a brief visit with George and Erin, but Katie didn’t want to miss out. Unfortunately, she was still feeling the effects of jetlag and promptly fell asleep in a coffee shop! She headed back to the apartment for a proper nap while Oli and I stuck around to delve a bit deeper into some of the niche interests represented in the area. In record time, things got…weird! We learnt that manga really does have something for all ages, shall we say. On a more innocent note, Oli and I raced each other on a motorbike arcade game and, after a number of dramatic crashes and running out of time to do even one lap, established that I should not be allowed to ride one in real life (although I think we knew that already).

Given that walking is our only real exercise these days and we’ve been eating vast quantities of excellent food, we took a walk back to our apartment instead of taking the train. On the way, we passed through the buzzy Ameyoko market street, which was yet another side of Tokyo we’d not yet seen. Unfortunately, the temptation to bend our route around visiting Asakusa Beer Kobo (a highly rated craft beer joint) was too much and we immediately undermined any benefits of having walked an extra few miles, particularly when we ordered some fried chicken as a pre-dinner snack!

Ameyoko market street

Later that evening, we met back up with Katie and had our first tangible experience of the suspicion of foreigners that we’d heard about when we were refused entry to an izakaya – we’d not even stepped foot inside or opened our mouths before the owner blocked the doorway and told us that entry was for Japanese-speaking guests only. We might have been fluent speakers! As we weren’t, we tried not to be too offended and moved onto a much friendlier establishment that served sake in quite possibly the finest vessel we’d ever seen.

Since the transport in Japan was so well organised, we couldn’t really introduce Katie to our favourite game of public transport roulette, so instead we gave her an experience of another, equally risky, game we sometimes play inadvertently: dinner payment chicken. The rules are simple: go to an establishment that you think will accept credit cards, order with enthusiastic abandon, watch anxiously as everyone else settles up with cash and then keep up a confident demeanor when the bill arrives before frantically checking whether you have enough to actually pay. Extra points are awarded if the staff don’t notice you borrowing a menu to estimate what you might owe to decide whether you can afford another round of drinks (we couldn’t)! This was our closest shave yet, and we had the equivalent of about 30 pence between us after paying the bill 😬

Day three: Divide and conquer

It was grey and rainy on our final day in Tokyo, so we parted ways to find some indoor fun.

Katie and I headed to Shibuya City for a delicious sushi lunch at Katsumidori Seibu Shibuya (another item from her Japan to-do list). We feasted from the conveyor belt and also by ordering from an iPad that was placed in each one-person booth. Our top pick was the seared sardine, which was a bite-sized piece of smoky, melt-in-your mouth deliciousness. We shared most dishes and had to do a lot of precarious passing of delicate pieces of sushi under and around the screens installed between each seat – I’m still not totally certain how much all the individual booth dining in Japan has to do with Covid and how much was already there to give people privacy while they eat. In any case, we were very proud that, despite lots of temptation passing us on the conveyor belt, we were restrained enough to spend only the equivalent of about £5 each!

Next, we spent some time shopping and exploring the hipster lanes of Harajuku. Katie spent an inordinate amount of time in a stationery store while I drank coffee, so we were both happy!

Meanwhile, Oli headed for the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (via lunch at a ramen joint, obvs).

Although this museum’s primary purpose seemed to be to encourage children to build an interest in science and technology, I promise I wasn’t the only one there without any kids! The museum curators seemed to love an analogy, and had a particular soft spot for marble runs. So much so that they’d managed to illustrate a whole range of complex concepts with separate marble runs, such as the Internet, disaster risk management, and the carbon cycle. I’m not sure I really got under the skin of any of these topics, but the exhibits were strangely mesmerising.

This one illustrates disaster risk management. Apparently the balls represent the dependence between human actions and potential disasters. Or something like that!

That evening, we met up again to pay a brief visit to the d47 Museum and then to see the Shibuya Crossing (another sight we visited with George and Erin a couple of weeks ago) on a busy weekend evening.

This seemed like a fitting way to end our second visit to Tokyo, and we were all excited to be heading to Kyoto on the bullet train the following day.

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