Today was better than yesterday by a measure of leagues. Is that a phrase I can use? I had a very big beer at dinner and it seems like that’s a fine sentence. Anyway, Anna and I both woke up feeling much better and we had a bit of a sleep in and then another breakfast at Doutor. Then we went to Harajuku again.
It was instantly nicer, quieter and less loud all round. We went to Bic Camera and I used my google translate to ask about three into two prong plug converters again. This time I was able to purchase one! Very exciting all round.
We headed then to the Mame Shiba cafe, and booked a time for about an hour later. In that time, something truly magical happened. I found gorgeous boots that fit me, in Harajuku. Look at these glorious beasts:
Unfortunately this meant we had to carry them for the rest of the day but BOOTS! ❤ ❤
also Anna became a Sanrio character, as she was always supposed to be and we went to Kiddy Land which is a multi-storey toy shop. Kiddy Land may have been a mistake as we went a bit too far from the Shiba cafe and were a bit late back but it all worked out all right.
The mameshiba cafe is a newish addition to Takeshita St and is quite busy as a result. You’re only allowed a half hour with the doggos.
The Mameshiba cafe is called that because all the dogs are the Mameshiba breed: smaller than regular Shiba Inu. They’re very cute, and all seem pretty chilled out about the whole situation. The room is a tatami floored space with high shelves for your bags to keep them out of the dog’s way. There’s lots of low tables and one shiba was having a nice nap under there when we came out.
The dogs were active, investigating everyone, having scraps with each other, pursuing a particularly in demand pink rubber bone and accepting pats. I made particular friends with a little black one who let me rub his jaw and then promptly rested his face in my hand and went back to sleep with me supporting the weight of his head. I nearly died from the cuteness.
In lieu of lunch we had the Harajuku special, gigantic rainbow candyfloss. Last time we tried this we only got the three colours, aka small. Yesterday I lost my head and went for the large five colour option. It was really, really good. Each colour is a distinctive flavour, and the purple grape and green melon were particularly tasty. It was just… a lot of sugar. We probably should have had an actual lunch.
Then we were back on the Yamanote line to get to Nippori Textile Town, which is a part of Tokyo with a whole lot of fabric stores. I’ve been wanting to go fabric shopping in Japan since my first visit in 2012 but it’s always been an easy thing to put off. Not this time! I was determined.
Nippori is a fair distance from our usual stomping grounds of Shinjuku and Harajuku, it was on the direct opposite side of the Yamanote loop which meant about a half hour train ride. However once you arrive in Nippori it’s very easy to track down the fabric stores.
I’d done my research and I knew which shop I wanted: a massive store called Tomato, which as it turns out, is over five different locations on the same street. We looked in a couple of them, whole stores dedicated to braids and notions and buttons, or just knit fabrics, or just fancy brocades, and went to the big five storey one with patchwork fabrics on the top two floors. Hooooo boy.
The top floor had the generic patchwork fabric, similar to the kinds of things I can get back home, lots of US imports. They had fat quarters for 150 yen which is just a bit over $2NZ, back home a fat quarter would generally be $5-7 unless on sale. So I grabbed a few, and some special shiny fabric Japanese ones with Shiba inus and such on them.
The fourth floor was racks and racks of gorgeousness, and Anna obligingly offered to carry the bolts I picked out for me as I chose. I picked up a lot of lovely Japanese prints and some character stuff as well. It turned out the character stuff was on sale, so I could have picked more pikachus maybe… but I can get pikachu fabric back home so I didn’t. All up it was quite a haul and heavy to bring back on the train.
We went straight for dinner instead of going back to the hotel, dumping shopping and going out again (it just seemed easier to get it all done, plus we were both hungry from missing lunch.) Anna had researched some good nearby sushi places, the first one we tried was under renovations but the second one was open (Itamae sushi) and had tables free. I had a massive beer, Anna got her first plum wine of the trip and we had some exceptional food. I had the salmon, crab and minced raw fish bowl and Anna had one of the nigiri platters. We also got salad, octopus and prawn miso. It was freaking delicious.
Then we went back to the hotel room and crashed out. It was a very good day.
It feels weird to stay in a hotel which is just a hotel. The walls here are plain beige, there’s no hidden Mickeys to spot. The room is nice enough but it’s not the ridiculous level of luxury we had in the Disneyland hotel. When we walk out of the lobby there’s no Disney music playing, and there aren’t copious amounts of staff wishing us a good morning or waving at us with Mickey gloves or Disney plushies.
It’s amazing what you can get used to.
We had a slow start to the day Sunday, because Anna woke up in pain and needing painkillers and to sleep it off. I used the time to catch up on blogging and have a nice birthday morning bath.
We went to Doutor for breakfast, which has been my favourite breakfast spot in Japan since 2012. It’s a chain coffee shop, which prides itself on imported coffee. I’m not a coffee or caffeine drinker but they do a delicious, rich and not too sweet hot cocoa which is the stuff of dreams. The food is Western/Italian inspired. Lots of baked goods, sandwiches and pastries. Anna and I both had filled rolls and split an order of cheese toast. The cheese toast is delicious and may be all I eat for breakfast from here on in.
After doubling back to the hotel to pick up our rail pass vouchers we located the ticket office. This was a roundabout trip because they’ve split off the JR rail pass ticket exchange from the main ticket counter, but we happen to be staying very close to the offices we needed so it wasn’t too much of a drama.
The JR pass allows us to ride a bunch of the shinkansen (bullet trains) for free and most local rail as well. It’s super convenient and only available for tourists, so we had to show our passports. The system is very streamlined though, you join the queue and a staff member checks your vouchers, then gives you a form on a clipboard to fill in while you queue. She then checked we’d filled it all out correctly, so by the time we reached the front of the line everything was in order and the desk staff just had to issue the passes proper. It seems so obvious to have this level of service, a staff member checking on you as you wait, but I can’t think of a single place it happens back home.
Newly minted rail passes in hand we went into the station for our first trip on our beloved Yamanote line. The Yamanote line is a big circle which travels through main suburbs of Tokyo and we caught it a lot last time.
We got off at Harajuku and headed to Takeshita St. There’s some construction happening so things looked a little different on the approach. It turns out that Sundays at Harajuku are very, very busy. We hit a couple of favourite spots: Paris Kids for cheap jewellery and accessories, Daiso, a sock shop and wandered up looking for our favourite sushi place, Sushi-nova. Unfortunately it has shut down permanently 😦
Then we looked at some fantastic shoes, just gorgeous things and all relatively cheap, just to realise that they don’t make them quite big enough for us. I could get my feet in the glorious shiny hidden wedge sneakers, but only just. As I put my foot down I could already feel the squeeze, there’s no way I could walk in them comfortably for any length of time. It’s very sad. Plus there’s all this gorgeous fashion, a lot of it which Anna would love to own but it’s all sized to tiny Japanese teenagers. It’s quite alienating in a way. You can look at all the beautiful things, you can buy them, but you can’t wear them.
We found the shiba cafe I’d read about, but the return time on it was hours away. We found the gigantic rainbow candy floss place, and it had a huge line out the door. Plus the street, which is always pretty busy, was packed and mostly with tourists who weren’t picking up on the etiquette. The flow towards the train station/up the street is on the left and the flow down the street/away from the station is on the right. If you try and battle against the flow it doesn’t work. If you stop in a group and spread several metres into the flow to work out what you’re doing next, it messes the flow up. It was all very annoying.
Around the time we realised we couldn’t get into the shiba cafe right away I just kind of broke. Combination of PMS, exhaustion, disappointment and a little child me inside saying ‘but it’s my birthday!’ all welled up and I just started weeping. I’m sure part of this is also missing Disney, and being sad that Harajuku wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be, and being away from home on my birthday. This is pretty embarrassing to write about, but the fact is that it happened, and I like to be honest about this stuff. I just started crying and Anna took us to a cat cafe where I calmed down some.
The Mocha cat cafe is one floor up at the top of the street, and the street slopes up so you can see quite a lot of the crowd from inside, and you can see the fluffy cat butts from the street.
It’s a really, really nice place. The rooms are spacious and quiet and vaguely Alice in Wonderland themed without using any of the trademarked material. The walls are dotted with cat platforms at various heights and little cubbies the cats can go to when they don’t want interaction. There were water fountains around the room, and lots of chilled out cats. They limit how many people can go in at a time, so when people come out someone new can go in. They also offer unlimited drinks from two huge vending machines. It had been a cold morning but it really warmed up while we were in Harajuku so I had two green melon fantas and an orange soda and still felt a little thirsty.
The cats were all exceptionally fluffy and very relaxed. They were playful, some of them very happy to chase the teaser toys provided, or nudge up against you or as one cat did to Anna, spend a while sniffing your feet. They had a few different breeds as well and we made friends with a squash nosed munchkin ginger. It was a nice place to chill out.
We headed back to Shinjuku on the train and it happened again, I was weeping. It just leaked out of me and I couldn’t stop it. Back in the hotel room I just let it happen and Anna reassured me that it actually made sense. I hadn’t thought of it in these terms but it was the first day we’d had in months where we didn’t have to do something. There wasn’t a schedule, I didn’t have to pack up or organise or be somewhere, we were just doing things as they happened. My mind was given a chance to relax, and all the stress and the emotions were coming out.
I felt a lot better after that, and decided to treat the rest of the day as a sick day. We sat in bed, drank sodas and juices and ate snacks and watched Brooklyn 99 which has apparently become comfort TV for me. After a couple hours of that I felt much, much better. We got laundry done and then I realised what I really wanted to do: visit Tokyu Hands and UniQlo
Conveniently, we’re staying about five minutes from a huge up market department store called Takashimaya Times Square, which includes a Tokyu Hands and a Uni Qlo.
What is Tokyu Hands? It’s a huge home and craft themed department stores. There’s a floor for kitchen including bento supplies, waffle makers, chopsticks and baking ware. There’s a floor for leather working and tools, there’s a floor for cards and gifts (we picked up some delightful Studio Ghibli mini jigsaws) and a whole entire floor of diaries, pens, stickers, washi tape and other stationary. That last floor was what got us. We spent quite a lot there. It was so much fun. They had all the 2019 diaries out, so there weren’t so many notebooks as there were last time, but we picked up … enough things. We found a wedding album designed to take instax sized photos, which is perfect because we had all our guests take photos of themselves with my instax, so we have a stack of pictures to store. They had a whole bullet journal section and Anna’s eyeing up a new one for next year, I’m considering trying it out, because with all the stickers etc it actually seems feasible for me.
We headed to UniQlo which is a clothing store which I adore. This one wasn’t a huge one, and I need a huge one, but it still had some gorgeous things. I tried on a rather fancy blazer which I’m thinking about. There were some very cute baby things and wool sweaters. They always have a Disney range as well, and usually some art and artist t shirts. This store didn’t seem to have them, so we’ll have to check out another one. Or maybe I’ll just wait until Osaka when we’re staying by the giant one … we didn’t buy anything there as we didn’t have our passports and you can get tax write off as a foreigner, but I’m keen to go back and check out some things.
After that it was a stroll back to the hotel, sort out hanging the still slightly damp laundry and another relaxing netflix and snacks evening.
Overall it wasn’t my best birthday ever, but it ended just fine. We’re here for a long time so that we can have restful days, I tried to fight it a bit, but I did need the rest.
We had a couple of rides we hadn’t done yet, and a couple we wanted to do again. One of those was Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. I mentioned the other day that it’s unique to Tokyo Disney, but I don’t think I said how popular it is. On Wednesday we got on the ride okay because the park wasn’t too busy. Weekends are a different beast. If we wanted to ride Pooh’s again, we had to get into the park as early as possible and join the crowd waiting to get to the ride.
Because we had to check out and drop off our bags for storage we didn’t get in on our early entry tickets the way we did the other day. In fact we went around the long way to get to the early entry zone but went in just at the same time everyone else did. That meant there was already a massive crowd of people surging forward, and most of them had the same goal as us: Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. But some of them had other plans, some went to Monsters Inc Ride and Go seek and a whole lot went to stake out a good space for the parades, a few hours early. Parade space is highly prized, people will spread out a mat or a blanket and sit there for hours.
They opened the line for Pooh’s Hunny Hunt at 8am, people ran towards the ride and we had to make the quick choice between fast pass and standby. We went fast pass. Standby just means you wait in the line. In 8 minutes the return time for fast pass went up an hour and the standby line went from nothing to 50 minutes. The Japanese Disney crowd really loves Pooh Bear. We got a return time of 10.10, which all things considered wasn’t too bad, we were relatively near the front of the fast pass queue despite not running.
Those secured we went to ride Peter Pan’s Flight which generally has a twenty minute or more wait time on it, and has no fast pass option. Neither of us have ridden it before so it was quite exciting, the wait time was 15 mins that early and it was a quick enough wait. The ride is very sweet, you get into a little pirate ship and fly out of the Darlings’ bedroom, over London and through the stars to Neverland. There you see some animatronics acting out bits of the movie and Peter stealing Captain Hook’s ship to save his friends. It’s very charming, but it’s over very fast. I’m glad we did it but I don’t think I’d queue for it again.
We had the closest food option for breakfast: Pizza, grape drink and cheesy potato bites. I chose the seafood pizza and it was probably the best seafood pizza I’ve had in years. Maybe I was hungry which helped, but the crust was good and crisp and the seafood delicious.
We made a plan for gentle things to do we were both interested in: ride the Western River Railroad, Jungle Cruise, maybe Pirates again, while we waited for Pooh to be ready for us. We did the Jungle Cruise first.
I have a lot of love for that ride based on an old viewmaster reel I had of it. We had a whole set of Disneyland themed reels and one entire one was the river cruise. As a kid I didn’t understand that the animals weren’t real and that the skipper of the cruise boat hadn’t really fired a gun to ward off the hippos. As an adult, it’s all pretty clear, but if you commit to the ride, it’s a lot of fun. Of course it’s all in Japanese. Our skipper specifically asked us to sit up the front and at one point she interacted with me. I think the basic context of it was this: we were passing under the waterfall, and she gestured to the seats on the waterfall side and said ‘you’ll have a good view of the falls’, she gestured to the other side ‘you’ll have a good view of… this rock wall’ and then she gestured to the centre where we were sitting and said… something. Then she said something I have to assume was ‘you don’t understand anything do you?’ so I shrugged and shook my head and everyone in the boat laughed. It was kind of inevitable and I was happy to play along. It is a little annoying though, we learned enough Japanese that I can recognise some words in a sentence but not all of them. I can parse what someone said to me with time, maybe a few minutes, but not in the moment. I’m hoping it’ll get better over the trip!
One point of note about the Jungle River cruise, if you ever see a cute animals photo collection or some internet cuteness pictures passing this off as a real elephant? It’s not, it’s a sculptured robot from the Disney cruise.
The Western River Railroad is right above the cruise entry so we hopped aboard the train for some casual racism and a nice sit down. It’s a ride which follows the course of the ‘Rivers of America’, which is populated by statues of Native Americans in various situations: waving at the train, learning off elders and hunting statues of deer. It feels quite uncomfortable to a modern eye. Similarly to the wench auction in Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s something that was designed in the fifties and probably should’ve been left there.
However we did get some nice views of the park from the railroad, and when we went into a tunnel we unexpectedly traveled through time and saw dinosaurs. Didn’t expect that at all!
We had enough time to get across the park and get into the fast pass lane for Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. It’s a very charming ride, and we had a different experience to last time with our honeypot moving into different areas of parts of the story. We got a better look at Kanga and Roo, and in the weird Heffalumps and Woozles sequence, we went to a different mirror. I was glad we got to ride it again.When we got in the fast pass lane at 10.10 am the fast passes had sold out for the day, the park closes at 10pm. The standby queue was at 160 minutes. It’s a good ride, but I’m not sure it’s worth that wait!
We didn’t have much else to do at Disneyland, but it had got chill enough that I wasn’t warm enough in just a t shirt, for the first time since we landed I got cold! I had seen a cute and relatively plain hoodie at the store so we battled through the crowds and I got a warm fleece hoodie.
We took the monorail with the intention of stopping off at Ikspiari mall for some early lunch while we waited for Fortress Explorations to open at Disneysea. However for some reason or monorail stopped at Disneysea and everyone was ordered off, so we went in since we were there.
We knew there was a huge wait time or distant return time for our favourite rides, so we went to a villain’s world show in the square and then checked out Fortress Explorations. The villain’s show is… almost a fashion show? This was the minions one, where original characters who are minions of the villains from the movies appear and try to recruit people to the dark side from the audience. It was all in Japanese of course, but you don’t need to understand the language to get the idea. The minions are all exceptionally good looking people, and their costumes are stunning. Example pics from a few years back, we couldn’t get close enough for good pictures, really. There were six of them out, we had Frollo girl Bell (Hunchback of Notre Dame), Hook (Peter Pan), Malefi (Sleeping Beauty), Hades (Hercules), Ursula boy (Little Mermaid) and Dalmation boy (10` Dalmatians). There’s others which must come out at other times.
My favourites were the Cruella de Vil boy and the Frollo girl (big hat, not Hook). Anna loved Hook and the idea if not the execution of Ursula boy.
Our feet were sore from standing so we went for the closest food again, and had a terikyaki chicken roll, which was kind of weird and kind of delicious. It was raining by this point, but it hadn’t noticeably thinned the crowds. Everyone just got out their umbrellas and continued on.
We spent some time in Fortress Explorations, I sailed a little boat for a bit, and we happened to be in the alchemy lab at the time a Japanese kid brought in an interactive DaVinci Challenge map and activated special effects in the room. it was super cool. The map has a special watermark which when placed on a panel starts up an animation of DaVinci in the map and gives instructions of ways to interact with the room. The room lights up and shows details and it was really cool.
My favourite room though was the planets one which was a sort of manual orrery where you could turn a crank to move one of the planets around the sun. Absolutely gorgeous design.
Well exhausted by this point we left the parks, and hit Ikspiari, which is a great big mall in between the Disney parks. The idea was to get lunch but by this point we were both slightly losing it. Anna was so tired (and her feet so sore) she couldn’t make a decision about what to eat. We chose Pie Face and I got her to go sit down and got her a mince pie and a grapetiser (probably the most kiwi meal she’ll have in a while) and I had chicken and mushroom pie and appletiser. She felt better with the rest and the food, but over the meal the noise in the place started to make me really anxious and my stomach knotted up into a solid lump. Anna took charge of getting us back to the hotel to pick up our bags.
We agreed that a taxi straight to the next hotel would be worth the money. Otherwise it was at least two trains and navigating Shinjuku station and neither of us felt up to it. Sometimes you have to be easy on yourself and pay a little extra, especially after four days of 20k+ steps.
Our taxi delivered us to Shinjuku and our home for the next four nights: Hotel Sunroute. I had a bit of a tired meltdown and napped, then we went to the Family Mart over the road, bought an array of snacks and foods and settled in for a quiet night in our room. We watched netflix, ate and drank and rested. It wasn’t a very glamorous way to spend our ‘one week since we got married’ anniversary, but it was definitely what we needed.
Real talk on emotions and struggles:
Taking care of each other isn’t always easy to do, especially when you’re exhausted yourself from the same things that your partner is exhausted by. But it’s always worth it, I’ve found. I could’ve got annoyed with Anna for not knowing what pie she wanted, and made a thing of it, and had a fight, but instead I chose to be helpful. I sent her to sit down, knowing the kind of thing she likes to eat. I could do that for her, I could be of service to her in a time of need. I could show my love for her by navigating the foreign language and trying to understand the way the restaurant worked and bringing her food and drink. Then, when I said to her ‘the noise is starting to freak me out’ later on, she returned the favour and got us out of there, rubbed my back and said soothing things so I didn’t just break down in panic.
Travel is hard, especially when you’re in a country where you don’t know the language, but we chose to strengthen our relationship instead of adding more stress. We showed our love by looking out for each other.