Day twenty-six – Meiji Jingu, the last day…

On our last day we slept late. Mostly because it’d been so hard to get to sleep on Friday night but also the bed was comfy and we needed it. We packed up and got out of the room, took our bags (all four suitcases!) to leave at the desk and went to Doutor for a final hot cocoa and cheese toast.

From there it was onto the old reliable, yamanote line, to get to Harajuku. But instead of hitting Takeshita St we went up the road and into Meiji Jingu shrine, a huge forest park with a big shrine complex inside it.

Meiji Jingu is a tribute shrine to the Emperor and Empress who died in 1912. Under their reign, Japan opened its borders to the rest of the world and consolidated their government structure. Lots of change, especially from learning about the Western World.

Last year, on Anna’s first visit to Japan, we came here first thing on our first day. Starting at Yoyogi Park to look at the cherry blossoms and then up to the shrine. It seemed quite fitting to visit it again at the end of this trip.

It turned out they were having an Autumn festival, so there were masses of chrysanthemums on display, which had been donated as tributes. Also bonsai and little bonsai scenes, which I particularly loved. There were lots of little kids in ceremonial kimonos, some of them taking it very seriously, some less so. One memorable little kid, maybe a four year old, was walking along in her kimono with a huge smile on her face and flapping the sleeves of it like wings.

Inside the main shrine was lined with tables of food and drink offerings to the shrine, and there were monks doing a ceremony in full ceremonial regalia. It was very festive, lots of people there to visit the shrine and see the sights. Although I say festive, it’s also very respectful. People were talking quietly, and the main sounds were the clapping and bell ringing of people praying.

It was a lovely way to spend an hour or so.

After this we went back to Shinjuku and visited another place we’d liked last visit: Alice in a Magical Land, a fantasy cafe styled after Alice in Wonderland.

Everyone who works there is dressed in a fancy outfit – there are some Alices, and some Hatters, but we were served by a girl in cat eyes and a striped dress like Cheshire Cat. She even made our bill adorable. The food’s pretty good, but it’s all about the decor. This little place is close to the Shinjuku train station West entrance, in the third basement level. The elevator doesn’t even go that low so you have to take stairs and go past some bar food places to get there.

We went to the hotel to pick up bags and both had an anxiety spiral. Here’s what happened. We had 15 minutes to pick up our bags from the front desk and go out the front of the hotel to catch the Friendly Airport Limousine bus. We had 3.15 tickets and as you know if you’ve been reading, you cannot be even a minute late.

We got into the line for the desk, and I was instantly anxious because there were about five people in front of us, and everyone at the desk was already busy with other people.  There was no one at the bag check side of the desk…

And for whatever reason, the people being checked in all had extra questions and time passed quickly and 3.15 got closer and closer. Anna went to lurk by the bag check and I stayed in line, and finally someone was free for us with two minutes to spare. We showed the staff member our tickets for the bus and she hurried to bring our bags out. I was sure we were going to miss the bus and be horribly messed up, have wasted the money we spent on the tickets and everything would be terrible. I don’t know exactly what this fear came from, we had a lot of time before the flight and there was also a train we could catch and in the worst case, a taxi, but I was freaked out.

When the first two cases came out I rushed them out to the bus, which was already there. Thinking I could delay things, I acted like I didn’t know what to do with the bus tags for the suitcases and the guys running the bus helped me out with them. In this time Anna came out with two more suitcases and a backpack, and the woman from the bus alongside her – she’d come looking for us. As we fussed with the bag tags another woman from the hotel came out with our other backpack and a large bag with our pokemon in it. So, even though we were panicked, running late and generally holding up the bus it went fine. They took our bags and put them on the bus, we got on the bus and sat up the front and the bus actually left right on time.

I did some breathing exercises but my heart still got a good work out.

The bus took some time to go through a couple of stops at the train station, which was like a nice little tour of our favourite area in Tokyo and then we were on the Expressway to Narita. We went right by the Disney Restort which hit me in the feels…

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We were at the airport around five, and our flight wasn’t until nine-thirty, so we tracked down the “repack station” which had a scales and a large low bench so you could sort out luggage.

Our first spare suitcase was just underweight, the new one was vastly underweight, mine and Anna’s were over, so we had some time to shift things around and get all bags under 23kg. It was quite fun, in a weird way.

We were too early to check in, so we took some time to sit and have some drinks, and I caught up a little on my physical travel journal. Once we’d checked our cases in we went around the Narita airport mall, which is a very, very good mall. They have a Uniqlo ❤ and we got some dinner as well. Sushi to say goodbye, I also got fried shrimps and fries. It was good. I also got emotional because leaving Japan sucks, but I also very much wanted to be home.

The flight home was similarly fancy to the flight over, but damn it’s hard to sleep on a plane, even in the fancy chairs. I got three hours of sleep and many episodes of Sharp Objects watched (more emotions, holy crap it’s a great show, just have one ep and ten minutes of the second to last episode to watch. Anna didn’t manage to sleep as much as me, and she watched all the Maze Runner movies.

 

Day twenty-five – Harajuku again

We’d been a bit slack on laundry so Friday started with washing and drying clothes, so that I’d have clean underwear. It seemed a little odd to do laundry the day before we left the country, but it was also nice to do such a small load.

I used the time to write blog posts and some of my new novel (NaNoWriMo started on the first, and my goal is to write 50k words in the month of November). Anna used the time to repack her suitcase and work out what needed to go in the planned new case.

Once we had clean, dry underwear we went out into the world. The plan was to visit the shiba cafe again and see if we could get in. The return time was within an hour so we booked in, and spent that time on Takeshita St buying some gifts, checking out the Disney store and trying not to buy too much.

The shibas were just as adorable the second time around, if not more so as this time we weren’t awkwardly rushing for it, and because of the early afternoon sun, the pups were all very sleepy.

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We did have a moment of shiba drama. One little one had been asleep under the table when we arrived, and I guess another dog woke it up, and there was barking, and every shiba in the place gathered around the table. One of the staff intervened and picked up the little one, and all the dogs just followed like ‘put him down, what’s going on??’

It was quite exciting. We went for Macdonalds for lunch again, because I have a serious french fry habit apparently, and was craving them. After that we headed back to Shinjuku and went shopping at Biqlo, which is a Bic Camera and UniQlo sharing a building. I wanted some more of the super comfy singlet I’d got in Hiroshima, but they didn’t stock the exact style, we both picked up a few things though.

At Bic Camera we got a medium sized suitcase from a very enthusiastic salesperson and then we went back to our hotel to rest and nap. It had got to a very particular level of sleepy and exhausted, like I was saying the wrong words and neither of us were any good at making decisions, but we got there. The suitcase was on sale and is very nice, a Japanese made brand.

After the nappening, we went back to Itamae sushi which we’d liked at the start of the trip. I didn’t want to order something very big, so I went with lots of smaller things. Hokkaido oysters, mackerel sashimi and tuna nigiri. They also gave us miso, green salad and a little bowl of something we couldn’t identify. It was like very tender meat, and it tasted fantastic. Anna thinks it could have been kidney.

Also I ordered a small beer, and they didn’t believe me. The Chef double checked ‘small?’ when I ordered, and then the waiter brought out the glasses to show me the sizes before pouring. They were right, I wanted medium, the small was very small. It was a really, really good meal. Excellent quality of everything.

After this, we celebrated with an hour at a karaoke place, where we belted My Chemical Romance, some Broadway hits from Les Mis and Cats, and Anna’s favourite belt top hits. It was a place which insisted you also bought a drink and their cocktails were really, really nice.

Back at the hotel, we got all our extra stuff into the new suitcase and some extra from our bags and had a rough time getting to sleep. Anxious about heading home, sad about leaving Japan, all the ‘return to the real world’ things.

Day twenty-four – Tokyo

Anna’s birthday.

Maybe because it’s a hotel we’ve been in before, or maybe just because Shinjuku is so familiar now, but I had a fantastically good sleep and woke up feeling perky.

We headed out to Shibuya to find Loft – a store I’d read about on pinterest which was touted as Tokyo’s best stationery store. Now, it was pretty good, but I don’t think it beats Tokyu Hands, honestly.

The sign was neat though, it’s all made of cogs which rotate and sometimes stop to spell out the store name.

Having stocked up on some more paper goods, we had lunch at Doutor and cringed as a group of  four tourists made more noise than anyone else in the packed cafe. Read the room, people! If everyone else is speaking in soft tones, you should too. It’s not that hard.

From Shibuya we caught a local subway out to the other side of town and went to Skytree. When I first visited Japan, Skytree was about a month off being completed, and we didn’t make it out there last year because of time constraints. I was determined to get there this time! Skytree is primarily a broadcasting tower and was for a while the tallest building in the world at 634.0 metres. There’s an observation deck at 350 metres, which we paid to get to.

The lifts from the fourth floor ticket counters to the observation deck go terrifyingly fast. They’re very smooth but just the fast changes in altitude meant my ears popped multiple times in the half minute or so the ride took.

The observation deck is a 360 degree view around Tokyo and Tokyo Bay, and I was very pleased to realise we could see the volcano of Tokyo Disneysea from there. Very cool. It was very busy with tourists and you could pay to have a photo taken on a plastic cloud with a little plastic skytree and the view behind you, or with the Skytree dedicated mascot, which is like a humanoid in a dress with a star for a head. They also had large interactive photo maps so you could zoom in on bits of the view and find out what they are, or it would show a timelapse of the view over a day.

It was a very cool experience. Heading down took a little longer as there was a backlog of people trying to leave. We went shopping after that. We received a little money from wedding guests for the Studio Ghibli museum, but it’s hard to get tickets to there on short notice. Instead we bought exclusive merchandise at a special Ghibli shop.

We headed back across town to Akasaka to the Ninja Restaurant, which our hotel had kindly booked us a table for. I’ve been once before in 2012, and it hasn’t changed too much, but I had forgotten some things. The menu is updated a little too, but just as incredibly delicious as I remember it being.

The Ninja restaurant isn’t just a restaurant where everyone is dressed as a ninja. It’s immersive, with the interior decked out like an ancient Japanese village, complete with waterfalls and streams. We were seated in a ‘house’, or private room for two with our own water feature.

There’s some fun surprises about this place, which I won’t spoil, but we were laughing most of the night. We were assigned our own personal wait ninja, and he was having a lot of fun telling us “ninja jokes”. Anna ordered a ninja special cocktail called Black Bubble which tasted like delicous fruit slushie and had gold flecks on it. I ordered sake and it came in a fabulous bamboo jug which I was tempted to steal.

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But aside from that, the food and drink is really, really good. We had a delicious ten course meal that was part Kaiseki style Japanse dining and part Western influenced. It was all delicious.

Grissini throwing stars and pate, ‘treasure box’ seafood salad (with jelly), escargot with garlic butter and pesto

Rice croquette, soup with black crab dumpling, ceviche and a gingery ice lolly

Meat course two options: lamb or beef, we each had a different option. Sushi course and dessert featuring a cheesecake frog and ice cream and pastry bonzai, plus a bowl of fresh fruit each.

At one point we also had a master ninja do a ninja magic show for us. Coin tricks and then card tricks and there’s two tricks we can’t at all work out how he did. Ninja magic, indeed.

Well lubricated by sake (me) and worn out from the day (both of us), we headed back to our hotel to crash out. The day was declared a good birthday by Anna, and we both felt so much more relaxed being back in Shinjuku.

Day twenty-three – Tokyo – Daiba to Shinjuku

We had planned to get up and get breakfast at the fish market, but we were both so much in need of rest that we didn’t get to the fish market until mid morning.

The last time I hit the fish market it was the old style one, and we kind of just wandered in and were politely asked to leave. Since then, Tokyo’s upped its game and made the fish market both a workable area for the fishers and buyers, and a tourist destination.

Basically it’s a huuuuuuge building now. Like, imagine a building as long as a few blocks, and as deep. The ground floor is all the fish market, the serious fish sellers, the crates of fish, etc etc.

Upstairs from that is the visitors observation gallery, where you can peek through windows at the people walking below with no danger of getting in their way. You can learn stuff, like what fish are in season, or see one of the little zoomy vehicles the people in the market zip around on. Upstairs from that is the adjacent or intermediate market. It had cooking related items, mostly. Lots of people selling knives, or dry ingredients or vegetables. By this time we were both getting very hungry, so we went to find the restaurants zone.

It’s like a food court but everyone’s selling the best sushi in the world.

But how do you pick a place? There were some stores obviously beloved by locals because there were long lines outside them. There were some with no lines at all. Some of them we could discount right off as they were selling curry and rice, or various hot donburis or dishes. We were there for fresh, raw fish.

In the end we rolled the dice on this place, because it said since 1800s and it had no line. Unfortunately we became the line. The place was small and only a certain number of people fit around the bar, so we had to wait. It was twenty minutes or maybe half an hour? it felt longer because we were both so hungry and also smelling food, but finally they let us in.

It was worth the wait. I got the sashimi platter and Anna got the sushi and sashimi set. They were both exquisite. The tuna especially was so good and fresh it melted in the mouth. And the flavours… urgh, there’s nothing like it.

So you don’t have to get up a sparrow fart to get the best fresh sushi, but I would suggest aiming for mid morning – past breakfast rush and before lunch rush. We were just at the start of the lunch rush and it was full on by the time we left. And save the fish market sight seeing for after you’ve eaten.

Once that was done, we took the monorail to Daiba proper and tracked down an art exhibition my friend Jay had found out about and sent us the link to. Teamlab Borderless which is an interactive, immersive, digital and three dimensional exhibition where each art work interacts with each other, and may move between rooms, and is affected by the presence of viewers. If that description doesn’t make sense, or is hard to imagine, then you’re right. Even inside it there was so much we didn’t understand.

There’s minimal guidance inside the exhibition space, there are wall signs encouraging you to interact, explore, investigate and in a couple of rooms staff advise on safety – don’t touch the LEDs, for example. But overall it’s an experience you have to immerse yourself into.

The first room we went to was the butterfly house, where if you stand still long enough, butterflies (colourful projections) manifest in your body and fly away. Also as you stay still flowers bloom from under your feet. The longer you stay in one place, the more flowers.

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In other rooms the flowers would happen under our feet and if we touched the walls long enough.

In the forest room with falling water we discovered that if you stayed against the wall where there was running water, it’d ‘bounce’ off you. It thought I was a little taller than I am, but you can see the effect here in a before and after which also shows me generating flowers. The water on the ground would also divert around your feet, and all of this was projected somehow. It was breathtaking stuff.

I won’t do a blow by blow of all the rooms, especially as it turns out we missed at least one, but here’s some examples of what we experienced.

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t overwhelming. At once point I jumped at the roar sound effect of a tiger made of flowers walking past me, and my heart wouldn’t stop racing. My mind and my eyes were so overloaded with sensation, so many new incredible things that I started to get… not a headache exactly, but a spacey sensation. There were a couple of rest rooms and a quick break in a plain, normally lit room did help. It was an amazing place, but I sort of wanted to leave in a hurry as well. In places the floor was uneven or there were mirrored walls which you didn’t realise were mirrors until you were almost up against them. The LED lights was a maze, and although beautiful it was also disconcerting.

I loved this exhibition, and I’d have been keen to see some of their other stuff, but I came out of there quite exhausted. My brain had been well wrinkled.

To recover we went to local fancy mall VenusFort for drinks and cake directly out of anime. it was a nice afternoon tea.

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I was feeling pretty out of it, but we managed to take the subway to Shinjuku and get to the Sunroute, where we stayed previously right after Disney. It felt like coming home, a bit.

Slept very, very well in the more familiar place.

Day eight – Akihabara, Tokyo

We’ve been in Japan one week !

Today we slept in some again. It was nice. Doutor breakfast again, then took the old Yamanote line to Electric Town Akihabara. Akihabara is the home of maid cafes, nerd stuff and collectibles.

We wandered around some and picked up some cute Studio Ghibli merchandise and various little things. Neither of us really wanted to go too hard on the collectibles though so we purchased some Pablo 3 Mini Cheese Tarts and got back on the train to Tokyo station. From there we walked a couple of blocks to the Tokyo Pokemon Centre.

Last time we visited Japan we went to the Pokemon centres in Hiroshima and Kyoto but missed this one, it’s gigantic. And it has a permanent pokemon cafe attached to it. It’s pretty busy even on a Tuesday early afternoon. But we were able to secure a spot in the session which started in 45 minutes after we signed in.

This gave us plenty of time to peruse the gigantic Pokemon centre store.

We picked up a bunch of plushies (some of which are gifts, maybe even more than half) and various stationary, stickers and I got the greatest hoodie of all time. It is the hoodie of the pokemon Mimikyu, which is a weird ghost pokemon which wears a disguise to look like pikachu. Apparently under disguise its true face is horrifying, but I just love it to bits and it’s wildly powerful in Pokemon sun and moon. It fits well with my creepy/cute aesthetic.

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After that we went to the Pokemon Cafe and sat down for some very cute, and very delicious foods.

The pikachu face is yellow coloured rice with seaweed facial details, slices of carrots for cheeks and star shaped vegetables in the curry. The curry is Japanese curry which is rich and delicious, like a casserole. The mimikyu is my dessert, it’s a crepe creation with banana berry cream in the ears, and a layered cream, fruit and pancake situation under the face. The tail was a delicious chocolate cookie, the red cheeks were a caramalised raspberry deliciousness.

Anna’s pikachu butt was omelette with spaghetti cabonara underneath, with green salad. The tail was a corn chip. The Jigglypuff dessert was a perfect strawberry cheesecake with cookies, fruit and cream.

The food was all cute and delicious and then, as we were starting desserts the waitresses made an announcement and a giant eevee walked in!

It was such a good Japanese moment. Like, yeah this cafe was nicer than we expected, and the food was great, and we got special collectible coasters for ordering in theme drinks. And then a freaking giant eevee walks in to music and does cute poses so people can take photos?? Amazing.

After the pokemon centre we got back on the Yamanote line and back to Shinjuku. Our current Tokyo hotel is the same one we’re staying at for the last few days of our trip, and when we checked in the desk staff mentioned we could store luggage with them. So, we tracked down a Bic Camera, which is a big electronics and variety department store. We picked up a great big, bright pink hardcase suitcase and brought it back to the hotel. We packed up all our merchanise, fabric, stationary purchases and my gorgeous boots, plus our Disneybound outfits and whatever clothes we don’t think we’ll wear again. We filled the case and got it closed!

Packing everything up tonight because tomorrow we head to Osaka and Universal Studios Japan. Hopefully our feet won’t fall off!  To finish, here’s my Mimikyu Halloween special event plushie ❤

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