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Once back in Tokyo, we ended up having a nightmare locating our hotel. This was due to hotel chain naming their hotels to include the area and there was 2 in this area, but the map I was following cut off at the area name. So our hotel was ‘Hotel Villa Fontaine Nihombashi Hakozaki’ but we ended up at ‘Hotel Villa Fontaine Nihombashi Mitsukoshimae’ as I was following a tourist map which showed ‘Hotel Villa Fontaine Nihombashi’ – a boring story I grant you but not as boring as catching umpteen trains and wandering the streets with heavy bags only to discover you’re in the wrong place. So a warning to anyone planning to stay in a Hotel Villa Fontaine. Luckily the girl on reception was super helpful and even came down to the street and walked us way up the road and even ran for a taxi for us. It wasn’t ideal as taxi’s aren’t cheap but at this point we couldn’t lug our stuff around any further. This was an odd little chain who almost hides their front entrances. But they are cheap for Tokyo, although we did learn I’d booked a room for 1 person so had to pay more. It’s a double room – why pay more for another person – a Japanese thing which I do not love – and another word of warning for anyone booking hotel rooms there. Wifi in the lobby but again not in the room just LAN access – useless for macbook air users. So bizarrely old skool – in Tokyo for godness sake. But lovely comfy bed, great bathroom and these long Wee Willy Winky style nightshirts to wear – I loved these so much! The staff were really lovely and although it wasn’t in the greatest location to get everywhere, there was a nearby metro and more importantly it was right next to the city air terminal for when we had to leave.
Out on the town
On our first night back in the city we headed for Electric Town to meet up with Derek and then headed over to Shibuya to go to someone’s birthday party that he knew. This was in a tiny little bar/club they’d rented out and was a trendy little place and a very funny evening. One of the guys having the joint birthday present was in a band and lots of his friends were in bands so the small stage was filled all night with musicians of varying states of inebriation. The girl guitarist actually fell of the stage at one point.
After leaving the party we then partook in what I find one of the oddest things in Japan – buying booze from a convenience store and drinking on the street. This is, however, understandable when you see the cost of beer in Japan. Quite often the wine would be cheaper than the beer – how crazy is that! Anyhow, our choice of establishment was the Family Mart. Along with a couple of hours of beer (and one-cup sake for me), we also got some super lovely snacks from there too. Mark is a huge fan of the chicken. Anyway, it’s an oddly social activity, this drinking on the street malarkey. Amongst the people I met that night was an English expat who was planning a journey by car from the top of Africa to the bottom. With our impending Honduras trip, we spent time discussing who was likely to die first! And I met a very sweet young Japanese lad who’d been out with his mates, but when they’d gone home he’d decided to hang about and see if he could find someone to practise his English with. He was a sweetheart. We also witnessed the fallout of other folk who had been drinking that day. A young couple both sat, pretty much passed out, on the bench. It’s so strange for such a straight country that some people get so drunk, to the point of laying on the street, or the train. Although the latter does make for many amusing train photos. The best I’ve seen is where someone had stripped down to his underwear and settled down on the floor of a busy train for a nap – at quite a busy time – not one person around him acknowledging what was going on and politely looking away. A major thing that’s interesting here is that people love a drink and can get uber drunk, but there’s no aggression. The UK of course is a massive drinking nation and if out on the town, that usually leads to aggression and trouble. Why? It’s not the booze itself, clearly. Why do so many Brits get nasty when drunk? Anyhow, that’s something that can likely be worked out but it was interesting to be somewhere with a drink culture but such a different one. And it’s a heck of a lot more fun for a night out!
This is just a random series of shots from the bar (including the rather cool toilet cubicle), the street and end – with the short lived train journey home. I liked the Shibuya to Suitengumae line, Hakone I think it was called, was an ascetically pleasing purple and chrome retro look. Unfortunately we didn’t get that many stops in before the train stopped and we realised we were being kicked off. It wasn’t that late – not sure it had even reached midnight so the closing time of the trains really does depend on the lines and stations. We ended up having a rather expensive taxi ride home, though it wasn’t far and we got there quickly and in comparison to missed trains in London, didn’t cost that much.
The next day was rather hard work as we were a bit hungover and were certainly tired. I’d arranged to meet the guy who’s apartment we’d previously stayed in to pick up the rucksack he’d stored for us, in Otsaka. We took a while to find him at his other apartment but when we did we went for lunch and with a bit of insider knowledge had probably the best meal we had in Japan, which was a tall order. He is Brooklyn born and bread, of Chinese heritage but now lives in Tokyo with his Japanese wife, so was interesting to chat to him. You wouldn’t think raw fish and raw egg mixed with rice and cold noodles on the side would be great with a hangover but you would be very wrong!!
Underneath the arches
An area we kind of stumbled on our second night back in Tokyo is underneath the arches around Yarakucho station.
There is all kinds of restaurants built into the railway arches and the area is quite atmospheric, especially at night.
This area is also quite close to Hibuya/Ginza stations and not far from Tokyo station so if you around that area at any time, it’s definitely worth heading here for food. It’s in the middle of a major area but seems quite quiet. If you walk on the right hand side of the railway tracks, heading south, there’s a bunch of food places which aren’t in the arches but are eclectic, great quality and good value.
We ate at a quirky steak place where you sat at the counter, ordered your meat, which is then put on a hot slab and you kind of cook yourself when it’s served to you – they don’t speak english in their but they have paper place settings which tell you what to do. You have a gorgeous herby butter that you cook the steak with and have rice on the side which cooks up beautifully. It was so good and I really liked the place. It was a ticketing system and just a low key, far from fancy but relaxing place. Quite a blokey place which made their music selection even more interesting – Kylie, Je ne sais pa pour quoi!!!
The Maranouchi area is pretty posh and worth a walk through on your way somewhere but I wouldn’t make a special effort. It had some super expensive shops and even large pieces by world famous sculptors right out, unprotected on the street. It is the cleanest place I have ever seen in my life.
Mark got enthralled by the electronics shop which had TV screens built into the glass. Like a lot of expensive shopping areas, it was pleasant enough but rather bland.
Liked the Paul Smith window display here though:
This area was built on reclaimed land back in the bubble years (the period where Japan was just a wealth factory before the recession started to hit). Parts of it lied dormant for a bit but it’s had a resurgence of late. The main reason we were going is because there’s a few large shopping centres there and we needed to get some bits ahead of leaving Japan and we didn’t want to be traipsing all over.
It’s not the most exciting place in the world but we really enjoyed our time there. You take the train over the rainbow bridge which gives spectacular views and you’re then in this place full of wide open spaces, which is a nice change in Tokyo. It was really quiet too – I imagine it gets much busier at the weekends as there’s some family attractions there.
Fun and games in Decks
As it was so quiet we took advantage and went through some of the attractions in the Decks complex, like the trick picture museum. Super childish but a giggle. You sometimes had to flail around on the floor to get a realistic shot. Let he hilarity (!?) commence…
There is also a weird museum (of sorts) which has something to do with the Takoyaki squid balls that are adored in Japan. I think this dish/brand became popular in the 60s perhaps. Half the floor was covered by Takoyaki shops and the rest had the odd retro display with shops selling old school branding and sweets and general paraphernalia.
There was an arcade full of old games, some of which we recognised from our childhood. They had posters up from old magazines and comics which was cool to see Japanese pop culture of the 60s-80s.
Mark remembered this game from his yoof – I didn’t but we had a go and it was indeed fun:
And a Michael Jackson shop… best not to ask why!!
There was lots of delightful weirdness.
I imagine this was an intentional bit of engrish but it made me laugh:
There was also a mini indoor theme park which had some cool rides but we wouldn’t have had time to make the most of it. Plus a lot of it was simulator based.
Outside here, though, we did have a bit of fun and games with this…. (I think Mark thought he was on Top of the Pops circa 1973)
Walking down from Decks, we passed the man made beach and went down to the water which is surprisingly clear. A really nice place to come to get away from the city I think.
And of course there was the Statue of Liberty…. !?!?! Japan unashamedly loves to re-create things. I love it!
The shopping centre we headed for was called the DiverCenter – no idea why – Mark got excited that it was somehow dive related – nope!
What it did have outside was a huge statue of the Gundam character… or was it the real thing. A couple of times we could have sworn we saw him move!
There was tons to eat in the centre, including a family friendly version of a maid cafe which Mark ran a mile from when he heard the shrill giggling of the girls. So we settled on Sushi train as we hadn’t yet managed conveyor sushi.
The idea here, of course that the conveyor was the sushi train. You could pick stuff up from the conveyor or you could order stuff on the touch screen. We were a bit confused by everything but in the end we ate a ton of amazing things and paid surprisingly little.
We spotted this place on the way back to get the train and it just made us laugh as it seemed a bit odd in this family friendly complex.
We didn’t go in, just giggled outside like teenagers.
One last blast
So we had one last night and headed back to Electric town to meet Derek and try out their Hub. We were sat right at the bar and I was able to get a snap of this very Japanese sight – Mark, joining the orderly queuing at the bar. I’ve never seen such a thing. But I tell you what – it works and for me – a short arse who’s often lost in the crush at the bar, it was a revelation.
We finished the night in time honoured tradition – standing on the street, with a drink (sake one-cup for me of course) and snack (Mark is obsessed with the chicken) from the convenience store. Then running for our trains!
The day we were due to leave we weren’t leaving until night time so we had a whole day to kill. We paid to stay in the room till later and then Mark, who was exhausted/light-weight, went to upload some files in the lobby while I went out in search of Cherry Blossom which we’d seen on the TV that morning. I’d not missed it – by a day!! So, I scooted around the train system (much quicker on my own) and arrived at Ueno Park along with the whole of the rest of Tokyo. Now cherry blossom is a big thing in Japan, but add to this that it was a public holiday and it had come early – it was crazy, crazy busy.
It was also utterly wonderful. Everyone comes out – families, groups of friends and lots of elderly couples – it can’t be missed. There were people picnicking everywhere and there were photography clubs as well as the media interviewing people.
The best thing about our hotel is that it was right next to the City Air Terminal where you could get a cheap bus to the airport within about half an hour.
We then ended our day at the little complex just outside of Tokyo Hasheda airport. I would recommend eating out here before you go through – the cafe place in the airport once you’ve gone through customs is definitely the worst place for food we came across during our whole trip.
But there were some great choices, fancy and more simple, in the complex upstairs. Our final proper meal was a set – I had a tempura rice bowl with some cold soba noodles and mark had a sashimi rice bowl.
There were also some good little shops here and odd things to do. There was a kind of planetarium show. There was a kids orientated area which had a quite large Hello Kitty store so I could get my last fix. And a place with a massive scaletrix setup.
There’s an outdoor terrace where you can watch the planes. If you’ve got time to kill it’s a nice place to kill a few hours, as you can drop your baggage off. There’s some nice shopping of some nice Japanese goods. Not much practical shopping however, I was expecting airport shopping for basics etc but I couldn’t even find any deodorant. I did however get a sushi fridge magnet and some hello kitty chopsticks – necessities for a Honduran island I felt.