Friday, June 1, 2012

[Tourist] Day 15: This City Goes to 11 (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara, Imperial Area)

I knew it was going to be a good day when I awoke to this:

For those who can't see it well, that's Mt. Fuji in the background. I believe the Anaheim Hilton and the Hyatt Regency in Hong Kong have just conceded on the view.

It was luxoriously late for me, by which I mean 7 AM. What was happening to me? It's like I didn't even know myself any more. After staring at the view for a few minutes and catching up on e-mail/blogs, I headed down to breakfast. It's disconcerting to wake up and realize every single day that the best part of the work day has already passed back home and you're way behind.

The diamond free breakfast is either served in your room or at Girandole, the hotel's European restaurant. I went down to Girandole to see what it was like. They had on offer either the Japanese breakfast, the "Healthy" breakfast or the buffet. Guess which I chose?

I didn't take photos of the buffet because that seemed kind of weird, but here are photos of what I had:

Kiwi and grapefruit juice - quite good!

That one pastry with the pink stuff on it was fantastic
Before heading out I snapped another quick photo from the lobby/lounge on the 41st floor:

I didn't have much of a plan for the day. While there was a lot I wanted to do in Tokyo, much of it just involved being in a place as opposed to specific attractions or things to see. I had read online that trying to locate specific things in Tokyo was maddening, and after learning that first-hand later in the day, I basically just let go of my pre-conceived plans (not easy for me to do!) and went with the flow.

Before leaving the hotel I took my sadly disfigured laptop down to the concierge:

Broken laptop makes Danny sad

They did not sound especially optimistic about it getting fixed in under a week; forget about the cost of doing so. As such I decided my first stop needed to be the Apple store in Shibuya. I had bascially pleaded with work to give me an iPad before I left on the trip. It has already proven useful but now it became invaluable. Except trying to use the iPad as a productivity tool without a real keyboard is futile and if I didn't find some way of getting my photos off of my camera, I was soon going to find myself without the ability to take any more.

I left the Park Hyatt with one of their maps and my trusty guidebooks on my phone. I asked the bellhop for the directions to Shinjuku Station, the second busiest train station in the world, and he pointed straight down the street. Good, hopefully I won't miss it!

One of my favorite pastimes in Tokyo quickly became finding outrageous t-shirts and store names. I know, I know, that makes me exactly the same as every other Westerner. So sue me. You're not reading this for creativity anyhow, you're reading it because you're hooked and you desperately need your next fix. Or you're my grandmother. Presumably you know which one you are, though if you are unsure if you are my grandmother there's not a whole lot I can say to you about that.

Anyway, I saw an excellent shirt that was so perfect that I really wanted to ask the guy if I could take a photo of it. But let's not be that creepy just yet because I still have eight more days to build up to it, yeah? It said "Publish or Perish". I'd love about ten copies of that to send to friends from grad school, please.

I started my walk towards Shinjuku station. About halfway there an ambulance came by. It was the loudest siren I've ever heard, bar none. I thought the world was ending or that perhaps Mechagodzilla (was there a mechagodzilla? If there wasn't there should have been) had returned to end things once and for all.

I felt totally and completely out of my element and yet I was 100% alright with that. Something about Tokyo just makes it fine to be lost there. I never once worried about not being able to find help if I needed it, nor did I ever feel in the least bit unsafe. I rather looked forward to getting lost throughout my time in Tokyo, if only to see what was around the next corner.

A 12 minute walk later and I was in one of the seven entrances to Shinjuku. The station is HUGE. There are really no other words for it. At one point early on I walked out the wrong entrance and rather than cutting back through station I tried walking around. Took me 15 minutes.

Having arrived at Shinjuku it means it was time once again for me to wrestle with a public transportation ticket system. No Octopus here. I had my choice of a Suica card or a Pasmo card, both of which functioned much like the Octopus. I bought a Suica, which has a cute little penguin on it though he's not half as dear to me as my Octopus and really nothing is going to change that.

Once I had the Suica card I was good to go. The JR Yamanote line (possibly spelled wrong, I'm too lazy to look it up and really what do you care anyway, you didn't know Mr. or Mrs. Yamanote did you?) runs a ring around the inner city. It's entirely possible that you'll never need to leave that area as a tourist as it contains weeks worth of activities.

The English signage was both ample and clear and thanks to the handy train map courtesy of the Park Hyatt I had no problem finding the right train. Within ten minutes I was alighting at Shibuya station.

I quickly learned that the key to navigating train stations was to do your best to choose the right exit. I had no idea which was the right exit from Shibuya but I knew that I really wanted to see the Hachiko statue so I made for the Hachiko exit - logical, I know.

And here it is:

Who's a good boy?

Hachiko was both the mac daddy of dogs and, quite possibly the daddy of the macs. I'd need to check with my 90's sources on that one. A Japanese professor would walk with Hachiko every day to the train station in the 1920's. After the professor died Hachiko continued to make the journey by his lonesome until his eventual passage into doggie heaven. Just a reminder that dogs are awesome except when they poop on the rug or like you for like ten hours straight (alright, maybe that was just my dog - she's a weird one).

The statue is not particularly special except that it is the folk equilibrium for meeting someone in Tokyo. That's a reference for the two people reading this who have studied game theory. For the rest of you who were doing better things in your 20's, like possibly having sex or earning money (take that economists!), it's an incredibly popular meeting place for Tokyoites. That is definitely not a word, but now that I'm writing this on an iPad I no longer get spellcheck.

As I was taking the above photo, what should come on the obnoxiously-loud external PA system? Lionel Richie singing Danny Boy. Can't make that shit up. Thanks for the song, Lionel! It never sounded so good and I almost didn't hate hearing for the ten thousandth time. Hint for those of you who meet someone named Danny: someone's already sung the song to him. Everyone's already sung the song to him. I know how the Mandys of the world feel.

I went straight to the Apple Store and, approximately $100 later, I now had an iPad that could be a decent simulacrum of a laptop. I then wandered around Shibuya and took a ton of photos. Not sure how captioning works in this app, but let's give it a try shall we?

Some random building in Shibuya

Holy crap - there are Tower Record stores still in existence?! Someone tell 1998!

Just an awesome building - wait till you see what's inside

Tomatos are charming? This made me think of Steve Dallas from Bloom County

Now that I did find rather charming

I went on over to the Shibuya branch of Tokyu Hands. What is Tokyu Hands, you ask? Let me try and describe it. To start: picture the largest Walmart you've ever been in. Good. Now get rid of the clothing. Still with me? Good. Now add in everything else that's ever been invented including a lot of stuff you've never even considered and quite a bit of stuff that you cannot figure out the customer base for. Now take all of the possible existing goods in all potential universes and chop it up into a series of floors. That's Tokyu Hands. The Shinjuku branch might have even been bigger, but that's for another day.

Thank you for telling me how many calories I'm burning!

I wandered aimlessly from floor to floor. I got particularly excited when I hit the games and toys section - I should warn you this is going to be a running theme - and I took lots of photos of Japanese versions of board games. This was made all the more poignant by it being Saturday, the day that I normally play board games with my best friends back in Florida. If any of you are reading this, I miss you all! Here are some photos from my trip through Tokyu Hands:

Settlers of Cataan in Japanese? Yes please.

But will Carcassone be any more enjoyable in another language?

That's certainly the direct approach

After my run thought Tokyu Hands I returned to that crazy building from earlier. Turns out it's one of the world's coolest Disney stores. And you thought you were going to get away from Disney on this entry! That's pretty much impossible in Tokyo; Disney is everywhere. I didn't buy anything but it was still nice to check it out. Sort of build anticipation for TDL.

So pink

Stairwell designed to hurt me

I love that Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is getting some play now


I somehow got turned around coming out of the Disney Store, but there were plaques in the ground that conveniently directed me to Shibuya station. A few observations on the way:

1) Some people were wearing germ-filtering masks. Given portrayals in pop culture this isn't exactly a surprise, but man did I want to wear one too. Except I feel like if I did it then others would assume I had the black lung.

2) No one wears sunglasses. I think I passed at most three or four Japanese people all day who were wearing sunglasses. This made me feel a bit sinister but the heck if I'm going to squint all day.

3) I tried something adventurous today and put on my brown Clarks purchased specifically because they were supposed to be good for being on your feet all day. I'm sure they are if "on your feet" means standing around. But after two hours of walking in them my feet were killing me, even though they are broken in. I quickly switched back to my white sneakers even if that meant I was instantly self-conscious about walking around in khaki pants, a short-sleeve button-down shirt and white sneakers.

I once again passed through Shibuya crossing, one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world. Here's a photo of it fairly early on a Saturday morning:

Not too bad...yet

I took the train back to Shinjuku and then proceeded to get lost for fifteen minutes in the station trying to find the exit I'd come in through. Let's just say I didn't make that mistake again.

Is this where I want to be?

It's my kitchen!

I really wanted to drop my bags off at the hotel and to see what the concierge had to say about the laptop. It was all bad news as their contact at Dell had said that to get it covered under warranty would take weeks of paperwork followed by a two-week repair time. And getting it fixed without going through the warranty would prove expensive. Ah well. Make do with what we got.

Random shrine is random

My next stop was my first attempt to find a specific building in Tokyo. Despite Google Maps saying it was a seven minute walk from the Park Hyatt, it took me twenty-five minutes of wandering aimlessly and asking people for directions. Eventually I found it:

Some of you right now have no clue what that is. That's okay, really! Square Enix is a video game company, most famous for the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series of RPGs. Final Fantasy VII is my favorite video game of all time. I'm not saying it's the best video game - or even the best Final Fantasy (although it is and if you disagree you can go straight to you-know-where), but for me it is instant nostalgia and pure bliss. I replay it every few years and, knowing that I'd be in Tokyo, I had to come check out the store.

Mmm, so many experience points

Kingdom Hearts? Really big here.

Still don't understand how Cloud carried a sword as big as his body

Turns out it was incredibly tiny and incredibly disappointing. I found more Square merchandise for sale at some of the toy stores in town for crying out loud. I did, however, get to see this inlaid in the floor:

Ho. Lee. Shit. Sweet.


From the Square store I navigated back to Shinjuku Station. I then got on the train and headed to Akihabara, the heart of otaku culture.

On the way I made a decision that, despite the health implications, my goal was to try as many different Japanese soft drinks as possible. I will document them as I go along, although I didn't keep good notes on what the tasted like.

Ah, I see Mr(s). Pocari's sweat is drinkable in Tokyo as well

On arriving in Akihabara I stepped out the station and into the Tokyo of every American male nerds dreams. Here are some photos. All I can say about Akihabara is that if I had been born Japanese, I damn well would have spent many hours of my life here. I might also never have known the touch of a woman, but hey sacrifices have to be made.

If you're of my generation you hear a little voice in your head saying "Sega" when you see this

Quite tasty

There was a long line of guys to play Project DIVA Arcade. Hmm.

A woman? In Akihabara? She must be selling something.

Famous maid cafes

I really wanted to buy this. I spent most of my high school years reading Dragonlance books

Giant line of women waiting for...something? Never did find out what.

Haha I love these Japanese shirts that have random English on them. What legends did West Virginia have from 1975-1983? Can anyone in West Virginia even read this shirt? Alright, I'll stop now. West Virginia.

At this point I was getting quite hungry. I really just wanted something light because I had a dinner reservation in a little while. Following protocol, I found a restaurant that looked quite popular and sat down. I pointed at something on the menu that looked good. It turned out to be some sort of noodles (sorry - don't know jack about noodles) and assorted seafood. It was quite tasty though the portion size was massive. For just around $10, I was impressed. I only ate about half of it given my upcoming dinner.

A few stops and a world away from Akihabara is Tokyo station - the closest stop to the Imperial Palace. Much of the Palace is off-limits except for two days of the year and large portions of that which isn't can only be toured if you get an appointment. Months in advance. No thanks. I did, however, wander around the gardens that are open to the public. It made for great introspection time, not that I really need a push in that direction. I loved the constant contrast between the tranquility of the area and the massive urban skylines that one could still see. Only when I visited Yoyogi Park the next day could I truly leave urban Tokyo behind. Some photos of the Imperial Palace area for you:

Tokyo Station or Soviet architecture: you decide.

Very serene break from the city

I loved the skyscraper in the background

Look at the size of the stones - they are massive!

Stay the hell out of Hong Kong, my friend.

Not as impressive as the HSBC building in Hong Kong

Definitely Moscow 

I had a dinner reservation at Andy's Shin-Hinomoto under the train tracks in Ginza so I caught a train to the appropriate station and started the thirty minute search for a restaurant that I had a map and an address for. Welcome to Tokyo. On the other hand the public transportation is so efficient and easy to use that I could afford to spend thirty minutes looking for a restaurant.

I had found out about Andy's through Frommers and, while I am often hesitant to use guidebook recommendations for food, this sounded too good to pass up. Andy came to Tokyo from England 27 years earlier and in that time had become a well-respected expert on purchasing fish from the Tsukiji fish market. His restaurant was English-language friendly and he was a man who clearly took his sashimi seriously. It wasn't quite going to be sushi because, from looking at the menu, I don't think he had someone on staff who was an expert at the rice part of sushi (which I am led to believe is one of the harder parts to perfect).

I love the bars under the tracks

I wonder if they sell bacon?

After I eventually found the place, I headed in. My reservation was for 6 but, as is my wont, I arrived an hour early. No problem getting a seat! The place had probably the most awesome atmosphere of any restaurant I'd been in that wasn't leveraging it's view. It was located under the railroad tracks such that when a train came by you could definitely tell but not in a bad way. The interior just had this look that spoke to me.

Andy asked me what I wanted. I said I'd like some sashimi and I'd leave it to him to give me whatever he thought best for the day. He chose a type of trout that he said they did not often get. It came very, very lightly seared, It was absolutely delicious and I don't think it lasted more than 2 minutes around me. On the way out Andy asked me how it was and I told him that it was one of the best pieces of fish I'd ever had, which was quite true. He asked if I wanted to see it. Hells yes I wanted to see it and I'm only sorry I didn't take a picture. It was a 7 kg trout, half of which had been sliced to serve and the other half of which was still on ice. He'd bought it that morning at Tsukiji.

As we said goodbye, I decided I wanted to come back on my last night in Tokyo. He told me not to bother with a reservation and that he was pretty sure he'd remember me. We'll see, Andy, we'll see. It's not a fancy place and it's incredibly cheap, but I'm looking forward to going back.

So good's not really's Diet Coke in a Guinness glass

I loved this interior

On the way back to the hotel I stopped off in Shibuya just for the heck of it. I'm glad I did as I got to experience Shibuya crossing in full swing. Ho. Lee. #*@&. The pictures don't do it justice. It's a massive intersection that is just walls of people crashing into each other and somehow emerging on the other side. There were times where I was barely shuffling across the middle of this huge intersection. And yet somehow it all works.

Ohgodohgodohgod so many people

Soooooo many

The train from Shibuya to Shinjuku is pretty quick and I couldn't help but laugh at the lengths that some people would go to not sit next to me. I realize I'm tall - perhaps very tall by Japanese standards, but I'm harmless I swear. I shower every day too. Won't anyone like me, please?

Definitely cherry alright

Library in the Park Hyatt lobby

I got back to the hotel just in time for the one diamond amenity that I really wanted to take advantage of. As a diamond member I get complimentary wine from 5 to 7. That in and of itself doesn't impress me, and I'd much rather have the free diet soda thanks. But the scene for said cocktails is the New York Bar on the 52nd floor, famous from Lost in Translation. The views were pretty breathtaking even if I felt sheepish taking too many photos.

As it was I actually bought a drink, since I like mine a bit sweeter than the free beverages on offer. My drink of choice was a margarita. I think it cost me half the equity in my house, but at least they didn't skimp on the tequila. I'm pretty sure it was all tequila, just served to me in a margarita glass. Let's just say Danny went to bed early that night without much fuss.

Loved the view

After my first day in Tokyo I was basically ready to figure out how I could just stay here forever. Maybe I could sell my body to science or on the black market? Like I only need one kidney, right? And I hear your liver grows back so maybe I could just keep selling part of that? Oh who am I kidding, my marketable skills are mostly US-specific and frankly even my current salary would allow me to live in Tokyo for about six days a year :P It's definitey not a cheap city and I often found myself missing the relative bargains of Hong Kong. But having concluded a successful first day I was determined to enjoy the rest of them just as much.


  1. Was Sausalito playing at the bar?

  2. Sadly, no. They time the free Diamond hours such that the live music doesn't start for another hour. I didn't have another $20 margarita in me to make it that long.