Welcome to Tokyo! After a night of relaxation, and a nice hot spring bath, we are refreshed and ready to leave Hakone to conquer the insanity of Tokyo. The hustle and bustle of Tokyo is probably what we imagine when we think of Japan, and it certainly lives up to that stereotype as you will see. So stay with me for the next few days, as we explore the busy streets of shopping galore, the fish market, "THE BEST" sushi place in town, Harajuku street, and a bizarre tasting experience at a Michelin star restaurant known for its physics and chemistry.
We get in reasonably early into Tokyo, about midmorning, and check in to our hotel, the New Otani, in the Akasaka district. The building isn't much of a looker, but the surrounding Japanese garden is worth a walk-through.
Plus, I'm a sucker for any waterfalls, rocks and streams, etc etc. This pond had coy in it too (not shown).
A very detailed stone etching rests along the path through the garden.
The coy are very domestic, and live in little houses.
My favorite piece in the garden is this bright red bridge. I'm sure it would look pretty amazing during the cherry blossom season, but still equally dramatic here in the fall.
After checking in to our hotel, we get on the subway which takes us to Asakusa, and stop by for lunch. I'm not sure what this turnip building is, but it will certainly help me remember where this restaurant is.
This restaurant, Sansada, was recommended by our concierge, after we asked for a place where locals might eat. This tempura house specializes in, well, tempura, from fried prawns, to vegetables, fish, and Kakiage (a mixture of chopped seafood and veggies, fried in a cake). This tempura don is actually doused with the typical sweet soy sauce that you would find on other "don", or rice bowls topped with some sort of protein. My only complaint was it was a little soggier than I would like for a fried dish. But, overall, still tasty. If you want the true tempura, you can order it as such with a plain bowl of rice on the side.
Asakusa is probably best known for the Senso-ji, a buddhist temple. Don't worry, we won't be hanging out long in this temple after getting a good share of these in Kyoto. The trademark of the temple is this giant lantern sitting in the main gate. As you pass under the lantern, you get a good feel for its immense size.
This is the first time since I landed in Japan that I felt truly squished. Unlike the temples in Kyoto, this one is just packed with both tourists and locals, who roam aimlessly around the maze of food vendors, and shops. You'll notice the woman in the middle of this photo wearing a face mask. Japan (and I suppose many parts of Asia, in general) are big on keeping colds to themselves. I wish this kind of consideration was more widespread in America. But then again, you don't typically stand nose to nose with a stranger in America either.
Entering the gate, we sniff a sweet aroma which immediately grabs our attention. Several baked goods, ice cream, and this warm, sweet rice drink beg for your Yen. Look, she's not even watching what she's doing! She's just looking at the Yen! As you'll notice on the sign to the right, this sweet drink was actually hot sweet sake.
One, of the many rows, of hip clothing stores in the market.
As you shove your way through the market crowds, you finally encounter the main temple area, fenced by this Pagoda and yet another gate with a giant lantern.
Stack 'em high.
Wash your hands, or take a drink.
Enter the temple.
Admire the details, then leave, realizing we've already seen 100000000000000000000 temples.
Not too far from Asakusa, is Ueno, which is home to the Ameyoko market. In addition to all the food vendors you'd expect to see, there is plenty of bargain shopping here as well.
With so much to see, eat, and buy, you get sucked in quick, but get worn out fast.
And then you decide to take your chances with one of these.... Or not.
These Japanese businessmen seemed to be having a good time enjoying a few beers and some Japanese barbecue. Tempting, but still full from lunch, and feeling like it's time for a change of scenery. We head back to the hotel to recuperate, and bug the concierge for some more ideas. He suggested Omotesando - shopping city, ladies.
It's dark by the time we make it out to Omotesando avenue, but the stores are lit like Christmas trees to lure you in to all the latest and greatest from our beloved fashion designers.
We check out the Spiral Building, a concept building, which is part gallery, part cafe, part lounge, part library, part salon, part shopping mall...you get the idea. Photography is not allowed inside the building. Except if it's me. This clever bag store saves space by putting all its items into these tiny drawers. Each drawer is labeled with a picture of the bag that it contains. Simply choose your drawer, open it, and take your bag.
The buildings and reflections can make you dizzy if the shopping hasn't done it already.
This multi-level "caged" building belongs to Prada.
Nice outdoor cafe ready for the holiday season.
The brilliant red storefront of Chanel.
Ghost shoppers make there way in and out of Shu Uemura, a make-up store.
Another trendy store which reminds me of Anthropologie for some reason. As stores begin to close, we decide to ease on to the evening with dinner.
We find this place. Hmm... No english.
Huge bottles of Sake. This place has got to be good! Despite difficulties with her English, our waitress was kind enough to help us with ordering by recommending a few dishes.
We said we liked vegetables, so she hooked us up with these delicious fried potatoes. A squeeze of lemon, and a dunk into the sour mayo dressing, which tastes similar to ranch.
We pointed at what our neighbors had, and she brings us some avacado and shrimp, tossed in mayo and garnished with paprika, to be served on sliced crusty bread - a clever Japanese "Bruschetta".
And then, our chef asks us if we like soup. He brings us, hands down, THE BEST, dumplings I have ever eaten! These were truly homemade dumplings, cooked in a, thick, slightly sweet cabbage broth. No dipping sauce required. We slurped up the entire bowl of soup, down to the last drop, at the bowl AND the spoon.
And of course, we say we like fried chicken. At least I like fried chicken. The staple - chicken Karaage - a different way of frying, with a thinner batter than what you expect with Tempura dishes. Having a great start in Tokyo, we retire for the evening, and recharge for our next day... the big one... the FISH MARKET!