The Illusive Urban Tiger

Trip Start Oct 04, 2010
Trip End Feb 15, 2011

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Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Friday, December 17, 2010

First of all, you should fly Emirates. Really and truly. The seats are spacious. The food is good. The service is great. You get your own entertainment system with 1500 movies and 5000 channels. They have mood lighting. There is a forward and ground camera for take off and landing. Most of all you should fly Emirates because it makes you feel like a bad ass. So as bad asses we flew all the way from Dubai to Tokyo, never mind that we were all strung out and twitchy from being awake for 40 or so hours.
Our hotel was in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo which is a pretty cool place to be. Here are some of the sites and sounds of Tokyo we saw in the neighborhoods we visited.

Asakusa: Asakusa was a great first stop for us. They have a cute little tourist information booth just outside of the station and point you in one of two directions: Either down the street to eat or up the street to shop and see the Temple. First we headed up to shop at the Nakamise Arcade which is a tightly packed pedestrian street lined with shops. At the beginning of the street is the massive Kaminarimon Gate and its giant lantern and at the end is the Asakusa Kannon Temple. Right next to it is a five story pagoda and the Asakusa shrine. 1,300 years of history sandwiching tourist heaven.

When we went down the street for food, we wandered into a little tempura restaurant for a bite to eat and a little sake. The staff was really nice and the food was great. They even gave us a gift for being their guests!

Shibuya and Harajuku
: Holy Moly. Shibuya and Harajuku are two adjacent areas that are known for fashion. One is known for high-end trends and the other for over the top, teen dress up days. Shibuya’s streets were very nicely arranged with fancy boutiques and pricey malls. Harajuku was a mishmash of shops selling things from multicolored, pinstriped suits to teenager-sized doll dresses.

To illustrate the differences between these two fashion capitals please see the photos of 1) Shibuya’s crystal Christmas tree and showcase of decorated cakes and 2) Harajuku’s girls dressed as baby dolls, a high tendency towards short shorts and furry boots and the entrance to Takashita Street decorated in balloons.

Located nearby is the Meiji Jungu Shrine in a forest so thick, it doesn’t even seem like you’re in the city anymore. The grounds were stunning and the temple itself was beautiful. We are even starting to recognize and understand some of the traditions from the washing of hands to the wishes written on placards and offered to the temple. While we were there, we also got to see a small bit of a wedding ceremony with the bride and guests in full traditional regalia.

: Shinjuku was our home base so we really explored this neighborhood a lot. We were located 10 minutes from the Shinjuku station on the 35th floor overlooking the city. The location could not have been better.

Our first night out on the town was to a Denny’s since not much else was open that late when we arrived. We thought it’d be a safe bet. You know, grab a turkey sandwich or something. But this was not your typical Denny’s: this was Denny’s Japanese style. There are no burgers or chicken fingers and most dishes were fish, noodles with fish or fish in disguise. I mean absolutely no offense to Japanese cuisine (or fish) but it was a rough first night with food. Like we learned in Lyon, stick with what you know!

The best meal we had in Shinjuku was Shabushabu at a quaint little restaurant with a nice Japanese garden outside. Shabushabu is a traditional meal, usually served with a number of courses, that culminate in the stewing of meat and vegetables in a boiling pot on the table. It is very similar to fondue but with no stinky cheese. Our first dish was a trio of minced seaweed, bean curd and tofu skins followed by a small sashimi plate. Next came the vegetables and the meats. To cook everything, you simply throw it in the pot and wait until its ready before dipping into one of three fabulous sauces. The noodles come next followed by a dessert. It was all very good and a neat experience.

We took a nice walk over to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden where the maple and ginko leaves were in bright fall colors. We walked through the entire garden, end to end, walking through the paths, past the brooks and ponds and cruised around the rose garden. We also stopped for a while near the traditional Japanese garden and took a nap in the sun.

Takashimaya Times Square and the adjacent Kabukicho area are known for their bright neon lights and noisy atmosphere. At all hours of the day there are people handing out advertisements, shop staff hawking electronics over loud speakers and front men enticing passersby to come in and have a look.
We also stopped into a Panchenko parlor to see what it was all about. Though we really only understood what was going on after a little online research later, the basic premise is to buy little balls, shoot them into the machine with a dial and try to get them into a catcher that initiates a bonus. The hope is to somehow win more balls that you can cash in for prizes - not dissimilar to Chuck E. Cheese. The place was packed and people seemed to have fun. For us, it was interesting, a bit confusing and slightly deafening between the clamor and noise of the machine and the white noise being blared out of the speakers all around you.

The jazz bar at the hotel boasted an impressive selection of Japanese whiskey so we went down to take a look. Since we were pretty much the only customers at the bar, we had the piano and soloist at our disposal. Even better, we had the bartender’s complete attention and he brought no less than ten different Hibiki, Suntory, Hakushu and Yamazaki whiskeys for us to look at and to try. To our surprise, we were able to try the 30 year old Suntory that retails for $3,000 US and another 25 year old on the house. Then he brought out two bottles that we obviously could not try since they retailed at the hotel for 1 Million Yen and the other for 2.5 Million Yen. Crazy.

There were two mega malls/department stores that were close to us: the Keio Mall and Odakyu department store. The Keio mall seemed to be connected to the subway station and was so packed, we didn’t even try to get in. We did, however, spend some time in all eight floors of the Odakyu department store. The first few floors were your typical (albeit high end) department store clothing sections but the upper floors were awesome.

Odakyu is part Sears on steroids, part Fry’s gone wild, part flea market. We have never seen so may gadgets and gizmos in one place all lit up with florescent lights that seemed brighter than 1,000 suns. While of course they have the standard goods, here is some of the tricked out stuff we saw: a portable defibrillator; $800 toilet seat with bidet, steam and music functions; 24k gold vibrating face wand (makes you look younger?); thermos that keeps things hot/cold for weeks; perpetual motion - bobbing head ninjas, cats and Buddha’s for good luck; $25,000 camera lenses; about 200 different memory sticks in all shapes, sizes and colors, and; microcomputers the size of your hand.

Ginza and Chiyoda
: Ginza is another area known for its lively shopping area, restaurants and boutiques. Though I never thought it would be possible, I actually saw more Tiffany & Co’s than I saw Starbucks! We also enjoyed our sushi meal here and were very brave with some of the lunch selections (what in the world is tobi gai?).

After walking through Ginza, we headed over to the Imperial Palace. Though you can’t get very close to the actual Palace or the remains of Edo Castle, we did walk onto the grounds and past the old mote to the Nijubashi Bridge for a photo op.


Our goal in Tokyo was to buy some of the baddest Onitsuka Tigers Asics Japan had to offer. We planned on being the only two people in North America with our new kicks and people would jealously stop us and ask where we got them. But unfortunately, we never found the right ones despite visiting two Asics shops and countless department stores looking specifically for new shoes. We may have to stick with our trusty hiking boots for now, but we’ll be on the lookout for tigers in Hong Kong, too.
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grammiephone on

loved seeing you, Nicole, on christmas. Japan looks fascinating-- how colorful--and beautiful parks.

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