Back to Japan- Day 8 (Tokyo)

Good news and bad news. The good news is it’s time to hit the streets of Nakamise and Akihabara for some shopping! The bad news is that I’ve already bought everything on my list. More good news. This means I won’t be (theoretically) breaking the bank.

We met up at around 9 in the morning all set to go to Nakamise Street which lines the way up to the famous Sensoji Temple. Despite the fact that we had come here two years ago, I didn’t know much apart from the rebuilding history of the temple. This time though we learned more about how the temple came into being. Legend has it that two brothers were fishing on the Sumida river, when they pulled in a statue. Alarmed, they let the statue go, moved their boat further on and continued to fish only for the statue to appear in their nets again. The dropped the statue back in the river, moved further along and for the third time the statue appeared in the nets. Now positively alarmed, they took the statue back to their village where a village elder recognized the statue as the Goddess of Mercy and erected a temple for its worship – now the Sensoji Temple.

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Kannondo Main Hall

The bus dropped us off under the bright blue sky, a far cry from the rainy night it had been, a short walk away from the famous Kaminarimon which was under renovation. We passed under the lantern and were ready to begin our trip down Nakamise lane. Now most locals would tell you that the main street is a tourist trap filled with overpriced goods potentially made in China and that the back alleys are where you’ll get to experience the real flavour of Japan. I would agree with them, except for the fact that there are quite a few authentically Japanese gems on the main street too. For us the find of the day was a store selling Furoshiki Bags which are made from hand printed cloth made in Japan, and are DIY purses, if you would believe such a thing exists. We got to pick out not just the pattern of the purse, but the handle to go with it and then watched as they demonstrated how to put the purse together. They were amazing enough to give us the instructions as well, and promised us they’d be uploading a tutorial on their website soon (yayy for technology!) With our beautiful bags and Z’s Japanese themed ties, we were now all set for an adventure.

Two years ago, we had come here with Hondaさん and at the time I couldn’t eat noodles so we had set off exploring the back alleys of Nakamise in search of some place where we could grab a halal non-noodle bite to eat. And that’s when we stumbled upon Candy, with its sandwiches that melt in your mouth. We were on a mission to find this place again so we could pack some lunch just in case the Japanese lunch of the day turned out to be another cold soba affair. I started my search online a month or so before we left for Japan, only we couldn’t remember the name of the cafe and which back alley it was in. I searched a number of cafes on Google maps to no avail. Which is when we decided to go through Z’s set of pics from the trip and see if his foodie adventures had somehow captured the name of this accidental place. They had – in a reflection. And so, with the name we read in the reflection captured in a picture taken two years ago, I began my online search only to find a lone review on Trip Advisor but with no location in French, which confirmed that this was indeed the place we were looking for – they too had chanced upon this cafe with its divine omelette sandwiches. That’s when I decided that I would throw my question out to my language exchange community and see if anyone could help. Help came in the form of a Korean lady who I’ve never met before, who located the cafe on Google Maps which showed the location in the Korean version of the maps (but not the English) and sent me a pin to verify if this was the place we were looking for. It was! 만세!

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The unassuming Candy with its familiar green canopy

In a world dominated by corporations that are either swallowing up minnows through acquisition or killing them off entirely through markets of scale, it’s refreshing to step in to a cafe that’s unique and far removed from the familiar franchises plastered around every city in the world you visit. おばあさん from two years ago wasn’t there, but おじいさん was there, ready to make our sandwiches and Z’s shaved ice. He went about his work methodically – a system developed perhaps from years of trial and error or perhaps more symptomatically designed to cope with old age and all that comes with it, carefully noting down the order, preparing one order at a time and accepting payment once our takeaway bags were ready.  Z wanted to take pictures, but おじいさん explained that it wasn’t allowed to take pictures anymore, thanks to countless Chinese and Korean tourists who’d come and stolen the design and theme of the shop, opening their own counterfeit versions of Candy back home. I can’t imagine what it must feel like when tourists come to the cafe and tell おじいさん that they have the “same” thing back home. You could see that his pride had been hurt, because something that was put together over a lifetime was stolen in a few pictures and that also, in poor taste. Whereas Japan’s Candy uses only fresh ingredients, cafes trying to pass themselves off as the real thing tarnish his reputation by using frozen items of poor quality. I felt bad for him, but we left him smiling with pride restored when we told him we’d come back there after two years, this time with ma in tow, simply because there weren’t sandwiches like his anywhere to be had.

We rendez vous’d with the rest of the group near the five storey pagoda just in time for the headcount and were all set to go to Ameyoko. The day had become rather hot and せんせい wisely decided to change the itinerary so we’d skip Ameyoko and go straight to Fuji TV instead.

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The beautiful Sensoji Temple and the even more beautiful 5 storey pagoda

Last trip, we had the option of visiting Fuji TV but had gone to Aqua City instead so I was interesting in seeing what we’d missed. On our way there I learnt that the Fuji TV building had not only an observatory which afforded great views of the Odaiba area, but also had a rooftop garden and a “Wonder Street” where we could to explore the studios and sets where some of our favourite TV shows are made.

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Time for fun at Fuji TV

We decided to skip Wonder Street and headed straight to the top. The view was more stunning that I had expected, thanks to the beautifully clear blue skies. We managed to just make out Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree in busy skyline behind the Rainbow Bridge, but Mt. Fuji was lost to view. We even managed to get a bird’s eye view of the mini Statue of Liberty that we’d seen last time and I could even point out to ma from the 25th floor, the futuristic boat we’d taken 2 years ago designed by Leiji Matsumoto the famous manga author.

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Rainbow Bridge

While Z disappeared with せんせい on a quest to complete all the stamps at Fuji TV (something so Japanese!), ma and I took time out to relax in the rooftop garden where a beautiful breeze was blowing, defying the bright sun on the streets below. The rooftop gardens also gave me a chance to appreciate the beautiful building from below, and if I hadn’t been eager to avoid a social faux pas, I would have lay down and traced the beautiful edges and angles that shaped the sky overhead. There’s something about great architecture that tames the OCD within.

We took a quick trip to the souvenir store filled with goodies from Chibi Marukochan and One Piece among others, and I was convinced that the reason why Japan has a very high household debt ratio is because everything in the country is too かわいい not to buy. With that thought we said goodbye to Laugh, the blue Snoopy-like mascot of Fuji TV and headed straight to lunch.

Now lunch was going to be Yakiniku, and our last soba experience had taught me not to be too optimistic, so ma and I shared a sandwich on the bus and saved one in case lunch turned out to be not to our liking. Our fears were completely unfounded, thankfully and I ended up having, what would turn out to be, my favourite meal the whole trip. When we entered the restaurant and climbed up the stairs, I noticed a 한식 menu and was thoroughly confused, wondering if we had come to a Japanese restaurant or a Korean one. It turned out to be a Korean bbq halal Wagyu beef. I’m not really a big fan of beef truth be told, but this lunch just blew me away. I have never had such fine cuts of beef in what can only be described as the perfect marinade. For the sake of the tummy I sacrificed the kimchi and kept announcing every piece as my last, but it was too good to put down without a fight. I ate way more than I’m accustomed to, probably more than I should have, but there’s only so much you can fight your tastebuds before you give in.

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The most epic Yakiniku ever

With that absolutely delicious and filling lunch, we were now ready to hit the streets of Akihabara. With so many places to go…Laox, Mandarake, Anime Centre, Animate, Don Quijote, the Gundam Cafe, to name a few, you’re never really sure where to start but luckily for me, since I’d already done my shopping and exhausted my budget, I had the luxury of simply strolling around to take in the vibrant facades and loud signage without wondering where to go next.

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The riot of colours that is Akihabara

Z opted to head to the Gundam Cafe, while ma and I walked from Mansei bridge down Chuo Dori, looking at a little bit of everything. While I couldn’t convince ma to set foot in a game centre to try a single UFO catcher, I did manage to convince her to use a capsule machine to try and get Aegi a fruit shaped cat hat, which of course she’ll never wear, but just the thought of that melon hat on her is enough for a few good laughs. We stopped in a couple of manga stores looking for a copy of 君の名は in English, but it’s apparently too soon for a full release of all the volumes so I’ll just have to be patient. There were plenty of cat cafes, and even more maid cafes with a variety of themes including a samurai maid cafe. If there’s one thing I don’t get it’s the whole maid cafe thing, and watching those young girls handing out fliers and trying to attract customers in their get-ups made me think that there are ways to exploit women, and then there are ways to exploit women.

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Anyone played Project Diva 2nd before?

After roaming around stores with epic Gundam sales and exercising much self-restraint, we stumbled upon an art gallery which was selling the most colourful and intricate 3D cityscapes. While ma and I debated on what size to get and which Tokyo scene – dawn, dusk or night – we struck up a conversation with the salesperson who, fascinated to learn that we came from Dubai, proceeded to show us the cityscape of Dubai as well! We decided to stick to Tokyo and as if the artwork wasn’t beautiful enough, she topped it off with some well-timed flattery making ma feel years younger and the final cherry on her sales pitch was the offer to change frames free of charge if we wanted to choose another colour. We were sold ^^

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At the art gallery with its multi million yen 3D landscape

We made another stop to see if we could get ma some Japanese cosmetics, but not knowing any brands other than Shiseido and the fact that all labels were in Japanese, we were more than a little lost. Thankfully the salesperson tucked away between crowded shelves (crowded more with labels than products) on the second floor was very helpful and we managed to pick up some products in smaller sizes so ma could test them out first on her sensitive skin before committing to a larger, more expensive purchase.

We finally stopped for a quick restroom break at Bic where we picked up some household goodies (no, no models), marvelled at how convenient Japan made everything and then marvelled some more when we found out that Bic Camera actually accepts BitCoin as a form of payment. Talk about riding the tech wave. With that our short but sweet Akihabara adventure came to an end and we ready to move from the happening place for youngsters to the posh and newly opened Ginza Six.

Coming from the land of posh malls, we had nothing we wanted to see in particular (except the Noh theatre, which we couldn’t go to this time around) and nothing really that would fit our budget, so instead of wandering aimlessly around the mall, we armed ourselves with umbrellas and went straight up to the rooftop garden to enjoy the rain in lush green lawns floating in the air and light rain drops dancing on fountains resting on the ground. I cannot understand how anyone can underestimate the healing power of a garden in the middle of a busy metropolis. It’s high time rooftop gardens caught on around the world.

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Rooftop garden in the rain

After some much needed recharging, we ducked back inside- ma finding a place to relax at Starbucks while I roamed around the Tsutaya bookstore, filled with its oversized books that need the help of staff to open and peruse, and went straight to Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary tribute book filled with the most amazing pictures of Hello Kitty I’ve never seen including the Kiss version of Hello Kitty  When did THAT happen?

We didn’t have much to do, so we headed back outside, this time to the rain soaked terrace now surrounded by soft lights at dusk. It was going to be night soon, which meant it was now officially dinner time. I would have much rather just sat out there on the terrace, taking in the musty smell of earth that comes with rain, even in a concrete jungle.

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Enjoying the dusk and last moments of rain

Dinner was a short walk away, at Annam, an Indian restaurant which meant we got to enjoy the beautiful views of Ginza at night, with its posh buildings now all lit up in a tasteful rainbow of neon colours under the purpling sky. I always wonder if you notice these things when you live and work in a city for a long time. Does everything lose it shine slowly over time, or is it just that you stop noticing, your nose too deep in the daily grind to look up? I wonder if what I saw in Ginza is what the people there see on a daily basis. I wonder what things I miss back home, or take for granted, that a passing tourist would jot down as something memorable.

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Night time in Ginza

When we got to dinner, our guide, as had somehow become the custom since day one, sat alone at a table to eat. By this time, we’d had enough. Aside from the fact that it’s considered highly rude and disrespectful in Arab and Asian tradition to have someone sit alone at a meal, the great loss of not being able to learn more about Japan from our guide and the equally great lost opportunity of not being able to share our cultures with him was too great a travesty to let pass. And so, with the help of オサマさん and much coaxing and cooperation from the restaurant staff, we finally got him to sit with us at the same table for dinner.

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Time for dinner

It turned out to be a fun and informative session over a butter chicken and naan dinner, as we traded stories about Japan and back home, the best time to visit, our mother tongues and what the difference is between おちゃ, chai, karak chai and masala chai. It turned out that our guide’s mum shared my love for Korean dramas and was a big fan of period dramas and movies. 역시 With that we were ready to head back home. The short walk through Ginza showed that even in fancy Ginza, the shops closed early so with nothing to distract us, we went straight back to the hotel, and started getting ready for the much awaited day trip to Nikko.

Missed Day 7 in Fuji?

Stay tuned for Day 9 Part 1 in Nikko!

 

Journey to Japan- The End

Today’s the first day we got to sleep in as we were scheduled to leave the hotel at 11.30am. So sleep in we did… till 7.30am. ^^ We got up and did the last minute packing and realized that all our KitKat would not fit! O___O That meant Z had to go to Bic across the street to pick up another suitcase but luckily we managed to pack up on time and instead of having breakfast at the hotel on our last day, I just ate one of those super yummy apple-like pears that I had picked up in Shibuya. Like the peach before it, the pear was sooooooooooo juicy that I ate the entire thing and began to wonder where I’d be able to find Japanese fruits in Dubai.

We checked on time and headed to the Tokyo Kamii Mosque for Friday prayers. The mosque is stunning, it’s Turkish architecture making us feel right at home. A spiral staircase leads up to the women’s section which is on the second floor overlooking the men’s section below. As you climb up the stairs you’ll find a a stand with the Friday sermon, in Japanese and English for the various nationalities of people who’ll come. The mosque is very welcoming and encourages people interested in learning more about Islam and Muslims to come to the mosque and we found many ladies curious to learn more about Islam up on the second floor eagerly waiting for the Friday prayers to start.

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Tokyo Camii Mosque

The sermon was read out 4 times… in Japanese, English, Arabic and Turkish. After prayers, we headed downstairs where the mosque was offering free lunch to all the visitors as well as everyone who had come for Friday prayers. We didn’t eat at the mosque since we’d already been booked somewhere else- Aladdin for a buffet with some really good kebabs. It was half-way through lunch that sensei received a phonecall that left her pacing up and down the restaurant looking super-excited. It turned out that she won an award for her book. The perfect icing on her cake after a splendid vacation. She was so happy that she wanted to order mango lassi for everyone, but forgot that it wasn’t an Indian restaurant so she ordered a round of mango juice instead ^^ I’m so happy that we were there to share one of her happiest moments on the trip.

One this high note, we left for the Edo Museum where we found that everyone’s tickets had different pictures on them. It’s the little things that make all the difference.

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Looking around before heading into the museum

We headed up the escalator to the 5th floor and even the escalator ride was fun because it’s a regular escalator that suddenly becomes flat in the middle before turning back into steps as it heads higher up ^^. The museum is pretty massive and we were stuck between wanting to see everything and not being late. I gave up on taking pictures because everything was picture-worthy and I just wanted to take everything in. At the exit to the 5th floor, I ended up printing myself another epic souvenir- the front page of the newspaper on my birthday and I later got sensei to tell me what was the big news that day. It turned out to be some big Enron like scandal in some recruitment firm- because some things never change.

We headed to the first floor looking for the bus parking and we ended up stumbling across the museum shops, where – you guessed it- there were a million more models. We ended up getting two really intricate models of shops in Japan similar to one of the exhibits that I had seen earlier in the museum. The instructions may all be in Japanese, but if it’s a model, I have to attempt it ^^

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Book store

You can see Sky Tower from the Edo Museum and that’s where we were headed next. We decided to skip the trip to the top and instead wandered around the stores on the 4th floor where of course we stumbled upon a Nanoblock store ❤ We didn’t have much shopping in mind so we decided to explore the 5th floor which was intriguingly called the Japan Experience.

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Heading to Sky Tower

It was a good thing we did too because that’s where we stumbled across a store with traditional glasswork. We ended up spending half an hour there with much Yen to AED conversions and Whatsapp back and forth with my mum to figure out which one she liked best. We were a bit worried how we would take it back because it was glass but the elderly gentleman at the counter packed it so well that we were left with nothing to worry about except what was for dinner ^^ Dinner was at Amara, an Indian restaurant on the 6th floor of the Sky Tower where we had chicken biryani, palak paneer, spicy chicken, seafood salan and of course, lassi and chai. They had kulfi too but we parked that, saying that’s important to leave something to look forward to on your next trip. Tummies full we left Sky Tower in the evening and walked to the train station where we’d take a train to get to our bus- another first.

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Last look at Sky Tower

We bought our tickets for 150 yen and headed to Asakusa where our bus was waiting for us. We took some blurry pictures on the train, but even through the blur you can see our smiling faces 🙂 We took a picture of our ticket as well, since the ticket is swallowed up at the exit as you leave.

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Last ticket before the plane ticket

The bus took us over Rainbow Bridge for the last time and before we knew it we were at Haneda airport, buying more KitKat from Lawson’s and Royce from the Duty Free upon sensei’s recommendation. As we waited to board the plane, we all pooled our change together trying to figure out how to spend it since we’d probably not be able to convert the coins back home, but by the time we were done counting the coffee shop at the airport had also closed so to our last moment in Japan, we did the very Japanese thing of just going to the vending machine.

We were all split up on the plane and everyone just tried to grab some much needed shut-eye before getting home. We met again at baggage claim, with promises of meeting again and keeping in touch. At that moment, I just wanted to go back- back to the bus, back to walking everywhere with our trusty fan, back to hunting for vending machines, back to staring at beautifully crafted models. InshaAllah there will be another chance to go back but Alhamdulillah, after a beautiful trip we were back home ❤

Journey to Japan- Day 8 Part 2

And so we left the Iwako factory and headed to the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple. We opted out of the Soba lunch because my tummy’s not too good with noodles and pasta at the moment and instead walked around the Nakamise Street with Honda San looking for a place to eat. We stumbled upon the cutest cafe called Candy where I opted for a vegetable sandwich and Z for an omlette sandwich. The food was simply heavenly and I’m fully convinced that the secret behind the air-like bread in Japan lies in their flour. Well-fed, and Z with his melon flavoured shaved ice in hand, we strolled down the street looking for some souvenirs to take home- basically just some hand fans, which we found easily enough. Honda San even treated us to some Japanese sweet (I can’t remember what it’s called though!)… a sort of puff pastry like round sweet filled with sweet potato. It was really..really good. We found out that food and drinks aren’t allowed, not just inside shops which is understandable, but also on the main street to prevent littering. Instead there are places on the side street where you are allowed to stand and eat. As we got to the end of the street, we reached the Kaminarimon Gate where we saw the famous lantern- red, emblazoned with the words Thunder God and flanked by statues of the gods of thunder and wind. To be fair, there is an identical, and in fact much larger, lantern at the beginning of the street at the Hozomon Gate but oddly enough this lantern was the main draw. We found out that it was all thanks to a sketch or painting that had been done of the temple in winter, which featured the smaller lantern.

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Being the rebel, this is the Hozomon Lantern

We headed back up the street to visit the temple itself. Outside the temple, as with most others, is a large pot filled with sand into which people place burning sticks of incense. We learnt that after burning the incense, the smoke is consider healing and people will place their hands in the smoke then rub their hands over whichever part of their body requires healing. Incense lit, we headed up the temple steps where we learnt that this temple too had been burned down during WWII but unlike the other temples which were rebuilt from wood, this temple was rebuilt using modern materials like concrete and titanium.

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Making wished for good health

When we asked whether this was a Buddhist temple or a Shinto Shrine, we were told that sometimes it was not so easy to tell, the religions having been intermingled a great deal. The Japanese, Honda san told us, seemed to be easily influenced by external elements owing to the fact that they were an island nation with fixed boundaries. He said landlocked countries did not appear to succumb as easily to change as do island nations. It’s true but I can’t quite pinpoint why.

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Senso-ji Temple

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Five Storied Pagoda

From the Senso-ji Temple, we walked to the Tokyo Cruise station where we took the Himiko to Odaiba. The ship is incredibly futuristic looking and was in fact designed by the famous manga author Leiji Matsumoto whose manga even our sensei had read! The weather was overwhelmingly hot and humid but as we got onto the ship, it started to drizzle again, just as it had drizzled moments after we had left the hotel in the morning. I was beginning to miss the umbrella that our colleague had lent us the previous day, which we ended up leaving behind at the hotel. The rain stopped, though, before we docked and we ended up enjoying the almost hour long ride with beautiful views of the countless bridges across the water, each painted a different colour – red, orange, yellow, green… a rainbow of bridges.

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Getting off the Himiko

We finally reached Odaiba, right in front of Aqua City and the Decks. We had the option of heading to Palette Town or the Onsen too and while I was initially very keen on going to the onsen, I was so exhausted by the heat to go so far so I opted to just wander around in Aqua City which would be our final meeting point anyway. Aqua City is a huge mall, conveniently connected to the Decks, where you can find Legoland and Madame Tussaud’s. Unfortunately both were closed by the time we got there so we just roamed around the different shops, including… the Coke store filled with Coca Cola merchandise,  which is how we stumbled across perhaps the most important souvenir of our trip… KitKat. There are over 200 hundred flavours of KitKat unique to Japan and while we had scoured every shop looking for some unique Kitkat, we had only come across matcha up until that point. We stocked up on some yummy flavours of KitKat, then headed down to Tully’s Cafe for some much needed rest.

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Just some of the 200 flavours of KitKat we could find

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View of the Rainbow Bridge right before sunset

Once we all rounded up, we headed for dinner at Khazana- another Indian restaurant where we had chicken tikka, some vegetable and chicken salan, naan and rice in a thali like arrangement. The food was great and we ended up getting back to the hotel with tummies full and hearts even fuller – with beautiful night views of the Rainbow Bridge. I’d finished packing most of our things the night before so we were pretty much ready for our last day in Japan…It’s not fair that time flies faster when you’re having a good time.

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Night views of Tokyo

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Rainbow Bridge at night

Stay Tuned for Day 9

Journey to Japan- Day 6 Part 1

Had an early breakfast after a perfect night’s sleep and got ready to head to the Meiji-Jingu Shrine. We walked past the Yoyogi National Stadium to get there and were finally met by a towering gate of wood- not orange like the other shrines.

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Yoyogi National Stadium

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Torii leading to the shrine

That made the temple, or Shinto shrine rather, more at home with the surrounding forest. And like most of the other places we’d been, I couldn’t tell what I enjoyed more- the walk to the temple or the temple itself. The thick canopy of trees above us was alive with the sound of cicadas and it was only later that I found out that the forest was actually man-made- each tree having been donated.

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Thick canopy of trees

On the way to the shrine, there are stacks of barrels of sake on the right and kegs of wine on the left – all donations to the shrine. The colourful barrels of sake make for a great picture and so you’ll find most tourists milling in the area. That’s where I spotted a Korean couple arguing about how to have their picture taken best. I missed my parents a lot at that point.

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Donations of sake by local breweries

We kept walking, past the poetry of the Emperor and Empress to whom this shrine has been dedicated before entering the last last torii to the shrine. The Emperor and Empress, we were told, were expected then, and even today, to give their orders in the form of poetry – something amazing yet slightly impractical. I wonder if practicality is a stifled form of art. It was at the last torii that I met the Korean couple again who asked me to take their picture at the entrance to the shrine ^^

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Poetry in the middle of the forest

The shrine itself is a beautiful wooden structure – beautiful in its simplicity, magnificent in its size and flanked by perfectly symmetrical trees. The temple, like most other structures in Japan was burnt down in WWII and the buildings were rebuilt in 1958. While it’s okay to take pictures of the structure itself, picture taking is not allowed inside the shrine where people pray. It helps people remember the real purpose of the building- not a tourist attraction, but a place of worship. In the courtyard, there are two places where prayers can be written. I found it very interesting that people need to pay to be able to write their prayers, whether on wooden tablets or on paper, the cheaper alternative. What was even more interesting is the idea that prayers are prioritized according to a person’s financial status and contribution. I think there’s more man than god in that tradition.

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Meiji-Jingu Shrine

We left the shrine and walked down to Takeshita Street (Takeshita Dori)- the birthplace of pop culture. It seems like such a contradiction that two places that are such polar opposites would be situated so close to each other. The street is impossible to miss – a shock of colours and a mass of people.

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Takeshita Dori

Right at the entrance to the street there are some shops in front of which there is an overhead water spray – something I made full use of to cool me down before heading on down the street. We had been warned that we would be bound to come across some class of, as my sensei succinctly put it, “weirdos”, but luckily enough we found none, only throngs of teenagers having a good time. There are all sorts of shops you can find here, from a huge Daiso to a three storey shop dedicated entirely to cosplay outifts for dogs and of course stores for the rebellious goth-wannabe where labels on stands ask you politely to F off (I’m not sure how that helps with sales 😛 ) If you’re looking for something very Japanese here, then you’re out of luck. This place is filled with lots of merchandise with NY labels and graffiti screaming “God Bless America”. If things like this aren’t really your style, I’d still recommend taking a walk down the street just to experience the dramatic cultural shift between the crowd you’d find at the temple and the youth of today. There are also plenty of places to grab a bite from, ranging from crepes to ice-cream to candy to all things yummy. I couldn’t sample anything as usual so after a fun walk in the killer heat, I stopped at Starbucks at the end of the street to soak in some much needed air conditioning.

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Lots of graffiti to enjoy

The next stop was… a Shabu Shabu lunch. I actually really like the idea of being able to cook your own meat at the table (it saves you from the hassle of struggling to define well-done, a little more than well-done and burnt to a crisp) so this is something I was really looking forward to. The restaurant was down a, for lack of better word, shady alley quite close to the famous Shibuya crossing, also known as the Shibuya Scramble. When we got seated, all the tables were already prepared with their own little stoves with pots of boiling broth. We then got a plate of vegetables, another plate filled with thin strips of beef and some seasoning like chilies and garlic. Not being very fussy, we threw everything in, except the meat, which is supposed to be put in individually, cooked as much as you like then eaten by dipping into another bowl of sauce.

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Shabu Shabu anyone?

The Shabu Shabu was a stunning success, all plates were completely wiped clean and in the words of one of our friends this was the first day he had eaten like a human. Bellies full, we were taken then to perhaps the most special part of the trip – The Tea Ceremony at Urasenke.

Stay Tuned for Day 6 Part 2

Journey to Japan- Day 5 Part 1

And so began the Tokyo leg of our trip with breakfast… and shopping. Our first stop was the Isetan Department Store. After seeing the posh stores in the main business district near our restaurant deserted last night at dinner time, I was not sure how much rush to expect but it was pretty much as busy as any mall in Dubai, despite it being a weekday morning. The store is filled with all things branded, but since I’m not really a shopping person, I decided to find myself something that screamed Japan and nothing says Japan quite like ceramics. I headed off to the ceramics section where one of the stores actually had a ceramic painter who was painting right in front of us.

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Ceramics Painter

I was tempted to buy something in the traditional white and blue but nothing really caught my eye so I wandered around aimlessly until our sensei suggested visiting the Okinawa exhibition on the 5th floor. To the Japanese themselves, Okinawa is rather foreign, with its own unique flavour owing to the fact that they were very late in being colonized. This means that not only are their handicrafts rather unique, but also their language has its own unique style. I found the Okinawa exhibition absolutely fascinating – a riot of colours, not the traditional image of Japan at all. Their ceramics were also very different and that’s where I finally settled on a handmade plate.

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I can’t quite explain the feeling I get when I look at it…like this feeling of being underwater…

There was lots of coral jewellery which I absolutely loved. There were also traditional musical instruments from Okinawa, mainly the sanshin, and lots of snakeskin products, from purses to packs of just snakeskin and there was even a huge snakeskin on display which you could touch… I did…then ran away to the first floor to look for a fan. I’m pretty picky when it comes to buying things for other people so suffice it to say I couldn’t find what I was looking for and instead spent my time more wisely in the basement… in the basement filled with food. By food I mean all sorts of cute bento boxes, heaps and heaps of colourful salads and of course… Japanese sweets ❤ If all that food had been halal, you’d probably have had to drag me out of there by force.

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Sorry I don’t have more pictures. I was paralyzed by the sight of so much colourful food.

By mid-day, we were ready to head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office to get some views of the city. It’s open on weekdays from 10am to 3pm and entrance is free. I wasn’t too eager to go at first, but the thought of a possible glimpse of Mt. Fuji versus shopping convinced me otherwise. It was only after I got there that I learned that the heavy city smog and normally dense cloud cover meant spotting Mt. Fuji is more of a rarity than I had expected. Nonetheless, being 202m up in the air meant views were good and made for a great panorama of the sprawling city. They ran out of brochures in English, so I got myself a brochure in Korean so I could figure out what the main landmarks were ^^

Back downstairs, we headed to the tourist information centre where we picked up some brochures on where we were set to go next. If you’re not keen on reading about the places, they have great visuals highlighting what each area is famous for ^^.

Lunch was a Turkish affair at Bosphorus Hasan which was followed by perhaps the highlight of everyone’s day (or trip)… the famous Akihabara.

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Heading to lunch behind…way behind… our guide

Our first stop was Yodobashi, which I had expected would be an electronics haven. I was very much mistaken… Yodobashi is not only an electronics haven but also, and perhaps more importantly for me, a model haven.

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Yodobashi – Hobby Heaven #1

The 7th and 8th floors are filled with all kinds of models- cars, trains, Gundams, puzzles… you name it- they have it. It was completely overwhelming- the sheer scale of it and the number of models. I was sorely tempted to put the entire floor in my basket, but decided to exercise self-constraint or risk going bankrupt on my first night in Tokyo. As such I treated myself to a puzzle which I had spent months searching for back home and my brother found himself a Gundam model… not a Gundam model but THE Gundam model, I should say since it’s the model from our favourite Gundam show.

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Sakura Puzzle ❤

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Okay so Setsuna’s Gundam is pretty epic… but I kinda love Allelujah’s more

And so we left on a Gundam-high to look for.. you guessed it… the Gundam cafe which is actually really close to Yodobashi.

Stay Tuned for Day 5 Part 2