Change of plan
Our intended destination for the day was Nikko for a day of walking and exploring the beautiful countryside. Nature had other plans in mind for us though; the weather report listed rain for most of the day in Nikko. Since I had taken up the previous day shopping in Akihabara, we decided that today would be spent shopping wherever Jm wanted. We ate another expensive breakfast at Jurin (5082¥) and hopped on the train (560¥ for whole day) to Harajuku.
Shopping was only one part of our day’s plan; we were also following a walking tour of Shibuya-ku in our National Geographic guide. Our first stop was the Oriental Bazaar Store for some souvenirs, but the store was closed on Thursdays. Somewhere, karma was chuckling at us again. The next store on our tour was Kiddy Land, a multi-level toy store brimming with cuteness. Jm picked up a few Hello Kitty items, a notepad and hand towel, as gifts for our niece (945¥).
The rest of the antique stores would not open until 11AM, so we took our time strolling to the Hanae Mori building. I was happy with the pace; my feet were killing me. I made the mistake of wearing my aging sneakers the previous day, and they left me with uncomfortable blisters on my feet. The basement of the Hanae Mori building housed thirty antique shops, but many of them were closed well after 11AM. There were no signs indicating that they were closed on Thursdays or if they were simply out for an early lunch. We browsed the ones that were open and window shopped the others. Not a price tag could be seen, a clear indication that the items were out of our price range. Pity too, as there was a lot of pretty jewelry I know Jm would have loved to pick up.
Gone to the dog in Shibuya
Our tour took us on a nice stroll through Harajuku (Jm notes we passed a pastry shop along the way) until we finally arrived at Hachikō Square. While we sat and rested our feet, I told Jm Hachikō’s story and took some photos of the famous statue. It is a bit surreal to watch anime now, see Hachikō Square, and be able to point and say " I sat right there once!" Having rested my blisters, we attempted to follow the NG guide’s tour of Shibuya but kept going around in circles. Curse the lack of street signs in Japan!
Our circling proved to be fortuitous; we eventually stumbled onto Mandarake. What the…?! Mandarake was in Shibuya? I could have sworn it was in Akihabara, but there it was in front of us. Even though it was her day, Jm did not mind indulging me a stop in another otaku playground. The store was huge with aisle after aisle of manga. After browsing for awhile, I wrote down "Monkey Punch" on a piece of scrap paper and attempted to ask an employee if they had any of his works.
They did not have much in stock, but I was impressed that the employee found two separate places in the labyrinth that held some Monkey Punch manga. I picked up one of the Mamo color comics and the first two pocket volumes of Lupin Y (1470¥).
Emerging from the depths of Mandarake, we continued to search for a park listed on the tour. We found a Disney store instead and browsed in there for a bit.
Ah… so that’s why…
The Disney store held nothing interesting; we left and stood outside still trying to figure out how to get to the park. A businessman stopped and stared over our shoulder for a good minute; I finally made eye contact with him, and he asked if he could help us. I pointed to the park on our map, and he laughed as he asked if we really wanted to go there. That should have been a warning sign, but we trusted the guide and said "yes". He fired off directions in rapid Japanese, and I nodded as I struggled to keep up. I managed to get the gist of his directions and thanked him for his help. While I still didn’t know exactly how to get there, I had a better idea of what direction to head and what to look for along the way.
A Häagen-Dazs store caught our eye along the way, and we stopped in for some ice cream (640¥). The staff was friendly and helped us understand how to buy ice cream in Japan, or at least in that store. You would first place your order at the register, pay, and receive a receipt. You then move down the line and hand the receipt to the server, and they would then scoop up your ice cream. I don’t recall what either of us had, but it was delicious.
Refreshed, we finally managed to find the park and immediately understood why the businessman had laughed at our request to find it. The park was a measly scrap of land featuring a rundown playground and a group of homeless people. We had a good laugh ourselves and headed back to the hotel to freshen up and decide where to have dinner.
Our hotel had a business center, and we briefly checked our e-mail for 200¥ per fifteen minutes. We got separate terminals (400¥); I checked my work e-mail and was pleased to see that there were no emergencies to take care of (damnit… I should have expensed this when I got back). Jm sent her dad a "Happy Birthday!" e-mail.
The Lonely Planet guide suggested a tempura restaurant called Tsunahachi; it was in Shinjuku making it an easy walk. However, we could not seem to find the right exit out of the sprawling Shinjuku station; as we stared at a station map, a young woman came up and asked us in exceptional English if she could help us. She pointed us in the right direction, and we thanked her profusely for her help. The rain from Nikko finally found its way to Tokyo, and the drizzle we were walking through turned into a downpour. This happened at the exact moment we were too far from shelter or an umbrella. We found Tsunahachi, but karma kicked us in the shin one last time that day.
Apparently, Tsunahachi is a chain of restaurants; the one we wanted was their tempura restaurant. Our soaking wet bodies had just stumbled into their fanciest restaurant; the maitre d’ politely handed us a business card that had directions for the tempura restaurant. It was only a few blocks up and to the right. The tempura restaurant was packed, but we did not have to wait long to be seated at the counter. We both felt bad that we were dripping water everywhere, but the staff did not seem to mind.
We had to remove our shoes before sitting at the counter; behind us were a number of tatami rooms we could have requested. Sitting at the counter turned out to be the best decision; we both ordered a set meal and watched as the chef prepared it right in front of us. Everything was exquisitely delicious, and we were fortunate that the chef spoke English. He guided us through the whole meal suggesting how best to eat each piece. He showed us that the best way to eat tempura is to place some grated daikon in the sauce. The fish ball should not be dipped in the sauce but should have a tomato and daikon paste smeared on it instead. Shrimp tempura could be dipped in the sauce or simply enjoyed by sprinkling a bit of salt on it.
The set meal also included scallop, eel, shrimp balls, assorted vegetables, and miso soup. While the soup warmed us up, it was also filled with tasty bits of clam. For this large and sumptuous meal, we only paid 3780¥, a bargain compared to our daily breakfast tab. When we first sat down, an older businessman on my left gave me a hearty hello in English, shook my hand, and began to chat me up. He explained that this restaurant was the original Tsunahachi and had been around for over eighty years. As it grew in popularity, it began to spin off other restaurants like the fancy one we mistakenly stumbled into.
It was still raining though not as hard when we left; we made our way back to the hotel picking up some drinks (150¥) and some dessert (399¥) from Poppins along the way. Despite the day’s setbacks, it turned out to be an enjoyable one nonetheless.