Exploring Tokyo

Tokyo Travel Blog

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Roppongi Hills, an enormous complex with shops, nightclubs, restaurants and the Mori Art Museum.

After our expensive toast and coffee breakfast at Jonathan's, we somehow managed to figure out how to get to Roppongi hills through all the confusion and chaos of the Tokyo subway system. Roppongi Hills is one of the most visible buildings of the Tokyo skyline. We had noticed it immediately when we were at the lookout point in the Tokyo tower and had heard that the view was supposed to be even better at Roppongi Hills, up near the Mori Art museum, which is on one of the highest floors. At street level, Roppongi Hills doesn't look very special or anything; it's just an exceptionally tall skyscraper with reflecting glass, that towers over practically everything else in sight. There is a unique and very randomly placed spider statue, and some really modern looking fountains.. but that's about as exciting as it gets, in my opinion. The shopping area inside was pretty unmemorable, I guess because everything was extremely expensive and, for the most part, stores that you can find in pretty much any big city. We went to the viewing area on the top floor, while we waited for the Mori Art Museum to open. It turned out to be a huge area with sofas and chairs to sit in while admiring the amazing view. They have a sort of piano bar up there too, so I am sure it is a spectacular place to go at night. After spending about 30 minutes taking pictures of the city from all different areas, we went to the Mori Art Museum, which was somewhat disappointing since for some reason we had been under the impression that it was a modern art museum, and it turned out to be an architecture museum that mostly features design and models of work done by Le Corbusier. Even though it was much smaller than we thought it would be, we still really enjoyed the exhibits there, as well as the museum gift store, where we bought some cool souvenirs. All in all, Roppongi is worth checking out, but depending on how briefly you are visiting Tokyo, you may want to skip it- at least in the day! I have several friends who have also traveled to Japan that insist that it is best to go to Roppongi in the early evening to explore the dining and nightlife... so, it could be that w just went at the wrong time of day (9:00 a.m.)

Our next destination was Shibuya. The subway ride there was a bit confusing because we had to transfer several times (or perhaps we simply did not know what we were doing!) It is amazing how crowded the subway stations are in Japan, and what is even more amazing is that this is the one and only place where the Japanese people, who are usually so orderly and methodical in every thing they do, become disorderly. It is also where these people, who are usually incredibly polite, can become rude. As I was trying to follow Alex and my sister around the station I kept getting cut off by men in business suits darting in front of me, desperately trying to make it to their train in time. I kept expecting people, especially men, to slow down as they saw me in their way, but instead they kept going, and even ran into me a couple of times. Once on the train, it was a little better, although it was packed! Although everyone was crammed together, the subway was eerily silent. Those who had been fortunate enough to find an open seat were either asleep, or quietly flipping through manga.

We finally arrived to Shibuya, where it was raining heavily. We quickly made our way across the street and into the gigantic Starbucks that was overlooking the enormous crosswalk that appeared in the movie "Lost in Translation". We decided to take a break and check out what Japanese Starbucks had to offer that we wouldn't be able to find in the U.S. These items included a soy milk azuki cake, soy banana muffins, azuki bean frappuccino, matcha green tea frappuccino, sesame cereal bars, curry vegetable wraps and some very interesting sandwiches. After we were done enjoying more exotic versions of our usual Starbucks drinks, we got directions from two stylish young women on how to get to Harajuku, a haven for fans of fashions inspired by anime and pop music. We then made our way back down to the crowded streets of Shibuya, and squeezed through the crowds, shops and the giant LCD screens on the sides of buildings that make this area famous and add color to what might look like a concrete jungle, otherwise.

Fortunately, we had brought our umbrellas with us because it started pouring rain when we were on our way to Harajuku. We kept approaching small shopping areas with a few unique clothing stores scattered here and there, but nothing that resembled what we had imagined Harajuku to look like, based on the way it is represented in Gwen Stefani's music and fashion line. We finally arrived to a road that went sort of uphill with a lot of bigger retailers, including designer shops, and several nice restaurants. This area was interesting, but not what we had imagined Harajuku to look like either. With the exception of a small circle of rockabilly kids with cigarettes hanging out of all of their mouths, practically everyone there was very sophisticated and well dressed. Where were all of the teenagers from the pages of 'Fresh Fruits"? Fresh Fruits is a subculture magazine in Japan that publishes pictures of Tokyo Street style, which is uniquely different in the sense that it makes some of the more eccentric forms of fashion in American cities look tame in comparison. Harajuku is a famous neighborhood for this fashion scene because on weekends it is a mecca for teenagers from all over Tokyo who dress up in their wildest clothes to go there. This is the ultimate place to both see and be seen by all of the other teens in their elaborate outfits and costumes. However, when we finally reached the arched welcome sign at the entrance of Harajuku, we were surprised at how small this area is. Maybe we just weren't in the right place, but from what we saw, Harajuku consists of several blocks of very narrow roads, with tiny boutiques, cute little organic cafes and vegetarian restaurants and several small salons and day spas. Everything was very quaint and much smaller than I had expected. I still do not know whether or not I went to the right part of Harajuku, or if maybe the reason it seemed so desolate was because of the heavy rain that day. I guess I will just have to wait until next time I am in Japan!

We then decided to stop and eat dinner at an "authentic" East Coast-style pizza place called "Shakey's". I should have know by the big picture at the entrance that it it wouldn't be anything like the pizza we were used to. The photograph I am referring to is a big poster of a bunch of smiling blonde Americans with vacant expressions on their face. The picture looks like it was taken in the early 80's and is actually pretty hilarious. We had to wait for seating for a really long time because the restaurant was packed. Upon entering, we immediately noticed that there was a strong smell of curry. Surely enough, there was a huge pot of curry nestled between all the different types of pizzas, along with a giant rice maker. This is definitely something you don't see at pizza resaurants where we live, that's for sure!! They had several kinds of pizza, although most of the them were topped with corn. They had some interesting seafood pizzas, as well as dessert pizzas with bananas and chocolate syrup. I am not a huge pizza fan anyway, so I decided to stick with the curry and rice, which was the most perfect comfort meal I could possibly wish for on such a gloomy, rainy day.

After our dinner, we caught the subway back to Iidabashi, where Yasu and Miho were waiting for us. They had made plans to take us out to a bathhouse. My sister and I were very nervous about it, but Alex felt comfortable with the idea of going there. It was very interesting, in the sense that the bathhouse was very much like a spa (extremely traditional in many ways) yet they had a bunch of really interesting machines- especially the massage ones. I decided to try the foot massaging machine- bad idea!!! I should have known by it's sinister appearance that it was something that I should have kept a distance from... I sat down on the chair in front of it and put a foot in each of the holes, and then hit the "start" button. Within seconds I was in the most agonizing pain, as my foot began to be crushed inside the small, box-like machine. I tried getting my feet out, but they wouldn't budge. Those were definitely the most painful three minutes I have ever experienced in my life. Strangely enough, though, my feet felt pretty good after the "massage" was done. While my sister and I hung out in the massage area, Alex went into the bath area with Yasu. However, about 10 minutes later Yasu and Alex were being escorted out by three men. My sister and I went outside afterward to find out what had happened, and apparently the bathhouse had a "no tattoo" policy. Apparently, these rules exist to keep the Yakuza (Japanese mafia), who are known for their elaborate tattoos, out of the bathhouses. Alex was disappointed that he had been kicked out because of the small tattoo on his arm, but he said that he was in there long enough to be able to say that he experienced it.

Yasu then took us to a small neighborhood restaurant by his house- one that specialized in chanko nabe, which I later found out is the food most consumed by sumo fighters, in order to maintain their weight. Chanko was one of the dishes that were the hardest for us to eat, perhaps because it was somewhat grotesque in appearance, which had a psychological effect on our appetites. The dinner consisted of a huge bowl of sizzling broth, and a tray of chicken, meat, clam shells filled with a seafood paste, sprouts and many other types of vegetables. Miho started dropping all of the items on the tray into the broth, including the mysterious seafood paste; rolling it into small little balls and throwing them into the mixture. The smell that the bowl was emitting (as well as the paste balls) was very strange to us, so by the time Miho served us each a small bowl of the chanko, our appetites had completely vanished. Nicole wouldn't try it, and Alex hesitantly took a sip in order to appear polite. I ate my entire serving- not because I liked it but because I really didn't want our hosts to think we were being rude. It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. It definetely had some very redeeming qualities. From what I could tell, this dish was packed with protein (and carbs) and very healthy. It also had a unique taste- a combination of earthiness and fishyness- definitely an acquired taste, but not bad by any means. I tried eating the small bowl of raw egg that had been served a side dish but I couldn't stomach it. Nicole ordered yakitori chicken which was fantastic. In fact, it was so good that she ordered three plates of it. When we got home, I was craving sweets (mostly to get the chanko off my mind), so I opened one of the boxes of chocolate-filled strawberry mochi  had bought in Asakusa and ate almost the whole thing!  

cabotono says:
Sound Great!
Posted on: Aug 20, 2007
southafricangirl says:
wow all looks so interesting. thanks for the info. did you have a ride on the roller coaster?
Posted on: Aug 05, 2007
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Roppongi Hills, an enormous comple…
Roppongi Hills, an enormous compl…
photo by: maka77