Friday, July 8, 2011

Japan Day 12 (July 8): To Akihabara

An Inari shrine right in the middle of busy Akihabara

Well, now that we’re on beds we definitely slept longer & better, curse our western bodies for wimps I guess :) We had a little excitement in the night- I woke up around 3:40 am to the sound of squeaking from the windows & felt the room shaking. Our second earthquake in Japan! Charlie, who has always been a but apprehensive about earthquakes, has decided to just live with it & move on, now that he’s been through 2 of them. Brendan slept through it all...
Today our friends Momo & Hiroshi came up from Atsugi-shi, about 2 hours away by train, to spend the day touring Tokyo with us. We met them when Hiroshi was studying for his PhD at the university in our town (where Charlie is on the medical school faculty, too). For a year & a half Momo came over nearly every Tuesday with another friend for “amimono bu” or knitting & crochet club. We would knit, crochet, & chat in the morning & then cook Japanese food for lunch. Yum! Momo & I got to be good friends & she & Hiroshi would join us for holidays as well. They moved back to Japan a year ago and, although she & I skype almost every week, I have been looking forward to seeing her again (& Hiroshi too) for a whole year. We got to see Momo when we arrived in Tokyo nearly 2 weeks ago, but yesterday Hiroshi had the day off work (to save energy, he’s are working on the weekend instead because there’s a lower draw on the electrical grid) so he could join us. 
Momo started out by giving us some yummy dried peaches to munch & a jar of home-made marmalade from mikan (kind of like oranges) from her grandfather’s farm, plus some cute silicone bentou cups to take home & use. She also had some suica cards that we could use for the train rides that we couldn’t use our JR passes on. It’s very cool- you just swipe them past the sensor & not only does it automatically deduct your fare, but on the way out of the gate it gives you an update on the status of your card, which can be re-loaded. Very useful!
We headed-out for the subway & start our journey to Akihabara, which is sort of the “electric town” in Tokyo. It’s a focal centre for anime & manga, which is why we were going, & also the Origami Kaikan (Origami Centre) is there, which was our first stop. Going into the subways there are a lot of stairs (the escalators are mostly for the trip up- a good thing, really) because you’re going down into the ground.

 The newer the line, the deeper you have to go, so just getting to the trains was quite a trip for me, with my gammy leg. We changed once & then were there, at Ochanomizu station. 
These flowers are made entirely from tiny origami cranes!

The Origami Kaikan was a few blocks away. It was established in 1859 on the site of a washi paper business, & beautiful paper is still dyed on site, but there’s also an exhibit gallery, classrooms for learning origami, & a shop selling papers & books. I will be honest, my main objective was the shop because it’s hard to find good origami books where I live. I’ve been doing origami since I was 8 years old (45 years!) & I still adore it. I found a book of sutsumu patterns (decorative wrapping for gifts, folded paper boxes) & also a book of patterns for origami Jyunishi- the Chinese zodiac animals. Now I can fold my own every year for display :) Plus I found a packet of very pretty paper- there were lots of packets of very pretty paper, so it was hard to choose one, but I managed. 
Seen on the way to the Anime Centre
Next we got back on the train to Akihabara Station, where we walked just about a block to the building housing the Tokyo Anime Centre. Right now, there isn’t much there (they seem to be in the midst of expanding) but their biggest exhibit right now is for one of my favourite current anime, Hanasaku Iroha, so I was happy. 
The building also had a couple of floors of restaurants, so we decided on a soba noodle place for lunch. It was yummy! 
Next we stopped across the street to otaku-haunt Animate. There I found the most recent Jump magazine plus a couple of souvenirs for Brendan & me. Next we poked around Aihabara until we found a wonderful little sweets shop that Charlie read about in a guide book. It’s called Takemura & has been there since the 1930’s selling anmitsu & all sorts of seasonal sweets. It was really neat. There was a tatami room right next to where we were sitting, very old & pretty. I found anmitsu without the ice cream (so my tummy was happy :) & they had kuromitsu (black sugar) syrup to pour over it. Charlie was ready to order another little pitcher of kuromitsu just to drink...
Then we decided to head back to the apartment for a rest before dinner. Unfortunately, the hustle & bustle of Akihabara wasn’t to Brendan’s liking, so it was time to rest & recharge. It was another 2 trains & a lot of walking before we got back, so I was very happy with our decision! It’s the most walking I’ve done since we got here, I think, & my feet hurt!
While we were sitting around, Hiroshi mentioned that he’d heard that the Tokyo tower’s very top antenna had bent during the March 11th earthquake. Charlie was intrigued by this, so they decided to walk over, it’s just a few blocks away, & check it out. Momo, Brendan & I were quite happy to sit & rest. When they got back, it turned out to be true! They couldn’t get a good picture of it, but you didn’t even need binoculars to see a distinct bend in the top of the tower. 
Tokyo Tower night view
We decided to get adventurous for dinner & take the train to an okonomiyaki restaurant for dinner. Okonomiyaki means “cooked as you like it” & is a big pancake made of batter & cabbage, with the addition of your choice of vegetables, bacon, or seafood. Momo & I have made it together, but Charlie, Brendan & I have never felt comfortable ordering it ourselves because we weren’t sure we could find something without meat or seafood for Brendan to eat. With Momo & Hiroshi’s help we knew we could manage it, so Momo found one on the internet, in nearby Roppongi, & we headed out.
subway advert- everybody's excited about Harry!
Two trains & half a block later we were there, a small place on the second floor of a building (something we’re not used to in the US, but it’s very common in Japan to find shops & restaurants above street level in small buildings, probably because land is at a premium here). It was early so we didn’t have to wait to be seated at a teppan (hot plate) table. They had a menu in English that we could look at, & Momo discovered that they also serve monja at this restaurant- yay! Monja is a variation on okonomiyaki, a looser assemblage of batter, veggies, & meat or seafood, that you eat with little shovels right off the teppan. They also had tofu that they fried for Brendan, & edamame, which made him really happy :) 

After Brendan’s tofu, they made the monja, which was qute an experience to eat. It was delicious!! 
eating monja

Then they made a bacon okonomiyaki, which Charlie really enjoyed. And then we finished with a seafood okonomiyaki, which I loved. They top the okonomiyaki with sauce (like sweet worcestershire sauce), mayonnaise, & dried bonito flakes, which “dance” in the heat from the teppan. It was all so yummy!!!

okonomiyaki ready to eat
For the trip home, Hiroshi figured out a way that we could do it on one train, & we found another station close to our apartment that we can use now. Hurray! We all stopped in the conbini nearby (we needed breakfast food) & then said goodbye for today. Momo is taking me to a kimono flea market Sunday morning (squeee!) so we’ll see her again soon. Hiroshi has to go to work tomorrow, though. What a lovely day we had today!! Thanks, guys! 

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