Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Japan 2015 Day 6: Pilgrimage to Ikebukuro

Hey! I slept until 6:30! This had better be a trend...

We began our day with a trip to Starbucks (while Brendan showered) to get breakfast. As we munched, sitting around the tiny hotel table, Charlie commented that it was just like camping, but with some of the best cooks in the world nearby...

This just in: we get to have another "first" experience in Japan. Typhoon Nangka is headed toward Kyoto, making landfall the day after we arrive...

On the good side of things, my fitbit says I've been walking more than 5 miles every day I've been in Japan. I sure as heck don't do that at home. Woot!

We had decided to spend today in visiting the Ikebukuro neighbourhood of Tokyo. One reason is that a favourite anime, Durarara, takes place in Ikebukuro & so I've been wanting to see it in real life & see if I recognise any places there. Another reason is that they have a Daiso (dollar store) & there were some things we wanted to pick up there. And then I'd read online that Ikebukuro has good kaiten- aka conveyor-belt- sushi places. We had asked our favourite American ex-pat, Marian, if she'd like to visit Ikebukuro with us & she had the afternoon free, so we agreed to meet at Ikebukuro Station. Marian is our next-door neighbour's daughter & has been working & living in Japan for 17 years. She teaches English at a high school in Tokyo & we have had fun visits with her every time we've visited Japan.

We left the hotel a bit early because we wanted to stop at Shinjuku Station & activate our Japan Rail passes, which will allow us to ride trains without paying for tickets for 2 weeks (we purchased the tickets a couple months ago). We were able to use them immediately to ride the JR Yamanote Line to Ikebukuro. We got there a bit early, & while waiting a rather wacky thing happened to me. A tv crew from the NHK was wandering around interviewing people about the hot weather we've been having lately, & when the guy saw me with my fan out (a lavender one I bought in Kyoto a few years ago & carry in my bag) he came over, established that I spoke Japanese, & proceeded to interview me about the hot weather. I was a little flustered, but Marian arrived while I was being interviewed & said I did just fine. I'll never know because we weren't home to see the segment on tv.

Our first order of business, after hugs, was to find the kaiten sushi place that Marian had researched on the internet.

It was on the top floor of a department store attached to the station so we found the elevator & headed up. When we got to the restaurant, even though it was just 11:30, there was a line along the front & around the corner in a little cul de sac. Luckily there were chairs all along the way, so we decided to wait. It was fun catching up while we sat in line.

After about 20 minutes the line started to move pretty quickly. And about 5 minutes after that we were being seated in a booth. The sushi rides all through the restaurant on a conveyor belt, going past all the booths & bar-style seating as well. You just grab the plates you want as they go by.

There was also a little computer screen at the table at which you could order sushi rolls, beverages (there was a hot water tap & powdered green tea, & cups, at every table), soup, & the like.

The special orders arrived by little trains that rolled above the conveyor belt.

There was a button that sent the trains back after you'd unloaded them. It was so cute! The food was really delicious! And there were things like french fries, salads, fried oysters, tenpura avocado, and tamago yaki (sweet rolled omelets) along with the sushi on the conveyor belt.

Each plate was colour-coded by price, & there was a chart at the table. When you were ready for the cheque, you pushed a button & the waitress arrived with a bar code reader to tally the plates & generate the bill. It was very cool!

After we ate, we walked through Ikebukuro, looking for Daiso.

I saw a place that I recognised from the anime!!!

That was very cool :)  We then went in search of the Daiso store. With a little help from the help desk, we found it & did some shopping for odds & ends, like socks for chair feet (only in Japan...).

Our next goal was to find the Traditional Arts & Crafts Centre. After trudging around & asking questions we decided that it had either moved, or was a highly classified government secret. Sigh. We were hot & tired & thirsty, so we looked for a cafe... & every one was either too crowded for 4 of us, or too smoky to enter. So we invited Marian back to Shinjuku where we know of a lovely place for yummy pastries & drinks- our local San Mark bakery. It was also too crowded to sit there, but we could do take away & go back to the hotel, which is exactly what we did. We munched & played a game of Chez Geek until about 5:30, when we decided to go to the Italian restaurant downstairs for dinner.

The restaurant not only had personal-sized pizzas, but pasta dishes & Italian tapas & salads. They also had one of the most hysterical English menus we'd ever seen. Look closely:

We laughed so hard we cried, & Marian & Brendan decided that the "oil source of hood hood bird and cabbage" (see bottom photo) really needs to be worked into a D&D campaign somehow. The funny thing is that all of the Japanese on the menus is pretty straightforward phonetic transcriptions of standard Italian foods. Go fig...

After dinner we walked Marian partway to Shinjuku Station, hugged, & then parted ways. If she has time we may see her when we get back to Tokyo, but she actually comes to Rochester to visit her dad the day after we return home, so we'll see her soon :)

Charlie & I did some shopping for tomorrow & then we returned to the hotel room for the usual reading from Masquerade & getting ready for bed. Tomorrow we pack it all up & get ourselves to Tokyo Station to take the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. I had a phone chat with Momo this morning & we are all looking forward to meeting up in Kyoto later this week. On to the next adventure!!