Friday, March 10, 2017

Japan 2017 Day 3: Trains, Trains, & more Trains!

Well, I thought I'd sleep through the night, I was so tired, but I really should remember by now that it takes a few days to get used to reversing my days & nights. In other words, we were up early again!  Ah well...

We breakfasted on french pastries we bought yesterday in a Takashimaya's basement patisserie (yum!) and then prepared to leave the  hotel at 9:00 am to head for Shinjuku Station to activate our Japan Rail passes & arrange for lots of train trips. All of our visits to Japan have involved traveling from place to place, but this trip really takes the cake, train trip-wise. Tomorrow we are leaving Tokyo to visit our friend Tomoko, who lives north of Tokyo, in Kanazawa. Next Wednesday we take the train to Matsumoto, a small town near Kanazawa, for a couple days' visit because it looked interesting. Friday we take multiple trains from Matsumoto to Nikko, which is east of Matsumoto, to meet up with our friends Momo & Hiroko & their kids for a long weekend together. The following Monday we take multiple trains back to Tokyo, meet our friend Marian, who lives in Tokyo, and then all three of us take a long trip south, to Matsuyama, on the island of Shikoku. We'll be visiting with our friend Yuka there. A couple days later we take multiple trains back to Tokyo, for a weekend of shopping & to see Momo & her family again. Then that Monday, the 27th, we fly home. Whew!!!

We arrived at the travel arrangements office, to discover a fairly long line & a sign warning that they were busy & would only be able to activate JR passes & make your first train reservations for you. You'd have to visit another office to complete any more reservations. Fortunately, Charlie had researched everything ahead of time & written it all down. The ticket agents all speak English & are very patient & make the reservations quickly. Our agent offered to make a few more reservations than the sign offered, which was very sweet.

Then we crossed the road to another part of Shinjuku Station, found another reservations office, & made the rest of the reservations. It took 1 1/2 hours! But we have all the tickets we need for the whole trip, so it was really worth it. Marion had warned us that, with the kids on school break, the trains might be busier than usual. She's lived in Japan for 20-ish years, so we take her advice seriously. (In Japan, the first day of school is April 1st, & school lets out for a break in mid-March.)

After hitting Starbucks for another Green Tea Latte, & returning to the hotel to regroup, we got ready to go back to Shinjuku Station to take the Yamanote train to Ikebukuro & the Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo! I have been looking forward to this for months! Ten years ago, on our first visit to Japan, we visited the Pokemon Center in it's previous (& smaller) location near Tokyo Station. It moved a few years ago to larger space in Ikebukuro's Sunshine City, a large building housing stores, restaurants, & entertainment centers. I used google maps to find our way from Ikebukuro Station to Sunshine City. Once we got to Sunshine City we could tell we were getting close to the Pokemon Center by the Pokeballs on the ceiling over the escalator, & the Pokemon on the walls.

And then we were there!

I had been hoping to find some dvd's of recent seasons of the anime, but it was strictly "goods" (which is how the Japanese refer to merchandise with characters on it). No worries :) There was so much cute stuff there!! I was happy to browse the store & Charlie was really happy to find places to sit outside the store. Everyone was happy!

When I was shopped-out we found some lunch at a restaurant there called the "Sun Room" (さん るーむ in kana). They didn't have an English menu, but I was able to request a meal without meat in Japanese. It makes me so happy when folks understand me & I can have a conversation!

I had fish, rice, soup, pickles, hijiki, & tofu.

 Charlie had a burger made with grains & pork, salad, tofu, soup, rice, & pickles. It was yummy!

Then we headed back to the station by way of Animate, a store that sells anime goods, & Yuzawaya, Japan's answer to JoAnn Fabrics :) Animate is 8 floors of stuff & it got so overwhelming I didn't buy anything. I had better luck at Yuzawaya & found some sock wool that I'd been looking for. By then we were really dragging, so it was back to the station & the train to Shinjuku & our hotel.

In the afternoon we tried to sleep some more, with varying results. Around 5:00 we went back to the upper floors of Takashimaya to a soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant that we often go to when we're here. This afternoon I took some photos of Takashimaya Times Square from the 20th floor lobby of our hotel (it's the top floors of an office building).

If you look down from there you can see the walkway over multiple train tracks leading to & from Shinjuku Station.

From our restaurant on the 13th floor of the Takashimaya building, I got some nice photos looking back at our hotel (the tall, skinny building- the darker stripe on the right is the bank elevators to the 20th floor lobby). and more of the nearby buildings as the sun was setting.

For dinner I had a favorite, nabe (pronounced "nah-bay") with soba noodles, mochi, & tofu. This restaurant makes their own noodles by hand, so they're very tender. Nabe is the generic term for food simmered in broth in a clay pot. Mochi is rice that has been pounded until it's very smooth & elastic. It doesn't have a strong flavor, but they flame-broil it to soften it & give it a toasty flavor & then put it in hot soup broth, which tastes just lovely. I joked with the host there that it's uncommon for an American to like mochi (it gives Charlie the shivers :).

Charlie had steak over rice, with a side of cold soba noodles, which get dipped in broth, and a salad. I've been really looking forward to this meal & it didn't disappoint!

On our way back down the escalators we stopped in the stationery department of Tokyu Hands, which sits right on the other side of the escalators from Takashimaya. Tokyu Hands has floors devoted to specific things, like household goods, kitchen goods, stationery, & geeky stuff. Stationery & geeky stuff are my favorites, & since a lot of merchandise in Japan is seasonal, I wanted to see what was there. There were scads of sakura-themed stickers,  origami paper, writing paper with cherry blossom motifs, and all of it either cute or gorgeous. Charlie stuck with me through stationery, but headed back to the hotel while I browsed the geeky stuff. A lot of my early browsing is to prepare me for the final gift-buying right before we come home (when the presents I've brought for folks here are no longer in the luggage!), but I did get some fun (mostly flat) stuff today.

Now we are getting ready to rest for the night, hoping to sleep longer tonight, & hoping that everything will fit back in our luggage, as we head to Kanazawa tomorrow to spend a few days with our friend & very first Japanese teacher, Tomoko. 

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