Once we’d reached Tokyo, our days became a lot more relaxed. This was due to the relative proximity of everything in Tokyo, the absence of any prebooked events, and unexpectedly, the buckets of rain coming down that was most uncharacteristic for almost-winter in Japan. Thankfully, the rain had held off during those day trips we made to Takayama and Gujo. In Tokyo though, there’s plenty to do indoors and Sky Tree Town was on the agenda.
Sky Tree Town was a mere 20 minutes away and didn’t open until 10 AM, so we had breakfast around our hotel beforehand. I had bought an apple custard pie the night before from Coco Francs at Shiodome. We had bought it cold from a bakery, so we ate it cold (the tag said to keep it below 10 degrees, which we did), but the innards had all sunken to the bottom, so it wasn’t all that tasty. Maybe we shouldn’t have left it overnight? Anyway, D and I really like our apple pastries, but they disappoint.
D had a craving for a crab croquette burger at McDonald’s. We were a bit early, so they were still serving their breakfast menu. Not to worry, though, ’cause it meant we finally we got to try this chocolate pie. It was so deliciously hot and chocolatey, I could’ve gone for seconds!
Once the lunch menu kicked in, D ordered his crab croquette burger. I wasn’t going to have much more for breakfast as I wanted to save my stomach for the snacking I anticipated doing at Sky Tree Town. But that was to change — D had ordered his burger with cheese, but they had given him a cheese-less burger. He didn’t think much of it — there’s only so much you can convey in a different language — until 10 minutes later when he’d eaten half his burger, the girl at the cash register brought him a second burger and apologised for the lack of cheese. D puts down his initial burger, expecting them to take it back, but they don’t so he’s left with two and I end up eating more breakfast than I anticipated. The crab croquette, though, was really quite yum!
It’s a rather miserable day in Tokyo. We watch from the window in McDonald’s as the rain comes down. From the same window, I spotted a couple of blue buses with ‘Sky Tree Town’ painted on them, suggesting that there’d be a shuttle bus of some sort between Ueno Station (to our left) to Sky Tree Town (to our right). So after breakfast, we walked to Ueno Station and made use of their free wifi to find out that it’s cheaper to catch the bus than the subway. We hadn’t come across this tip in our reading into Sky Tree Town, so win! The bus stop is just outside the Ueno Station exit to Ueno Park. The bus comes every 20 minutes, and we’d arrived just in time.
The bus takes you to the entrance of Tokyo Skytree, so we have a look at the exhibits. There’s a long mural of the Tokyo area around the tower drawn in a style that borrows traditional Japanese painting styles with more modern techniques of illustration and animation.
The architects have also left the base of the tower in full view behind glass — the base of the tower is triangular before gradually becoming circular towards the top. Text on the glass also explains the features of the tower, such as the mechanisms that respond to lightning strikes (given that it is, after all, the tallest tower in the world, and the second tallest structure in the world).
You can go up the tower to get some magnificent views of Tokyo. But we decide not to — it’s raining and visibility would’ve been terrible.
One level above, in the foyer to the ticket area, we see different artistic interpretations of Tokyo Skytree.
Surrounding the base of Tokyo Skytree is the Tokyo Solamachi, a large shopping mall with almost every shop you could possibly want to visit. On the basement floor, as ever, is the food. This specialty supermarket (above, left), is one of a handful of places where I bought an obscene amount of tea. But that’s for another day. We did also buy fancy lemonade in a glass bottle. We’d intended to drink it at the tables in the food section, so we were a bit amused when they wrapped in bubble wrap.
Christmas seems to be closely associated with dreams in Japan — a large number of shopping centres used dreams as their theme. I didn’t see too many Christmas festivities going on in Tokyo Solamachi, but they did decorate a tree with pretty drop lights. Notice also how the detailing on the area between the two floors is reminiscent of the exterior structure of Skytree, and trees in general.
I love that Japan has character stores. And Rilakkuma is one of my favourite characters. He has a dedicated store at Tokyo Solamachi, with the cutest merchandise of him dressed as a station master and as a shinkansen!
On every floor of Tokyo Solamachi you can see outside, which is uncharacteristic of a shopping mall, and view the streets down below.
There’s a shop selling candy jewellery. The charms are made of real candy that has been coated in resin. Another shop sells the most beautiful hair pins. Unfortunately, my hair is too long for the hair pin I wanted to buy, and the longer ones weren’t beautiful enough to tempt me to spend ¥3000.
This is the first of two Calbee+ stores we’ll visit. Here, we try the hot poterico salad chips, which we’d tried from the supermarket the previous week. Here, we saw our chips made to order, from the deep-frying through to seasoning and the precise weighing of the chips that go into each order. They are super tasty hot and fresh, and a far cry from the prepackaged version.
There’s store dedicated to wax food replicas. I’d previously bought one of their kits in Gujo to make curry rice, and surprisingly the kit costs exactly the same in Tokyo Solamachi. This store does have some interesting items on sale though, like the jagaimo (oh look at that butter!), and the three plates of stew showing the carrots in various human poses (for ¥80,000).
Here’s a view of the outdoor bus stops from a wifi corner in Tokyo Solamachi.
Tokyo Banana is a popular a souvenir sweet from Tokyo. Now, the short expiry date (7 days) meant it wasn’t going to be a souvenir, but more for my own personal curiosity as to the hype around it. This is the Tokyo Banana Tree, a limited edition available only at Tokyo Skytree. Unlike the original (white coloured sponge with banana cream filling), this edition has leopard print sponge with chocolate banana cream filling. The sponge was very fluffy (a result of steaming the sponge after baking it), although I couldn’t taste the chocolate in the filling. It’s certainly very pretty, and hence souvenir worthy, even if it tastes rather ordinary.
A lady standing outside a Japanese sweets store gives us a black sesame sweet to try. It’s interesting in that it looks like a mochi from the outside, but it’s really a biscuit encasing black sesame paste. In hindsight, this would’ve made a good souvenir for family members who are into Japanese sweets.
Outside a store that specialises in all kinds of salt, we see these coconut meringue crisps. I don’t know how salt has to do with these crisps, but they taste all right.
Inside the store, they sell salt for all occasions. Salt for use on tempura, on eggs, on rice. You name it, and they’d probably sell it. We were quite taken with the seaweed salt, though. We sprinkle it on shoe string fries. Yum!
Lunch times! We eat at Gyutan Rikyu, which specialises in beef tongue. We’d had it many years ago at C’s 21st birthday party and found its bitey, bouncy texture irresistible every since.
D and I order essentially the same meal, only mine has higher quality cuts of beef tongue (uh, I don’t know how that works) and fewer pieces. The difference in the two cuts is minimal — the higher quality cut is tad more bouncier on the teeth, but not significantly, so I’d have been just as satisfied with D’s meal. The beef tongue here was delicious, and I would love it eat it all the time!
The meal also came with barley rice and barley tail soup, as well as sides of a salad with slithers of silverside beef, marinated cubes of beef, and tororo (a food made with grating yams). The tororo is eaten mixed with soy sauce, but D and I found it so slimy to be unpalatable.
On the same floor as Gyutan Rikyu is a restaurant with a very pretty mural painted outside.
A floor down is a food museum that shows how certain food products that are central to the Japanese diet or culture (such as soy sauce, mirin, and drinks) looked when they were first produced as compared to how they look now. One of the more interesting ones to me was Mitsuya Cider (a citrusy soft drink with a distinctly non-Western taste) (above, left).
Attached to the food museum is a restuarant that serves ‘original recipes based on canned foods, like ‘thick bacon with boiled rice, topped with demi-glace sauce’. The ‘thick bacon’ looks very much like cubes of Spam.
By now, the rain has not stopped all day. We’re tired from looking around Tokyo Solamachi, so we settle into a Tully’s Coffee to recharge (and eat Tokyo Banana Tree cake). Getting to Tully’s Coffee involved going outside, and boy, was it cold and windy! D orders a cafe mocha and I order an uji matcha latte. I’ll admit I’m not that keen on green tea drinks at coffee shops, and that D’s drink always tastes better. But I was in Japan, and it tastes quite pleasant with sugar.
After our coffee break, we head back outside. The sun has set so we see the Christmas illuminations. It’s still raining heavily, but the pretty staircase entices us to go upstairs.
And I’m glad we did — Tokyo Skytree at night! The lighting on the tower can change according to seasons, but this blue is its ‘normal’ colour.
There are stalls set up around the space selling Christmas themed foods, but the heavy rain is a strong deterrent. The outdoor area is rather deserted.
We catch the Skytree Shuttle back towards Ueno, but on the spur of the moment, get off at Asakusa. We’d been to Asakusa and seen Sensoji temple and the streets around it during our last trip. We were just here to visit the 24/7 ROX department store and the 24 hour supermarket underneath.
It’s still pouring buckets. Even so, we decide to walk back because catching a subway one stop is really silly. On the way, we come across a piece of land that’s on sale. There’s always something interesting to see on Japanese streets, so we refrain from catching the subway for short distances like 1 stop.
After we drop our shopping off at the hotel, we head to Yoshinoya for some pork bowl. We both ordered a sukiyaki type meal with pork and bamboo shoots in a hot pot, rice, a raw egg, and pickles.
D and I were so confused as to what to do with the raw egg. Looking at the other people in the restaurant did not help, as they’d almost finished their meal. So, do you A) whisk the egg and pour it over your rice (like tamago kake gohan), or B) pour the egg whole into the hot pot so as to semi-cook it, or C) whisk the egg and dip the hot meat into it? D and I had no idea! So D ends up doing A, I end up doing B, and then half way through our meal, a salary man comes in and shows us the way it’s done — C! Ah, the staff must’ve been killing themselves laughing.