Up until now, we’d mostly visited parts of Tokyo either on the Yamanote Line or outside of its loop. So, it was time to see some of the places inside the Yamanote Line, like the university towns. But before that, we needed to change hotels. We extended our stay by a couple of days after booking the first hotel in Tokyo, but didn’t manage to extend the stay in the first hotel. Just before the rain settled in for the day, we moved from Ueno to Kyabacho.
Our Kyabacho hotel was a mere 1 – 2 minute walk from Kyabacho Station, 3 cafes and an udon restaurant. We hadn’t had breakfast yet, and I was convinced that Caffe Veloce had a pasta menu (like Cafe de Crie and Cafe Pronto). D insisted that they didn’t, but humoured me. It turned out he was right (of course), but he did get to try the coffee jelly. My previous experience with coffee jelly (the instant kind you get in Hong Kong) was not promising, so I wasn’t keen to try it but it tasted nothing like the instant stuff! It wasn’t sweetened, and I’d say too bitter on its own, but the soft serve balanced the flavours beautifully. I ordered the iced cafe mocha that D ordered the first time we visited.
Powered on coffee, we caught the subway to Iidabashi Station to begin our walk to Takadanobaba.
It started to bucket down once we reached Iidabashi, so we took refuge by having that pasta breakfast I wanted at Cafe de Crie. I love the idea of chain cafes having a pasta menu — I’d be over the moon if this took off in Australia! D ordered a bacon cabonara (above, bottom, left), while I ordered ragu. Yum!
Our plans to sit out the rain didn’t work — it only poured even harder after we resumed. We were keen to see this part of Tokyo though, so we pressed on armed with our umbrellas. Whereas all road work grinds to a halt in Australia, the workers power through in Tokyo — it looked like they were putting in a traffic light. But hey, rain can’t be too bad if you’re cutting concrete, seeing as they usually wet the ground when cutting into it anyway.
We also passed by a fire station (above, bottom, left) and a police station (above, bottom, right). I guess a police box is more accurate though, as the space is absolutely tiny.
A short walk later we reached Kagurazaka and Waseda-dori, the main road that connects through to Takadanobaba and beyond.
It’s cold and it’s wet, and I indulged my love for corn soup by trying it from a vending machine. It quite all right — it’s really corn pottage which is slightly more watery than the corn soup that we’re used to in the West.
There’s also a bunch of small super markets and shops. I spot a shop selling some orange and carrot tea. I love tea, but honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to try carrot tea.
Once we hit Kagurazaka station I know we’re close to mojo, a coffee house that has its origins in New Zealand. We took a detour off the main road to search for it and pass by a shrine. Past the shrine, we head down some steep roads — we had only a map to go by but the environment seemed suited to a hipster cafe so we press on, and we see it!
mojo is located in quite a quiet area that’s quite residential. I’m not sure you’d be able to just stumble upon it unless you knew or its existence. The staff were very friendly towards us and quite curious as to where we were from and what we were doing in the area, especially on a super rainy day.
The small interior is decorated in typical hipster fashion with coffee cups hanging on the back wall.
D ordered a latte while I ordered a hot chocolate. I’m particularly sensitive to caffeine so one coffee a day is about as much as I can handle without getting tachycardia.
Of course there’s a premium to be paid for coffee in a hipster cafe, but I think it was well worth it — D’s latte was perfectly brewed, bitter but without any of the sourness that comes with over/under extraction. And my hot chocolate? That was definitely one of the best hot chocolate I’ve had — the flavour we rich and smooth without the grittiness of powdered hot chocolate.
After we’d defrosted and dried off somewhat, we’re back on the road. There’s quite a lot of residential places between the two places but we do spot some affordable restaurants (being university areas) and a tiny red car decked our in Disney decal.
We spot one shop with a sign called kuma (bear) though we couldn’t figure out what services or goods they provided. We later head into a supermarket and see this bear on a box of tomatoes, amongst other things — he seems to be quite the celebrity because we see him everywhere.
This was also supermarket that sold one of the tastiest (and probably unhealthiest) kushiage made of the fatty bit of a chicken wing! That’s our absolute favourite part of a chicken wing and we enjoy every last bite of this Y87 stick of deliciousness. We were so keen to eat it that it was all in our tummies before we remembered. Yes.
We also stop by a Daiso in search for some waterproof spray for our shoes. The rain hasn’t let up all day, and our feet are starting to feel damp. But what do you know? Of course, after we buy it, and apply it to our shoes, it stops raining and the sun comes out!
There are at least half a dozen supermarkets on Waseda-dori, all catering to university students with their disproportionately large alcohol/snack selection.
On the footpath there’s what appears to be a community garden of sorts.
And further along, there’s a temple that’s been recently built, but still retains aspects of traditional temple architecture.
I love autumnal colours — the red, the orange, the green. It’s completely breathtaking and would be even more so against a bright blue sky.
We see some modern university buildings.
And the sun made its way through the clouds in all its blinding glory.
We pass by this restaurant (above, left) that looks rather out of place among the tall concrete buildings living Waseda-dori. And then we see this rather cute sign (above, right) outside another. I love that the Japanese can make ordinary, everyday things look cute, without looking juvenile.
Only a couple of stores past this restaurant (above, left), I serendipitously stumble across a cafe that made the entire 4.5km walk from Iidabashi to Takadanobaba worth it, and so very glad that we didn’t give up half way on account of the rain.
I saw a sign for a ‘Polar Bear Cafe’, and given my penchant for bears and the anime by the same name — Shirokuma Cafe, which translates to Polar Bear Cafe — I take a closer look. And what do I know? It’s an official cafe themed on the anime!
Shirokuma Cafe, as Wikipedia neatly summarises, ‘revolves around the everyday lives of a group of animals mingling with humans at a cafe run by a polar bear’. Of course a cafe in Real Life has to be run by humans. So, in keeping with the theme, all the staff dress up as Sasako, the human girl who works at the cafe, in her red bandana, black apron, white shirt, and black waist coat.
The menu has food items featuring the characters — the polar bear, the panda, the penguin, the llama, and the grizzly bear. So cute!
Next to the counter, there are life-size soft toy versions of the penguin and panda sitting at the counter with their habitual orders of cafe mocha (for penguin) and bamboo shoots (for panda) just as they appeared in the anime.
I order a roll cake (above, left), while D has his second coffee jelly for the day. The cake and the cream is deliciously fluffy, while D tells me his jelly tastes like the one from Caffe Veloce. Of course, it’s more expensive being a themed cafe, but it was so much fun!
The table numbers feature the grizzly bear, while each purchase gives one shake of a dice that decides which complimentary coaster you receive. We got the llama and the tapir.
After the Polar Bear Cafe, we head to JR Takadanobaba Station to catch the train to Shinjuku. The theme music from Astro Boy is played prior to each train departure from the Yamanote Line platform as an homage to the series being set in the Takadanobaba area.
We explored Shinjuku on our previous trip, so this time around we were here for a more specific purpose — to visit the restaurant Zauo, which is located in the Washington Hotel in the skyscraper district. Its very close to the rather grand Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (above).
Zauo is a fishing themed restaurant — you catch the fish you want to order from the water before giving the live fish to a staff member, specifying which two of the four available methods you want your fish cooked.
The dining area is inside a wooden boat. The boat is surrounded by water from which you go fishing. We sat in a rather secluded area in the bow of the boat. You can also dine in private rooms and fish from your own window, but we liked our spot in the bow, which gave a good view of everything happening in the restaurant.
You can purchase bait (Y100) and use a fishing rod to fish, or like us, use a net. The menu allows you to order without catching your own fish. It’s more expensive — for example, a red sea bream is Y3200 as ordered, but only Y2380 if caught yourself. I think that’s fair — ordering directly defeats the purpose of visiting the restaurant!
We caught a red sea bream, and chose to have it prepared as sashimi and grilled. Fresh sashimi from a fish that was just alive ten minutes ago is amazing. The flavour and texture was so deliciously crisp and fresh, it blew my mind. It also tasted a billion times better than the fish we had at Tsukiji Fish Market. The fish here was how I expected the fish at Tsukiji Fish Market to taste like, except it didn’t. This was absolutely amazing, and at a fraction of the price.
And the grilled fish, also! I’m not usually fond of cooked fish — when asked if I like fish, I always tell people that I only like it raw. But this grilled sea bream so super tasty. So tasty that D and I were desperately scraping off the last bits of fish stuck to the bone. Now if all cooked fish tasted like this, I’d eat it every day.
Amazing as it was, it was still early on in the evening, so we saved some space for a proper dinner.
After browsing around and attempting to find Bicqlo (the Bic Camera and Uniqlo collaboration), we were on our way towards a udon restaurant that made fresh to order udon. We were exhausted from our walk earlier on in the day, though, and seeing Coco Ichibanya Curry House a.k.a one of our favourite restaurants on the way, we cut our evening short and indulged in some heart warming curry. Yes, D and I order the same dish every time!
When we switched trains on the way home, we walked through Ootemori Station. The station was recently renovated and very elegant with its stone interior and stylish Christmas trees.