Japan 2014 — Day 13: Tokyo — Iidabashi, Kagurazaka, Waseda, Takadanobaba, Shinjuku

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.

Iidabashi

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.

Kagurazaka

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.

Waseda

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.

Takadanobaba

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.

Shinjuku

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.