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Japan 2014 — Day 14: Tokyo — Nakano, Kichijoji, Roppongi

A quick look at the weath­er fore­cast tells us that the weath­er is cloudy but not rainy today so we spend it explor­ing the shop­ping streets of Nakano, the young and hip hangout of Kichijoji, and the Christmas lights in Roppongi.

But first, break­fast! Our room in our Kyabacho hotel included break­fast. It’s not par­tic­u­larly Japanese but we wouldn’t say no to free break­fast. There are two choices avail­able — the crois­sant (which D chooses) and the toast and egg (which I choose). Both come with salad and a drink. We passed on the salad but the toast and crois­sant were tasty enough to pad our stom­achs for snack­ing later.

Nakano

Outside Nakano Station, we spot a Kinokuniya store. Only it’s not a book store like we’re used to, but a bakery!

Adjacent to the sta­tion is the covered shop­ping Street abuzz with people.

It’s not long before D spots a takoy­aki store, Gindaco. This is also the chain that sold west/​East takoy­aki at the Skytree branch. Alas, they didn’t have that nov­elty here. We lament that even though they are served hot, they cooled down really quickly which was unlike the ones we like in Osaka.

From what I’ve read, Nakano Broadway was built to be an apart­ment com­plex, but the idea was later aban­doned and the space was repur­posed into the shop­ping mall, or an otaku mecca. This explains the small bal­conies above the shops and the rel­at­ively low ceil­ings of each floor.

Near the entrance to Nakano Broadway we spot anoth­er optic­al store with an ultra­son­ic clean­er out front for pass­ers-by to clean their glasses. We’d seen them before but this is the first time we’d tried using it. And now we’re hooked onto the idea using an ultra­son­ic clean­er to clean glasses and jew­ellery — so much so that we bought one not two months since return­ing from Japan.

Shortly inside Nakano Broadway, we see a cafe with a “Cosplay vis­it­ing okay” sign stuck next to its door. At this point we had no idea that we had just walked into an otaku mecca and found the sign quirky and amus­ing (it still is!). A lot of the shops in Nakano Broadway weren’t open yet (they open at 12pm!), but from what we saw, it felt like a more man­age­able ver­sion of Akihabara, which was really quite over­whelm­ing for a non-otaku vis­it­ing an otaku para­dise.

By then we’d reached the end of the shop­ping street and made our way back to the train sta­tion to go to Kichijoji, a couple of sta­tions down the line.

Kichijoji

First stop in Kichijoi is Inokashira Park. At the top of the stone steps lead­ing to park, is the newly rebuilt Iseya Honten, a place famed for its yakitori. We’d planned for a quick snack here, think­ing it’d be more of a food stall than a res­taur­ant, but the lines were very long, so we passed.

It’s still the tail end of autumn — isn’t the autum­nal foliage just breath­tak­ing? It isn’t half as gor­geous in Australia alas.

It was rain­ing the day before so the ground was still wet and muddy, but the park was still immensely crowded. It’s par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with cre­at­ive types — people set up tables selling their paint­ings or crafts, while oth­ers brought their gui­tars to play.

The park is centred on a lake that con­nects to Kanda River. You can rent boats to paddle around the lake. There’s a myth, though, that couples who go on the lake will break up because the god­dess becomes jeal­ous of their hap­pi­ness. The boats were quite expens­ive to rent, and coupled with my mild super­sti­tion, we walked around the lake instead.

They take par­tic­u­lar care of the trees in the park it seems. I’m not sure what the mater­i­al wrap­ping the trees were for but I do know that they do it to pro­tect the trees from the harsh winter cold in parts of Japan. The oth­er con­trap­tion seemed to keep the tree from fall­ing over.

The walk around the park was quite beau­ti­ful. There’s a walk­way right next to the lake on the less crowded side of the park (the side without the entrance to the park) with park benches for you to have a pic­nic (as some did) while enjoy­ing the sur­rounds or people watch­ing.

After tak­ing a lap of the park, we reach the zoo. We don’t go in though — instead we buy ice cream from the Lotte vend­ing machine (Y150). We settled on the Choco Chip Choco Monaka, after see­ing the soda pops­icle in its glor­i­ous blue col­our sold out. But that’s all right, you can nev­er go wrong with chocol­ate.

There’s a cafe off the park — it’s com­pletely full, but that doesn’t stop people from join­ing the long queue out­side. I’ve found that Japanese people are very accus­tomed to queuing for pretty much everything in a super organ­ised man­ner! Near the entrance to the zoo, we saw a lady selling some huge mit­arashi dango.

After the park, we headed back towards the sta­tion in search of lunch. The area was super packed with people. The rather nar­row street above is a one way street, so whenev­er a bus needed to travel down, it had loud speak­ers blar­ing telling ped­es­tri­ans that, ‘a bus is com­ing through, please take care’. If that wasn’t enough, there were also two traffic con­trol­lers herd­ing the remain­ing people off the road.

We chose Sanuki Udon Hanamaru, an express udon joint, for lunch. I ordered a small udon with sides of sweet potato tem­pura, potato cro­quette and an extra soft boiled egg. The small udon wasn’t quite enough but the sides made up for the extra room! D ordered a large udon with a side of giant octopus tentacle. While my udon was a tad small, D found his so filling that he swore he would not eat udon for a very long time after this! I’d always been curi­ous about the giant octopus you see sold in Japanese super­mar­kets and it turns out that they’re really quite tough (under­stand­ably).

After lunch we explore the north­ern side of the sta­tion, par­tic­u­larly the shops in and around Sunroad Shopping Street. There’s a large num­ber of shops selling second hand goods, which con­trib­uted to the bohemi­an vibe of the area.

We headed back towards the sta­tion in search of the Nana’s Green Tea that we spot­ted on the way. The shop over­looked the train plat­forms so we chose a seat next to the win­dow to check out the view. D ordered an iced mocha.

The main reas­on why we sought out Nana’s Green Tea, how­ever, was to try out more of their par­faits. We’d tried the black ses­ame par­fait back on Nagoya, and this time we tried the hojicha par­fait. The hojicha was mainly in the hojicha ice cream, and the nutty fla­vour of roas­ted green tea was quite evid­ent and deli­cious! We enjoy the taste and smell of hojicha immensely, so it was almost cer­tain we’d enjoy the ice cream. It’s a real pity that I’ve nev­er seen hojicha ice cream any­where else.

We headed over to Book Off to check out some learn­ing Japanese books for English learners before mak­ing our way to the sta­tion to catch the train to Roppongi for some Christmas lights!

Roppongi

Our interest in Roppongi is on the same level as Odaiba — some­where we wouldn’t mind see­ing but don’t want to go out of way just to explore. So going there to see the Christmas lights seemed as good a reas­on as any to check the area out.

Our first des­tin­a­tion were the lights at Mid Town. These are the lights out­side entrance from the sub­way exit — the Welcome Illumination (top) and the Welcome trees (bot­tom left and right) The trees are decked out in LEDs, and addi­tion­al Christmas trees are placed along the walk to the street.

After walk­ing past a Mercedes Benz deal­er on the street level of Mid Town (we were obvi­ously in the wrong part of Tokyo for shop­ping!), we reach the Midtown Garden Tree Illumination where the trees at the entrance to the garden are dec­or­ated so as to appear like ‘candles float­ing in the dark­ness’ (top). A bit past the entrance, is the Miracle Tree (bot­tom, left), a tree that is more than 40 years old and exis­ted before Tokyo Midtown was built.

There’s a large num­ber of people see­ing the lights, many of them speak­ing Japanese too. Walking amidst the lights with the sky­scrapers fad­ing into the dark­ness you could almost pre­tend you weren’t in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Further along the walk, we reach Starlight Road, a path­way of ‘glit­ter­ing white and blue lights’, as well as the Champagne Illumination where the trees are decked out to look like the shape of a cham­pagne glass, and the droplights give the illu­sion of snow. Drop lights seemed to be all the rage in Christmas dec­or­a­tions in Japan.

The Starlight Garden, how­ever, is the main attrac­tion. A field covered in lights that give a light show on loop to accom­pa­ny­ing music. The music’s quite soft, and wasn’t half as relax­ing at the music accom­pa­ny­ing the light show in Namba Parks in Osaka. We watched the show twice — the first time behind a crowd of people, and the second right in front of the dis­play after the crowds from the first show­ing had left.

As testi­mony to the amaz­ing low light qual­it­ies of my Sony RX100 III, the cam­era took a photo of the field with all the lights out in pitch black­ness to show the set up with clar­ity.

Afterwards we make our first for­ay into Mid Town, which con­firms our pre­vi­ous con­clu­sion that there’s really not much of interest to us in Roppongi. But the Christmas lights were well worth the trip. Inside we see the Diamond Dust Christmas dec­or­a­tions, which attempts to recre­ate the nat­ur­al phe­nomen­on of dia­mond dust cre­ated by ice and light dur­ing harsh win­ters.

We walk towards Mori Tower to check out the lights there. We’re quite dis­ap­poin­ted though because it con­sisted of only a Christmas tree! To be fair, the tree isn’t your tra­di­tion­al leafy Christmas tree but a laser cut of intric­ate pat­terns that show them­selves when the light with­in changes col­our.

The art geek in me was pleas­antly sur­prised to see Louise Bourgeois’s Maman at the base of the tower. I nev­er expec­ted to like see­ing the sac of spider eggs, and see­ing it in per­son just con­firmed that! They were host­ing a whisky tast­ing fest­iv­al of some sort under­neath and around it.

From one of the vant­age points, we get a good view of Tokyo Tower.

And it’s din­ner time and we finally tick Mos Burger off our list. The entire time in Japan I was keen to fill up on mel­on soda every chance I got so the bright green soft drink appears again!

D opts for a meat set that comes with a piece of flattened fried chick­en. We eagerly try to fol­low the ibysrycukns on the pack­aging on how to eat it without dirty­ing your hands, but fail to rip it neatly. Ah well!

I tried the ori­gin­al Mos Burger (above, left), while D tried the shrimp bur­ger. The ori­gin­al Mos bur­ger is some­thing like spa­ghetti bolognaise in a bur­ger — a beef patty with a meaty tomato sauce. If they’d just cut down on the onion they piled into the bur­ger, it’d have been per­fect! D and I both agree that Mos Burger is bet­ter than Lotteria — the bur­gers are big­ger at the least! A quick look at the weath­er fore­cast tells us that the weath­er is cloudy but not rainy today so we spend it explor­ing the shop­ping streets of Nakano, the young and hip hangout of Kichijoji, and the Christmas lights in Roppongi.