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.
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.
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!
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.