The finale is here!
The shinkansen from Kyoto got us back to Tokyo around 6:30PM; we had about 48 hours left in Japan.
Upon exiting the shinkansen platforms, we found ourselves dumped out in front of Tokyo Station, which has just be re-revealed after being under refurbishment scaffolding for years. Pretty, no?
We took the subway from Tokyo Station to Shinjuku, since this Tokyo Metro line was supposed to get us closer to our last (but not really!) hotel during our trip.
One thing I keep forgetting to mention is just how freaking WARM everything is kept in Japan. Stores, restaurants, public transportation, everything is seemingly kept around 78-80 degrees. Unlike Lance, I’m not somebody who complains about being warm all the time as it is; in fact, I’m often fairly cold due to lankiness-induced poor circulation. In Japan, though, even I was sweating through t-shirts while trying to help Lance sort through the Japanese cast recordings of Broadway musicals.
Our last hotel was the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which you may recognize as the setting for lots of weird May-December oogly-eye flirting in Lost in Translation. This hotel normally goes for $450-500 a night, but since I opened a Hyatt credit card (which came with no international service fees, which was crucial for our trip), I was given two free nights to use at any Hyatt property in the world. Since this hotel, according to TripAdvisor, is the nicest in Tokyo and we were looking to shave off as much cost to our trip as possible, it was a pretty easy decision.
Even though I felt guilty about the thought of staying in, neither of us really had the gumption to go out, especially since the hotel was located just far enough away from the main drag in Shinjuku to make it seem like kind of a pain. We decided to explore the hotel and possibly grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants.
As it turns out, once you start paying (or redeeming certificates worth) $450 a night for a hotel room, I guess the hotel just expects you to be loaded and walk around in three-piece suits and top hats or whatever and have diamond-encrusted money clips and stuff. The cheapest thing on any of the menus was well over $40, and since it was a Saturday night, all the restaurants were bustling with high-falootin’ richsters dressed to the nines.
Lance and I, in t-shirts and jeans, felt understandably out of place. So out of place, in fact, that Lance maybe sorta started having the littest bit of a panic attack.
“We have to get out of here!” he said. “We don’t belong here!”
“Oh, just relax, it’s fine,” I said, trying to reassure him as much as myself.
“I am hyperventilating. I feel like I’m wearing a potato sack around these people,” said Lance.
Sooo, instead of eating in the fancy restaurant (which, I should point out, both Bill and Scarlett showed up to in their pajamas!), Lance sent me out to get sodas from the 7-Eleven across the street, and then we ordered room service instead.
Yes, that’s a $35 hamburger, which we split since we’re poor and obviously don’t belong in this hotel.
The Park Hyatt Tokyo is a gorgeous, if a little “80’s” feeling, hotel, though, being the fanciest hotel we’ve ever stayed in, we definitely did not know how to act in such a place. What most people would consider as excellent customer service we found to be overbearing (just leave me alone!). I wish I could say we enjoyed staying there, given how much that room was worth, but it felt kind of suffocating. Again, like Magellan’s at DisneySea, this reaction is more the result of misaligned expectations than anything actually wrong with the hotel itself.
We headed out the next morning, our last full day in Tokyo, to try to hit up everything we (read: I) had still left on the list which hadn’t been crossed off yet.
Below: Starbucks Frappuccino “dessert beverage,” which had little coffee jellies in it. It was…kinda slimy.
Our first stop, even though it was raining, was Ueno Park, the first public park in Tokyo. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to use one of the few phrases I’d actually learned from my language CD: “Ueno koen-wa doku des ka??“
Above: we did see a good amount of cosplay during our trip, though this was the only Spider-Man we encountered.
The main reason I wanted to check out Ueno Park was because it was supposed to be chockablock full of temples and shrines, which I felt we were coming up a little short on so far on the trip.
This was not what I had in mind. What was this crap?
Then I turned around. Ah, that was more like it.
Of course, we were checking out all of these highly spiritual structures, and Lance gets more fulfillment and enjoyment out of this little kawaii smoke cloud with a bow in its hair (puff?) and giving a thumbs up. “TAKE A PICTURE OF THAAAAAAAAAT!” he demanded.
After Ueno Park, we headed back to the train station, looking for a place to eat:
The Lonely Planet guide recommended noodle shops in the Ginza area, and we’d enjoyed our last udon experience so much that we decided to hop the train down to that neighborhood. When the shops looked a little more sketchy than the gussied up photo in the guidebook, we ended up at a MOS Burger instead.
Ginza is one of the major shopping neighborhoods in Tokyo, though pretty much every neighborhood had shopping districts that made Philadelphia’s Walnut Street/Rittenhouse Square area look like a dirty alley.
For kelly bakes: THINK BEE!
Not too far from the Ginza area is the Imperial Palace area, where the actual emperor lives. Us regular folk aren’t allowed near the actual palace, but you can poke around the gardens and still get some decent shots. Unfortunately, our feet were starting to kill the both of us, so trying to find something that actually looked somewhat palace-y to take a photo of put us both in a foul mood.
We were both miserably in pain due to so much walking around the city, but there was one last thing I had to do that night. It was located in Akhihabara, Tokyo’s “Electric Town.”
Akhihabara is the area of Tokyo devoted to manga, anime, and electronics, as you can probably infer from these photos. Lots of arcades, manga cafes, and toy/figurine shops for the obsessive collector in your life.
…But screw the pachinko and the Gundam models. What I really wanted to experience in Akhihabara was…
Neko Jalala, the cat cafe!
Yes, these are a thing in Tokyo, where people don’t have either the space or the time to have pets. Some entrepreneurs saw the demand and filled the hole (that’s what she said), and Neko Jalala (and its subsequent copycats ::ahem::) was born. You pay for a block of time to hang out with a bunch of cats while also enjoying some mediocre iced coffee or hot tea!
Unfortunately, Neko Jalala was booked up for over an hour from when we first arrived, so we decided to find someplace to sit down in the interim.
And thus, we once again returned to Mister Donut, where we finally noticed that every single thing in Mister Donut is branded, right down to the silverware. WHA–? That crazy!
After we enjoyed donuts #54-58 of our trip, we still had some time to kill, so we walked around and peeked in to some of the shops.
6:00PM finally came, and it was back to Neko Jalala!
All in all, Neko Jalala was…an experience, which I’m not sure Lance will ever quite let me live down. It was just so clever and strange at the same time, and all the cats were being really prissy so I had to chase a whole bunch of ’em down to play with me…so that may have affected my opinion of the place. Still, it only cost $6 for a half-hour, so it was worth it just to experience the absurdity of it all.
Lance was craving some tempura, which we’d had precious little of during our trip, so we found a place near the hotel recommended by Lonely Planet. Unfortunately, like our experience in Kyoto, it was located in the web of alleys between some of Shinjuku’s major streets, and of course wasn’t on any of the sparse Lonely Planet maps. I walked around in the rain for 20 minutes trying to find this place, as was completely drenched by the time I did:
We were able to sit right up next to the chef, who prepared (i.e., killed and deep-fried) our meal right in front of us! It was pretty neat.
We had several courses, including prawns, whitefish, vegetables, and…
…eel, which I’d mostly stayed away from this trip. However, a combination of not wanting to feel super-lame for not eating anything “exotic” and not wanting to offend the chef overwhelmed me. EEL!
After dinner, we headed back toward the hotel, and captured one of the best photos of the trip:
The next day, with just a few hours left, we decided to hit up a shrine close to the hotel. No, not Starbucks, though we did do that…often…
…but rather Meiji-jingu, Tokyo’s major Buddhist temple, in Harajuku.
From Meiji-jingu, we crossed the street and entered the Harajuku shopping district, which is defined by two different streets: Omotesando and Takeshita (that is its actual name). Takeshita is an a twisting, descending alley of offbeat shops…and a McDonald’s, which attracts the younger, teen set who like to dress up in fanciful costumes.
…and then there’s Omotesando, which is considered the Champs-Elysees or the Fifth Avenue of Tokyo. It certainly looked the part:
It was gorgeous and quiet, while still full of designer, luxury shops. It was Lance’s favorite neighborhood in Tokyo.
After we explored Harajuku a little bit, it was finally time to head back to the hotel to grab our luggage before heading back to the airport. In the lobby, we were finally able to see Mt. Fuji after it had eluded us while we were on the shinkansen due to cloud cover. A great sight in which to close out our trip:
We then dragged out luggage back to Shinjuku Station, where we caught the N’EX back to Narita Airport. MANY SAD FACES 😦 😦 😦
…Though this weird, well-eyebrow-endowed character featured in a commercial on the train picked our spirits up a little bit:
So ended our Japanese adventure. By the end of our visit, we were contemplating ways we could somehow afford to go back (in other words, more frequent flyer mile redemption tickets, probably!) It’s a wonderful, beautiful mess of city, Tokyo, but everything we experienced was just so orderly and logical…it really appealed to my sense of rationale. Even though we had quite the language barrier, I never felt lost or alienated in a strange land.
…And then Hurricane Sandy happened, and our connecting flight from Chicago to Philadelphia was cancelled. By twist of fate, our Philly-based friends Alix and George were also in Chicago that same weekend and also stranded due to their own cancelled flight. George rented a car and Lance and I slept in the back like supportive, appreciative guests, just like Catherine O’Hara in Home Alone. If there was anything truly bizarre about our whole trip, it was those 30 hours spent driving from Illinois to Pennsylvania, with an overnight stop in hotel #7 of our trip, the Hilton Toledo ::waves to Bernard, the Obama campaign volunteer at the hotel bar::
…oh, and how 13 hours before this photo was taken, we were in Tokyo…