Like Bowie in the 1980s

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Japan 2019
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(The hanging out in Tokyo bit, not the unfortunate pants)

Tokyo is so completely overwhelming, it almost doesn’t make sense to try to tick off agenda items.  It feels utterly insurmountable.  Throw a three-year-old into the mix and things are fully off the rails.  Rather than trying to keep to a specific schedule or check off sights, we spent our time focused on hanging out with friends, and, of course, eating.  Hence, a bit of a summary blog post rather than daily entries.

If Kyoto is one side of Japan, Tokyo is the other.  At least, that’s the reputation – in reality both are modern and ancient, perhaps with difference emphases.  But if you’re going to go to a monster themed cafe in which girls in platform boots dance on top of a mushroom merry-go-round, it’s probably going to be in Tokyo.  And indeed, it was.  

The monster cafe is in the same category as the sexy fighting robot show and various similar locations in Tokyo – sensory overload, a little uncomfortable, and a bit confusing.  Even Huxley at one point had to ask “… what is happening?”  I don’t know kid. 

After the sensory overload of the monster cafe, we took a wander in Yoyogi park, all the while trying to convince Hux not to pick up the gravel underfoot. In need of an afternoon pick-me-up, we left the park to hunt down a great cup of coffee.  Little Nap Coffee Stand is across from a neighborhood park, with about two seats inside and a nice railing to sit on outside. 

Mike’s birthday dinner was at an izakaya doing smoked bonito and asparagus over straw.  The real treat was at Libertable, where we each ordered a beautiful and tasty dessert and espresso. 

On Friday, we visited teamLab Borderless, one of two teamLab installs in Tokyo.  The idea behind teamLab is to build a facility in which nearly every surface is either covered by a projection or a mirror, with evolving, interactive digital art creating infinite landscapes. The space itself is many tends of thousands of square feet, spread across multiple floors.  It’s disorienting and magical, and very well suited to instagram posing.  We spent a few hours wandering.  As we were getting ready to leave, we discovered the “athletic forest,” an entire separate floor of projection mapped trampolines, interactive climbing and more.  

Teamlab is located in Palette Town, which is also home to Toyota Mega Web and the Toyota Historic Garage.  Mega Web is essentially a very fancy Toyota dealership – you can explore all of the current models, take test drives, while also snacking in their cafe or exploring some of their future concepts.  As an admirer of Kei cars and Japanese minivans, it was a fun opportunity to actually sit inside cars I’d only admired from the outside.  They also had my dream car – a Yaris/Vitz GRMN, which is basically a Fiat Abarth 500 with door handles that won’t fall off.  My ideal hot hatch. 

Saturday we all trekked to the Tsukiji Market.  Tsukiji used to be the home to the massive Tokyo fish market, including the tuna auctions.  In late 2018, that moved to a new facility and the old buildings are being torn down.  The old “outer market” is still present though, and the city emphasizes it as a tourist location.  You can wander the narrow alleys looking at wholesale goods for sale, along with plenty of food.  It’s expensive and filled with tour groups, but it’s still a fun experience.  There are two modern buildings that still house fish and seafood vendors as well, providing a chance to see the day’s catch.  

The market is a short walk from Hamarikyu Gardens, where we enjoyed some shade and respite from a very hot Tokyo day.  Then we parted ways for some napping and relaxing back at our hotels.  

To reach dinner, Kat and I walked from Shinjuku to Ginza, roughly 5 miles across the heart of the city.  It was a really nice chance to see different sides fo the city.  As we got to Ginza, our eyes were caught by a pedestrian only sign, leading to a street lined with a series of restaurants and food stalls built under a railway bridge.  

We all (well, the adults) met up at Seamon Ginza for a splurge omakase meal.  It was, without exaggeration, one of the best meals I’ve had in my life.  A mix of sushi, sashimi, and a few other tasty bites, it was the kind of meal that left me never wanting to eat fish again, knowing it can never stack up.  

After dinner, we all wandered back to the railway bridge for a drink with the evening crowds.  

Finally, this morning, we had a bit more eating to pack in before departing.  Kat and I went to a ramen restaurant in Golden Gai for some breakfast noodles.  This was the ideal ramen spot – upstairs above a bar, with 8 seats, serving handmade fresh noodles and a unique ramen broth, 24 hours a day.  The broth was fishy, sour and deep, more like Assam laksa in Penang than any type of ramen I’ve had before.  A perfect start to a day.

For second breakfast, we all met up for soufflé pancakes at A Happy Pancake.  These are inch-high pancakes made with lots of whipped egg whites and topped with all kinds of sweets – a new trendy breakfast food in Japan.  They’re very indulgent and fun.  A Happy Pancake was also a good example of the ways in which Tokyo uses space differently.  In the US, if you want to open a restaurant, it needs to be at ground level with a street-facing storefront.  In Japan, a fancy restaurant might be on the 6th floor (like our dinner the previous night) or in the second sub-basement (like A Happy Pancake).  By normalizing the use of vertical space for any type of business, building high density structures, and minimizing dead space, Tokyo manages to have some of the lowest property prices of any developed mega city.

After brunch, we said our goodbyes and rushed to the airport.  We walked straight into a parade, apparently related to the seating of the new Emperor.  Also included was a truck playing the American national anthem very loudly, presumably related to 45 being in town.  Sigh.  Back to reality.

One thought on “Like Bowie in the 1980s

  • Susan May 27, 2019 at 2:01 am Reply

    I loved hearing about these adventures and seeing the photos — especially the ones of Colin walking along holding Hux’s hand. Kat’s dresses are so great and of course the food photos are amazing. I’m glad you could find some quiet zones amidst the hubbub of Tokyo. What a great trip!

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