I had jokes involving flying NWA, ghetto experiences, and “straight outta Chechnya”, but decided in an unusual fit of restraint that they were too lame to actually make. Let’s move on.
We used the N’EX with SUICA discount deal to get into Tokyo, and at the end of our trip, the airport limousine bus on the way out. A little pricey, but still the best compromise between cost and convenience for us this time.
The Hotel Villa Fontaine Shiodome served our needs pretty well for the week, though if we were on a holiday we would probably have looked into ryokans instead. We found ourselves quite relieved to be in a more peaceful part of town than Shinjuku, yet still well located both for Alecâ€™s work travel and my sightseeing. Except for far too little cupboard space, the room was comfortable, well decorated, had high-speed Internet, and was 5m from a vending machine selling 300Y-and-under beer. The price also included daily buffet breakfasts of salad, soup, a decent selection of breads and pastries, small sausages and hard-boiled eggs – not very elaborate but much more enjoyable for me than the boring continental breakfasts you get in European hotels/B&Bs. All in all, for what you get I think it’s great value for Tokyo, and I’d still consider staying there again (well up to three days anyway, can’t really afford more) even if I were travelling on my own dime.
On with the exploring:
The Shiodome area is full of showy, gleaming bubble economy era skyscrapers, with huge atriums and other large spaces heated uncomfortably warm even on a winter’s night. What we saw of the malls seemed pretty dead; we did see people walking in and between them, but couldn’t conceive how they could constitute enough traffic (on a Saturday night, to boot) to keep the places commercially viable. I know I’m making it sound really depressing, but the emptiness was actually a wonderful respite for us after a cramped uncomfortable flight and lots of hauling of luggage around crowded train stations where every escalator was going in the opposite direction from ours. Raised pedestrian walkways between the buildings take you off the roadside and glass shields along their lengths protect you from the icy winds. Every few minutes a driverless monorail snakes above you, announcing itself only very discreetly with a soft rush of air and muted light trails in your peripheral vision. In the photo, it’s that line of light in the top left.
But we were starving, so dinner took priority over exploring for the meantime. Lonely Planet was pretty useless for our immediate vicinity, so we just walked into the Pedi Shiodome skyscraper next to our hotel and did some walking, hemming and hawing up and down a row of about 10 restaurants, most of which served safe options we were already familiar with, and Komeraku (scroll down for it on that page) which looked cheap and cheerful but we’d never seen the food on its menuboard before. As we stood outside this one frowning and scrutinizing the pictures, its friendly waiter made the decision for us by coming and ushering us in.
I smiled nervously and broke out the “Sumimasen, nihongo ga hanasemasen. Eigo ga hanasemasuka?” my colleague had taught me, and luckily for us he spoke enough to guide us pretty well through a menu of mostly unfamiliar stuff. When he couldn’t think of the English for “ika”, he drew a happy squid on his order notebook. I understand from bento.com that what this place serves is chazuke, which the waiter described as “Japanese risotto”. We ordered set meals, where you choose whether you want pork or fish broth, and pick two toppings and whatever protein you’re in the mood for. Then you spoon some rice (it looked like long-grain, half-polished rice, and stood up to the broth well without getting all mushy) into a bowl, take your beautiful little soup kettle and pour in some broth, add your toppings, a sprinkling of seaweed and some absolutely wonderful crunchy bitty things that were at every table and gave you little explosions of crunch in each mouthful of soupy rice. It was unbelievably delicious, and for only about 910Y each! This remained one of our favourite meals from the trip.
After dinner we strolled aimlessly but happily around the neighbourhood, just enjoying its tranquility and the feeling of being back in a winter climate. I was also trying to familiarize myself with the new baby I bought just a few days before and my Velbon Ultramax travel tripod, which I’d shamefully not got round to using since Alec gave it to me for Christmas. The difference it’s made to my night photography is an absolute revelation – it’s coming on every holiday from now on! Unfortunately, my rather “experimental” photos during this first night when I was still learning aren’t really worth sharing, which is why this post is light on photos.
On the way back to the hotel, I snapped this ad for a TV series. Further research has revealed it’s based on a manga where the troubled boxing prodigy protagonist and the nun who tries to help him develop feelings for each other. Oookay.