We had a slower start this morning and enjoyed an onsen to soothe the city-weary legs. Up until now everything on our trip had gone really smoothly. Today was a bit different, it was just one of those days! Our plan was to start with a visit to the famous Tsukiji fish market. The main tuna auction happens really early, so that was never on our list. The outer market goes until 11am, so the aim was to get there before then and see a bit of the action. It was a struggle to get everyone organised this morning and it was about 10am when we left the hotel. It should have taken about half an hour to get there if all had gone smoothly, but this was our first attempt to use the Tokyo metro system (up until now we have gone everywhere on the circular Yamanote line which is owned by Japan Railways and covered by our rail pass). There was confusion with the station to change at and we ended up going round in circles. Combine that with buying the wrong ticket (not all Tokyo Metro lines are owned by the same company) and we arrived at Tsukiji at exactly 11am in the rain. The funniest thing was that the fish market was closed on Sundays, so we didn’t end up missing anything more than if we had arrived before closing!
The Ginza district is close to Tsujiki, so a visit there became our Plan B. It happens to be home to the Sony Centre, another popular destination for technos. There was a Minecraft convention on the top floor and all sorts of gadgets to fiddle with on the other floors. It was a definite hit with everyone and made up for the failed fish market visit. Ginza is home to the most upmarket shops in Tokyo – great for some window shopping but a really hard place to find lunch. We decided to bail and get lunch at our next destination, Shibuya. This didn’t prove to be much easier than the lunch search in Ginza as everywhere was packed, and it was nearly 2pm by the time we got seated for a feed at Yoshinoya. This offers cheap and cheerful meat on rice dishes – the Japanese version of a fast food chain, but so much nicer.
Shibuya is home to the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. An upstairs Starbucks provides great views of the crossing. The place was even more packed than everywhere else in Shibuya, but we eventually claimed a great viewing spot. It was hilarious to watch everyone crossing, made far more entertaining as 99% of the people had umbrellas. We thought Japanese people hate to get wet but after walking the crossing without umbrellas, we decided they all have umbrellas to prevent their eyes being poked out by everyone else’s umbrellas! We managed to cross the road with all eyes intact and found the statue of Hachiko. Hachiko was a loyal Akita dog who waited at Shibuya station for 9 years after his owner died. This dog was the inspiration for The movie “Hachi – A Dog’s Tale”. The boys didn’t have a clue what we were on about, but Anna and I had seen this movie (probably the saddest movie we have ever watched!) so we just had to go and see Hachiko.
After a much needed rest back at the hotel, we headed back to Shinjuku in search of some dinner. Our planned destination was a tempura restaurant a few minutes walk from the station. Finding this turned out to be another challenge. The WIFI kept dropping out, and not even being able to read street names adds a whole new dimension to map reading. After going round in more circles, we were rescued by a super helpful Japanese guy who took us to the restaurant with the help of his Smartphone – even he found it hard to find! We arrived to a queue out the door and a menu that looked far from suitable for the kids or our wallet (in spite of great reviews on Fodors!). Andy stayed in the queue while the kids and I scoured the nearby streets for a better alternative.
We ended up downstairs at a cozy little Izakaya (Japanese pub). There was no English menu but a few pictures and a waiter who spoke some English. We ended up with a fantastic meal in a fantastic atmosphere for Nozawa prices. A great outcome after a big effort to find dinner. We were treated like royalty – I don’t think they see too many Westerners. While we were there, Anna discovered a wonderful app that translates from a photo. We had fun translating the menu – a lot of the translation was really bad, but you could at least get the idea. We couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and finally translate the sauna signs!
Our last stop for the night was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. There is a free observatory on 45th floor so we went up to check out the views. Things were a bit misty from the rain but we were still able to look out on many of the places we have visited.
On returning to the hotel we solved the mystery of the sauna. The sign on the door says “do not open”, the sign by the controls says “you cannot use the sauna”. We’d pretty much come to that conclusion but it was great to know for sure. We figure they’ll never know that we are using the sauna as a small sitting room and a great place to keep our clothes and towels dry while water sprays all over the bathroom!
Tomorrow we are being promised some sunshine. We’re hoping the sunshine eventuates as we have a few outdoor things on our hit list.