Some shocking news toss out our plans06 January, 2013 by Chad
As discussed last night, we’ll be spending most of this afternoon shopping over at Ginza and then seeing what that led to. Had taken note before the trip that the Tori no Ichi festivities would begin this evening so it’d be a good night to visit Asakusa. Unfortunately, some shocking news in the morning would blow what little plans we had for the rest of the trip out of the water.
We left the hotel later than planned as Eri and Randy were held up by some things. While leaving the hotel Eri revealed that she’d need to leave Japan immediately due to some personal reasons, and though she remained mum on the details, had already purchased another flight back for Monday.
Yan had asked us to meet him at the Matsuya exit of the Metro Ginza station at 10 AM but we ended up reaching there about 45 minutes late as a result. He wasn’t anywhere in sight, so we tried waiting around for another half an hour but when he did not turn up, we opted to continue on without him. He didn’t get a data sim, nor activate his existing Singapore line for overseas roaming, so was basically uncontactable once out of his inn.
Throughout, there was a English speaking woman of either Japanese or some other Asian ethnicity being filmed by a Caucasian couple on the street where we were waiting. They videoed her walking up and down the street repeatedly, then some closeups of her talking. Judging from her appearance, she couldn’t had been a celebrity so was probably one of those “bloggers”.
We needed to find an ATM urgently, since the three of us were running low on physical money. We’d be specifically looking for a Citibank, since Eri had an account there, the rest would have to deal with the surcharge. Citibank account holders can withdraw their money Japanese ATMs without the usual $5 fee. Remembered one nearby that had visited on a previous trip together with Wilson and MJ.
Eri got her money there but I had trouble getting any of my cards to work. Would learn later that the bank had blocked all my cards for overseas withdrawals at some point since the last trip, due to reports of fraudulent transactions coming from Malaysia.
Yan finally contacted us at this point. We had assumed that he had perhaps roamed about to some Starbucks or McDonalds for Wi-Fi when in fact he had gone all the way to Tokyo Station just to use the Wi-Fi point there. Randy arranged for us to meet him at the opposite Matsuzakaya mall at 12 PM.
Matsuzakaya is one of the oldest mall franchises in Japan. It’s especially popular with the really old folk, who seem to make up most of their target audience. Both Randy and myself were keen on looking for the Takeo Kikuchi bags that we had failed to purchase in Nagoya, while Eri now had a ton of last minute shopping to do.She still had a bunch of souvenirs and a long shopping list from her colleagues and relatives. Then there was also the need for another luggage bag to carry all of that.
As luck would have it, she found a pretty good one on sale right at Matsuzakaya, we decided to head back later after all her other shopping to pick it up.
It’d be about an hour before we met up with Yan, in the remaining time, we looked around the department store and a sad little pet shop on the roof of the building. There’s a fenced roof on top of the Ginza Matsuzakaya building with ample space and benches. No doubt a great spot for visitors (or staff) to have a coffee break.
Also took the time to scout out some possible locations for lunch. We didn’t have time to grab any breakfast this morning, so were all quite hungry even if it was a little early. There was a cooking class being held beside all the restaurants on the top floor. It’s pretty common to see these workshops being held in department stores. For a fee, ingredients are provided and you can learn and prepare a meal for yourself on the spot. Such classes usually consist entirely of older women. Might be worth a try.
Found a nice Japanese restaurant on the top floor which served pretty much what we were looking for. It seemed to be really popular with the old folk and the prices were affordable.
We returned to the restaurant after meeting up with Yan but he urged us to eat somewhere else, so it was off to check out our other options. Ginza was mostly up classed restaurants, so the only other places were other mall restaurants and cafeterias, all of which were much more expensive and mostly western styled cuisine.
After wasting an hour roaming around Ginza and not finding anything that was affordable and yet fit our previous resolution of eating more “Japanese” food, we learned that Yan wasn’t even having lunch as he already had ramen before meeting us. So it was back to Matsuzakaya for our original choice.
Okonomi Yokudo seemed like one of those small chain restaurants. Prices here were really affordable especially for Ginza, just between 700 to 1,300 yen a meal. There was also a daily light special (some sort of sashi don this afternoon) for 500 yen which Yan ordered, while the rest tried various different sets. Randy wanted some katsudon, but ended up ordering a more expensive tonkatsu set by mistake instead.
The meal wasn’t bad, quite homely in fact. Kind of like Izakaya Nijumaru Restaurant back in Singapore. The milder taste sat well with the older folk and myself.
We spent the rest of the afternoon scouting the various other shopping malls around Ginza. I very much prefer Ginza to most of the other popular shopping areas around Tokyo like Shibuya or Shinjuku since no matter what day of the week, it’s always a lot less crowded here. It’s also a lot easier to navigate since everything is concentrated into one neat grid pattern. It’s a pity we couldn’t had come here on a weekend as planned though, when they close off the roads for the hokousha tengoku experience.
Brought the rest over to Hakuhinkan Toy Park at the end of the street. It’s one of those places I visit each time I come to Tokyo. Hakuhinkan is one of the few toy shops in Tokyo in the traditional sense of the word. Perhaps it has something to do with the ageing population of scarcity of children in Japan, but you’ll find a lot more shops selling scantily clad anime character figures than actual toy shops in Japan.
The first floor of Hakuhinkan sells various novelty gifts, while the upper levels carry a vast variety of classic and modern children’s toys, mascot character goods and plushes. Eri and especially Randy were amused by this Japanese wireless take on the classic Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. It blended some basic motion control technology, such that after you charged them up with the controller, you could physically punch with the controllers to make the robots fight.
Checked out the video games section on the upper levels. Tobidase Doubutsu no Mori, the 3DS’s Animal Crossing was released today and I really wanted the limited edition bundle. Unfortunately, would learn that all physical copies of the game, much less the set had sold out instantly this morning.
Eri grabbed a whole bunch of soft toys from Hakuhinkan, mostly as gifts. She was in quite the shopping frenzy this afternoon as a result of having to leave soon.
Found a 7-Eleven beside the toy store and stopped inside to get some drinks. This fizzy Strawberry Cream Fanta tasted vaguely familiar, perhaps I had tried it before? Spotted a magazine with Watanabe Miyuki on the cover that Yan was interested in getting, it came with a rare alternate bonus cover for NMB48′s Kitagawa Kenji single. He decided to wait until another combini to get it but later regretted as he’d have trouble finding copies of the magazine sold elsewhere.
We headed back in the opposite direction, since the Masterpiece shop that Yan wanted to visit was on the other side of Ginza. Passing through the center, we took a detour for the Manneken outlet there. Each got some more waffles. I really liked this season’s special flavor.
Eri picked up more omiyage at the adjacent daifuku shop. It looked tempting to try some too but was really expensive. One of the shop assistants, a certain Aida-san, was quite cute.
Yan found nothing that caught his attention at the Masterpiece outlet. Had visited it earlier this year with Gage and was disappointed then too. Masterpiece (MSPC) used to produce some really well made, unique designs in the past but since expanding, their designs and quality have taken a nosedive. You can find them at just about any shop mass selling bags these days, just beside all the Manhattan Portage and Porter stuff.
It wasn’t a completely wasted trip though, as Eri found the adjacent handbag store of interest. Perhaps it was out of desperation but she did leave with more shopping bags.
Back outside, Yan spotted a famous bread shop called Kimuraya. Apparently it’s the oldest western bakery in Tokyo and the anpan buns served here were popular with the emperor. Yan bought a bunch for us to try but even by his own account, it ended up being quite unimpressive. Might had been better had they been warm but the buns we got were cold.
We found a Takeo Kikuchi outlet back at Matsuya. Unfortuntely, they didn’t carry the bags we were looking for. It became apparent that the designs we had seen in Nagoya were from a far older series. Randy needed a bag that he could carry around quite urgently, so he settled for another newer design. It matched him quite well though.
There was an ongoing sale, though there seems to be some sort of sale year round at all Japanese shops. Yan weighted on getting a jacket from Takeo Kikuchi, though eventually decided against it. Eri bought some handkerchiefs as gifts. The shop staff was really friendly, especially to Randy of course who had spent the most there. He pointed Randy toward a counter on the 3rd floor, where he could recover his taxes.
The counter staff gave Randy his duties in cash on the spot. He was very amused at how courteous and eager the staff there were to give him money. They even gave him a Hello Kitty gift pouch to hold the money.
Downstairs, Eri stopped at the Jill Stuart shop to get some cosmetics. If I remember correctly they also have some really nice hand mirrors. The shop was attended by a cute Shibuya-ish girl called Mori.
Randy was tempted by a designer sweets shop just beside the cosmetic section called Nenrinya. It specialized in baumkuchen, something that he had been eyeing for a while ever since seeing some in the basement of other department stores. He ended up trying one of these “Chiisana Baum Tsuri“, mini baumkuchen trees. It was nice.
We returned to Matsuzakaya so that Eri could get the luggage that we had seen earlier. The staff there even managed to fit everything she bought today into the bag. She’d head back to the apartment first to drop off her stuff before meeting up with us again later.
Wanted to perhaps visit the Sky Tree in the evening but Yan insisted on visiting Akihabara again instead. Despite my protest that the Super Enpou service had already been discontinued, he didn’t want to take my word for it and wanted to try going to the AKB48 Theater personally and begging the staff there for some tickets. To avoid the embarrassment, Randy and I hung around the Donki downstairs to grab the supplies that we were unable to get yesterday.
Anyone should be able to guess the outcome of the above. We met back up with Eri at Akihabara, and for a while she and Yan went scouting for more AKB48 photos again. At the same time Randy needed to help his brother purchase a PlayStation Vita system.
After looking around for the past couple of weeks, Randy settled on getting a second hand set. There are a ton of people eager to get rid of their system in Japan, since even here, there is really nothing to play on the system so you can get them pre-owned for cheap. They aren’t region locked and can be freely switched between languages, so there are no worries there.
He picked up a Wi-Fi model (the 3G ones were sim locked) in mint condition from the TRADERS in Akihabara for under 18,000 yen or about just SGD$260. A good $140 below the suggested retail price in Singapore or $80 below grey market prices.
We decided to have dinner at the Go! Go! Curry in Akihabara. Had been wanting to eat some since yesterday evening. It’s definitely my favorite curry chain and the rest had been missing it too ever since the franchise pulled out of Singapore earlier this year.
Go! Go! Curry here is pretty identical to as it was in Singapore. We placed our order with the vending machine beside the entrance and found seats upstairs on the second floor of the outlet. We were the only ones eating here this evening.
It’s a surprise that Go! Go! Curry survived nearly as long as it did in Singapore where the the illusion of choice is of utmost important and where watery Japanese curry is the expected norm. Unlike CoCo Ichibanya, there aren’t too many options when it comes to ordering at Go! Go! Curry, just the amount of rice you want with each meal. Instead, the main points at Go! Go! Curry are its affordable prices, ridiculous servings and thick sticky curry. I also like the generous amount of salad you get with each meal.
There are only 5 things on menu at Go! Go! Curry. You can get a pork or chicken katsu, shrimp or sausage curry for about 700 yen each, or a plain curry for 500 yen. There’s also the “Major Curry” which includes everything on menu for just 1,000 yen. Yan and Randy tried it this evening. They started to have some difficulty about midway through.
By the time the rest were done with Akihabara it was too late to visit the Sky Tree, so it was back to our apartment after. Since our apartment was located right next to the Sumida River there was actually quite a nice view walking back each evening. There’s also a clear view of the Sky Tree from where we lived since the tower was just about 3 kilometers to the north.
The day ended up being quite unpurposeful for myself, though the rest managed to get some shopping done. With Eri leaving early, it would mean that we’d need to try squeezing in all the essential touristy spots around Tokyo in the couple of free days left, starting with tomorrow.