When we last left the Dynamic Tokyo Tour, we had just arrived by boat in Asakusa.
Along with the rest of the tour group, we walked to the Kaminarimon Gate (“Thunder Gate”), the entrance to the Nakamise Dori, the shopping avenue which runs from the gate up to the Sensoji Temple. Historically, shopkeepers would sell their wares to pilgrims traveling to the temple. In modern times, they’re mainly selling to tourists, pilgrims of a different type.
A Japanese couple who wasn’t part of our tour group approached us and asked us to take a photo of them in front of the gate — a standard tourist picture. Then, as appears to be polite among tourists, they asked if they could take our photo for us. It hadn’t been a photo I would have sought out or asked a stranger to take, but I’m glad they offered, because this is now one of my favorite “Us in Japan” photos, just because it’s so obvious where we are.
For more Japan travelogue, read on…
We had reservations for the Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu later on in our trip, and we knew we’d be spending some quality time around Asakusa in another couple of days, so we decided to use our meager half-hour in Asakusa to find our ryokan. A note on Japanese street addresses: they’re not laid out like here in the States, with a house number on a marked street. Sure, there are street names for major streets, but for the most part, you just have to know which block you’re looking for. For instance, the ryokan is located at 1-31-11 Asakusa, Taito-ku Tokyo. So, we were looking for District 1, Block 31, Building 11, which would have been quite impossible without our handy bilingual Tokyo Atlas. As it was, it still took most of the half hour we had.
We did get slightly derailed on our search, though. A cameraman and a reporter chick were in one of the alleys off of the Nakamise Dori, and pulled us aside as we walked past. The reporter, a normal-looking Japanese young adult in street clothes, said that they were doing a story about foods people have been eating, and could she ask us a few questions? In the States, I’d probably say “hell, no,” but in Japan? Sure!
She started with basic questions: Why are you here? We explained that we were on vacation from America, and today we were with a tour group on a bus tour of Tokyo. When she asked what we were planning to buy, I told her that we were planning to spend most of our money in Akiba. (Akihabara, Electric Town, is known not only for electronics, but for anime, manga, and video games.)
At that point, the cameraman started to giggle, and the reporter chick seemed to notice my Lain shirt and Aaron’s Lain bag for the first time. Apparently, Serial Experiments Lain is seen as a particularly weird anime by most Japanese, and people who are really into it are the strange otaku type. The reporter totally shifted gears then, and asked us how long we were going to be in the area. We explained that we had a bus to be on in another 20 minutes or so, so we couldn’t really stay. They seemed disappointed to miss out on interviewing the crazy American otaku, but they wished us a good trip and let us go on our way. I wonder where we would have ended up on Japanese TV, had we been able to talk with them?
At any rate, after many wrong turns and backtracks, and after passing the two-person camera crew a couple more times, we finally found the Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu. We walked back to the Nakamise Dori, determined that we’d need to turn left at the shoe store booth to get to the ryokan next time, and headed back to where the bus was waiting.
Junko, our tour guide, had asked us all earlier if we wanted to be dropped off in Ginza at the end of the tour, or at the Hamamatsucho bus station where we had started the tour. We had initially assumed that the tour ended in Ginza, so we’d planned to make our way back to the hotel via the subway as our first crack at using the subway system. When she gave us a choice, we stuck with Ginza, along with half a dozen other people. Apparently, the rest of them changed their minds en route, though, because only us and one other girl got off the bus at Ginza. We thanked Junko for a great tour, and headed off to we knew not where.
Ginza is known as the upscale shopping district of Tokyo. Honestly, Aaron and I aren’t too keen on upscale shopping. We prefer good deals and cheap finds to, say, Coach bags. So, when we started walking around Ginza, we couldn’t think of any reason to really be there. Time for a change of plan. Where did we really want to go?
After consulting our map, we realized that Akiba was only a few stops from Ginza, and would be a good first subway trip. Which it was. It was also a valuable learning experience, as it was the first of two times that we just herded ourselves out of the station with the crowd, not paying attention to which station exit we should have used to be where we wanted to be. Instead, we ended up on the opposite side of the JR station from where we should have been. We couldn’t see any of the landmarks that would have told us where certain stores were, and we wandered around lost for 20 minutes. We even passed a tourist in a crosswalk who asked us where all the stores were, and we had to answer that we didn’t know, that we’d just gotten there too. He didn’t like our answer, but thanked us anyway.
We HAD to get some food, as the BBQ lunch had long since gone to better places. After passing on a McDonald’s, we finally managed to get to the correct side of the JR station, and we stumbled upon Akiba Ichi, a multi-level mall of sorts with four floors of food:
At this point, we were so hungry that this was mind-boggling. We went inside and found the okonomiyaki restaurant, but there was a wait to get in, and we were too hungry for that. So, we ended up going to the ramen shop, instead. This was to be our first experience with a meal ticket machine. Luckily, a salaryman came by after we’d been staring at the machine for a minute or so, and we let him go first so we could see how the machine worked. Basically, put in your yen, select what you want, you get a ticket, and — this is important — hit the button to get your change when you’re done. We would have missed this vital step, even if we’d managed to fart our way through the rest of it without watching someone else do it first.
We ended up getting the 750¥ ramen, which came with four toppings, I believe, and a pork cutlet. We sat at the counter and gave the girl our tickets, and she presented us with two printed slips of paper and two pencils for circling options. Luckily, she also had an English cheat sheet behind the counter that she brought out and showed us. We had to circle something like four options on this menu sheet, so we each ended up with a giant bowl of ramen with a pork cutlet, half a hard-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, green onions, and maybe burdock root? We never did find out what that last thing was, but it was good.
In a covered bowl on the counter was some sort of dark pink, julienned, carroty-looking things. We couldn’t figure out what it was. So, I busted off some of my Japanese on our server: “Sumimasen? Kore wa Eigo de nanto iimasu ka?” What is this in English? The girl, who looked to be in high school, got the most awesome deer-in-headlights look on her face and ran over to her co-worker, who was equally young, and started jabbering at her in Japanese. The other girl got a similar confused look on her face, and they both looked over at me, then glanced at the other patrons. A woman at the far end of the counter, about our age, smiled and looked over at us and said, “Jeen-jah.” Ginger! Ah! We smiled and gave her our best “arigatou gozaimasu,” and got back to eating.
I couldn’t finish my ramen, but I wished I could. It was the best ramen I’ve ever had. It was possibly the best Japanese noodle dish I’ve ever had. The amazing part was that there were little machines on the counters where you could put in 100 or 200 yen and get MORE NOODLES. Are you serious? Apparently so, because the large otaku-looking fellow next to us put his 200¥ in the slot, and one of the workers brought him a small bowl of noodles, which he dumped into his broth and continued chowing down.
After dinner, and after the male purveyor of the ramen shop came out from the back and yelled his “arigatou gozaimasu!” at us on our way out, we decided to go find one particular used video game store: Super Potato. It took us a while, but we finally located the store, which was on floors 3, 4, and 5 of a nondescript building in a alley in Akihabara.
By this time, we were so exhausted that we didn’t quite spend as long at Super Potato as Aaron would have liked. My feet were killing me, thanks to my not quite broken-in shoes, and we left Super Potato at around 8:30pm. We knew we’d come back to Akiba later, though. This was just a taste.
Our subway trip to the hotel didn’t go nearly as well as our trip from Ginza to Akiba. We had to switch lines, and we somehow managed to screw that up, so the gate ate my ticket when I tried to go through to switch lines (it’s supposed to give the ticket back, so you can leave the station at your destination.) Luckily, an attendant was there at the gate, and I busted off yet another Japanese phrase: “Eigo ga wakarimasuka?” Do you understand English?
She replied, “sukoshi,” and put her finger and thumb up in the apparently universal sign for “a little bit.”
Slowly, I said, “I put my ticket in,” and pantomimed inserting my ticket, “and it didn’t come out.”
This she could handle. She asked me, slowly and deliberately (her English probably comes out like my Japanese) where we started, and I told her Akihabara, and what line we were on. She asked where we were going, and I told her what stop and what line. Turns out we were 100 yen short on each ticket, so she gave us replacement tickets, and I thanked her in Japanese as we left. Crisis averted!
Until we got to Shiba Koen, our subway stop. Once again, we followed the crowd out the nearest doors, not noticing that there were four different exits to Shiba Koen station. We came out on the opposite side from where we needed to be — again. All we had to do was look for the Tokyo Tower, though.
Damn all those tall buildings.
We finally stopped a woman in professional dress and I asked her, “Tokyo Tawa wa doko desu ka?” Where is the Tokyo Tower? She pointed in a direction, and she started rattling off Japanese — actually, she spoke slowly enough that I probably could have followed, if I’d had the vocabulary I needed. As it was, all I understood was that she suggested that we get a taxi, and said that it would be one meter or two meters — I assume “one meter” means the minimum charge for a taxi? I told her I understood, and thanked her, and we walked off in the direction she had pointed. Eventually, we came to a part of town we recognized, and got back to the hotel.
By 10:30pm, we were in bed, asleep.
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