Tuesday, December 8

In contrast to Monday, Tuesday was a very relaxed day spent mostly shopping and taking pictures of my favorite places in Tokyo. The weather wasn't particularly great, as can be seen in the photographs, but at least it didn't rain, and I think it was a little warmer.

Shinjuku, Tokyo

Shinjuku station is the busiest train station in the world and also my favorite. On the West side (Nishi-guchi) of the station are government buildings, skyscrapers, and other serious places. On the East side (Higashi-guchi) is the pleasure district, with department stores, video arcades, and restaurants. This is one of my favorite places. It is actually easier and nicer to get to the East side via the South exit (Minami-guchi) of the station, which is where I always like to exit from.

This is the relatively new Takashimaya Times Square department building, viewed from Shinjuku minami-guchi. I was surprised when I first saw this building, constructed in a place where I thought there was no more room. The first time I saw it there was a giant Santa Claus on the roof; I wish I had taken a picture of that.

Shinjuku02.jpg (55747 bytes)

Descent into the chaotic Shinjuku higashi-guchi, a maze of back alleys. It is usually much more crowded but this is in the mid or late morning during a weekday. When I stand at the top of these stairs and look down, I feel like I've arrived at home.

Shinjuku03.jpg (63175 bytes)

The 6 story Kinokuniya bookstore, one of the two biggest bookstores in Japan. As if that weren't enough they built a second branch in Shinjuku, inside the Takashimaya Times Square complex, which is 6 or 7 stories tall but smaller. They also have branches in the US including two in the San Francisco Bay area and one in New York City that I visited often when I was in college in Boston, and are the main places to buy Japanese books in the US.

Shinjuku05.jpg (61287 bytes)

View from Kinokuniya east down Shinjuku-douri. Right next to Kinokuniya is a newly constructed branch of Citibank, which is extremely convenient for me because this is the only bank in Japan I've found that will let me withdraw money from my California Wells Fargo bank account. With a $2 service charge and pretty good exchange rate (but a limit of $300 per day) this is the best way I've found to get Japanese money. They've had a tiny branch in Akihabara, my other favorite place, for some time, so that was always were I went, but it's great for there to now be branches in both places.

Shinjuku06.jpg (58239 bytes)

One of my favorite foods is ramen, and my three favorite ramen places are all in Shinjuku. If I had to pick one, this is my favorite: Keika. They actually have a couple other branches in Shinjuku, and recently branches in other places in Tokyo and Yokohama as well, but this is the only branch I ever go to. I always order the plain Keika ramen. This is Kumamoto (Kyuushuu) style ramen featuring an extremely rich and flavorful broth that's the best I've ever had. The noodles are on the hard side and took a while to get used to, but I love them as well. I never miss going to Keika and sometimes go more than once during a trip. This year they had a sign up inside saying they were celebrating their 30th year in Tokyo this December. Usually there is a long line of people waiting to get in but I went there before lunch time to avoid the crowd. In the picture Keika is right below the okonomi-yaki restaurant.

Shinjuku08.jpg (62290 bytes)

Here's a view of Shinjuku station from the North. It's impossible to actually see the station, as it's surrounded by a shopping complex called My City. To the left is Sakuraya, one of the three big camera stores in Shinjuku (which is the center of the camera stores). The other two are Yodobashi and Bic Camera.

Shinjuku09.jpg (59142 bytes)

View down Shinjuku-douri from a similar spot; here Sakuraya is on the right.

Shinjuku10.jpg (63404 bytes)

Akihabara, Tokyo

After lunch in Shinjuku, I head for my other favorite part of Tokyo, the Akihabara-Kanda-Jimbouchou-Ochanomizu area. Akihabara is the electronics store paradise, while Kanda and Jimbouchou is where the greatest concentration of bookstores are. Ochanomizu is the "college town" area, with a concentration of musical instrument stores and sporting goods stores. All are within close walking distance, and walking is actually the best way to get from Akihabara to Jimbouchou, which are surprisingly poorly connected by train.

From Shinjuku you take the JR Chuou line to Ochanomizu, and then either switch to the Soubu line which stops at Akihabra, or just get off and walk which is usually what I do.

In this picture Ochanomizu station is on the right, with Akihabara in the distance. I'm crossing the bridge from the station and will walk down the left side of the river to get to Akihabara.

Akihabara01.jpg (59367 bytes)

Chuou-douri, and the entrance to Akihabara. On the left is Ishimaru Denki, probably the dominating presence in Akihabara of all the stores, and my favorite place to buy new CDs. There are a lot of used CD stores in Akihabara as well, most branches of a store called Liberty, and the prices can be half to one-tenth the new price, so I typically buy everything used that I can find.

Akihabara03.jpg (59129 bytes)

Two other big stores: Laox and Onoden.

Akihabara04.jpg (64340 bytes)

A Sega arcade, and one of the side streets which are filled with hundreds of other stores.

Akihabara05.jpg (62301 bytes)

Akihabara at night. T-Zone, which has a branch in the San Francisco Bay Area, is first on the left.

Akihabara06.jpg (61170 bytes)

I tried to take a picture of the best kept secret in Tokyo, a subway station on the Ginza line with the innocuous name of Suehirochou, which turns out to be one of the best (and cheapest) ways to get to Akihabara, but which many of the locals don't seem to know about. Unfortunately none of the pictures came out well, so this will have to remain a secret.


Shibuya, Tokyo

I was to meet my friends in Tsunashima at 7pm, and had some time to kill after getting tired of Akihabara, so I stopped by Shibuya, which is one end of the Toyoko line.

A picture of the statue of Hachiko, the most famous meeting place in Tokyo, near Shibuya station. Due to the lighting you can't actually make out the statue, but you should get an idea that people like to meet here.

Shibuya1.jpg (63552 bytes)

Hachiko Family, which I originally confused with Hachiko the first time I was to meet someone, and which I used as a meeting place ever since. Not quite as crowded as Hachiko, but still pretty popular. There's a poster for the Titanic video above the mural.

Shibuya3.jpg (60995 bytes)

Shibuya crossing, always an extremely busy interesection, especially so during rush hour which is when this picture was taken. You can't make it out but there is an unending sea of people here.

Shibuya2.jpg (55335 bytes)

At the Hachiko exit of Shibuya station, if you go down to the stairs to the Hanzomon line and immediately turn left, entering the basement of the department store, you'll find a bakery store on your right, and just past that a small gelato place called Noix Jolie that Kyoko found when we lived there. They have a cassis sherbert that is just incredible. It's still hard to find anything cassis flavored in the US, although it seems to be getting more popular. Kyoko also found another place in the basement of a department store in Nihonbashi that has a completely different kind of cassis sherbert that's also great, but I can never remember where that one is. This one I always go to if I have time, and I did this year. This basement area is always jammed with people.

Shibuya4.jpg (58103 bytes)


Tsunashima, Yokohama

Tsunashima station on the Toyoko line. Probably the station I've used the most in Japan, simply because I lived near it for two years. A lot of people use this station and it's one of the most busy on the line.

Tsunashima01.jpg (60208 bytes)

Just across from the station is the underground Ten'ichi bookstore, my usual meeting place in Tsunashima since you can browse around while waiting.

Tsunashima02.jpg (62324 bytes)

Just a few doors down from Ten-ichi a 3 story bookstore was built a couple years ago. I got there early enough this time that I was finally able to check it out. I thought of looking at Chinese-Japanese dictionaries, since I've started to learn a little Chinese for fun and all the Chinese-English dictionaries are bad, and had some trouble finding them in this store. A sign on the second floor says the dictionaries are on the third floor, while a sign on the third floor says they're on the second! I finally found them, I think on the second floor, and happened across a dictionary that looked quite good, the Shogakukan Progressive dictionary, which I later bought at Sanseido after comparing it to all the other dictionaries.

Tsunashima05.jpg (56348 bytes)

At Ten'ichi, I meet Watanabe-san, Kobayashi-san (now Endou-san), and Nakamura-san, who appear in a picture below. They are all former coworkers from Matsushita (Nakamura-san left herself recently), and normally another guy, Hanazaki-san, joins us, but he was overwhelmed with work this time and couldn't make it. Since I'd been unable to go to Nankai, my favorite yakiniku restaurant, with Eriko-san on Sunday, I suggested we go there. Here's a picture of Nankai.

Tsunashima04.jpg (60863 bytes)

Here's a close-up of the menu. What I especially love about Nankai is their tan-shio (salted beef tongue), which is on the right of the second row, and is the best tongue I've had. This time was a little disappointing, though. Some of the blame goes to Kobayashi-san, who kept filling every empty space on the grill with meat, so most of it got overcooked.

Tsunashima03.jpg (57679 bytes)

I somehow completely forgot to take a picture inside the restaurant, but here are Watanabe-san, Kobayashi-san, and Nakamura-san outside after dinner. Kobayashi-san, who was married just two months ago, had to go home immediately after to make dinner for her husband. The other three of us went to a nearby karaoke box.

Tsunashima07.jpg (62401 bytes)

Another sign of the recession was that the karaoke box was in terrible condition, very ugly inside the room with the torn seats patched with duct tape. Still we signed up for 1.5 hours and had a good time. Here's Nakamura-san singing.

Tsunashima15.jpg (54789 bytes)

Watanabe-san singing his favorite karaoke song.

Tsunashima18.jpg (57173 bytes)

My turn. This was Every Little Thing's "Necessary" but I hardly sang as I was posing for pictures, this one by far the best of the lot. As I recall, I first sang Tanimura Yumi's "Ichiban daisuki datta"; followed by Speed's "Steady" (surprisingly the most difficult of anything that night); this ELT song; Tanimura's "Kokoro wa itsumo soba ni iru" (my favorite song of hers, which I was surprised to find there); and finished with Koizumi Kyoko's "Anata ni aete yokatta", a karaoke staple for me as it's both a great song and very easy to sing.

Tsunashima22.jpg (59908 bytes)