Wednesday morning I said goodbye to Neil and Naoko and transported my luggage back to Higashi-mukoujima. I then went back to Shinjuku for lunch, this time to another of my three favorite ramen places. On the second floor of the building on the left is Kura kitakata ramen. My favorite ramen at this place is actually the tonkotsu ramen (which is a Kyuushuu style), which has a relatively thick and tasty broth. One strange thing about Kura is that they give you free rice during lunch (which I took advantage of); normally one doesn't eat rice and noodles together.
Here's a close-up of the menu; the tonkotsu ramen is second from the top.
The third of my three favorite ramen places is Hidaka ramen, shown here. Friends living in New York City visited Japan in November and I sent them a map of Shinjuku with the three places noted, and said this was the easiest of the three to find because they have a big bowl of ramen outside. As you can see here they seem to have stopped putting the bowl out, but my friends found it anyway. Since I had time to go to only two places myself this year, I decided to skip Hidaka, which has particularly excellent miso ramen as well as gyoza. Next year I'll go for sure!
From Shinjuku I took the train to Ochanomizu, and from there walked to Jimbouchou, the bookstore section of Tokyo with literally hundreds of bookstores jammed into a few blocks. This is Shosen book mart at the eastern edge (the picture is taken facing south) of the main concentration of shops.
Just to the right and across the street is the centerpiece of Jimbouchou, the biggest bookstore in Japan, Sanseido. Like Kinokuniya it is six stories tall and actually each floor seems to be smaller than Kinokuniya's floors, but Sanseido is apparently bigger. I found Sanseido's selection to be better for the things I was looking for, so I believe it. Both are great fun to browse around in any case.
Looking down to the street from Sanseido, one sees the the start of the smaller stores. This picture unfortunately gives a poor idea of just how many there are.
After Jimbouchou I returned to Akihabara to finish up my shopping there, and then took the JR Soubu line to Moto-yawata in Ichikawa-shi, Chiba, to visit Saeki (formerly Kurihara) Mariko, a former co-worker of Kyoko's when she worked at a language school in Chiba. Since Mariko-san lives on the way back to Narita, I normally would visit her the afternoon of my last day in Tokyo, but she works on Thursdays (normally I go back on Fridays) so we met this day instead. This meant it was the first time I tried going directly from Akihabara, and was surprised how easy it was to get to her place.
I originally intended to visit Mariko-san in the afternoon, but still had so much shopping to do that day that I wasn't able to get there until the evening, which meant I missed seeing her husband, whom I'd met for the first time last year. Here are Mariko-san and her son Michiaki in their apartment. This picture was actually taken just before I left.
Mariko-san had heard of a very good ramen place in Moto-yawata that she hadn't tried yet, and knowing I love ramen she wanted to take me there. Even though I'd had ramen for lunch I was of course very interested. But when we went there we found it was closed on Wednesdays! We ended up going to some other ramen place that had a nice atmosphere but very mediocre ramen. On the TV there I saw the news about the "Curry Incident" for the first time.
I didn't bother to take a picture of the restaurant but instead just took one of the general area, which looks like the typical area around a train station.
One thing Mariko-san and I usually do when we get together is play pinball. This has been tough in recent years as pinball is very unpopular in Japan and it is almost impossible to find machines anymore. My favorite 50 yen arcade in Shibuya tended to have a few machines on the top floor, but once in Shinjuku when we tried to find a machine no arcade seemed to have one, and we ended up playing billiards instead. Mariko-san had found that the arcade near the Moto-yawata station, however, just happened to have one pinball machine, so we stopped by there after dinner. Here's a picture of Mariko-san playing.
As we were about to leave the arcade Mariko-san noticed that there was a Purikura (Print Club) machine with a Nightmare Before Christmas theme, and she wanted a picture taken with that theme. I'd never tried Purikura before, so the three of us got our picture taken and it came out pretty well. So here's the machine where I got my first Purikura picture taken at.
After this we went to Haagen-Dazs for ice cream, and soon after sitting down a group of a half dozen very talkative women came in with a two year old girl. When they saw Michiaki-chan, who is one and a half, they got even noiser, and got the two together, all talking at once saying things like "it's love at first site". It was quite an event, and I managed to get a picture of the children being introduced.
From Mariko-san's place I returned to Higashi-mukoujima, taking for the first time the shortest train line (Kameido-sen) I've ever used--from one end of the line to the other there are only five stations.
At Kyoko's parents' house only Otousan was home, as Okaasan was out (she wouldn't return until after I went to bed) and Tadashi-kun was at work. I spent the rest of the night drinking with Otousan, then. All the TV stations were showing news about the "Curry Incident" that I'd seen a glimpse of earlier. It had actually happened back during the summer, but the police had just arrested the suspect this day. She had apparently put arsenic in the curry rice served during a local festival, poisoning dozens of people and killing four.