We enjoyed Dormy Inns American breakfast and had our first experience seeing what a real Japanese breakfast buffet looked like. Fish, soup and seaweed, for sure. We took a quick walk around outside and managed to find our way to Shibuya Crossing and rushed back to meet our tour guide for the morning in the hotel lobby. I highly recommend the guides from Rowthorn Tours . We used them both in Tokyo and Kyoto and, though not inexpensive, it made the best use of our short city stays. No wasted time struggling with maps and transportation . Junko, a delightful middle-aged woman, breezed us through the neighborhood and onto the subway to Shinjuku. She brought us right to Isetan Department Store where we could see the shopkeepers greeting the customers for the day. The food hall was the most amazing with its 160 dollar melons and perfect white strawberries at ten dollars apiece. These perfect fruits usually given as gifts. There was a vast array of food sushi, pastries, bread, veggies, sweets, meat, salts ….on and on. Then a quick trip to Golden Gai an area preserved from the world war two era. It’s composed of many tiny, tiny bars. Junko explained that it would cost a million dollars to buy one yet they are no bigger than a small storage shed. Moving right along we visited Memory Lane another World War two area, now filled with tiny food stalls.
Also in the Kubakicho area there is a red light district, loud pachinko parlors and the famous robot restaurant.
Junko told us that the pawn shops in the area were useful to the “hostesses” who receive many expensive gifts and want to trade them in for cash. Also, while gambling is illegal in Japan, there are small windows in the area where the prizes won at pachinko parlor can be traded in for cash. No photos are allowed in the pachinko parlors, by the way.
Our next stop was the city building where we went to the 45th floor .
Yup, Tokyo is VAST! The Government building area is in sharp contrast to Kubakicho, very clean and businesslike and modern. I was especially amazed at the drink vending machine in the government building where we purchased delicious and delightful pear sodas. Thankfully, Junko showed us how to choose the size, ice or no ice, fizzy or still. The machine whirred and clicked and hummed until a little door popped open and there was a cold drink, lid perfectly attached. Very impressive. And not only that. There were quite a few other drinks you could get from the same machine including coffee, three strengths, hot or iced, with three different amounts of sugar or milk. Japanese vending machines are amazing. This one, in particular, has a place in my heart.
A brief note about why there are no trash cans in Tokyo. Some grumpy group apparently put poison gas in them and killed several people so the Prime Minister declared “No more trash cans for you!” They are slowly coming back but for now Junko carried our empty pear soda cups in her bag. Arigato.
Then it was back to our neighborhood on the above ground JR Line to Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine. The subway was pretty packed but we all managed to get on. Meiji Park/ Shrine was created to honor Emperor Meiji who opened Japan to the rest of the world and introduced the Japanese to wine, beef and milk. A forest was planted but was kept closed for 100 years to let different species take over. There are even tanuki there! I wish I had seen a real one but we did see plenty of statues during our 2 week visit. We said our first shinto prayers there and had our first lesson in Shinto Shrine etiquette. We got a little better at this as we went along but there’s a lot of steps to remember. It can be tricky to think of a meaningful prayer. Mine was usually based on peace,love and harmony. Then we ran into the Shinto wedding above. Quite a sight.
We went by an area that looked like a parking lot and Junko told us that was where people came to get their cars blessed for safety. Cost, 50 dollars or 5000 yen. She also told us about two old women who were arrested for putting oil on the pillars of the temple and showed us the oiled spot. Why they would want to do that was a mystery. Touring around with Junko was a treat worth every yen, we did so much and learned so much. She took us to a quiet lunch spot. I loved how they provided baskets to store your personal items in. We enjoyed lunch with her and she mapped out the areas we wanted to visit that afternoon and we said our goodbyes.
After lunch I went on a shopping spree on Otemesando at Kiddyland.I got some cool washi tape, some totoro charms and some peanuts pens. Also, they had a hedgehog Gashapon machine, along with many others. I am a big fan of hedgehogs. It was the best Gashapon of the trip.Then we headed up Takeshita street in a huge shoulder to shoulder crowd. It’s a really amazing experience. We reached my goal, Daiso, the famous Japanese dollar store, where I shopped wildly for a while. Many hedgehog scores and DarumaFuroshiki. We walked back towards the Dormy Inn just in time to meet a college friend of my daughter for a tempura dinner near Shibuya crossing. On our way home more random shopping at stall and convenience stores for fun Japanese goodies, face masks and meji candy and nail clippers of famous Japanese steel. Phew!
Back at the hotel we arranged our bags for our upcoming three night hike on the Nakesendo Trail. I sent my days shopping haul on to our final destination in Osaka by the fabulous courier service Takubin. It’s really amazing and affordable and can be done at the front desk of your hotel. Sweet. We went to bed with thoughts of our upcoming Shinkansen experience in the morning and our peaceful Nakesendo Trail hike ahead.