Wednesday 7th November 2012
Woke up nice and early at 7am and the sun was shining! The forecast said that today would be a cracking 20°C!
For breakfast we had tea and pancakes smothered in jam, only to find that they had jam and creamy stuff inside them! Oh well! The kettle here is funny, it goes on this little sealed hot plate thing and takes about 10-15 mins to boil!
Had a decent shower in our bathroom. The room is really small, with a bath that is higher but shorter than ours and, as expected, the toilet has buttons! It also runs water if any pressure is applied to the seat so as not to embarrass the user. I didn’t dare touch the buttons, I’ve seen that episode of New Girl!
After my shower I changed into my hotel supplied yukata kimono, which is one in lighter cotton used for summer and whilst at home, and slippers.
We’d already masterminded a plan of action for today, we were going to find our bearings in Shinjuku.
Our first stop was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which is in really nice grounds and has two observatories, both of which are free to the public and on the 45th floor of these 243 metre tall towers.
The north deck includes the huge distraction that is Hakuhinkan Toy Park. There are two big stands which are brimming with ace things to buy including Hello Kitty, Totoro and Disney.
The south deck had an exhibition of little traditional Japanese figures and buildings shown by each of their makers. I didn’t get a picture of these as I felt that would be rude, plus I didn’t know how to ask!
The grounds contained lovely statues, mostly of ladies, but also some unusual little things.
We headed further into Shinjuku looking for lunch but this is when I started to realise how difficult finding vegetarian food for us might be. Most shops don’t have big windows in the way we are used to in the UK. Most of the time you can see into a restaurant and also read the menu outside, but in Tokyo you often don’t get either of these. Sometimes there is a display with plastic versions of the food and they were quite handy, but pretty much always indicated that there were no options for us.
So, because we were hungry and confused, we headed to a pizza chain! In a lot of Japanese restaurants there are still smoking sections, although you aren’t allowed to smoke on the streets (there are signs on the pavement to remind you of that). As far as I could see there are smoking areas outside the train station and places like that, but that’s about it. It’s probably a lot to do with why their streets are so clean, everyone seems to take a pride and responsibility in making the city look nice.
We took a non-smoking table and ordered our pizzas and drinks. We were given glasses and allowed to help ourselves to drinks from the machines, I had some melon soda and fizzy grape juice. The pizza was ¥399 (£3.20) and the drinks were ¥180 (£1.44), so it was a pretty cheap lunch!
Tip: You’re always given a sealed cloth to wipe your hands before eating.
They put the bill in a thing on your table so you can pay anytime, but if you need anything else you ring the buzzer or bell and they’ll update your tab. When you’re finished you just head to the till and pay. At all tills there’s a small plastic tray of some sort where you put your money but they usually hand you your change.
Tip: Don’t tip, ever. They don’t do tipping in Japan, in fact it’s pretty disrespectful.
Our next stop was Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens. It costs ¥200 and you can ask for a map in English at the window on the right after entry if you go to the Shinjuku gate. It was previously an imperial garden and houses different styles of gardens and buildings.
Just outside the Shinjuku Gyoen Goryo-tei, which is beautiful, I saw the biggest, scariest spider in the biggest web I’ve ever seen! Eeek! The picture is a bit fuzzy because I couldn’t be in its presence any longer! I’ll never moan about the spiders at home again!
Quickly moving on from that, the gardens are so peaceful, despite being so close to the busy area surrounding it.
Our next stop was Hanazo Shrine and Promenade Park, but we never actually got there, we got a bit lost instead! It was starting to get dark and we were getting a bit worried when we were sent an angel in the form of Toshiaki (not sure if that’s his actual name, but that’s basically what I heard!).
Toshiaki was a funky young man in baggy jeans, a camouflage jacket and military boots with long hair tied back and shaved in at the sides and he stopped with his similarly cool friends to help us. He decided to leave them and walk us to a vegan restaurant we had a note of and it took us ages and he was really nice so we asked him to join us.
The restaurant was Loving Hut is a little place hidden just up a side street and we got a nice trayful of food for only ¥1000 (£8). Toshiaki had never had vegan food before and he was quite surprised that he liked it. I had a Zen plate (below) which included miso soup, some meaty looking thing, rice, pumpkin pudding and green tea.
Tip: Water is often free if you can see it and help yourself.
He said that he liked helping people because he’d been helped a lot when he was studying in Fresno, California as part of his Masters in English. We had a great chat about Scotland and how we were finding Tokyo so far. His one main piece of advice was don’t try to understand the transport system, he’s lived there all his life and still doesn’t!
After the meal he took us on the metro to our station and we parted ways. It felt weird just thanking him and leaving after he’d been so helpful.
We were shattered when we got home, so after a quick look at my cool new stuff from Toyland we both conked out at 8pm.
Next: A day at the zoo!