I used to go to Tokyo fairly often in the 80s and 90s. We had Japanese business partners at that time and at least twice a year we would meet them in Japan. Since we got out of the business in 1995, I’ve not had the chance to go back until this summer, almost 20 years since my last trip there. We stayed at the Royal Park Shiodome Hotel which was a great choice. Last time I was in Tokyo, the Shiodome district didn’t even exist. This relatively new development is a great place to be based in order to hit all the major sights. The hotel sits on top of two subway stations – Shimbashi which is a major hub for both subways and trains, and Shiodome station which is convenient for going to Tsukiji. You could actually walk to Tsukiji which is about 600 meters away so a 10 to 15 minute stroll will get you there. Same with Ginza. A 10-minute walk from the hotel will get you to Ginza. At the basement level of the hotel tower there’s a Family Mart convenience store where we usually ended up buying breakfast. With the wide variety of sandwiches, bento, onigiri, salads and pastries available, there was always something new to try and it was more often than not, rather good for convenience store food.
Also in the plaza surrounding the hotel is a large clock designed by Studio Ghibli. It’s reminiscent of Howl’s Moving Castle and it puts on a show every two hours in the late afternoon up to early evening. Apparently, this is the world’s largest glockenspiel!
Our first full day in Tokyo was spent at Harajuku where the girls had a good time exploring all the quirky shops and the Daiso flagship store. It took us 3 hours to get to the end of the short street (Takeshita Dori) because of all the time spent browsing. At the end of the street this guy showed up with a stroller full of cats. Pierra, this is for you.
After shopping, we went over to the nearby Meiji Shrine. Lots of people were strolling in the park but it’s a nice place to get away from the city. Many people take pictures of the rows of sake barrels offered at the shrine but wine geeks will be interested in the even more impressive racks of burgundy barrels also offered at the shrine. These are from some of the most prestigious estates in Burgundy.
Our second day was spent at the newish Disney Sea theme park beside Disneyland Tokyo. The kids spent a lot of time in the Little Mermaid part of the park which simulates an underwater cavern. The rides here are pretty tame so it will appeal to younger children.
The big attraction at Disney Sea is the Toy Story ride which, due to the very long lines we were unable to ride. We had to content ourselves with a picture at the entrance of the ride.
Other attractions for the more adventurous include the Tower of Terror and Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Breakfast Tuesday was at Tsukiji. We took a leisurely 15 minute walk from the hotel. There were so many people in the market it was difficult to make one’s way around. We saw an opening at one tiny stall with just a few stools around a bar and took it. Granted, the sushi didn’t look pretty but the quality was very good.
After breakfast, we went walking around the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace. We then made our way to the nearby Yasukuni shrine as I wanted to take a look at the war museum or Yushokan. The museum entrance has an impressive exhibit of a Zero Fighter, a locomotive and 2 artillery pieces. These are the only exhibits one is allowed to photograph. The exhibits in the galleries are not allowed to be photographed.
It’s a shame I couldn’t take pictures of the other exhibits, especially the last hall since it contained a Kaiten midget submarine, a Type 97 Chi-Ha tank, a Yokosuka D4Y1 “Judy” Dive Bomber, and an Ohka Suicide Bomb among other fascinating stuff.
That evening, we went to Shibuya to to the famous Crossing and see the statue of the loyal dog Hachiko. Dinner was tonkatsu near the hotel.
Wednesday, we went around Akihabara. The place seems a lot less chaotic than when it was showcase of anything new in Japanese electronics. Although there are still some electronics shops, they are the large chains like Yodobashi and Llaox. The small stores selling components seem to have gathered into a small block and it seems like many of the stores shuttered. Aside from electronics, Akihabara is also famous for Anime and so we spent a fair amount of time looking through anime stuff at one of the buildings there with several floors dedicated to anime and manga. Walking around also brought us to a large discount store called Don Quixote which has a diverse selection including food, clothes, luggage, toys and even designer bags. In the afternoon, we went to Shinjuku to check out Okadaya Craft Store for Pixie where she bought a lot of yarn for crochet. The rest of the day was spent at one of Jocel’s favorite stores, Tokyu Hands.
We spent our last full day near the hotel. We walked Ginza in the morning but spent most of our time at Uniqlo’s 12 story flagship store. With over 5000 square meters of retail space, it takes a large chunk of time to go through the whole store. Lunch found us in Matsuya department store where we checked out some of the restaurants at the top. We settled on an excellent Udon restaurant.
We also checked out one of Tokyo’s oldest toy stores, Hakuhinkan Toy Park. We also spent quite a while there as the kids loved looking and trying out some of the toys on display.
After a bit of rest in the afternoon, we went to Tokyo Station just to check out the shops there. It’s a huge underground shopping complex with a wide variety of stores. The kids loved the Lego store and another shop selling Studio Ghibli stuff. There’s also a good liquor shop called Hasegawa that has a wide selection of Japanese whisky, bourbon and single malt. They also have a decent wine section. Be warned, though, they don’t accept credit cards.
For dinner, I met up with my friend Keiichi who took me to one of his favorite sushi bars in Akasaka. Keiichi did all the ordering and we had a good variety of kohada, uni, akagai, tai, toro etc . with a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2004. We had sake as well but Keiichi much preferred the champagne.
Aside from the nigiri, he insisted on ordering a futomaki or large roll which he gave me to take back to the hotel so we could have it for breakfast. This was a particularly luxurious futomaki and much larger than most.
After dinner, we went to one of his favorite wine bars called Elevage. They have a great by the glass list that can change daily depending on what the owner feels like opening. We had a 1955 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port and a Banyusl with some chocolate.
To end, I just could not resist a Blandy’s Sercial Madeira 1940.
We were to check out of the hotel by 11 AM but we could not resist a last breakfast at Tsukiji. This time the crowds were absent so we were able to choose a relatively quiet restaurant called Sushi Zanmai. It turns out this is the original restaurant of a a chain found all around Tokyo and famous for their 24 hour service. So if you want sushi at 3 AM, you know where to go. The kids ordered chirashi while Jocel and I had the nigiri set. Excellent sushi and a fitting way to end our Tokyo trip.
On our way out of the market, we spotted a corner stall selling blocks of tamagoyaki. We got a couple of boxes to take home.
At the airport, we decided to skip lunch and instead eat the futomaki that I was given the night before. Delicious!
The flight home was uneventful. The plane was only half full so I was able to get a whole row to myself. We got home just after dinner. Although we just came from Tokyo, we couldn’t help it but eat some of the tamagoyaki we bought that morning from Tsukiji. A fitting way to end our Tokyo trip.