Stephen: After our time in Osaka came to an end, we had just under a week left in Japan, and were going to spend it back in Tokyo. For this part of the journey, we were staying in an area of the city called Ikebukuro, which is a wee bit north of Shinjuku. We had ‘splashed out’ a bit to get a flat that had both a balcony and a rooftop terrace, which was pretty awesome.
I wasn’t too sure about the area at first, as after wandering around the first night, it seemed like one of the more sketchy places we had been, and there seemed to be lots of the same kind of shops around, rather than anything particularly interesting. After a few days here though, that impression definitely changed, and not just because there was a giant Pokemon centre nearby.
We visited some bizarre indoor anime ‘theme park’, which was a bit like Storybook Glen and Casa Bonita rolled into one. It was too difficult for us to understand what the hell was going on in most of the games, but there was a couple that were self explanatory – like protecting the city from Godzilla whilst wearing a VR helmet. That was a bit on the pricey side, so I opted to instead try this one where you catch virtual fish with a ‘real’ fishing rod, and promptly had my ass kicked by this group of tiny Japanese children. Grace got a strawberries and cream crepe in the shape of a panda though, so it wasn’t a total loss.
In the same building, there was another chance to go up to an observation floor and check out the view. Instead of just being an observation deck though, it was posited as this sort of circus experience in the sky… with a whole bunch of different things to hold your interest while you were up there. When I arrived (Grace stayed downstairs to avoid the heights), they led me into this cinema style room which had virtual projections of the skyline, and it was one of the most bizarre, awkward experiences of my life as this one, typically enthusiastic Japanese girl showed this crazy animation, complete with air that got sprayed onto you as cartoon planes ‘smashed’ the glass. I really can’t do it justice in words.
As well as that errr.. introduction, there was a bunch of different things, like a mirror light ‘maze’, which was pretty awesome, and that I took way too many pictures in.
There were other crazy things up there, like VR simulators where you are shot out of the building on a cannon… but I didn’t have time to see what that might be like. Only in Japan…
Oh, yeah… and there was this view too…
Whilst meandering around one night, we stumbled upon a bar that became a highlight. It did cocktails for pretty cheap, and we didn’t think there was anything all that special about the place until at some point people started clapping, and the bartenders began to chuck bottles in the air.
As it turned out, this place was home to some world cocktail championship winners, and they put on a seriously impressive show. I’ve seen some people juggle with glasses and things before, but nothing like this.
The end was particularly climactic, as you might expect.
Whilst exploring, we had to take the chance to go up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, which has an observation floor that is free to visit. We timed it so we got there just as the sun was going down, bathing the whole of the city in this golden glow. It’s tough to get bored of skylines in Tokyo, especially when you don’t have to pay anything to see them.
As it turned out, Ikebukuro really grew on me. It was on the main Yamanote train line, with some nice parks and shops, but wasn’t touristy at all, and was a nice place to base ourselves. Even more handily, there was a ramen shop just down from the flat that seemed to always have queues outside of it, and turned out to have a reputation as some of the best in Tokyo. Even more handy was the fact that it stayed open till 4am – long after the last trains had carried everybody else away, and meant we could dive in without having to wait too long. The pork was easily the best I have ever had… but I didn’t really get any pictures. I’m sure one of my other compatriots will have.
As Stephen made clear, we made an exception for the final apartment, breaking any supposed budget we had – a balcony on the front of the building, and the roof terrace all to ourselves – it was a view made for midnight drinking, an opportunity we didn’t waste.
Stephen & I spent a day at the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – a rare free attraction in Tokyo – great views all around.
I have a really random grouping of pictures for this leg of the trip. I think I was trying to be a little less snap-happy (which is very difficult to do in Japan).
I have never been so compelled to take so many pictures before – I maybe felt it was time to slow it down a bit, and try to enjoy the experience of the last week as much as possible without the need to get a picture of absolutely *everything*.
One thing I need to stress is how amazing train stations are in Japan. Go to the lower levels, and you will find (and eat) some of the most amazing food ever. You will have an almost impossible time choosing from the selection that’s offered. Whenever the time comes that I’m back in Japan, I would be completely comfortable eating out of train stations for the majority of that time.
So. Much. Gyoza. These are Al’s favorite!
And mine… BUNS, hun:
I wish I’d gotten more train station pictures, but I was very distracted with all the food I was trying choose from. GO. You have to see it for yourself!
We saw plenty of people waiting in line/queueing for various food items throughout our travels here, and when we stayed in Ikebukuro, we finally went to one of these places! Actually, we liked it so much that we went twice… Three times? Can’t remember. It’s called Mutekiya and the ramen was wonderful. I think the last time we went there I wasn’t even that hungry, but I’m not rude – I ate all the noodles. It was our best ramen experience.
My first bowl had slightly less meat; small pieces of pork throughout, and lots of vegetables. I’m sorry vegetarians, but I imagine you’d have to search a little harder for a completely vegetarian bowl of ramen. While it’s fully possible to find a bowl that doesn’t have big slabs of meat inside it, usually the broth will still be cooked using a meat-based product.
Good thing I’m a quitter, and gave up on eating vegetarian however many years ago. The second time I went for the full pork experience.
Stephen mentioned that one day, we went to the Japanese version of Casa Bonita. That’s exactly what it was. Here he is about to get his ass kicked by some kids in a fishing video game. They all had to make the real motions one does while actually fishing: casting the line, and reeling it back in. Stephen said his arms hurt the next day.
I was so proud of my panda crepe, which was: a standard crepe folded into a cone shape, the bottom layers consisting of strawberries and whipped cream, the top layers consisting of ice cream (that’s what they made the panda face out of). Of course it was made with great precision and care. The Japanese girls who made it were just as excited to hand it over to me, as I was to receive it. Arigato gozaimasu!!
As usual, there were tons of amazing neon signs and lights on buildings.
Stephen chatting with a very friendly man who noticed that he had a Leica, so they compared their cameras. The man also said he loved America, and had lived in Ohio for many years while working on a degree. Just another interaction we had that was so friendly, it almost took us by surprise – only to remember how nice so many people were to us on previous occasions.
Stephen also mentioned the random cocktail bar we stumbled into. We made it a point to go back so they’d do one of their crazy bottle-tossing-way-better-than-Tom Cruise in ‘Cocktail’-shows for us, which resulted in a line of rainbow shots. ALL FOR US.
And here are a few more random pictures I took: