Tokyo Travel Diary – Day 4

Friday, 25 January, 2013. 16:24. Narita Express train to Narita Airport.

I’m on my way home after a final day spent seeing some of the sights of Tokyo. I woke up at 06:30, but lazed in bed until 08:00, before rising and having a shower to wake myself up. After dressing I went down to the 7-11 to get some sushi for breakfast again. While eating, I checked my email and packed my bags for the trip home. A bit after 09:00, I checked out of the hotel and left my luggage there to pick up later, taking only my small camera bag with me.

I hopped on a train to Ueno, where I got off and walked through the park there towards the Tokyo National Museum. This park was nowhere near as foresty and nice as the one near Meiji-Jingu, being much more open and having scattered deciduous trees which were bare for the winter. There was a large central square paved with concrete, around a pond and fountain. There were a lot of people around, including several groups of schoolkids. I presumed many of them would be on excursions to one or more of the museums in the park. I walked past the Museum of Western and Occidental Art, the National Museum of Nature and Science, and the Ueno Zoo, heading to the National Museum.

Tokyo National Museum
Tokyo National Museum.

Admission was a reasonable 600 yen, which I deposited in a machine with the help of a lady there, in exchange for a ticket to the regular exhibit. I didn’t have time to check out the special exhibit, so didn’t pay extra. The regular exhibit consisted of the contents of three separate buildings in the museum complex, and I entered the main central building first. I started on the ground floor, going clockwise around the loop of rooms that made up the floor. I realised the tour was probably intended to be done anticlockwise, and starting on the upper floor, as I began with fairly modern Japanese art and progressed to older stuff as I went around, and then even older upstairs.

The exhibits consisted of various items including lacquerware, metalwork, samurai era weapons and armour, calligraphy, painted screens, pottery, ornamental ware, kabuki and noh masks and costumes, paintings, woodcut prints, and some spectacular decorated silk robes and other fabric items. Once that was exhausted, I went to the second building, which was Asian art from non-Japanese cultures. This included works from China, Korea, India, Khmer works from Cambodia, and, oddly, a few Egyptian antiquities including a mummy and two large granite statues of Sekhmet.

Samurai painting
Painting of samurai, Tokyo National Museum.

By the time I was done, it was just after midday and I was hungry and footsore. There was a restaurant attached to the Asian art building, so I went to have a look. I’d thought it was a cafeteria, but it was a full-on restaurant, although fairly casual looking, with posters of the available dishes displayed outside. I spotted a tempura-don and that convinced me to go in. It turned out I had to add my name to a waiting list – on which every other name written above me was in Japanese. Fortunately, there were only two parties ahead of me and I didn’t have to wait long for a table. I ordered the tempura “ten-don” and an orange juice. The food arrived on a lacquered wooden tray, with a large covered bowl and a small covered bowl, plus a little tray containing pickled radishes and a covered ceramic cup. The large bowl contained the rice and tempura, the small bowl miso soup, and the cup contained what looked like custard. I tried it with the small spoon provided and found it to be savoury, and covering a layer of fish and prawn pieces. I realised it must be a chawanmushi. The food was all good and really hit the spot.

After paying, I went over to the third building in the regular exhibit, an ultra-modern piece of architecture with lots of straight lines and a big reflecting pool out the front that you cross on a causeway. This is a smaller building and contains a special collection of items which belonged to a former emperor or something. (look this up) There were kept in very dimly lit rooms for preservation, and consisted mostly of bronze statues and other metal items plus some pottery.

Japanese vase
Glazed vase, Tokyo National Museum.

Leaving the museum, I was tempted by the Nature and Science museum, but figured I didn’t really have enough time to do it justice. So I headed back to Ueno station and caught a train two stops to Akihabara, to browse around the electronic goods shops there. Akihabara was confusing, as the station had several exits. I picked the one labelled “Electric Town Exit”, figuring that sounded the most promising. This dumped me on a street lined with glary manic signs and all manner of shops peddling odd wares. Walking around a bit, I noticed that many of the places were tiny stalls selling electronic components: cables, lights, switches, capacitors, and so on. There were also several places that looked decidedly dodgy, covered in advertising featuring scantily clad woman, both real and anime drawings.

I decided to try my luck on the other side of the station, which had a large building covered with neon advertising electronics brands. This turned out to be the Yodobashi electronics store, which is really more what I’d been seeking in the first place. Its 9 levels are all filled with electronic consumer products of all sorts. There’s a floor for cameras, a floor for computers, a floor for TV and video, a floor for household appliances, and so on. I went to the floor for toys and games, which featured a lot of video game stuff, plus quite a bit of other random hobby stuff like collectible cards, model vehicle sets, puzzles and so on, plus children’s toys and a section for outdoor things like bicycles and skateboards. I grabbed a card deck box and a couple of weird Rubik’s cube variants that I’d never seen before.

25/365 Akihabara Electric Town
Streets of Akihabara.

It was getting time to be heading back to the hotel, so I hopped back on the train to Shinagawa and collected my luggage from the hotel reception. I sat for a bit in the lobby and repacked my bags slightly, putting my large camera and scarf into the luggage for the flight home. Then I headed out to the station to catch the Narita Express train to the airport. The sun is setting as the train makes its way to Narita. The views of the city passing by are fascinating, and now the train is in countryside, with fields and trees and only the odd building here and there.

JAL Sakura Club Lounge, Narita Airport. 18:33

My flight home just goes from bad to worse. When my work booked it, economy class was sold out, so they got me a premium economy seat. And when I arrived here to check in, they said very apologetically that premium economy was full, so they were upgrading me to business class! And they gave me access to the JAL Sakura Club Lounge! With free food and drinks!

I was planning to buy dinner here at the airport, but it turned out I don’t have to. I got some rice with seaweed, topped with a selection of vegetables and some sort of tofu balls I think, in a thick sauce, then had some salad, and some fruit salad as a sweet. I actually didn’t want to stuff myself because I’ll probably get a good meal on the plane shortly after take-off too. So I’m comfortably full and relaxing in a deep armchair, watching the planes out the panoramic window, while I wait for my flight. This is much nicer than wandering around looking at the shops with the crowds. Still, I can’t wait to get home.

(written at home, next day)

The flight was pretty eventless, except for the business class meal, which was astonishing. We had a choice of seven different wines, from which I chose the Errazuriz Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Chile. There was a choice of three meal options: “Contemporary French”, “Casual Dining”, and “Ehime Gozen” Japanese meal, which I chose. It consisted of:

  • a syokado bento box containing:
    • boiled spinach and maitake mushroom
    • deep-fried silver-stripe round herring
    • cuttlefish roll with burdock
    • sweet-simmered chestnut and fish cake
    • Japanese pickles
    • citrus marinaded radish
    • fish cake tempura
    • tangerine and broad bean with tofu sauce
    • simmered taro and chicken
  • grilled yellowtail, “yuzu miso” flavour
  • steamed rice
  • miso soup
  • dessert of lemon grass flavoured ganache and coconut ice cream
Business class dinner
Business class in-flight meal on JAL.

After finishing this off, I reclined my seat back into the almost full horizontal sleeping position, donned the complimentary eyeshades and earplugs, and relaxed. I didn’t really feel like I slept, but I must have because I was thinking we were about an hour after the dinner when they started serving the breakfast snacks. I remained inert as I wasn’t hungry yet and they let me rest undisturbed. Before I knew it we were into the landing routine.

Upon landing, I got a breeze through the immigration and customs. I was hoping to get through quickly, but was horrified to see about three other large planefuls of people ahead of us. The queues at immigration were several hundreds of people. However, I moved to the “smart” immigration check with my electronic passport, and got through the computerised identity check in a couple of minutes, thus bypassing most of the crowd. I had no checked bags, so went straight to customs, where I was waved through without a second glance after I declared I was carrying some boxes of sweets. I was out of the terminal and in the taxi rank a second later, and there was no queue there, so I was off straight away! I was home within 40 minutes of the plane hitting the runway – a record that I can’t ever see being beaten in the future.

One Response to “Tokyo Travel Diary – Day 4”

  1. Chris Robertson says:

    I really enjoy your travel diaries. “This is a smaller building and contains a special collection of items which belonged to a former emperor or something. (look this up)” sounds like it might be

    Running an image search on “The Gallery of Hōryū-ji Treasures” lends credence to this, based on your description of the reflecting pool.

Leave a Reply