Nakatsugawa to Tokyo

We woke up early with the sunlight from the 04:45 sunrise coming in through the rice paper windows, but snoozed until just after 07:00. Breakfast was from 7-Eleven again, but this time we’d found salad and vegetable options which were a nice change from onigiri. The vegetables were very fresh and crisp. I had a salad with some chicken pieces and a yuzu dressing, while my wife had vegetable sticks. Then we packed our bags and checked out.

Nakatsugawa station was just a short walk away and we tapped our Suica cards on for the ride back to Nagoya. A train pulled in just as we arrived, ready to turn around and depart in about 15 minutes. We got on board and waited sitting on the train. The train was a rapid service, skipping a few stops, and taking 50 minutes to reach Nagoya. It started mostly empty but slowly filled up along the way until there were several passengers standing. At Nakatsugawa a group consisting of two kids about 7 or 8 years old and what looked like their mother and grandmother got on as well. The women were speaking Japanese to each other and the kids were chatting in English with what we agreed was an Australian accent. I guess the mother and kids were from Australia, visiting the Japanese grandmother.

At Nagoya we had another weird incident with the gates between the normal trains and the Shinkansen. There was a Shinkansen ticket machine just before the gates and so I stopped to buy tickets to Tokyo. There was one confusing screen which asked if I wanted fare tickets and non-reserved seat tickets, or just fare tickets. I chose the fare tickets. Then when we tried to go through the gates it rejected our Suica cards, and also rejected the Shinkansen ticket. We went to the assistance window and a staff member there told us we needed the non-reserved seat ticket as well. I said we’d come from Nakatsugawa and needed to tap off our Suica cards. He did some magic with the IC card reader and got us to tap our cards there. Then he sold us tickets from Nakatsugawa to Tokyo and said we needed to insert both the new ticket and the one I’d bought at the machine together into the gate to get through. The card reader had cancelled our tap on fare, so overall we’d paid the correct fare, but again in an extremely convoluted way. It’s weird, at every other station the interface between regular trains and Shinkansen was straightforward and obvious, but both time in Nagoya we got stymied by it.

Finally managing to get into the Shinkansen platforms we headed upstairs and a train was just arriving. We walked down to car 3 for the non-reserved seating just in time to get on at the end of the queue of passengers. I thought we might have trouble getting seats, but we magically found a row of three seats completely unoccupied and grabbed it. The trip to Shinagawa took just over 1.5 hours.

Out hotel, the Shinagawa Prince, was right across the road from Shinagawa Station. It’s a confusing complex of four different hotel towers, with a maze-like warren of levels and passages between them. We tried checking in at one of the towers and were instructed to follow a convoluted path to another tower. They checked us in and gave us early access to our room, which was nice, since it was now about 12:30 and it would have been less fun to have to leave our luggage and walk around without having a chance to freshen up.

The first order of business was lunch. We found a 7-Eleven right outside the lobby level entrance to our hotel tower, and there was also a food court there. My wife suggested she get some onigiri from the 7-Eleven and I could get whatever I wanted from the food court. Looking around the half-dozen or so outlets inside the food court, I chose a plate of takoyaki, topped with cod roe for a change. They were decent, and very hot as usual.

Stomachs full, we went to Shinagawa Station to find a coffee shop and my wife spotted a Blue Bottle Coffee at the Shinkansen side, so we sat in there and I got some sparkling water to drink too. The shop had a view out a glass wall over the bustling people moving through the station, but there were signs saying no photography. Obviously it must have been problematically popular for photos.

After drinks, we boarded a Yamanote Line train for Harajuku. Here we visited the Meiji Jingu shrine and its beautiful garden. We went slowly because the air was oppressively humid. It was about 29°C according to the weather site I checked, but really steamy. The past cities were humid, but this was really an another level, and very energy-sapping. We didn’t spend long in the shrine itself, but retreated to the shrine garden, which is a tranquil place and a bit cooler with the cover of trees. We made sure to visit Kiyomasa’s Well, an ancient well which provides cool spring water year round, and which we washed our hands and forearms in to cool down. Being June, the irises were just starting to appear and the water lilies were flowering, which made the large pond quite pretty. Last time I’d been here, ten years ago, it was January, and the pond was partly frozen over.

Leaving Meiji Jingu, we decided to walk the kilometre or so to Shibuya. Fortunately it was downhill! We reached Shibuya Crossing, and took several photos at street level before entering the Starbucks and ordering some drinks so we could go upstairs and get an elevated view out the window. They had a Tokyo special, in which you could have a lemon cake blended into any drink, so I had that in a vanilla frappe and it was pretty good. We even managed to get seats at the window, and took a few photos and videos of people swarming across the crossing.

It was time to explore the area and check out some shops. Entering one likely looking building hoping to find a department store or mall we found ourselves in a for emporium that sprawled over multiple levels. This was a chance to use the toilets on the basement level, so we did that. Emerging, we went down a street or two and ended up in the Miyashita Park shopping mall, where we enjoyed the cool air conditioning while browsing around. Then we went out to the street to explore some more. My wife stopped by a Starbucks to post some Instagrams using the WiFi, and I searched for any vegetarian restaurants in the area, not really holding out much hope. But I find a vegan place called Izakaya Masaka, just a few hundred metres away!

We followed Google Maps to the location. It turned out the izakaya was located in a modern shopping mall, Shibuya Parco. In the basement restaurant level, called CHAOS KITCHEN (in all caps). It was a bit of a rabbit warren down there, with dozens of small restaurants in dimly lit and heavily mirrored passages. We located the izakaya and found several customers waiting outside on seats. I added my name to the waiting list and we sat down. One other group arrived shortly after us, four young adults speaking French. And then the staff took the waiting list away and replaced it with a sign saying they couldn’t accept any more customers for the evening. So we were lucky to arrive when we did.

As we waited, we saw several other prospective diners turn up, look at the sign, and walk away in disappointment. It’s amazing that vegetarian/vegan places aren’t more common in Japan, because many tourists seek them out, and it’s difficult to find any and when you do it’s often very hard to get a table. You’d think more people would open vegetarian places to cater to the obvious demand, but it doesn’t seem to be a popular move.

We ended up waiting maybe 45 or 50 minutes for those queued ahead of us to be seated until it was finally our turn. It turned out the place was tiny, with only two tables of four, a counter seating three, and six tables of two, cramped into a space barely large enough. The ordering was strictly by a QR code scan on a phone, but we couldn’t do that as we had no roaming on our phones, so the waitress gave us one of the staff’s phones to order on. We ordered a serve of gyoza, a side of szechuan spiced fried potato wedges, and two plates of karaage fried vegan “chicken”. These came with four fried balls per plate and a choice of sauces, from which we chose the sesame and the onion/lemon. The food was really good and filling, and definitely hit the spot after all that waiting.

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo

We headed back to Shibuya Crossing to take some night time photos. Then we caught a train back to Shinagawa and our hotel. I grabbed a salad for breakfast and a carrot cake for dessert from the 7-Eleven and then we retired to our room for the night.

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