Asakusa, Ginza, and Shin-Yokohama

This morning we slept in. The new hotel room is larger and more comfortable than any of the others, which may have led to us both getting good sleeps and snoozing in a bit longer after the exhaustions of the past few days. I had my salad for breakfast and we prepared to go out for the day. I let my wife choose what to do since I didn’t have any plans for Tokyo beyond showing her Meiji Jingu, which we did yesterday. She did some searching and decided we should go see Asakusa, an area Google described as having an old Tokyo vibe and streets lined with craft shops and street-food stalls. And then if we had time we could go to Ginza to check out the shopping area there.

My wife’s plan for breakfast was to get some croissants or other boulangerie goodies from the good looking French bakery near the 7-Eleven just outside the hotel. They opened at 09:00 and bit the time we were ready to go it was after that. But when she went over to look, it turned out they had a sign on the door indicating that for today only they would open at 11:00. So without her breakfast we went to the Blue Bottle coffee shop in Shinagawa station, where she got her morning coffee. I noticed that they also sold granola bowls with milk and pointed it out, and she got one of those, which she really enjoyed, so it turned out okay in the end.

We took a Keikyu line train for Asakusa, where we took a few moments to get our bearings. While Japanese train stations are typically very well signposted and straightforward to navigate once you know where you need to go and get over the whole foreign country thing, one thing remains really tricky. Even if you know you want to go out the west exit of a station, the exist aren’t labelled with simple directions. They’re typically labelled with things like “Taiho Exit” and “Karazushi Exit” which are completely meaningless if you don’t know which side of the station those two things are on.

Anyway, we exited the station on the correct side, but I hadn’t exactly located this area of crafts and street food, so we wandered around a few blocks until we noticed a large crowd of people down one street. Heading that way revealed the extremely busy area right in front of the Kaminarimon, a large gate leading to the Senso-ji shrine. Hundreds of tourists were milling around it, taking photos, and then moving on to the street leading north to the shrine.

This street was filled with hundreds of small shops in four rows with three paths between them, all full of people. This was obviously a very touristy area. Some of the shops were cheap tourist trash, but others had interesting and genuine looking items, and there were also numerous food stalls. Although there were also signs everywhere saying that food was strictly for take away and eating in the street was forbidden, although we saw a lot of the tourists ignoring that and just eating whatever they’d just bought as they walked along. There were also many people dressed in kimonos wandering around, both women and men in their different styles – who mostly looked like tourists who had hired them for the day.

The weather was hotter and if anything more humid than yesterday. The clouds broke up and the sun shone strongly. I made sure to use lots of sunscreen and several time we stopped in the shade or better yet inside a stall where they had fans blowing a cooling breeze, just to cool down for a minute. We bought a few things: small souvenirs for people back home, and also a couple of small buns with a seasonal limited lemon filling that we ate a bit later as a snack. It was interesting to see this area, but the combination of the oppressive heat and the crowds of tourists made it good to get away quickly after we’d explored most of it.

We walked back to Asakusa station and this time took a Ginza line train to Ginza. Here we emerged right under the Mitsubishi department store, which we went into to find some toilets. After that I suggested we go up to the 9th floor to get some lunch at the cafe there, which looked like it had good sandwiches from the photo on the signage. We just wanted somewhere we could sit for a bit out of the heat. I got a “french fries set” which consisted of a choice of sandwich (chicken and salad), a small salad, fries, and a drink. My wife had had a late breakfast so wasn’t very hungry, so I suggested she could have the salad or some of the fries and the drink, while I’d have the sandwich and whatever else she didn’t want. She chose an iced matcha latte, but the woman at the cashier’s station pointed out that only certain drinks were included in the lunch sets. So I chose and orange juice and bought the latte separately. The food was decent, with the sandwich being stuffed with plenty of salad, and the bread fresh and not soggy at all.

After eating, we went down to street level and explored the blocks around the main intersection of Ginza, where all the super expensive brands had shops. We found that moving a block or two off the main streets revealed a more down-to-earth selection of shops, mixed with restaurants and other things that were more interesting than the luxury brands. Again it was so hot that we ducked into several shops ostensibly to browse but also really to get into some blissful air conditioning. My wife bought a traditional Japanese fan and fan case from Itoya, a somewhat upmarket stationery and art supply store, as a gift for her mother. She also got some traditional sweets from Ginza Kikunoya, a sweet shop originally opened in 1890.

Having picked up several items and become hot and a bit exhausted, we decided to return to our hotel before heading to Yokohama for our dinner appointment. We dropped off our items, freshened up a bit, and left again just before 17:00. I’d received a dinner invitation from one of my ISO standards colleagues who we saw in Okayama last week. He’d invited us down to Yokohama to eat with him and his wife at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. This was a place we went to last time we were in Japan for the 2019 ISO meeting in Yokohama, and M. had enjoyed it a lot because of the excellent vegetarian ramen there. She’d suggested we go back, but I’d said it was a long way to go just for dinner – but now we had an excuse! So we’d accepted the dinner invitation and now we made our way there by first catching a Keikyu line train to Higashi-Kanagawa before transferring to a Yokohama line train for Shin-Yokohama.

We arrived about 17:50, and my colleague Atsushi was waiting for us at Exit 8 from the station as I’d suggested. He said his wife was arriving by Shinkansen and would join us about 18:40, so in the meantime we could look at the museum part of the Ramen Museum. He led us there, but got briefly confused when he took a wrong turn and didn’t recognise the street. Consulting a map on his phone he found the right street a block over. We browsed the museum exhibits slowly as we knew we had a bit of time to wait. I bought a jar of seven-spice pepper for my mother as a gift. His wife Mihaela showed up a the expected time and we descended into the basement level where the ramen shops were. The shop Komurasaki had vegetarian ramen that my wife wanted (there was another option but it was very spicy and less appealing), and Mihaela was vegetarian too, so approved of our choice. Atsushi and I both chose the “special” tonkotsu ramen with all the trimmings. The food was excellent.

After eating, we went for a walk in the cooler but still very warm night air towards Nissan Stadium, host of the FIFA World Cup final in 2002. It was a pleasant walk through a park and along a small river and we chatted and shared stories along the way. Mihaela was Romanian and had moved to Japan about 30 years ago. I might have made a faux-pas when I mentioned that I’d be hosting an ISO Photography meeting in October next year, and Mihaela perked up and said she’d love to visit Australia again and would accompany Atsushi, and asked him why she hadn’t told her about that yet! She said maybe she’d even stay longer because Atsushi would be travelling on business and his company wouldn’t let him stay longer that required for the meetings. After stopping to take a few photos at the stadium we returned to Shin-Yokohama station where they farewelled us and we reversed our train trip back to the hotel.

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