I’m writing in Starbucks, and it’s 8am, which is a time of day I didn’t often experience (at least not out of choice) until the last 6 months or so, when I’ve inexplicably become allergic to lying in. Is this something that happens when you hurtle towards your thirtieth year on earth? Or is it something in my subconscious mind telling me not to waste the day in a sweaty bed-nest, as I did so frequently in my twenties? This morning I was awake at half 5, lounged about until half 6, then up and out for half 7. Admittedly on a weekend or a day off I’d usually lie in slightly later than this (8 or 9 seems reasonable) but maybe the jet lag is affecting my body.
One thing I’ve found surprising here is that shops don’t open until 10.00/10.30, and cafes not until 11.00, which is why I’ve found myself in a branch of the world’s biggest coffee chain. Likewise, yesterday’s breakfast venture found me in a branch of Denny’s, that well known Japanese eatery (ahem). Ah yes, back to Monday. That’s where it started, in a Denny’s which was almost entirely like the last Denny’s I went to at Niagara Falls, only much friendlier and with miso on the menu. I had French toast and scrambled egg, delicious, but definitely not fodmap-friendly. I particularly enjoyed the children’s menu – everything here is so adorably illustrated.
Full of food, I headed to Odaiba, on Tokyo’s waterfront. This was somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for many years, not least because you travel to it by monorail. I love monorails; they’re like a 1960’s city planner’s vision of what the future would look like, and they also remind me of DisneyWorld, where there’s a monorail connecting the parks that even goes through a hotel. So sci-fi! The monorail to Odaiba didn’t disappoint, offering amazing views over the harbour areas, surrounded by endless skyscrapers. What I hadn’t anticipated on arriving at Odaiba was how huge it was going to be. At first I found it really difficult to navigate, although my slightly lost meandering did mean I came across this spectacular Daniel Buren sculptural piece.
My first port of call in Odaiba was a shopping centre called Venus Fort; not to buy anything (it’s all rather fancy) but to gawp at the faux Venetian interiors, which include fountains, classical architectural details and reproduction Botticelli’s at the information desk. I’ve not been to Vegas before, but it’s kind of how I imagine some of the shopping malls there must look. I swiftly headed to the next spot on my itinerary, the rainbow-hued ferris wheel, only to discover that it was closed. Apparently it’s being refurbished until March.
I had a quick wander through the Toyota Mega Web showroom (a huge, interactive museum & showroom rolled into one) but it wasn’t really my kind of thing, so I headed over to another (more reasonably priced) shopping centre called Diver City. I knew there was a Hello Kitty shop there, and a huge Daiso (a 100yen shop – equivalent to about 60p but so, so much better than any pound store at home) so I treated myself to quite a few bits, including lots of random snacks for the office when I get back to work. I’ve no idea what any of them are, but hopefully the surprise aspect will be part of the charm. I started to get quite unbearably hungry, so I took a recommendation from my guide book and tried out the Yoshinoya chain (it’s a fast food chain, as ubiquitous here as Burger King at home). I had a delicious black curry with rice, egg and cheese, topped with pickle. It set me back an unbelievably cheap £3.50, and as far as I could tell was totally fodmap-friendly (no onion in the sauce). You also get free green tea. I loved it, and I’ll definitely be going back for more later in the week.
Lunch done, I headed outside to see the giant Gundam statue, which had a huge crowd of people gathered around it waiting for it to light up and make noises. Pretty impressive. From there I headed towards the Fuji TV building, designed by Tange Kenzo. It’s one of the most unusual buildings I’ve ever seen, with the open, negative spaces being as integral to the design as the enclosed, habitable spaces. A little further along is a mini statue of liberty, and a nice boardwalk through the trees, heading down to the waterfront park area. By this point my feet were starting to ache, and I decided to make the onsen my next stop, not realising that it was about a 40 minute walk across Odaiba. I really deserved my relaxing foot soak when I arrived.
The onsen I chose isn’t a traditional one. It’s more like a cross between an amusement park and an onsen. It was absolutely packed, mostly with Japanese families but there were a few tourists there too, and much to my amusement some American Mormons, wearing their missionary name badges on their yukata. There are many rules involved in visiting an onsen, and I was glad I’d read up on etiquette before I arrived. That said, there was plenty of signage, including instructions on how to wear your rental yukata. When you enter the onsen you’re given a wristband key fob with a barcode, which is how you pay for anything you buy. The two central halls are full of food stands, amusement stalls (the Japanese equivalent of hook-a-duck or a coconut shy), shops selling souvenirs, arcade machines and a stage space where there was entertainment including ‘Tommy Yo-yo’, who purported to be a world champion yo-yoer.
It was all great fun, in a slightly Disneyland-esque fashion, and the baths themselves were calm and relaxing. The outdoor foot bath was lovely, and it was the perfect day for it. The onsen baths were a mixture of indoor and outdoor, and there were different temperatures and some with bubble jets. It was such a great experience, very liberating and I felt SO relaxed afterwards. To cool down I bought myself a very strange shaved-ice type of thing, which was bright blue and had sherbet on top. The only way I can describe it is like candyfloss that had been left in the freezer – very odd! All the walking and the lovely warm baths had made me rather sleepy, so it was a good thing there’s a rest room in the onsen where you can take a nap. I woke up feeling refreshed, and decided to head out on the free shuttle bus, which takes you from the onsen back into the city.
Harajuku was my destination for the evening; and I managed to tick-off a couple of my must-see locations. Laforet mall, to see where the Japanese subculture girls (Lolita, Visual Kei etc) buy their incredible (and super expensive) clothing, and the enormous Kiddyland toy shop. For a shop called Kiddyland I didn’t see a single child, just lots and lots of excitable adults like myself, oohing and aahing at all the cute, kawaii goodies. The whole top floor is devoted to Sanrio, and there is also loads of Disney, Ghibli, Miffy and Moomin stuff, and other cute merchandise. I fancied something sweet for my dinner, so I went for a rolled crepe, which seems to be a very popular treat over here. Mine was caramel cheesecake flavour, with a slice of cheesecake, caramel sauce, chopped nuts and whipped cream in a wafer-thin crepe. So, so tasty! I’m definitely going to head back to Harajuku in the day time, as there’s so much more to explore.
I headed back to the hotel and had a little tidy-up of my stuff, then tried out this hilarious kabuki design face-mask. It looks terrifying, but my skin feels great this morning! I’ll have to stock up on some before I leave.