Our first day back in Tokyo was the perfect example of the way you can cram so many fun activities into one day there without breaking a sweat. Any one of the four or five sights we saw would easily have required half a day or more in LA, but somehow we managed to do it all and still feel like we were on a day off from hardcore touring.
In the morning we checked out of the cracker box and hauled our luggage across the street and through a plaza to our next hotel, the Metropolitan Marunouchi. This sounds easier than it was, since the street we crossed was about eight lanes and the corner belonged to Tokyo Station, the second largest train station in Japan. Even Patrick acknowledged that it had been a good idea to walk the route the night before so we weren’t wandering around crossing and re-crossing streets with two giant suitcases and four large bags full of souvenirs as we tried to figure out which side it was on.
I picked Hotel Metropolitan Marunouchi because I wanted a place right next to Tokyo Station so we could make an early-morning departure for Kyoto, and I needed one that was cheaper than the oft-recommended Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo (which itself is among the least expensive hotels near Tokyo Station). In fact, the building Hotel Metropolitan Marunouchi is in, Sapia Tower, is literally steps from the north exit of Tokyo Station. The trick is finding the *right* north exit (Nihombashi), because there are at least two with “North” in the name among the dozens of station exits… It’s also the entrance where buses drop you off at Tokyo Station.
The entrance at night…
…and in the daytime!
There is an entrance to the Otemachi subway station right inside Sapia Tower and one directly across the street, but don’t be fooled! It’s really just a tunnel that takes you blocks and blocks away, while the Tokyo Station subway stop is a shorter walk away.
Like many of the hotels in Tokyo, Hotel Metropolitan Marunouchi starts about halfway up, with the lobby on the 27th floor and the rooms above.
We were only there to check our bags cuz it was too early to check in, but I’ll post the pictures we took of our room when we finally got one. I usually try to keep our stuff out of them so you can really see the room, but in this case, there was no other place to put it!
Our room looked out over the area of Tokyo Station where the bullet trains arrive and depart—very cool!
As I’d expected from the price, Hotel Metropolitan Marunouchi fell somewhere between our first Tokyo hotel (Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu) and the closet we got at Yaesu Terminal Hotel. It was quite compact and not laid out very well (did we really need a massive piece of furniture next to the desk that provided just three slender shelves?). The bathroom felt more like a room and less like a closet, which was nice, but wasn’t as big as the one at Akasaka Excel Hotel and could’ve benefited from a window instead of a wall. Also, I was disappointed to learn that Hotel Metropolitan Marunouchi does not have laundry facilities as advertised on Expedia. After missing our chance for clean clothes at the Disney hotels, this was my last hope of being able to refresh our wardrobe. Instead, we did a lot of washing in our sink—gack!
But I liked that the décor was sleek and the room finishes didn’t feel “budget-y” like in the last place. Also, the view was fabulous! Best of all, the hotel is ideally located if you want to be able to nip down to Tokyo Station at a moment’s notice. Besides being our departure point for Kyoto, the station gave us ATMs, a convenience store, access to the subway, and almost all of our meals, thanks to the numerous food courts and easy access to the Daimaru department store food hall—plus a fabulous underground shopping “street” for anime characters. More on that in a sec! We were also able to buy limo bus tickets back to the airport from the concierge. Maybe this is common in most Tokyo hotels, but it was an unexpected bonus when we needed it.
After we checked our bags with Bell Services, we headed down into Tokyo Station for lunch.
This was a sort of restaurant row with sit-down places. None of them were open yet though.
This place was open!
As we explored the subterranean city that is Tokyo Station, we stumbled on an avenue lined with tiny shops, each devoted to a different anime character or studio: Snoopy, Hello Kitty, Studio Ghibli, and whoever produces Domo, to name a few. There was also a Lego store and a Tomica store, and a bunch of shops devoted to characters I didn’t recognize.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t that knocked out by any of the Domo merch. I’m not sure what would have moved me to purchase, but this wasn’t it.
But before we allowed ourselves to lose a few hours on Tokyo Character Street, we pressed on in search of lunch and ended up in the Daimaru department store food hall.
Patrick got a bento box and I got pasta carbonara and some stringy-thing-wrapped shrimp and fried squid. Once again, we couldn’t find a place to actually eat what we’d bought, so we eventually located a ledge in a grotty subway stairwell and stood there. What’s the deal? Where are Tokyoites eating all the stuff they pick up in these food halls?
On our way back to Tokyo Character Street, we came across a place selling these dessert waffle sandwiches and I couldn’t resist. Patrick got a sandwich filled with fruit and whipped cream.
Back to Tokyo Character Street!
I found a shop devoted to Rascal, and older anime character who I guess is supposed to be a raccoon but looks to me more like a red panda than any of the red panda stuffed animals at the Ueno Zoo so that’s what I’m calling him! They had a trio of Rascal plush wearing different animal costumes, and I couldn’t resist getting this one:
My one big shopping regret from this trip—and really, how could I have very many when I was frantically purchasing everything that caught my eye because “When are we ever gonna get back here?!”—was not buying Patrick this fabulous 3-D Totoro zoetrope. Each figure (sold separately) is supposed to be put in numerical order on a turntable (also sold separately) and spun to make an animation.
Instead, Patrick picked the Totoro with the widest mouth and we took that home!
They also had this scene:
I just found the whole set and the turntable online, but I can’t seem to work myself back up into “When are we ever gonna get back here?!” mode to spend that much!
After that, we rode the train to Ueno Park to walk under the arbor of cherry blossoms, which had opened since I was there last week – hooray!
Everybody and their brother was out in Ueno Park now that the cherry blossoms had bloomed.
We got to see the picnics and everything! People put down blankets and sheets to hold their place hours in advance—it’s kinda like waiting for Fantasmic! at Disneyland, but with more booze.
(We kinda retraced a lot of my steps today—sorry if you remember some of this stuff from before!)
From Ueno station, we took the subway to Asakusa to see Kappabashi, a.k.a. “Kitchenware Town”… Besides being THE place to get restaurant supplies in Tokyo, it is home to a large concentration of plastic food retailers, and they’re open to the public! This was at the top of our list of places to see in Tokyo cuz, hey, plastic food!
Because it was Sunday, only a few places were open. The shops were so tiny that even 10 customers made it wall-to-wall bodies. We figured fake food would be an awesome souvenir of Tokyo, so we scoured the shelves looking for affordable options. The more elaborate and realistic it is, the more expensive it is. Some of the noodle bowls were upwards of $150 each!
As we passed between the two shops that were open, we noticed this building that looked like it must be someplace historical, so we took some pictures. Anyone who can tell me what it is wins a prize!
I decided I wanted an ice cream sundae for my souvenir, but it was so hard to pick one!
We got Patrick’s parents a piece of sushi and a super-realistic molded soup and then went looking for a bowl to put it in.
After that we went off to Akhiabara in search of Café Nekko JaLaLa, the very first cat café in Tokyo. I’d been dying to see one ever since I read about them in the paper a few years ago. I think the trend started with maid cafes, where you get tea served to you by cuties in maid uniforms (all very innocent though—it’s not a Japanese version of Hooters!) and expanded when someone realized there was a niche to serve all the cat-loving citizens of Tokyo who don’t have space to keep pets.
At a cat café you pay for a block of time to hang out in a room full of well-kept cats and drink tea. You can play with them and take pictures of them, but the cats are definitely in charge. There are also lots of rules to protect them, like no tail pulling and no waking sleeping kitties.
The problem is, not a lot of the ones that we researched catered to English speakers, and it was quite a trick to even FIND Café Nekko JaLaLa, let alone make a reservation. So you can bet I was taking copious photos and notes when we went. The website is all in Japanese and its map didn’t help a darn bit—we ended up having to phone and get talked to their doorstep in my broken Japanese (+81 3 3258 2525).
Here are the directions I typed into my iPhone after we found the place:
- Take the subway to Suchirocho station.
- Use Exit 3 from the station and turn left onto Kuramaebashi-dori. When you get to Tsumakoizaka, turn left again.
- Walk one long block, cross a small street/alley, and Cafe Neko JaLaLa will be on your left.
We muddled through signing up for a block of time at the window in the small anteroom and were asked to come back 15 minutes later. Once we got inside the cafe, we put on the neck tags they gave us, took off our shoes and sanitized our hands, ordered some hot chocolate, and got to pet as many of the surprisingly standoffish kitties as we could catch, including some GIANT Maine Coons (favorite!).
It was fun, but we were surprised to find that none of our little calls and noises that work on American kitties worked on Japanese kitties. Not only can’t we speak Japanese, we can’t even speak Japanese Cat! One of the staffers did bring me a ginormous orange kitty to hold for a few glorious milliseconds until it leapt out of my arms.
We weren’t entirely sure how big a block of time we’d bought at the café, so we just stayed until someone began politely motioning at us toward the door. In our haste we forgot to give back our badges and didn’t discover them til we got back to the hotel—whoops!
We took the subway back to out hotel, checked in and freshened up a bit before heading out in search of dinner. I wanted to show Patrick Roppongi Hills and the statue of Maman the spider, so we walked, like, 5 miles through the tunnel to Otematchi station and took the subway just a few stops. Along the way we saw….
Apparently, according to this cartoon, Roppongi Hills shopping mall is underground? We didn’t figure it out until we saw the poster…
I *think* this is Mori Tower, which houses Tokyo City View, the highest viewpoint in Tokyo, and the Mori Art Museum, which in March 2010 was hosting an exhibit so stomach-churningly disturbing that my husband steered me out of the room before I could see it. (Either that or it was the world’s largest Totoro plush and he knew I would try to make off with it under my coat…)
But first, Maman!
Creepy, creepy Maman….
We circled the “restaurant row” floor at Roppongi Hills a couple of times looking for a sit-down meal that wouldn’t break the bank—not easy in Tokyo, where dinner can run $100/person just for the food. We settled for a mediocre dinner at Roy’s with a stunning view of Tokyo Tower (it was only later that I realized it was *that* Roy’s, the Hawaiian chain restaurant—d’oh!).
By the time I’d wrestled my way to a few scraps of crab meat to go with my pasta, I had grease all the way up to my elbows, so I stepped out into the hall to find the restroom…. And stepped right in someone’s vomit—GROSS!!!
Aside from the subpar food and the upchuck, our dinner was quite nice. The view was nice, the atmosphere dim and romantic, and our server was outstanding. The manager even came over to explain that the light patterns on Tokyo Tower change every few hours throughout the night and we were about to see another one. We never did go up in Tokyo Tower, our theory being that it was more interesting to look *at* it then look *out of* it.
After dinner we poked around in the museum gift shop and then paid something like $15 each to spend 30 minutes in Tokyo City View. It was worth it, though—great view!
At some point Patrick marveled, “So this is what Godzilla sees!”
We even saw our hotel but didn’t know it.
I think this was the restaurant but it converts to a club at night? Or maybe they were just having a private party.
On the way home we saw this guy—I wonder if they make a plush of him!
…And the view of the bullet train departure area from our room!