On our first full day in Tokyo, I foolishly decided that Patrick should take the camera to the set with him because I didn’t want to lug it all over town. Which means that most of the photos I have for this day’s report are crappy iPhone pix. Sorry! Fortunately I had the camera with me the rest of the trip.
We woke up pretty early and decided to get up and go looking for breakfast. Unfortunately, the only place open at 6am was McDonald’s. We figured at least we’d get to try their crazy Japanese food but found only Egg McMuffins on the menu.
The one difference was that the hashbrowns were amazing – light and crispy and greaseless. I guess that’s only to be expected in the country that perfected tempura!
We sat upstairs at a counter under a window with a great view. From there, we spotted our first “secret” Japanese ad by an American star—a coffee vending machine with a giant picture of a bored-looking Tommy Lee Jones.
It makes you wonder if he was the inspiration for Bill Murray’s character in Lost In Translation. Later I saw him in a TV ad for Boss coffee, speaking Japanese! Spotting endorsements by American stars who never shill anything in the States became one of our favorite pastimes.
After breakfast we went back to the room and Patrick fixed up one of the puppets while I read one of my guidebooks and fell back asleep for about an hour. We also took a couple more pix of the hotel room, such as this prize-winning shot of the closet.
The toiletry collection was pretty impressive, if somewhat random (elastic headbands seem to be a big deal over there, cuz we got one in every room!). I read somewhere that the Japanese don’t travel with toiletries and that hotels supply everything you might need. This doesn’t really work if you’re a beauty-product, um, hooker like I am, but you could prolly get by if you were a guy.
Another feature that I thought was quite nifty – your hotel room key card activates the lights. You keep it in this tray while you’re in the room, and then when you leave and take it with you, all the lights automatically go out. The only problem is that it’s quite easy to forget to take your key with you when you leave!
Right before Patrick had to leave for the shoot, we grabbed a bite to eat at 7-Eleven (where I discovered these delicious crabby-eggy rice thingies – mmmm!) and ate it on a bench outside the hotel. I know, I know – we just ate! But we both found that all we wanted to do those first few days was eat every single food product we saw.
We were there almost three weeks, but I never did get the hang of opening the elaborately wrapped onigiri (rice trangles stuffed with meat or veggie filling and wrapped in seaweed). The wrappers have all these arrows and numbers all over them… I don’t know what I was doing wrong!
After lunch, Patrick went off to the studio with the camera. Until the ad debuts, the only photos I can show you from the set are these:
Apparently each group at the shoot got one of these – the puppeteers, the execs, the crew. But only the puppeteers’ basket was perpetually left empty and spinning…
I decided I’d spend the day checking out all the fabulous shopping areas I was interested in, since that was something Patrick wouldn’t be as interested in and wouldn’t feel left out of.
I went across the street to the subway station and bought my PASMO subway pass at the office because I was intimidated by the machines. I needn’t have worried – I used them the next day to buy Patrick’s pass and had no trouble. So I bought my PASMO and picked up an English language subway map. Then I took the subway to Tokyo Midtown, a newish office/mall/hotel complex that’s prolly the most beautiful mall I’ve ever seen. And I have no pictures for you, except of the art installation out front.
However, I’ve put together a gallery of images on Flickr – check it out HERE.
My first stop was Muji, a housewares store that was my absolute favorite place to shop when I lived in London. No pictures here either (there’s one in the Flickr set) but basically they specialize in well designed, well priced basics and sell everything from clothes and beauty products to office supplies and cleaning products. Now that good design has become more widely available in the States, my reaction to Muji this time was kinda like, “…So what was my big deal with this place?”
Tokyo Midtown is also jam-packed with these gorgeous, jewel box-like confectioners – patisseries, chocolatiers, and fabulous bread bakeries. They seem to love their French food in Tokyo. Almost all of the shops had signs on the display cases that said “no photography,” but I found a shot from Flickr user chaxiubao for ya, and there’s a picture of one of the most beautiful patisseries in my Flickr set.
Until a few weeks ago, Tokyo Midtown was home to the tallest building in Tokyo (the tallest structure being Tokyo Tower – apparently there’s a difference), Midtown Tower. While we were in town, both were surpassed by a new skyscraper, Tokyo Sky Tree, which will actually be nearly twice as tall as Tokyo Tower when it’s done. Crazy! I briefly considered going up to the restaurant in the Ritz inside Midtown Tower to see the view, but I didn’t want to have to pay $40 for tea. Plus, Patrick woulda killed me if I’d gone without him!
Next I hoofed it over to Roppongi Hills, another glamorous mall complex and home to Tokyo City View (10th – no wait, 11th now…? – tallest building in Tokyo, for those of you playing along at home). One of its most famous sites is the ginormous spider sculpture, called Maman. Apparently there are eight of these sculptures installed around the world.
I couldn’t get one good shot of it, so I’ll give you two bad ones…
And I thought somebody might be interested in this…
Maybe I was starting to get mall-ed out, but I was kinda underwhelmed – Roppongi Hills is more about monolithic slabs of concrete and labyrinthine levels and half levels that make it impossible to get anyplace that looks fun to explore.
I took a break in the lobby of the Hyatt to read my guidebook. I was bored and tired, so I decided to catch the subway to Ginza and go looking for a place mentioned in the book, 100% Chocolate Café. What could be bad? When I got up, a guy ran after me waving the bookmark I dropped, which made me love Tokyo even more.
So this is when I learned never to exit the subway without looking at the map and figuring out where I’d end up. When I got out there, everything looked the same, and nothing looked like the map in my book. I was wandering around, neck craned, mouth agape, guidebook clutched to my chest, when a stranger walked up to me and asked if I needed help – just like the guidebook said would happen! I pointed to 100% Chocolate Café in my book, and he motioned for me to follow him around the corner and right up to it. Fabulous!
The cafe is very chic and very tiny. I figured out later that it’s owned by Meiji, which is sort of the Néstle of Japan, and is like the flagship boutique for their chocolate division.
The back wall is lined with cases containing tubs of the various different kinds of chocolate they make – which may or may not have been real. Japan is the birthplace of the fake food display, after all…
They sell 56 varieties of chocolate bar, but they only have about three things on their menu! I guess I thought it would be, like, the Cheesecake Factory of chocolate. I got a small slice of cake with whipped chocolate frosting, which was OK. However, the hot chocolate was the best I’ve ever had (made from melted chocolate, not powder), and frankly it was just fun to be there, in 100% Chocolate Cafe.
My Japanese wasn’t good enough to learn any of this from the girls at the counter, but I later read on the Internets that the chocolates are numbered in a particular order. 1–22 are single-bean chocolate from the cacao of one country. 23 and 24 are bitter chocolate with small pieces of cacao beans. 24–28 use different kinds of sweeteners (I tried the maple one), while 26–36 are the variations of milk. 37–51 are variations of flavors including fruits and herbs (they gave me a sample of lavender, and yep! It tasted like lavender!) 52–54 are the “healthy” ones, and 55 and 56 are the historical flavors. I liked the one from 1926!
After that I wandered down the main drag in Ginza, which is Tokyo’s answer to Beverly Hills, stopping in big shiny department stores to look at makeup and accessories. I stumbled across this amazing Chanel pop-up store designed to promote some new lipgloss or lipstick. It had a row of makeup mirrors, and professional makeup artists were giving makeovers! I tried to sign up, but they were booked for the rest of the promotion – weeks and weeks.
Finally I got to Ito-ya, the biggest stationery shop in Tokyo. The guidebook said it was 3 floors, but it was really 8 floors, one devoted to office supplies, one just pens, one all datebooks and journals, etc. I was on a mission to find cute Japanese stationery for my pal Jensey, who’d given me a generous budget and free reign to pick whatever I thought was the best.
After exploring 7 floors, I was kinda disappointed I’d only found one cute set of stationery for Jensey. And then I went down to the basement and hit the jackpot – holy crap, it was wall-to-wall adorable stationery sets exactly like she wanted! And there was a whole corner of just Disney stuff that was gorgeous – super-classy, some of it die-cut, all of it sweet enough to give you a toothache. So I got her a few too many things (like these dumb 3D postcards… the 3D is amazing, but the images are mostly silly. And I thought they were ¥80, but it turns out that’s how much postage they need – they were actually ¥525!)
Afterward, I poked my head in Hotel Gracery Ginza, the place we were going to stay before I started worrying about having to make subway connections with luggage on the way back from Disney. I’d still consider it for a future trip – I was able to book an amazing rate of $100/night directly through their website before I changed my mind. The location can’t be beat – right around the corner from Chuo-Dori, the main drag, and fairly close to the Ginza subway station. The rooms are stylish and look no smaller than those of most budget Tokyo hotels.
From there it was more wandering into department stores and stuff. I found a giant poster of Michael Buble, which I was compelled to shoot for Jensey.
At the end of the main drag I found Hakuhinkan Toy Park, a ginormous 4-level toy store full of more Westerners than I’d seen anywhere since we left San Francisco. One whole floor was plush, and there was a huge display of Totoro merch.
Knowing that we were going to the Ghibli Museum in a few weeks, I resisted the urge to buy anything. But now I wish I hadn’t, cuz the shop there had hardly any plush or toys – very disappointing.
I knew I had to bring Patrick back to this place, if only to shoot a pic of him with this guy:
Until then, I got us some cute blind-box toys from a series of animals in cups (which turned out to be a parakeet in a teacup and a squirrel in a soup bowl!). Then I wandered a few blocks away to the Sony demonstration store and watched 3D TV. Can’t wait til I can afford that!
My last excursion was a search for the Hermes store. I’d noticed a lot of designers made inexpensive toaru – the little hand towels that many Japanese carry with them because so few public restrooms have paper towels. My pal Anita collects Hermes scarves, and while there’s no way I could afford to bring her back one of those, I thought maybe they’d also sell toaru. Trying to find Hermes turned out to be a big adventure and the first test of my Japanese. It started when I spotted a woman in a kimono toting an Hermes shopping bag and asked her “Hermes, doko deska?”
Asking the question turned out to be the easy part – it’s understanding the answer that I had trouble with! I only got so far before I needed to find someone else to ask, so I popped into a mens’ store, and later Dolce & Gabbana. Following this sort of breadcrumb trail of information from person to person, I finally spotted Hermes. When the two men smoking out front saw me stop, gasp, and whip out my camera, they scooted sideways until they were out of the shot…
It was an amazingly designed store, and the toaru were amazingly priced at ¥10,900 yen. Sorry, Anita! Hope ya like hotel headbands!
It was getting to be dinnertime, so I wandered around Ginza looking for a restaurant that wasn’t in a basement or a windowless department store. I found a moderately priced place on Chuo-dori and had a sort of Coquilles St. Jaques for under ¥2,000. (No pix! Argh!)
When I got back to the hotel, we’d been moved to the bigger room they’d promised us… and I HATED it! It may have been slightly bigger, but it was dark, sat half a floor below ground level, faced a dirt patch in front of a concrete wall, and had windows you couldn’t open. The last part was the deal breaker for me because Akasaka Excel Tokyu Hotel is one of those hotels where the thermostat in your room doesn’t work unless they’ve turned on AC for the whole building… which they hadn’t… and it was so stuffy in there I could barely breathe.
I kinda freaked out and practically started hyperventilating when I called the front desk and the guy said there were no other rooms available til Sunday. There was no way I could spend three more days in this room. Then I pulled it together and decided to try asking someone else, so I went down to the front desk. This time I got a guy who set to work immediately, dashing between two computers and typing furiously until he turned up a room just like our old one, but on the 10th floor – hooray!!!
The rest of the night was spent unpacking in our new room and getting us all settled in for the next 5 days.