By Jennifer Herlein
Day 3 is one of those days that you look at with dread regardless of where you are - it was grey with a steady rain and light wind from the moment we woke up until we went to bed that night. While I dislike rain and humidity, I loved seeing the hundreds of umbrellas bopping around the city - beautiful!
The options we weighed were a museum or a shopping center with a depachika (more on that later). We opted for the latter and went to Takashimaya Times Square in Shinjuku. Let me sidebar here and say that the Shinjuku train station is mindboggling. It's the largest station in Tokyo and it apparently serves over 3.5 million passengers per day. The labyrynth of underground walkways that you can follow go on for blocks and on a crappy day, this is a great way to get around without walking in the rain. The key to navigating the Tokyo subway stations is to always keep your eye on the exit you want. They're well marked and this helps ensure that even confused tourists like us won't end up way off course.
While on the subject of the Tokyo subway, I can't help but express my love for their pubic transit etiquette. The train cars are silent (even when full) and it seems that the commute is when people rest (a majority of the riders literally have their eyes closed) and quietly use their phones. When I think of the number of lame and non-essential phone conversations we're forced to hear on the CTA, I just have to shake my head. It makes me crazy!
As for Takashimaya Times Square - I would describe it as a rather odd 14 story shopping center. There are the usual suspects - cosmetics, shoes and clothing - but the real gems can be found on the top and bottom floors. On the top three floors are amazing restaurants, some of which are offshoots of well-known places. In fact, one of the reasons we chose this shopping center was because we wanted to have Tsunahachi, which specializes in tempura, for lunch.
On that note, it's probably pretty clear that eating was an area of the trip we (and Scott in particular) spent a lot of time thinking about. A lot of information and recommendations have come from Food Sake Tokyo, which is a fabulous guidebook on the food and beverages of Japan written by Chef Yukari Sakamoto. She adds updates to the book on her website, which has been a fun way to learn about what's new. Scott got fantastic tips from this book that will serve us well throughout the trip.
It's from this book that we learned about the depachika which sprawls across the entire bottom floor of Takashimaya Times Square. Someone described depachika as food theme parks and I like that - the lights, colors and gorgeous displays are fun and fascinating. It appears that there are two sections - one for fancy prepared foods that are bought for consumption off-site and another with snacks and sweets. It's here that I discovered gift melons. I was browsing and noticed the ¥10,500 ($132) price tag on a melon. It was a lovely melon with elaborate packaging but the price seemed exorbitant. I did a little Internet research and discovered that gift fruit is a tradition in Japan, offered to show appreciation, respect, etc.
Since we'd been underground, we had the unrealistic hope that the weather would have cleared up a bit because we were planning to go to the bar on the 40th floor at the Park Hyatt for a cocktail (yes, this is the bar from Lost in Translation). We got part of the way there and given the direction of the wind, were already soaked. We hopped into a multi-level electronics store and the harsh lights and multiple mirrors made it pretty clear that we were way too disheveled for that classy place. We instead decided to head back to our hotel, dry off and have some sake in the lobby. We need to pack up for our trip to Kyoto tomorrow on the bullet train!