All the world is a stage...
Reviewed by Jennifer Herlein
It was our last day in Tokyo and our last chance to catch the (many!) things we hadn't yet been able to. The truth is, Tokyo is a huge city with loads to do and in one visit, it just wasn't possible to see everything. We broke down the remaining sights that were at the top of each of our lists and decided to start far east in Asakusa and work our way back to Shibuya.
In case it wasn't clear in my previous posts, I really, really love Tokyo's public transportation system. It services the entire city and beyond and runs so frequently (every few minutes) that we were able to traverse the city on one line in about a half hour. It was during this outing that I discovered yet another thing about the subway that excites me - the women-only cars during rush hour. These cars are marked with elegant pink signs both on the platform and on the train doors and say that unless you're a very young male or one assisting a handicapped person, you're not welcome on these cars unless you're a woman at certain times of day. I had my suspicions as to why these cars existed and a little Internet research confirmed it - train gropers are a problem in Tokyo.
We made it to Asakusa groper-free and walked along Nakamise-dori, which is a street filled with tourist shops (we may have seen close to 1000 phone charms on this strip alone), towards the Senso-ji shrine. We did a quick tour and hit the pavement for the kitchenware district of Tokyo, Kappabashi-dori. Kappabashi-dori begins with a statue of a huge chef on top of a building and this is the gateway for a street that stretches for blocks with shops on both sides that sell restaurant-oriented goods to businesses and to the public. We saw tons of colorful bowls and chopsticks, every kitchen utensil you can imagine and the store that specializes in the fake food on display in restaurant storefronts. Many Japanese restaurants have windows in front with creepily realistic plastic versions of the food they serve - eleborate noodle bowls, platters of sushi, skewers of meat and more. It was quite a sight.
Following the food stores, it was time for some eye candy. We'd waited until Saturday to visit Harajuku because we wanted to experience it at its liveliest and it was a stunning sight. There were stretches of pedestrian streets and sidewalks filled with people, colors and fashion. The Japanese are a well-put together bunch and the youth in Harajuku take this to an extreme - cos-play (costume play), knee highs with short skirts and little frilly anklets with dress shoes were visible in every direction.
We'd been out walking for hours and physically needed to head back to the hotel to rest and refreshen. We started the evening with one last drink overlooking the Tokyo sunset at our hotel's bar on the 40th floor and then we wound through the streets of Shibuya to Kaikaya by the Sea, a seafood restaurant that Scott had read about online. We sat at the counter, which put us right in the heart of the action - it was lively, loud and energetic. The staff called orders across the restaurant and the chefs hollered throughout the kitchen while the patrons threw back sake and Sapporo. The food was as exciting as the atmosphere (I'm still thinking about the tuna spare ribs), which made it an excellent choice for our last meal in Tokyo.
Following dinner, we ventured out into the back alleys of Shinjuku to an area called Golden Gai. This area is one of the coolest things I've ever experienced. There are six alleys that hold around 200 bars that each only seat 4-8 patrons. There are apparently only a handful that are foreigner-friendly but I'd received a tip from a French friend who spent several years in Tokyo that one of these bars, La Jetée, welcomes French-speaking patrons and cinephiles of any nationality. We were the first customers of the night and the owner, Kawai-san, was lovely. Shortly after our arrival, four more patrons showed up - a cinema professor and festival curator, a French couple in town on business and a young Tokyoite who's currently working in Kyoto. Between French, English and Japanese, the conversation flowed surprisingly naturally.
Too many beverages later, we headed back through the alleys to the Shinjuku train stop and were absolutely astounded at the huge quantity of young people out in the streets celebrating Saturday night. Shinjuku and Shibuya were busier than we'd ever seen them and it was an unforgettable sight. Imagine if the crowds at Times Square in NYC on New Year's Eve were there every Saturday and you'll have a pretty good mental image of Tokyo on any given weekend. I'm not sure this city ever stops!