Tuesday 25th November – Wednesday 26th November
Tuesday and Wednesday were wet days in Tokyo, so we were on the lookout for things to do that kept us indoors.
Akihabara Electric Town
Akihabara is geek-town, where electronics stores meet manga comics. We spent a bit of time on Tuesday exploring the area.
The Mandarake store specialises in manga – a style of comic created in Japan. Manga is incredibly popular here and not just with kids – we’ve spotted a few businessmen on the trains and subways reading manga comics, and there are versions for men and women of all ages. Mandarake was definitely geared up for the manga aficionado, from action figures to comics.
The electrical store we took a look round was huge and included everything from the very latest gadgets to toys and household electronics.
Edo-Tokyo Museum, Ryogoku
We started the day on Wednesday with a trip to the Edo-Tokyo museum, a fascinating place that really put the history of the city in context.
The story of the city started as early as 10,000 BC, when the first settlers arrived. The museum tells the story of life in the early days and as it developed. Until the 1860s, social structures were perhaps best described as feudal. (The eagle-eyed among you might notice that the walls in the illustration below are from the now-ruined former Imperial Palace – see the picture of me from our last post. There is a new Imperial Palace these days.)
Initially called Edo, the city was renamed Tokyo in 1868, as previous social structures were swept away and replaced with one country and centralised (imperial) rule. This was due , at least in part, to increased links with the West and the desire to become more westernised.
Suburbanisation in the 1920s and 1930s saw more people commuting into the city for work. Consequently railway stations like Shibuya – of “Shibuya crossing” fame – and Shinjuku started to become increasingly important.
In 1932, a number of suburban towns and villages were subsumed into Greater Tokyo, which at that time had a population of 5.3 million. In 2013, roughly the same area was inhabited by about 9 million people.
However, the wider metropolitan area of Tokyo today is home to almost 35 million people, making it the most populous metropolitan area in the world, with more people than the combined populations of the last two countries we visited (Australia and New Zealand)!
The exhibition finished with plans for the future, and Tokyo’s plans for hosting the 2020 Olympic Games.
Shopping in Shinjuku
After finishing at the museum, we went for a change of pace, and took the subway to Shinjuku for some shopping! Shinjuku is the world’s busiest railway station, with some 2 million people passing through every day. It’s an incredible place, with shops, restaurants and department stores all intertwined with the station itself. We managed to find a sushi restaurant in the depths of the station for some lunch, then headed into one or two shops.
Joanna found a beautiful yukata, which is a simpler, cotton version of a kimono, traditionally worn in summer, particularly in the spa towns that the Japanese love to visit. Meanwhile, I was excited to find out that Tower Records still exists in Japan (it went out of business years ago back in the UK!) and to discover some only-in-Japan music to take home.
We finished the day with a fantastic dinner at a place close to our hotel that specialises in okonomiyaki (meaning, roughly, “grilled as you like it”). This is an informal style of dining in Japan, apparently often accompanied by a post-work beer or two, which we first learned about on “The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure”, a UK cookery programme.
Okonomiyaki consists of an egg-based batter with cabbage in it, to which meats, seafood, vegetables and even noodles can be added. It’s then cooked on a hot plate and different toppings added: something a bit like HP sauce is brushed onto the top and green nori flakes, though other variations seemed to have things like spring onions and mayonnaise. We have heard it variously compared to pizza or pancakes, but we thought that it most closely resembled an omelette.
Each table has a hot plate in the middle of it and in some okonomiyaki restaurants you actually cook the ingredients yourself. In the place we chose they had chefs to do the cooking, though we sat up looking into the kitchen, so we could see how it was done. It was absolutely delicious, and the Japanese are quite right – it is even better washed down with beer!
Toilet of the day
When we came up with the ‘…of the day’ feature, we didn’t expect it would include toilets, but I’m afraid it has to be done!
The majority of toilets in Japan have electronic panels providing a range of different options while you…erm…wait. The most basic ones offer jets of water for cleaning. The more complex ones we’ve seen offer seat heaters and the option to elect for continuous flushing sounds (to cover up any unpleasant sounds – volume buttons usually provided). There also seem to be additional buttons beyond this, labelled only in Japanese – I think some have dryers, but not sure what else they could be for! Sometimes it’s tricky finding the flush!