The following is an e-mail I sent to one of my co-workers, heading to Japan. I’m recording it here so that I can find it if I ever need to do so, as the corporate e-mail system has eaten it before. “The Hotel” is the Royal Park Hotel, which is right next to TCAT.
From: Jon Lasser
Sent: Tuesday, August 07, 2007 1:37 PM
Subject: Japan tourist details
- Kaffe Essen, about a block past TCAT on the same side of the street. The morning service is perfect coffee, toast, egg, and salad for 450 yen.
- Kanda Yabu Soba is listed in the Lonely Planet book. Fabulous buckwheat noodles, hot or cold (cold is traditional), in a lovely old building where the waitresses sing the orders to the kitchen.
- Sakata is also listed in the Lonely Planet book. They do Udon noodles that are pretty incredible. It’s near Ginza, and I recommend sitting at the bar and chatting with people.
- The Ginza Lion is also, not surprisingly, near Ginza. They’re a German-style beer hall — sit downstairs, order food, most of which you can recognize, and look at the lovely mosaics on the wall. http://www.ginzalion.jp/
- I also mentioned Gyoza Stadium, part of Namjatown, a theme park in the Sunshine City office complex. It’s a bit far away, but if you’re in that part of town for some other reason, it’s fun. Lots of little stalls with a zillion kinds of dumplings. It costs a little to get in.
Except for Kaffe Essen (where they do understand “morning service” and “coffee”) and Gyoza Stadium (where pointing is sufficient), the places above all have English menus. In general, it’s perfectly acceptable to take the server out to the window and point at the plastic models of food, if you can’t otherwise communicate. I do recommend trying that once at someplace that doesn’t speak English; you’ll get more interesting food that way. Make sure you have lots of little pickles — the Japanese have an incredible array of delicious pickles, from salted plums to cucumbers to cabbage to squash.
Of course, relying on [Redacted]-san for lunch selection is always recommended. I don’t think I had more than a couple of disappointing meals in Japan, but none of them were with him.
- Senso-Ji, in Asakusa, is a large complex with a Buddhist temple and a whole bunch of Shinto shrines. Out front is a market with lots of little stalls good for picking up touristy things (or umbrellas if it suddenly started raining), and there are often food stalls with tasty treats. I had a tasty okonomiyaki — basically a pancake full of bonito flakes, pork, ginger, scallions and other bits — from one of the vendors off to the side of the temple. You’re also likely to find Takoyaki there, a tasty deep-fried ball of dough with octopus bits, doused in bonito flakes. They’re frequently almost too hot to eat when you get them, and highly recommended. Near Senso-ji is Kappabashi-dori, the restaurant supply street. It’s a good place to pick up inexpensive chopsticks, and to check out the (not at all cheap) plastic food models you see in restaurant windows.
- Meiji-jingu is the shrine to the Meiji emperor. It’s a huge, forested park in the middle of Tokyo. Check out the shrine itself, wander around, and maybe check out the treasure museum, too. Outside of Meiji-jingu is Harajuku bridge, over the train tracks to Harajuku station. Harajuku bridge is where all of the cosplay kids hang out — best time to check it out is weekend afternoons, but after school probably works too.
- The Japan Traditional Craft Center is off near Namjatown, and has lots of neat handcrafts. Often there are demonstrations of traditional techniques — I saw them working on kimono fabric on looms, when I was there. Like Gyoza stadium, it’s more something to do if you’re already in that part of town than a destination on its own.
- Ginza, the shopping district, at night. Just go out and see the lights turning dark into day. Especially in Ginza, go into the larger department stores. They’re exquisite — almost more like museums than shops. Mitsukoshi and Matsuya seemed to me particularly worth seeing.
- Hakuhinkan Toy Park is also in the Ginza area, and is where I picked up the iFish. It’s about five stories of toy shopping, and fun. They do have a no-tax counter if you’re buying more than $100 of stuff — be sure to bring your passport for that!
- Don’t discount the area around the hotel. The Royal Park has a “Seven Shrines of Nihonbashi” pamphlet containing a nice walk around the neighborhood where you can see many of the shrines. This will put you in the actual neighborhood, which is a great place to look around and see a less touristy part of Tokyo than any of the above.
Getting Around / Etiquette / Etc.
- The recommendations from the Lonely Planet guide were pretty good overall. I mostly stuck to the subway rather than the JR lines, though after navigating to Kyoto and back I would be more comfortable taking the JR in the future.
- The hotel room will have the subway map like the one Jerry has on the wall, with Romanized stop names and numbers. The subway is ridiculously easy if you have this map and know the name of your destination: the lines have colors, and the stations are numbered sequentially, so it’s easy to figure out which way to go. I only made one mistake with this between two trips.
- People are unbelievably helpful. If you’re lost, don’t hesitate to ask passers-by for help — you’ll receive it, almost certainly.
- Never leave a train station without looking at the map, figuring out what exit to leave by. Also, read and study the section in the Lonely Planet book on decoding the three-part street addresses used in Tokyo.
- I didn’t really have any major etiquette faux pas that anybody let me know about. Try to be polite, do a lot of half-bowing, and you’ll probably be all right.
- As we’ve discussed, at least in work situations people are very unlikely to tell you that they don’t understand. The body language is fairly different around this as well. You’ll probably want to ask people many very specific questions in order to ascertain whether or not they understand not only your words but the meanings.