More of Tokyo

Since we didn’t get to travel much over the New Year’s holiday, Mike and I decided to hit up Tokyo again last Sunday.  On the itinerary was:
1. Shimokitazawa for coffee
2. Setagaya for a 400-year-old outdoor flea market
3. Akihabara for the Gundam Cafe
4. Ueno for shopping

Thanks to the great holiday pass (which covers weekends) for Japan Rail, we got to visit all of these areas for ¥2300.
While getting some great coffee at Bear Pond Espresso, the ever-gracious proprietor, Katsu, drew us a map of how to get around for the day when we heard of our plans.  We were a bit skeptical of taking the trip since it cost ¥300 extra (on top of the ¥300 extra to get to Shimokitazawa.  Only private lines serve that area.) and being out in the cold.  Katsu assured us we had to go – the flea market only happens twice a year.  As Katsu said, “Ueno will always be there.”
Mike originally heard about the flea market, called Setagaya Boroichi, from Time Out Tokyo.  Apparently Setagaya anticipated the crowds, because appointed train workers helped shuffle the wave people in and out of the train stations as well as the surrounding areas.  Since we didn’t know exactly where we were going, we decided the best course of action was to simply follow everyone else.

As we exit the train track and shuffle in itsy-bitsy steps to the street, I feel my first push of the day.  While a man outfitted in a royal-blue suit with red trim, white gloves, and a train conductor’s hat ushered the people into a small section of the street (but not too far – gotta leave room for cars), I felt the familiar smack of a handbag against my arm.  When I looked up, I saw a tall blonde woman with greasy hair and a Burberry bag next to an equally tall, equally greasy haired man wearing a Burberry scarf bustling out into the street – past the usher, and in front of the group of patiently waiting people.


After walking south for a minute or two, we unmistakably came to the edge of the flea market.  The streets got narrower, the crowds got bigger, and the wave of people more steady.  A few times I ended up on the “wrong” side (in Japan they walk on the left, bike left, drive left.  You might think it’s silly, but trust me, pay attention next time.  I bet you instinctively move to the right on a sidewalk.) after stopping off to check out a cute or interesting item and had to battle to get back.

Most of the things for sale were your typical flea market finds: weird, random things from time periods gone by (posters, watches, trinkets); jewelry, home decor, food, bags, clothing, etc.  As you can imagine, because of the amount of people, taking pictures was impossible.

We walked around for a bit and took refuge in a large open space offering food.  I paid ¥600 and we ate two hot dogs on a sesame seed bun next to a shrine.

SLIGHTLY OFF TOPIC… I brought this experience up to a few of my adult students this week and they all thought it was cute and funny.  We recently visited a shrine in Oyama and couldn’t help but notice the sharp contrast of children running happily and food vendors to the solemn prayer I always associated with religion, especially eastern ones.  I also saw a mini shrine fish tank decoration in a pet store a few days ago.  Raised somewhat Catholic & a former Catholic school student, I’m amazed by all of this.  My students have stressed that in Japan, ancestors are much more important than religion, and that it’s quite normal and “very Japanese style” to mix fun things with shrines.

Desperately seeking warmth, we wandered through the shrine & arrived at what appeared to be a library.  We snooped around and discovered a museum on the second floor.
Sorry there are no descriptions.  I can’t read any of the signs.

We walked around a bit more, then made our way to Akihabara to visit the Gundam Cafe.
The only thing I hate more than waiting on line for (possibly) shitty, overpriced things is being cold, so we didn’t go in.  The vibe I got from the adjacent gift shop was similar to that of Mars 2112, an alien-themed restaurant in Times Square.
These kinds of places are all the same… it’s like theme park food/ambiance which I rather dislike.  They all pretty much have a prerequisite for being crap, but in the spirit of Japanese style we’ll probably go back to the Gundam Cafe when it’s not bitter cold and give it a shot.

Feeling kind of jipped by Akihabara and the hour train ride it took us to get to a place “synonymous with disappointment” as Mike so described it, we decided to pop into a building across the street from the station.  Walk out of any Tokyo station & you’re likely to find several multi-level buildings containing shops & food.  I bought a ¥3990 pair of cute, gray earmuffs (which I keep calling headphones for some reason…) and saw this:
Now quite hungry, we hopped on the train yet again to go to Ueno – an area for shopping on our way home.
Again wanting to escape the cold (can you tell how much we despise it?), we ducked into a shop before trying to decide where to it.  “I don’t want to haphazardly pick somewhere to eat just because I’m fucking freezing,” – Mike.

We ended up in an anime shop.  Big surprise!
A very cute bear character ubiquitous in Japan.  Called Rilakkuma, its name is a combination of the Japanese words for relax and bear.

After a time, we settled into a place I think was called Sapporo Ramen.  The waiter motioned to us to order from a machine situated about a foot from the door (they really love their vending machines, gadgets, and electricity here) and we enjoyed a meal of ramen and edamame.
I dropped my new ~$40 earmuffs in the bowl of ramen and concluded my night by shampooing my earmuff & drying its newly-ruined fuzziness with a hair dryer while cursing to high hell.


About Michelle

I lived in Japan for a year & a half teaching English. Now I'm blogging about learning to cook in NYC.
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