When we landed in Tokyo, it was about 4pm local time but 2am Denver Time. We were staying at a nearby airport hotel to catch up on sleep and make our way to the city the next day. After doing a quick search of nearby restaurants, we realized nothing was within walking distance aside from an Italian restaurant just outside of the hotel. That would have to do. We threw some pasta in our mouths as our eyes were already half closed and nearly fell asleep waiting for the server to come back and check on us. Finally we made our way back to the room to sleep in a very firm bed for the remainder of the night.
The next morning we woke up feeling mostly refreshed and all the way hungry. We decided on the breakfast buffet inside the hotel. Megs’ eyes lit up when she saw the that the first covered tin holding food was filled with one of her favorite foods, french fries! Other foods included pancake wedges, grilled fish, and dim sum, with a few other standard buffet options like cereal, fruit, and bread for toast. The meal was nothing too crazy but the environment was really nice with glass windows allowing us to see the koi pond and greenery outside. We filled our stomachs and we’re ready to take an hour-plus bus ride to Shinjuku, a district on the west side of Tokyo and the place we would call home for the next three nights.
Very shortly after the bus got moving, I saw the two guys in the aisle next to us taking selfies, but from the window facing in towards the center of the bus. For some reason this caught my attention. A minute later, Megs was laughing and said “I think those guys are taking pictures of you.” Since I was sitting and they couldn’t see my height, I have to imagine it was because of my hair. I was ‘warned’ numerous times this might happen in Japan. Not even 24 hours into our stay and we’ve already got our first culprits. Well, jokes on you, boys. I got one of you, too.Once at the Shinjuku station, we decided to walk to the place we were staying, which ended up being a walk we got familiar with. Even though it was still two metro stops from Shinjuku, it was only a 20-ish minute walk and it was nice to walk through a part of town. Shinjuku wasn’t nearly as busy as we anticipated, though it was a Thursday afternoon so most people were likely working.
Our place was very small. Upon walking in, there was a tiny hallway (by US standards) that had a bathroom that I barely fit in off to one side and a mini sink/stove combo. Then we reached another door that led to the bed and living space. Megs said she thought the posting online said it was about 9×9, and I’d guess that wasn’t too far off.Because it was already late afternoon, we decided to just wander Shinjuku and stop for food at whatever establishment caught our eye. To be honest, the streets weren’t nearly as exciting as we anticipated. They seemed much more subdued than we expected. We walked by a number of restaurants but always decided against them because we were looking for something in both Japanese and English. Turns out those were harder to find than we thought.
It got to a point where we no longer cared what we were eating and stopped in at a place called Jonathan’s (very Japanese, right?). We were seated and found some food that looked good. Our waitress didn’t seem to be giving us as much as a look since she said (what I assume was “hello, I’ll be your helping you out tonight”) and dropped off our waters. We looked around at all the other people who were getting served and wondered why nobody was checking in on us. After a few failed attempts at making eye contact with the server, another server came over to us and said “are you ready to order? If so, you could have hit that button on the table to let us know you were ready.” A button?! We hadn’t even seen a button on the table. I guess that’s what the server was explaining to us when she initially showed up. We saw her point towards the end of the table but assumed it was to show us where the menus were. Here we thought they just hated us because we didn’t speak the language or look the part. Then again, with a name like Jonathan’s, they should know they’re going to attract people like us.
That night we were gearing up for showers. Megs was going first and I waited in the multi-functional 9×9 cell. I heard the water turn on, then a shriek. The water was ice cold. We let the hot water run for a while but it never warmed up. Scratch the showers. We emailed the owner and asked what was going on. He responded pretty quickly saying the hot water tank was small and sometimes it could go out for 12 hours at a time. “Fine, we’ll shower in the morning.”
Fast forward to the morning. The water is still ice cold. We’ve been in some cold waters in our days. I ranked this in my top three, with the ice bath from the Tough Mudder having the third spot and a glacial lake in Aspen at the top. This shower was in some seriously good company.
The next day we decided we were heading more into what we thought was more of downtown area of Tokyo called Ginza. It’s apparently known as the fashion district so neither Megs nor I really have any business being near there, but we figured what the hell. There was a ramen place she read about that was on our radar and we would just wander the rest of the time and see what we could find.
We get to the Shinjuku metro station and it’s not what we expected. Since it’s a main hub of a station, there are different metro lines going in all directions, a commuter train, etc. The first automated ticket counter wasn’t able to find the name of the station we were heading to so we were confused. Then we realized each ticketcounter must be specific for the metro line you’re trying to ride on. So we wandered around looking for the right counter and dodging businesspeople along the way. It got to a point where we felt like we had been down there trying to figure it out for an hour and we honestly almost gave up. Luckily we turned a corner, found what we needed, and minutes later were on our way to Ginza.
Ginza was a busy area with some big buildings but still not what I expected when I envisioned downtown Tokyo. When we exited the Ginza station, I looked on a map and found a park nearby so we went there to kill some time since it was early afternoon and too early for ramen.
The park, Hibiya Park, ended up being pretty nice. It had a few ponds, nice plants and trees, and views of the surrounding buildings. We spent a good hour or so here before we moved on and headed back towards Ginza for food.Post park, we decided to head back to Ginza. We passed all the expensive shops (Chanel, Coach, etc) and decided we were getting a little hungry so it was time for Operation: Find the Ramen Place. Typically not a difficult task. Type it into Google Maps, hit Directions, and you’re on your way. Well we don’t have an international data plan so we’re left to taking screenshots of where we THINK we want to go and where we THINK we will be coming from while we’re still at the apartment and hoping those will suffice. Another challenge is that a lot of the roads weren’t marked on Google Maps so I was basing our turns based off of maybe two other landmarks, be it a restaurant, coffee shop, hotel, laundromat, or whatever else happened to be nearby. I picked up a scent and started leading Megs, like how a hunting dog might lead the hunter to their kill. I was sure we should have been staring it in the face but it was nowhere to be found… until we saw this alleyway around a corner. The name Soba didn’t match up with the place we were looking for, Ginza Kagari, but we saw the line and crossed our fingers that we were in the right spot (I later learned that Soba is another kind of noodle dish and they use it as a decoy name). A minute after getting in line, a chef came up to us with a menu that had two versions of ramen on it. We asked for one of each, and he walked away, leaving us in this line.
It took almost an hour to get through the line. We started to wonder how big this place was because the line was only about 15-20 people deep when we first got in it and we were seeing some of those people coming out as we got closer to the front of the line. It seemed like it could have very limited seating and be pretty small. Turns out we were right.Our bellies were sufficiently full and, being that it was St. Patrick’s Day, we decided we should check out one of the whiskey bars we had passed earlier while taking our stroll through Ginza. Joke was on us. It wasn’t just Kagari that closed down for a few hours in late afternoon. Apparently all establishments do this. It’s kind of eerie because seemingly out of nowhere, the streets turn into a ghost town. We decided we might as well take this time to head back to Shinjuku and find a place for a Guinness or some whiskey back there.The few places we passed in Shinjuku that advertised Guinness were a little pricey so we agreed to just look for a whiskey bar Megs had read about earlier that day, called Zoetrope. After picking up some random wifi connection near a Minute Mart, we saw it was conveniently only a block away. This place ended up being really cool. I had heard there are of a bunch of bars called Golden Gai in the area which are apparently very old and small establishments that can only hold 2-20 people at a time, and unknowingly, we had found one. It didn’t hurt that they had over 300 whiskeys, either. Looks like we could get our St. Patrick’s Day whiskey, after all.