Take the A Train…

Destination – Ginza. Challenge 1 – a better coffee. Challenge 2 – find a supermarket. Challenge 3 – Tokyo subway.

So much for self-sufficient, tech-savvy travellers. Since arriving here we have been stymied by the very technology that has sustained us in other parts of the world. Our iPhones have been castrated both by lack of global roaming and lack of wi-fi. Our old battered iBook G4, which is making it’s last trip with us (shhh!) somehow lost the research folder so carefully prepared at home and the hotel is charging $20 a day per device for access. At least today global roaming miraculously kicked in so we are contactable (in emergencies only, Reuben!). The point of this tech rambling is that I had to ask someone something. I know, not supposed to happen to urban gents abroad, but desperate times…

One of the 100’s of staff who seem to be employed to bow to people in the lobby was kind enough to point us in the direction of a local supermarket which we required to purchase some essentials. I must say though, you can tell a lot about a country by it’s supermarkets. Pip and I love wandering the aisles guessing what things are – quite a difficult game for us in Japan as we have no knowledge of the written language (…does that make it sound like we have a knowledge of the spoken language, ’cause that’d be wrong?). We did realise though that this would be the place for some, shall we say, more reasonably priced prepared food.

On our way to the supermarket, we came to a crossroads in our lives. There was a coffee shop that had a logo that looked like Starbucks right in our way. Now because this actually was Starbucks, we had a dilemna. Being outspoken anti-Starbuckists, we knew we shouldn’t, but thinking that maybe here was an actual proper coffee pushed us to qualify our ban on Starbucks with an “except in Japan” clause. Sadly, Starbucks in Japan has lost it’s temporary exclusion status, following a pair of sad, sad coffee coloured drinks. We will search on.

Up to our third challenge for the day – the metro. Beneath our hotel is a subway signed, ‘to the Maranouchi Line’, which happily was the only line we required to travel from Nishi-Shinjuku to Ginza. It took about twenty minutes of tunnel walking to reach the station; about five minutes of ticket figuring out and purchasing (much easier after we found the button that made it change into english), and; about 23.57 minutes to reach Ginza by unremarkable train journey. Having said that, I do particularly like the music they play as the train is boarding at the station. It’s the kind of music that suggests a telly-tubby is approaching.

Food Hall Staff and Pip

The Ginza and the surrounding streets have the feel of Paris. Wide avenues. High fashion. A mix of older and modern architecture. Really quite stunning. There are more department stores, at least two or three big ones, each with mind-blowing food halls in their basements – these were more impressive than yesterdays – they had concessions for famous gourmet names like Paul Bocuse and Maxim’s. I should point out that none of these gourmet hot spots had more than glorified urns to dispense coffee. We visited the Sony building and spent time playing with PS3s and cameras and three-D demonstrations. Lunchtime saw us back on the pristine streets and on the lookout for a restaurant. We tend to steer away from the main streets and head down side streets when looking for food and again we were rewarded with a tiny Ramen Bar called Hot Pepper. Being our first such bar, we now know that you should pay by pressing a number of buttons on a machine inside the door that has pictures of food on it, then putting the money into the machine. The Ramen man did that for us as he brought us paper bibs as protection against noodle splash. Lordy, the ramen was good. Beef with shallots, mushroom and noodles with a half a soft-boiled egg and three sheets of nori on top. Slurpalicious!

Eams bibbed and ready


Following that roaring success, we headed back outside to marvel and oooh and aaah at the street life. The Ginza itself is chockers with with high-end fashion, like Hermes, Chanel and homegrown high end, like Mikimoto. Fascinating as this was, we found our way into side and back streets where we stumbled upon one of the city’s gems – an actual coffee bar with a coffee machine and (our) style. The tiny white shop was empty – apparently hardly anyone actually wants what we call coffee – it had grungy, hip-hop playing and Mr Cool- personified behind the counter. Mr Cool turned out to be a Japanese of hawaiian descent who arrived in Tokyo via LA and New York. He had really long hair, funked-to-the-max clothes, a tattooed chest and arms and was called Glen O and he did graffiti art. He and his girlfriend had opened this tiny bar to sell coffee, alcohol and vitamin supplements (of course). Pip opted for a couple of multi-vitamin pills, served in a tiny glass bowl with her coffee. I declined and Eamon was quiet. Our short blacks were so fabulous, I had to have a second. We left ‘Vita’ with a note listing two other Tokyo cafes of similar ilk and Glen offering to be on stand-by for any any questions we might phone through about Tokyo.

Appley fun
Oriental Gem – Vita

Invigorated by caffeine and vitamin supplements, we pushed on back to the Ginza station and were almost there when Pip spyed with her little eye, something beginning with ‘A’. I felt my little iPhone twitch in my pocket at the buzz of free internet. The giant silver and glass AppleStore – four floors of Appley fun and toys populated by hundreds of fan folk and red-shirted staff (we counted 27 staff on the ground floor alone). I let off a couple of quick tweets, then communed with the iPads and the Macbook Airs before riding the glass elevator to the iPhone floor. Harnessing every ounce of self-control in my bones, I eventually agreed to leave and continue home.

New ‘Worst DressedMan on the Ginza.

Rather than eat out tonight – Pip and Eams hit the local supermarket for a couple of bento boxes and some breadcrumbed delights, which we combined with the nine cherry tomatoes I had purchased in one of the food halls we visited earlier in the day, and the two large tomatoes bought in another (it was the taste testing that forced me to buy them – they just tasted unlike any tomatoes I had ever eaten.

Hope the Hilton folk don’t mind the multiple bags of rubbish we left for them…


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