Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Japan (iv): Stations, Giants, & Riots (Day 3)

When planning out my last full day in Tokyo, I made a point of plotting out a route that included as little walking as possible. I was already fairly worn out after the first two days. So there was minimal venturing outside the immediate vicinity of a few train stations. I started out by visiting the Roppongi Hills shopping district, which consisted of a lot of upscale shops and restaurants. I didn’t have any intention of buying anything, so I just meandered a bit before heading out. From there I took the train to Tokyo Station.

Tokyo Station is one of the largest train stations in the city where much of the lines converge in a giant hub and labyrinth of corridors and underground passages. It was originally built during the colonial era, so its architecture provides a stark contrast to that of the modern high-rises around it. Salarymen and women filed in and out in nearly identical outfits of white shirts and gray suits or skirts on their ways to and from work. Like other large stations, it’s also the foundation for massive shopping and dining complexes. I wandered through the catacombs lined with shops beneath Tokyo Station for a lot longer than I wanted to. All of the hallways looked the same and I had trouble finding where I was going. I was looking for one particular section of the food court called “Ramen Street.” The naming conventions in Japan involved calling a lot of locations “Streets” or “Stations” or “Stadiums.” I passed through a “Character Street” that was filled with souvenir shops from all of the different anime companies hawking trinkets with their characters’ visages plastered all over them.

“Ramen Street” is a small offshoot that houses eight separate ramen shops. Not having much information on any of the individual shops besides some general idea of what “Ramen Street” was about, I simply picked the shop with the longest line – a strategy that proved effective a number of times. I grabbed my ticket from the vending machine and waited to be seated. After a short wait, I sat down to my fourth bowl of ramen – a shio ramen with a few slices of charsiu and two pork dumplings. Very satisfying and if I were commuting through Tokyo Station, “Ramen Street” would probably be a daily stop for me.

After clearing my bowl, I walked the few blocks from Tokyo Station to the Imperial Palace. It was a little underwhelming. There’s very little open to the public and there’s not much besides large minimal gardens and the views of the top of the palace roofs.

I headed back to the Station to ride out to the Tokyo Dome. I had tickets to see the Yomiuri Giants play the Hiroshima Carp. Unsurprisingly, the area around the Tokyo Dome is a large amusement park and shopping complex, complete with roller coaster. Giants souvenir shops selling the same jerseys, caps, and orange towels formed a ring around the entire stadium. Most of the T-shirts had the name and number of specific players and since I didn’t know anything about them. I bought a shirt that depicted a few cartoon Giants with the word “Laundry” emblazoned across the chest. I think Laundry is a hip clothing brand, but I just thought it was funny.

Japanese baseball games are odd. The actual game was perfectly normal, but everything else was a bit off. Almost all of the hype music was Rihanna. Batters stepped up to the plate to Rihanna. I’m positive they had no idea what they were walking out to, unless they’re all really into S&M. Girls in bright, colorful uniforms sprang up and down the stairs selling beer and snacks. There was even a Suntory whisky girl. At one point, I needed some water, but there were no fountains or uniformed girls selling water. I had to go to one of the refreshment kiosks and pay 200 yen for a tiny cup of water that was basically the size of the cup the dentist gives you to rinse with. Should have just bought more beer. Speaking of refreshments, there are kiosks serving typical Western snacks like hot dogs and popcorn, while next door the kiosk serves noodles and rice bowls. I’d be interested to see which earns more money. A lot of the cheers were also hilarious “Engrish.” My favorite was a chorus of “WE ARE READY! WE ARE READY! OOOOH YEAAHHHHH!”

A few innings in, I met a couple from Melbourne, Andrew and Brianna, and relished the opportunity to have a conversation in English with them. We went over the things we’d done so far and what else we had planned. It turns out we’d done a lot of the same things already. We took turns taking pictures for each other and hung out for a bit before I headed out around the eighth inning.

I headed back down to Shibuya to check out a bar, Goodbeer Faucets, that was supposed to have a large selection of Japanese craft beers. The bar manager turned out to be an expat named Eldad Bribrom and he told me about how the Japanese craft scene has been exploding the past couple of years. They had several dozen crafts on tap, over half of which were Japanese, and I tried three: Chateau Kamiya’s “Akiagari” lager, Brimmer’s “Strong Pale Ale,” and Nide Beer’s “Monster C IPA.” They were all excellent examples of their respective beers; smooth and full flavored. I hadn’t eaten very much that day, so they kind of went straight to my head. Case in point, I started talking to some people in English and was a little confused why they didn’t understand me at first. After some weird glances and chatting with my buddy Eldad some more, I went to go check out the famous Shibuya Crossing a few blocks away.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Shibuya Crossing is an intersection in a busy shopping, restaurant district where the walk light signals a giant flood of pedestrians crossing the intersection from every direction. On this particular evening, Japan had just won a soccer game against Iraq and the Crossing was full of raucous celebration. People climbed light poles and there was one guy that lit a flare and threw it into the crowd. There were police nearby, but they did nothing. Probably because they knew there’s little they could do.

I first found a nice vantage point at the second floor Starbucks on the intersection to take some shots. One of the employees kept coming by to tell people they weren’t allowed to take pictures. But he was helpless and no one listened to him. When he came up to me, I just played dumb and ignored him. After a little while of boxing out a bunch of squealing girls wanting to get up to the window. I headed down to get in the thick of it.

A lot of my pictures from the ground are out of focus because I had to keep moving and people were running into each other. While the light was red, people hyped each other up for the giant mosh pit that formed between lights. There were kids lining up like runners at the ends of the crosswalks. On one light sequence, a cab got stuck in the middle and people jumped all over it. The tiny, middle-aged driver looked terrified. I was almost a little disappointed when they didn’t overturn it. There was one brave cop that tried to wave people around the cab sheepishly yelling “sumimasen!”, as if he were posing an inconvenience.

After getting mobbed in the street for a while. I called it a night. It had been a whirlwind few days in Tokyo and the next day I’d be getting on a train for a drastically different slice of Japan. Tokyo was awesome, but I welcomed the change of pace.