Trekking Through Tokyo: Part I

Just four days after I’d arrived back in Aomori from America, it was time to head out again. This time, I was trekking down to Tokyo for the long weekend (Monday was a public holiday) to see my favorite band, Muse, in concert on Friday and Saturday. Those shows deserve a post of their own, so this one is solely just about the first part of my weekend.

I’d decided to buck up and take the night bus to Tokyo because I couldn’t justify shelling about another 30,000+円 when I’d just taken the shinkansen the week before. I’d thought I’d loathe taking the bus, but the one I took, with a company called Willer Express, was actually really, really nice. I slept like a rock, which was also partly due to the seats having little canopies that you can pull over your head to block out the light. True, they looked a bit like space pods, but it was definitely the most comfortable long-distance bus ride I’ve ever taken. Plus, because of a nice last-minute discount I scored online, the round-trip cost was less than a third of what it would have been if I’d taken the bullet train.

Space pod bus seats
Space pod bus seats

We arrived in Tokyo at around 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning, and I hit the ground running. I’ve barely spent any time in Tokyo. In fact, the most time I’ve spent there was on the W&J trip I took two years ago in my senior year. Now, any time I’m there, it’s to take the Narita Express train to the airport. Upside: I can navigate Tokyo Station like a pro. Downside: I barely know the city outside. This weekend I aimed to change that.

The exterior of Tokyo station had also recently been remodeled to look more stately and old-fashioned. It reminded me a lot of station in northern Europe.
The exterior of Tokyo station had also recently been remodeled to look more stately and old-fashioned. It reminded me a lot of station in northern Europe.

The first emotion I felt after disembarking from the bus was jealousy. Hulk-green, seething jealousy. People were on bikes. And they weren’t tempting death and disfiguring injuries by riding them! I’d left behind two and a half feet of snow in Aomori. It’s a hassle to get around, regardless of the mode of transportation. Winter in Tokyo, by comparison, felt downright balmy. It felt like a mild mid-October day. In fact, the next day I woke up with cheeks that were positively rosy with sunburn. Not a problem I had expected to encounter, though also not one I’m complaining too petulantly about.

Look at all that green! Not a snowflake in sight.
Look at all that green! Not a snowflake in sight.

With a few hours to kill, I decided to take a walk through the Imperial Palace Gardens. I’ve already promised myself to come back down to Tokyo this summer. The gardens were lovely, don’t get me wrong, but I’d love to see them when they’re properly verdant, instead of a dormant, wintry beige.

Near Nijubashi, the bridge to the Imperial Palace
Near Nijubashi, the bridge to the Imperial Palace

Then it was off to Shibuya, one of the busiest neighborhoods in Tokyo. The first time I’d gone, I admit that I’d been pretty overwhelmed, especially in the area near the station. The station itself has what feels like 493 difference exits and the sheer number of elevated walkways make it a daunting task to navigate. However, as my goal was a green mermaid-adorned cup of coffee, I managed. There’s only two Starbucks in all of Aomori prefecture, and they’re both pretty far away (especially for someone who doesn’t have a car), so I tend to go on a major caffeine kick in Tokyo, if only because I can. And while there are hundreds of Starbucks in the city, I definitely have my favorites. The one at the Shibuya crossing is a frontrunner on that list. I love sitting at the second story bar, sipping a chai latte, and watching black-haired bodies spill like marbles from the sidewalks onto the street when the crosswalk signs change to green.

Once I’d sufficiently gotten myself caffeinated, I headed off to search for the restaurant I’d picked out for lunch. Admittedly, I do not do “spontaneity” well when I travel. I love to plan, and that extends to the places I eat. I like to do my research, and that usually means that I don’t have to wander around aimlessly, peering in restaurant windows and wondering if I should eat there. With that in mind, I’d found Little Shop Curry, a teeny-tiny restaurant in the backstreets of Shibuya run by a husband and wife duo. As you’d guess from the name, the place is small, with only twelve seats (and that’s if you don’t mind getting cozy with your neighbor). The proprietors only make a single pot of curry each day; when that sells out, no more curry for you! Little Shop Curry tends to fill up quickly, so I showed up at around 10:40 a.m., twenty minutes before the shop opened. There were already two people in front of me, and almost immediately after I joined the queue, three more fell in line.

Once the shop opened and we were ushered in to sit at the counter, I ordered the 気まぐれ (kimagure, or “fickle”) curry set. The man sitting two seats away from me had ordered the same thing, and I had a genuine “I’ve made a huge mistake” moment when his plate arrived. It was massive. Curry was overflowing onto the platter beneath. I genuinely do not think that I’ve ever seen a bigger dish meant for a single person served in a restaurant. “Fickle” does not come to mind. “Please pump my stomach because it genuinely might burst” does, though.

Thankfully, it turned out that he had just ordered the large portion and I hadn’t heard it. Mine was slightly smaller. Note: it still wasn’t small by any means. Just a bit smaller. And it was delicious. I can tell that LSC is going to be a regular fixture in any future Tokyo trips. Everything is made fresh as you order it; even as I was eating my own dish, I could see the owners dunking more chicken into a pot of oil. The curry itself was a perfect balance of spicy and hearty, but the real meal lay in the fixings. I’d’ve been happy with just the curry and rice, but the particular dish I’d ordered got me a whole lot more than that.

Welcome to Curry Mountain
Welcome to Curry Mountain

Now, when you order a food “set” in Japan, that usually means that each separate food has its own separate dish. Not so for this particular set. Instead, it was all piled in one glorious, terrifying mountain of food. Four or five pieces of 唐揚げ (kara-age, fried chicken), 厚揚げ (atu-age, fried tofu), 目玉焼き (medamayaki, sunny side up egg), 鹿尾菜 (hijiki, a type of edible seaweed), grilled 茄 (nasu, eggplant), grilled ピーマン (piman, pepper), fried 甘藍 (kanran, cabbage), and 豚カツ (tonkatsu, fried pork cutlet) were all included as part of the set. I managed to eat all of that, except for the 目玉焼き, but alas, I had to admit defeat before I could finish off all of the rice. And the absolute beauty of it? It only cost 700円 (under eight USD). By the time I stumbled out of Little Shop Curry back into the sunlight, I had stopped just short of breaching the “uncomfortable food baby” mark. That being said, I didn’t eat another bite of food until breakfast the next day.

The view from the back. The egg and fried pork are on the far left, the kara-age is in the center, topped by the cabbage, you can just the see the edge of the eggplant above the chicken, the tofu is to the right of that, and then the hijiki is on the far right.
The view from the back. The egg and fried pork are on the far left, the kara-age is in the center, topped by the cabbage, you can just the see the edge of the eggplant above the chicken, the tofu is to the right of that, and then the hijiki is on the far right.

Once lunch was done, I spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering through Shibuya. I managed to make it out of H&M after spending only 300円, and then checked out Loft, a home decorating store where I got a nice little 2013 calendar that was specifically geared towards Aomori (I know, I am so exciting!).

Aomori, in all of its glory.
Aomori, in all of its cartoon glory.

I also got a few fangirl thrills from seeing billboards and other advertisements for the Muse shows and only barely restrained myself from bouncing up and down excitedly whilst shrieking, “I’m going to that! I’m going to that!” Once mid-afternoon rolled around, I gathered up my bag from its locker in the station and headed out to Kawaguchi, a neighborhood in Saitama, where my hotel room – and Muse – awaited.

Fangirl mode activated.
Fangirl mode activated.

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