After the first Muse show on Friday, I roused myself bright and early the next morning and headed out to Shinjuku, my ward of choice for the day. I opted out of the overpriced hotel buffet and instead picked up a few much more satisfying (and unhealthy) pastries from a nearby bakery. As I mentioned in my last post, I tend to overload on Starbucks in Tokyo, so I stopped off at the café on the Southern Terrace (I’m not just being snooty calling it that; that’s the proper name, promise.) outside of Shinjuku station. If the Shibuya crossing ‘bucks is my favorite in Tokyo, than the Southern Terrace Shinjuku café is a close second. From one vantage point, you get a view of part of the impressive skyscraper district in Shinjuku. From another, you can watch people spilling out of one of the station’s many exits. I’m a people-watcher, so I opted for the second spot for premium enjoyment of my pastry and chai latte.
With breakfast out of the way, I walked to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (新宿御苑), a massive park that’s only a ten-minute walk from the station. Right now, going back to Shinjuku Gyoen is my top reason for returning to Tokyo sometime this spring or summer. Not only is it ridiculously huge, but it’s drop-dead gorgeous, even in the winter. It used to be the residence of the Naitou family in the Edo period, but now it’s been converted into a public park. I cannot even imagine living on these grounds; I don’t think I’d ever leave.
Within the park, there are two smaller gardens: one traditional Japanese and the other French/European style. The latter, complete with a respectable gallery of various roses, reminded me of walking through parts of the Versailles gardens outside of Paris. And nerd that I am, I got a special kick out of seeing some roses with plaques displaying their names in German. I’m probably the first visitor to take a picture of the “Gruss von Bayern” marker, without taking a photo of the accompanying rosebush.
As much as I liked that bit of déjà vu, the Japanese garden was definitely my favorite part. Even in winter, when many of the colors are muted and there are no flowers to speak of, it’s serene and beautiful. There are also two teahouses (though I was disappointed to learn that they sell a cup of green tea and mochi, a sweet made of pounded, glutinous rice, for a ridiculous 700 yen). That atmosphere exists in stark contrast against the skyscrapers rise literally a stone’s throw outside of the garden’s boundaries.
Even though the morning was pretty chilly, I was content to spend a few hours traipsing through the park and eventually parking myself on a bench in the Japanese garden to read for an hour or so. Once my stomach started rumbling, I caught the metro to Setagaya, an out-of-the-way neighborhood where my lunch venue of choice, a small café called Chubby, lay. I was especially excited to eat here because a man who spent two years in London working as an art gallery curator owns it. The art within the restaurant gets rotated on a frequent basis, and from everything I’d read, the combination of food and atmosphere makes Chubby a really popular restaurant for those in the know.
Now, I pride myself on my sense of direction. I’m good at navigating narrow back alleys, figuring out tricky metro transfers, and orienting myself in unfamiliar places…which is why I was so damn frustrated with myself after I’d wandered around the neighborhood for a good half an hour, sometimes peering into people’s backyards as I went, trying to find this place. Finally, after walking along the same street for what felt like the eighth time, I caught sight of a little piece of paper taped to a closed garage door. Sigh. Chubby had been closed for renovations and would reopen on January 16th…several days after I would head back to Aomori. Though taking into account the size of my bowl of curry on the previous day, maybe it was good that I couldn’t patronize a restaurant whose name mimicked how my stomach was feeling…
So I headed back to Shinjuku and instead got a basic bowl of soba (buckwheat noodles) at one of the many tiny restaurants around the station. And I was pretty proud of myself for matching the salaryman sitting next to me slurp for slurp, both in terms of frequency and volume. When in Japan, do as the Japanese do.
By the time this had all transpired, it was time for me to head back to Saitama for the second Muse show. In Japan, regardless if there’s snow or not, lots of public venues string up hundreds of lights, á la Christmas in the states. So outside of the Saitama Super Arena, right in the middle of the city, was a forest of trees all decked out in blue and white lights. Even though I was excited to get inside for Muse, Part Deux, I couldn’t resist snapping a few quick pictures.