11 May 2014

Tokyo Part II: Culture, Coffee and Shopping

This morning, I woke up early — but not too early — and ran two laps of the lovely Imperial Palace gardens, a good 10k in total. I might have been a little faster had I not had to carry my empty coffee cup most of the way due to the lack of bins. In any case, the long list of running path rules, included "do not run too fast," so it was probably for the best. I was also pleased to discover, near my hotel, Joglis, the Hanzomon runners' satellite, which offers coffee, snacks, running kit, showers and lockers. A very nice idea. The coffee was pretty mediocre but at least it wasn't tea.

After I had showered and changed, I went to get my daily dose of culture at the Tokyo National Museum. It was another gorgeous day and I had hoped to be able to go tomorrow instead, when the weather isn't supposed to be nice, but the museum is closed then. I took the metro to Ueno, and it's then a pleasant stroll through the calm and leafy Ueno Park. There was a 3.5-hour queue for something — a special exhibition, I assume — but I just had a quick explore of the museum's collection of Japanese and Asian art and artefacts, before heading back outside for a refreshing melon ice cream.

Then it was time to head west to Omotesando. Coincidentally, I exited the subway only a few blocks from one of the caffeine purveyors I had earmarked — Omotesando Koffee — and was soon sipping an excellent macchiato in serene surroundings. I'll do a full coffee round-up at the end of my trip, but if you're in the Omotesando area and craving good-quality coffee, this is the place to go.

I began to meander my way through Harajuko, stopping for lunch at Harajuko Gyōza Rō. After a short wait, I was chowing down on some delicious fried dumplings with garlic and chives. This was another Lonely Planet recommendation and although it's a little touristy, the food is good and the price is great: I got six gyōza, rice and soup for under ¥500 (about £3).

After lunch, I wandered over to Meiji-jingū, a huge shrine surrounded by beautiful gardens (no cats allowed, though, according to the signs...). From the park entrance near Harajuko station, it's a 15-minute walk to the shrine's entrance. On a hot day like today, it was lovely to be underneath the shade of the trees. Outside, there is a series of beautifully decorated sake bottles, and then once you have purified yourself at the water station, you can go on in. Today, there was a wedding taking place so I stood and watched as the wedding party processed through the centre; a lovely experience.

It was then time for some stationery and design shopping in Shibuya. I picked up a few pieces at the huge branch of my new favourite lifestyle store, Loft, and then admired the huge collection of washi tape, stickers and gadgets at the design-focused department store, Tokyu Hands. As it has proved so tough to get good coffee, as Tokyu Hands had such a good selection of fancy coffee-making kit and as the Hario V60 dripper with a pack of filters was only about £3, I decided it was worth the investment, even if I only use it for this trip.

Before I headed back to Omotesando, I sneaked into Starbucks to get a bird's eye view of the Shibuya Crossing, a contender for the world's busiest intersection. I can confirm that it makes Oxford Circus look rather tame! Ready...



Back in Omotesando, I made a beeline for Found Muji, which is a carefully curated, high-end-boutique version of Muji. I bought a couple of small copper bowls, which I think are probably for dipping sauces, but which would also make great tea-light holders. Just across the road is the beautiful Spiral Centre —a shrine to great design. Upstairs is Spiral Market, which sells lovely stationery, homewares and even a carefully edited selection of CDs. Then there's the Spiral Garden, an exhibition space currently housing an umbrella exhibition. I have never seen any city as obsessed with brollies as Tokyo, and I come from London. All of the lifestyle stores I've visited have a huge selection, and the colourful offerings at Spiral are also for sale.

Having grazed for most of the day, I wasn't too hungry at dinner time, but I stopped off at Uoshins, a fun and funky fish shack near Nogizaka station. Unfortunately, only the specials were in English, and most were either too special or too mushroomy for my taste, but I had some very tasty deep-fried karei. So much for taking it easier today. Maybe tomorrow?

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