This is a good place to stop and talk about the toilets in Japan. I know, every single Westerner who has ever visited Nippon in the latter part of the twentieth century (or beginning of the twenty-first,) has had to mention the bathrooms in Japan, but mostly because, although we’re warned in advance by every other travel writer on the planet, it’s still a shock to stumble off a plane after 14 hours (not including the extra few at the airport) and be confronted with a “traditional” bathroom. It’s basically a urinal set into the ground. I imagine that guys don’t have too much problem with it, but for women, it’s a bit more complicated. If I were in the habit of wearing skirts, it might be a little less difficult, but with pants it was a fairly steep learning curve. Anywhere we went, it was a crap shoot as to whether we got a “traditional” or a western-style toilet. Except in temples, shrines, and other old places…those we had *no* chance of a western one. We did a quick market research poll with the one Japanese person we could ask about it (poor Emi…) and she stated unequivocally that she like western ones better. So, despite all our faults as a culture, we’ve done one thing, at least, right.
I might as well also mention breakfast, while I’m at it. Of all the things that I’d be facing in this entirely new country, the only thing I was really worried about was …breakfast. I feel pretty strongly about my three squares and I don’t function without brekkie. The first two days in Tokyo we ate at the hotel, because we didn’t have much mental wherewithal to do anything different. After the second heinously expensive, yet bland and uninteresting breakfast, we decided to take matters into our own hands. Every night as we headed home, we’d stop at one of the local combi and buy stuff…usually for dinner, as well as the next day’s breakfast. Pattie favored egg salad sandwiches, while I preferred the combo-packs of tuna, egg and ham and cheese. These made a great breakfast, I have to say. For dinner, I picked up whatever I fancied, sushi, rice balls, ramen noodle (alien flavored – we kept a label to prove it!) or any number of other items, mostly fresh food. I had katsu salad, or whatever they had made that night. Ya gotta love 24/7 places for this – you can always get reasonably priced food that doesn’t entirely suck there. (And now you know *why* egg salad sandwiches make me nostalgic for Tokyo. We ate a lot of ’em.) You may wonder why we didn’t eat out at various restaurants every night – but trust me, we ate as well as any of the young yuppies who filled the 7-11 every night. But the real reason was simple – we were utterly exhausted every night and we didn’t have bazillions of bucks to spend on nice places to eat – even if we were capable of figuring out the menu, which was yet another crap shoot. But really…why? We ate a really nice lunch every day out, and we were glad to have cheap places to eat at night, when we dragged our sorry, tired asses back to the hotel.
Which brings me to Day 5, Part 2.
We armed ourselves with a guide from the Cheap Bastard’s Tokyo Shopping Guide and headed out. This site is a mixed bag – it’s got directions, but it’s of the “Look, I’m so cool, I’m cursing in public” variety of sophomoric humor. Nonetheless, the directions for Ikebukuro were *brilliant* and I heartily recommend this site if you plan a trip to any of the sections of Tokyo and want to know where to buy anime and manga related goods. Have I mentioned that there are few streets that have names and almost none of the buildings have numbers? Best bet – take a map and get good directions.
We hit up the Info Desk for a little local information – the two women who helped us were hysterical in a way that is completely untransferable to text, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. We set out and had no problem finding the first landmark, a closed bookstore. From there we walked down the coolest street in Ikebukuro, a little alley full of game arcades, restaurants, food stalls, stuff stores and more game arcades. We loved this street and visited it repeatedly, because you can never have enough of crowded streets with New Year’s revelers playing on crane games for cheap toys, IMHO. We were immediately sidetracked by an arcade with One Piece toys, which was deafeningly loud. We watched some guy play the Taiko drumming game, where you try to drum in time to the music. There was also a game where you are taking a dog for a walk…I’m totally serious. We did not play that.
The first anime store we found, Animate, was closed, but the next, K-Books, was open. There were actually several K-Books – one anime store, one manga and one doujinshi. We dropped a few thousand yen on extremely cool items we needed desperately, as you can imagine. The doujinshi were arranged by audience, and there was a feeding frenzy in several of the yaoi sections. I decided to go elsewhere, while Pattie fished.
We stopped at a Family Mart to get supplies for that night and the next morning, and absolutely thrilled the girl at the counter no end with our foreign antics. She probably went running home and told her boyfriend. But we didn’t know what (if anything) would be open the next day (New Years, in case you forgot) so we wanted to have food just in case.
We decided to try our luck and walk back through the Seibu side of the station, and hope we didn’t get lost. It worked! We were so pleased with ourselves. We wandered through some of the Tobu side food displays…like Harrods in London, Seibu and Tobu sell high-end food on the bottom floor. We couldn’t afford most of what we saw, but if we had had to buy a high-end food gift, we saw some cool ideas. The sake’ area was packed and they were handing out samples. We watched ’em decant warm sake from wooden buckets right into bottles. If I liked sake, I could have been plastered by the time I walked through that section of the store.
We walked back through the station and bought a new bag to put all the dirty laundry in, so we could pack all the toys and doujinshi we had bought. The sales guy was SO excited to tell us our total and change in English.
After dinner in the Metropolitan Plaza (calzones, because we could) we dragged our tired, sore asses home and scrapped our nascent Temple-going plans, because we were beat. I had bought snacks and drink to celebrate the New Year, if we made it up that late…we didn’t.
We spent the evening watching really awful “top ten” type shows, because I love suffering and the only anime on was Doraemon.
Next Time: How to Avoid New Year’s Day