Tokyo for various Ladies of Leisure
J did not go along, so there aren't many pretty photos of Tokyo here this time round. Just some lazy shots with the Ricoh GR.
For anyone thinking of having a short trip to Tokyo with your mom, here's a leisurely-paced itinerary that does not involve museums for non-Culture-Vulture mothers (otherwise, us amps definitely recommend visiting at least some museums if you are in Tokyo. Click here for our museum recommendations).
DAY 1: For Ol' Skool Girls
Start the trip with Asakusa for a little of ol' skool Tokyo and the expected tourist traps. Asakusa is home to the oldest temple Kaminarimon in Tokyo, away from the fashion or financial intensity of the city. Walk around the temple grounds and wander into the little adjacent streets and old shopping arcades. While there, if your mom enjoys cooking, a 10min walk will bring you to Kappabashi Dogurai Dori, a street of shops that stock all kinds of kitchenware, utensils and furnishings for restaurants.
Take the Ginza line from Asakusa to...well, Ginza. It's no longer the place to be, but it's still got that sense of luxury for rich Grandmas. Ginza's a good place for lunch, or if you managed to grab some food at Asakusa, there're enough fancy cafes along Chuo or Harumi Dori to satisfy the Anglo/Euro-phile in you.
If you had wandered along Chuo Dori, try to make your way to the central Ginza crossing where the station is before 3.30pm. There, take the street perpendicular to Chuo Dori, i.e. to Harumi Dori, and walk towards Kabuki za - a re-created Kabuki theatre. Shows start at 4.30pm, but if you are keen only to catch 1 act (about 1 hour) from the 4th floor (about circle 3), ticket sales start at 3.30pm. By about 4pm, there would only be standing room, so try to get there earlier. 1 act tickets go for 600-1000Y. The sets are beautiful, there's always something happening on stage and the atmosphere in the theatre is enough to keep you awake. They also rent out headsets with English commentary.
That should bring you to 5.30pm, just in time to make your way towards dinner. From Ginza, the Marunouchi line will bring you to Shinjuku, which is loud, neon-lit and packed with folk of all ages. Shinjuku is mainstream shopping, including the sleazy sex shops of Kabuki-cho and the fairly quaint (if you find little bars quaint) Golden Gai beside the lesbigay and gigolo areas. Even if your mom is not feeling adventurous, it's good to show her the crass, dirty side of Tokyo.
By about 7pm, you should be hungry and tired of walking. Make your way to Lumine Est, a building right beside the station. On the 7th and 8th floor are over 10 restaurants specialising in modern Japanese interpretations of Italian, Thai, Chinese and, of course, Japanese cuisine. I can't remember the name of the place we went to, but for S$100, we had very good sashimi, yakitori, grilled whole fish, salad, sake and cocktails. Your mom probably will have no energy to party after that, so get back to your hotel. It's easy from Shinjuku.
DAY 2: For Housewives and Taitais
Your mom should be familiar with this start to the day - the market. The Oedo line will bring you to the famous Tsujiki Fish Market. That needs no introduction. Even if you don't see the action at the wholesale side of the market, the consumer market with its streets of fresh sea food, dried food, kitchenware and sushi shops should be enough to make mom happy. If your mom is a foodie like mine, take an early sushi lunch at any of the little shops. We also found a store that BBQ-ed clams and gigantic scallops which you can eat standing in the streets.
Although it's not very glamourous and Tokyo-esque to do so, we brought our bags of bonito/dried squid/green tea and marinated clams to Ronponggi's newest mega development - the MidTown. Like Mori's Roponggi Hills, which you should also visit to get a 54th storey view of Tokyo, it has apartments, fancy shops and restaurants and museums. Midtown is also home to 21-21 Design Sight, but hey, your mom might not like museums. If not, walk off that sushi in the park around it. After that, get to any dessert shop at Midtown or Roppongi Hills. We went for a Green tea place, where we had macha (thick verdant tea) and green tea-flavoured desserts.
Stuffed, take the Hibiya line to Shibuya, where you can show your mom the famous Shibuya crossing (flanked by giant TV screens on the buildings on all corners), the Hachiko statue and the vainest boys/men possible on earth. When it's time for dinner, you'll be spoilt for choice at Shibuya. I brought my mom to a Tofu place Soranoniwa (4-17 Sakuragaoka-cho) right by the street running along the JR line. It has interesting, cozy interior with running water, wooden corridors, private rooms and pebbles. For S$70, we had sake, cocktails, fresh steamed tofu, tofu-tuna negitoro, grilled farm chicken with rock salt, salad and pumpkin-tofu creme caramel.
DAY 3: For Country Bumpkins
Take the 1.5hr morning train to Hakone, a mountainside town where you can supposedly view Mt Fuji (seldom, definitely not when there's 1 cloud in the sky). The Tokyo-ites like to troop to Hakone on a weekend, so try to make it on a weekday.
Buy the 2-day 5000Y ticket from the Odakyu Romance Car counter at Shinjuku. This ticket gives you rides on all transport at Hakone. Once there, take the round-trip tour of Hakone which will include a bus ride to Lake Ashi, a boat ride (on a cheesy Captain Sparrow boat) across Lake Ashi to Togendai, a ropeway (i.e. what we know as a cablecar?) ride up to view the volcanic springs, down the ropeway to the cablecar (i.e. what we know as a funicular train?) to Gora, and from Gora transfer to the train back to the Hakone Yumoto station. The whole trip should take about 4-6 hours, depending on how long you linger at each stop and whether you detour to the little museums along the way. If you buy the 2-day ticket, it comes with an English guide/brochure. You won't go wrong following the route on that guide.
We opted to stay over at a ryokan in Hakone. Hakone is full of these ryokans/hotels which double up as onsens (i.e. you should be able to have a bath, private or public, at these hotels). We stayed at the Kansuiro(photo above), which is supposedly some 15th century inn built when Hakone was developed to serve a route used by traders and samurais. Your mom will enjoy a stay, not just for the bath, but for the "Japan-hour" experience of being served a 10-course traditional Japanese meal in your tatami room. It was good fun, although the stay at the ryokan set us back by at least S$750.
DAY 4: For (Window) Shopping Queens
Catch the late morning train back to Tokyo after you've been served a traditional Japanese breakfast in your ryokan room and enjoyed another soak in the hot wooden tub.
After checking in at the hotel and losing our overnight bag, set off with your mom to Yoyogi park. It will be a leisurely and relaxing walk on wide gravel paths lined with tall trees (an almost forest like atmosphere) to the Meiji Shinto shrine located in the park. Your mom will most likely be able to admire the Kimonos of brides and their guests at Tokyo's largest Meiji shrine. If it's a Sunday, your mom will also be able to tsk-tsk ("aiyoh, these teenagers, so weird") at the garb of the lolita girls and other strange Tokyo creatures right outside the park. If both of you are still feeling guilt about yesterday's dinner, skip lunch and go straight for tea! Right across the park is Comme Ca Mono where on level 2 is the Comme Ca Cafe. It serves delicious slices of fruit tarts with generous toppings of banana/strawberries etc over cheese, custard, fresh cream, chocolate cake fillings in a tarte base.
Having spent close to 4 days in Japan, you and your mom might be feeling more fashionable. From Yoyogi, walk down Omote-sando, and make the necessary detours to the shops at Harujuku, Omote-sando Hills, and every other flagship store of the major fashion labels all the way till you hit Aoyama [if you have the time, amps recommend a detour to the Aoyama cemetary]. Even if you don't have the money to waste, walk into the shops or at least admire some of their architecture. Make sure to drop by the Japanese design labels - our favourites Issey Miyake and Comme des Garcons - which are clearly different from your usual Pradas (although the Herzog de Meuron building is worth a visit). Track back along Omote-sando and make a turn at Meiji-Dori (or Cat Street, which is a more interesting walk), where a 30min leisurely stroll will take you to Shibuya.
We grabbed a simple ramen dinner at Shibuya with a ticket from a machine. Not because we had spent all our yens at Omote-sando, but because we wanted to sample the food from all the little stores at the Shibuya Tokyu basement "FoodShow". We hauled back to our hotel room a bottle of Asti, 2 salads and 3 cheese cakes! The perfect reward to end the trip and energise the packing of our bags.
Some Tips for Traveling with Mom
- Try to stay in a comfortable hotel close to a subway station. The subway will be your main mode of transport. We stayed at Shinjuku, just because the train to Hakone leaves from there.
- Try to also stay at a hotel where the airport limousine bus stops. Tokyo's subways are not very elderly/handicap friendly, so save your mom the trouble of dragging her luggage up and down stairs to get to and from Narita Airport.
- Plan the trip/stops around meals. Unless your mom loves cities, the architecture, buzz and museums are not likely to thrill her as much. But Japan's good food will. The meals also allow her to rest her feet.
- Tokyo-ites probably spend all their money eating out. So in order not to let mom wait in line for too long, either you get to the popular restaurants early (say by 6.30pm) or try to make a reservation.
- Avoid the Red-Eye Flight. I didn't. But that's only because I couldn't afford another day of leave. But setting out on a day's walking without a good night's rest is probably not as easy for mom as it is for you.
*I travelled with Time Out Tokyo this time, but had made reference to Lonely Planet (which has better maps and gives clearer directions, but is lousy for food) and a Taiwanese guidebook from our previous trips.