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Tokyo Day One Part Two: Shibuya, Park Hyatt Spa and Tokyu Hands

by on June 7, 2011 · 25 comments

in Tokyo, Trip Reports

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Once down Takeshita street, I hung a right on Harajuku street and walked 15 minutes to Shibuya, which is the Herald Square-like area with lots of shops and restaurants. At this point, I had worked up quite an appetite, so I went into the first ramen shop that seemed to be popular with locals. The one I ended up choosing had no English on the signs – even better.

Interesting architecture on my walk to Shibuya ... Audi building

Massive intersection in Shibuya ... think Herald Square times 10

My choice of ramen shop

I walked in and watched a couple put their Yen in the vending machine and choose their entrees. It was quickly my turn and I scanned the buttons and while options started at 700 Yen, I hate coins, so I ended up choosing the 1,000 Yen option. Go big or go home! They had an English menu available, but I’d rather order randomly since everything was going to be good anyway.

My favorite vending machine ... ever

And indeed it was. Within 5 or so minutes, I had my piping hot ramen with a huge slab of butter slowly melting away at the top. As time went on more and more people entered the shop and I felt slightly self-conscious because I’m not the most coordinated at holding the spoon in my left hand and using the chopsticks in my right. However, I became more comfortable when the man across from me began slurping away and messily eating his ramen. All of the sudden years of being told to eat neatly and slowly went away and I actually enjoyed my noodles, even if I was a little messy about it (sorry, Mom!).

Not the noodles most Americans are used to

After lunch, feeling reinvigorated, I walked around Shibuya and noticed a cool looking shop, Bershka. I entered to the pulsating sounds of Lady Gaga (always a good sign) and ascended my way up to the mens floor on 4. They had a ton of really nice things, including some shorts that I figured I’d try on. Now, I don’t really know what I was thinking, but let’s temporarily blame it on the jetlag. I stand at 6’7″ and 225 pounds – basically twice the size of the average Japanese woman. In hindsight, I should have known the clothes would have never fit me, but I can never pass up a good deal, so you have to credit me for trying (and I swear I didn’t drink at lunch). In the US I am an XL or size 36 waist and I don’t like my shorts baggy, so I thought an XL would be fine. Also in hindsight, I should have taken the saleswoman’s raised eyebrow as a cue that there was no-way-in-hell the shorts would have worked, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that the Japanese are very polite, so I guess it would have been rude for her to tell me I’m an American lardass and there was no way the shorts would fit.

Trendy, small clothing store

Anyway, the shorts basically fit on my shin, but I somehow thought the XXL might fit and of course that also failed miserably. Feeling a little sheepish, I took the stairs down to leave and then it happens – all of a sudden I see stars. I smacked the top of my head on the stairwell. The first thing I do is grab for my expensive sunglasses, which were somehow spared in the incident, even though they were on top of my head. To be fair to Tokyo, this same thing has happened to me at Grand Central Station in NYC – moral of the story – the world needs to be more accommodating to the vertically enhanced.

Feeling a little dazed, I decided to leave the heart of Shibuya and head back towards Shinjuku and hit up a couple stores that looked interesting, but were closed when I walked by earlier. The first was one was Tomorrowland, which was basically a collection of really nice things, if that makes any sense. Everything from high-end teas, $70 candles and fine leather goods (there were also clothes, but I steered clear of that department). I ended up getting a really nice leather wallet, which is a perfect home for my litany of my mileage earning cards. Overall, everything was really expensive, so I don’t plan to do too much shopping in Tokyo since I can get everything else cheaper in NYC.

My new wallet - perfect for my mileage earning credit cards!

By early afternoon I was starting to feel tired so I hopped in a cab and went back to the hotel. The 10 minute cab ride was 1,610 Yen ($20) – the same ride would have been $8 in NYC. In fact, the cabs here start at 710 Yen ($9) and then go up from there – what a racket! However, the cool thing is that their doors open and close automatically, though I guess that really isn’t that cool.

Spacious, comfortable and expensive cab

Back at the hotel I called the spa to see if they’d be able to accommodate me for a 60 minute shiatsu massage (14,000 Yen/ $175) and a 40 minute reflexology treatment (10,000 Yen/$125), which I didn’t feel bad splurging on because Hyatt was nice enough to comp my stay, so the least I could do is spend some on incidentals. To my surprise, they were able to get me in 15 minutes later and the spa is on my floor (45th floor), so it was all very convenient.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what the shiatsu massage would entail, other than some deep kneading. In fact, the only thing I could think of was my friend’s Dad’s leather recliner growing up, that had the rolling massage built-in – do they still sell them anymore? I remember the one had a shiatsu option, which was just intense shaking balls beating into your back. However, I figured “when in Rome” and I bet the masseuse at the Park Hyatt would be able to outdo the Laz-e-Boy, and boy did she ever.

They had me leave my shoes at the door of the men’s spa and then change into mesh man-capris and what looked like a baseball jersey, but opened up like a robe. Once on the table, the older Japanese masseuse put towels over my back and got to work, pushing pressure points down both sides of my spine. While it wasn’t necessarily the most relaxing massage, it felt amazing, especially after being on planes and in airports for nearly a day. She worked my body in three sections, first back, then legs, then upper body and then again on the front side, using her palms and brute force. I’m sure she must have been mad when she saw me – I really made her work for her money! The whole massage was nice and without pounding a la Laz-e-Boy until the very end when I sat up and she gave my back a good 15 seconds of rapid pounding with her clenched fists. It was a little surprising and very enjoyable – it nicely wrapped up the massage. While I’ll probably opt for a more relaxing massage next time, I enjoyed my shiatsu treatment and would recommend it for those who like tough massages.

I then got into a robe for my reflexology and since I had to walk across the spa, they laid out flip flops, which were probably a men’s size 9. Since I’m a 14, so I’m sure it was highly comical to watch me scoot across the spa in tiny little flip flops that had a 2 inch sole. I’m just glad I didn’t trip over myself and crush the poor masseuse.

The reflexology treatment was right on the money. I’ve had this a lot and this one was super luxurious – starting off with a sugar scrub on the feet and wash in warm water, then 30 minutes of pure bliss as every pressure point in my foot was massaged and worked out. In fact, I fell asleep towards the end of the treatment, which wasn’t totally the jetlag at work.

After the spa I continued my never-ending day, caught up on work and then decided to grab an early dinner at the Takashimaya/Tokyu Hands department store complex in Shinjuku. The hotel has a free shuttle, but I ended up just taking a cab because once I got to the hotel lobby, I started fading and didn’t want to mess around with walking around – I needed food. Since, as I mentioned, the cabs start their meters at roughly $9, this probably wasn’t the most economical for roughly a mile walk, but convenience outweighed practicality as the waves of tiredness started to set in.

To imagine the department store complex, take two 14 story buildings and put them together. 11 floors of one side is all women’s Takashimaya (high-end department store like Neiman Marcus) and 11 floors of the other side is half men’s Takashimaya and the top 4 floors is Tokyu Hands, which is an arts and crafts meets hardware meets costume meets stationary meets Spencer’s Gifts. The top three floors of the complex are restaurants, which I decided to hit first, because I knew a crowded store would make me insane when tired and hungry. I waited in line for an elevator for a solid 5 minutes because one of the three elevators was shut off for power conservation, which would become a major theme I saw – especially as it got dark in Tokyo. Apparently there are major efforts to preserve energy since the country is operating without a major power plant. I’ve never seen Tokyo fully lit-up, but walking at night it just seemed a lot darker than it should be.

Welcome to the Japanese Neiman Marcus

I ended up choosing a Japanese restaurant (surprise!) even though they had a ton of other options, like Indian, Korean (very tempting) and Italian. They gave me a great seat at the windows, which looked out onto Shinjuku over the train tracks and onto the southern side (where the Park Hyatt is located). I ended up getting the combo meal of sashimi, tempura and buckwheat soba noodles, all for 3,5000 Yen ($43). It came with a really bitter tea, which under other circumstances I would have drank, but across the room I saw a man enjoying an ice cold beer, which looked amazing and indeed it was. The second one was possibly even better.

Looking out into Shinjuku

To start, I was given a small starter of pickled vegetables (someone help me out on what that was), tofu in a nice sauce and a seaweed-ish salad.

Japanese starters

Then came the sashimi which was melt-in-your-mouth delicious – it’s only fault being too tiny – I could have eaten a portion 10 times the size.

Melt in your mouth sashimi

After the sashimi came a tiny little noodle dish, which at first I thought was the buckwheat. I was really disappointed at first, because the portion was so tiny and I was still hungry and unsatisfied. I’m still not quite sure what this was, but the noodles were enveloped in a mucus-y sauce. Not to be too disgusting, but it looked like placenta (not that I’ve eaten that before), but you get the idea. It wasn’t particularly good, but I was hungry and one beer down, so I ate it.

Mucus membrane enveloped noodles

Then came the tempura, which was disappointing. The vegetables were bland and it wasn’t very crispy. Maybe I’m used to super-fried American Japanese, but I was unimpressed.

Tasteless tempura

To my delight, that first noodle offering wasn’t the buckwheat and soon came a nice sized portion of cold buckwheat soba noodles. I had watched someone else eat the noodles, so I knew I had to pour the sauce in the cup, mix in the onions and wasabi and then dip the noodles in the cup. I did this and I have to say it was pretty delicious and just the right size to have me leaving with a big smile. It wasn’t the best food I’ve ever had, but it was a memorable dining experience.

Buckwheat soba deliciousness

After my two beers, I was starting to finally feel really tired, so I made a weak attempt at walking through the different floors of the department stores and Tokyu Hands, but it was feeble and I was resigned to coming back when I had full energy. I threw in the towel, headed back to the comfort of the Park Hyatt and slept for 10 glorious hours.

Reminder – Full disclosure: My flights and hotels were comped by Delta and Hyatt respectively.

This is one installment in my series on my trip to Tokyo. You can find my past posts on the trip below, including:

My Trip to TokyoMy Initial Thoughts on Tokyo

Tokyo Day One Part One – Arrival at Haneda, Meiji Shrine, and Harajuku

Tokyo Day One Part Two – Shibuya, Park Hyatt Spa and Tokyo Hands

Tokyo Day Two Part One – Walking Around Shinjuku and Tokyo Hands

Tokyo Day Two Part Two – A Tale of Three Very Different Dining Experiences

Day Three Part One - Inside Access to Tsukiji Fish Market and Tuna Auction

Tokyo Day Three Part Two – Sushi at 6:30am, Tempura and a Night Out in Shinjuku

Tokyo Day Four – Jetlag Blues, Relaxing at the Park Hyatt and Hanging at the Delta SkyClub at Narita

Delta to Tokyo – 757 BusinessElite Review – JFK to LAX

Delta to Tokyo 777LR BusinessElite Review LAX to Haneda

Delta to Tokyo – 747 Upper Deck BusinessElite and Economy Comfort Review Narita to JFK

Park Hyatt Tokyo Review

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Glenn

    your clothes story reminds me of my shopping trips in Thailand. I always have to ask them if they have “farang sized” clothes because I know a medium or large Thai size is small.

  • Alan

    I am not sure whether you ate at a good tempura place or not. But as an Asian living in NYC, I always think the weakest type of Japanese food sold in U.S./ NYC is tempura. Even the best Japanese restaurants here don’t serve the right tempura – as it is very difficult to do. Tempura is not supposed to be deep fried with a thick coating! It’s supposed to be very light, very clean to the palate. In Tokyo, you will be able to find specialty restaurants that only serve tempura. I went to a really good one in a boutique hotel – too bad I forgot about the name….
    But i think your description of “bland and not very crispy” is definitely closer to the true tempura than the “fried” stuff we have in U.S. Did you add a tiny bit of salt?

  • Philip

    I believe slurping is a good thing at japanese noodle shops. They consider it a sign that you’re enjoying the noodles.. so slurp away!

  • Kris

    This trip sounds amazing so far! I’ve definitely bumped up Tokyo a few notches on my travel priority list for the next few years on the sheer interestingness of your plans. I love how in-depth your posts are… I definitely think you’re one of the most dedicated travel bloggers out there, and I’m really excited for you to live the dream full time! Can’t wait to hear about more of your adventures!

  • Lark

    I realize you are now doing this for a living, and I certainly wish you the best of luck!

    However, I would seriously reconsider your policy about accepting comps from the companies you will be writing about. Even with your full and open disclosure, it just does not ‘feel’ right.

    For example, in your above post, you mention “and noticed a cool looking shop, Bershka.” Unfortunately, a thought that popped in to my head was ‘Did he get a discount or something to mention this store?’

    Again, I realize that you are working in a full disclosure mode, but once I know that you are receiving any comps it colors my opinion of what I read on your site.

    So, keep up the good work. I’ll keep reading regardless. However, if you can find a way to make this work for you financially with true neutrality (no comps!), then I think this will serve you much better in the long run.

    (Being a blogger I am sure you evaluated your options carefully. Have you read about the ongoing controversy in the ‘Mommy blogging’ space? Many of these bloggers were not as transparent as you, and were accepting all kinds of comps and even money to review products from big consumer companies… Some would even let the companies ‘ghost write’ posts which would then appear on the blogs. It really turned in to a situation where one would have no confidence that anything one read would actually be an honest, critical opinion.)

  • andrew

    the pickled veg is lotus root. if you have a chance, my favourite foods to eat in tokyo are curry rice, ramen, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and just random street food (though many of these dishes are probably better in osaka). enjoy your time in japan! :)

  • tommy

    about the food. I believe, the left is a sunomono, light sweeten rice wine and vinger dressing with wakame, a type of seaweed. The center looks like fresh soft tofu, in light sweet soy sauce. If it’s lightly dusted and fried, it becomes agedashi tofu. The right is pickled lotus root like andrew said, and pickled miyoga behind it, or ginger blossom. The starter would be equivalent to an amuse bouce , to cleanse the palate. Nice eats. The portion are always like that, it’s more of petite and small portion meals as a tend to the culture. Like andrew mentioned, you should definitely have tried the stalls, okomoniyaki “japanese pancake like”, takoyaki balls “octopus puff balls on a stick” , yumm..

  • Adam K

    Brian awesome pictures, even better I love the captions

  • Billy

    Agree with reader Lark. I’ve been a fan of this blog for a good while now, and follow the other top blogs as well.
    I can’t respect the reviews on comped goods/services, and lose faith in any form of journalism when this takes place, whether it be in traditional journalism (where this is a 100% never-allowed policy), or blogger journalism that you practice.
    You expect readers to trust your opinion and evaluation of credit cards, mileage programs and the like, but that is all weakened by these big freebies you are taking.
    When you review a new card that you are also linking on your blog, I can at least objectively review the pro’s and con’s of that card because it is all pretty cut and dry in the offer and Terms and Conditions. So the reader can make their own judgement about a card, even if you are encouraging us to get it or not.
    But with these hotels and flights, we can’t empathize with your situation at all because there are too many variables in play. You could be more lax on critical thinking about the flight/room because it was comped (though I doubt you’re easily bought). More possibly, you could very well be treated differently by service staff who know you’re a high-profile guest.
    In the end, you’re not going into these experiences with the same mindset as a paying customer. That doesn’t help me as a reader looking for tangible experience from a travel blogger to guide me in this hobby.

  • Will

    I have to agree with @Billy. The companies that comp you aren’t really giving away something for nothing. It’s advertising as far as they are concerned. And they expect a return on their investment.

    However, it’s a beneficial and interesting site well worth my time.

  • Dan

    A note on the taxis… while expensive, the meter seems to take forever to increase.
    I’ve been to Tokyo twice. It’s a very exciting city.

  • The Points Guy

    @Alan- I ended up going to an amazing tempura place, so expect a full report on that (had amazing tempura eel). I now want to tempura everything :-)

    @Everyone else- thanks for helping me figure out what I’m eating. There are several more posts coming where I will need your assistance :-)

    @Lark/Billy/Will- I’m 100% up front with what I got for free, so just know that everything besides air/hotel were paid for by me. In fact, pretty much everything I did in Tokyo was a result of a tip I received on this blog and I even met up with several readers this week and did some amazing things. At the end of the day, this trip would have never happened if I didn’t get the air/hotel comped because it just wasn’t in the budget. I firmly believe the trip is going to be a net positive for the blog, because so many readers will be able to use my Tokyo tips and enjoy reading the detailed posts of my travels. To me, this trip is about Tokyo and I’ve had an unbelievable time, which I hope will encourage more people to realize its okay to come to this great city.

    But I hear your concerns and have no more comped trips planned, so I hope I can earn your trust and respect back by continuing to run a blog that is both entertaining and adds value to your every day life :-)

  • brandi

    is that don kruger’s chair you were referring to? lol

  • evelyn

    You are hysterically funny, and I love reading about your adventures!!! Hope you continue to have an exciting, fun, and safe trip.

  • adam

    going in july, staying in shibuya. thank you for the information sir.

  • Mia

    TPG,
    I am an avid fan, totally hooked reading your blog! I like the simplicity of it all. As far as getting comped and possibly ‘tainting’ your opinion, I do not fault you for it. The disclosure is there and it is up to the individual to commit to any decisions made – TPG mentioned, or not.

    Keep blogging, TPG. I have learned so much from you. (I finally ‘got it’ after reading your article on the “art of stopover” using my AA miles). I used to scour travel websites for info on points, travel deals, etc. Now I go to your website first. Kudos!

  • The Points Guy

    @Brandi – yep! Wonder if they still have it..

    @Evelyn- thanks for reading! More to come :-)

    @Adam- no problem. Let me know if you have any questions once the series is done and if i haven’t covered anything

    @Mia- Thanks for the kind words- really appreciate your support! Stay tuned- lots more to come

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  • TokyoBoundCam

    Thanks to this amazing blog I am Silver on Delta and heading to Tokyo over Labor Day on Delta.

    Just wanted folks to know that Mandarin Oriental is running a great deal– 3 nights for the price of 2, but only through Labor Day weekend.

    http://www.mandarinoriental.com/marketing_partners/american_express/

  • Pingback: Tokyo Day Two Part Two – A Tale of Three Very Different Dining Experiences | thepointsguy.com()

  • JD

    I had a similar shopping experience. I forgot to pack underwear and needed a pair, so went to the same department store. After I grabbed the medium, which is the same size I wear in America, the sales person immediately reached for the XXXXL size and handed them to me “better fit I think” he said. I didn’t even know that they made that size, but took his advice anyway. Let’s just say they worked for the trip, but after I returned home, I promptly put my “japunderwear” at the back of my closet.

  • The Points Guy

    @JD- I’m glad I’m not the only one! I’m an XL in the US, so I can’t imagine what size I’d be in Japan.. XXXXXXXXXL?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=555287418 Shaun Roscoe Deniston

    Amaaaazing blog!!! Headed to NRT from JFK in Business Elite in two weeks! Can’t wait.. been to Tokyo many times but definitely going to use this blog in my upcoming trip! Thanks!!

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