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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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.