Trying to pack it in

A satisfying end to a day in Tokyo: grilled cod with miso dressing, pureed radish and grilled chilis.
A satisfying end to a day in Tokyo: grilled cod with miso dressing, pureed radish and grilled chilis.

You can make plans, but if you can’t foresee all eventualities then they never quite work out. So its best to treat the plans as suggestions to build upon. My half day in Tokyo did not exactly work out the way I had planned it.

Before we left Delhi, the captain of our flight announced that the route would veer south to avoid typhoon Chan-Hom. Normally we would have flown north of Mount Everest, over Xi’an, Busan and on to Tokyo. But we actually flew over Mandalay, Guangzhou, and Miyazaki to approach Narita from almost due south. Even so, and although we flew at a height of 12 kilometers on a Boeing Dreamliner, the journey was not smooth. We rattled and shook all the way. The night’s flight prepared me about the news from China which I read the next day. We landed in Tokyo at about 9:30 in the morning, a little more than an hour later than I’d expected.

By the time I reached Tokyo station, it was nearly noon. Since my hotel room would not be available till two, I had decided to leave my luggage in the station and see something before checking in. I gained a little time by buying a preloaded Suica card, a smart card which you can use on the Tokyo metro station, instead of spending time buying tickets repeatedly. But then I lost a little time getting lost inside the Tokyo station while searching for available lockers to keep my luggage in.

It was a sunny morning, but hot and muggy. I decided to visit the Senso-Ji first. The place looks good in bright light. It was crowded and fun as a Buddhist temple in East Asia always is. It didn’t take long; in two and a half hours I checked into the hotel. All I’d known about it was that it was near Tokyo University and a the baseball stadium called Tokyo Dome. I discovered that on Sunday that the Tokyo Dome City is a permanent fair with rides of various kinds. Fortunately the place shuts at some time, so my sleep was not be punctuated by shrieks of kids on a roller coaster. After a shower I took the train to the Meiji Jingu. This was peaceful and serene, a big change from Senso-Ji.

The sun was setting as I lost my way in the park, skipped people watching in Yoyogi Park, and went on to Shibuya. Coming out of this large station by exit 2, one can almost miss the statue of Hachiko because of the rings of tourists around it. I walked into a cafe for a wonderful slice of chocolate cake and a large cup of black French coffee. Then I stood around the pedestrian scramble gawking. Among the things which I learnt from watching the big video screen in Shibuya is that the Japanese make end-of-the-world science fiction movies which could give the Avengers a run for their money.

Not exactly what I had planned, but not way off either.

Shibuya and my discovery of Miso

A satisfying end to a day in Tokyo: grilled cod with miso dressing, pureed radish and grilled chilis.

shibuya

Shibuya Crossing has been shown so often in Hollywood films that it is now a modern global icon. I took exit 2 from the Shibuya metro station and came out near the statue of Hachiko, well-known in Japan as the epitome of the faithful the dog. Then I added to the count of people crossing and went into the L’Occitane cafe. It was full of young women recovering from their shopping; I must have been the oldest male there.

All tables overlooking the pedestrian scramble were taken. The maitre d’ was kind enough to find me a table close to the window on the highest floor of the cafe. It was a good table to look out on the plaza from, but not good for photography: I guess that was the intention. I had a lovely view of the giant screen which shows a walking dinosaur in “Lost in Translation”. It was showing zany enough advertisements while I ordered.

I dawdled in the cafe until the light had faded enough to make the man-made lights look better, and then walked down to street level. The place is seething with tourists who, like me, wanted to take a photo which, with luck, would eventually be here. I don’t think I got one, but some of the others may have got lucky. (If you are the young Belgian tourist with a braided beard who was carrying the extra long lens, then I would like to see what you shot with it.)

The luckiest part of my evening came when I wandered into the Shibuya Hikari by accident and found the dining space on the 6th and 7th floors. After strenuous reading of many menus, I finally decided on a place in one far corner of the 6th floor which said it specialized in miso. I’d had miso soups before, but I didn’t know that you could specialize in beans. This was reason enough to sit down. This time I got a place by the window, and managed to over-order. I had two starters: a fresh tofu with pickled black beans, and a chicken with ume and miso. Both were excellent. The cod steak which followed was outstanding, and then I had the rice and miso soup. Now miso soups are usually fairly bland to non-Japanese palates, but this could stand up to my jaded Indian tastes. It was so thick that I discovered the scallops inside only when I held up the bowl. I was really happy to have an excellent meal without sushi, sashimi, tempura or katsu.

I like traditional Japan, but I really love modern Japan. Eating in Japan is a discovery each time!