Japan, June 2014: Day Twenty Six

With the rainy season in full swing and sporting new umbrellas, we headed out for our first proper shopping trip of this holiday. Our destination, Akihabara, is synonymous with electronic goods and crazy toys – so this was going to be a long day.

Akihabara station has two main exits; one to Electric Town (the hub of the techy stores) and the other to Yodobashi Camera’s flagship store… which is where we began our day. The shop covers a city block, has 8 floors of goods and 6 basement levels of parking, it’s a big deal.
We only bought a couple of things so as not to peak too soon and be lumbered with bags all day.

Walking back through the JR station and into Electronics Town, you rarely shop at ground level. The kerbside shops, although good, are usually mainstream high street chains. Above these shops is where the independents and specialists are located. There’s usually one tiny elevator or a narrow stairwell and unless you can read kanji, hiragana or katakana, you rarely know what shops sell until you’re in them.

It was here that we started to gather bags at a rapid rate. Prices can vary wildly between stores, so if you see a bargain, it’s usually a good idea to buy it or face walking back there later… If you can find it again. It’s very easy to lose yourself here.

With the rain easing, we decided to leave Akihabara for our next destination. We’d booked a dinner cruise for the evening and rather than lug the bags around any longer, we thought heading to the port area and finding a coffee house to hide up in made more sense. Taking the equivalent of the Docklands Light Railway to the port, we arrived to an industrial area with zero shops other than the ferry terminal.

After blindly walking around for 15 minutes, we stumbled across what looked looked like an open mall, right in the centre of a forest of deserted skyscrapers. This area is probably heaving on Monday morning, but on a Sunday afternoon it could be mistaken for a ghost town. We’d seen the automatic doors close so we knew we could get inside; and with rain threatening again, the shelter was most welcome. As we entered the building, the lack of people, noise and indeed light, gave the whole place a 28 Days Later, Zombie Apocalypse vibe one would rarely associate with a public mall.

As one would expect, even after an apocalypse, the only two stores open were Lawsons and McDonalds. The 4 levelled mall was otherwise shut and deserted – apart from the army of mall cops on duty and regularly patrolling past. We grabbed a coffee in McDonalds before heading back to our rendezvous point an hour earlier than required.

Whilst sitting on a bench below the station and our intended meeting point, a Japanese lady came down the stairs from the ticket office and asked us if we were Matt and Emma. Takeo-chan was our tour guide for the evening and she would be with us until we boarded the ship to ensure we didn’t miss the boat. It was kind of awkward as we don’t like to be trouble and having someone there to look after you always seems like we’re putting them out. However, once we’d got chatting and found out she was an osteopath (which we really need now!) and that she’s an F1 fan, the time to board came around all too soon. We’ve got her details and she’s happy to arrange any tours we fancy in the future.

The ship was the Symphony Classica, a three tiered vessel (hark at me sounding all nautical!) and we were to be dining on the lower deck. Expecting to be grouped with other tourists (there was a group of Russians on board as well) we were surprised to get out own table between a single, old lady and an older couple. The buffet was extensive and we were severely ill prepared for Japanese buffet tactics.

Piling as much on a single plate, whilst the norm in the UK, we loaded our crockery to tipping point before returning to the table to tuck in. As I munched my way through my pasta/Chinese beef/croissant/onion rings and fries combo; we noticed the little old dear next to us already making a third trip to food central.

As opposed to our small plate/food mountain approach, the Japanese take a small portion of everything on many plates before sitting down to sample them all in a civilised manner. After mopping up my Chinese sauce with my 4th and final croissant of the course, I decided this was a good time to take my camera up to the viewing deck at the rear of the ship.

We had just passed under Tokyo Bridge and were returning to the Bay Area. The gloomy weather had completely disappeared and we were left with a calm, warm evening to enjoy the views of the Tokyo waterfront. With Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge being the main attractions on show, we took the opportunity to partake in our other hobby; taking photos of people taking photos. We have amassed quite a collection of other people’s holiday photos that will probably get their own album eventually.

We returned to port and caught a complimentary taxi back to Ikebukuro station. Fortunately I messed up my East and West; so we arrived at the wrong side of the station, right in front of a Don Quijote shop we never knew about. Despite being shattered and carrying numerous shopping bags, we still managed a small exploration of this 8 floored monster.

Back at the hotel, we planned the next day’s activities and got some well earned rest.