And now for the things that just didn’t live up to the hype.
Off by a Hair
Shibuya Crossing: For a pedestrian crossing at a roadway intersection, Shibuya Crossing definitely punches above its weight in terms of notoriety. I love the buzz generated by big crowds, and I was pretty excited to be in the thick of it. I imagined crossing a couple of times and then watching from above at the nearby Starbucks as others made the scramble. As it turns out, 10 a.m. on a Monday is not peak time for the world’s busiest crossing. I can imagine it being a fun experience during evening rush hour, when one could scurry across and then enjoy pre-dinner drinks at L’Occitane Café while watching the fuss below. Unfortunately, I didn’t take this into consideration before planning my visit.
On a slight tangent, I imagine the entire Shibuya neighborhood is more enjoyable in the evening. As we strolled through, the streets were quiet and many shops were closed. We were left with the impression of Shibuya as a sad, dirty area. (It was the first and essentially only place we saw trash on the ground.)
Robot Restaurant: The Robot Restaurant is absolutely one of those only-in-Tokyo experiences. It’s insane. I really have no words to describe in any comprehensible way what the show is about. And I don’t necessarily want to deter others from going – it’s fun and it’s definitely memorable. I just think it’s important to know what you’re getting. While the entire show is billed as around two hours long, actual entertainment time is less than 45 minutes. There are multiple breaks to sell concessions, and the first 30 – 45 minutes is spent in a lobby area, seemingly for the sole purpose of selling drinks and food. The costumes and props are starting to show their age, with some not working at all.
Ramen Street: Ramen Street, on the lower level of Tokyo Station, gathers Japan’s most famous ramen restaurants in one location. Different styles of ramen are available for the choosing. We opted for dipping ramen, and specifically, for Rokurinsha. We arrived before noon, and there was already a long line, but surprisingly, it moved quickly. Upon reaching the entrance, we placed our order at a kiosk before being seated. The ramen was delicious, but it became cold very, very quickly. I didn’t finish mine and was unable to drink the broth because of the unappetizing temperature. The seats next to us turned over a couple of times while we were there. It seems the Japanese are accustomed to inhaling their ramen; I was clearly unprepared for such a lunch on the go.
Tsukiji Fish Market: I’m reluctant, and a bit embarrassed, to include Tsukiji Market in this group, particularly since my disappointment stems from user error. But here we are. Mostly, I want to warn you against repeating our mistakes. We debated whether to go to the tuna auction, but after much deliberation, we decided against it. We have heard from others that it’s difficult to get in, and with a lack of certainty, getting up before 4 a.m. wasn’t in the cards.
Our first stop was Sushizanmai for sushi breakfast. This may have been the highlight of our entire trip for Derek. As patrons enter, the chefs behind the counter sing out a greeting. We were provided with counter seating where we could watch the masters work. Derek ordered the sushi deluxe, which consisted of about 15 pieces of nigiri, and I had chirashi-don, a bowl of rice topped with sashimi. Thankfully, eating raw fish at 8 a.m. wasn’t as difficult as I had feared; it was quite enjoyable! After finishing our meals, we strolled through the outer market of food stalls. Derek had an oyster on the half shell that was larger than his fist, while I had a gooey sweet treat.
Inexplicably, we couldn’t find the wholesale market and ended up leaving without seeing it. I know – a travesty. I have since found a map of the market complex and now realize that the outer market does not readily flow into the wholesale area; it must be sought out. My mistake here was not being more actively involved in planning our visit to the market from the beginning. Typically, this map is the type of thing I would have in the information packet, but I left this particular excursion up to Derek. He was so excited about visiting the fish market and had read all about it, I never thought to follow-up on the details. In the hope that your visit will be more successful, I’ve included the map here for reference.