The morning of Day 4, we headed out toward Akihabara, the trendy/electronics area at the center of the city. I’m not sure how trendiness and electronics go together, but I guess this is where the kids hang out. We passed these awesome panda stairs on the way to lunch, but I literally can’t find anything about them on the Internet despite there even being a word on the building. So, for the sake of anyone searching: Akihabara panda stairs Todoroki Inc.
We’d read that there’d be a line at Motenashi Kuroki for ramen, but we were glad for it to be able to watch the people in front of us and figure out how it worked. First you go inside through a curtain over the door and pick your bowl out from the vending machine, and then you bring the ticket from the vending machine back to a guy at the outside window, who then tells you when a seat has freed up for you inside.
It’s a tiny place with only a handful of seats, but you never wait long, because as we learned, the Japanese think noodles are only the right texture in broth for the first seven minutes, so that’s why you see them furiously slurping their ramen and leaving instead of enjoying hours of conversation over a bowl. The small space, the wooden counter, the all-business chefs, the bags of ingredients sitting around–they all made this place just feel so “we’re actually in Japan”. We were offered ramen or soba (buckwheat) noodles, and we all chose the ramen to go with our bowls, which we’d again selected from the top-left of the vending machine because it had all of the stuff in it.
This time, “all of the stuff” included shrimp wontons, which were such an extra little treat that I’m basically forlorn now whenever my ramen doesn’t have wontons. If you asked me to choose between this and the ramen we had at Rokurinsha, I’d have a hard time, though we definitely discussed the idea at length. I loved the thick noodles at Rokurinsha, but I loved the shrimp wontons at Motenashi Kuroki. The decor at Motenashi Kuroki was just what I imagined all Japanese restaurants would look like, but Rokurinsha was in a cool underground mall in the subway station. So what I’m saying is–you have to go to both.
We’d read a list of things Japanese people find offensive that included sticking your chopsticks upright in your food (this is something they do at funerals) and blowing your nose in public, so of course that’s immediately what I did when we left the ramen shop, and of course some old Japanese lady gave me the STINK EYE. It was kind of awesome, though I did partly feel embarrassed for being that guy. We headed up the street to the densest part of Akihabara, which is known for its maid cafes, and there were indeed young ladies in French maid costumes outside of the restaurants trying to draw people in. Jack and I actually went to Maid Cafe NY when it opened and found it kind of amusing to be called “master” and “princess” by the woman serving us, but we decided to skip out on this trip and I instead took a picture of Nik and Jack in front of one of their favorite NYC restaurants, which happens to be a Japanese transplant.
We happened by a store that sold Zojirushi travel mugs, the thermos that changed my life, and Jack and Nik bought some so their lives could also be changed. Then we headed down an alley to buy a new SD card for my camera since I’d wisely brought exactly one with me, and we felt like we were truly taking advantage of being in the electronics neighborhood:
Then we went up a huge set of stairs
to the Kanda Shrine covered in gold roosters, where businessmen come to have their entrepreneurial ventures blessed. People who follow the Shinto religion believe that all objects can be spiritual, so you can also have your cellphone blessed here! The guys did a handwashing ceremony while I took pictures, and then Jack held the camera while I attempted it and spilled water all over my feet. I asked the guys to take a picture of me kissing one of the guardian lion statues behind the shrine (where we were completely alone, mind you), and they were embarrassed for me but eventually relented. And it’s true that people there were being super-serious and doing this ritual that involved clapping three times, which I later learned was to get the attention of the good kami (spirits) who live in the shrine. Nothing disrespectful about a little kiss, though, gentlemen.
Then we walked ONE HUNDRED MILES through the streets of downtown to get to KITTE, a huge seven-story mall in the Marunouchi area. We saw so many wonderful Japanese sights on our way,
but our favorite was this emergency sign that was like, “No fear, guys! This road is closed because a major earthquake has created a tsunami that’s washed our giant fishes ashore and into the streets, but keep smiling!”
When we finally got to the KITTE area, we could see on our GPS that there was a Family Mart close by that I wanted to check for Kit Kats, but we just couldn’t get to it. We walked around Tokyo Station a few times, trying to follow the little arrow on my phone, but even when we were right on top of the place the GPS said we’d find the store, there was nothing but huge office towers. Because it was underground. Everything in Tokyo is underground! Remember it.
We were at KITTE because I wanted to have conveyor belt sushi at Kaitenzushi Nemurohanamaru, which seems to be this place, but when you press the “English” button on their site, it stays completely Japanese, so enjoy! What I get is that kaitenzushi is conveyor belt sushi and this place is actually called Nemuro Hanamaru.
That was about our level of confusion as we sat down at this place, which had a line that wrapped around the entire top floor of the mall by the time we left. We have a couple of conveyor belt sushi restaurants in NYC, but the one I used to go to weekly had a computer screen to order special items from, and of course everyone there spoke perfect English. Here, our waitress didn’t speak a lick of English, so we mostly just grabbed things from the conveyor belt, which was constantly resupplied with treats ranging from the perennial favorite, California rolls, to silvery-skinned sashimi to . . . juice boxes?
If you wanted one of the special items not provided on the conveyor belt, you had to use a paper ordering sheet, which took us a WHILE to figure out with no English help, and I took a picture of it, determined to help out the next American tourist who might venture in, but now I can’t actually remember what we had to do. Maybe write down the number of the item from the separate menu in the first box and then how many of it you wanted in the second box? No idea! All I know is that we eventually got some Japanese fried chicken and some huge beers. You’re welcome for the extensive help, America.
Each plate on the conveyor belt came on a color-coded plate, with each color representing a different price. We didn’t care about the price of anything–vacation!–and ate the entire restaurant:
When we left, we found ourselves in a courtyard full of people gathering after work for happy hour. Food trucks lined one side of the park with everything in the world I wanted to eat but was too full to, a live rock band played in a shell on the other, and tables and chairs filled the middle. We watched the band for a bit, but we were on a mission to get to another one of the picks from that Buzzfeed top 25 bakeries list, Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki.
It was mega fancy, to the point that they wouldn’t even allow pictures, but I did get one before I noticed the sign. I think the packaging they put our cakes in to take home was more expensive than the things most people eat, but we couldn’t resist a Japanese pastry chef doing French desserts. We took our cakes and macarons home to split into three equal parts in the privacy of our own rented home so the snooty bakery ladies couldn’t judge us, and that was the end of Day 4.