Updated: Apr 16, 2020
We started our day off the same way some businessmen apparently do (we saw them there before work): At the Hie Shrine.
We saw the red structure in Akasaka, with its gold detailing and robin’s egg blue roof. To feel properly immersed in Japanese/buddhist culture, we went over to a fountain that had a dragon head spitting water, and filled wooden cups on a stick with the reptile’s saliva. I think we could’ve used that water to wash our hands, but we weren’t sure, so we just dumped them out in the fountain.
A young man in a white robe walked inside of the temple (he looked like he had the authority to) and didn’t break stride to slip off his outdoor shoes.
Several Japanese people bowed before the temple, in front of us. We saw different cadences of bowing and clapping. While some people took long pauses, others clapped faster and very loudly. Many people kept their hands clasped together, post-clap, and stand upright for a beat.
Back to Shibuya
Next stop: Shibuya Station. Yes, the one with the famous crosswalk/scramble, again. We did our touristy crossing (there were more people this time, but still not too busy) and then did some touristy caffeine injecting. There’s a Starbucks across the scramble that provides a nice view of the street, so we went there and I ordered a soy latte, because I figured the soy milk in Tokyo would be legit. I got a green “soymilk” sticker on my cup which I thought was special. The latte, however, was too milky for my taste.
But why were we being the most touristy tourists on a Monday? It was so we could join our Airbnb Experiences group in Shibuya and get to a popular meeting spot outside of the station: Hachiko Memorial, a dog statue.
As the story goes, Hachiko was a dog that met his BFF, a professor, everyday at Shibuya Station. After the professor died in 1925, the pup, an Akita, continued to make a daily visit to the station, just in case his master would show up. That went on for nearly TEN YEARS. So Hachiko became a legend and the inspiration for a RIchard Gere movie and other literature. He also has a statue at the University of Tokyo, and there are Hachiko manhole covers and figurines and wall mosaics and he apparently even has a little monument next to his owner’s grave. WE LOVE HACHIKO.
Dan and I met the enshrined Hachiko, and also Yukari, our well-reviewed Airbnb Experience food guide. She was chatty, knowledgeable, funny and just an all-around delight. We were joined by an Italian man who lives in France and has a moody Airbnb headshot, and a woman from Chicago who was taking time off work to travel with her maybe-boyfriend who lives in LA and apparently doesn’t work? Unclear.
But it was an inquisitive, friendly group perfect for touring an upscale Japanese grocery store and then cooking our treasures. (And I managed to not ask too many questions about the circumstances of the possible-couple, aside from inquiring as to whether they're in a long-distance relationship and not really getting an answer.)
Shopping and cooking, Japanese-style
In Japan, gift-giving is a huge deal. When people return from their travels, they’re expected to bring their coworkers “omiyage,” which is a beautifully wrapped present from the place they traveled. Host gifts are also important, too. And one very nice gift for someone hosting a party is a fruit.
If you have loads of yen, you might buy a robust $80 (I used USD in these posts, because otherwise I get too confused) melon that has been evaluated by an expert who measures its sugar levels. We saw some of these melons. They had bows made of ribbon.
We took a different subway, which required a new subway pass, to Yukari’s kitchen. Yukari advised us to purchase a Pasmo card which works on all of the different railways that are owned by different companies (and very confusing). Pasmo FTW!
As a team, we made a few things: tamagoyaki (which required some nimble rolling of an egg that I didn’t quite have the talent for, and Dan pouring new egg underneath the already cooked eggs, a square pan, a wooden divider tool and teamwork!), crispy chicken (which we need to make again because YUM), veggies (including “root vegetables” because they’re always part of meals here), rice, BEEF, wasabi (grated with sharkskin!) miso soup, and Yukari made us mochi dessert with a doughy outside and sweet bean filling. I vowed to eat more mochi on the trip (which, in Japan, never contains ice cream despite Trader Joe’s leading me to believe that).
Shimokitazawa shopping (say that 5x fast)
After putting our “Los Angeles” tac on Yukari’s already pretty-densely populated map, we exited for some vintage shopping at the hip Shimokitzawa neighborhood.
Well, at least that was the intention. But after Dan tried on a bunch of coats (that were still too small), I admired a few shirts that I didn’t need, and the two of us faced off at a retro store’s Street Fighter 2 on Super Nintendo (He won the first round, before I very suddenly learned how to play well.) I only wound up making a purchase at… Uniqlo.
It was a unique Uniqlo experience from shopping in the US, though. I think the inventory was different-- and included some Japanese anime shirts we both purchased-- and there’s the Japanese “take your shoes off before you enter the dressing room” requirement. This Uniqlo’s checkout was special, too, because at you just put your shopping basket on the counter and a computer immediately calculates what you bought and how much we owe. Dan and I were totally awestruck at the register, our mouths agape as a Japanese lady neatly folded our purchases.
I also bought jeggings, because they’re the best. I tried on wide-leg khaki pants that I’d seen many ladies wear, but they didn’t appear to be a fit for my, um, American ass, and the bigger size looked silly.
But Dan had some better luck with pants! Since we didn’t quite get our shopping fix in Shimokitazawa, we continued browsing in Harajuku where Dan got some legit Japanese jeans. Seriously, the brand is Japanese Blue Jeans.
Snacks for our tummies and hair
After a few days of eating like Sumo wrestlers, Dan and I had developed an insane appetite. So before long it was time for our “next feeding” as we say, because three meals just isn’t enough food for us. The source of our food this time: One of the many French bakeries. This one was called Donky.
And then my hair needed some attention (because I ran out of my travel hair products). So I bought some “frizzbegone hair oil” at a place called La Floret. Thanks to some my winning mime skills (and complete lack of mastery of the Japanese language), I also bought an item that I’m 75% sure is a face mask.
Pizza in Tokyo
Then, we had to find another feeding spot, of course!
After eyeing the absurd line at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, Dan hailed a cab, the driver opened his rear door while sitting in the front seat (they all do that; it’s cool) and the driver cruised on the wrong side of the road to Savoy.
If you’re wondering: Carly, why in the world did you get pizza in Tokyo? I will tell you: It’s because pizza-- especially Savoy Pizza in Azabu-Juban-- is freakin’ delish in Tokyo. Japanese chefs have mastered bread making (in their many bakeries), so why not also tomato sauce and cheese? And, as I learned, garlic peeling?
Savoy Pizza is the David Chang-approved spot (he featured the pizzeria on the first episode of Ugly Delicious) where a Japanese chef with tousled black hair, black-rimmed glasses and an Instagram page (where he posts photos of customers like us) never throws dough high in the air. Instead, he cooks pizza the Japanese way: Meticulously, like a potter, he molds the dough, pours olive oil out of a pretty brass pitcher, braids the crust quickly and deliberately. He looks like he’s in fast-forward as he takes a clove between his thumb and his knife and peels perfectly jagged slices of the spice while his body vibrates. I kept looking up from the counter to make sure I never missed when he did this garlic peeling. When it would star again, I'd elbow Dan and tell him to watch the culinary performance, which does make for an evenly flavored, salty and lightly-crispy pizza.
The pizzas go in the superhot oven and come out in just minutes. The chef makes sure to remove the biggest chunks of black char-- they won’t ruin his masterpiece-- before serving the delicacy. We close our eyes to make sure we appreciate the garlic slivers, sweet tomato and expensive-tasting cheese. We ate all of the pizzas on the menu. To be fair, there were only two: marinara and margherita.
The chef snapped a genuinely happy pic of us before he and we exchanged bows. Bellisimo! Or, rather, Oishi!