Monday, 30 December 2013

28 Hours in Tokyo

The last stop on our tour was Tokyo, Free & Easy-style. from the airport, we were brought to Royal Park Hotel The Shiodome, and from there we were the masters of our own destiny we were free to find our own dinner. The main part of Ginza was a short walk away from the hotel, so we wound up at Ginza Core's (銀座コア)Yakiniku Toraji An (焼肉トラジ庵), a Korean BBQ restaurant serving charcoal-grilled Japanese beef. Our orders were nearly lost in translation until the waiter realized we could speak Chinese. After that, everything went smoothly.

We shared the meat platter, which came with a serving of beef heart. M flipped out and the waiters very kindly offered to switch the meat for us, but BB and I weren't fussed and we split it evenly. D looked like he was going to be sick.
BB: But you'll eat intestines! Isn't that worse?
D: No, intestines are different
Me: Yes, in that you have to wash them out like crazy before they're even safe to eat. The heart's totally like normal beef just crunchier
D: *shivers*
The rest of dinner went really well though. The meat we were served was Matsusaka beef, perfectly marbled. We ordered plates and plates until even BB went "Enough!". Because we were there on a day where there were specials, the bill came up to a very reasonable amount. 

The next day, we had an early breakfast at the hotel's Japanese restaurant, where the only options were rice or porridge. BB and I went for rice, which was accompanied by a small but well-cooked selection of side dishes. The salmon in particular had been perfectly grilled. 

There was also a small bowl of steamed items, with the radish being especially delicious. Thusly nourished, we followed Pauline as she navigated the subway system, and a bunch of us made our way to Disneyland together. 

Our plan hadn't always included Disneyland, but after watching Frozen, BB and I were inspired to revisit one of the happiest places on Earth. M was there for the merchandise, and D had to tag along so I wouldn't have to take all my rides alone (BB & M's motion sickness means they don't do very well on the wilder rides).

Unlike Hong Kong's Disneyland, which has a single-rider option for many of the popular rides, Tokyo only had that policy for Splash Mountain, which meant that D & I had to queue up for FastPasses for Space Mountain. By the time we got to the park at 10.30 in the morning, all the FastPasses for Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters (A family favourite) had unfortunately been snapped up, and we weren't prepared to queue the 210 minutes indicated. Which was how we ended up taking It's A Small World as our first ride of the day. 

There's something very soothing about that ride, mostly because it brings to mind happy memories of finally getting over jet lag the first time we went to America when I was 7. As foundational childhood memories go, it's a little odd, but hey. No one in the family can stomach Tea Cup rides, so I sadly had to wave goodbye to Alice.

D didn't believe me when I told him we could go Single Rider for Splash Mountain, but he followed me to the queue anyway, so at least he'd know if I got tossed out of the park for trying to cheat the lines. I was right (Obviously), because I'd made a point of asking park attendants for confirmation, and when we successfully breezed past everyone else to the front of the queue, he manfully admitted it. It just so happened that there were exactly two seats available (The groups next to us were three-three-four), so we managed to take the ride together. Good things happen at Disneyland, natch. 

Splash Mountain was another 210 minute queue for everyone else, but we made it in and out in under 25 minutes. When we stepped, blinking, back into the sun, M & BB were nowhere to be found, so we had to give them a ring. Turns out they'd gone for snacks, and had joined the queue for one of the restaurants, so we walked over to meet them. 

BB had had the maple churros, and while we were in line for a table went on and on about how good they were.
Me: Did you get one for me then?
BB: No. You weren't there. You have to eat them fresh.
Younger brothers for you. 

While in line, M & I had time to check out what everyone else was wearing. The latest in hats had the character bodies as tails, and seeing everyone all decked out made me regret not bringing my Little Green Men hat along. 

The queue for the restaurant turned out to be the longest one we had to endure for the day, and as we stood stationary at a spot for almost half an hour, BB and I ended up looking wistfully at the shops and the arcade nearby. We ended up going to play with the claw machines next door. These actually had a grip on them, but I still managed to grab just air.

BB: These are sure win! How did you manage to lose?!
Me: I have mad skills. Also, these things are my nemeses. 

By the time we got a table, BB had managed to win M two little fuzzy toys. I would have been intensely jealous, but I know my own limits. It was a pleasant lunch and the drinks were free flow, so we hung around for a bit. It was then that we realized why the queue only inched forward in spite of the restaurant's massive interior and large seating capacity. Oh well, we'd paid our dues. 

With the lunch sets, desserts came at a discounted rate, so I had the black sesame pudding with ice cream, which was very enjoyable. 

After lunch, it was almost time for D & I to take Space Mountain, so we left M & BB to wander on their own. On our way there, we saw some of the people who'd begun camping out for a good view of the parade. Everywhere we looked, people were toting Duffy and Shellie May bears from Tokyo DisneySea, and the parade campers were no different.

We also witnessed first hand the insanity of the queue for Astro Blasters - the FastPass queue stretching out the entrance of the building was longer than Tea Cups and It's A Small World combined. Space Mountain wasn't as crazy with our FastPasses, which warranted high fives all around.

We were out earlier than expected, so while waiting to meet up with M & BB, we went around taking pictures and watched the band play popular Disney tunes. 

We bid goodbye to the park at 3pm just as the parade began, and travelled back into the city. 

On our last trip together, M had seen adverts for the newly opened Tokyo Station Hotel, and deemed it necessary for us to visit and have tea there. The signage wasn't very clear, so we ended up taking the long way around to get to the Lobby Lounge, but we were rewarded with ridiculously comfy sofa seats near the back of the lounge, which gave us a good view of the rest of the diners. 

There was also high speed WiFi access, so once again we were those terrible people with their phones out at the table. BB's drink came with mint chocolates and cookies, which he didn't touch, so the rest of us split the hoard. D had a beer when he found that it was the cheapest item on the menu. 

M & I had the tea sets. By the time we got there, only the Orange Mousse and the Raspberry Opera Cakes were left, so we both went for cake. It was all fruity and light, pairing well with the calming blend of tea I was recommended. 

Our aim in Tokyo was to eat all the good beef we could before we went back home, so after a bit of shopping post-tea, we headed out for dinner at Kisoji's Ginza branch. We'd read a few recommendations for it, but never got round to making a reservation in. The maitre' d was kind enough to have a look for us though, and managed to squeeze us in.

Shabu Shabu and Sukiyaki at Kisoji is a rather more elegant affair than at other places, the dinner set coming with the full works including an exceedingly fresh and smooth seaweed in vinegar starter with crab meat. 

Our dipping sauces also came with a wider range of condiments than normal, including chives, chilli oil and really strong minced garlic for the sesame dressing, which is usually left plain. 

The slices of beef served were paper thin but massive, so we ate slowly. BB was adamant that beef is best taken grilled for the fats to caramelize and ooze, but I'm still partial to the silkiness you get from quick boiling. The accompanying vegetables were good as well, and D & I declared that the bean sprouts we ate there were the best we've ever had. 

Our things were placed on chairs next to us, and hidden away with yards of cloth. It's that kind of posh place. M & BB went for the Sukiyaki, so our table was filled with the delicious smell of the sweet stock used. 

The Sukiyaki came with a refreshing tomato salad. Since BB doesn't touch his veg, D & I shared his.

At the end of the meal after we'd finished all the beef and vegetables, we declined bowls of rice but said yes to the Kishimen (きし麺) and mochi, which was cooked by a kimono-clad waitress at the table, and simply seasoned with salt and pepper. We then had rum & raisin ice cream for dessert, and the raisins that studded the ice cream throughout were surprisingly plush.  

The rest of the evening was spent at the biggest Uniqlo in the world, navigating the 12 floors of clothes. They even had customization services, but it required a wait of two weeks to add bronze studs to the collar of my olive silk shirt, which I sadly could not stick around for since we were flying the next morning.
A week-long family holiday where everyone has fun and no one has a meltdown? It doesn't get any better than this. 

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