A better day can be had in Tokyo

My hotel's free breakfast is ... hmm, free. It involves coffee and chocolate croissants, so I can live with a lack of selection. I'm in a quiet area of Tokyo - not far from the action, but after my incredibly happening and enjoyable neighbourhood in Seoul, this is a little disappointing. They do provide a rather nice service: every 20 minutes all morning, there's a free shuttle bus to Tokyo Station. This hotel is a massive chain in Japan, and I suspect they cater mostly to traveling businessmen so a morning shuttle to the primary station in the city makes sense.

While I was eating breakfast and staring out the lobby window, a full size dump truck (many trucks here are surprisingly small - to get down those alleyways) passed the hotel - done entirely in purple sparkle paint. I kid you not: that's something I'm going to remember.

As mentioned, I'd been considering buying a metro pass. The problem is, there are three (or more - depends if you count outside the core area) companies running trains here. Two of them have passes, separately or together. But my first stop of the day was Ueno, and the only way of getting there that made any sense was on the JR Yamanote line. JR is the holdout: they aren't part of the metro pass. So I'm sticking with my Suica card, and paying as I go.

That first stop of the day was the National Museum of Western Art, because Rodin has been lurking at the back of my brain for a week. And there they were, outside the museum: The Burghers of Calais, and The Gates of Hell. Monumental (okay, that's literal - but figuratively too), brilliant sculptures. They had several more of his: The Thinker (not a favourite of mine, although still good) outside, and several studies and full pieces inside. And they had a room full of Monet. Literally "a room full," 12 of them: big, good pieces. Fantastic stuff. I'm an impressionist at heart ...

photo: Rodin's "The Gates of Hell"

five school kids in uniform examining and photographing the sculpture

I borrowed their wifi to locate a reasonably well rated kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi place nearby. They pack you in tight in these tiny little restaurants, and being left-handed can be a bit of a hazard in such circumstances. For those not familiar, the sushi pieces go by on a conveyor belt, and you choose the ones you like. You're charged at the end of the meal by the colour of the plates, which tell the staff which items - or at least the cost - of what you had. It was good, although both more expensive and not as good as I remember my favourite place, Musashi Sushi in Kyoto, being. But when I stepped out, I found there was another tiny kaiten place right next door - I'd had so much trouble finding this one and hadn't even noticed the other, I have no idea which one I thought I was headed for ...

I find that the garden Rikugi-en has subconsciously moved to the top of my to-do list after the Rodins, but it was 1515 and what with figuring in transit time Rikugi-en wasn't a good destination as they closed at 1700. So I went to Shibuya. Shibuya Crossing entertained the hell out of me four years ago, and it managed it again: it's a scramble crossing, and is generally considered the highest pedestrian traffic intersection in the world. Watching 200 to 300 people flood across once a minute is just amazing.

I visited a huge mural mentioned by Lonely Planet called "Legend of Tomorrow," but I think I found the title more evocative than the artwork: it's about the bombing of Hiroshima, but in a style that didn't entirely connect with me.

I then went to the "D47 Museum" - hard to find as it's on the 8th floor of a mixed use building. We North Americans don't tend to think about "up" - things are on the first floor. And even if we think about it, finding signage and figuring it out from ground level can be tricky. In this case, I was lucky enough to find a tourist information booth that helped me out. It's a strange small museum, but it's actually really fun and cool: it does rotating exhibits about the beauty of everyday objects. Much of their success - to my mind - is in the ikebana-like arrangements of the items: sparse and elegant. They were doing repair and cleaning items: spokeshaves, polish, toilet cleaner. It sounds wonky, but I really, really enjoyed it. Two lovely stores are attached: one directly associated with the museum, the other the D47 travel store across the hall. I was severely tempted by several things, but the two things I most wanted were both made out of wood - and one was a coffee cup (for about $45CA). I would have got it if it were ceramic: I loved the absolutely plain aesthetic. But if it's an "everyday object" I intend to use it, and you can't use wood for liquids on an ongoing basis. <sigh>

Borrowing some assistance from the tourist info outlet, I followed up on a picture I'd taken of an ad that was for a show or sale of old cameras: happily, it was in that very area (and from the 24th to the 29th of the month). So I walked over to the 8th floor of Tokyu Hands department store. There was a mid-sized area given over to various - what I took to be - local camera dealers, selling my exact kind of shit ... We're talking a gold mine of old cameras: 6x7s, all kinds of Kodak Retina cameras, Canon and Nikon rangefinder cameras, heaps of Leicas, Rolleis galore, and plenty more obscure stuff. Someone was even selling a Bell and Howell half frame: I own one, but had never seen another in existence before today. "A gold mine" indeed - the prices suggested it was gold. But the quality - everything was in spectacularly good shape (and with old cameras, that's not always easy). One thing that kind of blew my mind: one vendor had not one, but five Canon 50mm 1:0.95 lenses. That was one of my most desired items when I was in my twenties: a lens with an f-stop below one. Mind you, this was just the lens: and they were asking over $3000CA each. If anyone was buying, they'd get it ... which is why I never owned one. [Sorry - did I put anyone to sleep?]

photo: The Compass Camera, one of the most prized collector cameras (for which they're asking a bit over $16,000CA at current rates)

an immaculate example of this small and beautifully machined camera

Thank god for the maps.me application on the phone (and the compass helps a lot too!), I've been using it heavily and it got me to the neighbourhood of my next destination, "Goodbeer Faucets." But it was only by the good will of a Caucasian local(? carrying groceries with his probably Japanese girlfriend) that I figured out that not only did I have to look up (only to the second floor this time) but also read the surprisingly small print. The bar had flights ... but it was ¥2300($27CA!) for five samples, and you had no say in the beer selection, it was pre-selected. No thanks. So I opted for a half pint of GBF Smoke Pump Stout (by a Japanese brewer) ... and the bartender pointed out that as it was happy hour, a pint was only ¥50 more - easy decision. It was a rather nice beer: a bit mild for a stout, smoked, with a lack of bitterness I definitely enjoyed. I also had a "Hand-smoked bacon and diced vegetables omelette" which was small but quite adequate as I was still full from sushi. Another short visit to Shibuya Crossing on the way back to the subway, and back to the hotel.

video: I aimed the camera too high here, but you get the idea ... and this isn't even a particularly busy night!