Our first stop Thursday was the shopping district of Ginza. Really just to see, once again, how people with too much money can spend it. Every brand name worth its salt is here (naturally). Yet despite the prices that simply make your jaw drop and your eyes pop, there is no shortage of people. True, a great number of them certainly work in these shops. And it is here that the concept of the ‘Walmart Greeter’ is taken to new levels. There are very well dressed young men (and some women) whose job it is to stand with white gloved hands waiting to open the door for anyone that may choose to enter. There are those within who, with politeness that is almost disconcerting, are only too happy (yes, with genuine smiles on faces) to assist with inquiries that you may have. But there are also those who enter those stores with wallets that require a thickness of only a single, probably black, credit card. Money flows here, carried by suits made of Armani and dresses by Gucci adorned by Van Cleef and Arpels or perhaps Bvlgari.
Having made our requisite sojourn through stores unaffordable, we thought a good adventure would be to walk over to the Imperial Palace Gardens. Well…it was a good thought. Google maps and GPS didn’t seem to work as well as we would have liked and street names are hard to comprehend. Yes they are listed in ‘English’ on the sign posts, but when standing on a corner and looking at all 4 street signs it’s hard to grasp how they can all say exactly the same thing. It’s like being at the north pole when every direction seems to be south. Desperate times call for desperate measures so hailing a cab seemed a smart idea. And as it turns out, very easy to do. However….in Tokyo all cabs have automatically opening rear doors, on the opposite side of the driver. Remember, they drive on the left, so the driver sits on the right. He pulls up to the curb, now on his left, and that back door opens. We happened to be standing on HIS side of the car. So…I opened that rear door and we got in. Caught him a little off guard as it is considered polite to wait for them to open the door for you.
Now lets complicate it just a little more. His English is somewhat less than our Japanese. As much as we tried to tell him ‘Imperial Palace Gardens’ he kept asking if it was the Imperial Palace Hotel. In this instance, Google Translate actually came to the rescue and we finally got our real destination across to him. Lesson learned…have your destination ready to show by picture, if you can, or at least on your phone displayed in Japanese text.
Now we’re here and the grounds that we can actually see are impressive in their simplicity. Extremely well manicured lawns (Please Keep Off signs everywhere) replete with stately trimmed to perfection trees, looking much like Bonsai. (The biggest difference being they aren’t in containers and are full size trees.) A walk up a small hill to stand at the end of the bridge approaching the main gate is as close as we can get. I hate to say it, but as people have mentioned to us, it really is questionable as to whether it’s worth the effort to go see. Given that it remains the permanent residence of the Emperor of Japan and his family, it is understandable that they would treasure their privacy. It’s just unfortunate there is so little for the public to really appreciate.
Off to the subway again with another objective in mind. Kappabashi Kitchen Town. When I first heard about this I thought Ok…I’m good with looking at cooking related items. I’m thinking a store devoted to BBQ utensils and ideas, new kitchen gadgets, things of that nature. My dear wife, on the other hand, thought this was a street with a few of these types of stores we could wander through. We were both not even close. It is a street. Yes, this much was fact. There are stores of kitchen related items. Also fact. However it is a street that goes on for almost a kilometer and hosts over 150 shops on both sides of the street. Anything related to restaurant and/or kitchen items (except fresh food) can be found here. One has to be quite careful when entering and walking around most of these shops especially the ones boasting dishes and glassware. The isles are not really designed for generously proportioned North Americans. Once again sensory overload but in a most enjoyable fashion.
After a day of walking (having managed to survive jet-lag) the bodies were ready to simply stop. Another cab hailed and it was a somewhat lengthy (but Seated!) trip back to the hotel. Dinner tonight was a bit of a splurge involving a trip to the Sake bar with Japanese edibles to enjoy on the side. Our host, Keiichi Sakata, was very helpful in suggesting some wonderful food items and was also willing to share some of his personal life. The initial Sake he suggested was very fruity, light and somewhat sweet. It had a long finish and very worthy of having in one’s own cellar. It is a Junmai Ginjo category. This means that it contains rice that has been milled 40% with 60% of the rice remaining. The second Sake was prepared specifically for their restaurant (so not available in the liquor stores) and is a Junmai Daiginjo category. This means the rice has been milled 50% with 50% of the rice remaining. It has a less fruity, more earthy flavor and an even longer finish. It also has a much fuller mouth feel. Definitely get some Junmai Daiginjo for your cellar and also some Daiginjo. (The Daiginjo (again, a different category) has the same 50% milling but also has additional distilled alcohol added.) A truly excellent way to end a very well-rounded day.