We woke up this morning to the first snowfall of the winter here in Tokyo – and it has turned out to be a cold and stormy day, with a wind-blown combination of snow and sleet for the entire day, with only an hour or two of respite.
Miyuki, the Four Seasons Hotel restaurant, has an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out over the traditional Japanese gardens and park that the hotel borders. During breakfast, we could see through these windows just how stormy it was today – the bamboo trees were being battered by the wind, and the mix of snow and sleet fell almost horizontally at times.
As a result of what we saw at breakfast, we thought it might be a good idea today to visit one or two of the museums we were interested in seeing, since that way we would at least be inside for a good part of the day. But events conspired to make this simple plan a bit more complicated by day’s end!
Our first choice was the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, or MOT, as it is popularly called. This is where a lot of the avant-garde art in the city is exhibited, so we were excited about visiting, despite its out-of-the-way location. We made it out there with no problem, but then I saw on a poster in the Metro Station that MOT would be closed until early February, as it was preparing for new exhibitions…just like most of the other contemporary art venues in Tokyo! We tried instead to find the Fukagawa Edo Museum, which is a historical museum nearby, but the storm was making it so difficult to walk that we gave up looking for it after walking just a half-dozen blocks or so.
We returned to the Metro Station, wetter and colder than we’d arrived a half-hour before, and headed to the Ueno district, which is a part of Edo (Old) Tokyo, like its neighbor to the east, Asakusa. The big attraction here is Ueno Park, a huge green space with gardens, ponds, Shinto shrines, several important museums, and a zoo. When we arrived, we found right across the street from the Station a busy local outdoor market, which looked very promising, despite the weather.
Walking down the lanes of the market, I was amazed at the mix of items on offer – everything from shoes and other clothing, to children’s toys, to…fish! Yes, mixed in and among the clothes and accessories were tables piled high with fish and other seafood of supreme quality, including many that I had never seen before, and some that I had, but just not of that quality, like the impossibly red fresh tuna fillets, and the perfect giant crabs, neatly tied and wrapped. Despite the wind and wet snowfall, the sales people were calling out to the passers-by to come and look at their beautiful fish, and to buy, buy, buy! It was great fun to walk down the streets of this market, a most unexpected gift on a difficult day!
As it was getting a little late in the afternoon to go to any of the museums, and the prospect of a shivering stroll in Ueno Park did not seem too appealing, we decided to go instead to Seibu Department Store in Ikebukuro district, one of the biggest department stores in all of Japan. Massive department stores like Seibu, and its neighbor, Tobu, have set aside their entire ground floors for what is essentially an indoor food market, featuring many hundreds of already-prepared dishes, with the salespeople shouting out their specials, or offering free samples. Seibu’s top floor is also all about food – it is devoted to restaurants, with perhaps fifteen or twenty restaurants, offering all kinds of different cuisines, competing for customers’ appetites.
These restaurants are nothing at all like what you might find in the food court of a typical American mall. There are no fast food joints, just very high quality places, each one devoted to a different style of food – in Seibu, there is everything from sushi restaurants to dessert cafes, to Italian, and even Vietnamese food! Because we arrived after the usual mid-day rush, we had our choice of where to have our late lunch, and we stopped in at a fantastic conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, with super high-quality fish, at a very reasonable price.
After lunch, we stopped in at a nearby Starbucks, to relax and write in our journals. Shortly after we arrived, Tali decided to venture back into Seibu on her own, for a bit of retail therapy, as she felt fashion-deprived in the purple winter jacket she had brought along on this trip. An hour or so later, she returned to collect me, proudly reporting that she had emerged from the women’s department victorious! As I saw later, she had indeed managed to find two beautiful and stylish winter coats, on sale for way less that I would have expected her to have paid for just one…way to go, Tali!!!