The weather today has been cool, but not as cold as the last couple of stormy days, and, happily, no rain or snow, either! We took along our umbrellas, just in case, not willing to get soaked if the weather were to change its mind.
We have decided to return to the Ueno Park area today, stopping along the way in Ikebukuro for lunch and a brief bit of shopping for me. We arrived at the huge Seibu Department Store at the Ikebukuro Metro Station just at noon, and we went up to the top floor, the location of its dozens of restaurants, serving many different types of cuisines, from Italian to Japanese, from Chinese to sushi, and of course, both European and Japanese-style desserts.
And, possibly because it was Sunday, and many families were out shopping together, each and every restaurant had a line of customers seated patiently in front of it, waiting to get in! The most popular, including the conveyor-belt sushi restaurant we had eaten in the day before yesterday, had a line of almost fifty people, while all the others had at least a half dozen people waiting. We decided to try a Vietnamese restaurant, which was relatively empty – full inside, but with only three couples waiting outside! Within about fifteen minutes, we were seated, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch of Vietnamese food, including a set course of seafood pho, served in a hot pot of vegetables and broth, along with rice, and iced lotus tea.
We have come to really appreciate the Japanese restaurant menu, which always includes a number of set lunches and dinners, offering between three and six courses for a fixed price. Not only are these set course meals priced very attractively when compared to ordering a la carte – they are often about half the price of individual dishes – but they also encourage balanced, healthy eating habits! A typical set course meal, no matter the price, includes small portions of rice, salad, vegetables, pickles, miso soup, and tea, in addition to an entree of protein, usually seafood, pork or chicken. The total set meal does not overdo any one dish, and emphasizes courses almost totally neglected in the West, like the soup and pickles. I am sure that this style of eating contributes to the vitality and lack of obesity we have seen in so many older Japanese people here in Tokyo.
We had noticed that my scarf was far too lightweight for winter wear, so we took the escalator down to the men’s floor after lunch, and in short order, I found two beautiful winter scarves, both on sale – instant wardrobe upgrade! On to the Starbucks next door, where we spent hours writing in our journals, as once again, it was too late to go to Ueno Park, as originally planned. It is so important to be flexible and spontaneous during these travels, as the most fun and excitement almost always comes from totally unexpected sources!
After we finished writing, we took a walk through the streets surrounding Ikebukuro Metro Station, marveling at the mixture of love hotels, bars, stand-up sushi restaurants (no seats, no tables, you just stand at the sushi bar to eat!) and katsu and tempura joints that make up this locals’ neighborhood. All of the narrow alleys and lanes seemed totally safe to walk through, despite the somewhat seedy flavor. On our way back to the Station, we walked by a wider section of sidewalk that was partially cordoned off – it was labelled, in English and Japanese, as the smoking area! You were expected not to smoke on the streets here, as the crowds of people and the narrow sidewalks would make smoking a public nuisance. So a smokers’ area was set aside, and you were expected to go there if you wanted a cigarette – and people did! I love the consideration for others that seems a vital part of today’s Tokyo.