After our whirlwind of museums, dining and shopping, my friends and I parted ways; they set off for Kyoto, while I remained in Tokyo. I had enjoyed their company, but now it was time to relax and go at my own pace once again (especially for the sake of my poor blistered feet). However, while I was remaining in Tokyo, I wasn’t staying in Asakusa any longer. During my pre-trip preparations I had decided that, even if I wasn’t going to travel outside of Tokyo, I still wanted the experience of staying at multiple places; a contingency plan, in case my first hostel wasn’t up to snuff, but also a chance to broaden my experiences. So on Monday morning I checked out of the Khaosan Tokyo Annex and took a train to Ueno.
Tokyo is known for crowded train stations, especially during rush hour, which I happened to get caught in without even thinking. When I approached the platform and saw the train packed full I would have been quite willing to wait for the next one, but all the people around me were shoving their way on like it was an everyday occurrence (which, I remembered, it was). When in Rome, they say. I followed suit, walking up to the edge of the train platform and then turning around to back my way into the crowd of commuters. The men with white gloves were on hand to shove us in if our car was overflowing, but that proved unnecessary, and soon we were leaving the station, a sardine can of businessmen and women and a lone American tourist. The ride wasn’t honestly as unpleasant as you might expect, and I think I was amused by the novelty of it; at any case, I got off only a few stops later. I can’t say how amused I would have been had I endured twenty minutes of being packed in that way.
In contrast to the vibrancy of Asakusa, the New Koyo Hotel was located in a quiet, rather sleepy area of town, the sort you wouldn’t expect to find a hotel in. I found it to be peaceful without feeling deserted. A short walk from the Minami-Senju train station brought me to a small brick building with a cluster of bicycles parked outside. The lobby was small, with an enclosed front desk, a dining table, and a single public-use computer. I was too early for check in but was allowed to leave my bags and come back later. Unburdened, I set off for Shibuya.
I would have liked to visit Shibuya over the weekend, when the school girls in their wild outfits and costumes come out, but our schedule just hadn’t allowed it– another downside to traveling with friends. It was a cold, rainy day, but the train station was still bustling when I arrived. There was a crowd of people outside at the Hachikō statue, a popular meeting spot for young and old alike. The story of Hachikō is a sweet one, if not a bit sad; a faithful dog who would wait for his master every day outside the train station, but one day the master never came. Hachikō’s owner had died at work, but the dog still showed at the train station every day without fail. Such was Hachikō’s faith and reknown that, after the dog passed on, they had a statue created of him to mark the very spot where he would wait. A colorful dog mural can also be seen on the wall outside the station entrance.
Shibuya is nothing if not trendy. As I made my way through the stores and crowds I had the overwhelming feeling that I was not “cool enough” to be there; even if I had felt the urge to buy something, I’d find the sizes too small and the prices too steep. My enjoyment came in people watching, delighting in the unusual fashions sported by teens and young adults; but the store that excited me most wasn’t a clothing store at all.
My blistered feet ached as I hobbled up the steps to Tokyu Hands, a hobby and craft department store chain with locations throughout Japan. The Shibuya location is the flagship and one of the largest in the chain, with seven giant floors divided into sections, including a restaurant on the top floor. This was like a grown-up version of the Hakuhinkan Toy Park, with goodies far as the eye could see. I picked through purses and browsed rain boots. An avid bento lunch maker, I was nearly blown away by their selection of bento boxes and supplies, and it took all of my will power to restrain myself to buying just one thing. There were art and craft supplies, toys, model kits, tools, and an endless array of odds and ends. If I’d not been so sore and exhausted I could have spent an entire day there.
As it was, I could barely walk or even stand any longer, so I said my goodbyes to Shibuya and headed back to New Koyo. My bags were already waiting in my room for me. It was a small room, larger than the capsule I’d been staying in at the Khaosan Annex but still not as large as your typical Western hotel room. It was perfect for me, though, just the right size for a single person who plans on using the room for resting rather than spending any considerable amount of time in. It had tatami mat floors and a genuine Japanese futon bed that was rolled up and stored in a locker during the day. A low shelf held a little tv with a small selection of channels (all Japanese, of course). The kitchen area was small but clean and offered complimentary green tea.
I was immediately drawn to the bath. The New Koyo Hotel has public restrooms and public showers, but it also has a single public bath that is separated by gender during certain times. The female bath was set at the later time, so I had to wait until after dinner to try it out. It was a different experience from my first bath; I felt more confident, knew to bring my own soap and towel; and besides, the bath was empty so there wasn’t even a reason to feel self-conscious. After a long day of walking around on blistered feet and wobbly legs, the bath felt wonderful. I wish I’d stayed at New Koyo my entire trip, just so I would have had more chances to bathe.
The final challenge to face me at the New Koyo hotel was the Japanese style toilets, little more than a hole in the ground that you squat over to do your business. I’d seen them in the train station restrooms but had been too nervous to try, afraid of falling over or making a fool of myself. Like the train stations, New Koyo also offered Western style toilets for those unwilling or able to use squat toilets, but I determined this was one experience I refused to miss out on just because I was a bit uncertain.
I did not fall.