Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Tans take on Tokyo

Day 6 (Sat, 31 May 2008)

Time to leave Nikko and surprise, surprise, it's still raining. We were planning to take a cab to the Tobu train station where we could use the takuhaibin service to send our luggage back to Tokyo (the Teddy Bear house didn't offer the service, I guess its location is too remote). But when Mr Kobayashi heard our plans, he actually offered to get his daughter to drive us. Now, that's hospitality for you!

Here we are with the very hospitable Mr Kobayashi and his daughter, Kanako. She drove us to a part of town where her friend operates a small shop with a takuhaibin service, helped us fill up the form and then drove us to the Tobu train station. And as she dropped us off, she got out of the car, kept bowing to us and saying "thank you for staying for us!" Of course we bowed back and said "Thank you! Thank you!" My smile was so wide it felt frozen on my face. I'm still unused to these over enthusiastic gestures of politeness.

But not to take anything away from the Kobayashis, they really are a wonderful host and very warm, generous people.

Back at Tobu-Nikko, we took the local train to change to the Spacia train back to Asakusa. The left picture shows the local train and the right picture shows the Spacia. Doesn't the Spacia look way cool? Once we arrived at Asakusa station, we decided to buy lunch from Matsuya department store and bring it back to our hotel to eat. Remember the yummy beef we had bought for our trip to Nikko? We bought that again as well as unadon (eel rice), tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) and some croquette.

We took the subway from Asakusa station to Suehirocho station which was a 6min walk to our hotel. At least it was supposed to be 6mins. Although we had a map and had judiciously checked out the location map at Suehirocho station, we still managed to get lost. I blame this on the fact that in Japan, the streets have NO NAMES. That's right. For some incomprehensible reason, only the very large and major roads in Japan have street names. The regular roads and small lanes (which exist in abundance in Tokyo) are all nameless. Apparently, when people give directions, it goes something like: "walk 100m, turn right at the petrol station, walk on until you see a statue of a dog, then turn left." For Pete's sake!

Anyway, we had overshot our turning without realising it and we knew the hotel was in this general direction but couldn't figure out which of those tiny alleys it was in. Oh, by the way, if you think nameless roads are bad enough, just wait till you hear this: the house/building numbers are allocated not based on their location on the street but based on the order in which they were built. Which means that house no. 3 could be next to building no. 41. Which could be next to house no. 97. I kid you not! Who says the Japanese don't have a sense of humour? How do cabs find their way, you ask? They all have GPS.

Back to our situation - we asked a passerby if she knew where the hotel was. The Japanese are really very helpful. Even though she clearly had no idea, she scrutinised our map very carefully, kept looking around the vicinity, obviously very vexed that she didn't know where it was. Then she started stopping everyone who walked by to ask if they knew where the place was! Eventually, someone pointed vaguely in the general direction where we were headed anyway, so we thanked them and went on our way. We finally found it when I recognised the hotel having seen a photo of its exterior online.

We stayed at Hotel Edoya. I chose it because

1) It's a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and I wanted us to try something different.

2) It's quite central and conveniently located near a few subway stations.

3) It's affordable (Y15,590 (S$203) for Sun & Mon nights, Y17,670 (S$230) for all other nights. This is for a room that sleeps 4 with attached bath and comes with free buffet breakfast.) I keep mentioning the attached bath cos I'm finicky that way. No common bathrooms for me!

So we checked in, the receptionist magically produced our luggage (I just can't get over this!) and we went to our room. As you can see in the picture, the sleeping area behind has 3 futons, you can shut the wooden sliding door for privacy if you like. The last futon is on the left side. Space-wide, this is luxurious by Japanese standards. In most other ryokans, the futons are kept in the cupboard in the daytime and at night, the housekeeping staff will remove the table and turn out the futons, ie the sleeping and living area is the same.

Hidden from view is a bath and separate toilet. The bath is a typical Japanese square-shaped bath. You're supposed to sit on a stool inside the bath and scoop water over yourself, but nah... we just used the shower. The only negative is Hotel Edoya only has air-conditioning, not heating. We were fine since it was summer but I imagine it must get pretty chilly in winter.

After lunch, we set out to explore Rikugien Gardens. In case I didn't mention it before, it was raining. Again. Rikugien is a Japanese landscaped garden in Tokyo, quite close to Yushima, the district where we were staying. It's supposedly very beautiful and reproduces 88 scenes from famous poems in miniature. We changed a couple of trains and alighted at Komagome station. As we were walking towards Rikugien based on the map I had, I kept wondering where it could be. We were in the heart of a city district, surrounded by buildings. It didn't look like a place which would hold something as verdant as a landscaped garden. And then, suddenly, we turned the corner of a building and there was the entrance!

Kids get free entry, which is nice. It really is very pretty, in a manicured kind of way. The gardeners here trim the grass using tiny scissors! It's apparently an attraction in itself.

Here are some of the scenic shots.

I'll be honest here. Because it was raining, we didn't really enjoy it as much as we otherwise would have. The ground was muddy, so most of the time, we too were busy looking down trying not to step on mud or puddles to admire the scenery. Lesley-Anne and Andre kept going "eeeee!" and "yuck!" and "ewwww!" Kenneth would say something like "look at that beautiful tree" and the kids would look for all of 5 seconds and go back to playing watch-your-step.

After that mini adventure, it was back to the hotel, to the relief of the kids. Since we didn't have any plans for dinner and no one felt like going out again after a nice warm shower, we decided to eat at the hotel restaurant Umejaya. I had found out from their website that they had a set dinner for Y1,500 (S$20) which I thought was very reasonable. In Japan, dinners at restaurants are generally expensive. We're talking S$100 and up per person. Most guide books advise you to eat your big meal at lunch where the set meals tend to be more affordable. But at Umejaya, the set meal for lunch and dinner is the same price, which is highly unusual.

For Y1,500, we could choose any 2 items from this list:
  • Tempura
  • Burned beef with sweet red miso
  • Sashimi (raw fish)
  • Steamed eel with egg
  • Boiled seasonal vegetables and fish
  • Fried crab croquette
  • Burned fish with sweet white miso

Each set comes with rice, miso soup and salad. Sounds good? We ordered 3 sets with 1 sashimi, 2 tempura, 1 beef, 1 fish, 1 eel. This was what the spread looked like.

It was absolutely DELICIOUS. I had to show separate pictures of the super fresh sashimi and the to-die-for beef. Andre loved the piping hot eel. All very generous portions and even though we only ordered 3 sets, the waitress brought us 4 bowls of soup. I think they're used to people sharing food.

It was the best meal we'd had in Japan so far. And the bill only came up to about S$60! What made it so cheap was that there was minimal tax, no service charge, they don't charge you for silly incidentals like hand towels as they would in Singapore, and ocha is free.

I think in this picture, the kids are saying they enjoyed the meal...

Just a quick lift ride upstairs and we're back in the room. Here we are in our yukata, all comfy and ready for bed.


Lilian said...

Very nice...the food looks fantastic at Edoya and great value for money. I'm salivating!

Anonymous said...


Great blog here!!!
is Hotel Edoya within walking distances to the nearest station?
10 or 15mins?

I am bringing my Mum and 2 kids (7and 4), they might not want to walk after a long day......


monlim said...

There are a few stations near Hotel Edoya. If I recall correctly, the nearest station is about 5 mins walk away. That's the great thing about Tokyo, it's so well connected.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Monica!!!
Yr blog is so informative! I think I will follow most of yr travel plan!!!