Posts/November, 2012/

Tokyo Day 5: A Day of Rain and Rest, Another Trip Underground in Search of Food

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

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It drizzled for all of Friday, which was a good excuse to rest in our cramped hotel room and use the vast network of tunnels around Shinjuku Station when searching for food.

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A taste of the Shinjuku Station labyrinth.

Japan is unafraid of massive infrastructure, and it’s in full display at Shinjuku Station. Serving as the main connecting hub for rail traffic between central Tokyo and its western suburbs on inter-city rail, commuter rail, and metro lines and buses the station is used by millions of people a day.

The station has 35 platforms, some of them blocks away from each other.

But the craziest part is the vast network of tunnels that connects the platforms to all the surrounding buildings and its 200 exits. It’s truly a maze, and easy to get lost. In these tunnels, you can walk for blocks underground in what are basically interconnected shopping malls. And then you exit into above ground malls, or restaurants, or if you are lucky, the street.

The game Minecraft is a good analog: I go underground and dig forever, then surface in a random spot with no connection between above and below ground features.

But everything you need is underground: decent restaurants of all scales, clothes, snacks, bathrooms, arcades, lottery tickets. And the stores do brisk business from all the foot traffic. It’s commerce on a crazy scale, all interconnected into a mess of money, food and merchandise.

And except for early in the morning when most of the business are still closed and people haven’t left for work, the tunnels are packed.

This kind of system wouldn’t work back home, as tunnels are scary, dark, and full of riffraff and pee smells. Our population is too varied, disenfranchised, and unpredictable to be trusted there. And thus our businesses cannot be open and inviting. They are fortresses, with clear entrances and exits.

For lunch, on Friday we crossed the tunnels and took an elevator to the upper floors of a department store. Our lunch was a delicious assortment of tempura.

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A delicious tempura-topped rice bowl.
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Tempura ice cream for dessert.

We came back to the hotel and rested before heading underground for a katsu dinner.

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The empty hall of the Shinjuku Prince Hotel.
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Our airplane style one-piece bathroom that seemed to undulate when occupied.

Two fried meals in one day might seem excessive. But it was Friday, after all.

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