Imperial east: Skytree and Odaiba

Imperial east: Skytree and Odaiba
Imperial east: Skytree and Odaiba

We invested in recovering for most of the day following our Disney extravaganza. Stephanie foraged for breakfast at the FamilyMart convenience store around the corner, returning with a bag bulging with salmon rice balls and melon pastries. I tapped through maps and metro schedules, charting our course for the time remaining in Tokyo.

I had deliberately decided to revisit my tour of the year before, at the same time of year to minimize surprises, with many of the same destinations at mind. It didn’t try my imagination much to consider places I would willingly wander again, and SkyTree topped the list. A fabulously elongated mall, it attracts most for its city view, but that afternoon we sought its mix of unique treats and quirky shops.

Strawberry season in Tokyo blessed us with a shaved ice sculpture, studded with ruby-ripe gems. A tiny glass pitcher supplied the cream. At the Harry Potter store, we perused books of origami (fold your own Golden Snitch) and pondered why the shelves stocked only Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw gear (sold out of the more popular Houses, perhaps?). The Pokemon store was bursting at the seams, but we squeezed in — an improvement over the COVID precautions last year that amounted to a two hour waitlist.

In search of memorable gifts and souvenirs, we mined the Studio Ghibli shop for card decks, figurines, and an embroidered cloth from Kiki’s Delivery Service. This charming film resonated deeply with my experience of moving to a friendly but unfamiliar town, when I watched it last year at the Toknoshima local library.

Questing for the aquarium, we stumbled on a Chinese food festival: just in time to snag fried squid on skewers. Golden Week bubbles over with festivals, most of them delicious!

The next day, the feast continued in Ginza — former home to the famous fish market. I had sampled its wares last year but now found myself flabbergasted at the crush of people, crowded into lines that wound around the corner from the tiny food stalls serving their customers. We committed ourselves to a queue for strawberry mochi (filling options: cream, red beans, and strawberry jam) then succumbed to the alluring wares of a gourmet skewer stand (squid, premium grade steak, scallops topped with sea urchin).

Fortified for an endurance contest, we plunged in at last and joined the wait for a signature bowl of sashimi — with a side of otoro, the fatty tuna slices that captivated my taste buds on my first sightseeing trip back in November 2021.

Then we caught the train to a childhood nostalgia haunt: Odaiba, the setting of our favorite anime. Stephanie marveled at all the landmarks that the artists had rendered so faithfully — from the globe-topped TV station to the giant saw embedded point-down in a park. (Nope, me neither.) We strolled the Rainbow Bridge, humming theme songs and laughing as the wind swept us into action poses.

For dinner, we sampled the wares at another festival — for Latin American. Yes, I told our parents, all eight of the Latin Americans in Tokyo came together to serve tortillas and paella and blast merengue tunes. I dusted the rust off my Spanish to order two drinks of the sweetly seasoned rice milk, horchata, then Stephanie secured us a plate of purple tacos.

We knew our wallets would want to recover as much as our feet after the Disney adventure, so we had booked an Airbnb near a metro stop with rock bottom prices. It must have nearly matched my little cinderblock in KwaZulu-Natal in terms of square footage, though it featured more creature comforts: a kitchen sink and shower stall, with a curtain tastefully sequestering the bed. As much as the Tsuchiura village had introduced me to a new slice of Japanese life, so did this modest abode grant the first taste of Japan’s famously minute city accommodations.

We wrapped up the day with a sweet finish: a set of superlatively soft mochi, purchased from the Aquarium gift shop. Octopus, frog, and turtle all tempted, but neither of us could resist the matching set.

Our tuxedo penguin claimed the “milk” flavor popular in Japan (perhaps best translated as cream), whereas the pink meant strawbery — what else?

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