Imagine leaving your familiar surroundings of home to visit a country where you’re slightly consumed with uncertainty and having a radio fanboy constantly asking you questions about players you’ve interviewed or people you work with. Well that was the case for Radio Leicester’s Ian Stringer this last week as he had to put up with me guiding him round for a few days!!
The legendary voice of Leicester City games (500+ live matches under his belt now) on the BBC was in town very recently and Tokyo Fox had the privileged position of being in charge of most of his itinerary not counting the Tokyo Marathon which was of course his main reason for being here!!
Anyone who read the last entry will know that we met at Harajuku station and moved on to Meiji Shrine which was where we did the report for the BBC Radio Leicester breakfast show. As I eluded to in that interview we would be going on to Harajuku’s Takeshita-dori and on towards Shibuya and the impressive scramble-crossing which I enthused about in a manner which took me by surprise! This place rarely fails to amaze first-timers and for me is still the number one thing to witness in Tokyo.
Once we’d looked around a few shops (Tokyo Hands, Kamo Soccer Shop and Don Qixote) it was time for a spot of classic conveyor-belt sushi lunch. Things weren’t that straightforward though as Ian’s pre-marathon diet (known as the Palio diet) of no sugar, no bread, no potatoes, no noodles and no rice meant that his sushi was more like sashimi! Still, it meant more rice for me!!
At night Shinjuku’s Yasukuni-dori is an awe-inspiring spectacle of vibrant colours amid the cluster of high rise buildings full of restaurants and bars. The view has featured in so many movies and TV programmes over the years and I guess its become the classic shot (alongside Shibuya crossing) of the neon lights of Tokyo really hitting the foreigner visiting these shores. That was certainly the case for Ian who loved this area and of course many pictures were taken of this area when we reconvened later that evening for a quick wander around the Kabukicho area followed by a a few meat dishes in a couple of a Japanese-style bars.
Nezu jinja Shrine (below) is quite famous for Japanese people but less so for tourists so it was quite nice to go somewhere away from the crowds. I thought this place would be quite good for its mix of serenity, bright red torii gates and the fox deities which guard the place. Believe me, there are not many fox connections in Tokyo so such tenuous links were all we could find though there would still be one more! After walking back through Ueno Park we took a train a couple of stops down the Yamanote line to Akihabara which is famous for its electric town, otaku culture and maid cafes!!
@home cafe is a place I’ve been to a few times over the years when I’ve had guests visit and is usually one I relish as it tends to put the person I’m with so far out of their comfort zone. Ian was most taken aback that a maid was playing Connect 4 with a customer and the ‘moe‘ hand action movement and song you have to do when your drink is served was bizarre to say the least. No visit to one of these places is complete without a polaroid photo with one of the maids and at 6ft 3 he got a lot of reaction from the maids and even when on his knees he was still pretty much the same height as the maid he was photographed with! (For some reason his photograph has the wrong date on it!)
As for that fox reference I promised you earlier, that was on the overly sugar-concentrated drink I ordered. Usually they use the chocolate sauce to draw cats in your drink but I demanded kitsune (fox) and you can judge for yourself how good it is!
The worlds busiest transport hub is Shinjuku station and that was where we began our third and final day together. Sadly we were a bit too late, and on the wrong side of the gates, to see the tidal wave of humanity pouring onto its trains during rush hour. The main reason for meeting in Shinjuku was to take him up the Metropolitan Government Building which was a good idea as thats exactly where the Marathon would be starting two days later. He’d already been up the Tokyo Sky Tree on his first day so he’d witnessed the wall-to-wall concrete skyline that goes well beyond Tokyo’s borders. These two-towers in Shinjuku are 202 metres high and the observation deck on the 45th floor of each tower has a souvenir shop (as one may expect) which is quite good.
Gonpachi in Nishi-Azabu is perhaps more famously known as the ‘Kill Bill‘ restaurant as it served as the inspiration for the ‘House of Blue Leaves’ in Tarantino’s 2004 film. That would be our final stop but a memorable one and one that he really loved. I’m glad to report that the free salad bar is back (it wasn’t there the last time I went but was the first time) and this place is very cosmopolitan now with many foreigners among the chefs and waiters as well as the customers too!
I’d warned him a couple of days before that I wanted to turn the tables on him and interview him for Tokyo Fox which he gladly accepted and we did that amid the atmospheric shamisen background music sounds of this very nice, cavernous, rustic-themed place.