On my last day in Tendo, Fran had to go out for an enkai (annual office party – expensive, fancy, and pretty much compulsory in spirit if not in letter), so Mindy took me out for the sights of Friday evening Tendo. After a short traipse across town, discussing travel and history, we came to a foot onsen (hot spring); it was rather surreal having my feet stuck in hot water while the air around the rest of me was cold enough to warrant an overcoat, but not unpleasant. It seems to be just a general thing people do; other visitors at the time included a young Japanese couple, a scruffy-looking older dude, and an extremely smartly dressed salaryman type glued to his smartphone. (On the vague hope of going to hot springs, I had packed the genuine onsen towel which Eli got me for my birthday, and put it to its proper use.)
Chris joined us and we went on to a sushi place, which had both the fabled little conveyor belt and a touchscreen food-selector thing where you could order specific dishes to be delivered on a little shinkansen train. I gorged myself on various fish-and-rice-themed bites, tiny burgers and unlimited green tea (tea was literally on tap. Truly, this place is paradise). Sushi is jolly nice, but it’s not something I’d eat every day – which is fine, because it’s also not nearly as ubiquitous as people seem to think.
Following sushi, we went to a proper onsen, a full-body geothermal bath in the time-honoured tradition of Japanese people and macacques. This was in the basement of one of Tendo’s hotels, for a cool 500 yen, and resembled a very hot, rather elaborate hotel swimming pool rather than the classic image of a rock-bound open-air pool – but given that it was mid-December, I wasn’t really objecting. It was all pretty classy and hygienic: you had to thoroughly shower down before entering the pool, and the changing room thing was fitted with fancy mirrors and grooming equipment (clearly intended for the class of visitor who’d be staying at the hotel rather than the hoi polloi, but as the hoi polloi I didn’t mind). I didn’t feel particularly awkward stripping off and showering down in public, which I think may owe a lot to the sheer foreign-ness of it all; without any sort of social context, I was genuinely not bothered by the exposure or the glances of various sweaty naked Japanese men. It was seaux spiritual and cultural and political.
We got up on Saturday morning for Tsubasa 136, rolling along endless snowbound valleys and little tunnels, through gently descending hills and sharply rising skyscrapers to the heart of the absurdly large thirteen-million-man metropolis that is Tokyo. The original plan was to leave our stuff in coin lockers, which we found after minor drama in navigating the bizarre maze of conflicting ticket barriers (soon to become a recurring theme) on the way into Ueno station, but the price of a locker which could accommodate Fran’s huge suitcase was so staggering we decided to just head to the hotel and leave things there. After a hunt made unnecessarily long and complicated by the shortcomings of iphone mapping software, which involved us trudging all the way to the river before doubling back five hundred metres, we finally found the Agora Place Hotel.
Pleasingly, having unloaded our baggage, we found that there were two excellent amenities pretty much on the hotel’s doorstep: Tawaramachi metro station, and a branch of “Freshness Burger”, where we adjourned for lunch. Although Freshness shared a lot with the costlier British burger places (Rocotillos/GBK/Selly Sausage sort of thing) in terms of atmosphere (and price!), the burgers did not; there was a polished, processed, artificial quality to both the bread and meat, but they were still pretty damn tasty, and the accompanying raspberry cream chais were weird but almost impossibly delicious.
Refreshed, full and substantially less burdened, we set off to explore.