Japan Day 16: Kimonos and Shinjuku

We stay with a host family while in Tokyo, and mentioned to them that we were interested in getting (at the very least) an Aubri-sized kimono, but didn’t want to spend too much on it.

So our host, Hiro-san, made some calls around and found a wholesaler with a sale happening the next day. We made the plans and he said he would take us.

It turns out that we only got into this place because the shop owner thought Hiro-san was a kimono dealer. The place was crazy, and we got our own personal sales person to fetch, carry, and put things on us.

So we started with Aubri’s kimono, which was actually a brand new 3rd Birthday style kimono priced at 8,000jpy ($80) as opposed to its usually 30,000jpy.






I can’t even describe the words.

So then we moved on because Jamie wanted to get me a hakama. It took a minute or two to explain to the confused sales guy that I wanted a men’s hakama and to wear it in the men’s style.




We also picked out a haori (long jacket, explanation here) for me. Total for mine was about 10,500jpy ($105) after we explained that we wanted used rather than brand new.

So then we moved on to Jamie, and of course the women’s kimonos are all sixty times as expensive.


We actually wound up with a yukata (summer kimono) and several “slightly stained” inexpensive 900jpy/ea kimonos for Jamie because they only had 30,000jpy+ or “slightly stained.” But we’re confident in our ability to fix that problem since they are just little tea spots. Also I don’t have any more pictures because Aubri started acting up and we ran around the store/warehouse.

All told we spent 21,600jpy and about 2 hours in the place. So Aubri was starving and we were exhausted from the madness.

So we headed for Shinjuku because our next goal was some shopping in Shinjuku, but also because some of the best mid-priced tempura available is there. If you head for the South Terrace shopping area, cross the big bridge and find Takushimaya Times Square, you will also find Tokyo Hands and, on the 14th floor, Tsunahatchi, the delicious food. Its prices are best at lunch time, but the food is delicious.




Alternatively, if you want tempura udon, there’s a place nearby that is crazy delicious. If you exit the same exit but on the main level (instead of using the South Terrace bridge), and turn right to follow the major street you’re on for about 4 stoplights, you will see a recessed courtyard area with several restaurants. CoCo’s will be the sign you can see from the street, but across from CoCo’s is this udon restaurant:





Basically you pick your initial udon (which runs about 390 for a normal or 490 for a large portion of broth/noodles, even for curry udon) and then you pick your own tempura selections from a huge range. The prices are very good. For all this food I only paid 1490jpy (about $15). The food was delicious. Aubri ate four helpings of noodles and a whole tempura pumpkin slice.

Moving on, we were in Shinjuku for that giant department store across the Southern Terrace, with its 8-floor Tokyu Hands (mostly).

Tokyu Hands is like the DIY store of kings in Tokyo.

The 8th floor is dedicated to dayplanners/calendars/stationery/drawing supplies/writing supplies. We spent an hour playing with pens before selecting a few.

The 7th floor is dedicated to cell phone supplies, other techy gadgets, toys and pet supplies.

Pet me! (They even had a lint remover intended to use on cats).


Barnes and Noble’s puzzle selection is more limited.


Healing Time puzzles.


These are cell phone cases that look like gun handles.


The 6th floor is dedicated to being the Tokyo Home Depot but with leather design tools too.

The 5th floor is interior decoration/design.

The 4th floor is the cooking and eating floor.



Walls of bento boxes, tea pots, pans, chopsticks, and more. There are better places (for pricing) to acquire bento boxes (such as 100 yen shops) and chopsticks (the same), but for looking and admiring, this is the place. Also the quality of them is probably a bit better. Foreign shoppers get 5% off with their passport!

The 3rd floor is health/beauty (mostly diet and cosmetics), and the 2nd floor is an extensive travel luggage and personal bags floor. Very nice stuff, but not inexpensive.

This Takayashima place can absorb your soul for an entire day if you let it.

We’re almost out of time in Tokyo, but my next post will be about our Yabusame experience (Japanese horseback archery) and Don Qijote and hanging out with Jamie’s friend Hazuki.


Japan Day 14: Matsumoto Castle

Our host family brought out a book with beautiful pictures of an ancient Japanese castle that is still standing and in good shape. Matsumoto Castle is a National Treasure of Japan, and located in the Nagano prefecture. Since this was our last day for our JR passes, we decided to go.

The direct line train between Shinjuku Station and the Matsumoto station only leaves once an hour, on the hour, from (currently) track 9. The train takes just over 2.5 hours and is the most direct route.

A long ride…



So that means it took us about 3 hours to get there, and since we missed the 10am direct, we had to catch the 11am. Around 1:40PM we finally pull into Matsumoto station.

The walk from Matsumoto station isn’t far. It’s about ten minutes, and very well marked with big signs and arrows. There are a few nice things along the way, like this clock:


These carp over the river:


A frog samurai riding a frog mount:


Another clock:


And my favorite, an old temple that has been converted to an antique book shop.


We finally reached the castle and turned over 610jpy/ea to get inside. And what a splendid sight it cast with a sprawling moat and stony foundation lifting it high above the water.


We walked through the grounds, snapping photos of the sakura blossoms along with the throngs of other tourists–many of them speaking German, French, or other Western European languages.


Aubri’s only behaving for about the next two minutes.


We got stamps on the backs of our tickets…



The castle with sakura.


And then we went on to the castle itself. Matsumoto Castle is darker than most castles in Japan, and so is nicknamed the “Crow Castle.” The castle was built and then expanded upon from 1504-1590ish. Because of the time period it was built in, it has both archer openings and rifle marksman openings in the walls.

As we entered, we had to put our shoes in bags that we carried with us.


Rifle holes are more square.


Arrow holes are longer rectangles. Either way the holes are smaller on the outside and have thin wires spanning them, also to discourage outside objects from coming in.


A little about that you can’t read because it’s a tiny photo…


An old painting of the grounds.


Building materials.


The view from the second floor arrow holes.


Pulling Aubri up the stairs.


The next flight up. The bamboo hand rails are a new addition, but basically as the stairs climb they get more steep and narrow, to discourage intruders.


Aubri as an archer.


Climbing the stairs to the third level.


There are dozens of firearms from the 16th, 17th and 18th century on display throughout the castle. Some of them are really beautiful and would make great reference for a non-Western Steampunk.


Also body armor.


I love the six-revolver in the top right, so big.


At the top of the tower the windows face East, West, North and South. The castle is six levels high but only five can be seen from outside.


A view from the North window.


And the East window.


Tired and ready to head down.


Running around at the top causing trouble.


Another view from the arrow holes.


So we hauled Aubri down all the stairs, trying not to bowl anyone else over in the process.

An adorable kimono on the way back to the station!


We grabbed more sakura ice cream and a sakura sweet roll that had sweetened potato in the middle. Yum.


They can’t speak English but try it!


The view from Matsumoto station. I got to see this like four times…


We got back to the station at about 4:30 and caught the train at 4:58 after buying a few quick snacks from the Newdays shop in the station (large convenience/souvenir shop chain in some stations). About 25 minutes into the ride, Jamie realized that she had left her glasses at the station when she changed into contacts. So we hopped off at the next stop, waited 15 minutes for a return train back, rode 25 minutes back to the station, spent another 20 minutes locating the lost and found and getting her glasses, and discovered that the next train back wasn’t for another 35 minutes (now at 6:35pm).

Fortunately they had a coloring book and colored pencils at a book shop in the station, to occupy Aubri (whose ipod battery was dead). Unfortunately we didn’t buy her any more snacks. So the 2.5 hour ride back to Shinjuku was probably the most miserable train ride yet. And since it was so late, everyone else was trying to sleep…

We caved and got her a cheeseburger at McDonalds at Shinjuku station before stacking on the last two rides back to get home.

So, that was our entire day. And we missed the good dinner, alas. But the castle was very cool and its weapons collection is worth a visit for the firearms enthusiast. They have English guides too, but they were out when we were there.

Tomorrow: Ikebukuro (yes, again), Nakana Broadway and Shibuya.