Arriving by Shinkansen at Tokyo early in the morning, I took the subways (yes, Tokyo is so huge, it actually has two separate multi-line subway systems that link at certain locations) to Akihabara in the hopes of getting my agenda for the neighborhood done with. Unfortunately, it was a little too early in the morning; practically no shops or museums were open.
No biggie, because I fell back on plan "B for breakfast" at the only official Gundam Cafe. This cafe is, as the name suggests, themed around the Gundam franchise. The space age decor and TV screens playing the anime are complemented by a menu that frequently makes visual or name-dropping references to the designs and characters in the Gundam universe, such as the Haro cake (bottom right). If I were there for lunch, I would have loved to have ordered a rice dish that would be shaped and decorated to look like a Gundam mecha head.
I then took a subway line east to see the history of Tokyo at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. The museum looks like a bit like an anime starship from the outside, but it contains a massive historical repository of the new-but-old city of Tokyo, known in the samurai age as "Edo". Among the impressive displays are detailed models and reconstructions of neighborhoods and buildings from medieval Edo.
Then there are the samurai armor and weapons, clothing and accessories from the Edo period, and various historical artworks, including intricate painted screens and life-like statues.
Other displays included reconstructions of daily life, modes of transportation, performing arts, and interactive scenes of life in old Tokyo.
Having missed the Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum in Osaka, I was pleased to find a big section on this wood block printing art, including a play-by-play of the fascinatingly precise block carving and coloring process.
Heading back to Akihabara, I took a little foot tour of the area, browsing the numerous electronics, gaming and anime merchandise shops in the district, while marveling at the garish signage.
Also in Akihabara, in the UDX building, I had a look at the Tokyo Anime Center. The place was not nearly as big or comprehensive as the ambitious name suggested, though. It seems to be mostly an event venue, and centered on manga and sketches. Anyway, I spent a few minutes browsing these and the merchandise, and watching a few anime clips.
Going south, and after quite a walk from the train station, I stopped by the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art (top left). I quite enjoyed this place; there was a delightful Yasumasa Morimura exhibition on, and some indoor and outdoor (top center) permanent installations were also interesting to ponder over a cup from the veranda cafe. My subsequent visit to the Ghibli Museum (bottom left) was, however, foiled; I found out too late that ticket purchase is required days before visiting. Even Totoro (right) looked shocked.
Next to the museum, though, was a quaint patisserie called Cote du Bois (top left). The Japanese seem to love these little European cafes, so I sampled some (amazing) cheescake at this one. Among other food trends I noticed in the country, by the way, are the apparent popularity of spaghetti and naan bread, even on menus that are otherwise devoid of sister foods.
I then bused down to the nearest train station area (top center) to grab some actual dinner at a beefbowl (top right), before taking the subways to the hotel. The beefbowl (bottom right), or gyudon, is basically a bowl of rice topped with beef and spring onion. I still had to get over the raw egg, but it's generously-proportioned and full of energy and umami, apart from being relatively easy to prepare and serve. This makes it popular as the quick, inexpensive belly-filler to have at any time of the day.
Much to my dismay, a thick fog began descending almost as soon as I reached the Grand Arc Hanzomon hotel. This is the last picture I could take before skyline visibility hit zero.
My final destination for the night was the Roppongi district (top left). This somewhat hilly place is famous for nightlife, for which competition appears to be fierce. That meant being persistently propositioned by touts (who, for some reason, seem to be almost exclusively West African) at every crossing.
Anyway, I finally made it to my night's highlight: Mori Art Museum (center left). The contemporary art museum, which gives an obvious nod to the anime/manga world, is located high up on the 52nd floor of the Roppongi Hills skyscraper; unfortunately, my hope for a good city view was ruined by the fog (bottom left). Anyway, I at least had a good look around the museum, including a special exhibition of Puella Magi Madoka Magica sketches and figures (center top and bottom). I ended the night with visits to a couple of Roppongi bars, and sampled the salty fried chicken chunks (right) that seem to be popular around here.
On to observations:
(left) Vending machine with handy categorized recycling drop unit.
(center top) Outdoor smoking tent.
(center bottom) No one can say no to kitty
(top left) Odd combination of hands-free soap dispenser and hands-on water tap
(center left) Handwash water reused to flush
(bottom right) Hanging ads on subway train
(bonus) It seems that the word "service", when used by itself, means "free" or "complimentary" in Japan.