[blog]* Day 11, Part 2 - Azabu and Roppongi districts, and trying some famous taiyaki. Plus, the long-awaited overnight train ride to Hokkaido!
Continuing on from yesterday: having tried some delicious monjayaki in Tsukishima and snooped around behind the scenes in Tsukiji Fish Market, I head off to Azabu.
Remember how I mentioned that it was the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate who set up Tsukiji Fish Market? Actually, he also set up the Juban Horse Grounds - the largest horse market of the Edo period - here in Azabu. The horse market clearly hasn't done as well with time as the fish market, though.
Even in the centre of the city, a little shrine stood sandwiched between two buildings, looking somewhat... squished, but majestic.
In 1859, the first United States delegation in Japan was stationed here at a temple in Azabu, a legacy that remains today, with this and the surrounding areas being home to a large number of embassies and consulates. That aside, it is primarily a residential area, home to singer Ayumi Hamasaki as well as manga artist Naoko Takeuchi (of the (in-?)famous Sailor Moon series)
I was here, though, for food. Azabu is apparently also home to some very famous taiyaki, at the Naniwaya Sohonten:
Well, no kidding. I saw people pull up in bikes, scooters, more-than-my-annual-salary sedans - all apparently with no other purpose in the area than to buy a box of taiyaki before swiftly leaving again. Even at 4pm the line stretched out the door, and whenever anyone emerged victorious with a box everyone would send jealous stares towards them with all the subtlety of a blunt hammer. It was incredible.
The store itself is actually quite small and narrow, and as you queue you can see the little taiyaki "production line". It's kind of cute.
Taiyaki is a traditional Japanese waffle-like snack with red bean paste (or cream) inside, cooked in a special-made cast iron "griddle". Think old-fashioned waffle iron with fish shapes instead of waffle shapes, and you're about halfway there.
The taiyaki here are made fresh to order - not like they could do otherwise, since people are ordering faster than they can make them - and when mine arrived it was almost too hot to touch, even through the paper bag. Incidentally, taiyaki is said to have been invented at this very shop in 1909, and they have been making taiyaki the same traditional way ever since then.
To tell you the shocking, horrible truth... I'm actually not a big fan of red bean paste. It's just a little too sweet and too much, like those little girls at the beginning of horror movies who look adorable but who you just KNOW are really, really evil inside.
Well, that's just an analogy. Point is, I don't usually like red bean paste. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually very, very good. It had just a hint of sweetness to it - the red bean taste was very subtle, and it had that indefinable but wonderful, freshly-baked taste to it.
The batter was perfectly crisp with just a bit of chewiness to it on the inside, and the red bean paste was satisfyingly chunky. It's definitely very, very different to the more cake-like taiyaki you tend to get elsewhere. If you like taiyaki, it's definitely worth stopping by to try this.
All in all, Azabu is a relatively quiet residential area with nothing of particular significance. I'd still come here just for the taiyaki, though.
Moving on to the nearby Roppongi district:
The history of the area goes back quite a long way, with it hosting a large number of the high-ranking military class (samurai families and the like) during the Edo period. Now, essentially, the whole of the Roppongi district is a very large retail area.
The Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown complexes are especially prominent, and together form one of the "prettiest" areas in Tokyo, with very modern, polished architecture housing high-end retail shops, galleries and restaurants. L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Tokyo is located in the Roppongi Hills complex, for example.
You know a place is fancy if the labels are in English
Going from Midtown to Roppongi Hills:
Points for guessing what the lady is doing
They've obviously tried really hard to green-ify the development which is, I suppose, commendable. A little confusing though.
I suppose, all that said, the adjoining streets aren't that much different from most other parts of Tokyo.
The impossibly tall Roppongi Hills building
One of the most recognisable points of the Roppongi Hills complex is the giant spider sculpture, by renowned French artist Louise Bourgeois.
A beautiful piece of artwork, to be sure, but I really don't like spiders.
No, seriously. I really, really, really, really, really, really, really really don't like spiders. Ugh. Well, I'll leave it at that.
You can actually see Tokyo Tower from here:
Just for the sake of it, I also stopped by the nearby Ginza district to just take a quick, quick peek. Ginza is known mostly as a (very, very) upscale shopping district, home to the flagship stores of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Abercrombie & Fitch (that one being 12 stories high) - etc.
Just a little creepy?
Like I said, just a teeny peek.
Anyway, at long last - the highlight of the day! I'll do a proper post on this later, but for now I was going to be taking the Hokutosei (literally, "Great Dipper") train up north.
Both (there are two) overnight sleeper trains depart from Ueno.
(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
So... was there food? (Yes.) Did it feel strangely like a bunk bed from a Star Trek episode? (Just a little.) What was it like?!
Well... check back tomorrow to find out :)
Results: Day 11
A lot of area covered today, even if it was a little bit of a rush job. Hey, I thought I did OK...
Do you like taiyaki? Maybe you've tried the taiyaki at Naniwaya Sohoten? What do you think of Roppongi and Ginza - beautiful and classy, or just too done up? Send in an e-mail, comment below, or follow me on Twitter / twitter.com/foodjapan