FabricTown and Yakitori • Tokyo, Japan

This is post #8 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip: Thursday, November 9, 2017.
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This morning, Dave heads out to his meeting in the building by the Fish Market, and I get ready to go to Tomato Fabrics. I begin with our usual routine: walk up to the City Bakery, snapping photos of shop windows as I walk, seeing all the Japanese women in their pumps (not too many high heels) and then head down into the under ground area.

Today, there is a blue-lit Christmas tree, erected in the lobby area between the subway and the basement of this building, and seeing it is like magic! Overnight this confection of a tree appeared, and it just brightened my day. It’s easy to be unmoored from the seasonal holidays when traveling, but when the country brings out reminders — removing the seasonless drifiting feeling — it’s delightful. We experienced this in Barcelona with Semana Santa (Easter week). To experience these little touches of the Christmas season this way — here a little, there a little — in this non-Christian country, feels much preferred to the after-Halloween blitz we get in America.

I buy two rolls and a juice. The offerings look the same as Monday, and I wonder if it is the same “bake”? They don’t taste as fresh as they did then. I walk up the stairs and out onto the street to catch the train to Nippori Stop.

Although I have a wifi hot spot in my backback and little blue dots on Google Maps, it is still possible to get lost. When you get out into unfamiliar terrain, which is north? East? I finally get to the right street and start exploring.

This little sign, plus the one above, were dead giveaways that I’d arrived at the right spot. I had a map of this street, known colloquially as Fabric Town, with supposedly multiple fabric shops. I have written more about my experience on my quilt blog.

The main attraction. Tomato Fabrics.
I walk in feeling so out-of-place. It’s hard not knowing “the rules” as at home everything is so familiar.

After a while, I climb the stairs (elevators rarely used). There are more bolts of cotton yardage, trims and other notions. This is the “Tomato Select-Kan” and there are even a couple of English-speakers to help me. I assumed I could buy half-meters of fabric, but no. The woman helping me shows me the tag that means one meter minimum. This changes things and I put back quite a few bolts.

The cashiers, two of them flashing me the peace sign. What does it mean? I don’t think it means the same thing as I experienced in the 1960s in San Francisco, but perhaps just a cheerful way of finding common ground.

I wander down the street, seeing buttons, tape trims and doo-dads. I have a lot of this at home. In my earlier travels, with very little luggage limits, I bought up — no, vacuumed up — lots of fabrics. But now, at my grandma-age, I am more selective. I balance my need to acquire with my need to toss; it cuts down some on impulse shopping, but when traveling, it’s hard to resist. One hundred yen (90 cents) for a meter is pretty cheap, but I’m not here for quantity.

Next door is another Tomato shop, but this one has six stories, and yes, everyone still uses the narrow stairs. I keep climbing until the 5th floor (which is really the 4th, because their ground floor is “0” not “1” like ours), where I find things I like. The one-meter minimum is a pain and makes me choose carefully.

Dutch wax prints! Polka dots! They have everything here. There are small shopping carts, which are really just elongated boxes on wheels, more vertical than horizontal. A salesperson bring me one to use. I check the tags carefully, but when I get up to the cutting table, surprise! This shop has a different tag for the one-meter minimum, so I put back about half of the fabrics.

As I wait in line to pay, this pole of electrical wires is just behind the cashier. They are serious about getting electricity into these older buildings.

The backpack is heavy now, and I know I can’t get anymore into the suitcase. I browse a few more shops (mink balls, anyone?) but some shops are no more than an open door and some dingy cut goods out in front on racks. Another shop was interesting, but I couldn’t figure out where the front door was.

Cafe on the street. I am getting hungry, but don’t want to stop here.

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) manhole cover.

Found my way back to the train station: up the stairs and follow the signs to the Tokyo Station.

train station food stop

I’m impressed how the train stops exactly in front of the pedestrian barrier doors..

I stand and watch the action on the platform for a while, the hordes of passenders coming in and out since it was lunchtime. Each time the train was ready to pull out, a little snippet of a tune would play. I made a video of it, so I would always remember it.

I am a fan of Studio Ghibli movies, with the character Totoro being my favorite. It is impossible to buy this merchandise in the States, so I’d read about Character Street in the underground shopping area of the Tokyo Main Train Station. I exit with a rush of people, get lost/disoriented and ask the man in the train office the way to Character Street. He points, but it makes no sense to me. I go back out, look up into the beautiful dome in the rotunda above me.

I see a lot of people heading into a hallway, and I follow. After walking for 2-3 minutes, I stop in a police sub-station to ask if I am headed in the right direction. Yes.

More walking, more hallways and I come out in the confusing area. I then ask three older teens were Character Street is, and they point one way: I walk that way. One comes and finds me and says, No…that way, pointing a slightly different direction. I head there, but again, he comes and retrieves me to to get me back on track. I had followed all their directions perfectly fine, but I think they didn’t know and had to ask someone.

They seemed too sincere to be messing with me, and I appreciated any help I could get.

I went down the stairs to find a “street,” or more realistically, a long hallway of little shops, each selling merchandise from that character. Christmas lights were strung overhead, one parallel hallway in while and this one in blue.

Totoro!! It was surreal, being here in Tokyo and seeing in full all the character culture in one place, of which Totoro is kind of a hybrid: a character and a movie figure. A small girl was walking around singing the Totoro song, and touching everything, giving her Dad fits. So much to choose from, but I finally did purchase a few little things, then wandered around, seeing the rest of the character shops.

I’m now thinking “lunch?” and wander into the Daimaru Department Store Food Hall and chose a round ball, which turned out to be a pork/beef ball, coated in panko crumbs and fried. I couldn’t resist the beautiful salad (below). Since there is no place to eat, I had things packaged to take back to my hotel. It’s about 2:30 p.m. and I am very hungry, but I can’t find my way out of there.

I mean, it was like a maze–I really couldn’t find my way out. I wandered first up one hallway, and then the next. I finally asked a young woman, “Do you speak English?” She did, and directed me by saying to put my back to the next hallway over, then turn right. I think she’s done this before. Finally! the exit.

Then I did the unthinkable, sat on the edge of a planter, and ate the whole little pork/beef ball. Right out in public. I noticed a few other non-Japanese people doing the same thing around me. It revived me.

Store front display
How do they get these roses to be this color?

When we visited Japan before, I remember all the little bits of dry ice, taped to sides of cartons. Now they use small gel packs to keep the food cool until we arrive home.

I sat at the narrow desk in the room, and enjoyed my two salads, one better than the other.

I had detoured on the way home to grab some washi tape for everyone in the Good Heart Quilters group, for their Christmas bags my fried Leisa and I were making back home.  I hope they like it.  And yes, this is when I discovered there was an Itoya Annex, through the alley way.  I visited and liked that shop, too. I guess the little pork ball had revived me enough to visit Itoya, my favorite shop.

I noticed this letter while I was eating, which explained the ropes I saw dangling by the window (we are on the 14th floor).

I sat on the bed to do some reading, and all of a sudden, into view comes the guerney with the men inspecting the window seals.  Here’s a video.

After a while, I thought I should check our Hobbyra Hobbyre, a little shop down the street from us, full of ribbons and stitchery. This evening, it also contained one of those tourists I hope never to be, what’s known as an “Ugly American.” I wrote about it here. Then I headed back to the hotel to meet Dave.

Dave had heard/seen this yakitori shop, a block from our hotel. Down the stairs we went where the hostess met us with this English speech: “You must stay two hours and no longer.” We figured out quickly that mean a maximum of two hours stay, but since we weren’t planning on being there that long, it was no problem.

We went to step in, but she put out her hand: “Shoes!” This meant take off your shoes, which we did. She put them in a little cubby then led us to our table, facing all the action of the large square grill in the center of this room.

We stepped down into our little private dining area, grateful we didn’t have to sit on the floor, but instead had seats. There was a short curtain at the top with the split in it that gave us some privacy.

Peeking out from under the curtain we could see that across from us was a large glassed-in square set of grills, surrounded on three sides by a counter with seating.

Ah, yes. A favorite. We passed on this. Everything seemed reasonable, but we were forced to buy the appetizer: a weird little glob of something cream-cheezy with saltine crackers:

Egg yolk dipping sauce

Most of the time we had no idea what we were eating. But we went with the general idea that there was some sort of protein on a stick. We did okay all except for the chicken neck, taking one bite and deciding that was quite enough. I show our stick tally at the end of the meal:

Walking home, Dave saw this in the window.

It translated to us going in and sharing this dessert, a fitting end.

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