Nov 3 Yebisu Garden Place, Rikugien Park
We started our day by taking the Tokyo subway to Yebisu Garden Place. The name fits well with our garden-theme tour, though we were forewarned that there would not be many plants in sight. We arrived at Ebisu Station, which supposedly is the same name despite the different spelling due to some historical twist in pronunciation, and there were signs everywhere pointing to the “Yebisu Skywalk.” That is a glorified name for an escalator, but it made finding the place easy.
Yebisu Garden Place is like a little city within Tokyo. There are hotels and department stores and a photography museum. We browsed around a bit before stopping at the Yebisu Beer Museum, the real reason for our visit here. Paul and I both enjoy a good beer, and Yebisu is one of the most elite brews in Japan. And the oldest, we found out on the guided tour.
It was interesting looking around and learning more about the brewing process. I liked the giant copper kettle which had been used in the original factory, but Paul seemed taken by some of the historical photographs. The tour ended at the tasting room, where there was a vending machine where you could buy tickets for the things you wanted to taste. Some of the beers were only offered at the museum itself, so we were a bit in a quandary about which to try. We settled on the sampler, which was a good choice because it had a variety from very light to dark.
The gift shop was also fun, and I could not resist picking up a jar of beer jelly. I don’t want to lug that home in my suitcase, but we will try it on bread tomorrow for breakfast in our room. Sometimes it is nice to have a leisurely start before heading out to the sights.
We had no trouble finding the Joel Robuchon Restaurant. Imagine a French palace transplanted into downtown Tokyo, and you have an idea. The skyscrapers loomed up on all sides, but it sat there without apologizing. We were very excited about eating there, but a little nervous as well. We had dressed up nicely today, just so that we would be allowed inside. And we were glad that we did. The interior was hushed and luxurious, and would have been the perfect setting for a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie.
We had reservations for lunch because we could not bear to spend as much for one meal as the dinners cost. Even though it was cheaper, there was no indication that the food was lesser quality. I don’t think I have ever eaten a meal quite like that, each bite was something to relish and exclaim over. The cheese and pate melted in our mouths, and the salad was perfectly balanced. In my opinion, the fish dish was the best, a species only served in Japan, but prepared with a French flair. We lingered over the meal, the staff attentive but not pushing us to eat faster. Paul and I like to eat, but we don’t usually splurge for something this extravagant. We decided that maybe we should go on a honeymoon more often, especially after the dessert was served…
Well sated, we left the quiet interior for the bustle of the Tokyo streets. It felt like we were in a different world. Yebisu Garden Place was packed with people in the early afternoon, far more than when we had entered the restaurant. Surprisingly, the subway was not that crowded. After a couple transfers, we made it to Rikugien Park on the other side of town.
We were excited about visiting our first formal garden in Japan. Rikugien lived up to our expectations. It was not really that large, but walking around the central pond it seemed like you were looking at new things every time. The fall colors were really starting to peak, making the scenes breathtaking, like picture postcards. We strolled slowly around, sitting and enjoying the sunshine and view from different points in the park. Paul got out his notebook and made dozens of quick sketches and notations about plants and combinations.
I was taken aback by the spiders, though. It seems like things in Japan are small and quaint, but these spiders did not fit the rule. The webs spanned the paths from tree to tree, with spiders that had legs spreading almost as big as our hands. Paul took notes of these, too, but I was mostly worried that I would end up with one in my hair. Thank goodness they seemed only to favor one area near the hill!
About halfway around the pond from the entrance was a tea house. We were not at all hungry, but the benches with red clothes and red parasols shading them were so inviting. There was only one item on the menu, which made ordering easy. It came as a little wooden tray with really bitter, frothy green tea and a sugary little candy shaped like a maple leaf. I enjoy green tea, but this was very unlike the stuff I am used to. Later someone explained that this is powdered flakes whipped up with water, not steeped like what I expected. The tea and candy flavors balanced each other out, but I wonder if they would have tasted as good anywhere but there, sitting with a view of autumn leaves reflecting in the water of the lake.
It sounded like there was a live concert going on in the background, which really puzzled us. One of the other visitors struck up a conversation, probably practicing her English, and we found out that she lived in the neighborhood and visited the park every few weeks. The concert was at the local school next to the park, and they were celebrating Culture Day. It was a holiday commemorating the birth of the Meiji Emperor, and a lot of schools have activities like festivals and art shows. It also explained why there were so many people in the park. The lady we were chatting with in a funny combination of English and Japanese said they might also be practicing Waka Poetry 和歌 . This was something I had read about while studying Japanese but not tried in a team which was something I had always wanted to try. Finally we got up and continued our tour of the grounds. It was a lovely afternoon and we were a bit sad to leave.
Back at the Mitsui Garden Hotel, we took a shower and changed into comfortable clothes. We rested a while, then were drawn back outside, the appeal of the new and unexpected pulling at us. We decided to walk through Ueno Park to the other side, then take streets back in search of a restaurant for dinner. We never made it that far. The central area of the park around the fountain had some kind of art festival going on in honor of Culture Day. There was live music and booths of handmade crafts, mostly pottery and woodwork. There were also stalls of food.
This was the perfect solution for us. After our elite lunch, we mixed shoulder to shoulder with everyday people celebrating at a festival. The pulsing energy of the evening seemed underscored by bare yellow bulbs flickering to the purr of portable generators. We had gone from one extreme to another, and we reveled in the contrast. At that moment, it just felt good to be alive, exploring a new world.
With full stomachs and tired feed, we went back to the hotel and shared a glass of wine. Can’t wait for tomorrow!