Somewhere along the way, I have managed to take some photos of a small portion of the many million people you might meet in Tokyo. All of them so very different from one another. This gallery is made up of a few of those photos.
I once read that humans can easier distinguish the characteristics of those of their own race. It is called ‘The Other Race-Effect’ or ‘Cross-Race Effect, and seems to be a well recognised psychological disadvantage in people. As a Caucasian raised in Northern Europe, it is much easier for me to recognise the individual features of other Caucasians than it is to separate the individual features of Africans or Asians. One of the two main theories claim that our perception is based on how different other people are from us. If we recognise them as different on the level of skin colour, we might not subconsciously look for further characteristics of the individual. An other major theory claims that it is based on what we are used to seeing. Most of us will have grown up with people like ourselves and thus learned to recognise individual features that are common amongst our race, while overlooking those characteristics that are often varying within another race.
I think it is a combination of the two. After three weeks in Japan, I have noticed in myself a much sharper recognition of how different the Japanese are. I have felt this change gradually and particularly in Tokyo have I become aware how many different faces meet me in the street. But it is not only because I become used to looking at those characteristics which have a great variation amongst the Japanese. In fact, I start recognising in strangers characteristics that remind me of people I know back home. Thus, I focus on characteristics which are also varied amongst Caucasians.
Why am I writing this? I have no idea. But somewhere along the way, I have managed to take some photos of a small portion of the many million people you might meet in Tokyo. All of them so very different from one another. This gallery is made up of a few of those photos.
Before going to Japan my impression of the animé and manga culture was rather innocent. It was all excessive cuteness and pretty costumes. But after three weeks here the cuteness has turned sour.
We have reached the end of our three weeks in Japan and though I have fallen in love with this extraordinary country and its contrast of modern and ancient, I am happy to return home.
My head is full of impressions and I need time to contemplate all that we have experienced from food to theatre, from zen to rice pillows.
But we have saved an explosion of impressions for our last day. We are going to Akihabara the centre of the otaku world. This is manga and animé heaven on earth, and the place that all good otaku pilgrim to.
The dark side of Akihabara
It is a crazy place with promotional dance shows, girls dressed as maids and millions of figurines from famous manga and animé.
Before going to Japan my impression of the animé and manga culture was rather innocent. It was all excessive cuteness and pretty costumes. But after three weeks here the cuteness has turned sour.
This is a highly sex fixated culture and in Akihabara you will find not only the pretty and well proportioned animé characters. Almost everywhere you will find figurines with a directly sexual connotation.
There is nothing innocent about Akihabara and it sends out a message, which I can only assume adds to the already unhealthy direction that Japanese relationships are taking these years, where fewer and fewer children are born and the population only grows older.
To me it seems the ideal woman has been distorted into an overly cute girl (emphasis on girl) in a maid costume and with a large bosom. Girlfriends are available online through LovePlus.
Yes the modern Japanese culture which is founded in manga and animé is awesome and different and loads of other positive adjectives. But there is a shadow side to this, which becomes particularly obvious in Akihabara.
No wonder the Japanese women spend their nights at gentlemen’s clubs, where they can flirt with available guys for a price. Who wouldn’t want to satisfy the need for human interaction and dreams of relationships in this way, when the men fall under the spell of 17 year old virtual girlfriends.
Photos in the night
We split in Akihabara, since I had already from the outset of our trip planned to join an excursion for those with a love for taking photos.
While my boyfriend ventured out into the Tokyo summer evening, to say good-bye for this time to a country we have both come to love, I met up with a group of similarly minded travellers at Shinjuku Station.
For a couple of hours we walked around with cameras on night setting, taking pictures in the tunnels of Shinjuku Station and from various bridges and crossings including the ever busy Shibuya crossing.
My favourite part was when our guide took us up a narrow street in Shinjuku filled with small bars and restaurant. Here people were hanging out for food and beer after work. None of them seemed to have any issue with the camera crazy group of travellers taking their pictures.
I imagine they were used to it, since we had come to Omoide Yokocho, meaning Memory Lane. This is the fashionable name given to the area after a 1999 fire forced the place to be rebuilt.
The locals call it Piss Alley, since there used to be no toilets in the area prior to the redevelopment in 1999, and people therefore had to piss on the nearby train tracks.
There are around 60 bars and small eateries, which become filled with locals after hours. One of the main dishes here is yakitori, grilled sticks which can be made of pretty much anything. This matches well with how animal organs were sold here back in the 1940’s.
Piss Alley takes its origin in the black market trade of the 1940’s where more than animal organs was bootlegged here. Walking here is like a journey through time.
It is a magical place which brings to mind the old Japan – not as seen in Kyoto or Nara or the Gassho-style guest houses in Ainokura. This is post-war Japan, and a place I definitely wish too return to, if ever I have the chance.
Unfortunately, after three weeks my camera was slightly filthy. There was not much left of the attentive care the Panasonic man had treated my camera with during our first day in Nagoya.
But while my photos of the night scene at Shibuya Crossing were a bit blurry that is okay, because it tells its own story of three amazing weeks through the nature, culture and modern cities of Japan.
After the end of the tour, I found my boyfriend at a sushi joint in Shibuya, which during the last week had become our neighbourhood. Here we enjoyed one last taste of Japan before returning home full of impressions and memories and stories to share.
One thing we agreed on was that this will not be the last time we visit Japan.
So off course I placed myself on the top of the Yūyake Dandan stairs, to capture this famous view of one of Tokyo’s few remaining traditional areas.
After a slow day yesterday, we were ready for another long walk through the different neighbourhoods of Tokyo.
We began the day with a to-go coffee in Roppongi as we walked through this international neighbourhood, slowly making our way to one of Tokyo’s most famous landmarks – Tokyo Tower.
I wonder what it is about the Eiffel Tower that has the Japanese in such awe that you can find copies of it in both Nagoya and Tokyo as well as an actual 12 metres high replica in Tobu World Square.
Yes, I know that neither the Nagoya TV Tower nor Tokyo Tower are 1:1 copies of the Eiffel Tower. Tokyo Tower is taller, measuring 332.9 metres and can boast of only two levels and a very bright aviation safety orange and white design. But anyone with eyes can see the similarities and the influence for Tokyo Tower.
I have seen the original several times, and love it for its raw look and the fact that it was only ever built to impress at a time when constructions of this kind were amazing achievements.
Tokyo Tower is well proportioned and stands out in the Tokyo city-scape. While it does not measure up to the original, it is a beautiful piece of construction.
Built in 1958, it predates the 1976 CN Tower in Toronto and the 1969 Berliner Fernsehturm erected by the DDR. It tells the story of a post-war Japan rising in a new capitalist world.
It was planned to be taller than the Empire State Building, which at the time was the tallest in the world, but the plans had to be changed due to funding issues. While the dreams were not completely fulfilled, it stands as a magnificent symbol of modern Japan.
Zōjō-ji Temple and the Garden of Unborn Children
Next door lies Zōjō-ji Temple, the head temple of the Buddhist Jodo sect. It was built in 1393, and moved to where it stands today in 1598 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. It has been the family temple of the Tokugawa clan, and holds a mausoleum. Through time six Tokugawa shoguns have been buried here, but not much remains of their final resting place after parts of the temple and mausoleums were hid during the WW2 raids on Tokyo.
We passed through parts of the surrounding graveyard, and I was particularly touched by the many rows of statues symbolising children. Unknowingly, we had reached Sentai Kosodate Jizo – The Garden of Unborn Children.
The many statues represent unborn children, including miscarried, aborted, and stillborn. Here parents of unborn children can choose a statue and dress it with clothes and toys, as well as stones which guarantee a safe journey to the afterlife. Gifts are also donated to Jizō, the guardian of unborn children, for the safe passage to the afterlife. It is a beautiful thought and way to commemorate and mourn the loss of an unborn child.
Walking through Ueno
After our visit to the Garden of Unborn Children, we took the train to the hustle and bustle of Ueno, getting off at Nippori Station. Walking west of the station, we reached Yūyake Dandan, or in English – the Sunset Steps. These are 36 steps, which opens up to the Yanaka Ginza shopping street.
According to the walking guide I’d found online the shot from the top of the stairs and down onto Yanaka Ginza is a famous view often portrait in television and news papers. So off course I placed myself on the top of the stairs, to capture this famous view of one of Tokyo’s few remaining traditional areas.
The Yanaka neighbourhood was fortunate to survive the bombings of Tokyo during WW2, and much of it therefore still remains the same. Yanaka Ginza is one of Tokyo’s remaining shotengai – traditional shopping streets. Here you will find small food stores selling tea and Japanese delicacies. It has not yet been overtaken by chain stores and supermarkets as most other parts of Tokyo.
We looked in at a few shops, including an old tea shop with the wonderful fragrance of Japanese teas in the air.
We walked up and down the narrow shopping street before taking a small passage into the Yanaka Temple area. As with Yanaka Ginza, the area which houses more than 60 small Buddhist temples survived the bombings of Tokyo.
We reached the area of Nezu, which is known for its small alleys. At a larger road traversing Ueno, we found a ramen shop and a long overdue lunch, before we moved south towards Ueno Park.
Unaware, we ended up at Shinobazunoike, a beautiful pond where we enjoyed gazing at the thousands of water lilies making the place so magical.
In fact Shinobazunoike is made up of three ponds, and it is possible in that way to walk on a narrow stretch of land across the water. In the middle of Shinobazunoike lies Shinobazunoike Bentendo, which must be Tokyo’s most beautifully situated Buddhist Temple.
Ameyoko Shopping Street
We ended our walk through Ueno in the crowded Ameyoko Shopping Street, which runs along the train tracks north of the station. It was previously known as Ameya Yokocho, meaning candy store alley, since sweets and candies were sold here.
The ‘Ame’ in Ameyoko can however also be said to represent a shortening of American, since many black market goods from the US were found here in the years after WW2.
Today it is a busy shopping street selling all kinds of goods. It is a colourful display of various shops and people, and I enjoyed tremendously to observe the many visitors to the shopping street as well as the many salesmen attempting to get their attention.
Enjoying cakes on a stick in Ginza
It had been a long day, but I’d promised Hiroshi that I’d meet up with him and his friends for a beer out in Ginza. We started out with eating Chinese at local joint before heading off for an after work beer at a small Japanese bar. The place was crammed with Japanese business men in black trousers and white shirts standing around drinking beer.
Apart from beer, the bar offered several snacks, and when my friends translated one of them into German cake, I had to know what that was. And it was weird. The German cake came on a stick, and was in no way particularly German. We also had the fortune of getting a blue ice cream which came in a glass of alcohol.
I really love how the Japanese reconstruct everything and makes it so decidedly over the top Japanese.
We went home as the business men started drifting off.
After nearly three weeks of sightseeing and so many impressions, I decided on a slow day. My boyfriend was off on his own discovering other parts of Tokyo, but I needed a quiet day without too much walking.
Already from before we left for Japan, I knew I wanted to explore the hipster fashionable neighbourhood Shimokitazawa.
It was a pleasant and relaxing couple of hours with no purpose but to soak up the atmosphere.
Returning to the centre I met up with my boyfriend for an intensive round of kimono shopping at Oriental Bazaar in Harajuku. We ended up loaded with cotton kimonos as well as other last minute souvenirs.
I have never and will probably never taste sushi as fresh as that at the small sushi joint we found near Tsukiji Market. These places are known to serve only the latest caught fish from the market next door, and oh my goodness can you taste it.
Before going to Japan, we booked a guided tour of Tokyo Imperial Palace, which is only open to the public through specific guided tours, and on Wednesday morning I was pretty much bursting in the seams from the fact that our sheet of information clearly stated that the doors would be closed for late arrivals. We were definitely late!
Yet, we managed somehow to sneak in with the rest of the group as we were given a short introduction to begin with. This was followed by a 1,5 hours walk around the grounds with a Japanese guide and each our audio guide as companions. It was an odd setup and would have been more engaging if there had been an option for an English guide and if the blasted sun had taken a time off behind a cloud or two. But thenit wouldn’t have been Japan.
The Imperial Palace is the primary residence of the Japanese Emperor, which I found pretty cool since – well – he’s an emperor.
The large park and current palace lies on the site of the old Edo Castle which was built in 1457 and later destroyed through rebuilding, earthquakes and fires. A new palace saw the light of day throughout the Meiji era and later a new palace was built to house the imperial family as they moved to Tokyo.
But with the air-raid bombing of Tokyo on May 25 1945 most of the wooden palace was lost.
The current residence of the imperial palace thus is built post-World War II and in comparison to what we have seen in Japan so far not the most impressive of buildings.
Fresh sushi at Tsukiji Market
I know that one of the ultimate Tokyo experiences is to get up before the break of dawn and see a fish auction at Tsukiji market and we had planned to do so at some point during our trip.
But with the small chance of even getting in and the fact that we had no idea of how to get from Shibuya to Tsukiji market in the middle of the night had us skip that part of our trip and instead visit the place in the hours of normal human beings.
We arrived past noon and in hindsight we should probably have made it there earlier as most of the market was closing down, but it was still an amazing experience to walk the halls of this place.
After a walk through the imperial gardens followed by a walk around Tsukiji Market, we were both ready for lunch. And what better place to have lunch than at one of the amazing sushi joint near the market.
I have never and will probably never taste sushi as fresh as that at the small sushi joint we found. These places are known to serve only the latest caught fish from the market next door, and oh my goodness can you taste it.
The Sumida River
After the most amazing lunch we slowly made our way towards Hamarikyu Gardens from where we took the boat sailing up the River Sumida and all the way to Asakusa Station.
It was a hot, but pleasant trip and somehow I kept thinking about how many times I’ve seen Groups of Japanese on a canal cruise in Copenhagen. Today, they would be staring at me.
Arriving in Asakusa, I’d planned a trip around the area, which began with a visit to the Sensō-ji temple and Nakamise Street. Sensō-ji is Tokyo’s eldest temple dating back to 645. It was, however, bombed during WW2 and rebuilt in the post-war period. Nonetheless it is impressive and a landmark for Tokyo.
Reaching Sensō-ji one has to pass Nakamise Street, which could be the explanation for this wonderful street being filled with handcrafts and local goods. It is a rare place for authentic souvenirs in Tokyo.
I would have loved to have more time in Nakamise Street, but so it is with all of Tokyo. It seems impossible to take it all in with the limited time we’ve planned. And I had somewhere else I wanted to explore.
Kappabashi-dori or Kitchen Town as it is known is a street in Asakusa, which caters to the restaurants and chefs of Tokyo and abroad. This is where you will find all the best in kitchenware – be it pots and pans, Japanese knives or pottery. One thing which almost all Japanese restaurants have and which they also shop for at Kappabashi-dori are plastic representations of food.
Anything from sushi and ramen to fruits and drinks is sold in plastic form in Kitchen Town and all of it capable of fooling you into believing it is real food. They call it sampuru and it is the Japanese version of a menu card.
If I didn’t know better I would have eaten it, if it was on my plate.
While the servers might have been slightly stressed when we changed tables, I think they forgave us the chaos as they saw our awe of the view.
North of Shibuya lies Shinjuku a business and administrative centre of Tokyo. As with so much of Tokyo, Shinjuku should be seen at night. However, in such a big city one needs to prioritise. We therefore ventured into the streets of Shinjuku in the daylight hours.
We started on the western side of Shinjuku Station walking up the main street, which offered several massive shopping opportunities, including a Muji Store with a canteen in the basement. It am starting to get the feeling that Tokyo is all about shopping till you drop. Though not as luxurious as Ginza, Shinjuku is definitely a wonderful place to spend a few hours and a credit card.
But Shinjuku is also known for another type of shopping. This is where you find the infamous red light district Kabukicho. We only saw it in daytime, before the neon lights turned the kinky ladies clubs into colourful beacons.
But what caught my fascination – in the anthropological sense – were the many clubs for women. Unlike red light districts in Europe, Kabukicho seems to cater to both men and women. Massive billboards showing charming and boyish looking gentlemen decorated the streets. This is where the restrained women of Japan go to enjoy a few hours of freedom from an otherwise very male dominated society.
Kabukicho however is also known for a real size Godzilla, which rises above the buildings. In fact, it is merely a head, but it looks real, the way it peaks above a large building.
I love this part about Japan. They are not afraid to add massive figures in the cityscape. Not only are the commercials central in many of the commercial centres both in Osaka and here, but their inclusion of massive crabs, blowfish, dragons and now Godzilla breaks up the store fronts.
The rectangular and boring high-rises become playground to disruptive commercials for eateries or cinemas, which again become iconic for the cityscape.
Lunch on the 6th floor
After hours of walking through Shinjuku, I was more than ready to find a place for lunch. After crossing the tracks, we came upon what will be one of the best lunch experiences of our trip.
We try to keep a reasonable budget, but when we crossed paths with a 6th floor restaurant called Yakiniku-Tei Rokkasen and offering a 1.5 hours grill buffet and a view over Shinjuku, we just had to try it out. It might be one of our most expensive restaurant visits in Tokyo, but in all fairness that is only because I am comparing it to the cheap sushi eateries in Shibuya.
And we did not regret spending our money on these 1.5 hours of delicious heaven. First we were seated in a cubicle with no window view, but it didn’t take long for me to wiggle us into a booth with a view.
While the servers might have been slightly stressed when we changed tables, I think they forgave us the chaos as they saw our awe of the view. We spent our time both eating and taking pictures from our seats.
The food was absolutely amazing. If there is one thing the Japanese know how to do it is greasy meat. They are in no way afraid of the fat, which at the same time is not a thick layer on the one side of the meat, but intricately woven into the meat served. It brings out a mouthwatering juiciness, which is hard to compare.
Buffets in Japan are limited to the extend that you have to pay for any dish you have not eaten, making it less likely for people to order too much. A very good way to stop food waste – except when you get the brilliant idea to check out the pig feet. We had to hide them under napkins and other items because we simply couldn’t eat them. Being from Denmark I am pretty used to eating various parts of the pig, but I swear to never order pig feet again in my life.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
After finishing our lunch – apart from the hidden away pig feet – we ventured into the business and administrative part of Shinjuku and towards the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which offers a free view of the city from its 202 meters high observation deck on the 45th floor.
Yesterday in the Marunouchi Building, we had seen Tokyo by night. This afternoon, we got to see the city under a light cloud cover as it spread before us from Shinjuku.
It is always a thrill to stand so high and look down upon such a massive cosmopolitan city, which from high above seems to be one single human made organism. The clouds which in the horizon seemed heavy with rain gave it all a dramatic effect.
After a short walk around the not so attractive business and administrative part of Shinjuku, we returned to Shinjuku Station. As the worlds busiest train station this is a place where you can get easily lost.
We almost got separated when on our way through a tunnel in the station, I came past a small stand, where you could have your glasses cleaned by placing them in a tub of water and the wait 60 seconds while they were shaken clean of dirt.
My glasses have never been this clean before, but the 60 seconds it took were enough to loose sight of my boyfriend – even with newly cleaned glasses. Thankfully he’d waited further up the tunnel, or I might still be running around this massive station searching for him.
Harajuku and Meiji Jingu Shrine
It was already getting late as we reached Haranjuku Station, but with a slight addiction to temples and shrines from our stay in Kyoto, we decided to check out the Meiji Jungu Shrine.
Unlike the many shrines and temples we’ve seen so far Meiji Jingu is a modern shrine dating back to 1920 when it was built in commemoration of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.
Emperor Meiji has also given name to the Meiji Restoration, which brought about feudal Japan and the samurai class in favour of a modern state. Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of this new Japan. He came to power in 1867 at the very peak of the restoration.
The Shrine is placed in a small forest in the middle of Tokyo, which by itself is surprising to see. It takes ten minutes walk to reach the Shrine from the busy hustle and bustle of Harajuku.
On the way to the Shrine we passed a stack of wine barrels from Bourgogne which has been consecrated at the Shrine to the spirit of world peace and amity. Well what is better than wine to assure amity and peace. The information spoke of the Meiji period as one of enlightenment and the emperor as having integrated Western influences through culture and food to Japan.
By gaining the good and rejecting what is wrong,
It is our desire that we’ll compare favourably
With other lands abroad
Poem by Emperor Meiji
Returning to the bustling life of Tokyo, we ventured down Takeshita Dori in Harajuku. This is the beating heart of Japanese teenage culture. Here you find every other person wearing a maid costume or cosplay outfit and most shops selling items, which seem as if My Little Pony threw up a rainbow.
It is all so over the top cute that I can’t shake the feeling that it is a sign of a society where women are still objectified to the extreme.
Whether this is the younger generations attempt to rid themselves of the strict social norms of earlier Japanese generations or if they simply redo them in a sexist way, I cannot tell, but to me there is a certain sourness to the cuteness.
Nonetheless or maybe because of this, Harajuku is an interesting place to visit.
But my feet were starting to hurt and after a short stop in KiddyLand, we walked slowly towards Shibuya to enjoy the crowded streets and commercials one more time.
Japanese city maps which are placed around to help guide tourists and visitors rarely point north. Their top will always be the direction in which you stand when looking on the map.
We arrived in Tokyo yesterday and since it is Sunday, I’d planned for us to visit the Shinagawa Intercity Flea Market near Shinagawa Station before exploring the famous shopping district Ginza. Ginza is particularly interesting on Sundays when the main street is closed off for traffic.
Shinagawa Intercity Flea Market
I have terrible trouble with reading Japanese maps, because they defy some of the fundamentals of what I know from home. On a European map the top will always point North and any city map you find will no matter where it is placed show North at the top. The same way we see a Europe or world map with the northern hemisphere on top.
But Japanese city maps which are placed around to help guide tourists and visitors rarely point north. Their top will always be the direction in which you stand when looking on the map. For some reason it makes sense, and it reminds me of that scene on Friends when Joe and Chandler are sightseeing in London and Joey places the map on the street and steps on it for a chance of an overview. Joey would feel right at home in Japan.
I however am lost. It doesn’t help much that everything is written in kanji signs.
Thus, finding our way from the Shinagawa train station to the flea market proved a challenge. It didn’t help any that the flea market took place inside a nondescript modern building.
To top it off, when we arrived we soon realised that my boyfriend had forgotten his credit card and we were running low on cash. We spent the next 45 minutes attempting to find a way into the glass room where the building’s ATM was placed. Sundays really are a bitch when on holiday. In addition, my boyfriend had to make his way home to Shibuya to assure that it was in fact forgotten and not stolen.
I ended up only scarcely looking through the items at the flea market with nothing catching my attention before we were meeting up again in Ginza.
Ginza however caught my attention and interest. Ginza is a shoppers paradise. One of the most prestigious and well known shopping districts in the world.
Here you’ll find flagship stores for most of Japan’s international brands like Sony and Uniqlo as well as foreign designers from H&M to Gucci and Vuitton.
But what truly caught me here was that on Sundays, the main shopping streets in Ginza become car free and open up to shoppers drinking a coffee at a café in the middle of the grand Tokyo boulevards.
It seems as if the area with its beautiful high-rises gets a chance to breath and show off its very best with the open space.
This is the perfect place for commercial events and advertisement and we ran into a large group of kimono clad women posting for some commercial photography shooting. They seemed quite content also posting for everyone else.
Ginza on Sundays is definitely one of my favourite shopping experiences except that we didn’t buy anything. But how on earth would I have the space for more shopping.
It was simply the fresh feeling of space on the open road which made me fall in love with this area.
Our final stop in Ginza was Hibiya Chanter Square, which we spent quite a bit of time in search of. We wanted to see the iconic Godzilla at Hibiya Chanter Square.
I trust that this is how people feel when they find The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen and realise that it is not the size of the Statue of Liberty, but merely human-sized. This iconic Godzilla is a small statue, which seems easy to miss entirely. But it is there, and we saw it, documented it with a picture and went on our way.
From Ginza we moved on to the Marunouchi business district with a plan to visit the Marunochi Building from where we had read that the view of Tokyo should be pretty good. Evening was coming around and the streets of Marunouchi were dead quiet with the massive buildings all around standing as guards for the coming night.
When we finally found Marunochi Building it was dark, but this only made the view from the top so much more magical. Watching the lights of Tokyo spreading out below us was absolutely amazing, and best of all it was free.
Tokyo Ramen Street at Tokyo Station
Marunouchi begins at Tokyo Station and after a long first day in Tokyo, we only had one stop left before returning to Shibuya and our pleasant little studio apartment.
Tokyo Station is famous for its Ramen Street, which offers eight of the best ramen shops in Tokyo. The eight restaurants are found at the Yaesu Underground Exit of Tokyo Station.
We had some trouble finding the place, but once we arrived we were in no doubt that we had found it. Long lines in front of all the restaurants spoke to the popularity of this place.
However, ramen shops have a marvellous system of paying in a machine before getting a seat, and so the serving went fast, and it was not long before we got a table in one of the shops alongside a refreshing bowl of ramen.