Friday, November 28, 2008

Subway Runner

After spending the day hunting for electronics.  We decided to head out to the Shinjuku area and experience the multi-level malls that can be found in the famous Shinjuku subway station.  The underground malls are definitely something to been seen.  Underground level after level of the best shopping and food courts beyond anything you see anywhere else in the world.  
Background: Japan has the second largest economy in the world - think for a second, a nation tiny compared to the United States and is only second in GDP (Gross Domestic Product).  More than any European country, making Japan much more modern and advanced than anywhere else in the world due to its density.  The most populated city in the US is New York with a mere 8 million people. Compare that to the 19 million people living in Tokyo and nearly 30 million including the outlining areas.  Plus New York is much more spread out in area than Tokyo - crazy!  Now do you see how awe-inspiring to think how clean this city is with that many people. Another bit of interesting information is how safe and nice the people are here.  You can seriously leave your bag on a table in a busy mall, go back and your bag will still be there - a testament to the kind-nature of the people as a whole, but we'll talk about that later.  
Now back to Shinjuku station.  It actually is a blessing in disguise that our packs are so heavy and the mere thought of buying even a t-shirt puts us off from buying anything.  So the only thing really to buy is food - fine by us.  We headed out looking for conveyor belt sushi.
We found a small, but busy revolving sushi place just up the street from the station and quickly planted ourselves down and starting pulling plates of the rotating belt.
Mike was immediately happy.
We quickly spotted a couple of our favorites and immediately realized we are in the homeland of sushi. Fresh, not a fishy smell or taste anywhere, Texture that melts - ex that - disintegrates the minute it touches your tongue.
But the one item that made the hair literally stand up on the back of our necks was the ikura (salmon roe).  Ikura is specially marinated to bring out the delicate texture and flavor.  And this Ikura was by far the best we have ever had - so delicious we wanted to eat each roe individually to savor the taste as it literally melted upon impact to our tongues.
We were literally on a food high as we meandered our way back to the Shinjuku subway station, suddenly realizing it was almost midnight and the subways were about to stop running. We knew we should get going when we could hear the clapping of stiletto heals against the concrete and tile floors of the station (more on shoe fashion later ladies).  
We thought we knew exactly where we were heading when suddenly the platforms were all wrong and we got turned around, really turned around. We asked a station conductor and he said the last subway to Jimbocho station was in 22 minutes but we were on the wrong level. Wrong level? What? You see you have to pay to get into the platform area and out, so we quickly swapped out our tickets and got another.  Then realized again we were on the wrong platform and had to swap out our tickets again and head to yet another floor.  Then station area we were in was wrong and we needed to be on the other side of the station. All this while still trying to read the subway ticket machine and make sure we got the right ticket so you don't pay more than you need to when you exit the station. 
Shinjuku station is the busiest/largest station in Tokyo, serving an average of 3.5 million people a day and it is just one station.  As each conductor told us we were on the wrong floor or wrong platform the clock was ticking away and soon we found ourselves running through a catacomb of confusing underground walkways dotted with shops and malls.  As we later read in Lonely Planet "Getting from A to B within the station can be a kin to negotiating the levels of a chaotic video game you've never played before".
If it weren't for our new kicks we surely would have missed the last train and a taxi ride home would have cost anywhere from $50 to $75 a huge chunk out of our dining budget - no way!  So thank you subway runners - we were sweating, but we made it.
One of the thoughts that kept us from not missing the last train was the window bar we had set up in the room  - a nice celebratory cocktail was all we were looking forward to after that crazy labyrinth.  

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