By the time I was preparing to leave The Mulia Jakarta, I had fairly well succumbed to the mother of all colds that had been doing the rounds at work before I left. I suspect it was instigated by our Indian based Vendor (let’s call them “Fickle” ..which seems appropriate on a number of levels that i won’t go into right now) that had been struggling to meet its project milestones. I coined it “Operation Goo-hand”. This well thought through operation involved removing my desk companion, Guhan, for a few days under the guise of a few days “leave”. During which time Guhan was taken back to the Fickle laboratories and pumped full of specially developed, highly contagious Fickle viruses. Or Viracles as they’re more commonly known within the Fickle corporation. (Side note.. If only they applied the same level of resources and cunningness to develop a basic project plan.. But hey, whadda I know) On Guhan’s return to work he proceeded to cough, spit and splutter all over me as per their plan to take out the PM (me), causing mass chaos and confusion and ultimately distracting everyone from the fact that they weren’t doing anything resembling anything.
Unfortunately for them this plan failed on at least 2 fronts. One, I was about to go on leave and had already been replaced (given, how could they possibly have known) and B, I don’t actually do anything. Anyway, long story short (I know, not possible at this point) I was as sick as a dog and on my way to Tokyo ..Economy class.
Actually, economy turned out to be almost bearable as I was able to lie down across 3 seats. Bearable for me that is, possibly not for the 3 people I was lying across. They complained to the stewardess for awhile but I just flashed my singapore airlines PPS card and she told them “yeah, he can do that”. So, coupled with some Demazin and a sleeping tablet the flight flew by.
Tokyo greeted me with a chill wind, but a warm smile from the arrival assistance chick. We connected instantly. She helped me purchase a bus ticket and escorted me out to the bus terminal. I told her she didn’t need to go to all that trouble but she seemed to be pretty keen to make sure I got on the bus for some reason.
The Tokyo Shangri-la was everthing I hoped it would be. ie. a Shangri-la hotel. It was still only 7am when I got there so settled in for some breakfast in the horizon lounge on the 37th floor. Quite a spread. Not quite up to the HK shangri-la michellin star horizon lounge breakfast, but nevertheless, good. Tea was sufficiently hot and strong. They had read the file. (take note Mulia). After a leisurely breakfast was shown to my room. The rainshower shower head was so large I had trouble telling where it stopped and the actual rain outside the window started. As it turns out I may as well have stayed in the shower as the rain didn’t stop all day. Regardless, I walked down to Ginza, and strolled around in the rain for a few hours. (I hear the that’s the best thing for a cold). I found coffee shop #1 on my list.. L’Ambre. A traditionl japanese coffee shop (kissaten) that’s been around since 1948 and run by a man who’s approaching 100 not out. Was like stepping back in time. Some of the beans they serve are over 30 years old. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I sat at the “bar”. ..just me and 2 chain smoking old japanese dudes watching the guy painstakingly make this drip coffee by hand. A little bitter for mine, but the experience alone was worth the tumour that’s undoubtedly now growing on my lungs. Walked around Ginza in the rain some more before heading back to the hotel for the free cocktails and snacks.
Day 2.. Woke up late due to the cocktail of cold and flu drugs I was taking. Raised the curtain and although it was only 7:30am it looked like the sun was already at it’s highest point. At least the rain had stopped and the sun was shining (I would discover the next day when I couldn’t sleep that the sun seems to rise here before 5am. Is that why it’s called the land of the rising sun ? So they can get a head start on the rest of the world ? ..if someone could research that for me that would be great) Headed down to breakfast where I was greeted by my personal horizon club concierge. She was amazing. I’m pretty sure we already had an undeniable connection. ..or she was really good at her job. I’m going with the former if only for my own confidence at this point. The day before I had told her about by coffee quest and she had gone to the trouble of printing out maps and train schedules to all of the places I wanted to visit. ..see what I mean? Amazing. Tokyo station was right next door and via a sequence of hand signals and make-shift sketches on a bit of paper I managed to somehow purchase Suica card (pre-paid train ticket). Hopped on the JR East line to Shibuya and then changed to another line to get to coffee shop #2, Bear Pond Espresso in Shima Kitazawa. This was my favourite coffee place on the trip. Amazing coffee and in a great area.. Lot’s of cool shops amongst very narrow streets.. More like laneways. Had a little trouble finding this one. I had actually walked way past it before stopping a tiny pregnant lady for directions. And when I say lady, she looked about 16. Barely spoke a word of english but I showed her my map and she got out her iphone to look it up. I had gone way past it and she pointed me back in the right direction. Turns out she was heading to the donut shop directly across the road from Bear Pond as we bumped into each other there a few minutes later. She proceeded to order about 20 donuts. I pointed to all the donuts, then to her huge belly and gave the universal look for “well, that explains it !” ..we had a good chuckle as she tried to explain that she had guests coming over. I said, sure you do. And gave her a wink. Inappropriate connection, made. She waddled off and I headed back across the lane to BP to have some coffee with my cinnamon soy donuts. (suprisingly good btw) As I mentioned, great coffee.. Had a couple. Shop is a one man show.. And he only opens b/w 10am and 2pm. If you’re ever in Tokes you have to come to this place, and check out the rest of the cool shops in the area.
Back on the train and off to Harajuku station. And then a walk up past luxury shops of Omotesando Hills. Coffee shop # 3 was Omotesando Koffee. Another one man operation in the narrow back streets behind Omoesando Hills. Again, blink and you’d miss it as it was basically a house with a small gate leading to a very small japanese garden courtyard off a tiny cube like structure where this little man greeted you. I found myself ducking a lot in this town.. But on this occasion I forget and almost knocked myself out on an especially low hanging beam. Gave the 2 girls sitting in the courtyard a laugh. One of them then pointed to a small green stone frog sitting in the garden. I said, sure you can spot that tiny hidden frog, but you can’t warn me about the frickin’ beam ? More giggles. ..mute girls connection, check.
The last coffee stop for the day was about a 10 minute walk north of Omotesando. Good opportunity to see a normal, albeit I assume quite expensive neighbourhood of houses along more narrow streets. Really like the vibe here as well. Arrived at Be A Good Neigbor. Another tiny but quaint coffee stand. I thought one of his good neighbours might actually tell him he can’t spell. ..but when in Rome, just go with it. Coffee here was a little too bitter for me but still very drinkable. Grabbed a bite to eat at the restaurant across the road and then headed back to Harajuku station and back to hotel for free drinks. ..that’s an important part of the Tokyo experience.
Day 3 (last day).. There was one more coffee shop I wanted to check out so it was back on the train to Harajuku station. Yoyogi park is right next to Harajuku so had a wander around the garden. There is a pretty amazing temple there with people washing hands, thowing coins and wishing and shit. Now back to the coffee.. was on the other side of the park in a quiet little street next to the train line. I really liked the vibe of this place as well. And coffee was excellent. Walked back through the memorial garden section of Yoyogi park where all the Cosplay chicks usually hang out but no action on this day.. More of a weekend thing I guess. Still, a very impressive park. Must look amazing in autumn when all the maples are changing.
Had to get back to the hotel to check out early afternoon. Once done, I had afternoon tea in the lounge before thinking I should probably check out the imperial palace gardens right next to the hotel. So despite the fact that there was no imperial coffee shop, I wandered over for a look. Turns out it was closing in 30 minutes so didn’t really get to see much of the gardens.. Just walked in the East entrance and out the North Entrance. I then thought it might be a nice stroll around the outside of the gardens back to the hotel. Turns out it’s a pretty big garden. About an hour and a half later I stumbled back into the hotel. ..for free drinks. The dude concierge tried to tell me I couldn’t have a free drink b/c I had already checked out. Luckily my future wife concierge set him straight and explained who I was. A bit later I was back on the bus and it was all over.
I had always heard that Japan was a weird and crazy place. And it may have been the pseudoephedrine induced haze I was in most of the time, but I actually thought it was all incredibly normal and nice. I actually felt quite at home. ..and I guess that may be saying something as well ! Will definitely have to go back some day and maybe even explore some of the non coffee related culture. You know, more temples and shit.
If you would like to see a comprehensive and sensible documentation of what it’s like to live, work and dine in japan then visit Expat Gourmand.