After a morning rich with blossoms and feeding of little chirping birds, surely a more staid and grown-up afternoon should follow? Sadly (actually not that sadly), what should we discover but a cat cafe?!
We had not been looking for a cat cafe. In fact we had hopped on the train bound determinedly for Harajuku, but then at one stop so many people got off the tube that we simply followed them, and ended up in a rather unpromising looking bit of Tokyo that we had never heard of. It is said that curiosity killed the cat, and I must admit it didn't appear to have done is any favours. After a short mooch around the local area, we were just about to conclude "nothing to see here" when we saw a sign declaring "neko cafe" (cat cafe). How exciting.
We paid our money, which gets you an hour in the cafe with access to tea, coffee and cold drinks, got our lanyards, and headed up to the 5th floor. (If in doubt in Tokyo, look up; almost everything good is above ground level).
The cat room itself was basically a padded, rather warm living room with cat shelves and hidey holes galore and of course, cats. The cats were gorgeous fluffy or sleek beauties, and mostly very playful. Personally, my favourite thing about them was their names. According to signage on the walls in katakana (which i can just about read, small boast), the cats' names were Dean, Gary, Mark and Victoria!! Brilliant! I suppose it's no crazier than naming your hamster after a minor character in a 20-year-old TV series...
We spent our cosy hour in the fuzzy surroundings of the cat cafe, and then headed back to the station in search of new delights. We made it to Harajuku and enjoyed an hour or two pottering through the brightly coloured streets and passed the brightly attired people. We looked in shops selling only frilly socks, saw some inspired misinterpretations of English slogans, nearly bought a pair of shoes with bunny ears and a fluffy pompom tail, and visited one of Tokyo's many Disney stores, which, unlike UK disney stores, are mainly targeted at young adults, not children.
After our adventures in Harajuku, it was time to head back to the hotel. We stayed there just long enough for me to put on my blossomiest dress for the evening and left again in search of dinner.
Fortunately for me and my somewhatless adventurous palate, Logan had made the effort to learn lots of food Kanji and was therefore able to direct us to a yakiniku, or Japanese BBQ restaurant. While we waited for a table to become available, we had a brief stroll in the park, which was just as beautiful by night. The park in Ueno is really rather special, as it is reached by going up three storeys on one side. You feel like you have gone on to a rooftop and found a whole city park there, a sort of enormous, wonderful secret garden. Of course it slopes down in all directions to be at ground level on every other approach, but i rather liked discovering it at the top of three flights of stairs.
Anyway, back to dinner and our delicious, elegantly presented (as always in Japan) selectiond of beef and vegetables. The menu is not much more than a list of different cuts of meats, with odd marinade option or side salad. Whatever you choose is brought to you raw for you to cook however you like it on a little gas grill set into the middle of the table. Everything we had was absolutely delicious.
It's difficult for me to say exactly what is so great about eating in Japan but it is rapidly becoming one of my favourite adventures. The service everywhere in Japan is just perfect. It has more warmth than the stereotypical English etiquette and yet none of the forced overfamiliarity of American customer service. You very much get the feeling that it would absolutely make their day if you could just have the best time possible and find the food exactly to your liking.
Aside from this, so many of the dining customs are really helpful. For example you are given a small basket for your belongings so you can keep them near you without constantly kicking them under the table. And you are given a warm towel as soon as you sit down so you can clean all the shopping bag grime off your hands before you eat! Add to this the fact that many of the nicer places separate all their tables into screened, private booths, and you can easily start to feel like you are receiving VIP treatment for a very reasonable budget.
I'm sure I'll sing the praises of Japanese restaurants in this blog again before long, but for now suffice it say we had a really tasty dinner and went to bed very happy after our lovely Saturday in Tokyo.