Sometimes it seems to me like every single place I’ve been to in Japan offers exactly the same type of paper serviette – and it’s basically a plastic sheet that doesn’t absorb a thing. Always the same size, always folded the same way. Is it at all possible that there’s a single company which makes serviettes in Japan that’s somehow cornered the market? It makes me rather grateful for those places which also give me a moist towelette, whether disposable or reusable.
Well, in any case, I started with breakfast. First breakfast at the new hotel.
Then it was time to head out-… well, actually, I discovered I’d forgotten to charge my flat camera battery from yesterday. See, today’s planned activity was the Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries – if you recall, I last did this during my visit in December 2017, and enjoyed it greatly, so I wanted to do it again. (I’d actually intended to name this post after the event, except I’ve already got a post named “The Underground Mysteries”.) Anyway, point is, I expected it to be a long day – one of my regrets in 2017 was that I started so late (just before noon, actually, from the time on my photos) that I finished after sunset (or shortly after 7pm), so I wanted to get started early this time… but I also expected I’d need all three camera batteries, sooo… I decided to delay my departure by about an hour or so, and get it as charged as I could.
So, an hour or so later, I headed out. As a recap, the Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries, branded as a “Real Escape Game”, run in partnership by SCRAP and the Tokyo Metro railway company, is a puzzle-solving game that involves players riding the Tokyo Metro from station to station solving puzzles. For 2400 yen, you receive a pack including a booklet with the puzzles in them, a pegcil (=combination peg and pencil), a bunch of different extra bits for use in puzzle solutions, a plastic wallet to carry everything in, and a 24-hour Metro ticket. It’s run each year from October to January, and this year is the sixth edition – though, for some reason, this year it’s actually from October 15th to February 15th; not sure why the delay. This year for the first time, it’s also available in Chinese.
To give an example of how the puzzles generally work, the puzzle book will have some kind of diagram or image which represents an item of public artwork that exists somewhere near a Metro station – the solution involves actually going to that artwork, and matching elements of the artwork to elements in the book.
Today’s the only day I’m spending in Tokyo which is not a weekend, so I decided I had to do it today, even though I expected I’d have to contend with the “TGIF” crowd coming out of work around the time I was finishing. Since it’s only been running a couple of weeks at this point, I actually paid for my pack in advance, to be picked up at Tokyo Station (the Metro station, that is), and fortunately it (or rather, the JR station) is one train from my hotel. Well, so’s Ueno Station, where I’d been originally intending to start.
Downside of booking ahead, though, is that I was locked in to do it today regardless of the weather. And, thanks to Bualoi scraping past the coastline today, as I’ve mentioned before, it was forecast to bucket down all day long. Until about sunset. But I guess, considering my other options for Tokyo, I probably would have gone ahead with the Underground Mysteries anyway.
So, I arrived at Tokyo Station, found my way to the Metro Station (fortunately without having to pass through the rain – though it certainly made a serious attempt to come into the train carriage en route), and picked up my puzzle pack, just over an hour earlier than my start last time. I asked the woman giving out the packs if there was any danger of the trains being suspended today, and she quite emphatically said no, which was a relief.
And I headed off… which means that now is the point at which I stop describing my actions in great detail, for fear of spoilers. The puzzles change each year, but it’s always the same puzzles for everyone within a single year, and we’ve barely started the game period, sooo…
For a few highlights, though, I was astonished to discover that this is a Buddhist temple. Very different to every other temple I’ve seen in Japan – though apparently it’s heavily influenced by temple architecture from India.
At one point, my energy levels were starting to flag a bit, so I ate half the Calorie Mate that I’d bought for my hike in Oku-Nikko but never ate. Then at the next station, I came across an entire food court inside the station’s ticket gates – I can’t even imagine the logistics of getting all the food supplies into the restaurants through the ticket gates – so I stopped at a place specialising in curry for lunch. I had hayashi rice (hashed beef with rice). Yum.
I must say, though, despite all the train rides being underground, I’d quite forgotten how much above-ground wandering around was involved. Which is fair – one of the major reasons for the game is to demonstrate to people how much there is to see in Tokyo by riding on the Metro trains, and you can’t see all of that from inside the station. One thing that frustrated me a little bit was how often the book would direct you to leave the station via a specific exit, turn left, walk down the street, cross at the lights, fashion a hang glider from coconuts and chewing gum, trade the banana to the monkey for a can of corn, then turn right, and the puzzle you need to solve is in front of you… except as you do that final right turn, there’s another exit from the same station sitting right there. Might have been more entertaining if there wasn’t rain. And increasing levels of wind.
One plus point, though: when you solve a puzzle, which tells you the name of the next station, the puzzle book explicitly confirms that you were correct – and then there’s a couple of pages of the sights you can find around that station, before it gives you the next puzzle. 2017’s book did not, which had me heading off to Shinjuku when I misunderstood a clue. Downside, last time I ran into piles of other people doing the puzzle, and occasionally we’d work together, and the camaraderie was very nice. This time, I only saw a few other people, and the ones that I did see tended to ignore me, not even returning my greetings, which was a bit sad. I guess the rain kept people away, perhaps.
And then… I was finished. At 3pm. A full four hours earlier than last time. I enjoyed myself a great deal, but I actually felt a little bit let down at how little time it had taken me, compared to last time. I mean, I guess last time I also saw a lot of side attractions, like the Bunko Ward Office tower, and spent a while heading in the wrong direction. Also, I distinctly remember crossing from one side of the city to the other so many times that my head was starting to get turned around, but this year, I rarely rode more than a few stops on any one train before changing trains or going outside. Also, thanks to the rain, whenever I did go outside, I tended to scrunch down and walk at full speed (and even then, my shoes and trousers got soaked and dried out more than few times) rather than strolling gently.
Well, to be completely accurate, I still had one final puzzle to solve, but the book said I could solve it anywhere – I could even do it at home. I found myself in Ginza, so I decided to stop for afternoon tea at a place nearby named Tsubaki Salon Ginza, which specialises in those thick, fluffy Japanese-style soufflé pancakes, using ingredients from Hokkaido – as a reward for doing well in an optional puzzle, I’d been given a coupon for a free drink with any pancake order, otherwise I wouldn’t have thought to visit this place.
Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought to visit this place even if I’d been wandering down the street specifically looking for any place that sells pancakes, because after following the Google Maps directions to the place’s doorstep, I still couldn’t spot it. The salon was on the third floor of a building, and though the building had the usual column of signage outside saying what was on each floor, the sign for this place was just “Tsubaki” in kanji, and in a fairly archaic kanji style. “Tsubaki” means “camellia”, incidentally. This is the building in question:
(Side note: This optional puzzle involved watching the display screens for safety messages and such, and working out which word in the message was missing in the book… except thanks to all the notifications about line closures and stoppages mostly holding over from Hagibis, some of the safety messages never came up, so I had to guess.)
But in any case, once I’d found the place, it was really very pretty inside. There was a big stone (or stone-looking) table in the middle, which had a hole carved in one side that exactly fit a grand piano, and tables around the windows and walls (and mirrors at each end of the windows which took me half my visit to realise were mirrors and not more tables). I had pancakes with chocolate sauce, with sides of a choco-banana in fruit salad and yoghurt, and Hokkaido-milk gelato with cream. And a warm mug of Hokkaido milk to drink. (The other options on the menu seemed to be savoury, including one which was pancakes with bolognaise sauce.) Most tasty. And I was right back in Kawagoe when I said the choco-banana needed to be cold – with a crisp chocolate shell, it was quite scrumptious. The very artistic cutlery looked concerningly like gardening utensils. Though, until a married couple walked in towards the end of my visit, I was the only man in the entire place.
By the time I’d finished there and left, the rain had stopped. Oh, it tried to start again once or twice, but otherwise it was so refreshing to breathe the free air again, unrestrained by the umbrella. I walked a few blocks to the south to visit something on my To Do list: the Hakuhinkan Toy Park, a massive toy shop with all sorts of toys and games to look at – and even try out. Actually, I’d already visited their branch store at Haneda Airport in 2017 without realising it – its the shop with the big toy car racetrack – and they had an even bigger racetrack here. I admit I didn’t stay there too long, and didn’t buy anything – though, I did get something from a gachapon machine featuring Koupenchan, and managed to get the one toy in the machine that’s not a penguin. Pondered having another go, but I decided not to. I was amused to see one thing there was a book promising a way to save 100,000 yen… which turned out to be made from thick cardboard pages with enough slots to hold exactly two hundred 500-yen coins.
Once I emerged from there, it was night, and not at all raining, and… even though I still had a ticket in my pocket that’d let me ride anywhere in Tokyo for free, I didn’t really have any specific places in mind that I felt like visiting. Well, I mean, there was still the general feeling of “I’m in Japan! I want to visit ALL THE THINGS!” but even I’d admit that’s slightly pushing the definition of “specific”. My only thought was to visit Roppongi Station, the the station with the deepest platforms in Tokyo, but the actual deepest platforms are on the Toei-company line. So since I was just outside Shinbashi Station at this point, and the Keihin-Tohoku Line stops there, I decided to just head back to Kamata for dinner. And I just now realised that the big ol’ steam train sitting in a square which I’d spotted from the Keihin-Tohoku train a few times is actually right on the west side of Shinbashi Station. Bah. (Fun fact: It’s actually possible to walk from the Ginza Metro station all the way back to Tokyo Station completely underground, a distance of about two kilometres. Since you can take the train in much less time, most people don’t do that. Meanwhile, I had to make some same-station transfers today by going aboveground. Hah.)
Back at Kamata, I went for a wander through the shopping streets on the west side of the station (after first being tempted by a bread shop selling a “chocolate baton” with a literal block of chocolate running down the middle), eventually deciding to eat at a place specialising in ten-don. And that’s not tendon, the things that hold your muscles on your bones – it’s ten-don, tempura-don. Tempura on rice, is what I’m saying. I had their “all-star ten-don”, which includes one each of tempura’d prawn, squid, scallop, octopus tentacle, maitake, green bean, and… a sheet of nori, which must have been at least ninety-five percent tempura batter. Tasty, though. On rice.
Heading back to the hotel through the train station, I was handed a packet of tissues as I emerged from the station building. Basically, people stand at stations handing out small packets of tissues with advertising on the packet – I’d seen this all the time in anime, but never so far in real life. Actually, the girl seemed quite happy to hand them to me – everyone else was ignoring her (which is fair, because if you always take the tissues, you’ll wind up with more tissues than you ever need).
In my room, I finally managed to solve the final puzzle of the Underground Mysteries. I’d given it a stab at Tsubaki, but I hadn’t really been getting anywhere, and all my bits and pieces were starting to get everywhere, so I just packed them away and had my pancakes. But now I’d completed it. Success!
Today’s photo count: four hundred and twenty-six
Today’s pedometer count: 15,950 steps – 11.2 kilometres – 31 flights of stairs. I was kinda expecting more stairs, actually, considering how many Metro stations lack escalators.