Friday 11 October – Saturday 12 October 2019
We arrived back in Tokyo on the Friday night before Typhoon Hagibis was due to hit. We were staying in the APA Hotel Asakusa Tawaramachi Ekimae and considering that we had booked this a while in advance we were pretty lucky on timing. We got to Tokyo the evening before the trains shut down ahead of the storm. We’d debated booking a hotel in Yokohama for the Saturday night so we could stay after the rugby game we had tickets for (England v France – typically one of the few games that got cancelled) but had decided just to go back into Tokyo. If we hadn’t, we would have found ourselves kicked out of the APA Hotel on Storm Day and trying to get to Yokohama with a waning number of trains (if that). As it was, we had a dry hotel room where we could wait out the storm.
We arrived at the hotel and were presented with a machine to check in… with a person standing behind it to direct you through. This pretty much summed up what I’d seen of Japan so far. We’d noticed every time we walked passed a building with a car park that there would be two guards standing out the front directing traffic in and out and pedestrians along the pathway running across the driveway. Japan seemed both big on the technology and on creating a lot of jobs.
Our hotel rooms were the smallest hotel rooms we’d had in Japan so far, with our bathrooms being more like bath-cupboards, but it was nice. We had a huge TV screen in our rooms which I hoped would have more English channels or at least access to Netflix (which would have been super useful when we were rained in) but we were limited to BBC World News. The important thing, however, was that the place was nice and clean (and, importantly, dry).
The more intriguing design feature was the open air section that ran through the middle of the building which meant the next day when we stepped out of our rooms it was to find pouring rain just outside our door. You would have thought this a flaw in a country which has a monsoon season like Japan but there was no flooding in the hotel so the drainage system the hotel had in place seemed to do the trick.
I’ll come back to the pouring rain – I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself and haven’t told you about my Friday evening. That night, my Dad had some friends in town and we were set to meet them for dinner but we had some time to kill in between checking in and meeting them in Ginza so we hopped on the metro and headed down to Shibuya, home to Tokyo’s famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing, with masses upon masses of people crossing from all directions at the same time.
I was dubious as to how exciting an attraction a pedestrian crossing could be but having a sea of umbrellas coming at you from all angles (the rain in Tokyo had already started) was quite the experience.
Once we had walked across the road, we decided to split up. One of my brothers and I wanted to explore a bit more, while my Dad and other brother went off to meet my Dad’s friends – we’d just join them later. We started exploring the streets of Shibuya – similar to Shinjuku, with lots of bright signs – and ended up walking quite a way, back over to the neighbourhood of Harajuku, which we had visited when we first arrived in Tokyo.
We eventually ended up back on Takeshita Street, with a particular destination in mind: Totti Candy Factory. If there was one quintessential Tokyo experience I was yet to have, it was novelty food (well, themed cafes was another one but I’m not into manga, I felt weird about going to a Maid Cafe and I couldn’t justify a trip to an animal cafe as that just doesn’t sound ethical) and I had no intention of leaving Japan without having had some.
I’d seen Totti Candy Factory on some Facebook / Instagram posts as it serves giant sticks of multi-coloured candy floss. I hadn’t had candy floss in years but I used to love it – I inexplicably didn’t use to like popcorn so I would pick up a bucket of candy floss when I went to the cinema instead – and I sure wanted it now. Thankfully, it wasn’t a hard sell to my brother.
I have no doubt we could have managed one each but it was a bit expensive, we had dinner to follow and we didn’t *need* two giant sticks of candy floss (depending on your definition of need). It was raining outside so we stayed inside to eat it. The shop assistant tried to take the wrapper off me to throw away as I left but I took that bad boy with me so I could scrape the rest off in the privacy of my own hotel room.
We now needed to get over to Ginza to catch the dinner crew. My Dad had given us the name of the hotel where they were meeting his friends and promised to text if and when they moved on. I made of a point telling my Dad he needed to text as we didn’t have mobile data to receive a Whatsapp or iMessage. We’d had no text so we headed over there.
We arrived and walked rather bedraggled into quite a fancy hotel. The doorman let us in and directed us to a restaurant on the 14th floor. Out the lift, we were met by more staff who were keen to agree with everything we asked. We told the guy we were looking for a group of English people (“yes”), and asked whether they were still there (“yes”). He showed us around the restaurant but we couldn’t spot them. We wondered if there was anyone else around who might fit that description (“yes”) but there was not. We left.
We weren’t getting a response via text but managed to connect to the internet and – of course – the message had been sent via Whatsapp. They were in a German beer hall nearby (because where else would my Dad’s friends want to spend their first night in Japan). Thankfully we found the place – Ginza Lion – without too much difficulty. We walked in, told the staff our friends were already in and looked around the ground floor – they weren’t there. Not this again. We turned around but as we started to walk out we saw my Dad coming down the stairs. There was another floor.
We sat down at the table to find it covered in near empty plates. We’d missed the food. Happily, everyone was up for ordering more. We ended up having a lovely night with some good food and a few beers.
Back in Asakusa later, we stopped off at the local 7-Eleven to stockpile for the next day. One of the members of staff at our hotel had laughed when my Dad had asked earlier whether we’d need to do this ahead of the typhoon and assured us that the hotel’s restaurant would be open the next day but we decided not to take any chances. We had, however, left it a bit late and found that not everyone had taken our hotel staff’s cavalier attitude – there were a lot of empty shelves.
There was another 7-Eleven around the corner, so we decided to see if we’d have more luck there. Here we found some more filled shelves. We stocked up on ready meals we thought would be okay cold (I think I saw a sign saying there was a microwave at the hotel but didn’t want to rely on this), pot noodles, chocolate, biscuits, nuts and crisps.
The next morning, the rain was thundering down. The hotel’s restaurant turned out to be more of a cafe with seemingly limited options. I imagined it would be packed but we had no problem getting some breakfast there, however, despite the assurances we’d received the night before, it wasn’t long before it closed for the day. Lucky we’d stocked up.
The heavy winds weren’t scheduled to hit until the evening and so I thought I would actually try and do something with my day – my family did not feel this need. I hit the streets with my umbrella which did little to save my lower half. Asakusa is home to a famous red temple called Sensō-ji so I figured, since this wouldn’t involve getting the tube and risk being left stranded when it stopped running as scheduled due to the storm, this was the ideal option.
As I walked in the direction of the temple, I came across a huge discount store. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to (a) get out of the rain and (b) search for a pack of cards to keep us entertained when we were all on lockdown later. Happily, I found exactly what I was looking for.
It wasn’t far between the discount store and the temple. I walked through streets lined with closed stores and restaurants, with their painted shutters pulled down. A few places had opened and a few people had braved the rain but it was pretty darn quiet. The rain might have photobombed my photos but otherwise I quite liked it – it was peaceful and I could actually look around the beautiful Sensō-ji without fighting through the crowds.
For obvious reasons, I still didn’t stay too long before I started to wander back in the direction of the hotel, but I wasn’t going straight there. The delights of Asakusa don’t stop at the temple, there is also Kappabashi Street, otherwise known as Kitchen Town. This street is filled with shops that provide supplies for Tokyo’s restaurant businesses. You might wonder why shops filled with kitchenwares would appeal to me – particularly as by this point I was being seriously weighed down by my sodden clothes – but I have two words for you: plastic food. Many of the restaurants in Japan have plastic food out on display in their windows, showing less delicious looking versions of what they serve inside. I sensed a souvenir in the making.
Unfortunately (but understandably) the plastic food shop owners had decided that it was not worth opening up on this typhoon rain day. A few shops selling other restaurant goods had opened, with sandbags placed out the front, but I wasn’t in the market for menus or pots and pans. Completely drenched, I decided to call it a day, change into my pyjamas and shelter in my hotel room until the storm had passed.
I had intended to go to the onsen in my hotel at some point. I can’t remember if this was a birthday suit onsen or a swimsuit one but either way I figured everyone would have the same idea and a small, hot pool full of people naked to some extent wasn’t appealing enough to persuade me to get out of bed and out of my pyjamas.
Despite risking life and limb to get them, we only managed a couple of games of cards. We did, however, make a decent dent in the snacks, particularly the chocolate covered biscuits. Afraid we were running dry, we nominated my Dad to go out into the storm for another 7-Eleven trip, although in the end we didn’t actually make it through our top up. Otherwise we spent the day snoozing, reading and watching stuff on our various devices. We were gutted not to make it to the rugby but, given how busy our trip had been, it was actually quite nice to have a forced lazy day.
We did leave the room from time to time to got down to the lobby to peer out at the storm. We weren’t the only ones; there were plenty of other tourists hanging around the entrance watching the storm rain down. At one point a fire engine went passed with a voice over a loudspeaker. Given my lack of Japanese skills, I don’t know what they were saying but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say that they were telling the idiotic tourists on the street to get inside.
The fire engine didn’t quite have the intended effect. At around 6pm, one of my brothers was getting cabin fever and decided to go for a run. My Dad waited around downstairs, while my other brother and I went back to our respective rooms. As I sad in my bed, I felt the building shake quite a bit and I did start to feel panicked. The heavy winds hadn’t even hit yet and the building was already shaking.
“Did you feel that?” my brother messaged our family Whatsapp group. As it turned out, the shaking wasn’t due to the wind. It was an earthquake. This simultaneously made me feel better about the hotel’s ability to deal with the stronger winds later and worse – it was my first earthquake experience. I went to shelter in my brother’s room until my other brother and Dad were back. It turned out that they hadn’t even realised. Our hotel seemed to be designed to move with earthquakes in order to withstand them. Not being in the hotel/on one of the higher floors, they hadn’t even felt it.
As the evening progressed, the winds picked up. Every now and again we went back down to the lobby to see what was happening at street level. From our own window, we could see a shed on top of the building next door. It had a metal roof and was going up and down quite violently in the wind. We worried it would get ripped off and injure someone below but thankfully we woke up the next morning and it was still in tact. The storm hadn’t hit Tokyo quite as hard as expected but the same could not be said for the surrounding areas where the impact had been much more devastating. We had been lucky.