My leg was much better the next morning but I thought it best not to overdo it by walking too much. Knowing that we would have to cross the city to the notoriously vast and confusing Tokyo Station with our bags in order to catch the bullet train to Kyoto, a dry run seemed wise – our shinkansen tickets were valid only for a specific departure and if we missed it there was no refund, so we wanted to be sure of getting there on time.
The journey was simple enough with only one change at Shinjuku Sanchome, and the trains weren’t so full that having luggage would be a problem. At Tokyo Station the shinkansen platforms turned out to be as far away from the subway station as it was possible to be, but the signs took us straight there and we completed the journey in an hour. Then we were free to explore the shopping opportunities of the station’s Character Street, two dozen stores selling merchandise related to cartoon characters – Snoopy, Pokemon, Hello Kitty and a load more that I didn’t recognise. Every store had customers, mostly young women exclaiming “kawaii!”at regular intervals. Kawaii, meaning ‘cute’, was one of the few Japanese words I knew, thanks to the NHK TV programmes that we had watched in Bangkok and KL. Kawaii is big in Japan. Very big. Women well into their 20s seem to aspire to look like six year olds, dressing in clothes that are colourful, frilly and beribboned, teaming short, flippy skater skirts with lace trimmed ankle socks, clunky Mary Jane shoes and a bow in their hair. Miniature teddy bears dangle from fluffy shoulder bags. Mobile phone cases have little pink ears. Kawaiiiiii!!! It’s the kind of look that would have appalled even the 6 year old me.
We looked for somewhere to have lunch in the station’s Ramen Street, but the cheap places had long queues, and we eventually settled on a kind of Italian-Japanese fusion place and had doria – a kind of rice casserole covered with sauce that would normally be in a pasta bake, topped with an egg and grilled.
Then it was into the neighbouring department store, with its ground floor gift food section (beautiful crackers, macaroons and cakes, and a basement with more normal basement food, although it still had things like two mangoes in a box for £8. We lingered to watch candy being made – hot orange and white sugar was being shaped into long pieces and joined together into a fat cylinder that would eventually turn into little orange slices. A colourful Kitkat stand drew our attention. Hang on – colourful? Kitkats? Surely Kitkats are just brown chocolate in red and white wrappers? But these were pink. And green. And I don’t just mean the wrappers!
The name Kitkat, especially when pronounced with a Japanese accent, apparently sounds like “kitto katsu”, a Japanese expression to wish someone luck – a marketer’s dream. Consequently Kitkats have become wildly popular (especially as a gift to children at exam time – and it’s always exam time in Japanese schools) with sales boosted further by a cunning strategy of playing to the Japanese love of novelty by introducing a constantly changing array of flavours. From the obvious tame fruity varieties (strawberry, blueberry cheesecake, capuccino) through to the more exotic (cherry blossom, green tea, sweet red bean paste) to the frankly weird (wasabi, soy sauce, baked potato, French salt*) – no flavour is too wacky for the Japanese to put in a Kitkat. *I have no idea how French salt differs from any other kind!
We resisted the chocolaty temptations, mainly for reasons of economy, and headed home to hunt in the rain for a Maretsu supermarket that I had spotted on Google. It turned out to be bigger and better than the Koreatown ones, with a range of tempting ready meals that we could just supplement with veg without challenging the limitations of our tiny kitchen. We also found some wine. I thought it must be wrongly priced but no, Chilean merlot really was £1.70 a bottle. Did I mention that I liked Tokyo?