Tokyo is very much a city of special-purpose neighborhoods. We decided to make this day the day of paper. Gwen’s got a bit of a paper fetish. I vaguely recalled that 日本橋 was the paper neighorhood, and so we hopped on the train and went there.
Well, strike one for my memory. I should have checked more carefully beforehand (now I’m not sure which neighborhood I was looking for, but I know I’d been there before). We did find a small shop that specialized in 書道 supplies; I asked one of the clerks if there were other shops in the neighborhood that sold paper, and she gave me directions that seemed clear enough, but didn’t lead me anywhere I recognized.
So we gave up on that and headed for 神保町, the book neighborhood. We spent hours exploring the mind-blowing used-bookstore mall, 神保町古書センター, eight stories of used booksellers, many specializing one one thing or another (children’s books, new-age books, ephemera, girlie books, etc).
We stopped 大屋書房 in an antique bookstore that I had somehow never visited and found some amazing books, including many that seemed to be basically clip-art books over a century old. Some of these were in color, and clearly beyond anything we could afford. But Gwen found one in black and white going for ¥8000 that sorely tempted her. She put it back and decided to think about it while we went to 三省堂, the huge bookstore for new books, just around the corner. She picked up a Japanese phrase book by that denizen of the Tokyo demimonde, Boye de Menthe. We left, went to a nearby Starbucks (hey, Starbucks is probably the only place in Japan that is no-smoking), and Gwen though some more on that antique book. We went back the store, and after some internal debate, she bought it. While she was at the register, I found a boxed volume in the shape of a brick. It was an ancient Japanese-English dictionary. Again, much too expensive to contemplate, and apparently even older than the first edition of the Green Goddess (which probably wasn’t even green back then). I marvelled briefly and carefully put it away.
Somehow from here we made our way to 人形町, where Gwen appropriately ate a 人形焼き, and from there, we somehow made it back to Nihonbashi, and ran across the very paper store that the woman at the calligraphy store was directing me to. 小津和紙. Quite a store. Gwen spent a lot of time marvelling at the 千代紙, and picked out quite a few samples to get as gifts for the folks back home.
As long as we were out and about and near a station that could get us there easily, I suggested we go to 秋葉原, the mecca for electronics. We hit some Mac specialty shops, and while I was tickled at the used-Mac market (especially for cubes, which have a notoriously dedicated following in Japan), I was kind of disappointed that we didn’t see more wacky peripherals such as I’ve seen mentioned on the various gadget-tracking blogs. There was very little for sale there that couldn’t be found at Fry’s, I figured. The rabbit’s-warren of specialty parts stalls right by the station is still there, and still a zoo. Each merchant has his own schtick. One guy sells potentiometers, the next guy sells knobs for potentiometers, and the guy across the alley sells miniature security cameras. There’s probably someone in there hawking NOS Soviet vacuum tubes. If an electronics geek wanted to build his own NORAD replica, this would be a good place to start.
At this point, we were seriously beat, and we headed towards Shibuya and home, taking the 山手線 from exactly halfway across the loop. I decided we deserved a treat, and so I steered us a little off our trajectory to one of my favorite places in Tokyo, Raj Mahal, an Indian restaurant overlooking the teardrop 交番. Raj Mahal always has Bollywood song-and-dance numbers going on two TVs, the decor is gaudy, and the food is good. On this visit, I had the impression they’d put up their prices somewhat, but I didn’t mind: we ate well and plentifully, and enjoyed just relaxing there.