Often when I’m traveling to the Tokyo area, I end up taking a train to Tokyo Station and then transferring to get to my final destination. Tokyo Station is one of the busiest train stations in Japan, with over 30 tracks serving local, shinkansen (bullet train), and subway lines. It’s kind of like LA’s Union Station in that sense. That’s where the similarity ends, though, because Tokyo Station is also surrounded by and attached to several malls.
One of the shopping areas accessible from the station is called Tokyo Station First Avenue. It’s basically a really long corridor in the basement of the station lined with stores, and consists of three sections: Character Street, Sweets Land, and Ramen Street.
Character Street is a series of 20 pretty specific character-themed shops, like Rilakkuma, Pokemon, or Studio Ghibli. They were a lot of fun to browse through, especially for the ones like Snoopy that I’ve liked since childhood. Being the Pokemon addict that I am (er.. used to be), I couldn’t resist looking for my favorites in the Pokemon store, which was when I realized I only recognized about half the Pokemon in the store. All the Pokemon games I’ve played probably came out when/before I was in middle school, which suddenly felt like a very long time ago.
Sweets Land is three shops tucked into a corner somewhere, all selling various confections. I’m not sure why they bothered to make it a named zone in Tokyo First Avenue if it’s only three stores. But I did find a store selling specialty snacks from all over Japan–you know, in case you can’t manage to actually visit them all. 😉
The area I was most interested in, Ramen Street, is exactly what it sounds like. Eight ramen stores, most of them already well-known in the Tokyo area. My goal for the summer was to try at least four of them, which I finally accomplished last weekend. Although Ramen Street is said to have long lines around lunch and dinner, I tried to time my outings so that I’d end up at Tokyo Station in the afternoon, avoiding all the lines. Either my plan worked, or the crowds aren’t as bad as people say they are. I was hoping to find a bowl of ramen better than Shinsengumi, one of the more popular (>= 1 hour waits at dinnertime) ramen shops near Caltech. Happily, I also succeeded in that endeavor. I’m going to miss having such a wide variety of delicious ramen when I go back home, but it’s probably better that way for both my health and my wallet.