But it's warm and charming, filled with antiques from pre-1860, when the capital's name was changed from Edo to Tokyo. Separate slippers are provided for wear in bedroom and bath, as well as a yukata, a cotton kimono. I remembered to wrap it left over right. (Right over left is for the deceased.) Minutes after I checked in, a young kimono-clad woman appeared with a pot of hot tea and sweet biscuits, which she set on a long, low, black lacquer table, the room's only furniture.
With Kenji gone, I was on my own again, so I did the obvious — toured the formal, exquisitely tended gardens of the Imperial Palace, asked another tourist to snap my picture in front of the much-photographed Nijubashi (arched stone bridge) and then visited the Tokyo National Museum with its wonderfully scary Samurai battle armor and basement gift shop with great contemporary crafts. I checked out a sale at Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza, creating a flap by failing to remove my shoes on entering the changing room.
Out of the way but cozy
I spent my last night at the moderately priced Hilltop Hotel, a comfortingly frayed Art Deco-era place where rooms have vanity tables and floor lamps with fringed shades. The location near Meiji University is a bit off the beaten track, but I would stay there again. (If you book, specify the old building, not the newer annex.)
Kabuki was still on my to-do list. Knowing that for many visitors — including me — small doses of kabuki may be enough, Kabuki-za theater in Ginza offers tickets for one act, or about one hour. I paid about $18, including rental of an English-language audio, and headed for the top balcony.
Even with the translation, the plot was a muddle, but it had something to do with a small boy reunited with the mother who'd abandoned him years earlier.
The boy was a killer actor, the other actors strutted and emoted in gorgeous costumes on a wide stage and, stage right, two men played stringed instruments and wailed dramatically at proper moments. As my audio explained, kabuki is sensual and beautiful, a "moving woodblock print," an actors' vehicle, and hang the plot.
On my last day in Tokyo, it poured. I took a cab to the Meiji Shrine, a Shinto site tucked away in a cedar forest near Harajuku station. It was magical and serene, devoid of fair-weather crowds and far less commercialized than Senso-ji temple.
In the courtyard, I happened upon a Shinto wedding, the bride in a white wedding kimono and a stiff white tsuno kakushi headdress, ornaments tucked in her hair.
Back at the Hilltop, I had a drink in the cozy Non Non bar and tried to make sense of Japan. Land of high-tech toilets, gardens that are works of art, souvenirs that reach new heights of kitsch and baths in which it's bad form to bathe. Pachinko pinball gambling parlors and green tea ice cream cones. Neon overkill.
And I reminded myself to wear laceless shoes the next time I visit. They're easier to take off.
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From LAX, JAL, United, ANA, Thai, Korean, EVA and Singapore have nonstops to Tokyo. United offers connecting flights. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $680.
To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 81 (country code for Japan) and the local number.