Shibuya, Omote-Sando and Harajuku
O-hai-yo gozaimasu from Tokyo. I'm taking it over for JJ for this blog entry. I'll start off by saying that I love it here. haha. From the sights and the very amicable people to the overall efficiency of how things are done, when they are done, and such and such. I'd easily move here if I could. Of course, the biggest hindrance is not knowing any Japanese, and the only way we get by is really on the efforts by the Japanese people to acknowledge us as tourists and helping us out. But, really, JJ and I will make the effort to learn the language if we do make good on living here. Anyways, enough about that, we did a lot on Day 4.
JJ and I didn't leave as early as yesterday (7am) so we waited closer to 11am to get out. Again, the 7-11 was our source for breakfast. We left for Tokyo Station and this time, stopped downstairs to their mini-mall or sorts. It's one big shopping floor below the station that should facilitate all the consumer needs for anything and everything. We gravitated towards the "Character Store" area where there are little shops devoted solely to cartoon and other kid-related characters from Snoopy to Sanrio to Studio Ghibli to Disney. We aren't doing much purchasing shopping since we know we can buy all this stuff at the end of our trip, and also to get a good price check of things. Regardless, we are enjoying our "trial run" of where to get what we want. We stayed around for about an hour just looking at all the craziness of the stores and really getting a good impression of how busy travelers come and go and pick up little trinkets and/or novelties. We headed up for lunch onto the Kitchen Street floors above the station floor.
Lunch was again noodles, much like our dinner from the day before. Given our sitting time of about 12:30, it wasn't as busy as I thought it would be, given the mass rush of workers who flood the stations for the quick lunch. Oh wait, haha, there are about a thousand little noodle shops within Kitchen Street. We just so happened to go to one that was not as busy. Check out the photos to see what we ate, and yes, it tasted just as good as it looked. I'm not sure if JJ mentioned this, but the stigma of how Japan is an expensive country is true. However, the caveat is that what we equate to tax and tip is included into all the prices. Our meals may cost the equivalent of ten dollars, but when you subtract tax and tip at a restaurant, the base price for the food would be closer to $7.50-$8. Given the type of food we eat, that is actually better than back in the states. We haven't done much of cheap eats at the local McDonalds or other fast foods joints to really give you guys a true comparison. Japanese food in general is still expensive.
After lunch, we made our way over by train southwest of our location to the Harajuku/Shibuya districts. These areas are known to be hotspots for the young with a lot of shopping and clubs. The origin of the harajuku girl (a very distinctive dress attire that I can't quite describe) comes from this area. However, we didn't come down here for that. We came for the Meiji Jingu shrine which houses the "spirits" of the Emperor and Empress Meiji from the Meiji Era (circa end of 19th to early 20th centuries). The complex is quite large and we did quite a bit of walking. Despite the traditional Japanese look and feel of the complex, it is not that old. Again, the Meiji emperor lived to the early 20th century and the complex was finished close to 1920. Much of it was destroyed in WWII and thus rebuilt to it's original intentions closer to 1950. This all does not deter from how retrofitted you feel into that time frame. I took some time to sketch out the architecture and JJ took plenty of pictures. I'm not sure what we just so happened to be there for, but we were able to catch some ceremonial event (perhaps daily?) where there is a big beating of a drum and two monks going into shrine to offer prayers/blessings. It is encouraged for everyone to offer prayers for themselves and/or others and so many tourists came up to the edge of the shrine to do that. The two monks spent closer to 15 min. offering their prayers. I really liked the symbolic nature of the drum beats, obviously due to the mere size and sound it makes. After this event, we made our way to the gift shop and relaxed for a bit before heading out to the rest of Harajuku and Shibuya.
Since I'm a bit of a Japanese architecture fanatic, I made good of my intentions to see some of the important historical architecture in Tokyo as well as some of the modern architecture. We only saw a few today, but there are plenty more to see. As a result, some of the images you will see may not be the perfect postcard-esque photo. You'd have to be an architect or have an architectural lens to understand why I took some of the photos I did. haha... Anyhoo, the first one we saw today was the National Yoyogi Stadium done by Kenzo Tange. Kenzo Tange is to Japan as Frank Lloyd Wright is to America when it comes to architecture. Among the other photos include Toyo Ito's TOD shop in Omotesando, a neat Audi Gallery dealership and towards our trip back to our hotel, some random modern mixed-use building. You'll have to find them in between all the Kiddy Land photos that JJ took.
Which of course, leads me to the next part our trip, KiddyLand in Omotesando, where its just an orgy of limitless cute. We all are aware of how obsessed with cute things the Japanese are (in particular the girls) and of course how much of a global influence this is. There are a lot of designer clothing stores in Omotesando and dispersed all over the area are little cute shops for trinkets/stuffed animals and collectibles. The KiddyLand store is about 7 stories, which JJ said was originally only for Snoopy. Due to some temporary relocation changes, Snoopy was reduced to just one floor (sad Thomas, haha). I'll let the photos JJ took of KiddyLand to suffice in explaining what we saw, haha....
Our last stop before we headed back to our hotel was in the Shibuya district, where the famous intersection that allows for probably several thousand people to cross each time is located. I took some photos and a video (too large to upload but will try with youtube). It is quite overwhelming to say the least to see that many people at rush hour. It is one big swarm. To allude to a Dmitri Martin skit, "Brothers, Hold!.......Hold!.......Attack!" JJ and I just stood there and watched several crossings and of course crossed ourselves.
Dinner was in Shibuya and was at a random ramen shop. Paying was different since it was at a machine. The waitress told us to pick out a number and pay at the machine, then sit down and the food will be served. The epitome of Japanese efficiency. My bowl which I had no idea what I ordered (I always go with #8 when in doubt) but it was very good (I think it had miso in it). We were in and out of the little ramen shop in about 25 min. I believe. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and basically relaxed, cleaned up and went to bed....all before 8pm. With all the walking (averaging 8-10 miles a day) and of course the tolerable but still hot temperatures, we're exhausted by that time. Plus the fact that we have a bit of laundry and packing to do before we check out, it was in our best interest to keep it simple the rest of the night. We'll party like there is no tomorrow during the weekends with the rest of Japan. haha. Wow....that's it for Day 4. Plenty left in us the rest of the way. We leave for Kyoto in the morning and will update again when we can. Thanks for reading and hope I didn't bore you too much.