Yesterday I finally took the subway. I actually met up with someone I had been emailing with, Aiko, to which I owe a debt of gratitude for putting up with me. Seems I picked a rather boring place to go at least in regards to having a guide.
We met up at the Hachikō exit, which is pretty famous. I wasn’t familiar with it, and you may not be either. For those too lazy to click the link, Futurama’s Jurassic Bark (Fry’s dog) is pretty much the same story.
Cue the welling of tears.
Shibuya is the first of my experiences in New Tokyo (Taito being a part of “Old Tokyo”) here is where crowds really begin to be what you imagine. Just solid people as far as you can see. It’s a shopping and fashion district, which is near Harajuku, where people tend to cosplay on Sundays.
The first thing I noticed exiting the Shibuya station was a stage, apparently famous habuki actors were to make an appearance. Immediately after that was that someone was screaming into a megaphone. And wasn’t stopping. After meeting up with Aiko, I asked, and it seems he was shouting about the earthquake and Fuchikoma, blaming the reactor leak (and maybe the earthquake?) on the government. It was pretty clear from context he was likely spinning conspiracies into it, not too different from home.
I of course took pictures of the intersection everyone takes pictures of.
I am nothing if not cliché.
We went to a tea shop, and I ended up picking up a set of Tokyo Green Tea which is green tea with bits of dried apple in it, having never seen such a blend before, I figured why not?
Also found a Lego Chef
Thanks to Aiko, I discovered that pre-paid cellphones were about the only way I could get just a month (no shock), it seemed there wouldn’t be data available, and it was $1.25 per minute of talking. Pretty much screwed no matter how I use a phone here. On the topic of phones, I’m not sure I’ve taken pictures of them, but phone booths are actually pretty common here, kind of weird considering how abundant cellphones are. Go figure. Also, the phones in the booths are bright green.
There was a new shopping center Aiko had been wanting to see, and it was popular enough they had stanchions and rope out for when the queue was too long. The first four floors were all stores, go figure, the 5th floor had a fairly large Starbucks and an outdoor “forest”. The sixth floor was given all to one restaurant called Bells which is an Australian chain. It was so popular that at noon, lunch was already cut off… and that didn’t end until 5PM, so we didn’t eat there.
Starbucks has menus!
We walked down to Harajuku, and Aiko warned me that it was actually pretty small. She wasn’t kidding. To the extent that Harajuku is a social thing, it’s really just one street. There are two other parts, but only one major section, and as crowded as the streets were in Shibuya, anyone could crowd surf the entire 3 or 4 blocks where it really is a big thing. Walking through takes quite some time, even if you never stop. I actually enjoyed the other parts of the street better as you could breathe, and easily take pictures.
Not that I didn’t get any pictures.
We walked back around the other side, and parted ways at the Harajuku Subway entrance, she was off to visit friends, not having an entire day to waste on dragging around someone who doesn’t even know where guidance would be good to have. …Or because she has a life and isn’t a tour guide.
One thing that I had been wondering for awhile was answered by Aiko, I’m sure they appear in some pictures, but the yellow lines in the sidewalk with raised sections are for the blind, so that they have a reliable target for their walking canes. All we do for them is give them the chirp/boop things on the crosswalks, and I guess guide dogs are bit more common in the USA.
I decided to walk back around and at this point indulged in what would be my only meal of the day, a crape with kiwi, whipped cream, and strawberry icecream which was quite nice as I was dumb and wore the whole western outfit. On the note of dressing up, it actually seemed for the majority of the time I was there, the ratio of people in something clearly a costume was higher among foreign visitors than locals, at least until later in the day. Around 14:00 it seemed like many more locals in costume were appearing on the streets headed towards Harajuku.
They play remixes of American pop music.
After that I headed over to the other side of Harajuku street where there was space to breathe, and still a bit of weirdness. It was darker, and filled mostly with clothing shops, which, makes sense. By the time I reached the end of the street, I needed to rest a bit, as I was rather warm, and my shoulders and back still hate me for taking the camera bag everywhere.
I grabbed a few pictures here, and at one point there seemed to be some sort of group in the street planning something, and then breaking. Sadly I had my Kindle in hand and camera was kind of packed, so I missed the moment. I should have followed them out of curiosity, but I was not quite ready to move yet.
I walked back to the entrance of the crazy part, but didn’t re-enter. I instead walked back to the subway station, thinking about heading elsewhere. I checked the Kindle again, and noticed that there was a shrine nearby like a sign had said, and it looked huge. It was the Shrine to Emperor Meiji. He was kind of a big deal, ushering in modernization and at least publicly constantly wishing for peace, regretting the apparent need for the war with the Russians. It’s especially a big deal right now as it’s the 100 year anniversary of his death.
Emperor Meiji moving the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo
It isn’t just a shrine on the other side of the JR (Japan Rail) Tracks, it’s a forest, from within which you can hardly tell it is just a few meters away from trains, were it not for the sounds. I also learned there are things here unmarked, that you just don’t take pictures of. Wish that was in the brochure. It’s okay, those pictures didn’t turn out well anyway. They really didn’t. Thankfully for the most part, it didn’t matter, and I was only asked to not take pictures, for which I apologized. No arrests yet.
Once I started heading that way I decided I was going to explore a bit of Shinjuku myself, as it seemed there was a large government building you could go to the top of, 230 some meters up, for free. I like free. As I headed towards the Northern exit of the forest I saw there was another area which kept many things of the Emperor and his consort, which are now national treasures. Sadly I got there just too late to actually go in, but I wouldn’t have seen the fields and lake had the times been posted on the sign pointing the way, so no big loss.
I then wondered my way from the Northern parts of Shibuya city (not to be confused with the district of the city with same name) on my way to Shinjuku. Thankfully the 230 meter giants, ShinJuku Park Towers and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center (aka Town Hall) made it pretty easy to find my way there though a transplant helped me find a shortcut through some residential streets, which were also prime for pictures.
An obviously aging house, but it actually looks like a house.
Eventually I made it to the giant Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center, took lots of pictures around it, and made the ascent to the 43rd floor. Here I did lots of trading between lenses getting both telephoto and wide shots of the skyline, and also of things below. The ability to get pretty close on a food garden was neat.
Here you could get all kinds of gifts and memorabilia related to Tokyo, or even just toys. Two of my favorites were a paper holder with Stitch (and I guess some other experiments) flying small aircraft around the Sky Tree (if it seems like I keep talking about that, it’s because it has kind of dominated my view here, being a reliable landmark you can see from almost anywhere) and one of the coolest puzzles I’ve ever seen. It’s a 4D puzzle map of major parts of Tokyo with two layers (1958 and modern) and date color coded buildings. It was ~7100 yen. The biggest disappointment was that it didn’t go far enough to have the Sky Tree on it. Still, probably worth it.
Maybe next time Japan. Maybe next time.
After that it was getting dark, and I was exhausted. I took the subway back to a city nearby Asakusa and walked the 1km back home. However before departing I picked up a Pasmo (similar to Suica) card so I don’t have to fiddle with change for a few days when riding that. Hooray!
I arrived back and it appeared that the hostel was hosting some sort of live music crowd interaction thing open to the public. The drums were loud, it looked kind of interesting, but not really my thing, and I really just wanted to lie down and let the neproxin sodium kick in. I fell asleep earlier than I had intended, having only gone through some of the pictures, failing to get the gallery up from the day before, and not getting dinner. When you walk around for 9.5 hours with only a high calorie snack to eat, you get tired. Go figure.
I don’t remember if I mentioned it here or not, but I extended my stay in Tokyo to the Saturday the 5th, so I’ll be checking out at 7PM Pacific time Friday evening.
Not quite sure what I’m doing today, but now I have vague idea of how the subways work here, a card with about 1200 yen on it (long the longest trips cost about 320 yen, most are 200-260, anything less and you might as well walk). I already had breakfast today, so I’m doing better than yesterday so far, other than the fact I’m still at the hostel and it’s 13:30.
Picture dump in the post below, because it seems I don’t know how this all works. When you upload a bunch of pictures they don’t just become a group, they attach to that post as a group. Yeah. I need to do this better.
Dropbox Gallery Here