On Saturday, k. had to stay at home because she was officially sick, but the rest of us decided to explore some more. Now, most people visiting Tokyo for the first time would visit all the best historical and sightseeing spots, but with two girls in the group and being surrounded by Japanese fashion, we headed for some of the shopping districts. First we headed to Harajuku for shopping, lunch, and seeing a shrine (though not in that order). We got a big surprise when, after wandering around looking for a restaurant that didn’t have a waiting list, we came across an American-style burger place. It was a little bit expensive, but they gave us more food than we could eat–it was like being home!
Once we were no longer hungry and distracted, we head to Meiji Shrine, which is right by the station exit. This shrine was created by the order of the Meiji Emperor (who was responsible for opening up and modernizing Japan in 1848). In the middle of the city, he had a small forest planted, with a lily garden and wide paved square within the shrine. At every entrance are tall torii gates that you must pass through to enter the shrine. (They’re taller and wider than any others that I’ve seen so far, and I think they’re the largest in Japan.)
After one last small(er) torii, you reach the group of buildings that make up the shrine. The main part is a large paved square enclosed by by walls. At the far end is a god tree–a tree marked with rope and strips of paper to mark that a kami (god/spirit) lives there–that is surrounded by a wall of wishes. Past the tree is the shrine itself, though people can only enter the front to pray and offer a few coins. This shrine–since it was commissioned by the Meiji Emperor–is very large and beautiful, but it’s difficult for a casual visitor to see much.
Meiji Shrine is really popular for weddings. While we there, we saw three couples, including one very grand and stately procession:
After seeing our fill of the shrine we headed for Takeshita Street, one of the main venues of alternate/teenage fashion in Tokyo. It was ridiculously crowded, but a lot of fun. There were sightseers and regulars, and plenty of the things to look at. The stores all have their best stuff displayed, and plenty of the customers were dressed to the nines as well. It’s an area that I’ve heard about since I first became interested in Japan as a teenager, so it was great to be able to see it in person. Also, Harajuku is also known for its crepes (crazy fruit/sauce/ice cream/whipped cream/cheesecake combinations that are wrapped in soft pancake-type crepes. They put them together in front of you). We just had to get some:
We wandered and shopped for a couple hours, and the jumped one station stop to Shibuya, a higher-end district and our last stop for the night. It was full of food and shopping, and we wandered there for an hour or so as well. It was a big schock to get off the train. Harajuku was popular and full of people, but Shibuya was RIDICULOUSLY busy. It looked like Times Square in NYC. The station is next to a big intersection where, after all the vehicle traffic signals cycle once, all the Pedestrian walk signals light up at the same. The result is a big mass of people moving in their chosen direction. The street corners look less like an intersection, and more like a plaza in a busy city.
The crowd in Shibuya.
The next day, Sunday, was the last day of our trip. K. and k. had homework to do (and k. was still sick), so we had few plans and a slow start to the day. In the afternoon, I went off on my own, exploring the local neighborhood. I did a little bit of shopping (sweets, books, and keep-sakes) and about four hours of wandering. One thing that I was reminded of as I walked down a local backroad was how in Japanese cities things are piled on top of each other. Walking down a street of restaurants, bars, and houses (all looking similiar enough they’re hard to tell apart if you don’t know your way around), I came across small Buddhist temples, tiny cemetery plots, and shrines every block or so. Over a high street-side wall, you catch a glimpse of an ornate roof, and the next moment, you’re watching past the entrance of a small local sanctuary.
After walking further, I came across Yanaka Cemetery. It had some beautiful
fall foliage, but I didn’t plan on spending much time there until I found a sign that said the land had several large sections dedicated to the Tokugawa clan. (The Tokugawa’s were the group that took power in the early 1600s and stabilised and unified Japan after its warring-states period. Supposedly (with my limited Japanese, I’m only relying on wikipedia for this) the Tokugawa shogun rests there.) I decided that was pretty cool and set about trying to find the famous tombs. I had mixed success–two of the most famous plots have walls and locked doors around them, and I simply wasn’t tall enough to see much. I did, however, see a few dozen cats. They were every where in the cemetery, and I think I saw as many people taking pictures of cats as of trees or graves.
After leaving the cemetery I tried to head back to K. and k.’s, and ended up on the wrong side of the railway. There were lots of big bright shops (very different from the cramped, twisty roads of K. and k.’s neighborhood), but I didn’t take much time to explore. Instead I headed back to my friends.
They sent us off with one last meal of sukiyaki (soup, but better) and then Titus and I navigated our way to the night-bus pick up. After some tricky conversations, we figured out which bus we needed and got ourselves settled. (Along the way, we met up with two other pairs who were heading back to AIU, which meant some nice chatting.) It was a long bus ride–longer than the first–and we realized the cause of the slow going when we woke up to trees covered in snow. It was very beautiful, but by the time we reached Akita City it was mostly rain. (We saw the snow just after first light, so I think we may have been up in the mountains still.)
Thus ended our long, fun Tokyo trip. I can’t wait until I can visit my friends again!
Japanese word of the day: kankou suru / かんこうする (kahn-koh-sue-rue) verb: sightseeing, tourism