Jamie’s Japanophile Blog – Part 2 – First week in Tokyo
Our first week in Tokyo was action-packed to say the least.
On our first real day in Tokyo we headed to Harajuku: a part of the city well known for its alternative fashion culture, but also for its historical importance.
As we got there early in the day, we headed straight up to the Meiji Shrine. The shrine and its grounds, once the land of a local lord, take up a large part of the surrounding area and comprise of a long forested path up towards the shrine that include many beautiful Torii gates (usually large wooden gates that signify the entrance to a Shinto shrine).
The shrine itself, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji who was the first modern emperor of Japan and one of the main figures in the modernization of Japan in the 19th century, is an impressive series of treasure houses, shrines, and courtyards.
On the walk to Harajuku proper we bumped into a man who had set up what was essentially a mobile cat café with five cats just relaxing in a stroller. He allowed them to be patted for 100 (about a dollar) yen for as long as you wanted. We of course took the opportunity to get some cat time and take pictures.
We quickly discovered that Harajuku has changed since its heyday as an alternative hotspot. As with many places, once it got too well known, the crowds of alternative kids have moved on and been replaced with hipsters and American tourists.
It was still pretty fun to see all the fun little fashion stores around the place, and discover that Japan’s love of crepes has yet to wane. We even saw our first few Japanese with facial piercings and tattoos, which is a change from most of Tokyo.
We quickly moved on to Tokyo proper, which is a huge town but eerily quiet for somewhere so big. At the end of the day we discovered that the lack of people was due to it being a public holiday and so no-one was really working.
As such we took advantage of the quiet and wandered up to the site of the Tokyo Imperial Palace gardens. A massive and beautiful site right in the middle of one of the world’s biggest cities.
To round off the evening we ventured into Akihabara. This place is true nerd central and home of the famed Otaku culture.
Even on a public holiday, every street is packed with bright neon, Jpop music, young men and women beckoning people into maid cafés and anime stores, and the luring songs of so many wonderful things to look at and buy.
The next day we headed out of Tokyo for a day trip to Nikko. Partly to see some proper autumn colours and partly to see some of the amazing sights it holds.
And boy did we get colour. The mountain was spotted with deep reds and shining gold in between the evergreens.
The main and most amazing sight however was up the mountain a little ways. The final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the man responsible for establishing peace amongst the warring clans of Japan for nearly three centuries and paving the way for the modern way of life here.
The complex is incredible and awe inspiring. We were both nearly overcome by the feeling of reverence and importance of this site, so was the impact of getting to walk through something of such historic significance.
During the next day, we decided to go for a run around in Tokyo for a bit. So first off we jumped into the famed Tsukiju fish market. We arrived well after the rush of the morning (we got in about 10am) but we still saw plenty of bustle.
And boxes of octopus…
After an amazing sushi breakfast we headed south and ended up in the Hama Rikyu gardens. A sprawling garden with beautiful gardens with views of Tokyo through the foliage…
…and friendly cats who are happy to curl up next to you in the sunshine….
…and a wonderful little teahouse where we had proper Japanese tea and sweets with a beautiful view over the park.
And only a few blocks further south we ended up in the Tokyo Pokemon Center. A haven for my inner child who went more than a little crazy buying merchandise from my childhood…
…And going crazy fanboy at the Charizard hanging from the ceiling.
Our final night in Tokyo was pretty relaxed. We spent a while running around in Asakusa, picking up souvenirs, and getting packed for the next stage of the trip. But we did have one last attraction to get to: Robot Restaurant!
Robot Restaurant is not something easily described. Flashing lights, blaring music, robots, costumes, barely conceived stage plots and just insane strangeness combine to make what I now believe to be the greatest show on earth.
We also got to get a photo with a robot and one of the performers.
Since we were in Shinjuku, I had one final act to perform before we left.
I broke out my Kobo and read the opening line of Neuromancer by William Gibson. This book shaped a lot of the way I see the world, and since it is based in Tokyo, I felt no better way to honour it than to read it in one of the most Cyberpunk places in the world.
Next up: Kyoto and Osaka!