Saturday, August 29, 2015

Harajuku Girls and Crossing A Massive Street!

In a silly way, one of the thoughts that come to mind when thinking of Harajuku is Gwen Stefani and her old obsession with that style of fashion. How American is that thought, huh? We looked forward to wildly dressed Women and Men dressed in what I think looks like “Japanese Punk”. Though some of that was found in Harajuku, I was disappointed in the low intensity of the stereotypes. All the travel shows and blogs enticed us with images of what one might call “shock value”. What Eric and I found in Harajuku was something a little more structured and serene.

For our stay in Shibuya, Eric and I had a local coffee shop filled with pastries and food. It was very convenient as it was just around the corner from the apartment and on the way to the trains. Another thing to mention was that staying in this area we were generally pretty close to our destinations. Harajuku was only one stop on the train. With it being so easy to find, both Eric and I felt like locals. With breakfast at the local cafĂ©, then easily hopping onto the train why wouldn’t we?

Our first order of business was to get to the Meiji Shrine, located in a forest of trees, filled with scary spiders. If ever at this spot, on the walkways to the shrine, make sure to look up when passing through arches or between two light posts. You’ll will see some large webs. Once you get past the “eerie chills” of seeing these massive spiders, all is well. Catching a glimpse of the first Torri gate and shrine, the chill inducing spider images melted away.

Even though the shrine was reconstructed in the late 1950s, it still felt as if it was from a distant time. This was our first experience in Japan where Eric and I felt transported to a land infused with mysticism. The Meiji Shrine, being a Shinto shrine, doesn’t belong to a specific religion. Instead, the shrine is dedicated to matters of all inclusive spirituality. This “blanket” includes wishes to fellow friends, hopes of getting that “A” on the big test, or wishes of being healed.

It was quiet like a library or church. We even entered as one would a Catholic church. We washed both hands and then rinsed our mouths from the fountain, or Temizuya, at the entrance. We didn’t get a photo of us doing that because it seemed a little inappropriate. Once we had been cleansed or at least momentarily purified, we entered the grounds.

We wandered the main structure that apparently was built without nails. Within the courtyard of that structure a wedding ceremony was starting to process through the crowd. There were many onlookers. The both of us felt a tad odd taking photos of this ceremony, but when would we have another chance to see this? Since the wedding party too had photographers, we sort of blended right in with the few shots we took. And, we sort of followed the poor excuse of “well everyone else is”. (Ten minutes prior we didn’t do that at the cleansing station. What hypocrites we are, huh?)

They had some young ladies working at the gift counter that reminded us of “Rei” from Sailor Moon. They wear a very similar outfit while at the shrine, a white top with red flowing pants. I am sure there is a proper name for the clothing, but I am not aware of the name. They had charms and postcards for sale. Entry to the shrine was free, so these proceeds go toward the upkeep. Eric had purchased a Healing charm for his Mom. She had just had knee surgery and we also bought what is called an Ema for each of us. It is a wooden tablet where we could write our wishes and leave them there at the shrine. I was very excited to do this!

If people wanted to, visitors could also step up to the main shrine to give an offering. We saw some folks stepping up to the shrine, tossing in some coins, bowing twice, and then clapping twice. Eric went up and joined in, but we weren’t allowed to photograph this practice. The idea is to send positive thoughts and wishes to people everywhere.

After strolling through the gardens and checking out the Koi pond, we decided to head back toward the streets.

Nearby we would find Takeshita-Dori where it is said the hipsters of Tokyo hang out in their unique fashion. As suggested by many, we went there on a Sunday when the locals come out to show off. One of our goals was to have a crepe from Angel Heart Crepes. We had seen quite a few YouTube videos of people stopping by for the treat. But, just before that we needed to grab food. What stared at us in the face? McDonald’s of course!

There isn’t much of a difference between the McDonald’s of America versus Japan. The coolest difference is that when you’re all through they ask for you to separate your trash. There was a funnel on top of the receptacle where we were to empty our ice prior to throwing our cup into bin marked for paper. I wish we had this here at home. The Japanese are very big on recycling and it would be great if one day we could adopt this as they have, with laws.

We came across a five story store called Daiso. It is the equivalent to the Dollar Tree where we even found great souvenirs for the kids. There we found Japanese play money and even model trains for the different types of subway lines. We knew the kids were too old to play with fake cash, but at least they could see the difference.

                                                                  Interesting sign, don't you think?

After some wandering, Eric found Angel Hearts Crepes. I had found a different crepe stand first, but he reminded me of what the actual name was. I think the first one I found was called Angel Crepes, a knock off! There wasn’t an awful queue. It took maybe five minutes to get to the order window. I ordered the Blueberry Cheesecake and Eric decided on the Custard Chocolate Special. It was REALLY hard for me to choose. With the “fake food” on display, they all looked so appealing!

Although we did want to browse a lot more, Eric and I wanted to get to the park and see the real fashion. There we would see the famous “Harajuku Girls” dressed in all their flashy flair. So we decided to only enter the Top Man store and then head over to the bridge near Yoyogi Park. It was a nice walk and we did see a few street performers dressed as 1950s “Greasers”, but no Harajuku Girls in sight. We pressed on, thinking that maybe we weren’t in the correct spot. In the end we didn’t see any fashion shockers. We even asked ourselves if Japanese fashion doesn’t have the extreme look it once had. If the year were 1995, I bet a few of those outfits would’ve stood out to us a lot more than they did presently. Maybe we SHOULD thank Gwen Stefani for bringing recognition to the Harajuku Girl? I know that sounds a little silly for me to say, but it surely was a start.

Continuing down the street we came across a stadium that had been used in the 1964 Olympics. In the parking lot of this stadium was a type of flea market or even a Farmers Market. Eric wanted to check it out.

It was getting to be mid-afternoon and we had to keep in mind that we were meeting up with a friend of mine around 5 PM. After all the walking, we wanted to take a short break and maybe even shut our eyes for 15 minutes. It didn’t take us long to walk back to the storybook looking train station, so that we’d get back to Shibuya.

Recharging in the room was an excellent idea. We still had wine that our host had left for us, so we polished that off. We would soon be meeting with my high school pal, Kwesi. I hadn’t seen him in so long. He lives about 30-40 minutes from Tokyo while working as a teacher. During this trip, so far we had met up with Sarah and Tom Bricker, and Chris from ! When we planned our time in Japan we really didn’t expect to come across friends like this!

We were to meet Kwesi at the Hachiko statue near Shibuya station. Hachiko has a great story. I encourage everyone reading this to google his story. It was a lengthy train ride for my friend, but a short walk for us. This was our first glimpse at the famous Shibuya Crossing. It is comprised of 5 crosswalks running in a few directions. What really happens is people just cross the street in any way they feel! It sure is a sight to see and definitely hypnotic too! And hey, we spotted Kwesi hanging out away from the crowd, against a mural.

Last time we had seen one another was in 1999 at the Disneyland Cast cafeteria. Now, here we were in Tokyo, Japan! It’s really weird how life works out sometimes. We had some catching up to do, but at the same time, not really. As everyone knows, social media keeps people connected, so we had a sense of the “latest news” about each other. He hadn’t met Eric before, but for the most part he knew the whole story. We really dove into stories about the present and what it was like on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Just like with Chris we had a lot of questions about his experience in Japan.

I didn’t get great photos from our time together, but this one shot sums up our time together at the bar. We climbed 2 flights to get to the appropriate floor of the bar. Eric and I were still impressed that the businesses are stacked on one another. Our drink of choice was the Long Island Iced Tea, neither of us beer drinkers. We had a lot of laughs and shared a lot of travel stories. But, it being a weekday and just after work, it was time for Kwesi to hop on the trains and head back home. For both Eric and I, it was a very memorable part of our trip!

Our night wasn’t quiet over as we were determined to locate the Disney Store in Shibuya. As I said, we had a few drinks so this was going to be interesting. I think we were lost for a bit and crossed the Shibuya Crosswalk in a few different directions before we actually found the store. Eric may have photo bombed a few pictures, in the middle of the road (crazy American). It almost felt as though we were roaming around Vegas during peak hours. People were everywhere and the lights on the signage were burning brightly.

We also found Shibuya’s Uniqlo location. There were a few items we hadn’t seen here at home, so we each bought something. I was hoping the store would be a little bigger. I think the Daiso we visited earlier had a larger store. This wasn’t even multi leveled.

Still, the day had been a complete success for all involved. It was great to know that all this was happening in Shibuya just around the bend from our apartment. Eric and I were very excited that we were in the middle of glitz and hustle of the city. Again, it’s a great feeling that you walk into an apartment building and not a hotel. We were loving our Airbnb experience!

The next day would also be another big one. We would be headed to Kyoto via the Shinkansen bullet train! It was going to be a 4:30 early rise to make it out for the first train. Maybe we would see a Geisha or a golden pavilion. We couldn’t wait to find out!

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