Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day 2: A Fine Day Out

the view from our balcony

The weather cleared up overnight. It was bright and sunny, great for a day out. We left our apartment early to make the most of it. Anyway we had a long agenda - a little culture, a little shopping and a whole lot of gawking was in store, so an early start was essential.

On the way out, we saw a little more of the apartment complex.

the lounge downstairs - not bad at all

We made a pit stop at the Tully's Coffee across the road, for breakfast. We needed the coffee. Too bad the meal was forgettable and expensive, 1410Y ($21.15) inclusive of two lattes.

keema focaccia, yuck, and bagel with cream cheese

After breakfast, we made our maiden foray into the bowels of Shinjuku station. It was a tad confusing at first. There were so many train lines and so many people, despite it being a Sunday. Eventually we sorted ourselves out and found the platform for the train to Harajuku, yay!

The train ride was a short one but Harajuku (literally "meadow lodging" according to Wikipedia) was a world apart. Compared to the skyscraper madness of Shinjuku, it seemed almost rustic. The train station was certainly quaint.

Harujuku train station

Since we were a little early - Harujuku's Sunday scene wasn't in full swing for the day yet - we made our way first to the revered Shinto shrine, the Meiji Jingu, where the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken are enshrined and venerated.

the outer torii or gate

the long walk in

HRH's favourite spot

It was a little early in the season, not much would be in bloom, but we visited the iris garden anyway. There were a few irises...

purple ones

close up

blue ones too

The garden was beautiful, if somewhat austere, the epitome of zen.

We eventually meandered to the shrine proper.

the inner torii, like all torii, made of cypress wood

cleansing ritual

Tradition! Tradition!

wishful thinking

emas (wish tablets) as works of art

For locals, this may have been a place of worship and tradition. For tourists like us, the main preoccupation was spotting the brides!

rush rush hurry hurry


Shinto priests - the men of the hour

friends and family, looking smart

family portrait

serious business

The whole spectacle was amazing. What we admired most was the effort to look spiffy for the occasion. Who knew kimonos and morning suits could look so right together?

The sun was out, the air was cool. We were loathe to leave the leafy environs of the shrine, so we continued on to the Treasure Museum, which housed a collection of imperial artefacts and portraits, and the Shiseikan, a martial arts school.

timeless beauty

the old and the new

My only complaint was the lack of noteworthy birds...

Eurasian tree sparrow

raven or crow?

Before we left altogether, we stopped by the cafeteria for a light lunch. Surprisingly, the food was quite tasty.

tempura soba (550Y/$8.25) and coke light (200Y/$3.00)

Finally it was time to leave. The minute we stepped out, we were left in no doubt that we were right smack in the 21st century. Outside the Meiji Jingu was a favourite cosplay hangout and the players had arrived.

Adding to the spectacle was the presence of chi chi frou frou dogs which even the most hardcore cosplayers could not resist.

one, two, three... kawaii!

From there, it was only a hop, skip and jump to the heart of Tokyo's trend-setting youth culture.

Takeshita-dori - gateway to Harajuku

The narrow lane which was closed off to traffic was a kaleidoscope of riotous colour. Shops selling everything a fashion-conscious teenager would want - Gothic Lolita, anyone? - lined the two sides. The lane itself was filled with people of all shapes, sizes and colours, far too crowded for much photograph-taking.

cosplayers in their time?

Amidst the youth-oriented shops, there was one which was a little different.


Takenoko literally means "bamboo shoot". It was what the Harajuku kids used to be called in the 1980s, but what was sold in this shop hardly seemed like youth culture.

OTT costumes

even history wasn't spared


It was all highly entertaining indeed, right down to the very last piercing. And to prove that Harajuku was nothing if not eclectic, look what else we came across...

omg a Daiso!

Of course we couldn't pass up the chance to have a Harajuku crepe. When in Rome...

a mindboggling array of choices

our crepe (500Y/$7.50) - berries and fresh cream, yum

Emerging from the melee, we chanced upon a shrine and a flea market.

the Togo Shrine, in honour of the hero of the Russo-Japanese war

By this time, it was already mid-afternoon and the flea market was on the verge of closing for the day. Still we caught sight of some interesting wares.

From the Takeshita-dori side of Meiji Jingumae, the main street of the Harajuku area, we crossed over to the Ura-hara ("back streets of Harajuku") but not before checking out our very first Graniph store in Tokyo!

some t-shirts left this shop...

a green building!

From this corner, we plunged into the maze of backlanes. This side of Harajuku was a little saner and a little more upmarket, but no less visually stimulating.

A short while later, we popped out onto Omotesando. Now we were in the land of high-end brands, presumably where former Harajuku kids shop later in life!

There was certainly no subtlety involved in the competition for the yen, each marque trumpteting its presence with its own imposing building. In fact, every other building was a landmark in this architects' playground.

With cash to spare, Tokyo's women pound the pavements of Omotesando, looking for the newest, the hippest, and the flashiest!

queuing for the latest in skin care

Down one side of the road we went and waltzed into Omotesando's biggest shopping centre, Omotesando Hills...

inside Omotesando Hills

even here, it's a dog-eat-dog world

is there still a place for them?

... and waltzed out the other end. It was such a lovely day we were itching to be outside where there was so much more to see.

wall mural (top)

wall mural (bottom)

At the end of Omotesando, we veered right and upwards into the even more rarefied air of Aoyama.

world famous - guess which brand?

the answer to the question above

Prada underground

Folli Follie


Kate Spade

Miu Miu

Commes de Garcon - can you tell?

no, you can't

While HM shopped, I explored the architecturally diverse neighbourhood.

Judging from the cars, it certainly wasn't a low-income area.

mercedes jeep

Still, amidst the glam and the manmade edifices, there was the traditional and natural.

even here, a deity

man tou on sale

we had some!


more pretty frowers

We checked out the other side of Omotesando.

even piano companies have to step up their game


Louis Vuitton

At the other end, we popped into two Tokyo must-stops (for tourists, that is), the Oriental Bazaar and Kiddyland, THE places for that perfect souvenir or gift, depending on whether one's inclination runs towards the traditional or the modern. With all kinds of Japanese crafts under one roof, Singapore residents will recognise Oriental Bazaar as a Japanese Lim's. As for Kiddyland, "KIDDY LAND helps keep your mind, body and soul youthful, now & forever." Well said.

Our intention was to check out possibilities and prices, particularly for Studio Ghibli merchandise. We were scheduled to visit Museum Ghibli the next day and wanted to know for sure what was available elsewhere so that we would not miss the opportunity to buy stuff that was exclusive to the museum's gift shop. We take anything and everything Ghibli most seriously.

After that, we had just enough energy to turn round the corner, onto the other half of Meiji Jingumae where, lo and behold, a Burberry Blue came into view. HM perked up immediately and then disappeared into the confines of the boutique for half an hour. She finally emerged half an hour later later, with a bag and a big grin.

It was time for dinner. We dragged ourselves back up Omotesando to where we had spotted this earlier:

Sugino Ko

Pork shabu shabu was apparently its specialty. We couldn't be hundred percent sure, not being able to read Japanese, but one thing was certain: the menu outside said "black pork". We were sold. Anyway, we were too tired to seek out an alternative and hadn't had pork shabu shabu before, just beef.

The set for two came with hors d'ouvres (parma ham with melon, arrowroot wrapped in pork belly, some butter thing with raisins), sashimi, a rice bowl with fish and fish roe, macha (green tea) ice cream for two, and of course, the raison d'etre:

you take the pork

put it into this stock

HM had shochu (Japanese vodka) and I had iced oolong. The bill came up to 9145Y ($137) which we thought was great value for money. Of course we had no idea if we had stumbled into the equivalent of Jack's Place, in which case we would have been outraged at the bill, but ignorance has its merits.

After dinner, we strolled back up Omotesando, all the way to the Harajuku Station, convinced that we should put this area at the top of our list for a return visit. It had been a beautiful day.

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