I started the day today exploring the area near our hotel in Shibuya. Between our hotel and the station, there are lots of small streets packed with little restaurants and shops. Parts of it have a market feel, with small stall holders selling cheap clothes and shoes, while others are proper stores.
I wandered through the shops, checking out some amazing pop-up greeting cards, and just about every stationery item ever invented! There were some interesting sticky notes, with cute pictures on them or cut into special shapes; ballpoint pens which can be erased; and various notebooks and diaries in every colour imaginable. Another shop sold homewares with plastic containers to store fruit (actually shaped like the fruit, designed to hold just one piece), lunchboxes, jelly moulds, sushi moulds, silicon cupcake holders and so much more. I spent an hour or so just browsing, and doing my best to resist the temptation to buy everything.
After browsing the shops, I made my way to the station where I tracked down the statue of Hachikō, a dog who apparently waited for his owner at Shibuya every day. Even after his owner died, the dog still came to the station every night to look for him. The dog became quite famous, and a statue has been erected next to the station in memory of him. Since it’s so well known, people use the statue as a meeting place.
I caught the train to Shinjuku, where I planned to spend the afternoon in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Unfortunately, when I came out of the station I turned the wrong way and ended up walking for almost 15 minutes around the perimeter of the park until I found a gate. There is an entry fee to visit the park, so it’s mostly surrounded by a large brick wall with one a couple of entrances. On the way I passed a 7/11, so I stopped in and bought some microwave noodles (which they heated in the store!) and took them with me to the gardens.
When I finally found the gates, there was a ticket office but there was no-one selling tickets. At first I thought it might have been closed, but then I realised there was a ticket machine. Reading the little pictures and icons I managed to work out what to do, and fed the machine my money. It gave me a ticket which I then took around the corner to the park gate. Surprisingly, there was a person there who then took the ticket from me as I entered. It seemed a bit strange that they employ someone to collect tickets, but not to sell them.
Once I was inside, I found a park bench to enjoy my noodles before they cooled down. After a little rest, I wandered into the park. There are several distinct sections in the park. I started in the Traditional Japanese garden where there was a lake, with a traditional style shelter built on a hill. The trees in this section of the garden were well maintained, trimmed into well defined shapes. The trees were like large bonsai’s, with long, curving branches, and in some cases wooden supports had been put in place to support the long limbs.
I followed the gravel path through the garden, crossing a small arched bridge to get to the other side of the lake. It was very pretty, and I felt like I was walking through a life-sized zen garden surrounded by massive bonsais.
I continued down the path where it opened up to a grassy area. There was a man sitting on a small stool painting the scene in front of him. The picture looked just like the garden before him, except he had substituted the cloudy, grey sky for a sunny blue day. I’m not sure if that was a sky from another day, or if he was just being creative in his painting.
I had seen in the brochure that there was a tea house in the gardens. I was keen to stop by, so I headed there next. It was nestled amongst a lot of trees at the bottom of a hill. The gravel path wound down the hill, scattered with pine needles. It was quite a bit cooler there in the shade.
The name of the tea house was Rakuutei, and the sign explained that for 700 yen you could have green tea with a Japanese sweet. The area was very quiet, and there weren’t any people around. The sound of the sliding door as I made my way in seemed very loud. A smiling elderly lady greeted me, and I took a seat. I don’t think she spoke English, and we didn’t exchange any words. Given they only served tea, there was no need for her to take my order.
It was a small rectangular room, with bench seats and tables along each side. There was no-one else inside. I could hear her out the back, preparing my tea. She came back into the room with a small jelly on a glass plate, then disappeared back through the door. I took a taste and the flavour reminded me of home made toffee, but rather than being hard it was a soft jelly. She returned a few minutes later with my tea, and I sat there for a little while sipping the tea and enjoying the peaceful background music. It was very relaxing, and when I was finished I felt energised and ready to continue exploring.
Next stop was the French Formal Garden at the other end of the park. I was curious to know what they meant by that. It turned out to be two rows of pine trees, with a rose garden in the centre. The were park benches, and large pots around the edge. There was lots of gravel, and far less greenery. I didn’t linger long, instead heading to the greenhouse.
I thought it was hot and humid outside, but inside the greenhouse was even worse! It was very large, with a winding path along the ground, but also a ramp that went up to a second level allowing you to look down on the plants as well. There was an artificial waterfall, and lots of bright coloured flowers and trees. It was so humid that before long I was dripping with sweat, so I hurried back outside. Having spent a few hours in the gardens, I was ready to move on.
I caught the train back to Tokyo station and walked through the Tokyo International Forum on my way to Uniqlo. The roof of the building is very interesting, shaped like the hull of a ship. I caught up with Ron and we found a small restaurant for dinner, where we had fried chicken and noodles – yum!
After dinner, we went back to the hotel to drop off our stuff, then we were heading back out to meet Caz and Reeve at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. There is a free observation deck partway up the building, with good views of Tokyo.
The building is in a business district, so there weren’t many people out and about except those going to the observation deck. We had some trouble finding the building, and it was a bit eery walking around the office buildings with so few people compared to everywhere else I’d visited so far. Still, it felt quite safe.
There was a short queue, but we didn’t have to wait long. The view was pretty good, and we could see in all directions. All of the buildings had small, blinking red lights on top of them which made the skyline look a bit like an airport runway.
While the view was good, I think the souvenirs in the middle of the floor were the highlight for us! There were Disney toys, Super Mario figurines and stuffed toys, and all sorts of strange and unusual games. And in true Japanese style, there were vending machines! Two machines we found particularly fun were the print your own puzzle machine, and the key ring machine.
The puzzle machine let us upload a photo and print a small jigsaw puzzle on the spot! We flicked through my camera and found a colourful photo out the front of Takeshita Street and uploaded it to the machine. A few minutes later we had our own personalised puzzle!
Even more exciting than the puzzle, was the key ring machine. There were a set of figurines hanging on the shelf, all without faces. We each picked a figurine, then went up to the machine which took a photo of each of us. We cropped, zoomed and rotated the photo to fit the shape on the screen, then a few minutes later a small plastic face dropped out the chute with our faces printed on it. The face then clipped into the figurine, and we had our own key ring. It was amazing!
Having played with all the machines, and checked out most of the toys we were ready to leave. Back in Shibuya, it was just as busy as ever, and the bright lights and flashing billboards made it almost as light as day. We went back past some of the shops I’d visited in the morning, and found some cheap shoes. It was only $30 for Chucks and Vans. We ended up buying four pairs between us, which got us a further 10% discount!
After all my walking that day, I was quite happy to head back to the hotel and sleep.
Before I sign off, here’s a video of the massive Shibuya crossing. Thousands of people cross at a time, and the pedestrian lights go green in all directions at once. It’s particularly impressive at night with the billboards flashing above the intersection.