It’s about two months since I got back from Japan, and I still haven’t finished writing about my trip! Time to get stuck into it. I’ve been playing around with photos, and started a photo book, but it’s very time consuming and I’m having trouble trying to work out how to arrange all the photos. I need to think about it less and just throw them together! Anyway, on to my first day in Japan (going to backdate the timestamp on this post…).
After our late night out, Ron and I slept in quite late on Sunday morning. While Ron did some washing, we had a coffee in the room using Ron’s Aeropress. It makes a pretty good coffee, but it was hard work grinding the beans with the little travel grinder. Worth the effort though! While the clothes were in the dryer, we went across the road to Family Mart. One word to describe Family Mart? Amazing!
It’s similar to 7/11, but with a huge range of instant meals. They have sushi and bread rolls, but also precooked noodles, soups, curries and more! And, they can even heat the meals in the store so they’re ready to eat! The prices were super cheap, and for a few hundred yen, or a couple of Aussie dollars, we had some soy beans, sushi and a noodle dish each. We went back to the hotel and ate on the bed while we waited for the clothes to dry.
As we opened everything, I found the packaging to be just as exciting as the food. The wrapper for the sushi had three numbered tabs, and as we opened it thin plastic sheets came out from between the seaweed and rice – a clever way to keep the seaweed fresh. And Ron’s noodles had a saucy layer, but there was a thin sheet of plastic between that and the noodles, stopping the noodles from going soggy. So clever!
Once we were done, Ron pulled together the stuff he needed for the week and added them to my suitcase. While we had spent our first night in his work hotel room in Kayabacho, we were moving to Shibuya for the rest of the week. Ron had found there isn’t a lot to do in Kayabacho, because it’s more of a business district. Shibuya on the other hand is action packed, with heaps of shops and restaurants, and 4 or 5 different train lines running through the station.
We left the hotel a bit after 12pm and made our way to the subway station. The night before, our trip on the train had been very easy. But this time, lugging a heavy suitcase up and down the stairs in almost 30 degree heat wasn’t much fun. We had to change trains as well, and I think I only bought a single trip ticket because when we got off and then on again the barriers closed as I went through. Interestingly, in Japan the ticket barriers are the opposite to here. The gate starts off open, then if your ticket isn’t valid or you try to pass through without swiping a ticket, the gates close on you. So I got stuck with me on one side and my suitcase on the other. I just lifted it over, and no-one said anything so that was lucky.
As we left Shibuya train station, we came out into a massive intersection. There were flashing billboards playing music and advertising jingles, and hundreds of people waiting around the intersection for the lights to change. And when the lights change, people go in all directions. All the cars are stopped, so pedestrians have free range of the intersection for about a minute. And with the crowds and given the size of the intersection, you really do need the full time to cross!
We weaved through the crowd, towing the suitcase behind, then made our way up a busy market street towards the hotel. It was very exciting passing by all the shops and restaurants, and taking in all the different people around. Most people seemed to be locals, and the crowd was pretty young. There was so much more action than Kayabacho, where we passed only a handful of people on the way to the station. We made it to the hotel, hot and sweaty in the humid weather. It was a relief to get inside where it was air conditioned.
We checked in painlessly, and made our way up to the third floor where our room was located. The room wasn’t much bigger than Ron’s other hotel room, but the layout was better and it felt slightly bigger. I think the bathroom was smaller though – the basin was so close to the bath/shower that we couldn’t close the shower curtain all the way! There wasn’t a wardrobe, so we didn’t really unpack anything. We had collected a few maps in the hotel lobby, so we took a look and decided to head to Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu (a shrine) for the afternoon.
We were hungry, so our first stop was lunch at a restaurant chain called Mos Burger. It’s a fast food chain like Maccas, but with a very Japanese feel to it. The menu was a bit confusing, because there was no English. We managed to get by with a lot of pointing, and fortunately the guy behind the counter spoke some English which helped. I had a terriyaki chicken burger, with chips and an iced tea. Yum yum!
From there we made our way towards Yoyogi Park. On the way we passed through a Thai festival. There were food stands, clothing stalls and dancers. It was a very busy area! We didn’t stay for long, but stopped to look at a couple of stalls along the way.
We continued on to the park. It turned out to be a very big park! There were fountains, a lake, bike paths, open lawns and bushy treed areas. There were lots of people in the park, all enjoying it in different ways – people sun baking on park benches; a man with a massive bubble blower; a drumming group practising their routine; a lone violinist, playing in the middle of a patch of trees; cyclists; people picnicking; and a dog run.
We walked through the whole park, thinking we’d be able to get out the other side to Meiji Jingu but unfortunately it was fenced off so we had to go back to the entrance and walk around. It wasn’t a wasted exercise though, because we managed to spot some interesting people on our way back!
The shrine is in a dense forest area. There was a large wooden gate at the forest entrance, known as a torri, then a long, wide gravel path leading through the trees to the shrine. The shrine was first build in the 1920’s to honour Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken. It was destroyed during WWII air raids, and was rebuilt in the 1950’s.
The start of the path was lined by sake barrels on one side, and wine casks on the other. The sake is donated each year by the Meiji Jingu Sake Brewers Association to honour Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken. Similarly, the wine is also an offering donated each year.
At the entrance to the main shrine is a small shelter where there are bamboo scoops and running water for washing your hands and mouth before entering the grounds. After cleansing, we entered the main complex. There were several buildings – the shrine, a museum, martial arts hall and memorial museum. There was a shop selling charms and wooden plaques you could use to write a prayer and leave it at the shrine.
At the main shrine building, I was surprised when someone next to me clapped loudly. Then I noticed a small sign which explained the correct way of paying respect at the shrine – make a donation into the box, bow twice, clap your hands twice, make a wish or prayer then bow once more before leaving.
After looking around the complex, we made our way out the other side and followed the path back around to the torri. Meiji Jingu is close to Harajuku, so we headed there next. Ron had already visited a few weeks ago, so knew where to go. He took me to Takeshita street, which was a narrow street packed with people, and lined with all sorts of crazy shops.
The fashion in Harajuku is very unique. A blend of gothic and emo, mixed with bright colours and accessories that look like they’ve come from a cartoon. Animal tails and ears are also quite common. It felt like walking through an anime cartoon. We poked around in some of the shops, and stopped for a shaved ice snack, then came out into a less crowded and less crazy street, line with houses and more boutique type shops. It was quite an experience!
Exhausted from all the walking we done, we found some dinner then made our way back to the hotel. Ron had some preparation he needed to do for work the next day, so I looked through Lonely Planet and some of the brochures ready for my adventures on Monday. It had been a great start to my holiday!