Meiji Jingu Ticket

Travel Update: Tokyo, Part 1

While Kat and I were harassing the local wildlife in Kyoto, Amelia headed to Tokyo to meet up with our friend Shawn (also known as “Naka” [or “T-Nak”, though only I call him that]). Unlike your reliable blogger, Amelia is given to gross exaggerations, and so I can only hope to separate truth from fiction in her account of what transpired.

According to her, she arrived at Tokyo’s Narita airport after fending off an interplanetary invasion only to discover that Shawn’s flight had been briefly delayed. Following a fatal scuffle with ill-prepared assassins, she found that his plane had docked at a different gate than originally planned, leaving the two of them to find each other in the crowds of Tokyo’s largest airport. They located each other by means of psychic link and boarded a train for Harajuku Station.

It was there, in Harajuku, that the group reconvened (now with an additional member!) and my dutiful chronicling of events resumed. We made a beeline for Takeshita St., which is (apparently) widely known as the beating heart of a particular style of alternative Japanese fashion. We didn’t run across anyone sporting any of the prototypically gaudy style for which the Harajuku area is known, but we did find a number of fashion shops with a somewhat eccentric style.

We left Harajuku with an aim to find Meiji Jingu, a shrine-slash-forest found in the centre of Tokyo. We actually found it pretty easily, which we suspect was partly due to our rapidly improving understanding of Japanese metro maps and partly due to the fact, again, it is located squarely in the centre of Tokyo.

The shrine occupies 175 acres and is mostly composed of idyllic ponds, shrubs, wells, trees, fish, and huts.

Nestled in the centre of the forest is the shrine proper. There were a number of people there in ceremonial garb for weddings and… other activities? We’re not sure what the children were there for, but there were many adorable children at the shrine for one purpose or another. Being a large man who is not known to the children or their parents, I generally avoided taking photos of the (very adorable) little ones. Kat, however, did not feel so constrained.

We set off from Meiji Jingu towards Akihabara, the epicentre of Japanese nerd culture. Being avowed nerds, this stop was high on our list of must-see locations. We only got a brief, tantalizing taste, though; mere moments after arriving we realized that we’d need to head off if we were to make our dinner reservation. Don’t worry; we would return.

“Wait,” you might be mentally interjecting, “why did you have a reservation? Don’t you just, like, walk into whatever restaurant is nearby for every meal?” Well, for one, it hurts me that you would think us so ill-organized. And, for two, you would usually be correct.

This night, however, was different. This night we were going to Gonpachi. You might know it better as that restaurant where they filmed a fight scene in Kill Bill. It’s a popular destination, and it was very high on Kat’s list of must-see locations, so we’d planned ahead for once.

After dinner the cool kids (namely everyone but me) decided to head out for karaoke. I went back to the hostel to hammer out some blog posts and catch some shut-eye. Amelia gathered some photographic evidence of what transpired in my absence.

Karaoke in Tokyo
Amelia tells me that Kat was singing Eminem’s Lose Yourself when this photo was taken. No snarky caption can improve on that.

In theory, I had headed back to the hostel early so that I could wake up early to see an early-morning training Sumo session. It turns out that that is too much “early” for me — true to form, Amelia and I slept in while Kat headed off on an adventure. At least this time she had Shawn to keep her company.

Sumo wrestlers
I would make a comment here about my backup career plans, but I don’t want to trivialize these guys’ considerable talents.

Once Kat and Shawn had returned (and once Amelia and I were ambulatory), the group of us left to see the gardens of the Imperial palace (called Honmaru Goten). They were immaculate, as one would expect the Japanese emperor’s backyard to be.

Along the way, we saw plenty of little features that seemed photo-worthy. Never before in my life have I spent so much time trying to catch a spider in the right light.

We looped around the the entrance of Edo castle and politely asked the guard if we could enter. He declined with what sounded like the only English phrase in his repertoire: “private property”. On reflection, I suppose that that phrase would be pretty high up on the scale of valuable English terms to know. You know, historically speaking.

Chris and Kat at the Imperial palace
“Well, where next?”

This left us with one thing left on the list of must-sees in Tokyo: Akihabara! We made haste to the nearest metro station. Japan’s nerd capital did not disappoint.

Akihabara at night
It’s fitting that the place lights up like my desktop monitor.

We spent some time wandering about and seeing the sights (a Gundam cafe! Multi-story miniatures shops! Manga shops stuffed with smut!). The photo record of these is spotty, since most shops aren’t too keen on photography on the premises. You’ll have to use your imagination.

We did, however, buy our dinners from a vending machine, which was pretty cool in an analog sort of way — you place your order at a pretty conventional button-based vending machine outside, it issues a ticket, and then you grab your dinner at the counter inside. It was surprisingly good, and sized to sate an otaku’s endless appetite to boot!

We also checked out that six-storey Sega arcade from earlier. It also disallowed photos, but we (uh, I mean Kat) snuck a few in. Amelia and Shawn also tried out a uniquely Japanese photobooth — after snapping your photos, you could enlarge eyes, adjust skin tone, add lens flare, paste on cute stickers, and just generally remake yourself into an anime character. They found the results pretty hilarious, though sadly the evidence has been destroyed lost.

While in Akihabara, Amelia also hunted for a costume for Halloween (which landed on our last night in Japan). We stopped by a cosplay (“costume play”) shop, but were deterred by the high prices for professional-quality gear. Japan (or at least Akihabara) takes costume design a little more seriously than the typical pop-up Halloween shop stocked with polyester superhero suits; we did not locate something suitably disposable that evening.

We also hunted for a distinctive Akihabara creation — maid cafes. These are cafes where the servers act (and are dressed like) maids; patrons are treated like masters and the setting is meant to emulate a home environment. I wasn’t terribly keen on the idea (power dynamics are weird!), so when it turned out that cafes had multi-hour lineups and eye-popping by-the-minute price tags I was relieved to have an excuse to bow out. We ended up leaving Akihabara without the maid cafe experience.

But there were plenty of experiences left in store for us in Japan! We headed back to the hostel to rest up. The next day we’d get to introduce Shawn to Kyoto!