Sunday, 26 January 2014

the sunday gang in harajuku

At home, Boxing Day is characterised by leftover turkey, Christmas specials on iplayer,and pajamas. Not so this year. For this was a Patterson holiday, most commonly characterised by walking (16km on this day to be precise) and modernist architecture! 

We began the day in swanky Ginza, oohing and aahing over the beautiful department store windows and food courts. 

Prada, Cartier and D&G were only a handful of the amazing buildings dotted around. 

We stopped by the Tokyo Forum and ate our pastries while admiring the view. 

A little more walking took us to the Imperial Palace grounds. With the Emperor's birthday just passed, most things were shut, but the contrast of the serene gardens and moats with the skyscrapers was striking. 

The walls of anti-seismic stones reminded me so much of Peru and me and Gabby's trip to Cusco. The parallels just keep popping up! 

The day was grey and bitterly cold, but we warmed ourselves in little station in the gardens filled with pictures of the Imperial family and vending machines. 

:) These pictures make me happy

Hi Jack. 

After fortuitously bumping into another Miyazaki JET, we ducked into the subway and headed over to Senso-ji in Asakusa. The streets and markets surrounding it were loud, bustling and bedecked in bright festive illuminations. 

Senso-ji is the most visited temple in Tokyo and houses a golden image of the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon. It is said to have been pulled from the Sumida-gawa nearby by fishermen in the seventh century (although no one can actually view it). First, you pass through the Kaminari-mon or Thunder Gate. Then, worshippers rub the incense smoke onto their bodies for good health.

Blending in as usual.

The Tokyo Sky Tree lurking in the clouds as Asakusa lights up. 

Having fortified ourselves with coffee and sandwiches - perhaps my first satisfactory one since coming here! - we made our way to Akibahara, a place encapsulating how I used to imagine modern Tokyo. In the years following WWII, the district became a hub for black market machine and radio parts, and evolved into 'Electric Town' from there. Akiba neighbourhood is also the place to go for all things manga and anime.

We wandered along, faced upturned, until I dragged my poor unsuspecting family 8 floors up to a floor of purikura booths! 

While Mum took to it like a natural,  I think Jack needs a little more practice. Bottom left may be my favourite picture of Dad ever...

At the top of the same building was an AKB48-themed cafe, where you're served by lookalikes of band members and are treated to the sound of their songs pounding out of speakers. We passed. 

By the time we got back to the hotel we were utterly worn out and in much need of sustenance. We jumped in a cab and made for Gonpachi, the inspiration for that crazy scene in Kill Bill, to be greetd by pictures of Tarantino greeted us in the entrance. (I just noticed that link refers to King George W. Bush. Oh Japan).  

We feasted on asparagus in bacon, sashimi and bites of tender teriyaki chicken. 

The next day we decided to explore Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya, and to minimise the walking a little (only 12 km!) 

It was strange being back in the area I first experienced in Japan, at our orientation in August. I remember wandering around in the sultry heat, jet lagged and awed, and completely overwhelmed. 

Here's Shinjuku's answer to the Gherkin, The Cocoon Tower! 

But there is only so much architecture you can take. 

Jack does his camouflage thing. 

We rode the elevator up the Metropolitan Government Offices building, like I did back in August, for another stunning view of Tokyo. 
We spied a green patch from the viewing deck and decided to make for it and visit Meji-jingu, the grandest Shinto shrine in the city, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. 

The soft rain somehow made it even more atmospheric. 

As at all Shinto shrines, worshippers (and tourists) leave written messages expressing their hopes and wishes - here we discovered that a common desire is "traffic safety". Makes sense, but the specificity seemed rather quaint at first! 

Drying off in a coffee shop in Harajuku

Next stop was the famous Shibuya crossing! We made our way up the Hikarie building for a good view. 

I love how it looks like a paintbox exploded on that corner in this picture!

We found a little exhibition of crafts from each prefecture, so of course we had to check out Miyazaki's offering. 

The crossing!! Another sight I've been imaging going to for years and another surreal moment.

We ducked into a side street in pursuit of hotpot, and came up trumps with a great little modern place, Nabezo. One half of our pot was a spicy Korean broth, and for 90 minutes we dunked all the meat and fresh vegetables we could eat into it. 

The night was rounded off by karaoke at Karaoke Kan - the same place as Lost in Translation! Alongside Moscow Mules and singing, my cup runneth over. 

By the end of our last full day in Tokyo, we were footsore and exhausted, but also rather inspired. I hope I'll be visiting Tokyo periodically, the way some people do New York, for the rest of my life.