Tokyo is a city and on the way from Haneda Airport to Shibuya, I saw more buildings. Jolene and I stayed at Jake’s apartment near Shibuya. I could relate nothing to Japanese culture in the busy city. Besides everything is modern. One of the things that reminded me I was in Japan is the language and how systematic Japanese are. Systematic might not be the word. If I looked down the city from above, I could predict their movements. For instance, they only cross the road at crossroads when the traffic light is green, they line up to board on public transportation, etc. Instead in Malaysia, bikers show up from nowhere, people cross the road at any time they feel confident being faster than a car.
As the nearest train station to the place we stayed was Shibuya so we spent quite some time there. The train station was always packed with people. A bus was redecorated into an information center. People would hop on the bus and take leaflets or even sit inside to use free wi-fi. Just in front of the bus, there is a statue of a dog, named Hachikō (ハチ公). Probably I was the same as some who wondered why a dog statue?! Jolene then explained that the bronze statue was erected to remember Hachikō’s remarkable loyalty to his owner, Professor Ueno. When his owner was alive, Hachikō greeted him at the end of each day nearby Shibuya Station. When the owner died and did not return to the station where Hachikō was waiting, Hachikō continue to appear precisely at the same spot over the next nine years until it died.
Apart from Hachikō statue, one would not miss the famous Shibuya-crossing, an intersection just outside Shibuya Station that has appeared in many movies, including Fast and Furious – Tokyo Drift. Vehicles would be driving past and the moment the green light flashed for pedestrians, from every direction, humans swarm to cross to the other side. Although it was a mass human traffic, it felt safe to cross among the crowd. There is a Starbucks at the side one of the intersection and sitting on the first floor looking out the glass window gave me a good view of the intersection.
Shibuya has lots to offer, many shops, restaurants, cafes, etc. I only explored a few streets from the crossing. One of the malls that left me a strong impression was Shibuya 109. The moment I stepped in, I felt like I was in a dreamland as every sales girl dressed up like princesses from cartoons. It was seeing dolls the size of humans! I enjoyed looking at them. The make up, attire, footwear, hairdo were very interesting! However, the more I looked, the more I felt under dressed! Still that didn’t stop me from browsing through every floor!
I also met up with Asuka who is an AFS friend whom I met in Switzerland. We went to Izakaya (居酒屋) for dinner. Well, Japan with their high-technology, why was I even surprised to find out there was a touch screen menu for ordering food?! However, Asuka had to do all the tapping as Jolene and I couldn’t read Japanese. We ordered many side dishes and once again, I tried cartilage! I gotta say apart from the crispy part, I wasn’t sure if I actually liked the chewy part. It felt like I was trying to crush some animal’s bone.
After dinner, we past by a Manga Coffee Shop and decided to have a look. While we went up, we decided to check it out for 30 minutes. Just when we were about to get into the lift, Jolene remembered she forgot our shopping bag in the restaurant. Instead of going back, Asuka said we could ring them. Asuka, like an expert, took us to the pantry to get some drinks before heading to our cubicle. We had the larger one for three. The cubicle was lined with mattress and had a TV, a computer, some pillows. Asuka then called the restaurant and thank God again that this is Japan, our shopping bag was still there. If this happens in Malaysia, long gone the bag! 30 minutes passed by so fast, I think it was almost past 10 minutes after we managed to get our drinks and by the time we reached actually took of our boots and jackets, we probably only had 10 minutes left before heading down the reception. Asuka did explain that it is a good place to sleep if one misses the last public transport or decides not to drive after drinking! Sigh, why do we not have this in Malaysia??
Harajuku is a district in Shibuya ward. It is a famous shopping area, as well as a hangout place for teenagers with wicked style where they mix and match everything and create their own style. I wonder if I hadn’t paid attention to the fashion or everyone seemed to be in decent attire. Definitely didn’t see some over-the-top cosplay outfits! Directly out of Harajuku Station is the well-known Takeshita Street. Down the lane surrounded by bright shops left and right, I was surprised to see many Africans working in the shops.
Shopping is not the only attraction at Harajuku. Most tourist stop here to visit Meiji Shrine or Meiji Jingu (明治神宫), a Shinto shrine. The forest of Meiji Jingu was created together with the main shrine buildings 90 years ago. It was established on November 1, 1920. 100,000 trees were donated from all over Japan and overseas and planted by a combined total of 110,000 young volunteers. Meiji Jingu’s forest was created in honour of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.
The area of the shrine is huge. Although it was the beginning of December, the last traces of Autumn could be seen. Not all the leaves had fallen, some trees still bore red or orange or yellow leaves. Kōyō (紅葉) or red leaves is the term used to describe the leaves turning red in the Autumn. Many told me there would be more if I had come earlier. I couldn’t really imagine the beauty of it but I believe it must be something!
Before we left, we visited the inner garden with an entrance fee of ¥500 – a tea house, a lake, a hot spring and garden. I have to admit the landscape was beautiful!
Daikanyama, also a place in Shibuya, is a very hip and quaint neighbourhood. This area is quieter and slower-paced than Shibuya but is modern enough. Although most of the area is a residential neighbourbood, it is popular for shopping and unlike Shibuya, the crowd here is older. There are many high-end and vintage boutique shops, as well as restaurants. The place that Jolene brought me to was Daikanyama Tsutaya Books (蔦屋書店). There is a Starbucks within the huge bookstore! By huge, I mean really big! It was designed based on the theme “A Library in the Woods”. Three building wing connect together a 55-meter long aisle named Magazine Street. This bookstore is more than just books! As I explored, I found not only books in different categories but also music, movies, magazines, stationary, optometry and etc. Free wi-fi was available. The best thing was all reading materials can be enjoyed comfortable even before purchasing. I really like the ambience there, however, after spending hours there and with time approaching midnight, I was very eager to leave for bed!
Tsukiji Market or Tsukiji Shijo (築地市場) is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market worldwide. The market is located in central Tokyo. The market opens most morning at 3.00am. The market is the busiest probably between 5.30am – 8.00am. That was the reason we had to wake up at 5.00am in the morning! I had no clue what to expect from the market, thinking it would probably be like the wet market at Pasar Payang Kuala Terengganu. Jolene mentioned about the famous tuna auction. However, to our disappointment, the auction is closed in December. The market will also be relocated in 2014. Not knowing what to see in the market, we ended up asking a Japanese man who suggested a shop to eat sushi. A few of the famous ones had a line outside. I was quite surprised of the small space inside. Everyone sat up front and could watch how they prepare sushi. The easiest order was a set. That was the most expensive sushi I ever had in my entire life but was worth every Yen of it! After having a good breakfast, we left for Jolene’s much needed coffee. When my stomach was full, sleepiness kicked in!
One of the landmarks in Sumida City is Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリ). It became the tallest structure in Japan, which also serves as a broadcasting, restaurant and observation tower in Tokyo. We arrived quite early that day and lucky us, the weather was sunny. Many had mentioned that most of the time, the view was foggy from above. A ticket to the Tokyo Skytree Tembo Deck at 350m cost ¥2,000. At that level, we bought another ticket for ¥1,000 to get up to Tokyo Skytree Tembo Galleria at 450m. The visibility was good as the view of Mt. Fuji from the tower was clear. A small part of the floor was built of glass, therefore we could see the bottom of the tower from above. Kinda scary to stand on top of it though. We had a power nap before leaving the tower.
Mitaka Forest Ghibli Museum or Mitaka no Mori Jiburi Bijutsukan (三鷹の森ジブリ美術館) or in short Ghibli Museum, is a museum featuring anime work of Studio Ghibli. I’m not a huge fan of Studio Ghibli but it is also known as the Walt Disney Studio of Japan! The only anime that casts a strong impression is Spirited Away. I had probably seen a few more other anime but I barely remember the story line. The museum is unique and appears like a maze. I didn’t see much on Spirited Away, apparently Ghibli’s other anime are more famous, such as catbus and Totoro. I was brought into the world of animation, fascinated by how the magic works – all the sketches and drawings to create one movement and the science and logic behind it! It didn’t take long to explore the whole museum. We even watched a short film. After that, we had a walk at Inokashira Park or Inokashira Onshi Kōen (井の頭恩賜公園). In fact Ghibli Museum is situated within the park. We even laid on the grass and I actually doze off for a while, hoping the sun to be stronger and radiate more warmth!
Although I arrived on the 1st at Toyko, it was almost midnight when I reached Shibuya. Jolene and I left Tokyo on the 5th noon. After spending half a day at Yokohama, that left us two and a half day in Tokyo. Not much time for everything but for the time given, we had visited quite a few places around Tokyo.