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Temples of Tokyo – Part II [Meiji-jingu & Zojoji] February 16, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Temples of Tokyo – Part II [Meiji-jingu & Zojoji]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gk

Once you finish with Sensoji, you can make your way across town to visit Meiji Jingu.  This is much more tranquil than Sensoji.  There are far fewer people here, and there isn’t any shopping within the shrine grounds.  The first thing you must do is venture to the main shrine.  This is, in itself, a difficult task.  It can take roughly 10 minutes to walk there.  The walk itself is very nice, as you are walking within a natural forest.  The various torii gates are also magnificent as they tend to blend in with the surrounding trees.  The entire walkway leading to the temple is also very spacious.  This is mainly due to the crowding during the New Year celebrations.  If you have a little money and want to see a garden, you can have a nice walk around the private gardens of the shrine.  I doubt that this garden is that beautiful, so it’s easy to skip.  You will also run into a row of large barrels with various writings on it.  These are sake casks.  Inside each one, it is filled with sake.   They are donated to the shrine by various sake breweries and companies for various reasons.  It makes for an interesting photo opportunity.  The shrine itself is pretty interesting.  The main courtyard is situated in such a way that you cannot really see any buildings in the surrounding areas.  This makes it a sort of oasis within Tokyo.  You can also see the inner buildings from the entrance way, but don’t expect a full walk through.  Like most of the other temples and shrines, there is a public area, and a private area.  Overall, the private area is nothing special.  They usually hold weddings and other ceremonies inside the various halls.  There isn’t much in the way of statues or things worth photographing.  Temples tend to have more interesting things behind the closed doors.  After you finish with the main court yard, you will be greeted by the fortune area of the shrine.  Shrines tend to make more money selling fortunes than anything else.  Do you want to have a child?  Do you want to do well on a test?  Go to the priest, tell them, and they’ll make a fortune for you.  It’s valid for only one year.  After that, you have to return it, or go back to recharge it.  When that is over, you can make your way back to Harajuku station.  On the way out, you can visit a small museum dedicated to Emperor Meiji, but do note that the cost to enter is probably not worth the visit.  I heard that there are only pictures inside, and very few artefacts.

If you have the time, visiting Zojoji before Meiji Jingu is recommended.  Zojoji, as I mentioned, is not very famous outside of Tokyo.  It is relatively small compared to Sensoji and Meiji Jingu.  The approach from Daimon station isn’t very interesting either.  You can do everything you want to do at Sensoji and Meiji Jingu, so visiting Zojoji isn’t necessary.  However, the experience of Zojoji is very unique.  Just outside the main entrance, there is a very major street.  It’s bustling with traffic all day long.  In fact, it can be extremely noisy.  However, once you walk into the temple grounds, the noise seems to disappear.  All around the temple, you’ll see various trees planted by various dignitaries, such as George W. Bush.  There are various statues, and a unique cemetery located in the temple grounds which also helps make it more unique.  You can see a large bell that is rung to signal the start of the New Year.  The major draw for this temple will be the ability to take a picture of the temple near the foot of Tokyo Tower.  It’s a great picture to show friends, and it truly shows the mix of traditional Japanese culture with modernism.  The other main draw, on a personal note, has to be entering the temple’s main hall.  While Sensoji allows you to only enter the entryway, Zojoji allows you to enter, sit, and meditate.  It is a nice cool place to relax on a hot afternoon, and the smell of the incense is very calming.  If you are lucky, you can see one of the monks performing a prayer.  It is, without a doubt, one of the best temple experiences I have had in Japan, and the best one in Tokyo.

Temples and shrines in Tokyo vary from large and extravagant, to small and unnoticeable.  Meiji Jingu is one of the large ones, but if you are walking along a side street, you might see a small shrine no bigger than a pay phone.  It’s impossible to truly recommend only three temples to visit in Tokyo.  It’s even more impossible to recommend three in all of Japan.  Each one has their own unique layouts, unique statues, and unique festivals.  If you are lucky enough to be living in Tokyo, be sure to visit other temples, especially your local temple.  You never know what interesting things are going to happen.

Note:  Other notable temples and shrines include Yasukuni Shrine (infamous for worshiping battles in the name of peace) and Sengakuji (famous for being the resting place of the 47 Ronin).

This is Part II of a two part series.  To read more, please head over to Part I.

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2059.html (About Shrines)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Shrine (Meiji Jingu)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3002.html (Meiji Jingu)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zojoji (Zojoji)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3010.html (Zojoji)

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Tokyo (Shibuya) [Part III – The Path Less Ventured] November 24, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Shibuya) [Part III – The Path Less Ventured]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-fN

For people who want a more traditional experience, especially shopping, staying at the station, or heading north is the best way to go.  The Tokyu department store is located above and below Shibuya station.  Heading north from Shibuya crossing will lead you to Seibu and Marui department stores.  All of these shops provide a typical Japanese department store experience.  You can find them in every major centre of Tokyo, and almost every major city in Japan.  However, be sure to explore all of the side streets.  I have visited Shibuya countless times and every corner, every back street, changes constantly.  Many of the old shops have left the northern areas, in favour of more traditional fashion boutiques.  However, if you walk around enough, you’re sure to find a lot of nice shops that even residents who have lived their whole lives have never even found.

If you are feeling more adventurous, or you just have too much time on your hands, the areas to the south and east provide a very different feel for Shibuya compared to the north and west areas.  Directly to the east, people tend to associate it with Omotesando.  To the north east, it’s more Harajuku.  To the south, it feels more like Ebisu.  Omotesando is an upscale area that is very akin to Ginza.  The main difference is the affluence.  While Ginza is for people to be seen, and you’ll see a large variety of classes, Omotesando tends to be one class only, rich.  Harajuku was talked a lot by Gwen Stefani for its fashion and need to break away from the normal culture.  The north east corner of Shibuya borders Harajuku, and hence has more in common with that style of fashion.  It is also a location of an infamous park where homeless people tend to live, and rows of yakitori shops similar to the small shops in Shinjuku.  Again, like in Shinjku, I would not recommend them as they tend to be a little expensive, and they may not be so friendly to foreigners.  It’s better to go to Shinjuku.  The south region will see things be more food oriented.  Ebisu tends to have more food shops than anything.  You can also see some interesting fashion outlets, but people tend not to shop here.  There are more apartments than shops, but if you want to go for a nice walk, this area is a nice area.

All in all, Shibuya is a place to visit.  It’s noisy, bustling 24 hours a day, and willing to show you new insights into Japan.  Is it a true picture of Japan?  No.  Will you be amazed by the crazy lights, strange people, and wonderful shopping?  Yes.  Make sure you visit during the day and night.  In the day, do your shopping in the north.  At night, return to Centre Gai and take a stroll around the Love Hotel Hill.  Don’t be surprised when you pass expensive cars with blacked out windows parked in front of a sex toy shop

This is the end of a 3 part series on Shibuya.  To read more on Shibuya, please continue reading Part I and Part II.

Shibuya Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibuya,_Tokyo
http://wikitravel.org/en/Shibuya
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3007.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Shibuya) [Part II – Subcultures and Fashion] November 17, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Shibuya) [Part II – Subcultures and Fashion]” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-fL

One of the more interesting places to venture is up Centre Gai.  This small street and the small streets surrounding it, provides you with a glimpse of Shibuya’s fashion.  This is not to be confused with Harajuku.  Here, you’ll see the infamous Yamamba.  This has been literally translated to be “Mountain Hag”.  It is a subculture of Tokyo and consists mainly of teens coming from the rural areas surrounding Tokyo.  They tend to wear pajamas or anything in a pastel type colour.  Guys tend to do the same, but they also include gray clothes.  The biggest shock is their skin, make-up, and hair.  First, they usually go to tanning salons until their skin has such a dark tan, it looks brown.  Their hair tends to be bleached blonde, and then they add various pastel colours like pink or baby blue.  As for make-up, both men and women wear white make-up that goes around the eyes and white lipstick.  This is to give an image similar to a reverse panda.  They can usually be seen around the Centre Gai entrance to HMV.

As you continue to head up Centre Gai, you go from the Yamamba hang out near HMV to the shoe outlets, and on to the hip hop centre of Shibuya.  The closer you get to the NHK studios, the more the influences from Hip Hop fashion and music becomes apparent.  You can find lots of shops selling Rastafarian style clothes and some Japanese style Hip Hop clothing.  You can also see NYC Records, which is one of the more famous places for DJs to pick up vinyl.

Probably the most well known place in Shibuya, especially for women, is 109 (ichi maru kyu).  This building can easily be seen from Shibuya crossing when looking west.  This is where all of the young teens and early 20 year old women go to get the latest fashion.  It is also popular for the gyaru fashion.  Gyaru is a broad term for various young women’s fashion.  It can range from a princess look with big hair to the Yamamba’s that I mentioned earlier.  While I would say the majority of gyarus in this building would tend to be more of a princess variety, it isn’t impossible for you to see almost any type of young girl entering and exiting this building.  You can also see many of their boyfriends happily in tow as they cruise looking for the next big thing in fashion.  I have heard that Madonna and Gwen Stefani enjoy visiting 109, and various other celebrities have been known to drop by.  It’s unlikely that any of the girls here would care though.  For guys, there is 109-2, which is just north of Shibuya station.

Heading towards 109 leads to a fork in the road.  Head left and turn right at the second street.  This will take you to Shibuya’s, Love Hotel Hill.  This area is called Dogenzaka, but in reality, it’s a compact area where every street has a love hotel.  If you don’t know what a love hotel is, it’s basically a hotel where you can stay for one or two hours.  The rooms tend to be large and each hotel works hard to protect your privacy.  The main purpose of a love hotel is for young couples to have a place to enjoy some personal time together in a private bedroom (a.k.a. sex).  To the untrained eye, you may easily skip over one of these hotels.  However, there are several easy signs to spot one.  First, look for a tacky looking building.  They can be built to look like a Romanesque mansion, like a castle, or some other crazy theme.  Many of them just occupy a plain building, but all the windows are tinted or mirrored.  Another sign that it’s a love hotel is to look, or listen, for a fountain.  Traditional hotels would never put a fountain in front of the hotel.  The entrances for the hotels are almost always hidden to protect the couples’ privacy, and if there is a sign out front, they’ll have two prices, rest or stay.  If you search the internet, you can find a lot of crazy love hotel rooms.  Some are themed after Hello Kitty, Anime scenes, trains, buses, planes, and almost any fantasy you could want.  From what I heard, all you have to do is enter the building, select a room from a picture by pressing a button, and enter the room.  To get out, you just put money into a machine on the wall and the door opens to let you out.  You will never see a single person while you are there.

Shibuya Information:

http://japanlinked.com/Japanese-Culture/Gyaru-Gal-Styles.html (Gyaru pictures)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/109_(department_store)

This is Part II of a III part series.  To continue reading about Shibuya, please continue on to Part III.  You can also read more about Shibuya in Part I of this series.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Harajuku) [Part II – More Shopping] October 6, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Harajuku) [Part II – More Shopping]” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gd

Urahara is an area located just after Takeshita Street.  If you start from the station, just walk straight down Takeshita Street until you reach the next big street.  Once you cross the street, you are in Urahara.  This area is well known for its hip hop fashion.  Here, you will find brands such as “A Bathing Ape”, “Stussy”, “Alife”, and so on.  You can find all of the cool and unique sneakers here as well.  For hip hop enthusiasts, you can spend several days exploring all of the streets, and still not finish finding everything you wanted.  For those who aren’t into hip hop fashion, it’s still a very interesting area to visit.  You can see various shops with interesting names, and many of the hip hop shops are extremely stylized.  The area isn’t as built up as other areas of Tokyo, so it feels more open.  Being lost in this area will also give you a chance to see some of Tokyo’s own graffiti culture.  You may even find some of the craziest buildings in Tokyo.

If hip hop and teen fashion isn’t something you wear, you can always head down Omotesando Road.  To find this road, head to the Meiji Jingu exit, and instead of going over the bridge to the shrine, head left and down the hill.  This street contains a lot of mid level fashion brands such as Zara and the Gap.  Once you are near the bottom of the hill, at the first main intersection after the station, you will be at La Foret.  This is a small department store that caters to women’s fashion.  It’s a popular meeting and resting point for people.  You can easily see people of all fashions waiting outside.  If you head north, you’ll be greeted by long lines of Japanese people waiting to enter H&M and Forever 21.  These two new shops are located next door to each other and are part of the “fast fashion” boom that started in 2008.  Heading a little farther east, instead, you will be greeted by Kiddy Land, a large toy shop that has almost everything you could ever want, and Oriental Bazaar, which sells “Japanese” goods.  It’s a tourist’s heaven.

If you walk a few buildings east of Kiddy Land, you’ll reach Omotesando.  Omotesando is an area that is located next to Harajuku, but for all intents and purposes, can easily be the same area.  This area is almost exactly the same as Ginza.  Here, you’ll find all of the expensive name brand shops.  Omotesando Hills is the anchor to this district.  Here, you’ll be able to walk in a nice air conditioned mall that spirals from the top floor to the basement.  If you don’t have a big wallet, it isn’t necessary to visit this place.  However, sometimes they have art exhibits, and the building itself was designed by the famous Japanese architect, Tadao Ando.

Harajuku is a wonderful place to spend at least a day.  If you love the fashion, even three days may not be enough.  There are so many small streets for shopping that you may never be able to cover everything.   As with any other area of Tokyo, it is changing constantly.  If you visit Harajuku one year, it will definitely be different the next year.  How different and if your favourite shop is still there, that’s something I could never answer.  The only down side is that you should visit soon if you want to see the goth lolitas of Japan, or else they may not be there next year.

The following links are all about Harajuku:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3006.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harajuku
http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Harajuku

This is Part II of a II part series.  To read more about Harajuku, please head over to Part I.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Harajuku) [Part I – Shrines, People, and Shopping] September 29, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Harajuku) [Part I – Shrines, People, and Shopping]” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gb

Harajuku is a place where you can see almost everything Tokyo has to offer in a small compact area.  You will be able to see the old Japan, namely Meji Jingu, one of the quietest and biggest shrines in Tokyo.  You can also see almost every type of fashion that Japanese boys and girls love.  You have the goth lolitas, cheap and trendy, hip hop, and expensive and glamorous.  Harajuku was popularized in Gwen Stefani’s “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” album that was released in 2004.  This included four back up dancers of Japanese descent who dressed in a stylized Harajuku style.  While their style is far from what you’ll see in Harajuku itself, Harajuku’s fashion can easily be said to be the inspiration to the Harajuku Girls fashion.

If you head to Harajuku, I’d recommend going early and having a nice walk around Meiji Jingu.  It is a long walk from the station to the main temple, but it’s much better in the morning when it isn’t too hot.  The opposite can also be said about the temple in the winter time.  Going in the afternoon when it’s a little warmer might be better.  It’s best to avoid this temple in the rain.  I will write about Meiji Jingu in greater detail in a future post.

Most people who visit Harajuku go for one major reason.  They want to see all of the goth lolitas.  Several years ago, there were lots of people in Harajuku that dressed up in gothic style clothes, or even as lolitas.  It’s not uncommon to see people in maid outfits as well.  If you do a search for Japanese Punk, or Goth music, you can see a sampling of what some people wear in Harajuku.  By and far, the biggest name in Japanese Punk, although you could say glam rock or “visual-kei” is Gakt.  He is a very eccentric man who is a bit of a narcissist.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen too many people dressed up in Harajuku.  I’m guessing that the police have cracked down and forced them to find a new place to hang out.  They may have also been pushed out by the tourists and their inability to just enjoy themselves.  I would imagine that there are still many of them hanging about around 5pm on weekdays, and in the afternoons on the weekend.  You may even be lucky to find a few people with signs promoting “Free Hugs”.  This was a popular thing to do for these kids a few years ago, and a few people still do it.  Today, I tend to notice more foreign people dressed up as goth lolitas rather than Japanese people.  If you are still interested in looking for these people, the best place to see them is on a small bridge leading to Meiji Jingu.  If you don’t see many people, aside from the tourists, you came at the wrong time, or the wrong day.  Diligence is very important if you must see them.

The most famous street in Harajuku is Takeshita Street.  It’s located in front of the Takeshita Exit from the station.  This street is about 400 metres and closed to all traffic.  At all times of the day, this street is crowded.  On weekends, you’ll be lucky to move up or down the street without breathing down someone’s neck.  It’s a very hectic street that isn’t for the light hearted.  However, this is the centre of the teenage fashion in Harajuku.  You’ll be able to see everything from maid outfits, to S&M style clothing, and even some cosplay outfits.  One of the more famous things to do is to line up and buy a crepe.  Being the teen heaven that it is, crepes are the perfect date food, or just a nice desert with friends.  It’s far from the French version of crepes.  These crepes are a little heavier, rolled with lots of cream and stuffed with a few pieces of fruit.  You can also buy savoury crepes with ham, lettuce, or even cheese.  If teen fashion isn’t really your thing, but finding a good deal is, look north along Takeshita Street and somewhere along the middle of the street, you’ll find Togo Shrine.  This shrine, in and of itself, isn’t that important.  However, if you are there on first Sunday of the month, it’s worth a short visit to see the flea market.  It is famously known for selling antique furniture, but you can also find a lot of interesting old things that aren’t priced at flea market prices.  Do feel free to bargain, but don’t expect them to do too much.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Shrine (About Meiji Shrine)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harajuku_Girls (Information about Harajuku Girls)

This is Part I of a II part series.  For more on Harajuku, continue reading Part II.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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