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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)

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.


Tokyo (Shibuya) [Part I – Hachiko] November 10, 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 I – Hachiko]” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-fE

Shibuya is one of the most iconic places in Japan.  It was predominantly popularized by the movie “Lost in Translation” and “Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”.  Both of these movies showed sections of what some people call, the busiest intersection of the world.  Unfortunately, neither of these movies truly tells of the real character, or life of Shibuya.  The modern reality is that a lot of people hate Shibuya because it is mainly a high school and college hang out.  However, Shibuya is definitely one of the places that tourists should visit in order to understand the various subcultures of Tokyo itself.

The first thing that must be done in Shibuya is to find an exit, or to find a meeting spot.  The Hachiko Exit and the Hachiko statue is the most famous meeting spot in Shibuya.  In October 2009, the movie Hachiko: A Dog’s Story, staring Richard Gere will be released, retelling the story of Hachiko.

In 1924, Hachiko was brought to Tokyo by his owner, Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo. During his owner’s life Hachiko saw him off from the front door and greeted him at the end of the day at the nearby Shibuya Station. The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return on the usual train one evening. The professor had suffered a stroke at the university that day. He died and never returned to the train station where his friend was waiting.

Hachiko was given away after his master’s death, but he routinely escaped, showing up again and again at his old home. Eventually, Hachiko apparently realized that Professor Ueno no longer lived at the house. So he went to look for his master at the train station where he had accompanied him so many times before. Each day, Hachiko waited for Professor Ueno to return. And each day he did not see his friend among the commuters at the station.

The permanent fixture at the train station that was Hachiko attracted the attention of other commuters. Many of the people who frequented the Shibuya train station had seen Hachiko and Professor Ueno together each day. They brought Hachiko treats and food to nourish him during his wait.

This continued for 10 years, with Hachiko appearing only in the evening time, precisely when the train was due at the station.

Commemorating this real story, there is a statue of Hachiko just outside the train station.  If you want to see Hachiko himself, you can go to the National Science Museum of Japan in Ueno where his body was stuffed and put on display.  The other major meeting spot is at the West Bus Loop where there is a statue of the “Moyai”.  It is a gift from the island of Nijima that resembles the Moai of Easter Island.  This is generally an easier place to meet people, but it isn’t as convenient.

The Hachiko exit not only provides a quick look at the statue of Hachiko himself, but you can also board an old style train car, and see one of the most famous spots in Japan, Shibuya Crossing.  This is a typical scramble crossing, but what you don’t realize is how busy it is.  During the day, it is busy, but manageable.  At night, once the bars start opening up, the crossing becomes a chaotic sprint to get from A to B.  Many tourists will head through taking video of this crossing.  It’s not something people enjoy doing everyday.  One of the best vantage points of the crossing is at Starbucks, situated in the Tsutaya building on the North West corner of the intersection.  Do beware that this Starbucks is extremely popular and always crowded.  Finding a window seat can be a challenge in itself.  The good thing about this building is that it provides a great way to start exploring Shibuya.  Whichever way you go from here, you’ll see different sides of the city, and different cultures.

This is Part I of a III part series.  To continue reading about Shibuya, please continue on to Part II and Part III.

Shibuya Information:



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:


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


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.


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