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A Day of Serendipitous Surprises in Tokyo, Japan

Today was like a series of weird dreams.

 

By subway, I head to the Harajuku District, a very touristy and densely populated area of Tokyo.  I only have one destination in mind: The Kawaii Monster Cafe.

 

Kawaii Monster Cafe

Baby bottle lights in the “Milk Bar” of the Kawaii Monster Cafe

 

Kawaii Monster Cafe

 

I arrive early at the Kawaii Monster Cafe and that’s good because it would not have been worth the hour wait that online reviewers report.  It’s a “concept restaurant” designed by Sebastian Masuda who helped build the Japanese kawaii (cute) cultural phenomenon.  There’s a 500 yen ($5 US) entrance fee and it’s required that you order one drink and one dish.  I opt for the two cheapest items: french fries and coffee.  Inside it’s a plastic, psychedelic, colorful world.  By the taste of it, you don’t come here for the food.  “Monster girls” perform a G-rated dance show on a plastic carousel.  All very weird, but seriously contrived.  The bill of $17 seems criminal but it’s a tourist trap and that’s my stupid tax.

 

The weirdness I experience later in the day is way better and free.  So let’s move on.

 

Kawaii Monster Cafe

Kawaii Monster Cafe

 

 

 

Harajuku District

 

Leaving the cafe I am overwhelmed by the number of people on the streets.  This is more like the Tokyo I imagined and the Tokyo that’s so often portrayed in movies.  Harajuku is a shopper’s paradise and the center of the Japanese fashion scene.  It’s modern, bustling, exciting and crowded!

 

Harajuku District

Harajuku District

 

 Meiji Jingi Shinto Shrine

 

I roam until I see a large gate and many people walking through it.  It’s my style to follow the crowd in these cases because crowds are usually going somewhere worth seeing.  A sign tells me I’m entering Meiji Jingu, a Shinto Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Skoken who passed away in the early 1900’s.  At that time, the public donated 120,000 trees to create a forest around the shrine.  The shady wide path is peaceful and calm and such a contrast to the hustle and bustle just ten minutes before!

 

Barrels of Sake

Barrels of Sake donated by sake makers of Japan to the shrine.

 

I pass hundreds of barrels of sake which have been donated as offerings to the shrine.  And donated barrels of French wine too.  God knows such a display could never exist in the United States.  Those barrels would be tapped by a hobo in two seconds flat.

 

Ice Carving Exposition

 

Soon, I come upon hundreds of spectacular lanterns with blue writing

 

Lanterns

Lanterns

 

…and across the road an ice carving exhibition.  What good fortune!  It’s freezing cold and sunny which makes for perfect viewing conditions.

 

Ice Carvings

Ice Carvings in Tokyo, Japan

 

Brides, Grooms and Fortunes

 

Inside the shrine I witness the coin tossing, bowing, and clapping that I saw at Senjoji Temple.  I stand in line and make a small offering and prayer as well — first toss the coins, bow twice, clap twice, say a prayer, clap once, bow.  Done.

 

Meiji Jingu Entrance

Meiji Jingu Shrine Entrance

 

I want my fortune again but here fortunes are offered by way of poems, written by the Empress herself.  I shake the octagonal box as I did at Sensoji Temple and receive stick #5 which delivers this fortune poem:

 

We shall fall behind

Our fellows in the world

if, when we should advance

We make no move at all.

 

Sorry to be disrespectful to the Empress, but — “Duh”.  I am not moved by my fortune.

On the grounds,  I observe a bride and groom being led to a car.  And then another bridal procession passes through the courtyard slowly and somberly, the bride and groom underneath a red parasol.

 

Marriage Procession

The people preceding the bride and groom in a marriage procession

 

Yoyogi Park

 

Leaving the temple I walk through more forest and soon I am in Yoyogi Park which is where the U.S. military had barracks during the occupation of Japan.  The park is bustling with activity, bike riders, joggers, kids flying kites, picnics.  It’s obviously a beloved local recreational area.

 

Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park

 

At a bandstand, I watch a group of young singers belt out Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” in a barber-shop quartet style.  Strange.  I could sit here all day.  The people-watching is fantastic.  The aroma of food wafts by as numerous vendors offer snacks in the park.

 

“The Strangers” Greasers on the Road

 

Leaving Yoyogi Park I get the biggest surprise of the day: a group of rockabilly dancers named “The Strangers“.  I am flabbergasted by their pompadours, some over half a foot high.  I imagine this is a joke.  But no.  It’s no joke.  These men and a few women have been dancing here every Sunday for decades.

 

The Strangers in Yoyogi Park

The Strangers in Yoyogi Park

 

Between dances, I smile at the dancers but the smiles are not returned — they’re tough guys.  They’re drinking Jack Daniels and cutting a rug!

 

Please tell me this is not the greatest.

 

 

Want more?  Me too.

 

 

Still want more? Me too.

 

 

The Strangers in Yoyogi Park

The Strangers in Yoyogi Park

 

My life feels complete.

 

Shibuya District and Shibuya Crossing

 

Now, I travel in the Shibuya district walking towards the reputed “busiest intersection in the world”.  The area looks much like Times Square in NYC with zillions of digital and neon signs and stimulation coming from every angle.  I arrive at the crossing and a Shibuya scramble it is!  Japanese people are extremely obedient about not jaywalking and waiting at crosswalks for a green light – even in the middle of nowhere.  But when that light turns green it’s crazytown in all directions.  It’s estimated that at peak times 1000 people cross at once.  It’s a heartbeat.

 

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing on a Quiet Day

 

Marble Deposit

 

Those of you who’ve followed me know that a friend gifted me with marbles when I started my journey in 2013 and asked that I disperse them around the world.  I photograph the deposits when possible.  This is the perfect place.  I find a level spot, contort myself into a pretzel and give it a go.  Fifteen freezing minutes later, I still can’t get the shot.  Ah, zee sacrifice of zee artist!  The light will not do.  I have to wait until dark.

 

So I walk.

 

Shibuya Crossing

Tokyo, Japan

 

I pass fashionistas in all manner of dress up and down.  This is clearly the epicenter of all cool shopping as well as a tourist mecca based on the abundant American fast food chains.

 

Purikara Photo Club

 

Hoping to warm up, I wander into what I think is a shop but is, in fact, a Purikara Photo Club.  Purikara, it turns out, is a cultural phenomenon in Japan.  Visitors (usually young teen girls) step into advanced digital photo booths and their images are automatically edited to spit out photos of ideally cute girls.  The place is a beehive of activity with giggling girls rushing from booth to booth.  I might as well be a dolphin standing there — I am so terribly and uncomfortably out of place.  “Be cool.” I tell myself.

 

Purikura machines

Purikura photo booth.  Perhaps an English speaker should have been involved in the naming of this one. Maybe. OMG.

 

I pretend I am the mother of a teenager so I don’t feel so awkward.  Because I want in!  Feigning chillaxation, I watch the girls to grasp the routine.  Got it.  I approach a machine that suggests I’ll get a happy ending.  Hmmm.  With my 400 yen (about $4US), I select things (I have no idea) on a digital screen, and enter the booth.  I do my damnedest to make the stupidest cutest faces possible.  I’m in it to win it.  Five minutes later, my pictures are delivered and my skin is as smooth as a baby’s butt, my nose and chin have been reduced significantly, my lips reddened and glossed and my eyes enlarged and given lashes to resemble a fawn.  I don’t look crazy, right?  Happy ending?

 

photo - 1

 

Back to that Marble

 

I got the shot I wanted. Yes.

 

I left a marble.

I left a marble at Shibuya Crossing

 

Shibuya Train Station and Grocery

 

Serving about 2.4 million passengers a day during the week, this station is an underground city unto itself.  I enjoy a tour around another grocery store offering everything under the sun and more.  I grab dinner of inari (yes, again), oranges and yogurt and find my way to the platform.

 

Pretty cookies

Pretty cookies in a pretty box.

 

There will be no difficulty sleeping tonight.

 

Tokyo, you’ve been great.  I’ll never forget you and can’t wait to come back.  And man — those toilets.

 

Photos of the Day in Tokyo, Japan:

6 Comments

  1. Hi, just wondering if you know what is the best time of day to see The Strangers? Thanks!

    • I don’t know what the normal schedule is but I was there in the afternoon, about 3 PM.

  2. What a great post! The photo booth pictures are too weird and the marble shot just beautiful.

  3. Laura, we’ve enjoyed reading your reports from Tokyo. Love your pics! And the dancing Strangers. Hallo from John. He’s walking with a group in our local hills today while I stay at home and cook for a family get-togeter this evening. Really appreciate your shared adventures – thank you.

    • Thank you, Erika. 🙂

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