Tokyo Round 2

I got back from Tokyo yesterday. It was my second time there, but for the most part, I saw different sights. We were there for a full week. Out of everywhere we went, I want to pick out the highlights.

First, our hostel. The girl I went with had stayed there during our trip in winter break, so out of ease she decided to book the same place again. It was an okay enough place in Asakusa, fairly close to the subway station and the famous sites of Asakusa. Downstairs there was a bar where friendly Japanese people came to talk with foreigners and practice their English. Everyone was friendly… except our roommates on the first day. Our room was nearly waist-high with their dirty belongings and smelled incredibly stuffy. There was no room on the floor for our own belongings – my bed mate the first night was my suitcase. Not only this, but the two of them stayed in the room the whole time playing computer games. Why the hell would you come to Tokyo if you were just going to play video games? Luckily they moved out the second day. Good riddance.

Asakusa

Asakusa itself is famous as one of the places in Tokyo that is still reminiscent of old Japan. This is mostly because of Sensoji Temple. Anyone who has studied about Japan at all should recognize the lantern in the picture here. It stands outside the temple and you walk under it to enter.

By the time my friend and I wandered to this area it was already dark out. The many shops lining the street leading up to the temple were closed, but that was okay. The nighttime view of the old structures was gorgeous. Even my friend, who had taken pictures during her last stay in Asakusa, took pictures again to capture the nighttime scenery. It was truly breathtaking. If you venture Tokyo-way, Asakusa is definitely worth a walk around.

 

Ueno

There’s been a buzz all over Japan lately about the pandas that have recently come to Ueno Zoo. When you get off at Ueno Station you walk outside and are greeting by the cutesy panda painted onto a wall outside of Ueno Park who holds a sign that says, “Pandas have come to Ueno!”

While that may be true, my friend and I were disappointed to learn that the pandas were not yet on public display. At first begrudgingly we paid the zoo entry fee anyway. Once we were inside, however, we were almost as amused as any of the hundreds of elementary school kids wandering around in their neon colored uniform hats.

It was interesting to me to see what animals a Japanese zoo had that an American zoo wouldn’t have. It was just as interesting to see what animals a Japanese zoo lacks that an American zoo would have. There were several animals I’d never heard of, let alone seen before. My favorite was this species of wild cat from China. They were about the size of house cats but looked like lynxes. My friend, a cat lover, made some comment about how cute they were, at least until they rip your face off. At the same time I noticed a lack of wolves – which seems to be a staple for any sizable American zoo. I suppose it really depends on which animal is endangered in which region. I can’t see Americans being happy to export wolves or buffaloes, and though I don’t know much about those wild cats, I would assume the same kind of stigma exists.

On our way back from Ueno my friend and I heard a street performer. Sitting on the busiest intersection in Ueno, he played a piano and had a gorgeous voice. “Let’s watch for a bit,” I suggested. We ended up getting CDs from him, signed, and photos with him. His name is コバソロ (Kobasolo) and his voice is really beautiful! Not only that, but he’s got a really adorable personality. I hope he gets famous someday – and not just so I can say, “Hey, I met him once!” I just think he’s the kind of person who deserves it.

Shinjuku

Shinjuku was where I went to see my concert, which I cover in more detail here.

The majority of the day was spent in waiting (in a Mister Donut). But I had a few interesting experiences around the venue’s area. I’m guessing it was something of a questionable district. I went around 1pm to see if perhaps I could get an advanced ticket before the show. Around 1pm we saw a couple walk out of some building. The girl could barely stand due to intoxication. At one in the afternoon. When I glanced at the building they’d come out of I realized it was a love hotel. Oh dear.

While waiting for the concert it was becoming evening. Aside from the conspicuous concert-goers in their alternative outfits I could pick out people who appeared to be hosts walking around, such as one guy in a silver suit with blonde, spiked hair.

Sure enough, I was in host district. On my way back one rather nondescript host stopped me and asked, “Have you ever been to a place like this?” As I have something of an interest in host clubs I paused and smiled. “I don’t have money,” I told him. He shoved a flier at me and said, “Come back some time.” The flier is hanging in my room. Maybe someday I’ll go, Mr. Host. Will your flier still work the next time I’m in Tokyo?

Akihabara

Akihabara is widely known as the otaku’s paradise. Fancy electronics that you would probably never need are sold all over. Everywhere you turn there are anime shops, or shops that sell figurines or manga and comic book characters. Then of course there are girls dressed up as maids handing out fliers on the streets.

The first stop in Akihabara was the Tower Records at the top of Akihabara’s most famous shopping center. When we started to head up the tower we were greeted by an interesting sight. A giant, human-sized Pikachu. It waddled, since Pikachu’s anatomy isn’t very adaptive when translated to reality, and at one point walked into a door. Of course my friend and I had to follow it. Its destination was a Pokemon booth where a long line of people, mostly children but sometimes overgrown nerds, waited in line to get a picture with it. We gawked for quite some time, and my friend sent out a mass text message saying, “Why take your kids to meet Santa Claus when you can take them to meet Pikachu?”

After our adventures with Pikachu and an uneventful trip to Tower Records we headed out into the heart of Akihabara. We were there on a mission. A year ago, my friend and I participated in a school event that took the form of a maid cafe. Now that we were actually in Akihabara we were going to go to a real one.

It took about ten seconds to find one. You go inside and immediately you’re bombarded by unimaginable amounts of cute and もえ (moe)… How to translate moe? Maybe something sickeningly cute combined with something like a fetish? It’s just one of those strange Japanese concepts that you have to learn to know (or perhaps you’d be better off without it). Two schoolboys sharing a bicycle is moe, and maids are moe. You get it?

At any rate, you walk into this place and you’re greeted by incredibly enthusiastic and energetic girls in frilly maid outfits who sit you down and make you say super cutesy phrases. You can pay the maids to play a 罰ゲーム (batsu geemu), literally punishment game with you. For example, rock-paper-scissors and the loser has to do something embarrassing. Like, say, a 40-some-year-old salaryman having to take off his shirt and flex in front of the whole store. Yes, that happened while we were there. If you don’t want to do that, you can pay them to take a picture with them. Or you can buy very overpriced foods that come with a picture. All the while you’re surrounded by so many high pitched voices and so much cuteness that you can’t help but smile.

It’s expensive, but it’s worth a try at least once. Seeing shy, grown men smile like schoolgirls is probably more worth it than the maids themselves.

Ginza


This is where you window-shop. You window-shop because there’s no conceivable way you could ever afford any of the designer brands completely lining the streets. Yes – if you look at my picture carefully, you can see the Prada sign. The people are all obviously classy. I was told that Shibuya 109 is where all the stylish, beautiful, rich people go, and to some extent it’s true – but it’s nothing compared to Ginza. The nighttime streets are beautiful, though. And there’s a really fun toy store on one of the corners.

I was starting to run low on money by the night we explored Ginza. Trust me, it made me feel awful.

 

Harajuku

Just like last time, I adored Harajuku. We went on a Sunday in order to see all the strange kids in cosplays (costume play). That’s when supposedly they come out, though I think we didn’t go to the right area because we didn’t see all that many. The night before a Japanese man asked me what I was going to do on Sunday. When I said Harajuku his response was, “Oh, you want to see the stupid people?” Nowhere is the generation gap clearer than Harajuku.

My friend had yet to be to Meiji Shrine, so we wandered through there first. There were weddings going on. I felt like I was intruding, but the majority of the other tourists – foreign and Japanese alike – seemed to have no problem with stepping in and taking pictures of people they’d never met.

After that it was shopping and another pass through eccentric Takeshita Street. We went into several 390 yen shops with hundreds of amusing T-shirts, most with questionable English printed on them. Outside of one of the 390 yen shops I spotted the kids in that picture. I love the Pikachu bag. Oh, and did I mention the one wearing it is a boy?

 

Higashi Gyoen (East Imperial Gardens)

On our last day in Tokyo, my friend and I had diverging plans. My friend went off to Nikko, a beautiful area to the north of Tokyo. It takes two hours and roughly 1400 yen to get there. I was on my last financial legs by this day, so instead I wanted something I could do for (almost) free. This led me to the Imperial Gardens. It would only cost me the 320 yen round-trip on the subways.

The East Gardens are free and beautiful. Many of the trees were just starting to bloom. They framed the well-kept historical Japanese buildings beautifully. With several section to the garden as well as English-Japanese descriptions around the more important sights, it took at least an hour for me to walk through. My favorite areas were the road seen here lined by plum trees, the old tea house, and a small waterfall and pond filled with koi fish. There’s also a small museum that showcases many artworks given to the emperor of Japan by various countries’ leaders. It was fascinating to see which gifts came from which countries. It was the kind of thing where I would look at the work, see where it was from and go, “Of course.” Though there were plenty of tourists wandering around it was quiet and peaceful. A wonderful way to relax and a beautiful way to spend the day.

When I finished exploring the gardens I made the 5 kilometer circle around the Imperial grounds. There’s a jogging path that goes around the whole thing, mostly following the mote around the grounds. The whole walk is lovely, if not a bit loud from the occasional sound of traffic. Outside of the gardens there were several pleasant parks, and the mote was filled with ducks and swans. I love the way you can have these small, peaceful pockets of nature in the midst of such a sprawling city. Seeing skyscrapers poke up behind traditional buildings and old twisted trees is one of Japan’s best charms.

I also loved how many people painting or sketching the scenery I saw on my way around. I suppose in a city the size of Tokyo there has to be tons of aspiring artists or hobbyists. It may have been rude of me to glance at their papers from over their shoulder, but some of them were very talented!

And now I’m back in Saijo, and penniless.

I think the rest of my spring break will be spent around here. I want to get better at Japanese and I want to practice jazz for my circle. いつも頑張るよ!

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~ by megumiwasframed on March 10, 2011.

2 Responses to “Tokyo Round 2”

  1. i saw kobasolo outside of shinjuku station a couple of weeks ago. he does have such a nice voice; i regret not buying his cds…

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