So I needed other stuff to do today. Due to yesterday's weather, I decided to move my trip to Ueno Park to today (which was actually a blessing in disguise, as it turns out the Ueno Zoo--which is what I really wanted to see--was closed on Mondays anyway). So there's one thing. Then I figured I'd take in Harajuku, despite it not being Sunday when they say is the day you have to go (an impossibility for me). And also in Harajuku, besides the shopping district, is Meiji Shinto Shrine, which would help with the Scavenger Hunt. I also, if there was time, planned to head to the Minato area to knock a couple more things off the Hunt, but both time and difficulty did not permit this one. Anyway, let's get to this, shall we?
So I started my day off a bit lazily, sleeping in and trying to rejuvenate my legs from yesterday. But I got the ball rolling around 10 - 10:30 AM and set off for Shinjuku Station.
This place was pretty awesome, to say the least. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and could have spent the entire day at this park alone. The place looks really nice and is filled to the brim with museums and all sorts of things. But it was the zoo that caught my attention the most, particularly since I knew there were pandas. And that's about all I knew.
What I didn't know was the scope of the zoo itself. I spent roughly 3 hours at the zoo, from about 11 AM to 2 PM, and it was worth every minute of it. I was sad at first when I got there and the pandas were asleep, but I went throughout the rest of the park and came back to them before I left, and they were awake and eating, which was cool. This park is so massive that there are two "gardens" with different types of animals in each, and you can actually take a monorail from one side to the other (though it's not necessary. It's maybe a 5-10 minute walk otherwise. I took the monorail to the other side but then walked back later). In a short review, the first garden I was at--the East Garden--was much better than the West Garden, in my opinion. The West Garden felt a bit more run down and cheap, and the animals didn't exactly seem all that happy or playful. But it did have its good parts, too. In fact, why am I still rambling when I can just show you? I took tons of video and photos for your viewing pleasure (for the sake of this blog, I edited the photos into the video file, as well, because there were just so many. Individual pictures will also be uploaded separately on my Facebook, if you follow me there). Also, I apologize in advance for some of the chosen music in this video. I couldn't help myself.
Harajuku: Part 1 (Meiji Jingu (Shrine))
This Shinto Shrine's entrance is immediately off to the side as you leave the Harajuku Station, so it's super easy to find. I've been to a number of Temples and Shrines in Asia now, and I have to say this one still had its own charm to it. You pass through these enormous arches and walk down this incredibly peaceful, shaded, gravelly pathway.
|Outside the Harajuku Station|
You can keep going all the way down to the shrine itself or take a little detour (if you're not against paying just a small fee) to experience what I feel was the highlight of the shrine visit. You end up going down this tiny forested path that leads to all sorts of little areas, like a fish pond, a garden, and a cool little well where you can bend down and cleanse your hands in this little cold spring-fed river well. It was a very peaceful and, dare I say, nearly spiritual experience walking around there.
|It's an old tea house.|
|The well. You rinsed your hands with the water.|
|Entrance to the shrine itself.|
|A purification station. You washed your hands and could drink the water.|
|The wall of prayers|
|The inside of the wedding hall|
Harajuku: Part 2 (Takeshita Street)
Harajuku is famous for its fashion. Its busiest day is on Sunday, which is when you can supposedly see all sorts of crazy outfits and styles. Though I still saw a handful of them on a Tuesday afternoon. And if today wasn't the busy day, I can't imagine what a Sunday is like, because this place was insane as it was. Takeshita Street is a long pedestrian-only street filled with cute and stylish shops, predominately for young girls. Shopping wise, it wasn't very interesting to me, so I mainly used it as just another sight-seeing experience. The most annoying aspect was a bunch of African guys who had taken up residence in Tokyo and would literally come stalk you down to show you their clothing stores. They weren't mean, and the one guy I actually talked to was super friendly and chatty, but it was a total pain when they'd cross the rivers of people to come right towards me every time I walked by one of them (because they all had "big clothes" for me). And you could even see them following people in the crowds and yelling after them if they were ignored. They were very much a "don't take no for an answer" bunch of guys.
However, the other thing about Takeshita Street that I'd read was the Crepe shops. There are competing crepe shops all over that street, and they are the most insane crepes you've ever seen. They hand make the dough right then and there and fill it with whatever insane fillings--cream, real fruit, cheesecake, chocolate, ice cream, etc. I just had to get one, and it was huge and delicious. But then I was done with that place and figured it was time to move on to the last area of the day.
|Entrance to Takeshita Street|
|One of the many types of shops|
|My epic crepe|
|I snuck a picture of a "fashionable" teen at Harajuku Station|
It's basically right next door to Harajuku (which in and of itself is almost right next door to Shinjuku, so I was never too far from 'home'). I think I came out the wrong side of the train station, but after walking for about 5-10 minutes, I found my way to the world famous Shibuya Crossing. If you're unaware, it's basically like the Times Square of Japan. Now, I've never been to Times Square, but as far as Shibuya Crossing is concerned... man does it look bigger in the movies. The movies make it seem like this enormous stretch of streets, but it's really not all that massive. So I made my way to the Starbucks that everybody goes to in order to watch the Crossing and take pictures from above, got me some kind of triple-orange drink, and tried to find even an inch where I could get in at the window to take pictures and/or video.
I stayed maybe 10-15 minutes total after getting my drink, taking a handful of pictures and a little video. Then I went down and crossed it myself to get back over to the train station. I also took a bit of a concealed video of me crossing so that you can get a first person perspective of what that's like. And here's the whole video compilation of that and some pictures.
Lost in Shinjuku #5 Million
I decided to take my time upon leaving Shinjuku Station this time, looking at every possible map so that I didn't get as lost as I did yesterday. And while I still got minimally turned around in parts, I did eventually find the hotel alright. I still have no idea why it's so complicated to get back to the hotel from the station. It's like a labyrinth of tunnels and zigzags and stairs for what otherwise seems to be a straight line. But oh well. I guess it's just something I have to deal with while I'm here.
Also, I wanted to share that I haven't eaten so unhealthy in a very long time as I did today. If you can call what I did today as even eating. At the zoo, I had a coke, french fries, and a strawberry shaved ice. In Harajuku, I had the crazy strawberry/ice cream/cheesecake crepe. In Shibuya, I had a Starbucks orange drink, then got another orange drink from a vending machine afterwards. And then like two bottles of water otherwise throughout the day. I was pretty hungry for actual food by the time I got to the hotel, as I hadn't had an actual real meal since the Maid Cafe (I don't count the convenience store sandwich and chips). So I went down to this little Italian place in the hotel and had a super greasy pizza. And that was pretty much my day!