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Japan, Day 1 : Tokyo (Shinjuku & Shibuya)

May 15, 2009

Arrived in Japan the night before. It’s amazing how I felt like I never left, despite it being about 10 years since I had been back. No doubt my Japanese was rusty, but surprisingly quite a bit came back almost immediately. And a lot of the familiar things were still the same, after 10+ years…

Maryam found an awesome hotel in Shinjuku (Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku) which is just a few minutes away from the main Shinjuku Station. Today we were pretty much going to walk around Shinjuku, explore the parks, the buildings, and such.

First stop was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (東京都庁舎). I think this was even shown in the Simpsons episode where they all go to Japan. There is a free observation deck on the 40something floor (actually there are two, one in the north tower and one in the south tower; one is open later than the other so you can go at night and catch the city lights.

View of Shinjuku

And my eye caught this really cool ellipsoid building which later turned out to be a nice landmark for us in navigating the area.

Cocoon Tower

Heading just west of the Gov’ment Building, we strolled around Shinjuku Central Park. It was insanely quiet and felt like such an oasis in the middle of the city. Not sure it if was designed in such a way to block out city noise, or we just happened to be there when it was quiet, but if it is the former, then what a brilliant job. There was a shrine in the park as well, I forgot to jot down the name of it. I always loved those wooden things to write wishes on:


Walk a bit more, and a nice view of the Gov’ment Building from the park:

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Then we walked back towards the station, had some lunch, and explored some other small food joints to try at a later time. We saw the cool building so we went over that way, and it turns out the thing is called the Cocoon Tower (more specifically, the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower), housing a few colleges and schools.

Cocoon Tower

I bet the night view was nice but I didn’t think to go back…

We then went over to the other side of the station, and walked through Kabukicho (red light district! but unless you’re paying attention, you couldn’t tell during the day) and back towards a bunch of large department stores. I wanted to visit Isetan in particular because they have a reputation for having a great Basement Food section. They certainly had the most exquisite desserts I have ever seen in my life. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed for many of the vendors. I did manage to snap a photo of this guy making traditional Japanese sweets:

Making sweets

We went home to rest a little, then went back to the Gov’ment Office Observation deck to check out the Tokyo Night Lights (puuurty!):

Night view of Shinjuku Japan

Then we headed over to Shibuya, just checking out the stores and people; walked along Center Gai (Center Street), went up Spain Slope which is a narrow slope with some cafes, restaurants, boutiques, etc. Like this Japanese Restaurant:

Restaurant along Spain Slope, Shibuya Japan

We then had a snack, found a crepe shop (unfortunately, super crappy crepes), and headed back towards the station ’cause things were winding down. Across the train station is this insane crosswalk which is known to everyone who knows anything about Shibuya; doesn’t seem like a lot of people in this particular picture but believe me, most of the time you feel like a fish wading through a stream of humans crossing this place:

Shibuya Japan

Of course, who could forget the Hachiko Statue just outside the station? This must the number 1 meeting spot in Tokyo (let’s meet in front of Hachiko!). For those that don’t know the story, quick synopsis:

Professor in Japan gets dog (Hachiko), takes really good care of him.
Professor loves dog, dog loves Professor.
Dog waits for Professor at the train station every afternoon for him to come back from University.
Professor dies at work one day. Dog doesn’t know. Dog comes back to train station every afternoon for about a decade. Dog dies still waiting for Professor.

So now there is a statue in honor of Hachiko:

Hachiko Statue, Shibuya Japan

We then hopped back on the train and headed back home. Tomorrow, the plan is to go to Yokohama!

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