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Japan, Day 5: Tokyo (Ueno and Harajuku)

May 20, 2009

Today being Sunday, we ventured out to Ueno first to check out Ameya Yokocho (“Ameyoko”). Ameya Yokocho means candy alley as historically it was a street famous for candy stalls. They also say alternatively (or in addition), that Ameyoko’s “Ame” stands for “America,” as this street sold black market items from America after World War II.

Regardless, it is a crazy street with a huge assortment of stores selling fish, fruit, dried fruit, clothes, handbags, etc., and while I didn’t buy anything, from the quick glances at the prices, they seemed quite inexpensive. A lot of the storekeepers shout like auctioneers to draw the customers. It being a narrow street to begin with, the throngs of people there make it hard to navigate (plus it being a Sunday doesn’t help!).

Ameyoko

We walked up and down the street and decided to eat here before heading off to Harajuku. I found a Takoyaki place (Gindako!) for some octopus dumplings.

Mmm Takoyaki

It was slightly more challenging finding something for Maryam, and she was just talking about how awesome Turkey was with all the yummy food she could eat like the kebabs and doner sandwiches and stuff, and lo and behold, in front of our eyes popped up a Doner stand! Later we found out it seems quite popular in Japan so these are scattered in many places.

Doner Kebab stand

We then took the train to Harajuku, famous for its street fashion. There were so many people at the train station, we totally felt like sardines.

Harajuku Station

It took us about 15 minutes to advance just a couple of feet! A good half hour later, we were out of the train station, something that should have taken about 3 minutes. Outside, the situation was only marginally better, but at least people were moving. The following photo does not do justice; that open space in the middle before the bridge was a fluke and was filled in almost immediately.

Outside Harajuku station

We first decided to visit the Meiji Shrine via Yoyogi Park. It felt so odd, knowing that just across the street, there is craziness such as this going on:

Crazy dude in Harajuku

(More on this later)

The short walk was very peaceful, with greenery all around and some nice bamboo fences:

Bamboo Fence

I didn’t get a decent picture of the shrine itself for some reason, but I snapped some photos of random interesting things, such as these offerings that were placed to the side:

Offerings at Meiji Shrine

There were also packets and jars of food as offerings, I assume to receive blessings and good business for the companies involved:

Offerings for blessings

Out along the path leading to the shrine were also barrels of sake (Japanese rice wine) placed as offerings:

Barrels of Sake

Done with the shrine, we went back out towards the station again. You saw the pic of the crazy dude? Yes, Harajuku is the place where you can find the young folks dressed up like… well, like anything really, although there certainly are styles that are common. Wikipedia has a nice blurb on this (last paragraph, under “Style”).They all hang out on Jingu bridge, which connects Yoyogi Park/Meiji Shrine to the rest of Harajuku. I’m not entirely sure what posseses people to dress like this, but it’s entertaining:

Harajuku Girls

Harajuku Girl as... something

Harajuku Girl with umbrella

Street Performer

Harajuku Girl with umbrella II

Harajuku Girl

And that crazy dude again:

Crazy dude + random dude

There were also a bunch of random people giving free hugs. Despite nobody really taking up on their offer, they still seemed awfully cheerful, so we decided to get some free hugs for Ehaan:

Free hugs!

Ehaan getting a free hug

Free hug person

We then walked on Omotesando, another street with a bunch of shops, not much different than a lot of the other streets, but then we cut across and starting walking on Takeshita Dori, which was a lot more unique with stores selling the kinds of crazy costumes that the kids were wearing on the bridge.

We saw a bunch of crepe shops (Harajuku is known for its crepes) so of course we had to get some. There were so many choices!!!!

Crepe Flavors

Maryam had strawberry cheesecake crepe and I had banana + chocolate + whip cream. The strawberry cheescake was phenomenal.

We walked back towards the station, went in a few stores here and there (including Daiso, a 100 Yen store with like 5 or 6 floors!).

Unrelated, but I figured now is just a good a time as any other for an obligatory Engrish shot:

No smorking

That was the end of the day, tomorrow we head on down to Hamamatsu!

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