Although we live in Tokyo, we live in the outskirts of the city. (I’ve been told more than once by locals that I’m, ahem, in the sticks. Pretty darn urban sticks, if you ask me, but there’s no arguing that we’re not centrally located.) Since our arrival two months ago, I’ve been itching to get into downtown Tokyo and experience the city center. Blame it on what-you-will, but it took us until Aug. 30 to make that journey. Our destination that Saturday? Harajuku, Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine.
We got lucky and caught a train from Fussa that took us directly into Shinjuku Station, one of the world’s busiest rail stations, in a little under an hour. The station was crowded, but manageable, although I did keep a tight grip on Liam’s hand as we navigated the halls. From there, we transferred to the JR Yamamoto line and two stops later arrived at Harajuku. Harajuku is a funky neighborhood in Tokyo, known for its teenage shoppers dressed in their finest, trendy outfits. (Anyone familiar with Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls has an idea of what I’m talking about….) This is the landing point for Tokyo’s more bizarre fashions. The kids can be seen in their pig tails or gelled hair in rainbow colors, mini-skirts, knee socks, platform shoes and baby doll dresses.
We came out of the north exit of Harajuku Station and went with the flow directly onto Takeshita-dori, the main pedestrian drag for the clothing boutiques and crepe shops that cater to the young and adventurous. By all accounts, Sunday is the day to go if you really want to see the best crowds. We went on a Saturday, so while the people-watching was still pretty good, we didn’t experience the street in full-on Technicolor. (Another day!) I must have been a bit shy, as well, since my pictures aren’t showing much of the unusual ‘looks’ that we did spot. The shops, though, did have a great selection of your more, um, unusual clothing. I especially liked spotting trousers in my alma mater’s distinctive bright-yellow McLeod tartan.
The area surrounding Takeshita-dori is a large shopping district, featuring a grand tree-lined boulevard called Omotesandō-dori, which offers up stores selling a selection of very high-end wares. (Think Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton.) Not really my cup of tea, but it was fun to join the surge of shoulder-to-shoulder crowds streaming along the wide sidewalk past the store fronts. Of much more interest to me — and Wil — was the discovery of several familiar British chains, including Top Shop and Next.
I thought I’d try out some of my Japanese on a clerk at the outdoor coffee shop where we stopped for mid-morning cappuccinos. Little Liam needed a bathroom and it wasn’t immediately clear where one would be. “Toire wa doku desu ka?” I asked. She responded with a torrent of Japanese to which I could only reply “Nihongo ga dekimasen.” (Meaning: I don’t understand Japanese!) “Ah!” she exclaimed, and proceeded to tell me in perfect English just how to head down the hallway, go down the stairs and enter a numeric code on a keypad to access the bathroom. (Wil got the job of accompanying Liam and didn’t manage to make the keypad work, although he made it inside when someone else opened the door.)
After lunch in a basement café – where they handed us both large menus and small menus but only allowed us to order from the small menus – we headed toward Meiji-jinju, a Shinto shrine built in 1920 to honor the reign of Emperor Meiji, who ruled from 1868-1912. We’ll save that adventure for another post.