Monday, June 20, 2005

Shrines and shopping

On Monday, we had our first completely free day (without any debate events or guides). We planned out our day to include sights that each of us wanted to see. Around 10:30AM, we bravely traveled out into the world, intent on mastering the Tokyo subway system without the help of a native speaker.

I'm happy to report that we managed to get to our desired location without any major hiccups. Our first stop was at the Meiji Shrine. This is a beautiful attraction in the middle of the city. There we saw the traditional washing rituals, the 'wish walls' where people can buy wood pieces to post their wishes, and the beautiful shrine itself. The Meiji Shrine is located in the middle of the Yoyogi forest, a lush habitat that truly makes you forget that you are in the center of a bustling city.

After we left the shrine, we went to Harajuku, one of my requests. I had always heard that Harajuku was a fashionable place for trendy teens, and had wanted to go people-watching there (both Belle & Sebastian and Gwen Stefani sing about Harajuku in their songs, that must mean something!). We were pleasantly surprised as we walked down one of the pedestrian walkways. The shops included all kinds of wild fashions, complete with t-shirts with english phrases that almost make sense. We particularly liked the biker gear stores and the women with 6-inch platforms and adjusted french maid dresses. There was an excitement in the air, and we can see why the Japanese debaters had told us that, "the whole world is watching Harajuku".

At the end of the walkway, we hit the next shopping district, where we took a couple of strategic photographs (see Leah's post on Takayama for more details). After that, we indulged in a couple hours of shopping at both Kiddy Land and the Oriental Bazaar. I don't want to give away what we purchased, but let's just say I think you all will be pleasantly surprised when you see our purchases. After shopping, we found a small restaurant, where Kevin had jumbalaya and Leah and I had veggie curry. Again, we somehow managed to order what we wanted despite the fact that the menu was almost completely in Japanese.

Later on, we dropped our souvenirs back in the hotel and took an hour to rest and regroup. Around 5:30 we ventured back to the subway system, this time following Leah's lead to Asakusa, home of the Senso-ji temple. Unfortunately, the temple was closed when we arrived, but we did get some great photos of it and the nearby pagoda as the moon was coming out. We then walked around the streets of 'old Tokyo' for a little while, hoping to find some refreshments. We noticed that in contrast to many of the other places we had been in Tokyo, we were the only non-Japanese in this part of town. A helpful biker stopped to ask if we needed help, and when we explained that we were looking for a place to eat, he kindly told us that the area of town we were in included only very expensive restaurants and geisha training facilities.

Motivated by a thirst for beer, we decided it would be best to try a nearby brewery. Leah's guidebook said that we would be able to tell where it was by a piece of artwork that looked like a 'giant turd' on the top of the building. Lo and behold, we did find it!!! We had drinks at the brewery, but then decided to move on and eat dinner at a nearby cafe. After a nice dinner of sandwiches and salads, we grabbed some ice cream and headed back on the subway.

So, we survived our day out in Tokyo, and had an excellent mix of sightseeing and shopping.



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