Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tokyo in 12 Hours

I woke up early and got some things done that I’d left for when I had internet. I also got to talk to Tyler, Nick and Jackie while they were out at the Burgundy Room, and Nick sang the Good Morning song that the ATO guys sing at Cumberland over the phone and it made me so happy to have a piece of home with me. (Thanks Nick!) We left the hostel by 10 am, agreeing that we would not eat McDonald’s or ramen for the entire day because at this point – it’s pretty much all we’d eaten other than Kobe Beef and sushi one time.
Our first stop was at Shibuya Station on the Metro (because we’d missed the Harajuku stop by accident), so we got out and walked around. The “Shibuya crossing” is right outside the station. It’s been said that there are 1,000 people crossing the street at any given time because it is such a busy spot in the heart of downtown Tokyo. It felt a lot like Time Square, with skyscrapers surrounding the vast intersection, huge flashing billboards and all different sorts of music and sounds everywhere. It's kind of hard to explain, but so much of Japanese culture is really goofy - and that was clear in the advertisements seen here. There were also a TON of cars. There was a Starbucks right there, so I got a Gingerbread Latté and we went up to the second floor to watch the chaos below. I took videos and pictures because it was so crazy – like a swarm of ants taking over the street in a very controlled, timed way.
Then we went to the Harajuku district. The whole area is known for it’s insane and forward fashion sense, and I saw outfit combos that I would never dare to come up with on my own but looked great since everyone was dressed like that.  Patterned socks with heels, legwarmers, neon colors, etc. It was what I imagined the 80’s would have looked like if they had modern technology. One chick was wearing a neon green wig that went down to her butt, and had crazy white and pink striped thigh-highs on. Apparently though, the time to go is on Sunday afternoons when the teenagers of Japanese pop culture emerge in full force and come out in costume. We were there on a Tuesday, so it was a little anti-climactic. We did go into a sock store that was so funny. There was a pair of socks that said “How are you?” with a smiley face on the toes. I wish I’d bought them! Oh well, next time…
We walked around and turned to head up the shopping strip there that is considered the “Champs-Elysée of Tokyo.” At the top we found the entrance to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, so we figured we’d pop in for a bit. There was a huge torii a the entrance and a long gravel path to walk down that was shaded by trees. The shrine itself was free, and there were offerings left all along the entrance because it is a Shinto temple and it was a national holiday. There were also a few weddings that we saw there with brides in beautiful white gowns or kimonos. There were also little girls dressed in elaborate kimonos with little geisha socks and shoes on – they were adorable. Their parents strangely were dressed much more casually. The shrine was built for Emperor Meiji, who is considered to be a deified king (made into a God). I thought that concept was pretty neat. A lot of the temple we visited had wooden pillars with clothesline-like strings stretch between them. These were for prayers to be written on fabric or paper and tied around them. It reminded me of the ideas of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem - leaving a written prayer behind in the temple. My other favorite part about the Meiji Shrine was that there was water running where you were to use a bamboo ladle to scoop up water and cleanse your mouth and hands before entering the temple because those are the most easily polluted parts of your body, according to Shintoism. Of course we followed suit and did this before we entered. :)
From here we went back to the hostel so I could grab my bag. We stopped at McDonalds because it was on the way… of course. Oh well. Our train got us to a subway station where we then needed another ride to get close to port. Finally we took a taxi to the port gate, and I saw my ship glowing in the dark up ahead.
Allie and I parted ways and I was very sad, but so happy I got to see her. It was like having a piece of home and comfort in my travels, and I missed her a whole lot. I didn’t even get dock time even though I got on the ship 10 minutes late because they had a lot of people’s bags to go through as we came back from our treks over land. It was also neat to hear about all the different stories people had from their 5 days since I’d not traveled with anyone from the ship and we got to share experiences - very cool.
All in all, Japan is somewhere I would want to go one day when I can afford a hotel and not have to live out of a backpack. The big cities are crowded and hard to navigate because of the lack of English, so this is a country I would probably try to learn the language for (at least a little). Japan is full of immature culture in a very professional world – and has been described on the ship as a culture of opposites. The subways are full of men in suits texting on cell-phones that have little cartoon characters and stuffed animals hanging from them.  They eat rice in most meals, yet obesity in Japan is nearly unheard of. 98.5% of Japan’s population is people of Japanese descent; they definitely have their own culture, fashion, food, religions and habits that they are very rightfully proud of. It was a wake-up call to see how hard it can be to be a foreigner in a place you don’t know, and a great ending to such a wonderful, international voyage.


  1. the other "how are you" sock said, "fine, thanks!" i got them for a friend and found out. haha