After a relatively sedate first day in Tokyo, I thought the best next step was to jump straight into the madness that is Shibuya and Harajuku.
The Shibuya crossing is the first movie-checkpoint of this trip, as it featured in one of the posters for Lost in Translation. Every time the lights turn green a flood of people cross in all directions at the same time. On a Sunday morning, the atmosphere was less busy and hurried, but even in this low season the entire neighbourhood was packed.
Strolling along the Shibuya area is like entering into every exaggerated Japanese metropolis scene you’ve ever seen in the movie. Many stores even have J-pop or commercial jingles playing *on the outside*, so you have your own soundtrack while you walk around. It’s all an explosion of colour, sound and consumerism.
It’s an ideal place to get lost, which I did, repeatedly. Even with a map in my hand and having already established a route, orientation grows difficult if only one in every five streets has a name -and, from those lucky enough to have names, only a handful of those display them somewhere visible!
After asking a policeman/security guard/random cosplayer? for directions, and ascertaining only that there was one street nearby with a name (not the one I was looking for), I managed to find Mandarake, the manga store. I expected this otaku mecca to be less… underground, but it is very underground. Literally, you have to walk down three or four flights of stairs into a dimly lit cave crammed with narrowly spaced shelves. The contents certainly don’t disappoint, though -they seemed to have every manga series imaginable, from some very 80s-looking ones to everything modern. After gawking at all the action figures and various merchandising for a good while, I bought the two Yotsuba books I was missing (I’m super proud that I managed to find them on my own), considered the mission accomplished and walked over to Harajuku.
The main attraction in Harajuku is Takeshita-dori, a narrow pedestrian street filled to the brim with people at all times. There weren’t many people in outrageous getups, when I went, but the shops were all insane. Things you can’t imagine anyone ever wearing, in a palette ranging between black and pink, and with as many puppy or kitty faces on them as possible. A spectacle!
If you reach the end of Takeshita-dori, you can turn right on Cat Street (not its real name), which is also a shopping street but more chic, and with less people -especially, lots fewer teenagers. A much more pleasant walk all around.
After walking the length of Cat Street I found myself in the middle of the Omotesando avenue, so I decided I may as well continue walking and see it too.
If Takeshita-dori is Gothic Lolita Central and Cat Street is boho chic, Omotesando is the luxury corridor. These are all the stores that you can’t even enter (Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, etc.), but it’s worth a visit anyway because each brand occupies its own building, and each building has its own design, regardless of the surroundings.
Chanel occupies the same slick, sombre building as the MoMa store (What’s it doing here? I love it anyway). Also, there is one inexplicable British colonial building that houses Ralph Lauren.
Walking back down Omotesando, I crossed the Harajuku bridge to end the day on a more cultural note: Meiji-jingu, the shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperors. It is right in front of Harajuku, and yet it’s worlds removed from the rest of the city: as soon as I crossed the enormous, dark torii of the entrance, I was surrounded by a small forest and couldn’t hear any cars or trains. I walked along a winding gravel path for a while before arriving at the shrine itself. This time there wasn’t incense burning at the entrance, but a fountain with ladles to wash your hands. This is, I may add, the only time so far that I have crossed other foreigners in any noticeable numbers. I’m surprised that this place seemed to draw more tourists than some of the other hotspots I’ve visited.
Apart from the usual praying and making offerings for good fortune, Meiji-jingu is especially popular as a wedding spot for traditional ceremonies. Sure enough, one was taking place right when I arrived. I had just enough time to see the bride and groom, along with a few relatives, walking in slow procession from one end of the shrine to the other, before sitting down to have their picture taken. Under the hood (literally) and all the makeup, the bride looked happy.