Harajuku and Shibuya: So Much to See, So Little Time…So Sore!

I made a huge mistake this morning readers, and it is something I would like to tell you all about because I feel like it is as fitting place as any to start the tale of my day. Being that I was once again up at 5:00AM (an increasingly steady pattern nowadays) I needed to venture out to find food when few people were awake. Trang and I decided that the best choice for breakfast would be to walk down the hilly street behind our dorm a few blocks to the local Yoshinoya, a famous Japanese fast food chain similar in size to our McDonalds. Before I uncover my fatal error I’ll let you all know that “fast food” is not really the term I would use for this place. The small, one-room building at the base of a tall apartment complex housed a single employee working feverishly running between the kitchen area and two long bar-type counters that snaked through the room. We took our seats at one of these counters, were immediately given a small, ornate cup (because everything here fits that ornate category) of green tea, and began to puzzle over the menu of various pictures and Japanese characters. I decided on what looked like a bowl of beef and rice with maybe some egg and cheese on the top of it. I was right with the egg, rice, and beef, but wrong on the cheese and one more interesting ingredient–heat. Yeah, I accidentally ordered raw beef (though I thought it was pork when I ate it) and raw egg on top of rice. Now, this might not sound like too big of a deal, but if any of you readers know my feelings towards raw meat and the dangers associated with it, please squirm now. After eating all of the rice/egg part and a couple bites of the meant I knew my stomach would be hating me for it later and opted for a check and and hastily return to the dorm to await my fate. Enough on me making dumb decisions though, let’s get on with our day.

Doesnt that look cooked?!

Doesn't that look cooked?!

Harajuku and Shibuya were on the docket for today’s adventure, two large cities in the southwestern portion of Tokyo that are supposedly the largest shopping centers in Tokyo. Being a guy, I wasn’t too thrilled about spending the whole day shopping; being me, I was a little bit excited to check out the Japanese fashions for myself :-). Harajuku was the first stop on the trip and upon leaving the subway station it was instantly apparent how different this place was from the other parts of the city we had seen so far. Perfectly manicured trees lined the large, clean highway running down the center of the city as giant shopping building packed to bursting with designer names and specialty stores ran up and down the street. I made my first stop in the basement of a multilevel mall (I say mall because the Japanese version of a what we could consider a mall is really just a skyscraper with stores on each floor). A specialty tea shop caught my attention and that was the end of the story for me–cherry green tea! Our group of  CSB/SJU students and our Bunkyo student tour guides had planned on splitting up for an hour to cover more ground before meeting for lunch, but when there is a six story toy store across the street from everyone we all knew where we wanted to go. Each level of Kitty Land as it was called for the aptly placed Hello Kitty displays all around the building as well as its clear kid appeal, housed five floors and a basement of “themed” toy stores. The first floor had many of the electronic playthings (though the “humping dog” toy looked oddly PG-13 at least) in addition to a host of cute stuffed Japanese staple characters including the lovable Kapibarasan, a stuffed Kapibara who I was told is a huge hit with the young women of Japan, and the little green and pink puff Mameshibas which are basically soy beans with dog ears and cute eyes. The other notable floors of this giant toy store included a video game floor in the basement, an boyish anime-themed top floor, and entire floors devoted to both Hello Kitty toys and Snoopy…of all things.

Yolanda and I With Kapibarasan in Kittyland

Yolanda and I With Kapibarasan in Kitty land

After a lunch of Ramen (god I love that stuff and here it’s not a poor college kid food) we headed towards the famous Takeshita street (yes, we did realize the cleverness of a letter switch in the name). On the way to the street we came across what was probably my highlight of the day–Condomania (see below). An entire store lovingly dedicated to keeping you safe in the bedroom in as many fun and interesting ways possible. What could be better than that kind of commitment to the greater good, right? The tiny shop had literally anything you could possibly want with a condom on it from designer brand condoms (as they appeared), to novelty items like what looked like a lollipop only with a smiling condom face in the wrapper. They even had the kindness to offer some items for “Solo adventures” out of the goodness of their hearts. Personally, I’m above such childish nonsense and went for something far more mature, a tiny oval plastic bubble in which sits a single yellow condom and Pikachu keeping a watchful eye on your safety in tiny plastic doll form. The whole experience amused and confused me at the same time, but at least now I can say I’ve been there!

Susanna and I coming out of Condomania! I don't look awkward at all...

Susanna and I coming out of Condomania! I don't look awkward at all...

I was feeling a bit energized by the humor of my stop at Condomania, and a long street and winding alleyway later we arrived at Takeshita Street. In a complete reversal from the wide open spaces of our first Harajuku stops, this tiny alleyway was lined with single and two level clothing and jewelry shops that catered mainly to those of us without endlessly deep pockets. In trying to describe the sheer number of people, the thickness of the crowd in the stores and street, and the plain craziness of the whole area I will need to resort to one of my favorite albeit vulgar phrases–“Utter Cluster Fuck.” That phrase describes the situation perfectly, I narrowly wove my way through the crowds and entered every store I could. I saw a number of used cloth stores featuring both western and Japanese styles as well as looked into what must be a Japanese Victoria’s Secret. I also managed to find a store devoted to dressing up your dog in the latest gear…yes, my puppy now has new clothes, and a store that sold exclusively lavish, somewhat fetishistic costumes of all shapes and sizes.

After about an hour and a half we all met up and walked to Shibuya, Japan’s Times Square as Steve called it. There is really not much to say about this place because by thetime we made the 25 minute walk we were all too sore and tired to get much out of the place other than the giant TV that rested atop the enormous building that greeted visitors as they poured out of the subway station as well as some of the tallest “malls” I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or energy to see much more than what was on the outside, and soon resolved to find our way back to Bunkyo on the subway. I spent the night in the dorm for some quiet time and laundry while Steve (who had not been with us all day) did the same. Everyone else headed back to Shibuya for an all-you-can-eat meat fest at a Shabu-Shabu bar with some ofthe Bunkyo girls.

Now I’m off to find some breakfast that is hopefully not still raw 🙂

Until next time,

~Pat

PS: As always, a full list of the photos I’ve taken so far, unsorted, can be found at my photobucket site

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